Schools today must embrace new technologies and challenge students to think on their own if they want graduates who will be ready for the jobs of tomorrow.
That’s the word from Tommy Bice, Alabama superintendent of education and lead speaker at Tuscaloosa’s Education Summit on Tuesday.
Bice said the old ways of teaching did not always adequately prepare students for college and careers.
“We spent a decade teaching kids to take tests rather than teaching them how to think,” he told several hundred people a luncheon at the Hotel Capstone.
Since becoming state superintendent three years ago, Bice said, he has encouraged state school systems to be innovative and creative.
The State Department of Education is not telling local schools what to do, he said. Instead, it sets the bar and expectations, offers ideas and suggestions and then lets local school systems develop their own plan and see what they accomplish.
“What may be innovative and creative in Tuscaloosa (city schools) may not be innovative and creative for the needs of Tuscaloosa County (schools),” he said.
For years, schools taught students without getting them to apply the knowledge. Under what Bice called the old standard, a student being taught math in an elementary school usually was given three sets of digits and told to add them up.
“At the end of the day, they could do the sums for math problems,” he said, but they did not understand how that fit into the real world.
Now, students are being taught to take the math result and apply it to a real-world problem – to try to solve the problem by coming up with possible solutions to discuss with classmates.
Bice said that involves problem-solving, critical thinking and explaining the solution to a team of classmates.
He noted the state is seeing more programs like distant learning and virtual schools that can be accessed at any time. Both technologies are changing education and “are causing us to rethink what schools should look like.”
When asked by reporters after the luncheon what Alabama schools would be like in 10 years, Bice said he did not know because of still-unseen technologies. But he said educators must be ready to embrace those future technologies for students to succeed in careers that will use those technologies.
The summit also featured annual state-of-schools addresses from Elizabeth Swinford and Paul McKendrick, the respective superintendents of Tuscaloosa County and Tuscaloosa City school systems.
Swinford, who has headed the 17,700-plus-student county school system for a year, said one of the things she did was divide the 34 schools into three regional clusters – north, south and east – “because the needs of Brookwood High School are not the same as those of Holt High School.”
She said the school system’s new mission statement calls for it to prepare all students for college and careers in a real-world environment.
McKendrick, whose school system has 10,300-plus students in 24 schools, said the city schools innovative programs include its high school career academy and its anti-bullying campaign.
“The one thing I love about him (Bice) is he gives us the opportunity to look at doing different things,” he said.
Industry needs better-educated workers and turning out students with the skills and knowledge is the key to economic development, he said.
“No one wants to move to a city unless it has good schools,” he said. “When businesses come and talk to industry recruiters, they ask, ‘What kind of school system do you have?’
“We all need to work together to make sure our school systems are better. If we do, then we can help you and our community to be better.”
The Education Summit, which was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, also included a pre-luncheon presentation by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama on the State of Schools.
Jim Williams, executive director of the nonprofit organization that’s based at Samford University, said education is the key to economic development and the rising personal income it brings.
“You don’t find high-income states with low educational attainment,” he said, noting job growth depends on having a qualified work force.
By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require postsecondary education and training, which includes increased demand for workers with associate, college and graduate degrees.
But Alabama is not keeping pace with the potential for job growth, he said.
In specifically looking at the Tuscaloosa market, he noted that in 2013:
– The graduation rate was 72 percent for Tuscaloosa City schools, 77 percent for Tuscaloosa County schools and
80 percent for the state.
– High school graduates attending college was 51 percent for Tuscaloosa City Schools, 56 percent for Tuscaloosa County Schools and 51 percent for the state.
– High school graduates enrolled in remedial courses in math and/or English to prepare for college were 31 percent for Tuscaloosa City schools, 21 percent for Tuscaloosa County schools and 32 percent for the state.
A link to PARCA’s full report can be found at the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama’s website.
June 17, 2014