Two opposing views of ways to improve student performance were voiced this week. One was during the community meeting held by the Montrose School District on February 26. The Community School Improvement Team (CSIT) requested an additional $3,288,000 for the coming school year, which is 25.6% more than the monies currently received from school property taxes. The money will go toward hiring more teachers in order to reduce class size, instructional materials, technology, school resource officers, teacher development and classroom facilities.
According to District Superintendent Mark McHale, the money requested is the key element needed to increase student performance, which has been dropping in the past years. However, it was brought up by a CSIT member Kay Heinschel that neighboring Delta County has less per-pupil funding than does Montrose County but higher student achievement scores.
On the other hand, Dr Sugata Mitra was just awarded the million-dollar TED Prize, which is granted yearly to an individual whose creative vision has the potential to bring about world change. Dr. Mitra’s work with children across the world for over a decade has demonstrated that children can and will initiate their own learning and also teach what they are learning to their peers. His Hole-in-the-Wall project is based upon what happened after he left English-language computers in walls in Indian slums. Children there learned without adult supervision how to use this unknown machine that functioned in a foreign language. Not only that, they taught one another, all on their own.
Dr. Mitra’s thesis is that the present school system was developed by Victorian England in order to create bureaucrats to administer their worldwide empire. Now, he says, the system still exists, but the bureaucratic machine it used to fuel is gone. .Not only that, but the system can no longer prepare students for the job market of the future, because no one can predict what jobs will exist even in the next five years. His prize money will be used to create SOLE (Self-Organized Learning Environments) for children across the world. Instead of building expensive places where children come to be taught by many teachers, children will be given access to technology which will connect them to much of the world’s knowledge. Online mentors will be available for help and direction.
Montrose area residents will be facing either a sales tax increase or a property tax increase if the CSIT proposal goes forward. Perhaps the Montrose School District could look to Dr. Mitra for ways to increase student learning and performance without increasing taxes. Child-driven learning has been proven to work well. Why not step out of Victorian England and encourage it?