Includes a conversation between Bruce Jilk and Prakash Nair
Case Study 1
Case Study 2
Case Study 3
Photo right: Heinavaara
The global innovator in architectural specialty products.
But Are They Learning?
Did Open Classrooms Close Minds?
With what is happening in the world of education, should we expect anything different from the school building bureaucracy? Apparently not. As for the private architectural community, their attempts to lead by example have not been very successful either. Their "open classroom" model is often cited as a disastrous attempt by architects to influence educational
practice.2 What happened was that as schools continued to grow and become more overcrowded, noise levels in these spaces became unbearable - something that teachers contributed to by insisting on using the lecture model in spaces that were simply not designed for that kind of teaching and learning style.
I think, however, that people are using this failure too glibly as an excuse to go on building schools they are comfortable with - never mind that the industrial model of schooling should have died when the information and communication revolution began decades ago. While we have learnt that traditional teaching modalities and open classrooms don't mix very well, the open classroom school was, and remains today, a wonderfully innovative way to create learner-centered spaces. A good example of this is the award-winning design of an open classroom school created in Heinavaara, Finland by Bruce Jilk and the Cunningham Group. It is important to remember, however, that while the architects physically shaped this project, the school's success should be attributed mostly to the vision of a very progressive community. They understand that the true value of a
good design can only be achieved by users who appreciate its merits (Tapaninen, 2000). In other words the same design that succeeded at Heinavaara is not necessarily going to work in another community who are not yet ready to migrate to a learner-centered model of education.
Program and Plan
Would You Hold A School Facility Planner Accountable for Student Learning Outcomes?
What I would like the top-level bureaucrats to do is to dismantle roadblocks that make innovative schools almost impossible to build. Further, I think that governments can create a positive atmosphere in which local communities can feel safe to build innovative schools. A part of this is educating the community about the important trends that are out there in the world of education. A more important part is training bureaucrats to step aside so professionals and stakeholders can work more closely together to create schools that work.
Let me tell you what I mean with an example. I'm a consultant analyzing the management of a large school district in Florida with 180 schools. They plan to spend $800 million over the next five years on school facilities, yet very few new schools are fundamentally different than the ones they had been building 50 years ago. I made several recommendations to change this including the idea of "outcome driven schools" - schools created from the ground up on the basis of student success. The idea, I explained, is that all aspects of the school creation process including the school facility should be oriented toward realizing those stated outcomes.
In my meeting with the Superintendent of the school system, I was accompanied by the Assistant Superintendent who runs the school district's facilities program. I told the Superintendent that if his assistant built a school for $20 million where student graduation rates stayed very low (say half of the kids dropping out of school) or where there was excessive violence or where students were doing terribly by all measures of learning, there would be no consequences at all for him. As long as the air conditioning systems worked well and the building looked nice, this assistant may even qualify for a salary increase! Why spend $20 million, I asked, without first establishing what it is you are trying to achieve? If learning is your objective, then shouldn't everyone responsible for spending the government dollar be held accountable if learning isn't happening?
The superintendent than asked me why it would be fair to hold this particular assistant, a school facility person, accountable if children did not learn. After all, his responsibility was only to build the school - not to design the curriculum or run the school itself.
I told him, "That's right. But if he knew he would be accountable, he would never permit the school to be built without first doing the research on what exactly a school has to be in order to guarantee positive student outcomes. He may discover, for example, that a whole new curriculum is needed. He may realize that without strong parental involvement, the school would have no chance to succeed. He may discover the research that tells us how each student learns differently and how technology could be leveraged to offer personalized learning opportunities. If they don't "get it", he may recommend that different people be hired to design the curriculum or run the school than those you have designated. Most importantly, he may realize that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
So then, there is a good chance that he may end up building a school that doesn't look like a school at all and that he will find a way to utilize community resources and local businesses and government grant monies so he can build his school within budget. Of course, he may not succeed and will not succeed if you do not empower him to do all these things. But we know one thing. If we do not make him accountable for the learning outcomes in that building, he is guaranteed to fail." My little speech may have had its desired effect because the district has at least agreed to consider building some pilot schools using the outcomes based approach.
Will the One Size Fits All Model Fly in a My Size Fits Me Economy?
Daniel Pink writing in the magazine, Reason talks about why America retains its world dominance as an economic power despite the poor showing of its schools within the industrialized world. Pink talks about a "free agent" economy where an increasing number of people will simply leave their corporate jobs to do things on their own. (Pink, 2001). This is not some wishful prognostication. In fact, today, some 30 million Americans - one out of every four workers - is already a "free agent". In addition, there are millions more who draw corporate salaries but dictate their own position and working hours. These free agents, Pink asserts, succeed despite their education in school and not because of it. His argument is that schools, by insisting on their "one size fits all" model of service delivery are hopelessly out of touch with the growing "my size fits me" economic model that America has embraced. In other words, by denying their uniqueness and discouraging them from thinking for themselves, our schools are not preparing our children for a free market economy.
2 I have spoken to many educators
and architects who talk about why we should be cautious about
"fads". They often point to the open classroom movement as an
example of people designing buildings without a real understanding about the
needs of the school community. According to author Jamie McKenzie,
"Many schools took down their walls to permit an open flow across
classrooms. New schools were built without walls. After several years of
mixed results, many schools put up new walls. The innovation failed to
deliver on its promises for many students." (McKenzie, 2000.)
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