This past September, the non-profit Convergence released A transformational vision for education in the US, the outcome of Education Reimagined, an initiative of Convergence dedicated to the realization of learner-centered education in the US. Founded in 2009, Convergence has an interesting mission: to convene people with conflicting views to identify solutions for action around national issues. Other projects include economic mobility and poverty, long-term care, and nutrition and wellness. The hope of the education vision signatories is to fuel the national debate around transforming education.
After a careful reading of the document, I think the ideas contained therein can be a basis for powerful conversations about transforming – not simply reforming – the education system in America. Time will tell, if word spreads and more stakeholders become engaged in the conversation, whether the work of this diverse group actually helps propel the conversation in the direction many of us practitioners believe it needs to go.
I appreciated a number of statements shared early in the document. To some, these may seem obvious and descriptive of current beliefs and values; to others, they may even be controversial:
The group’s vision for education is decidedly learner-centered, a paradigm shift from the current industrial-age model where too many decisions are made to satisfy the system instead of the end-user: “…learners are active participant in their learning as they gradually become owners of it, and learning itself is seen as an engaging and exciting process.” At one point, the vision is encapsulated in several sentences:
In an implementation of such a learner-centered vision (of which there are no known schools or districts fully implementing it but numerous implementing various components), all learning experiences facilitate the development of three domains: knowledge, skills and dispositions. While we’ve heard of these before, and we might even say that, as educators, we work to develop these now, the current system, with its draconian accountability system, focuses too much on the acquisition of knowledge at the expense of developing skills and dispositions. The domains are described as interdependent and equally important.
The vision is given more substance with brief descriptions of five “elements” that comprise the “design for learning:”
- competency-based learning
- personalized, relevant and contextualized learning
- learner agency
- socially embedded learning
- open-walled learning
These design elements are not presented as a prescription nor blueprint. Language in the document suggests the need for there to be experimentation in implementation, clarifying the ways the elements work together and reinforce one another to create learning experiences reflective of the vision. While the elements are described as a “North Star” to guide innovation, I wondered why these five. Where did they come from? Are there any I’d add to the list?
The document concludes with a list of core system components that need to be considered as schools and districts move toward the learner-centered paradigm of education:
- agreed domains and standards for knowledge, skills, and dispositions
- adults in the system and shifting roles
- use of data
- re-imagined spaces for learning
- the role of a coordinated network of institutions, organizations, agencies, associations and federations, and businesses
- resource allocation
Think about the complexities of transforming these elements, not just tinkering with them like we have been use to. Making the transformation of these elements even more challenging is the need to rethink other systems such as funding, governance and accountability.
While I finished the document with a sense of hope, I also realized how complex the current system is to change. Is our public education system so tightly intertwined with other systems that any change can only be seen as a dream? It’s because of this complexity that there can be no one-size-fits-all solution to transformation. There will be some people that say the document is short on specifics and long on visionary mumbo jumbo. If we are interested in changing the system, in any way, we have to resist this thinking which is driven only by the need for quick, easy solutions. Transformation will take hard work to navigate its many, many complexities. This document provides an entry into the much-needed conversation.
Does the current education system (with its deeply entrenched systems such as pedagogy, funding, governance and accountability) have the wherewithal to become truly learner-centered, to be transformed? Do we have a choice? If leadership is a key piece in any transformation, do our school leaders have the necessary knowledge, skills and dispositions to drive the transformation? How would a school or district begin moving toward a learner-centered system? What’s your blueprint?