I’m still catching up with all of the reading I missed during my little hiatus, so this may have gotten more attention than it seems, but is anyone else a bit interested in the fact that one 21,000 student district in the UK has decided to close all of its high schools and open learning centers instead:
In the words of rock legend Alice Cooper’s most famous song, “school’s out forever”. Knowsley Council in Merseyside, which – for years – has languished near
or at the bottom of exam league tables, has abolished the use of the word to describe secondary education in the borough. It is taking the dramatic step of closing all of its eleven existing secondary schools by 2009. As part of a Â£150m government-backed rebuilding programme, they will reopen as seven state-of-the-art, round-the-clock, learning centres with the aid of Microsoft – which has already developed links with one school in the borough, Bowring.
Graham Atwell says “I see this as the first big crack in the present model of schooling
which dates from the first industrial revolution. And it won’t be the last.” And Stephen Downes writes “This is pretty much the system I and many others have been recommending
for years, so this is a program which will be well worth watching.”
It’s dramatic, no doubt. And the way they’ve envisioned this space is, well, radical to some extent: no formal classes, no timetables, and “They will be given their day’s assignments in groups of 120 in the morning before dispersing to internet cafe-style zones in the learning
centres to carry them out.” And they can access it all from home as well.
I think we’ll all be interested to see how this works, but is anyone else niggled by the Microsoft connection? If big business is going to carry the empowerment juice for educators being able to implement bold changes and ideas, is that real reform? Or is it Microsoft’s?
Dean Shareski says
Maybe I’m naive, but I’m not bothered by business partnerships of this type. Certainly, Microsoft has a interest here that is mostly financial but these partnerships have been going for years and unless I’ve missed something, I haven’t heard of one of these arrangements going sour. If there are any cases, please tell us about them so we can be informed.
I bet if Apple were donating iphones, everyone would be singing the praises of Steve Jobs.
Arthus Erea says
Personally, I have no problem with Microsoft (and other big business in intelligent industry) from financing and supporting school reform. Such businesses rely heavily upon an intelligent work force. If the current school model is not producing creative and intelligent employees, the business community has every right to intervene and assist.
Faith Smith says
I am very interested to see if the learning centers will be more successful than regular high schools. Who says change is a bad thing? As for Microsoft financing the technology, I do not see any harm in their partnership. If anything these assets will be of good use.
Matt B. says
The only worry i have with this approach to learning is the lack of a timetable and the fact that it doesn’t mention anything about teachers. While some students are great at organizing their time, most are not. They need the know that this needs to be done by this time to keep them on track. As far as teachers go, students need the one-on-one human interaction that a teacher provides. Just sitting their infront of a computer will not in any way help their social or comunicative skills.
Mike Waiksnis says
I think this is truly something that needs to be considered on a larger scale. Our schools are based on an outdated model. While I am sure there are many critics, we must look for true reform.
Lana McNulty says
If microsoft wants to fund it and teachers are intersted in preparing the material for students and students certainly are interested in the latest technology, then proceed and evaluate at the end of a year. Change is good and educators try new theories and ideas all the time.
What this article fails to mention is the fact that a lot of the high quality teachers in this authority are now trying desperatley to leave before this new system becomes a reality, and not just the technophobic good teachers either which is probably what people would believe. Knowsley has many issues as an area, and a lot of the teaching staff at the schools do a brilliant job in getting results from the kids, but a lot of them are trying to flee to avoid the new methods, the ambiguous hours and terms and conditions.
The article also failed to mention that the school listed as having time for students to work on problems has been doing that for years now in Year 7 to try and aid the transitional problems faced by kids coming from Primary school, and is supported by a class teacher and specialist teachers on a very rigid timetable, with a great deal of success. I believe one of the factors in this success (amongst many others) is the fact that the interpersonal relationship lost with a class teacher when leaving Primary school has been recreated, and remains to support the students.
It seems to this viewer that there needs to be a halfway house in all this. The BSF (Building Schools for the Future) programme seems to be going from one extreme (such as Knowsley) to the other (where they are building new old style schools with bigger corridors and more ICT suites). They are still going to need teachers and coaches and mentors to support the programme, but these seem to be bottom of the list of importance.
The authority is brave in going for the learning centre approach, but at what cost, and will it have the effect that they believe it will, in raising attainment and achievement (from circa 15% below the national average), bettering social standards, reducing truancy and absenteeism, and producing workers for the knowledge economy? Or will it merely see the flight of excellent and experienced ‘old school’ teachers, and a new set of official excuses for absenteeism and a lack of genuine social skills?
