We have 12 short years to the year 2020, a year that serves as more than a play on words with a future vision. In 2020, our current first graders, including my son, will be we graduating. We will be starting to see a new generation to enter our schools (post-"Net Generation"). We will be far enough removed from the end of NCLB to look back and fully assess its worth. And given the rate at which information and technology is expanding, a personal computer will begin to have the knowledge capacity of a human brain.
There are some things we can safely predict about the year 2020 in Iowa. Higher percentages of our students will be living in the Urban 8, meaning we'll likely have fewer total districts, requiring more distance learning opportunities. Quite a few of the top jobs in demand in that year don't exist today. And, those jobs will rely on the blending of technological advances with the advances in other seemingly limitless fields, like genetics or nuclear physics.
It goes without saying that the needs of students are changing; contrary to what you see in your local classroom, we aren't preparing students for the industrial age anymore. There are no longer set answers, set skills to master in order to be employable, like there was in work places of the past. Set patterns, answers, and skills can be learned by computers who can perform more and more of those tasks. Replacing it are those things that are not set, the solving of unclear problems and the mastery of soft skills, of consensus-building and relationship forming, and most importantly of teamwork and leadership. These are the mysterious "21st century skills" that the Iowa Core is emphasizing, in addition to math, reading, science, and social studies.
THE IOWA CORE: PART OF THE SOLUTION
There is still much work to be done on the state's vision of what those 21st century skills look like, how they are best implemented in the classroom. The Iowa Core is, after all, a curriculum, a system of standards, benchmarks, and indicators to be achieved. It is not a pedagogy of instruction, and although Iowa Core training for district leadership teams right now are emphasizing work such as Balanced Leadership and Instructional Decision Making, there is still a lot left open to individual districts, which is both good and bad.
I am very encouraged by the work on the Iowa Core and its call to ramp up the instruction, but a new set of standards and more push for the bevy of instructional initiatives alone won't get us there. In spite of where we are heading right now, we need more. We need more if we are going to meet our vision of providing a world-class education to all of our students so they can compete in the global economy.
THE PLAN WE NEED:
Enter Scott McLeod's plan for the 21st century learning system. I've included the graphic below:
Scott identifies 6 categories in order to create an educational world that mimics the world students will be competing in, not in the industrial age, but in the network age.
• Curriculum that supports 21st century skills- Which, is the attempt of the Iowa Core. Iowa is in a unique situation. Great change will be coming through state legislative mandate, and it will have an effect, just as NCLB did. Hopefully, the effect will be a positive one on instruction. But, I will judge the value of the Iowa Core Curriculum by its ability to bring about the Digital Curriculum.
• P-20 coordination and articulation- Because while the world has shifted to make college a necessity to compete, the educational system hasn't shifted nearly as much. There is still a communication divide between K-12 and 13-20.
• A computerized device in every student's hand- You know how I feel about this.
• Robust statewide online learning infrastructure- Ditto
• Broadband access for all those computers- Or else, the computerized device is a glorified graphing calculator.
• Preservice and inservice training for teachers- And ultimately, this is where we will succeed or fail, how tangible and meaningful can we make our training on 21st century skills be for teachers?
We have to get there. This is the "more" that we need. Having these things in place, there will be no mistake about it; we are not just setting ourselves up for another initiative that will go away, another binder that will soon collect dust on the shelf. We will have given students and teachers the actual tools (both technology and training). All will take notice.
HOW WE GET THERE
Scott identifies three important supports to get there: Legislative policy and funding, ongoing monitoring and evaluation, and a mindset shift. And, there is both hope and despair here. Legislative policy in Iowa hasn't moved at all here (which can best be shown by what NACOL had to say about Iowa's online developments), and this is a bleak time to look for funding. But in this bleakness, our businesses have an opportunity to build the shining star educational system in this post-Lehman Brothers economy, where an opportunity exists for new players (read: Iowa companies) in the national scene. Despite what the closed secrecy of the Iowa Core's development would suggest, those businesses need a place at the planning table, as well as a piece of the financial responsibility to bring about this plan.
Monitoring and evaluation might seem the most formidable to seasoned veterans, but this is one area where Iowa has truly made progress in recent years. Administrators and district leadership teams alike regularly use data in their decision-making process now; developing a quality monitoring and evaluation process for this vision is not nearly as formidable as it was 10 years ago.
It is perhaps the mindset shift that is the most daunting to me. We need more than lip service to the reality that we need to change to meet the changing times. We need the sense of urgency with the hope of possibility. We can do this and we must. How do we make believers out of educators, lawmakers, and community members? This is our task.
And so, I get to my role in bringing about the vision. I know my limitations; I don't have the levers to move lawmakers for legislation or for funding from businesses. But I'm not helpless, either. It is my goal to do the following:
• Lead a statewide partnership of agencies and school districts to create quality online education for students. This is the heart and soul of what my job is. I'm heading up several groups in the state to bring about that very task.
• Help shape the Iowa Core Curriculum to make sure 21st century skills represent the Digital Curriculum. My role in statewide Iowa Core development committees will hopefully drive that.
• Train educational leaders in the 21st century skills- The opportunities I have now to work with districts is just a start.
• Provide a working example of the Digital Curriculum- My top task is to work with some districts who, at a local level, can provide the items above in Scott's plan. I can provide the training and support, as well as the vision on the curriculum to make it happen.
What is your role?