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Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Designing Schools for the Present Age: Thoughts on a Recent Editorial by Bill Gates 
An older post from the Eide Neurolearning Blog: Designing Schools for the Present Age: Thoughts on a Recent Editorial by Bill Gates. They actually agreed with most of what Gates had proposed, which surprised me at first -- I remember dismissing it at the time because he was basically insisting that every kids should go to university, which I just don't believe. But anyway, the Eides push those ideas further into the realm of individualized learning plans, and I thought they were especially on track with questioning these three assumptions about traditional education:

"· The notion that all students should master a core body of information at the same rates and in the same ways, using identical educational materials and informational pathways. Basic skills can be acquired in many ways, and each child's instruction should be tailored to his or her optimal learning style.

· The notion that students are best educated in age-based cohorts. The rates at which children develop vary as greatly as their learning styles, and clustering by age makes no more sense than clustering by height or weight. The whole notion of grade-levels is equally questionable. There is no reason to assume that each year every child should make identical progress in all subject areas, nor is there any justification to prevent a child from making progress in one subject (e.g., math) because he is having difficulty in another (e.g., reading). Flexible, modular instruction could eliminate this problem.

· The notion that lecture-based classroom instruction should be the primary--even a major--route of learning for all students is unsupported by data on children's learning styles. For enormous numbers of children lecture time is not only a waste but a strong provoker of misbehavior and dissatisfaction of school."

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Comments:
I agree somewhat with Bill's comments about the educational system today. I also agree with the Eides on the three key points that you restated in your post. I am an elementary teacher, and I see these issues on a daily basis in my classroom. I do wonder, however, does Bill Gates know how much it would cost to completely revamp the way schools are run today? I can tell you with almost 30 kids in my class and one teacher, things unfortunately cannot happen the way he believes they should. Maybe he will shell out some of his money to help fund his ideas. In a perfect world, these ideas would be great. Unfortunately, our world is not quite perfect...yet.



These three key points mentioned are very powerful and so true. Just because two children are the same age does not mean they are at the same academic or maturity level. Also, individualized computer systems would allow teachers to accommodate to the students' strengths and weaknesses. However, I agree with the previous comment. Revamping our education system would be very costly. This is something that will progress over a period of years, not overnight. I do think that our education system will someday use some kind of online learning tool that will cater to student and teacher needs. however, this is something that won't happen easily. It will be supported by many, but criticized by others. It will definitely be a part in our education's future.



I think the three points are very valid and very true. Our educational system does need to revamped. Technology is changing at a rapid pace and schools are not keeping up. Our world is very different than it was when our school system was designed. Schools need to reflect new technology and new trends. However, I have read several articles about what should be done with schools, but I haven't read any practical proposals about how these changes will be made. Changing an entire educational system would take a lot of work and careful planning. Also, emphasis seems to be on test scores in education now. Would these changes in the educational system support higher test scores? It seems that reason tells us that schools need to change for the benefit of students, but would changing the schools help raise test scores?



I agree with the three key points. The age level factor especially rings true. I agree that two kids at the same age leve can have completely different learning abilities.



I can understand some of Bill Gates's opinions and even tend to agree with him, but he has never taught in a middle school classroom with 30 kids. Most school districts don't have the money to update their technology and pay their teachers a decent salary, let alone overhaul their whole system. What he is envisioning would cost a fortune and need some visionary school boards willing to try it out. Who knows; if he and Oprah get together maybe they could create a prototype and see if it succeeds. Rebecca Erwin



Hi Rebecca...sorry for the almost one-month delay in responding here. I've been neglecting this old blog after four years of keeping it alive.

I think you're right that individualized learning plans for each student can't work if you're still expected to be teaching 30 kids at a time. The Gates Foundation has been funding The Met School for a few years, and each kid gets a very customized learning plan...but they don't have classes and lectures. They've got advisors and mentors to help them complete projects. That's an enormous shift.



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