Saturday January 19, 2013

When compared to other states, Vermont’s education system ranks high. In certain areas however, we do not do well enough.

For example, while we have among the best high school graduation rates in the country, we know that there are too many students who fall short of their potential or slip through the cracks because they are not fully engaged in their education or because they don’t receive the supports they need from their schools, their families, or their community.

Our education system was created to respond to the needs of children and families in the 19th century Industrial Age, and now struggles to keep up with the changing learning environment brought about by the Information Age of the 21st. Many of the jobs our children will hold have not even been invented yet. Technology has changed how our children learn, the tools available for teaching, and the skills they will need for the future.

Teachers are no longer purveyors of information and knowledge, but curators, guides and companions. In a world where information is available 24/7, education need no longer be confined to the walls of a classroom. Advancements in technology provide the tools we need to bring our students out of the 19th century lectures-and-blackboard model of education and into a structure that is tightly focused on student mastery of applied and academic skills through a flexible, personalized approach.

Our new economy calls for creative, highly skilled graduates who are proficient in literacy, science, math, critical thinking, -- and no less important -- the arts. That’s a tall order, but one we cannot and must not shy away from. Every Vermont child deserves a world-class education.

To move our system forward, our associations have a five point agenda: Assuring Success for Every Student through universal access to pre-K, high expectations for every child, greater focus on student mastery through authentic assessment and real-life learning experiences, a personalized learning plan for all students, and partnerships with higher-education, business, and community so that students can access rigorous and relevant learning experiences beyond the four walls of the school.

Supporting a new vision for teaching and learning by fostering a teaching profession that prepares, attracts, supports and retains committed teachers and by creating working conditions that support creativity, flexibility, innovation and collaboration. Our teacher preparation and licensure systems must be aligned with this new vision, and the traditional collective bargaining framework, essentially unchanged in Vermont since 1969, must be revised in order to best respond to contemporary expectations for education. Engaging and supporting families and communities through creating effective connections between families and schools and by establishing strong partnerships between human services and education systems.

Delivering and using world-class technology by ensuring that all schools have high-speed broadband connectivity, all students have access to learning devices, and all teachers are comfortable and supported in using technology to foster student learning in authentic and engaging ways.

Providing effective leadership through a focus on attracting high quality educational leaders, having clear roles for board members and administrators, and requiring training for superintendents and boards. To make better decisions on behalf of students, boards, administrators and teachers will need timely data, and strong support from a highly capable Agency of Education and State Board.

Some of our proposals will require strategic investments, but most can be accomplished by thinking differently about the way we do our work and changing our practice accordingly.

We cannot, in this era of global competition and rapidly changing economic conditions, be content with a good education system. We have work to do, and we are ready to do it. And we need your help. We need all Vermonters to commit to creating a world-class system of education that meets the needs of every Vermont child. It is a process with global scope and implications that begins right here in our own back yard.

Ken Fredette is chairman of the Wallingford School Board, a member of the Rutland South Supervisory Union Board, and president of the Vermont School Boards Association. Brent Kay is superintendent for the Orange Southwest Supervisory Union and president of the Vermont Superintendents Association.