Foresight for Close to 50 Years
By Monica Van Aken, Ed. D, Head of School
On March 1st, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) released a report supporting President Obama and Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan's educational priorities. They call for "revolutionary transformation in schools" and recommend practices that, though novel in the vast majority of the nation's schools, have long been standard at Milwaukee Montessori. The authors stressed the need to "rethink basic assumptions," especially those that organize students into age-determined groups with students receiving the same content at the same pace, and keeping these groups in place regardless of student successes or challenges.
Instead, the DOE calls for schools to organize student lessons around competence and enable flexible teaching that fits students‚ individual needs rather than traditional lockstep curriculum pacing. At MMS, we organize students into mixed-age groups spanning three years. Lessons are based on students‚ current readiness and are flexible enough to address particular interests. When students excel in a given discipline, they are free to move ahead. Likewise, when students are having trouble, we spend more time engaging in the material until they are ready to move ahead. In other words, no one is given a C+, indicating they have not truly mastered the material, and are then asked to move on. Likewise, our students do not have to wait for others to catch up; lessons are given in flexible groups comprised of other students mastering the same material or, if necessary, individually so students may maintain and build upon their academic gains.
The report also calls for schools to incorporate on-line learning to extend the walls of the school outward. Through careful planning and faculty input, we have implemented on-line learning options in ways that truly build upon students' knowledge. The faculty judge student readiness, determine the kind of on-line practice a student needs, and create meaning out of the data gained through on-line practice. The human element remains essential in monitoring and supervising students‚ on-line work, which also necessitates that our faculty members are trained in technology at a level beyond the skill set of our students.
Today, the DOE maintains that the challenge for our education system is to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences that put students at the center and empower them to take control of their own learning. They write, "As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, there has never been a more pressing need to transform American education, and there will never be a better time to act." In examining the particulars of this educational "revolution," we find ourselves well ahead of the pack and ready to further distinguish ourselves.
To read the detailed government report from the office of educational technology, go to http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/os/technology/index.html