Everything you need to know about the school system, but didn’t know what to ask?

Have you ever felt like something was missing from your public or charter school experience? Like the whole experience was good, but not great. You know they could have done something more, but you can’t quite put a finger on what that might be?

You are not alone.

Why Schools Seem Slightly Off

There is a reason why you can sense a problem with our K12 schools, but can’t quite figure out what that is. And it gnaws at you. You want to solve this Rubik’s cube problem.

Why is understanding our schools so difficult? So complicated?

The reason you feel this way and the reason 100 million Americans agree with you is because the school system is slightly off. Does it teach kids? The answer is yes. But does it teach kids how to be successful in the 21st century? The answer is a resounding no.

What’s Wrong with the Curriculum

Not many people truly understand academic currciulum. You know what the word means, and you know that the curriculum is the key to learning, but do you know how much a curriculum can affect learning in the classroom?

The answer to that question will actually shock you.

The quality of your curriculum has exponential effect in the classroom. If you use an obsolete curriculum, not only will your students be learning concepts that are irrelevant, but they will begin to feel negative emotions about school, they will resent their teachers and they will begin to fight and rebel against the system.

Can you see that happening today? All of the TikTok challenges that students are doing against schools, teachers and the system is a direct result of an obsolete curriculum.

What is a 19th Century Curriculum?

There is no point in going forward without presenting to you the basic facts related to a 19th Century curriculum. For those that are new to my account, my name is D. Scott Schwartz and I am a 20 year veteran K12 insider and expert in education and research.

I like to present the research I am using so that other people can see that I am not just making things up out of thin air and you can see how things start to work together.

The research I will be using to explain curriculum design is from the world’s foremost expert Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs. What she has written and researched is everything you need to know about curriculum design. Thus, her defintion for a 19th century curriculum design is single-core subjects teaching single-core ideas.

Let me give you a real-world school example. Every adult in America has gone through the K12 system, regardless of public, charter or private — we all received a K12 education.

That education was based on a 19th century curriculum model. What that means is we all took single-core classes, such as: English, math, science and social studies and every one of those teachers taught us single-core ideas.

In other words, the English teacher taught us English. The math teacher taught us math and so on. You get it. One class, one subject, one idea. Our K12 system has been doing that type of learning since the system started back in the late 1800s. Hence the reason its called a 19th century curriculum design.

What’s a 21st Century curriculum?

What might surprise you is that not everyone wants a 21st century curriculum. I believe the reason for that is because no one has adequately explained what a 21st century curriculum looks like.

So I am going to end that confusion right now.

If a 19th Century curriculum design is single-core subjects teaching single-core ideas, then a 21st century curriculum is single-core subjects teaching cross-curricular ideas.

But I don’t expect the average citizen and non-educator to truly know what that means, so let me give you a real world example. In the previous section, I explained that the English teacher taught us English. That’s the hallmark of a 19th century curriculum model. What’s different about the 21st century curriculum model is the English, math, science and social studies teachers stop teaching single-core ideas and teach the same ideas, but in a cross-curricular way.

Chasing the “Ah-Ha” Moment

If you are still confused, it’s really ok. Now you can see why our K12 system feels just slightly off. This is the one concept that will unlock your understanding and unlock all student potential. If you want a breakthrough in student achievement and prepare kids for the 21st century, reading this whole article will make you an academic genius.

I subtitled this section, “chasing the ah-ha moment” because it’s the one moment in the classroom when everyone gets excited. When a student finally overcomes an academic roadblock and “gets it” — their face lights up. When a teacher sees that face of recognition — they also get excited. This is the biggest reason teachers teach.

We need to help you reach that “ah-ha moment” on curriculum. This academic roadblock that holds K12 schools back in the 19th century.

In order to prepare students for the 21st century, they have to learn 21st century skills. That should be an easy sentence to follow. The problem is that our K12 schools only teach 19th century curriculum. Everyone is under the belief that single-core ideas can help students. English, math, science and social studies taught in a 19th century curriculum model cannot help students in the 21st century. We need to change the way we teach these classes.

But how should they be taught?

21st Century Skills Research

In 2020, Georgetown University reseachers published a study of the entire US Economy. They were searching for answers about the labor market and wages. Why have wages been stagnant for so long? Is there anything that can be done to change it?

What their study found was there are five skills that separate workers and wages in every job sector in our economy. It was right there in black and white, five specific skills that determined the haves from the have-nots.

Let me be more clear, what this study found was taxes, government programs, socio-economic factors, globalization was not the cause of income disparity. I know, shocking. The reason workers were earning minimum wage or stuck in dead-end jobs was because those workers lacked the five 21st century skills.

Here are the five skills Georgetown researchers identified in their study:

  1. Leadership
  2. Team Building
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Sales
  5. Communications

If you want to undestand the diference between economic and income success and failure in our econmy, you only have to understand the skills gap. If you have these five skills, and hone them and develop them — you can earn more money and get promoted out of entry-level and dead-end jobs.

If you do not have these five skills, you will always be at the bottom of the economic scale.

