Thursday, March 13, 2008

What's up on Dr. Fitch's/ACHE's push for PK-20?

Lots of food for thought in this image. After reading the thoughts of Dr. Gregory Fitch of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education I recently asked Are we meeting the needs of citizens or capital? I raised some concerns that Dr. Fitch might be focusing too much on getting our children ready to produce rather than ponder. His writing in today's Huntsville Times titled PK-20: education for the future likewise worries me. In part, Dr. Fitch, with me providing some emphasis, wrote:

... The time is now, not later, to bring all educational parties and industry leaders together to decide a course of action that will benefit all Alabamians. Employment opportunities are knocking; we must answer with an educated work force.

What is a PK-20 system? It is a system that consolidates established and proven educational activities with industries' current resources and future needs. The creation of a comprehensive PK-20 system will not only better prepare Alabama students for the jobs of the 21st century, but will also enhance our state's economic competitiveness. Similar initiatives in other states already are successfully delivering well-prepared work forces. ...

All roads should lead to cooperation among educational levels and industry in order to equip and prepare students to enter the job market. That involves curriculum choices and program development to meet industry needs. ...

Yet, education and industry must engage early in a student's career to align course work with advanced instructional preparation focusing on future employment. This strategy should start before kindergarten, with specific criteria to be met throughout a student's education. There must be a balance between work force development and research that can be created within a PK-20 environment. ...

I've long liked the idea of trying something like a "High Schools That Work" approach for some high schools, especially those that serve a more disadvantaged population. Yet and still, this emphasis (the "all roads" portion for instance) on getting a workforce ready seems a bit backwards looking. Again, I like some of what Dr. Fitch shares. Certainly kids today will need jobs tomorrow. I'd love for many to be able to work here in Alabama. I concur on " The U.S. economy has moved from a base of agriculture and manufacturing to one of information and technology in every field. When knowledge becomes the commodity that drives an economy, education is the common denominator."

Yet I think the most critical skill, perhaps more accurately trait, a child can develop is "how to think". Creativity, capacity, cleverness ... counts for much. And I'm not sure the average job in Alabama, especially compared to the balance of the world, even looking down the road another generation, will ever reward those skill sets. I certainly don't think bring industry into the mix and so brazenly confirming that making sure they have abundant labor for the future is the right message or solution. Furthermore, the idea that we start aligning a kindergartner's learning with future employment seems perfectly radical. I am almost, but not completely certain, Dr. Fitch isn't meaning to go this far. Is he?

Finally, I'm betting a "PK-20 system" involves purchasing (plus then learning and finally maintaining) a packaged technological product. Washington State's K-20 effort mentions architecture and networks and ... Blackboard and ESP Solutions for instance look ready to profit. As a techie type educator I'm admittedly intrigued by some of the possibilities yet I do know great technology will never replace good teaching. Placing so much of our emphasis on data collection and analysis is bothersome as well.

The main worry is that Alabama will wind up with a model of learning that seems to be more about developing employees rather than preparing engaged, effective citizens. How Dr. Fitch reasons that "industry leaders" merit a special place at the table is a mystery to me. Right now it looks like I've got more to keep me out of the classroom than just that damned NCLB. John Gunn

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