A recent conference which I attended at the University of Minnesota focused on the development of "World Class Schools". A "Call to Action" from 27 school superintendents proposed 8 traits that schools should have to prepare students for the global Information Age.
The superintendents' overall vision for education includes: raising student achievement; eliminating educational disparities; focusing on best practices; and leading the way to prepare students for the global economy in the Information Age.
In brief, the 8 traits that the superintendents encourage, to achieve this vision:
1. There are many academic roads, but all are rigorous and lead to higher education. The superintendents' report states: "...providing every student with academic rigor is the single most powerful step we can take toward closing the achievement gaps that exist..." They feel that no student should have to travel along the "low road" in education.
2. Educational investment starts early. They cite a high rate of return for every dollar spent on early childhood education; they encourage all day, every day kindergarten for five year olds.
3. Learning takes as much time as it takes. At least two important points here. One, students should have the amount of time they need to learn what they need to know to meet state standards. Two, we need to adjust our school year from one designed for the agricultural calendar to one that fits the Information Age. Minnesota averages 172 school days; England requires students to attend 190 days; Japan and Australia 210; and China 230!
4. Great educators have great support. Research shows that, of all the things in the school, the quality of a student's teacher has the strongest effect on learning. Teacher training and continued development and support are crucial.
5. Data and research inform teaching and improve learning every day. The superintendents encourage productive decisions, made by principals for schools and by teachers for classrooms, based on data and research.
6. Funding is predictable and sufficient to produce world-class performance. The United Kingdom, for example, guarantees three year budgets, in order to give principals and teachers confidence to plan for the future.
7. Services for students with special needs emphasize outcomes, not processes. The superintendents advise: Don't specify an inflexible process. Identify outcomes, and enable schools to reach those outcomes in ways that work best for their own situations.
8. Global citizenship is a core academic subject. Two important points here. One, students need to see the "increasing cultural, racial, and linguistic diversity of our state as an asset"...and schools should equip students "with the skills and sensitivity to interact with people and communities whose backgrounds are very different..." Two, students here, as in other countries, should enhance their "knowledge and understanding of international affairs, world history, geography, global economics, and foreign languages." Students should achieve basic fluency in a language other than English.
Whether we agree entirely with what the superintendents proposed, their intent is very worthwhile: They are attempting to create a vision for the future; without a vision, we won't know what we should strive to achieve.