State schools Superintendent Tommy Bice challenged Mobile County’s principals to change the way they think about school.
As Alabama transitions from the federal No Child Left Behind Act to the state’s own Plan 2020, he said, “shift from having your students learn to take a test to preparing them for the future.”
Bice addressed the principals and central office employees this morning at the Cypress Auditorium. His speech was livestreamed for assistant principals and others and is available on mcpss.tv.
Several times throughout his inspiring, one-hour speech, he called Mobile County Public Schools the “epicenter of best practices.”
He congratulated the district for not only having the lion’s share of Torchbearers in the state, but also for its ability to raise its graduation rate and for its cutting-edge career-preparation programs.
“You are setting the bar for Alabama,” Bice said.
Bice said principals and teachers should use the first couple of days of school to talk to and get to know their students and to learn their stories. “You could be the only adult that gives them a glimmer of hope,” he said.
Through Plan 2020 and the newly adopted Common Core standards in math and reading, Alabama’s children are being taught more than how to answer a test question. The Common Core is often misunderstood, he said. But he gave this as an example:
In the past, students in a class may have been expected to learn how to add two three-digit numbers by answering about 50 problems.
With Common Core and Plan 2020, he said, teachers might divide students into groups and have them come up with several possible answers to a word problem. They would then decide which answer is the best and be able to explain how they came up with that answer to the rest of the class.
Sound familiar? That’s how people on the job solve problems every day.
“This is the most significant step we have taken in Alabama education,” he said, “and we did so because of conversations we’ve had with higher education and business and industry.”
He told the educators to “purge everything you’ve learned,” and concentrate on project-based learning, hands-on learning, and formative assessments that can shape instruction rather than summative assessments in the spring that act more as an “autopsy.”
Teachers should unpack the standards and come up with lesson plans that are relevant, he said. Also, “don’t let that last step be that I put the grade in the grade book.”
Evaluate how the lessons were taught and make adjustments as needed.
Also, he said, schools should redefine the role of the counselor. “Guidance is not a person, it is a function of all of us,” he said.
Students should be encouraged to have a career plan early on in high school, he said, which is what Mobile County Public Schools will require beginning this year.
Society should honor teaching as a profession and set high expectations of teachers colleges.
Also, he said, while much emphasis has been placed on the part of the Accountability Act that allows students to transfer to other schools, it should instead be placed on the flexibility now allowed.
Schools that have even un-traditional ideas on how to be successful are encouraged to write a “short” report to the Alabama Department of Education to get a waiver from budget and statutory requirements.
“I challenge you to think about what schools can look like, now that we have all of this flexibility,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said, even the state’s role is shifting “to let’s be that catalyst that helps you and supports you as you go about change.”