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Michael Freedman: What do you want from your high school board?

Michael Freedman | Other Voices

The generally accepted goals of educational policy are to prepare all children for citizenship, cultivate a skilled workforce, teach cultural literacy, prepare students for college, help students become critical thinkers, and to help students compete in a global marketplace.

Do we meet these goals? We are making progress and have real opportunities to advance education if we can work together to set and achieve our goals.

Our world is getting more complex; what can be automated is being automated, eliminating repetitive and dangerous jobs. Technology touches every field, and corporate consolidation contracts the workforce and closes off local and rural work.

To add value and create jobs means we need to be ever-diversifying products and services. So, to meet market needs, our educational practices need to help students identify and build on their strengths and interests, be more self-directed, and become informed citizens and critical thinkers. Educators know the solutions, and the educational theories are right there to guide us to meet student and market needs: Take a look at these: Bloom’s Taxonomy, Constructivism, the Zone of Proximal Development, and the theory of Multiple Intelligences. These all point to tailoring diverse curricula delivered using interactive strategies.

When kids enter high school, they are becoming adults. Adult learners are different from K-8 learners in that they assert more autonomy in their decision-making. Too often, our instructional models continue to treat them like little kids. As a result, about 7 in 10 high schoolers report feeling bored in schools at least some of the time, with about 30 percent saying they felt bored all or most of the time. Most students who drop out of high school say they could have succeeded with more challenging coursework and engaging classroom experiences, not because it was too hard.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 54% of adults in the United States have literacy skills below the 6th-grade level. This raises the question: how did these people get out of high school? We are still teaching to the tests, which, on the surface, proves that schools are meeting their goal of teaching the standards. But we all lose if students can’t compete in the new job markets.

The current wave of book banning and whitewashing an honest assessment of our history is regressive and distracts us from solving our real problems. Book banning is the ultimate cancel culture, not to mention a violation of free speech. History must be studied head-on if we are to progress as a society. Where will our kids learn about controversial topics? On the street? Schools are the right place to have these difficult conversations under the guidance of trained teachers.

Kids are smart. They know authentic curriculum and teaching when they see it. They pay attention to the world. By offering whitewashed education, we are sending them signals that they are not grown up enough for certain topics. This is insulting to kids and degrades their trust in us. Let’s treat them like the adults they are becoming.

We need school boards who have experience with education, understand the human factors and our current challenges, and are able and willing to be a part of the solution. Our public institutions, schools, and districts are responsible for reporting their progress and students’ progress. If they feel attacked, like anyone else, they will pull back and hide behind the defense of teaching to the test. We end up in gridlock. We need to be civil with our school administrators if we are to engage in a healthy problem-solving process. If we are to deliver authentic, differentiated instruction, we all need to extend some trust to teachers and administrators, and they, in turn, need to be honest and transparent in reporting progress and problems to parents and the public.

We are all in this together.

Michael Freedman is a retired teacher, an ex-charter school board chair, and an NU district trustee. He lives in Grass Valley.


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