Reform Education?

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Today on the blog we have a post from EdVisions’ very own Dr. Ron Newell. Ron was instrumental in the creation of EdVisions and MNCS. We hope you enjoy his thoughts on redefining learning as a way to address the problems of the education system.


Dr. Newell is presently the Director of Assessment for EdVisions Schools, and has served as the Director of Learning Programs for the Gates/EdVisions replication efforts. Dr. Newell was a founder of the Minnesota New Country School and EdVisions Cooperative. He has published four books that explain the rationale and practices behind the learning program and governance of the EdVisions Schools. His work with development of coaches training, staff development and evaluation has lead to creation of processes and materials that enhance the development and sustainability of newly created charter schools. His work with Mark Van Ryzin in development of the Hope Study has lead to an assessment of school culture that is becoming nationally recognized.

Dr. Newell was a high school history teacher and coach, a mentor teacher, a college professor, a Director of Clinical Experiences at two universities, and is a founding member of the EdVisions Leaders Center. His interests are learning theory, adolescent development, alternative assessment, decentralized distributive education, use of technology in education, and development of new curriculum for the development of Life-long Learning Skills.

Dr. Newell graduated with a B.A. from St. Olaf College, an M.S. from Minnesota State University – Mankato, and an Ed.D. from the University of South Dakota.


Reform Education?

By Dr. Ron Newell

Since the 1960’s there have been many attempts to reform education; curricular changes, new approaches toward teaching reading and math, teacher preparation, programs for the disadvantaged, different instructional approaches, new technologies introduced, and so on. Yet little has changed. Why? They failed because they took into consideration the one thing that has yet to change; a new definition of learning.

What is learning? What is to be learned? In another article I made mention of the need for educators to reach beyond merely knowing arcane facts and skills to transformational learning.  I equate transformational learning with productive learning, and it is still either misunderstood or ignored. Learning needs to be carried beyond knowing what our parents and grandparents knew. True transformational learning is about changing the habits, the mindset, the will of a person in order that they fulfill their potential and become an asset to society.

Skill in relationships and monitoring one’s own behavior have been considered as attributes a student ought to already have when coming to school. They are not considered to be attributes a school setting can add to a student’s repertoire. The same can be said for curiosity, determination, and creativity. Social-emotional goals have become fashionable, but still serve as means rather than ends. In other words, skill in relationships, curiosity, creativity, etc., are to be stimulated in order to pass courses and get good test scores. Yet they ought to be meaningful ends in themselves. And they are achievable, as schools following the EdVisions’ model have repeatedly shown.

When a school, or system, if one can be so bold, states as goals attributes such as hope, self-directed learning, collaboration and interaction, problem-solving, and the ability to monitor one’s own emotional state, then true educational reform can and will occur. But not when the same concept of rigor is repeatedly placed at the forefront of the public’s consciousness, and remains the primary way in which schools are graded and funded.

It remains a continual puzzle why schools that do not rate highly on a state’s measuring systems still have high ratings among parents and students. That happiness, positive relationships, enjoyment of learning, safety, emotional engagement, and so forth, are placed above rigor by parents and students ought to tell us something. Education is about “passing life” and not simply “passing tests.” Finding a way to assess positive growth in dispositions ought to be as much of a policy endeavor as changing how teachers organize and how schools are created. It is not enough to create more schools that simply have the same outcomes (but better) as the old schools. Why bother? Why not transformative, productive learning?

Until education systems change their concept of what learning is, what learning is truly productive, we will continue to have learning fads that go away as fast as they come. True systemic reform will always be another decade away, the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick. We at EdVisions attempt not only to change how and what students learn, how teachers teach, and how teachers organize, but also attempt to illustrate that different outcomes do not mean weaker outcomes – that transformational learning is a positive, productive path, and worthy of regard.