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By Tim Hunt

Time to rethink high school top to bottom

Uploaded: May 28, 2020

Editor's note: Upon reflection and taking into account other comments, I have changed this headline.

School trustees throughout the Tri-Valley and across the state are trying to figure out whether to re-open schools in the fall and what changes will be required if they do.
The irony about schools being closed is it’s become clear that children are at minimal risk from COVID-19—their health is not a question. The more challenging question concerns staff members who, depending upon their age and physical condition, may well be more at risk. And then there’s the grandparents and parents at home.
In addition, given the huge financial hit on government revenues and the potential for 10% cuts in the governor’s proposed budget and it’s another challenging time to be doing what amounts to a critically important volunteer job.
After a meeting that ended at midnight, trustees delayed their decision this week.
I think trustee Jamie Yee had it right. The Weekly reported, “Trustee Jamie Yee shared her concerns about "this mindset that we need to get back to the way it was or figure out how to do what we were doing before, and I think that maybe shuts down a lot of creative, innovative thinking if you approach it that way. I really think this is a chance to re-imagine education."
“Noting that "rows of desks do not work for everybody," including teachers, Yee suggested matching up students and teachers into groups based on their preference for in-person or virtual instruction and learning.”
The situation invites fresh thinking.
I came across a Bloomberg opinion piece by Michael J. Petrilli, president of president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and executive editor of Education Next.
In it, he argues for blowing up high school as we know it and also points out the fallacy of education funding in California. Schools are paid on butts in the seats for 180 days and a minimum number of minutes per day. It’s all attendance and has nothing not do with outcomes—are students learning? It’s truly backward.
He wrote, “it’s possible to glimpse a future in which technology liberates high school students — or at least some of them — from the six or seven-hour school day that has been crushing teenage souls for generations. That’s worth celebrating because so much of the school day amounts to wasted time.
Students only learn when they are focused, engaged and putting in effort.”
He continued, “For decades, the organization of the school day has followed a stultifying routine. High school seniors force themselves to get up at the crack of dawn and sleepwalk their way to first-period by 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. They then slog through six or seven forty-five minute classes, and finally leave school at 2:30 or 3:00, ready at last to do something self-directed: play sports, head to band or theater or go to jobs.”
Then comes college and “the chains fall away” with 15 hours devoted to classroom instruction and the expectation to work independently, take part in group projects and connect with the instructor during office hours if they need some help.
For motivated students, he advocated a project-based learning and an end to our industrialized schools.
Last year, I read about an interesting approach in Texas where one master teacher would teach and it would be video streamed into other classrooms which had assistants to maintain order and provide help for students. One excellent instructor could be leveraged to touch hundreds of students instead of a single classroom. Given the way students have grown up attached to their screens, there’s some promise to this approach.