School's new paradigm could come with a priceIt isn't often that a school district steps out of the traditional educational mold and adopts a totally new concept of teaching.
But that is exactly what Mountain View Whisman did last week with "Continuous Improvement," an operational system perhaps best suited to a corporate setting.
The new approach is entirely the creature of Maurice Ghysels, superintendent of the elementary school district, whose idea has won the unanimous support of the five-member board of trustees, as well as an apparent majority of the district's teaching staff.
As described in last week's Voice , MV-Whisman teachers are currently undergoing training for the Continuous Improvement system, also known as CI. There are many unusual facets to CI, including:
• All students in grades K-8 take responsibility for their own education by creating mission statements and setting personal goals;
• Students create a personal binder to track their academic progress and lead (rather than sit out) parent-teacher conferences twice a year;
• Students work with teachers at the beginning of the school year to set ground rules on what they think makes a good teacher.
The idea in all this is to change the top-down learning model prevalent in most classrooms today, and to make students feel more invested in their own education.
Obviously, it's too early to know how effective CI will be. But it is certain to be influential, and an assessment of its potential pros and cons may be helpful for parents.
On the plus side, students will be given a greater voice in the classroom — apparently to the point of calling teachers' lesson plans into question — which is sure to make them more engaged. It is expected that, as a result of increased student interest, test scores will rise, although it is too early to know when or by how much.
On the minus side, the district is adopting a relatively experimental technique that has been tried by only a small handful of school districts around the country. We worry that this system may put many years of teaching experience behind the whims of children who, by definition, have no experience.
We have another, more abstract concern as well: CI is rife with corporate-world jargon, going so far as to refer to students and parents as "customers" and "stakeholders."
We find this distasteful and potentially dangerous, because using these words blurs the distinction between the business world and our public education system. By getting people to accept this rhetoric, the district takes a step toward the privatization of public schools, intentionally or not.
More to the point, students are not customers. And despite the old adage, they aren't always right.
In his remarks to teachers attending the CI introductory meeting last week, Ghysels said, "I think it is really neat that we are in uncharted territory, and with your help we'll get to the other side."
Parents can only hope that he is right. CI is an entirely new approach, and if it fails to meet expectations, some 3,500 students could pay a high price for this experiment.