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Practical Ideas for Reforming K-12 Education

In many cases, today’s education system still leverages what Steve Denning calls in Forbes the factory model of management. Denning isn’t the first critic of this model – in 2010, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared this the “wrong model for the 21st century,” highlighting how the current model is more than a century old, with its inception in the industrial age.

A century ago, we did have a lot of factories, and it’s hardly shocking the education system was developed to replicate that mounting success, building something that was scalable and efficient by mass-production standards. Until it wasn’t.

If we want to prepare children for tomorrow's jobs that we can't even predict today, we need to shift the goal of K-12 education- where students' core focus is inspiration versus dictation. By doing so, they will love learning so much it will become a natural rhythm in their lives.

Factory model of management: the real issue

Operating under the factory model of management, if the expected outcome isn’t being achieved, management needs to improve – whether that’s by being tougher, stronger, or simply better, Denning says, is really more about top-down management. Policies like Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind are indicative of that mindset.

Under the traditional model, students tend to have an output-centric orientation – can they pass a test? They absorb information from teachers, adhere to rules and take tests, work in a system striving for efficiency and battling low costs, and receive instruction.

What if the problem is we’re chasing the wrong thing?

The change-up we need: a new goal

Perhaps if we adjusted the goal from passing a test to, simply put, loving to learn, we could prepare our children better for a job market we can’t even predict today – because they’ll love learning so much it will become a natural rhythm in their lives. Denning dubs it the “single most important idea for reform in K-12 education.”

While this is simple enough to say, putting a shift in the goal into practice would fundamentally change the way all participants interact with the education system – and it’s a significant shift to move from a top-down approach where students study exactly what the administration provides to one where students learn to pursue life-long learning and the core focus is inspiration, versus dictation.

Reform implications

So what would some of the key players in today’s education system need to look like to support a new goal? Here are some snapshots:

· Teachers and parents would need to stop transferring information, and start enabling students to learn and apply new skills.

· Administrators would need to move away from hierarchy management and prioritize enabling teachers, to free them to feel inspired and convey that inspiration to their students.

· Tests should adapt to more real-time, and applied to both teachers and students. More importantly, tests need to return to their place as a measure, as opposed to the objective.

· Accountability needs to shift to dynamic linking, moving work to short cycles, with a goal set for the specific learning cycle. The students who how to learn, and progress is measured not just based on answers students can provide – but also to questions they asks. Students measure their own progress in this model.

· Communication transforms of commanding to conversational. So, instead of a teacher dictating directions from the front of the classroom, he or she works alongside students to help them identify new resource, address problems, or form new insights.

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