Currently, public schools are run like single-minded industrial factories. The aim of a school? To produce students that score high on tests. Achievement on tests supposedly translates into higher skilled workers who will contribute to our knowledge economy and keep our nation globally competitive.
But this conception of schools as knowledge factories, producing high achieving students, has resulted in the opposite: according to both our own measurements and international comparisons, our students remain “mediocre,” and the achievement gap between socio-economic groups continues to lengthen. Not to mention the grim statistics on literacy rates, dropouts, and college remediation for those who even make it that far.
The response to this failure has resulted in a monomaniacal focus on school choice and accountability as saviors of public education, to name a few. But these measures alone will do little.
Will and I have proposed a new model for our public schools. We propose that our schools be perceived as ecosystems, ripe with interconnections, dynamic niches for learning and collaboration, and bountiful opportunities for positive and productive explorations with wider society. Using an ecological lens founded upon natural principles and an ethics of humaneness, equity, and sustainability, we can steer our education reform efforts to focus upon the environments and content that schools deliver, rather than upon the quixotic demand for production of “better” students.
When we discuss our model of schools as ecosystems, we’re talking about man-made, cultivated ecosystems–like a garden or farm. This distinction is an important one to make, because it suggests that we can deliberately cultivate sustainable ecosystems that not only function based upon ecological principles, but that it will produce a ‘high yield’ (translate to ‘higher student achievement’) for our intended purpose.
In other words, we can have our cake and eat it, too. But in order to do so, we require the knowledge and understanding of how to harness and utilize ecological values and principles systemically. This kind of cross-disciplinary work is already being done in other fields, but not much of this kind of work is trickling into public education.
We are not hippies. We strongly believe that viewing our public schools through an ecological lens and designing schools and implementing policies based on our holistic, community steeped model will result in better schools — by any measuring stick.
I believe that the model Will and I are proposing can unite both sides of the great education debate, reformers and activists, business interests and open source enthusiasts, conservative and liberal alike. How? Because I believe that using our model will result in higher performing schools and an education that respects and nurtures the whole child. Simply said, our model will result in better schools.
We want our schools to be better. We believe that we can make them better using the framework that we are suggesting.