The truth is that you need to develop these five skills, you need to include these five skills in your resumes and you need to highlight real-life work situations that illustrate your use of these five skills if you want to earn more money.

Back to Reality

Let’s bring this back to reality. How can we use all this research to create the classroom of the future?

How can we combine Dr. Jacobs curriculum research with the Georgetown study?

Where did we leave off? We know that a 19th century curriculum relies on single-core subjects teaching single-core ideas. And we know from the research this is no longer viable in the 21st century. And if we follow the research, we know that students need all the teachers to teach the same concepts, but in a cross-curricular way.

That leads us right to this conclusion. Why can’t the English, math, science and social studies teachers all teach leadership, team building, problem solving, sales and communications as the learning objectives in their classes?

What would that look like in reality?

The answer is, it would solve all the issues of K12 schools feeling slightly off. Instead of high school graduates holding a diploma and wondering what to do next, they would be looking at the world with wide-eyes and wondering what they should do first?

Every student in this new K12 environment will be learning leadership from an English, math, science and social studies perspective. Imgaine how much more robust and well-rounded an education that would be for kids? Imagine the implications in the workforce?

Employers could rely on a high school graduates who spent four years learning about leadership, team building, problem solving, sales and communications from highly qualified English, math, science and social studies teachers.

In fact, there would be no argument against why students wouldn’t be prepared for the 21st century. For comparison sake, evaluate a high school graduate right now? What do they know? What can they do? What are they doing?

When you arm high school students with a 19th century curriculum in the 21st century, you are hamstringing them for a life of struggle and economic hardship. But when you cast off the single-core ideas of English, math, science and social studies and replace it with leadership, team building, problem solving, sales and communications, you are truly providing them with a rich learning experience.

There is also another benefit to using a 21st century curriculum design and 21st century skills. The new curriculum unlocks teacher potential too. Forcing teachers to try and make an obsolete curriculum, new, creative and exciting is really hard. In fact, it’s more a waste of teachers time.

We need to let go of an obsolete curriculum.

When you replace the old curriculum with 21st century skills, all teachers begin to see huge opportunities for learning inside the classroom.

From a cross-curricular perspective, students will be learning leadership skills from the English teacher and the math teacher, and so on. The same is true of team building skills and sales skills and communications skills. The old curriculum does not push the envelope. It’s old and boring and every student knows that. In fact, you know that. No one likes the old curriculum.

When you replace the old curriculum with the 21st century skills found in the Georgetown study, you begin to see true possibilities for learning growth and development.

Of course there will be critics. Change scares people. Critics are the most scared people on earth. When Copernicus announced to the world the sun was the center of the Universe, the critics wanted to stone him. They couldn’t disprove his findings, but they were afraid everyone would know they (the critics) were no longer the smartest people in the room.

I challenge all the critics of this article to show me your work. Show me your research. The Star-Spangled Banner doesn’t say, the land of fear and the home of the cowards, it says “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

No joke, any critic has had the last 22 years to come up with a better curriculum. I recognize that I’m the only one that came up with this idea. I understand that it makes you look foolish. I’m not trying to make people ignore you anymore, but you didn’t take advantage of your opportunity to improve schools.

Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together

Let’s come back down to earth.

If you didn’t realize it, you just read the most influential article on modernizing our school system ever written.

The fact that I am the only educator in the United States who has put these puzzle pieces together makes me feel uncomfortable. My goal with sharing this research and these findings is to get as many people onto the same page as me — so I’m no longer alone.

All I have done is combine the excellent research from Dr. Jacobs, the world’s leading expert on curriculum design with the findings from the Georgetown study.

I was able to put these two foreign objects together because I have 20 years of K12 classroom and school experience. I know what I’m looking for. I know what is wrong with schools and I know what would meet the demands of student learning outcomes.

If you don’t have that K12 classroom and school experience, it’s easy to overlook research studies that don’t label themselves as “education related.” That’s why everyone ignored the Georgetown study when it was published in 2020. It wasn’t picked up by the media, it wasn’t promoted by the teacher’s union or parent groups. No one knows about the study or its findings.

The reason school districts ask me to visit and school boards request my assistance is because I put puzzles together when most people can’t identify the pieces.

We all want better schools. We all know that a high quality education is the key to success in the future. But now there is real evidence that if students do not learn and develop the five 21st century skills they will be doomed to minimum wage and dead-end jobs.

That’s not speculation, it’s proven by Georgetown researchers.

That leaves only one final question.

Why isn’t your school district upgrading your curriculum this summer? What is holding your schools back?

We need to shift from teaching single-core ideas in single-core subjects to a cross-curricular model that allows all teachers to teach similar concepts, but from their different perspectives.

That has to be the goal of school and district leaders.

If you want help from me or my think tank, please follow this account and go to the website link in my bio. It will take you directly to my homepage at Leaf Academy.

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Professor Schwartz

Professor Schwartz

Former Superintendent | Ed Consultant | Speaker/Author — Go to my homepage at https://leafacademy.org