Billionaire Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) recently announced that he is donating $100 million dollars to help overhaul the City of Newark's school system. Fast Company Magazine asked 13 edu-experts how they would spend the money. The 13 radical answers they received were as varied as the 13 people they asked.
Check out their answers. But don't just check them out...take time to think about them. Many of them may be a preview of where education as a whole is headed. Many of them may also have implications that could change the way we do Children's Ministry.
RADICAL IDEA #1
"In the first few years of life, there are 700 new neuron connections formed every second. The achievement gap between a child born into extreme poverty and one of the professional class is evident by age 3. Yet public policy doesn't engage the first five years of life. We still think of those years as belonging to the family, though this period is crucially important to the development of our workforce. With $100 million, I would build new centers for preschoolers, infants, and toddlers, with three teachers per classroom. Data show that kids with this level of instruction and focused play enter kindergarten in a position to compete."
-Daniel Peterson, President of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund
RADICAL IDEA #2
"I can't believe that in all the furor over testing, people aren't debating the test itself, like whether the questions are any good. $100 million should be used to empower Joy Hakim to write from scratch the standardized tests for all the subject levels and grade levels. Hakim wrote an American history textbook 10 years ago that is fascinating and fun. It brings characters to life in a way that a novelist can. What if a standardized test was written not by a bureaucrat but by somebody who deeply loves the subject? If there were such a thing as a standardized test that wasn't crazy and boring, then we might actually have a test worth teaching to."
-Charles Best, Founder of DonorsChoose
RADICAL IDEA #3
"I'd focus on the arts - music and visual arts and dance, all the things that make kids joyful. Kids need a reason to come to school and testing is not a good reason."
-Diane Ravitch, NYU education historian and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System"
RADICAL IDEA #4
"What's missing is more time for parents and teachers to meet. Everyone talks about how important that relationship is, but these 10-minute conferences are of no value and we handicap teachers by having them do this type of work on their own hours. Give parents time off for parent teacher conferences, just as we do for jury duty-it could be an employment policy. And have the student there; it makes the whole meeting more powerful."
-Deborah Meier, senior scholar at NYU and human development leader of the Coalition of Essential Schools
RADICAL IDEA #5
"I would use the funds to attract the best teachers for two programs. One would be a Saturday academic program for struggling students, and I would try to determine if an extra three to five hours a week could drive their reading and math scores a particular way."
-Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone
RADICAL IDEA #6
"Unlike most professions, teachers don't get enough professional development, and the development they do get is in furtherance of learning how to use some textbook. We're not an agrarian society anymore; we're a postindustrial nation. And the thing that's coming around the corner is going to have something to do with technology or things yet unimagined. We have to do everything in our power to make kids prepared for that. The question I often ask is whether or not teachers are prepared for it. I would establish urban think tanks for teachers -- a dedicated space to think about public education and how to change it, to identify different approaches that teachers can bring back to their classrooms."
-Damian Jones, assistant principal at Francis W. Parker, a private school in Chicago
RADICAL IDEA #7
"I would build more high-performing charter schools, like the ones we've opened in Houston. Kids with a seat in these schools will average significantly higher wages over their lifetime than if they weren't at these schools. But it also creates the FedEx effect: Where FedEx's success forced the U.S. Postal Service to offer overnight delivery, something it thought couldn't be done, charter schools force the district to compete and improve. Public schools are feeling very accountable today, but they feel very accountable to the state and federal government, their biggest funders. The main focus from schools should be looking at the kids and parents as the customers they're serving."
-Mike Feinberg, cofounder of KIPP, a network of free, college-preparatory public schools across the U.S.
RADICAL IDEA #8
"Lowering class size is one of the most important things. We have 35 students in our sixth-grade classes. Breaking that size down would mean more attention on each child and more differentiated instruction. After that, I would love to bring on the interactive whiteboards."
-Cole Young, principal of Humboldt Elementary School in Arizona and winner of the 2010 Terrel H. Bell Award, given to a handful of principals by the U.S. Department of Education
RADICAL IDEA #9
"Keep schools open for instructional services -- before- and after-school programs, GED programs, recreational activities -- for both kids and their families."
-Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
RADICAL IDEA #10
"I would use the $100 million to improve coordination among different education services. The majority of schools do not have direct access to all of the kinds of support their students need -- whether it's social, like mentoring, or a health check for asthma or vision -- all of the things we know affect a student's academic performance. Those resources are not always talking to each other. I would pull together a panel with representatives from each of those agencies and task them with developing a structure to channel their resources. For example, now kids who get in trouble get a probationary officer who ends up being a mentor for that child. But if we just match a student to a mentor the minute he starts to fall behind -- before he gets in trouble -- it'd be a lot less expensive. Today we're spending more on the students who have already fallen off the track than we do on keeping students on track."
-John Jackson, CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education
RADICAL IDEA #11
"I don't care whether they're poor or what color they are, 14-year-olds are only making 14-year-old decisions. They're goofy. At East Side Prep, a private school in California that serves almost exclusively black and Latino students, every student meets daily with a tutor. Practically, it allows teachers time to plan together. It eliminates the stigma of 'Oh, you have to go to a tutor,' because everyone has to. And there's less time for kids to be left up to their own devices."
-Gloria Ladson-Billings, author of The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children
RADICAL IDEA #12
"Public education right now is like telling doctors and nurses that they have to save lives without any materials: You can't have any tools, you can't have any medicines, but you still have to save lives -- and if you don't, we're going to punish you in some way. That's what education feels like. We're expected to produce great citizens after students go through 12 years of school, but we're not given any tools to make that happen. I would make sure that we have updated textbooks in the classrooms, supplies for labs, and instruments for music."
-Kara Smith, teacher at Lake City High School in Idaho
RADICAL IDEA #13
"Build a better classroom." (I'll focus on this tomorrow - this is another post in itself.)
These radical ideas have caused me to start thinking not only about public education, but also about Children's Ministry. What radical changes do we need to make to be more effective? What processes need to be overhauled? What communication methods need to be reinvented? What teaching pathways need to be adjusted?
What if we were given $100 million to improve Children's Ministry as a whole? How would you invest the money? Do you think any of the above ideas need to be translated into Children's Ministry?
What radical ideas have you been mulling over, but haven't shared with anyone yet? A new curriculum that resonates with the learning styles and technological advancements of today's kids? New, creative environments that would enhance opportunities to connect kids with truth? New methods that take volunteer development to a new level? New ways to partner with parents? New tools to spread God's love to kids around the world?
I'd enjoy hearing the radical ideas that are stirring in your spirit. God has a lot more bank than $100 million dollars. And you never know when He might provide us a pathway to radically change the world of Children's Ministry. It might involve money and it might not. You never know until you start dreaming.