New documentary, Q&A with Arkansas leaders focuses on the future of education

by Todd Jones (tejones1971@gmail.com) 86 views 

The U.S. education model has remained the same for more than 100 years, but the times have changed and we no longer live in an agricultural or industrial economy. How does this impact our education? What changes are there that need to change going forward?

That issue is being addressed by a documentary being screened this week in Fort Smith and Little Rock. The documentary “Most Likely to Succeed” by filmmaker Greg Whiteley and Executive Producer Ted Dintersmith explores the issue. It follows San Diego’s High Tech High School where the model turns conventional education upside down and engages students in a unique approach. (See the trailer at the end of this article.)

The film was screened at the Sundance Film Festival and has been received good reviews. Noble Impact is hosting screenings in Fort Smith and Little Rock and has brought in Dintersmith for a post-screening Q&A.

The screening in Fort Smith is 7:30 p.m., Wednesday (Nov. 18) at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Windgate Art & Design Theater. The screening in Little Rock is set for 7 p.m., Thursday (Nov. 19) at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater. This viewing is in partnership with the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and the Arkansas Times Film Series. Link here to RSVP to the Fort Smith screening, and link here to RSVP for the Little Rock event.

documentaryschoolimageAlso, Talk Business & Politics contacted leaders in Arkansas’ technology and innovative education sectors to get their input about changes that should be made in our education system. Each person was asked two questions:

• What gaps do you see in the current educational system?

• What kind of changes do you think will take place in the future?

Following are their responses.

Jeff Amerine, Startup Junkie
In K-12, changes need to occur to allow highly qualified professionals with practical experience to teach without overly cumbersome licensing and certification. I think this is beginning to happen but given the importance of STEM it needs to be accelerated. K-12 needs to adopt the CAPS model like what currently exists in several Kansas City districts. Several local schools are pursuing this approach with Mike Poore, the superintendent in Bentonville being out in front. These sorts of experiential programs bring real-world experience into the classroom so that applied knowledge can be learned. Students leave the CAPS program with relevant experience in STEM, business, and related strands.

Higher Ed simply must change to also remain relevant and affordable. More practical application and directly relevant work and life skills have to be incorporated. More multidisciplinary programs need to be incorporated as well. Higher Ed has to be innovative and focused on the needs of industry and society. That means more online coursework, the regular refresh of curriculum, and a much greater incorporation of faculty with real-world experience that is relevant.

There are some bright spots in Arkansas universities especially in some of the innovation and entrepreneurial areas but there needs to be much more done and it needs to be done sooner rather than later.

Tina McCord, ZUNI Learning
What gaps do you see in the current education system?
To build a joy for “life-long learning.” It breaks my heart when I speak to individuals who didn’t have “success” in our educational system and they feel “less than” or turned off from school and learning altogether. I think if we can focus on process instead of the product then perhaps those who aren’t learning what is expected or marked as normal to learn during a certain period of time would still enjoy learning and be more enthusiastic to continue to educate themselves throughout life.

We live in a great country that really tries to keep learning open to all those interested, yet the system sometimes sets up judgmental barriers to learning all because someone didn’t learn at a particular time. Learning is a process and we don’t all “process” at the same time. There are so many variables that play a part as to when a person is ready to learn something. We should not make children or adults feel less than.

We all have the ability to learn, it just comes at different times and in different ways.  Instead, we should keep the joy of learning alive and life-long. My biggest learning moments were not only from my K-12 years but have been throughout my entire life and are still happening every day.

When I was in my early 20s I worked for a construction company. We were building a garage for a man who was in his early 70s. He told me he was enrolled at the University taking an engineering class. Why I asked. He said because, “I love to learn. It keeps my mind young and alert.”

It took me over 18 years to get through college and I hope that when I am 70 I will still be taking a class somewhere in some form or another. I agree with what that man said, learning keeps us young and our minds alert.

What kind of changes do you think will take place in the future?
Many kinds of changes will continue to take place education. It’s such a creative harbor. Somebody once said, “Change is the only thing constant in the universe.” I’m not sure if the “kind” of changes is as important as understanding the process of developing change and more importantly the process of the “implementing” of those changes.

Again, education can often be focused on the “product” of change and not the process or process involved in bringing the changes to fruition. Common Core is the most recent change but really just about any change to education be it a math program, a reading program can all struggle when it comes to implementing. These programs or “changes” are created with the best of intent by it’s creators. The real struggle is with the implementation of the change. But, if we can expand the way we view new ideas or programs to include a strong process of implementation then we stand a chance of getting stronger products.

These products will slide back into the change hopper and the process will begin again. I was blessed to have worked under a dynamite superintendent from North Carolina, Dr. Ann Short. I was charged with revamping the entire Gifted and Talented Program for our district. I was ready to roll, had the plan created and ready to implement when she stepped into my office and said slow down. It’s not about the end result, it’s about the process of creating these changes and the process of implementing them. I learned a great deal about “process” from her and the process of implementing. We need workshops and classes on the process of change and the process of implementing change.

Technology is going to continue to disrupt and ignite the biggest changes in education. Is it a good or bad change? Is being good or bad the right concern. It is going to change the field and life as we know it. So how can we look at the process of these changes?

Erica Swallow, Noble Impact
The key gaps that exist in the education system are that students aren’t engaged and future employers and college educators aren’t confident in the K-12 system’s ability to prepare students for life after high school. In short, there is a crisis of relevancy in our education system.

Student engagement drops with every year a student is in school, until high school, when 60% of students are unengaged, according to the most recent Gallup Student Poll. And employers and colleges, too, are underwhelmed with school offerings and the graduates the K-12 system produces. This year, only 14% of college instructors and 29% of employers stated that schools were doing an adequate job of preparing students for life after high school, according to a national survey sponsored by national education reform not-for-profit Achieve. For being the largest economy in the world, the United States is failing to invest in and prepare its students for the future. To say our education system isn’t working is an understatement.

In order for schools to begin to work again, we need to make them relevant and purpose-driven. At Noble Impact, our students work on projects that are relevant to their lives and in-line with their interests and goals. We believe this is the path towards greater engagement and relevance to life after K-12. When students believe their work has a purpose, they’re driven to participate, and the lessons they take away from the work are much stronger and relevant to their futures.

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