Dear Governor McDonnell,
I write to urge you to spend an equal amount of political capital on establishing new charter schools in Virginia as you do on attracting national charter operators to the state. Organizations like KIPP offer college-prep curriculums augmented by extra time and stringent expectations of student compliance with rules. However, they do not in and of themselves offer models of project-based learning and student-centered pedagogies that better develop students’ collaborative and problem-solving skills – skills students will need to lead their own communities, businesses, and service organizations.
Consider Microsoft’s Educational Competencies, or compare the Top 10 Reasons to Work at Google with KIPP’s Five Pillars. We have schools like KIPP that reflect strict adherence to traditional instruction; do we have school’s that reflect the cultures of our world’s information-age pioneers? How do we develop those schools?
We develop them by taking advantage of Virginia’s relative inexperience with the national charter movement to innovate truly new types of schools. As state and local school boards partner with national charter operators that focus on replicating traditional notions of college preparedness, we should develop in parallel charter schools that research, develop, and share-out innovative cultures, communities, and practices – practices that allow students to discover new learning while still enrolled in public schools. Imagine schools that allow students to contribute to their communities, not just to graduate from them. Imagine schools that empower students to teach adults, not just to follow them. Imagine schools that inspire students to create and discover, not just to accept and cover.
As you search for viable models of charter education in Virginia, please look to programs like the Maine Farm Enterprise School, the New Country School and our own Blue Ridge Virtual Governor’s School for models of assessment, community, curriculum, and instruction that take students’ learning outside the classroom.
Virginia communities have wants and needs addressed by programs like KIPP. Be certain, though, that our children need more than academic preparedness to lead joyful, fulfilling lives of service to their communities, state, nation, and world. To serve others students must feel strong enough themselves to seek out new solutions to the problems with which we’ll leave them. We need schools that help students realize their potentials as artists, designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, leaders, volunteers, and visionaries – schools that don’t accept the limits of a college-prep curriculum – however effectively delivered – as the limits of teaching and learning. We need schools that look for the results of lives well lived, as well as the results of facts well learned.
Please use your political capital to lift up children and new models of education that serve them and their communities through innovative, project- and community-based learning and new assessment measures that accurately capture the results of this work. Please help Secretary Robinson to continue his efforts to do the same. It was wonderful to visit with him at my school, the Community Public Charter School, in Albemarle County. I enthusiastically invite you both to visit my classroom and to join with me in talking with Virginia’s students, parents, and educators about why we educate our children, as well as about how we can educate our children better.
Chad Sansing, NBCT