...the nation continues to underinvest in school facilities, leaving an estimated $38 billion annual gap.
~2017 Infrastructure Report on Schools by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Classrooms or microenvironments?
For years, the condition of public school facilities has received D ratings from the American Society of Civil Engineers. They claim the gap in funding school facilities is one of the worst infrastructure areas.
Schools require more funding than airports, dams, rail and levees combined to get back to “good” condition, the engineers estimated.
Perhaps as a parent you are currently watching your school district struggle to find funding for new school buildings, or remodeling. Maybe you’re a teacher struggling to teach your students in a classroom that is inadequate.
Why has this country not kept up with facility funding throughout the years?
A recent opinion piece published by Education Week about facilities promotes microenvironments, a new buzz word that means more technology.
“School Infrastructure Is in Big Trouble. Building New Schools Isn’t the Answer” is written by Bill Latham. Latham is saying we should not focus on building new schools, but on changing what already exists in the school.
Latham is the CEO, MBA, and senior program designer at MeTEOR Education, a nonprofit that promises to help shift roles and upgrade learning spaces.
Latham also wrote a book Humanizing the Education Machine: How to Create Schools That Turn Disengaged Kids Into Inspired Learners. How much do MBAs know about how children learn and how to help them be better learners?
Rather than building new schools from the ground up, one of the most visible ways to quickly begin to address learning spaces is to focus on a refresh of the microenvironments–the furniture, technology, and interactions–inside the four walls.
At first this might seem like oversimplification, but there’s something else going on here.
Running public education down, has been the big business theme for many years. Latham automatically assumes that education is a machine, that it doesn’t humanize, and that kids are disengaged. Those are big assumptions, and mostly untrue.
For example, MeTEOR’s website reports that public schools have rows of desks, like a factory. This is common criticism by corporate reformers. But teachers often group students differently, and they have done this for years!
Latham wants to sound like he is selling school districts something new, and it is technology.
…today’s students are more active in group work, project-based learning, and contributing to conversations in the classroom instead of sitting in rows, listening to teachers standing at a lectern. Teachers no longer want to be the sole purveyor of information, but instead be in a position to offer guidance, transition between different modes of instruction, and team kids up in pairs or small groups. Their classroom environments have to be able to adapt quickly to accommodate these learning modes without rebuilding entire facilities to make that happen.
He is talking about converting classrooms to technology with teachers standing by to act as facilitators, not teachers. Latham wants school districts to make sure they invest in technology in schools, and MeTEOR Education to tell schools how to design the classrooms into microenvironments to support tech.
In real public schools where students matter, the classroom, within the school, is the teacher’s sanctuary. It is where they work and come together with their students, and where human interactions occur that are critical to learning. It is the child’s second home. For some children, the classroom is their favorite place to get away from home.
Technology provides support to teachers, but it is not what’s most important. It’s not needed as much as good teachers who are capable of designing their classrooms the way they think best.
Teachers understand what students need academically, and they know how to bring students together socially.
When school districts fail to invest in new facilities, teachers and students suffer in overcrowded and rundown conditions.
Sticking students in front of screens and turning teachers into facilitators, instead of owners of their classrooms, is not going to fix that. It will, however, change the democratic nature of learning and instruction to a cold and uncaring environment where the machine rules.