Are We Schools of the Future or Schools of the Past?

With so much good research and writing on the topic of "schools of the future", I find myself asking whether the definition of progressive is one that has clarity or even accuracy. Along those lines, schools that think of themselves as "progressive" don't always align their curriculum and actions with the definition of what it means to be "progressive." A recent accreditation committee I served on visited a school where people kept referring to the organization as "progressive", yet their program after the lower schools years looked standard. Standard courses. Standard schedule. Standard grading systems. Standard after-school options. Standard outcomes. So why did they view themselves as a "progressive" school?

To me, the main issue with the concepts of "progressive education" and "schools of the future" is that the definition of each is murky at best. Dewey's view of progressive education went against the grain of the accepted standards of the day. It deviated from the norm. In doing so, questions arose as to the nature of education, its place in society, its purpose, as well as new ideas regarding cognition and child development. It was truly progressive. In truth, no school would ever want to be seen as regressive or "status quo." Yet putting the theory of progressive education into a tangible form can be a challenge. The same can be said for attempting to create "schools of the future" that are meant to shift the paradigm from what is currently being done in schools to what should be done in schools to prepare students for a future we cannot predict outside of 1-3 best. So then, why are schools struggling to define what it is they are doing?

The answer is complex and takes in everything from demographics, to finances, to culture, to outside influences from colleges and the College Board. In short, most schools do not have the latitude to be truly "progressive" or a "school of the future" because various competing entities would not respond favorably to these changes. For example, a progressive school of the future would use accepted brain science to shift their daily schedule for grades 9-12 to a much later start. Some have moved it a bit, but any great change would disrupt bus service, parent's schedules, daycare for faculty, athletics, etc. This is but one small example of the complexity schools face in being "progressive" or a "school of the future." 

With the recent news that a large group of DC schools has abandoned Advanced Placement, there are clearly some leaders willing to make a progressive move. However, these schools did so as a group and already have name recognition and the clout to be taken seriously. Don't get me wrong, this is a big shift, but it is not a seismic one. Too many parents are too anxious due to the narrative that colleges want AP courses on transcripts. That is simply false, but it is a story that has been reinforced time and time over. College offices struggle with the message that it is okay to have no AP courses if your school does not offer them. The AP (like the SAT and CLEP since they are part of the same organization) wants as many people taking tests as they can. It is financially driven, but at a cost to students and as a barrier to schools that want to be "progressive" or a "school of the future."

What would a progressive school look like if teachers had the opportunity to call the shots with the support of their administrations? What would a school of the future be with regard to schedule, courses, blended learning, entrepreneurial studies, internships, etc.? Many schools are enacting these ideas in pieces and parts, as it allows for a "slow burn" with regard to the changes that are occurring. Disruptive change has always been a challenge, but it is necessary if schools are to be places with a future that matches what their students will be experiencing and prepares them in a way that sets them up as lifelong learners. Not changing is the fastest way to ensure one's obsolescence. Getting a critical mass in an organization is of the utmost importance and where the work truly begins. So keep thinking. Keep trying. Just don't continue to try to "do the wrong things righter." History is full of remains from organization that worked in that way. Kodak anyone?