For the past 10 days I and the Chief Development Officer of SDP have been in the UK visiting with Local Education Authorities from around the country. We traveled over 700 miles and found out that, while separated by the Atlantic, our challenges and issues are quite the same. The UK is in the midst of an enormous state funding building project called "BSF"... Building Schools of the Future. Their government is committing over $4.2 BILLION to rebuild or renovate every secondary school in the country over the next 10 years or so. We had the chance to visit with many who are in the "first wave."

One such visit presented me a solution that I'd like folks to think about and let me know your thoughts... On first read it may seem impossible... but read on, and let me know what you think...


 

Three unique social variables currently present in the education community require educational leaders to drastically rethink the teaching and learning environments we are creating, specifically in urban education.

 

Factor 1

Significant research supports the idea that the most significant factor in student achievement is teacher quality. While great conversations have been had with regards to individual class size as well as school population, the fact remains the greatest variable is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. This variable is not dependent on the number of students the teacher is responsible for. A gifted and talented teacher will create a successful learning environment for all students given the appropriate resources regardless of class size. A good teacher can teach 12… 20…. 50…. or even 100 students, if they have available to them the tools and resources necessary for such learning environments. Similar research has been done in areas that can be drawn on for comparison. One of the most significant preventative suicide factors is the presence of quality relationships in the individual’s life. It does not matter if the individual comes from a small family of three or a large family of ninety. It is the quality of those relationships that matter the most.

 

Factor 2

Many would argue there is a significant shortage of quality teachers in the United States and abroad. Great Britain, Australia, and the US all quote similar figures. In the US alone, 50% of new teachers will leave the profession in the first 5 years. Limited teacher recruitment due to salary constraints, poor teaching environments, and few professional growth opportunities will create an economic condition where demand will easily surpass supply in the very near future. With evidence of such condition currently present, local education authorities are forced to seek alternative certification routes, causing concern for the dilution of the profession. The integration of technology, added demands of accountability and limited budgets are causing many good teachers to leave for the private sector. Federal legislation in the US, requiring all local education authorities to insure that classrooms are managed by a “highly qualified” teacher is causing panic in many districts.

 

Factor 3

Preparing students for the 21st century requires significant investments in tools and resources that are not currently supported in local education authorities’ traditional operating expense budgets. Broadband access between home and school, 1:1 device access and technical support, and ongoing professional development for teachers and administrators, are required resources in today’s classrooms however they are unsupported by local budgets. Personnel expenditures including salary, pensions and health care represent on average over 80% of local education authorities’ budget outlays. These costs are required expenditures that must be met due to contractual obligations and create little flexibility with regard to supplemental funding of additional resources.  As a result schools are forced to fund the status quo and innovation and advancement suffer. Such outcomes can be seen in the relatively few alterations made to our teaching and learning environments over the past century, especially when compared to other social industries such as health care and research.

 

Solution

At first glance, this proposal will yield drastic reaction. However, it is requested that serious thought and consideration be given prior to its dismissal….

 

In order for the US to regain global education leadership and address the crisis in urban education, specifically in grades 7 – 12, we must increase class size.

 

By increasing class size to 60 – 90 students, local education authorities will be able to:

  1. Hire from a quality pool of “lead teacher” candidates due to the reduction of required headcount
  2. Redistribute personnel savings that are achieved by hiring less “lead teachers” to fund appropriate resources and tools for student and teachers, including personal computing devices, broadband access and systemic professional development.
  3. Utilize “teacher aide” model and pre-service “student aides” to provide the necessary additional support in these larger learning spaces
  4. Create personalized, student-driven learning environments, realized through quality integration of technology and resources, where the student becomes more responsible for their own learning and achievement
  5. Increase the professional status of the “lead teacher” through improved peer recognition, increased salary scales and time for professional growth opportunities.

 

Case Study

Hugh Christie Technology College, Kent, U.K

The Hugh Christie Technology College is a state run school for students aged 7 – 18, located in Kent, UK. This school of approximately 1100 represents and underserved population where the students failed to meet the standards necessary for them to attend a more prestigious “Academy”. (In the UK, the top 10% of students are availed this opportunity, with the rest sent to local LEA state schools.) Four years ago the Hughe Christie School scored in the bottom 40% of achievement scores for similar institutions. The school was facing financial crisis with almost 86% of their operating budget going to personnel costs.

 

In 2001 the school was placed under new leadership. Chris Gerry, the new “principal” (referred to as head teacher in the UK) immediately began to institute cultural change. Under his leadership he began to reinvent the classroom. Larger learning spaces were created so that classes of 60 – 100 students could be conducted. Curriculum modules were created so that students had increased flexibility and improved relevance while still meeting their educational requirements. Quality teachers willing to move to this new learning environment were provided the opportunity, while others remained teaching in the status quo. During this transitional period, teachers and students in large class sizes were all placed in environments that had 1:1 access. Such access was initially provided through desk top computers and now, every year 7 and year 8 student has their own Tablet PC. Incoming grades will continue to receive this type of access.

 

Over the next two years, Hugh Christie became revitalized. Student achievement scores in the new learning environments rose. More and more, traditional classrooms were no longer found. Lead teachers were now supporting with teaching aides and the quality of instruction and instructor rose considerably. And most important, as recently reported in their state wide achievement report, Hughe Christie has more that 54% of students at proficiency levels. This all being accomplished while decreasing their personnel operating expenses to 68% of total budget.