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Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014

Student-centered education is best chance to rise from bottom of the list in education funding

By Lynn Stoddard, For the Deseret News

Published: Tue, July 15 8:56 a.m. MDT

 A diverse group of educators and parents may have found a way to get Utah off the bottom of the list in funding for public education. They suggest this simple concept: Switch from subject-centered to a student-centered system of public education.

A diverse group of educators and parents may have found a way to get Utah off the bottom of the list in funding for public education. They suggest this simple concept: Switch from subject-centered to a student-centered system of public education.

(Shutterstock)

A diverse group of educators and parents may have found a way to get Utah off the bottom of the list in funding for public education. They suggest this simple concept: Switch from subject-centered to a student-centered system of public education.

Our conventional, compulsory system focuses on subject matter — what all students should know and be able to do in a limited number of subjects in each grade.

In sharp contrast to this, student-centered education focuses on students, including their unique talents, gifts, abilities, interests, needs and questions.

At an elementary school in Davis School District, when the teachers and parents united to focus on the unique learning needs of each student, parental support magnified immensely. Why?

The teachers decided to personally ask parents, at the beginning of the school year, what they thought their child needed and how they could work together to help the child succeed. These meetings resulted in strong enough relationships to lead parents to voting in favor of a bond to support the school district in getting more funding. When parents learned what it meant to focus on the needs of their child and when they were invited to help, they had a different attitude toward the school.

Because every student is different and has different needs, strategies were created to help students grow as individuals. One school used weekly in-class talent shows to help students discover what they were good at. They were provided with a “shopping list” of over 80 different kinds of talents that students could try on and present in the talent shows.

As students prepared a variety of talents for the shows, they started to fashion a positive picture of themselves. Parents and teachers often asked a student, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “What will you need to do to get ready for that?” These kinds of questions reinforced what became the first priority of the school — to help each student develop an identity of worth in using one’s talents and abilities to contribute to the world.

Another strategy was invented to achieve the second priority, which is to develop the powers of inquiry. The strategy was called the “Great Brain Project” in which students were invited to become specialists, experts, masterminds or geniuses in self-selected topics. In this project, students learned how to ask big questions and parents acted as each child’s research partner.

A third strategy was invented by fourth-grade students — developing the powers of interaction. They organized a school post office to collect and distribute letters students wrote to one another throughout the school. The school post office became a significant strategy in helping students develop the powers of reading and writing. (In student-centered education, children actually learn reading, writing and arithmetic better than they do in subject-based education because they each have a personal reason for learning those subjects.)

These are just three examples of what happens when a school decides to shift to a student-centered approach. Recognizing that students are different from one another releases a flood of creativity. This kind of shift is exciting because it energizes teachers, students and parents.

If we want to help Utah rise up from the bottom of funding, we need to believe student-centered education is worth a try.

Lynn Stoddard, a retired educator, is author of "Educating for Human Greatness." He has two chapters in the soon-to-be published book, "Fixing Public Education." He can be reached at lstrd@yahoo.com.

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1. The Real Maverick
Orem, UT,
July 15, 2014

Listen, it's simple.

You get what you pay for.

Here Utah, we've paid to have the least funded students, classrooms, and teachers.

Get class sizes down, give our soldiers (teachers) the materials to win this war, and get that darn entitled and corrupt legislature out of the way!

Until we stop demonizing teachers, attacking public education for our own gains (Lockhart, Bramble, Stephenson), and actually pay for our kids, nothing will change.

Why can't big families slap some skin into this game? It's funny how the people with the most kids pay the least! How does that make any sense? That's republican leadership for ya!

2. Radical Moderate
West Jordan, UT,
July 15, 2014

While I am certainly not opposed to changing the climate of schools or strengthening the bond between parent and student, Mr. Stoddard never shows us how this will increase the funding for schools. Making schools more successful will not force the legislature to increase funding. On the contrary, I have heard legislators brag about what a bargain the Utah system is: reasonable performance at rock-bottom prices. Speaking of performance, I'm curious: How did these students perform on the state-mandated testing? I can see a potential disconnect here, also.

3. Light and Liberty
St. George/Washington, UT,
July 15, 2014

I am puzzled. Funding wasn't addressed!

4. Kralon
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA,
July 15, 2014

The missing part about increasing funding is only implied in the article. The implication is that by doing student focused learning parents will be more willing to increase school funding.

5. Kings Court
Alpine, UT,
July 15, 2014

I'm sorry, but voter approved bonds goes almost entirely to infrastructure construction, not the actual instruction and materials needed in the schools. That would take the legislature (The Super School Board) doing something meaningful with the WPU, but I don't see that happening. As a teacher, I've always believed in a student-centered approach and I've been screaming about this for years. Again, politics gets in the way of sound policy. Remove the politics from education (which has gotten much worse over the last 15 years) and it improve immensely. That is what they did in Finland. The removed the government from education and put educators in charge of it, but American culture just can't let go of inserting politics and micromanagement into every little tiny thing.