Rolling Stone magazine leads with this recent article: “Since election night, U.S. cities and towns have rung with protest.” The story argues that protesting is necessary for participation in democracy. And so we are also joining the protests in this post-election cycle. It’s a simple complaint – neither candidate seemed to care much about education, neither created a meaningful education conversation, and frankly neither candidate emphasized education’s importance to our future as a nation. So shame on you, President-elect Trump and Mrs. Clinton because this belonged in the conversation.
But, in retrospect, that may be good news. While the candidates weren’t concerned, our communities are deeply passionate about schools. And as we look forward to the future, a lessened federal role may be empowering. Momentum is on the side of the “good guys.” The transformation train has left the station and our federal friends (who fund only about 10% of K-12 education nationally) have elected not to participate in strongly influencing the future of schools.
Who, then, will drive change in schools? Communities will! Consider the following six distinct transformations we expect to see by 2020, as the federal government distances themselves from schools:
- Stronger School-Work Connections- Effective and engaging schools draw connections and interest from the student’s authentic world, from across the local community. In the next four years, we can fully expect to see communities driving real-world local curriculum, asking students to apply learning by finding real solutions to local problems. Expect to see more community foundations and funders to support locally-driven initiatives.
- Diverse Teaching & Learning Practices- Today teachers are broadening their repertoire of teaching strategies to meet the needs of widely diverse students. When teachers are allowed to choose tailored teaching practices, they reach students in ways that ensure a student’s zip code no longer has to dictate their destiny. A reenergized and enabled teaching profession, is empowered to bring a more human, personalized learning experience to learners everywhere.
- Mastery-Based Learning Focus- Student interest is a learning accelerator. When we provide students with choice, and with sufficient time to master skills, students learn more and learn faster. This is the foundation of a humanized learning experience. We are moving away from a federal “one size fits all” mindset, and instead we are embracing learning experiences which provide students the time to master skills through locally relevant content.
- Concentrated Learning Communities- The most recent election illustrated again something we already know – that many communities have been left behind economically. Economic disparity is a far greater barrier to learning than other differences, and it is also concentrated. Coupled with choice – which allows students with similar needs and interests to gather in one school, economic disparity will lead to further concentration of learning communities. Charter schools for kids with challenges, public schools with a leadership curriculum, poor and failing schools for those who cannot travel elsewhere – learning communities will follow affinity, interest, and economic autonomy.
- Competition for Students- Choices lead to competition. As the federal government moves away from school mandates, and as states embrace programs to allow families more choices for learning, competition for students will increase. Branded schools, schools which focus on specific curriculum, and schools which strive for excellence within concentrated communities will accelerate from their current emergence. The trends we see today – charter schools focused on STEM or arts or with expertise in specific learning challenges like autism will proliferate. The stakes have never been higher for schools to succeed, if they want to remain in business.
- Choice- In a word, this is the future of teaching and learning in America. As schools move towards 2020, in a world where the federal government is moving away from a strongman role and local communities are taking back their influence in local schooling, we can expect accelerated choices for students and for teachers. The kid as consumer is already a reality. The idea that teachers should have increased choices in content and methods is taking hold. Choice leads to competition, and competition leads to a new set of winners and losers. The question remains to be answered – which schools, and therefore which students, will be in the winner’s circle.
President-elect Trump has been less than specific about his plans for schools, but he has been clear that locally driven initiatives are at the top of his agenda. A September NPR/Ed article entitled “Donald Trump’s Plan For America’s Schools” gives additional insight into his stated position. For those focused on effective teaching and learning, the movement away from bureaucratic, federally-driven “one size fits all” initiatives is empowering.
No matter who you voted for, we believe schools can take comfort because the education conversation is moving quickly into the real world – into our own communities. As we empower families, students and teachers, the real progress of our local schools will not be thwarted by Washington bureaucrats. Local control and greater choice? Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun.