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Op-Ed: Get Ahead of Tech Trends In Classroom

Former School Board Member Brad Center (Lee) says school systems shouldn't wait to tackle tech advances in K through 12 instruction

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to serve eight years as a School Board member in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). It was a great opportunity, but the pace of the work rarely gave me the opportunity to sit down and think about the important trends in education in a more philosophical manner. There was always the “Crisis De Jour” – something or some group that needed immediate attention. It is only now, since leaving the Board that I have had a chance to really reflect on the things I learned.

During my tenure at FCPS, I observed a number of emerging trends in K-12 education – with special attention to those involving technology and the changing workplace. As we all know, technological advances have exploded over the last decade and we would be silly to assume these changes will not impact education/instruction. We, as a nation, need to move quickly to react to these trends before they overtake us – if they haven’t already.

Trend #1 – Online Learning: The traditional educational paradigm has been to measure “time in the classroom” as an important metric. I believe this is somewhat of an outdated concept and does not speak to a child’s mastery of the content but rather simply the time they spend sitting in a chair. Technology is forcing us to rethink the importance of such a measure. We can now offer on-line textbooks, interactive discussion forums, on-line or virtual classes, and even a virtual school (as FCPS is now considering), that do not require children to actually sit in a classroom. Should our regulatory framework change to allow greater flexibility to Districts to adapt to these changes? Will Districts be able to offer these new learning options? What will be the overall impact from the increased use of technology? We need to address these questions and quickly.

Trend #2 – Information Enabler: Years ago there were (for all practical purposes) only two sources of information when a child stepped into the classroom – the teacher and the textbook. This consolidation of information/knowledge led to the natural role of the teacher as lecturer and the student as the receptacle for the information. Technology has stood that old axiom on its head and yet we have been slow to make changes to this “natural order” in our classrooms. Today, information is everywhere and therefore instructional practices need to adapt. I believe that many teachers and principals recognize this fundamental change and see the need to move from lecturer to learning coach – helping children understand where to find reliable and trusted information, how to discern fact from opinion, how to find information efficiently and how to work in groups to solve problems. These are the skills needed in today’s world.

Trend #3 – Skills Based Learning: Typically our educational system focuses on content/information above all else. There is some merit to this framework, yet in today’s world where professionals work to solve complex problems that cross traditional disciplinary lines we may need to re-think this approach. If you were to query a typical professional and ask them to identify the top ten things that make them successful at work, they would more than likely respond with just a few things that are content related – the rest would be skills. Yet our traditional educational system focuses on content and precious little time on those skills needed for success in the workplace. Today’s workplace focuses on solving problems and our classrooms need to mirror that.

Addressing these educational trends today will impact our children’s future success in the workplace of tomorrow. Why wait any longer to respond – let's get started now.

Brad Center from 2003 to 2011.

Virginia Fitz Shea May 17, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Brad Center joins Superintendent Jack Dale in minimizing the importance of time in the classroom. Unfortunately, for many years the Fairfax County School Board has minimized the importance of time in school and has shortchanged elementary school students by dismissing them two hours early every Monday. This early dismissal policy is simply wrong. Will this error now be compounded by having two or three early dismissals every week? Or switching to a three-day or four-day school week? Sure, it is fine to have e-books or online tests, or other uses of computers and the internet. However, who is supposed to be supervising these young students while they study on-line? Why not let them spend their time in the classroom, or on the playground, in the gym, or in the cafeteria? Why are school leaders so overly anxious to keep students away from the school buildings as much as possible? Are they trying to sell us some magic beans that will take the place of desks, chairs, and teachers?
Greg Brandon May 17, 2012 at 11:57 AM
I'm concerned that virtual schools and schools that have high enrollment in virtual classes may not meet the accreditation standards set forth by AdvancED (http://www.advanc-ed.org/). Furthermore. lack of accreditation may have repercussions for students as they apply for colleges. Where do college admissions officers stand on this issue of virtual schools and virtual classes? Center speaks of a "crisis du jour" (note his implied disdain for community groups). I'm more concerned about a "fad du jour." FCPS K-12 educrats are notorious for wanting to be in the vanguard, except when it comes to real change like later, healthier high school start times, better cafeteria food, choices in courses, and fairgrading. Yes, it was community groups that pushed for restoration of honors classes and fairgrading; not the educrats. Before step into it to much, let's consider the potential for unintended consequences of virtual classes and virtual classes. It would be unfortunate for a student to be denied entrance into the university of his or her choice because an accreditation issue with the virtual school that issued the diploma. It is up to FCPS staff to make the phone calls, read the reports and then report their findings to the school board in an unbiased manner. They should refrain from allowing their enthusiasm for the "fad du jour" to influence the right decision.
Sheree Brown-Kaplan May 17, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Brad Center used to quote a previous superintendent about the need to "keep the main thing, the main thing." It appears he no longer holds to that dictum. Technology is not the main thing for our public schools; the main thing is effectively teaching the core curriculum. How is it that during his tenure on the board Mr. Center did not notice or address the failure to effectively teach ALL children the fundamental ability to read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade? In FCPS, approximately 25% of Black, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, ESL students and students with disabilities FAIL the 3rd grade Reading SOL. Moreover, these failure rates have INCREASED over the past three years. Check out the 3rd grade Reading SOL failure rates for these subgroups on page 9 of the FCPS Report Card published by VDOE: https://p1pe.doe.virginia.gov/reportcard/report.do?division=29&schoolName=All. According to the American Federation of Teachers, "No other skill taught in school and learned by school children is more important than reading. It is the gateway to all other knowledge. Teaching students to read by the end of 3rd grade is the single most important task assigned to elementary schools. Those who learn to read with ease in the early grades have a foundation on which to build new knowledge. Those who do not are doomed to repeated cycles of frustration and failure." If FCPS is serious about student achievement, it needs to get reading instruction done right FIRST.
Bob May 17, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Brad Center is now a high-priced consultant with Deloitte. This "editorial" sounds more like a business plan in the making so that one or more of Center's Deloitte clients can sell services to the sucker taxpayer in Fairfax County.
Greg Brandon May 17, 2012 at 06:32 PM
I briefly commented earlier about high school accreditation. Allow me to excerpt from AdvancED's Accreditation Policies and Procedures (http://www.advanc-ed.org/webfm_send/16): Section 2.02.e: "Substantive Change. A school/school system must report to AdvancED within sixty (60) days of occurrence any substantive change in the school/school system that changes the scope and/or has an impact on the school’s/school system’s ability to meet the AdvancED Standards and policies. The report of a substantive change must describe the change itself as well as detail the impact of the change on the quality of education in the school/school system. Substantive change areas include, but are not limited to, the following: • Consolidation or reorganization of the school • Mission and purpose of the institution • Staffing, including administrative and other non-teaching professional personnel • Available programs, including fine arts, practical arts and student activities." Section 5.04: "Schools within a School. Schools within a school are treated as separate schools and are required to comply with all AdvancED accreditation requirements if the state education agency has provided them with distinct school numbers." Note that many FCPS high schools are accredited with AdvancED, however, unlike Arlington and 40 other VA school districts, FCPS is NOT accredited.

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