School's new paradigm could come with a price | August 24, 2007 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

Opinion - August 24, 2007

School's new paradigm could come with a price

It 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.


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Posted by Concerned Student
a resident of Shoreline West
on Aug 24, 2007 at 4:16 pm

This seems ridiculous. In this system, teachers went through training and California Standards were set for what part of these kids' education exactly?

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Posted by Dan Robertson
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 27, 2007 at 10:35 am

I am encouraged to see the MV-Whisman district commit to engaging students in the process of building character and learning how to learn at a personal level that will last for a lifetime. Gaining system-wide alignment between administrators, teachers, parents, and students on vision, goals, and the process of learning will increase the possibility of superior results. The 'whims of children' will be managed by professional educators willing to appreciate that actually listening to their students can inform them of barriers to improvement. Anyone who views the video about CI provided at the MVWSD.ORG website should be able to tell that those involved in the program are excited about its possibilities. Congratulations to Dr. Ghysels and the Whisman board for their initiative to take the district far beyond what California Standards and No Child Left Behind can ever hope to achieve.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 27, 2007 at 3:03 pm

In my years of involvement with public education, I have repeatedly heard people say that the schools need to function more like private business. Yet when they use terms more common to business, panic ensues. Can't win for trying. I think the CI model is not going to have kids dictating how the teacher teaches and what they learn; what I think it may do is help kids feel like they have some input into what will help them learn best. The teacher is still in charge, but under the CI model, the teacher will be listening to what the students have to say about their learning environment. Many teachers--in my experience, the better ones--have always listened to the students. (Not the same thing as letting them run the show!) This is just a more formalized process for that. I think CI could be very good; and in the worst case, I don't think it will do any harm.

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Posted by Springer Parent
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 30, 2007 at 9:12 pm

I couldn't agree more with Parent, Waverly Park. That is so true. I think the responsibility should be put on the student to perform at their best and the teacher is there to instruct and guide them through the process. That's the job of the teacher. If the student wants to succeed, then they have to take on an active role to make it happen. It's a two way street. Teachers and students must work together as a team.

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Posted by Amanda
a resident of The Crossings
on Aug 31, 2007 at 2:17 pm

in the end, EVERYONE does better if they own their "job". This may very well be true here. By actively participating in how their educational experience is formed, they may feel more applied to it.