Trends in Education

Who better to ask about the trends in education than the heads of some of the organizations that serve the education field? School Planning & Management asked several of these leaders to share their opinions on several issues. The respondents are:

- Steve Crane, a partner at Valentiner Crane Architects in Salt Lake City, Utah, was the 2000 chair of the Committee on Architecture for Education for the American Institute of Architects (AIA-CAE.) He has been involved in the education field for 25 years.

- Dr. Don I. Tharpe is the executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International, a position he has held for the past 11 years. Before becoming executive director, he was their director of professional programs. Prior to his employment at ASBO, he was the assistant executive director for membership at the American Vocational Association.

- Jim Brady, AIA, REFP, is a partner in PageSoutherlandPage architectural firm in Austin, Texas, and the president of the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI). He has been involved in school planning and architecture for 27 years.

- Clarice Chambers is the President of the National School Boards Association (NSBA). She has continuously served on the Harrisburg, Penn., Board of Education since 1975 and served as president from 1983 to 1990. She has also been active with the Pennsylvania School Board Association since 1988 and served as its president in 1992.

Here are the respondents’ perspectives on what we can expect to see in the next few years.

1. What general trends do you see developing in education?

Crane: In the past, everything was taught as a single discipline; now the trend is multi-discipline. For example, if the subject matter is the rainforest, the science class will study one aspect, a sociology class will look at the effects of weather and impact on economies, the English class will write an essay, the Spanish class will give an oral report and the art class may use the subject matter as an opportunity to draw trees. So, five subjects are covering one topic.

Tharpe: I can’t predict how long it will last, but the current trend of universities requiring higher math and science scores on the SAT will be with us for a while. Parents, and students as well, will continue to ask for more math and science in the curriculum. School systems, nationwide, will find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain teachers in these areas. The segments of the population that secondary education could typically draw from for teachers (minorities and women) will continue to dry up as these individuals choose careers other than education. The central office will not be spared from a staff shortage either as school business officials, senior level accountants, technology coordinators and clerks find more lucrative opportunities outside of education.

Brady: A trend for schools, in general, is that they will become learning places that will embrace community and multiculturalism. They will be student focused, spatially diverse and will be experiential learning models that parallel models of work.

Chambers: Two education trends that will be most visible are accountability and standards and assessment. Accountability is the driving force behind standards. We have to measure the performance of all school staff members, administrators and the school board itself against student achievement objectives. Holding everyone to high standards is critical to success in the 21st century, as is establishing an assessment process that measures student achievement at regular intervals.

Parents are demanding high standards, but we also must make sure that the infrastructure is there in our schools to support high standards and that resources are available to support standards and assessment.

2. How do you see classrooms changing?

Crane: Teachers are now facilitators. Students used to work as individual competitors, but now they collaborate in groups of five or 10, in study areas surrounding a central resource where they can access information. In the past, the curriculum fit the building, but now the architect must design buildings to fit the curriculum.

There is a trend toward more community involvement and businesses working in partnerships with the community schools. In New York, a school is housed in a 10-story building, but it uses the equivalent of only four of those floors. The rest of the space is rented to businesses, with the classrooms interspersed throughout the building. As part of their rent, the businesses have agreed to be part of the teaching process, so part of the class work is done in the real world.

Tharpe: I don’t see a major change in the classroom configuration if you are talking about schools in the round, schools without walls or creating “learning labs.” The question is not how they will change but how can school systems get more of them (classrooms). The growth in student population for the past several years has put a tremendous strain on the facilities and, in an effort to accommodate the additional students, many school systems have had to resort to the use of portable classrooms.

With the pressure that school boards are getting to solve this problem of overcrowded schools I don’t think that school officials will be allowed to implement or adopt quick fixes to solve the problem. Even with technology changing so rapidly, online and virtual classrooms are still light-years away.

Brady: Classrooms are changing to become learning spaces that are the students’ places of work. They will be flexible and support the constructivist learning environment. The furniture and surface materials will evolve to support project-based learning. The two- and three-dimensional presentation areas will extend the student experience well beyond the boundaries of the traditional classroom.

