“Why talk about 21st-century skills when we’re a quarter of the way through it?” asked David Schuler, superintendent of High School District 214 in Arlington Heights, Ill.
He posed that question during a Friday conference session titled “Transforming Schools with Redefining Ready! And Learning 2025” at the 2022 AASA national conference in Nashville.
A shift in education toward a more learner-centered experience, along with unlocking resources to meet the needs of all learners within a district highlight the systemic redesign that Schuler proposes. His system builds on the college-, career- and life-ready work of the Redefining Ready! Initiative and the Learning 2025 report that AASA has produced in its use with about 120 demonstration school districts.
A strategy of creating specific career pathways enabled his district to reorient students at the center of their learning. The career pathways comprise a sequence of courses that lead beyond high school.
Every course that exists in High School District 214 fits in a career pathway. These pathways are rooted in two indicators, career-readiness and college-readiness, but Schuler told the conference attendees that students must achieve multiple benchmarks on both indicator scales to be deemed ready for their postsecondary life.
Benchmarks that are a part of the career-readiness indicator include student identification of a career interest, a 90 percent attendance rate, 25 community service hours, workplace learning experience(s) and two or more organized co-curricular activities. Benchmarks that are a part of the college-readiness indicator include a 2.8 or higher GPA, enrollment in an AP or dual enrollment course and successful completion of Algebra II and an accompanying math course.
Providing access to AP and relevant courses was a critical aspect of Schuler’s presentation, as he emphasized the value of having enriching opportunities available for all students. More than once, Schuler mentioned direct action taken within his district to bolster student achievement and engagement by including more AP courses. He conceded that there was some modest pushback from teachers. Ultimately, it led to a far richer learning experience for both students and teachers.
Additionally, transformation of a keyboarding course to a comprehensive multimedia course led to greater student engagement.
Aligning resources in a district is needed to transform schools. Schuler emphasized that districts have many different community resources to draw upon, noting that different organizations and agencies can only best serve teachers and students when they collaborate. An example Schuler gave from his own district was the use of water towers to bounce Wi-Fi off of so that community members without web access were able to participate in virtual and hybrid learning.
Positioning learners as co-authors of their learning experience redefines what learning and readiness look like. Students should have a say in what their four-year experience in a school is because they know what challenges them. “Why are we teaching something we can Google? We need individuals that are able to adapt and be agile for jobs that do not yet exist. How are we preparing them for that?” asked Schuler.
(Roman Nikolaev is a reporting intern for Conference Daily Online and a junior English and secondary education major at Vanderbilt University.)