Local Perspective: Essential elements for providing a quality education

Columnist Dan Thomasson wrote in the Dec. 27 News Tribune about examples of efforts made to improve public education. He included the public sector (No Child Left Behind), the private sector (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), and the current discussion about the implementation of common core standards in each state.

He concluded that even with such efforts that teachers and parents are the main agents for improving public education.

He wrote, “In the end it all comes down to how good the instructor is and what kind of support he or she receives from the parents, if there are any…”

Those of us in public education are often called upon to do more by those in political office; that call is often articulated in various forms of legislation, both at the federal and state level.

The discussion that generates such legislation is born out of high expectations for schools everywhere.

And while educators in general sometimes question stringent legislative requirements, at the very least they should appreciate the good intentions from which the legislation originates.

Many dedicated teachers don’t view educational improvement efforts as extra work or government red tape but as opportunities to grow and to provide the best possible learning experience for each student.

Most educators are committed to refining their craft and getting better every day.

And the good news is, educators can and do implement new practices every semester, and they do it without being required to do so by outside pressure, such as legislation.

Teachers in the Jefferson City Public School District, for example, utilize several tools and strategies, including increased technology, new educational software, having students work in learning teams, teacher collaboration, new forms of assessment, character education, job skill development, and connecting lessons to examples in the real world.

The Associated Press reported on Dec. 27 how Amy Braswell, an elementary teacher in Little Rock, Ark., is excited to change the way she does things in class as a result of her district getting laptop access for each student in her school.

“I plan to use it [the technology] for a lot of project-based learning,” she said, “to try to create some online research projects so that students can get involved and get some of the career skills they will need down the line. We can integrate better with the computer as a tool. We don’t have to switch out textbooks. We have the whole world at their fingertips.”

In addition to innovative measures, JCPS teachers deal with questions about what essential standards students must know and how the mastery of the learning will be assessed. They also grapple with what must be done for students who struggle.

Furthermore, they have to make learning relevant. When a student asks, “Why do we have to know this?” teachers must be prepared to explain why.

As Thomasson wrote in his column, the teachers at the classroom level are crucial to improving education.

Author, speaker, and educational consultant Mike Schmoker wrote that case studies in specific schools demonstrate “the single greatest determinant of learning is not socioeconomic factors or funding levels. It is instruction.”

And the instruction he refers to is not instruction in the traditional sense but how schools will modify instructional issues to provide what students really need.

Schools willing to take a fresh approach with today’s generations will do well.

Teachers who provide relevant instruction in a highly engaging manner will lead the way.

David Wilson, EdD, is one of the assistant principals at Jefferson City High School. You may e-mail him at david.wilson@jcschools.us.

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