I hope its the former, but I fear it may be a step too far too soon.
Chris Lehmann says
Quick reply… a more thoughtful one will have to wait, but..
1) Hugely concerned with Microsoft’s agenda here.
2) On some level, this is a return to agrarian schooling of America (not sure of my British school reform history) of the era of 1850 – 1900, when teachers gave all kids independent work and then just assessed recitations all day long. Only now, we’ve got the internet, not the textbook… and more comfortable seating. Bad idea then, bad idea now.
We need to find ways to structure *more* time with caring adults for kids, not less.
Gary Stager says
I’m not particularly bothered by corporations involved in schooling. I’m hugely concerned by insane corporations making matters worse with deranged schemes such as this:
I’m hugely concerned by the test, blame and shame regiment imposed by the Business Roundtable – read this to “Follow the money…” http://tinyurl.com/22hhrp
I’m also concerned by Bill Gates and Eli Broad (the king of the test and blame crowd) hiring Roy Romer (perhaps the worst education leader in history) to manipulate the 2008 election – http://www.edin08.org
Mrs. Durff says
Your talkr link is not doing something right. I used to be able to listen to your blogs and now cannot.
Terry Elliott says
You are right to worry about MS connection here. I recently responded to this same news report and mentioned MS’s other foray into education–http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_6157839?source=most_viewed
and my response here–http://tex2all.com/?p=212
I think a more interesting development in alt-ed is here–http://farm.omegaproductions.org/2007/06/18/open-source-education/
Gary Stager says
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE read http://www.microsoft.com/education/competencies/default.mspx
and discuss whether you want these folks near the education of children.
Dean Shareski says
Your link to microsoft didn’t work…
I still think if it had been Apple, nary a word would have been spoken.
Gary Stager says
No seriously, read the document. The link worked for me.
This is not part of an Apple vs. Microsoft jihad. Apple is not claiming to know what is in the best interest of education to the extent that Microsoft is.
Suggesting that my OS preference clouds my educational judgement is ridiculous. You should know me better than that.
If the link doesn’ work, please just Google (or MSN if you prefer) “wheel of competencies home”
We have tendency to land on the latest method and hold on with a conviction that this at last will be the answer. Technology is a tool, one of many we must apply, to the rich, complex, and complicated challenge that is contemporary education. We need to use it with what we already know works – differentiation, heterogeneity, collaboration, workshop, portfolio, etc. It simply does not make sense educationally or communally to give hundreds of kids assignments and cut them loose. To suggest that they can or even should learn independently of peers and adults in their community suggests an alarming disintegration of the community. This is probably overly dramatic because communities are more than their education system, but kids thrive on collaboration and guidance and structure. To deprive them of these feels like a return to the open classroom and learn-at-your pace models of the early seventies and which were largely ineffective. To make our schools stronger, we must invest in them. We know what works in instruction, in pedagogy, in school management. What we do not need is the top down business model evaluation of teacher competencies. These are designed to save money. As long as policy and vision are driven by cost cutting, teachers will continue to viewed, to one degree or another, as dispensable.
Tom McGee says
Tom McGee here from Lower Merion SD. Talk about open source. Have you seen these apps yet?
These are video on demand apps. They’re trying to mainstream the apps with internet technology- sharing, collaborating etc. So Cool!
Dean Shareski says
Not sure if you’re still lurking around this post but my take on the Microsoft link is again perhaps naive but I’m not convinced it’s all bad.
They may not get it all right and certainly can’t simply impart their business success formula into schools but my guess is they want to provide some perspectives on education.
I’ve had some contact with Microsoft Canada’s Education Unit and have for the most part been impress with their understanding of a changing world and need to connect students with ideas and explore new strategies for teaching and learning. These are not always in the context of Microsoft making big dollars either. Again, I realize their bottom line is their bottom line but I’m still not convinced their input and contributions are all bad.
I agree, let’s pay attention, let’s make sure we as educators have the biggest say but I also think we can be a bit paranoid of business as well.
Tadge OBrien says
Just thinking in relation to how the structure might look in a school like this. I think it is funny to see this “They will be given their dayâ€™s assignments in groups of 120 in the morning before dispersing to Internet cafe-style zones in the learning
centres to carry them out.â€ Wouldn’t it make more sense to give students in this environment more open ended questions and projects that are truly interdisciplinary? Giving students projects that last months or years would be interesting in this type of setting. Decompartmentalize the learning and see what happens.