Chambers: Technology will play an integral role in the classroom. Classrooms will be designed with technology as a focus of the architecture and completely integrated into the curriculum.

3. What needs to happen about security?

Crane: Security is a serious issue, particularly in large urban areas. One of the most noticeable changes we have seen is that, when teachers and administrators are reviewing designs, they are quicker to notice a notch in the hall where “someone could hide.” Fifteen years ago they wouldn’t have even thought about it. We also have to think about the placement of windows and the orientation of doors, the proper selection of hardware, the orientation of playgrounds to neighborhoods and highways.

Brady: To enhance security in our schools, all learning spaces will be more visually open and observable -- from the flow of activity to the various ways used to assist in directing the visitor and student. The traditional “out-of-sight” problem areas will be relocated to more active, observable zones. There will be an increased use of non-invasive technology-based security systems that will enhance the opportunity for fluidity and freedom within the learning experience areas. In addition, the scale and organization of schools will become smaller, and will support personal familiarity and nurture relationships.

Chambers: Despite some high-visibility incidents, schools are still safe places for students. We have to create a climate of respect in our schools that supports the philosophy that all children can learn at high levels. We have to create a climate in our schools so that all students can feel safe.

4. How do you see technology affecting the facility?

Crane: The Internet opened up many opportunities. We have found that using a computer room isn’t a good approach, but trying to provide a computer for each student isn’t always economical. A good compromise is to place 10 or 12 computers in an activity center and about six or eight in the classroom, which gives nearly every student immediate access to a computer.

There are other approaches, of course. In one school, they are using a short-wave Internet connection that is tied into a laptop computer. The Internet connection is broadcast from a central point so students have access to the Internet at their desk.

Tharpe: Several years ago the question was, “How can schools get enough computers?” This is no longer a question in most school systems. Through either additional funds being allocated from the annual budget, grants or corporate giving, computers are getting into the classroom. The issue is,”How will this nation’s school systems use all of the technology they have purchased to adequately affect student achievement?” If students are not reaching the goals established by the school system, then the technology does not matter. We should be seeking to integrate all of the technology at our disposal into a manageable force that supports learning, to ensure that the digital divide does not get any wider, especially for our facilities. It concerns me that so many school systems are still spending huge amounts of money cabling buildings, yet almost every computer company is developing wireless communications. We are allocating space to desktop systems when the move is to smaller laptop and handheld devices. What the United States calls cell phones the rest of the world calls mobile phones. That small handheld device holds many possibilities.

Brady: Technology will evolve into a transparent tool and will not be a destination or a room. It will be integrated throughout the learning environment, and it will enhance access so it will be available 24/7 to master teachers via distance learning and personal learning devices.

Chambers: Teachers must be trained not only to use technology, but also to use technology to help raise student achievement. It is very possible that a classroom may be many miles away from a student because of technology, so educators must learn different techniques to teach students in remote locations.

5. What will you do differently due to the changes you foresee?

Crane: We are now beginning to educate with the goal of lifelong learning. In other words, we are encouraging students to learn how to learn -- by discovery. We will be planning learning areas to be more like learning labs. They include a central area around which are multiple classrooms. Classrooms need to be fluid and evolving because teaching methods are no longer the Socratic type, but more of a hands-on, collaborative approach.

Tharpe: School business officials have almost been pioneers in the field of technology for school systems. Managing the purchasing function, payroll, student records, transportation and payroll are just a few of the many ways that they have integrated technology into the day-to-day operations of schools.

Brady: Anticipating these trends has caused me to familiarize myself with evolving teaching and learning strategies that result in improved student achievement. I am also studying how the learning environment can enhance the students’ success, which will be shared with clients and colleagues.

Chambers: In the coming years, school board members will work more closely with the community and be more accountable to it. School board members will become a voice of reason in the debate about standards and testing, giving balanced accounts on what’s good for their students. All of us want an education system that produces the leaders of tomorrow. School boards are part of the equation. We will engage the community, and together help students achieve.