At the second Future of Learning Forum, University of Virginia faculty and local schoolteachers spoke about the present shortcomings of public education, and shared ideas for changing the status quo.
The forum, held Wednesday at the Darden School of Business, was organized by the Darden Education Club, the Education Council at UVa’s Curry School of Education and ReinventED Lab, a Charlottesville nonprofit that promotes innovation in local public schools. The event featured seven presentations, each less than 10 minutes in length.
“It’s exciting that we are able to hear from a variety of stakeholders by having them package their insights in that condensed format,” said Keaton Wadzinski, executive director of ReinventED Lab.
Wadzinski founded ReinventED Lab in 2015 while a UVa undergraduate. After graduating in spring 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in youth and social innovation, Wadzinski has continued to lead the organization while working part-time as a student entrepreneurship coordinator for Albemarle County Public Schools.
Matt Haas, Albemarle’s deputy superintendent, spoke about the school division’s efforts to redesign its high school programming.
“Today, academic content really takes the lion’s share of a student’s time,” said Haas, who will replace Pam Moran as superintendent on July 1. “Students are either pursuing transcript they need to get into an elite college, or they are being remediated and recycled through classes because they haven’t learned the content.”
Albemarle’s ongoing High School 2022 initiative is influenced by the Virginia Department of Education’s Profile of a Virginia Graduate, which recommended new high school graduation requirements applicable to freshmen beginning this fall.
“Virginia is rethinking the traditional transcript approach ... and beginning to look at students in a more holistic way,” Haas said.
However, Haas said some of Albemarle’s desired programmatic changes have required the county to seek exemption from state regulations.
Albemarle recently was granted permission from the Virginia Board of Education to create a new required freshman seminar next year on academic readiness. Another exemption granted by the VDOE would allow Albemarle to eliminate its additional grade point average weight for Advanced Placement courses.
Haas said the added GPA weight for AP classes disincentivizes students from taking other courses that interest them.
“High School 2022 has a lot of implications for staffing schools and capital projects,” Haas said. “For it to work, policy had to change. ... You’ve got to work on your policy to help teachers, and liberate them.”
Chance Dickerson and Bernard Hankins spoke about coordinating A3 House, Albemarle High School's student-run center for visual art, music, film and other creative endeavors.
“We don’t have students — we have employees,” Hankins said. “We have artists, technicians, producers and financiers. Instead of us telling them what they should do, we ask them, ‘What do you want us to help you do?’”
Christine Scott, a teacher in Charlottesville City Schools’ integrated STEM — iSTEM — program, said science teachers should design open-ended labs and community-based projects to teach critical thinking, experimental design and data analysis skills that students will need in the modern workforce.
“We want to make sure every project has the physical world giving feedback, not the teacher. ... This really freaks out teachers at first,” Scott said. “They cannot walk up to a lab station and know exactly what step the students are on. They might not know immediately what’s going wrong in a student’s experiment. ... We have to radically change teacher’s mindsets.”
Saras Sarasvathy, Paul M. Hammaker Professor in Business Administration at the Darden School of Business, spoke about how schools in India and other developing countries are teaching entrepreneurial skills.
“In developing countries, entrepreneurship often is the default: If they don’t start [a business], they won’t eat,” Sarasvathy said.
David Touve, director of UVa’s iLab, argued that academic and popular perceptions of entrepreneurship in America are often distorted.
Touve said there are few specific personality traits that are predictive of entrepreneurial success, besides a general resourcefulness and quickness to seize opportunities.
“The future of learning is about the future of doing,” Touve said.
Two more UVa faculty members spoke about their research on American education policy and practice.
Joanna Lee Williams, an associate professor at the Curry School of Education, said significant racial segregation still exists in American schools more than 60 years since the Supreme Court’s landmark school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Williams said 78 percent of students in America’s high-poverty schools are black and Hispanic. White students make up just 15 percent of students enrolled in these schools.
“And in many schools that are racially and ethnically diverse, tracking [along racial lines] still exists in classes, activities and student discipline,” Williams said.
Williams said new research suggests minority students perform better on standardized tests, have improved attendance and are suspended less frequently when they have at least one same-race teacher. However, she said minorities are significantly underrepresented in the teaching profession.
Dan Player, assistant professor of public policy in the Batten School of Leadership, said it was difficult to gauge the impact of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which in 2015 was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Player said No Child Left Behind resulted in more comprehensive collection of student data, which can lead to better-informed educational policies and practices.
“I’m optimistic that now there is enough of a culture of experimentation and measurement, that we’ll start to see some improvements,” Player said.