Today I was talking with my great friend and school redesigner Antonia Rudenstine about the slow pace of the educational revolution in America. How even among large school districts and folks who have a lot of policy muscle, the vision is still pretty small, pretty conventional, pretty much about teacher-centered instruction, using test scores to show improvement, and blaming kids when the adults fail. So 1990s.
Why so slow here? Despite our greater connectivity, we still seem outposty and marginally-statused; some of our best reformers are a little insular, like they’re just getting it. We may be brave and visionary, and speak in many voices, but are we well connected enough to each other to make a coherent movement?
In Victoria, Australia they are doing it a different way. The Minster of Education, in conjunction with some visionary leaders has been working strategicially and systematically, for the past five years to bring “Ultranet” learning to all of its 1200 schools, or over half a million students students. (Monika, that’s digital equity! Every student at every school, all the time, and teaching and learning organized around the digital environment.) They just introduced the model and you can read how Darrell Fraser is getting ready for their big roll out in just a few days.
What is Ultranet? “Ultranet is an intuitive, student-centered electronic learning environment that supports high quality learning and teaching, connect students, teachers, and parents and enables efficient knowledge tranfser. The Ultranet will fundamentally change Victorian government school education.” (That’s just what the Australian government is saying.) The first step of the transformation is for teachers and students to create personal digital learning portfolios, and then to begin to collaborate with other students across Victoria. In May 2010 they piloted the Ultranet with 600 schools, and will bring it to all 1200 by mid-September.
The Victoria Department has also strategically moved away from teacher-centered models of education, highlighting schools where students and teachers are collaborating with each other around curriculum design, assessment, and school culture. (Check out the video embedded in the link.) At one school (Galvin Park Secondary College, a 7-12 school), adults talk about kids being in charge of their own learning, and acculturating teachers to release control to students. Teachers speak openly about being “unable to go back into an old straight-laced, teacher-centered learning environment.” An American colleague who works closely with them figures that Victoria is about two-and-a-half generations ahead of any school district or system in the U.S.
I know what’s going on there because a couple of years ago I got to attend the Department’s “Big Day Out” in Melbourne, a yearly professional development meeting in which over a thousand school leaders come together to talk about how to transform what’s going on in their schools. I’ve also heard a little about the evolution of the Department’s thinking from Darrell Fraser and his colleague Judy Petch for a couple of years.
It can be done. Why are we so insular? Why do we have to bravely do it all by ourselves, on the margins, as if no one else is?
Check out what’s happening at Galvin Park Secondary College, where teachers and students 7-12 get together everyday and co-create curriculum, relationships, school culture.
What do we have to learn from the Australians about moving to scale with big ideas?