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Educator Offers Vision Of New American Learning System

December 14, 2000 -- A new millennium and the exuberant promise of a 2-year-old grandchild serve as the inspiration for a publication describing the next generation of American schools.

Daniel L. Duke, director of the University of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson Center for Educational Design, lays forth his ideas for a new kind of learning network in "A Design for Alana: Creating the Next Generation of American Schools," recently published by the Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.

After examining current assumptions about schooling, analyzing areas that need change and dreaming of what his granddaughter Alana’s education could be, Duke has proposed the design of a learning network — a network of centers, not bricks-and-mortar schools in the traditional sense. The centers would each have clear, focused missions, and students would spend as much, or as little, time in the centers as needed to complete the learning associated with the missions.

Before students start attending a center, however, they and their parents would gain information about learning options by visiting an admissions and placement center. There they would be assigned a learning advisor, who would oversee diagnostic testing, arrange visits to area learning centers and draft an education plan.

The advisor would continue to work with his or her students during the duration of their participation in the learning network. After working with youth from approximately age 4 until 18, the learning advisors would become well-acquainted with students and their needs. The advisors would make referrals to specialists, if needed, and maintain the students’ permanent records.

"The advisors would make sure that parents and students are informed about available learning options at area centers and assist them in making sound choices," said Duke, a professor of educational leadership in U.Va.’s Curry School of Education, who has written or edited 20 books and nearly 150 articles related to education reform.

For most students, the first assignment in the learning network would be to an early childhood center near their home. Designed to feel home-like and cozy, the centers would offer instruction in reading, writing and other basics.

"The length of time that students would remain at the center would depend on their academic progress and social maturation. When students master basic skills and demonstrate the capacity to work on their own for long periods of time and to study with more than one instructor, they could begin work at an academic center," said Duke.

The next rung in the learning-network ladder would be academic centers, which would have instructors teaching varied subjects. The instructors, some of whom could be private practitioners or independent contractors, would offer courses and independent study opportunities. Courses would look more like college offerings than typical middle- and high-school selections. Students would attend courses once or twice a week to receive and discuss new material. During the rest of the week, they would study at neighborhood community learning centers.

Community learning centers would be smaller, more personalized environments, ideally within walking distance of students’ homes. At the centers students would complete course assignments and projects under the supervision of learning specialists, who would possess general expertise in research design, writing and study skills. The learning specialists would stay in close contact with instructors at the academic centers. At the community centers, which would be open from early morning to late evening, students would have work stations with computers that would allow them electronic access to the academic center.

To equip students who move into areas with learning-center networks and to offer remedial help, Duke envisions transition centers. They would give students the skills and knowledge needed to function at an early childhood, academic or community learning center.

Duke also envisions satellite and specialty learning centers. These would take advantage of an area’s distinctive features and would, for example, offer classes in corporate business parks, museums, shopping malls and zoos.

"If we recognize that there are alternative paths to knowledge, then a semester or year at a non-school learning environment may be just the right option for certain students who fail to connect at an academic center," Duke said.

He also envisions residential learning centers that would give students an opportunity to leave dysfunctional homes and neighborhoods.

Another rung in the network ladder would be educational partnerships that would allow students who learn quickly to seek advanced learning opportunities at community colleges or four-year higher-education institutions.

Other components of the network could include virtual learning centers, youth service centers, adult education centers, apprenticeship programs and foreign study.

"The great promise of the new millennium is that we have learned enough from more than a century of experimentation with public schooling to recognize the value and necessity of customized learning. The ‘one best system’ for the new millennium will be the system that offers my granddaughter and her peers the broadest and best-designed series of learning options," Duke said.

Components of Dukešs Design for a Learning Network

  • Admissions and placement centers
  • Early childhood centers
  • Academic centers
  • Community learning centers
  • Transition centers
  • Satellite and specialty learning centers
  • Residential learning centers
  • Educational partnerships

Other Network Options

  • Virtual learning centers
  • Youth service centers
  • Adult education centers
  • Apprenticeship programs
  • Foreign study

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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