New approaches for education explored
HUNTINGTON -- No new ideas or solutions were taboo among some of the state's education leaders during a forum Monday at Marshall University.
About 30 people attended the session titled "Creating a New Vision for Public Education in West Virginia," taking on topics including college preparedness and even changing the traditional teaching model that has dominated in the United States since the 1800s.
The forum was the second of its kind to be hosted by Charles R. McElwee, an attorney from Charleston who has researched and written about the public school system for many years.
McElwee hosted a similar forum at the home of West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee in Morgantown in June.
The goal of the forums has been to help mobilize citizen support for an improved public education system in West Virginia, McElwee said.
McElwee believes the state should focus on how students best learn and what it is they should learn.
"We need to determine that," he said. "We also need to determine whether our age-old learning model, which is derived from Prussia in the early 1800s, should continue."
That model, he said involves breaking up the school day by subject, teaching all students at the same pace and advancing students through the educational system by age.
McElwee questioned if that learning model has kept up with societal advances.
"Does it make any sense to teach all kids at the same pace?" he asked. "Should we have student-centered learning and let kids advance at their own pace? Those are some of the things we need to examine in the traditional learning model."
Cabell County Schools Superintendent Bill Smith was one of the contributors to the forum.
He pointed out the school district's foray into the Expeditionary Learning model that is being used in two of the district's schools. Those schools, Geneva Kent and Peyton elementary schools, will be consolidated at the end of the school year to create the first Expeditionary Learning school in West Virginia.
In Expeditionary Learning, students learn by conducting learning expeditions rather than by sitting in a classroom being taught one subject at a time. The school district has partnered with Marshall University's June Harless Center to offer teachers in Cabell County and throughout the state training on that type of learning approach.
Smith said the model will play more into focusing on what students can do as opposed to what they know.
"I think student engagement is a a major issue for schools," Smith said. "We need to think about how we engage our students and measure that. ... When you talk about student engagement, it's not about what they know, it's what they can do. Assessment in the future is going to be more about what they can do."
Marshall University President Stephen Kopp echoed that sentiment of student ability when he noted recent statistics from the National College Board that indicated only 26 percent of high school graduates entering college were prepared for college-level math and English courses.
"I think when you look nationally at the preparedness of high school seniors to go into college and do college-level work, we've seen an erosion of preparedness," Kopp said. "It's hard to pinpoint the exact cause, but I think what we're going to accomplish today is to start asking very important questions and explore potential solutions."
Kopp also said a university's role is just as important in K-12 public education because universities educate the teachers who will be tasked with helping students meet educational standards.
In his opening remarks for the forum, Kopp pointed out the importance of looking for solutions and not looking for someone or something to blame.
West Virginia Board of Education President Gayle Manchian supported Kopp's philosophy and stated it is one that needs to be used broadly in the educational system today.
"I think in the past it's been easy for people in the community to say it's the teachers' fault because they don't teach kids today the way they used to," Manchin said. "Teachers say it's the parents fault because students don't come to school with basic instruction, and the business leaders say it's everyone's fault because they don't have enough qualified people to hire and do the jobs they need done.
"It truly is about coming together today independently, each and every one of us has a responsibility to the education of the children of West Virginia and across this country."
Follow Reporter Lacie Pierson on Twitter @LaciePiersonHD.
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