What is the definition of a great school?

The United States has the shortest school year and longest summer vacation of any industrialized country in the world. Canadian students, for example, attend an additional month of school.

“It’s no wonder we’re falling behind,” said Milton Chen, a best-selling author on education reform. “Our kids lose learning over the long summer break and then we spend a lot of time in the fall remediating.”

But there is a way Americans can keep up, Chen told a crowd of educators and community leaders at the monthly Ed Sessions 2.0 luncheon. He encouraged taking advantage of America’s strengths. Blend formal learning with informal learning. Widen and broaden education and make it more creative.

“Educating kids should now be 24/7,” Chen said, “any time, any place, any path and any pace.”

Chen helped develop the children’s TV show “Sesame Street” in the 1970s and was an assistant professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education. He now is a senior fellow with the George Lucas Education Foundation, which sponsors Edutopia.org, an education resource that draws more than a million page views a month.

He was in Boise Tuesday to discuss what he thinks would give Idaho students an edge.

“It’s time to put the ‘edge’ in education by making it special,” Chen said. “Education should grow and expand.”

He highlighted his six “edges of innovation:”

1. Thinking. “This is the most important edge.” Children should learn with their brains and also with their bodies — verbal, visual, musical, intrapersonal, interpersonal and through nature.

2. Curriculum and assessment. Curriculum should include social and emotional learning — teaching relationship skills as well as math skills. “Use art to express language.”

3. Technology. Take advantage of devices that help students learn at their own pace and at any time of the day.

4. Time and place. Instead of thinking outside the box, “schools need to think outside the building.”

5. Co-teaching. Teaching should no longer be one teacher shut in a room of students. Include parents as “co-educators” and team teaching and mentorships should be in place. “Blending formal with the informal means making full uses of libraries, foundations, non-profits, businesses and churches.”

6. Youth. Listen to what children have to say. “Understand that the younger generation is very different in how they think about themselves and their own learning.” Also, kids can learn a lot earlier in life than we think.

“The culture of teaching needs to shift to more collaboration, mentors, teams and community and parent involvement,” Chen said. “We need to work together in teams that can do more than any individual can do on their own.”

A great school can be defined as a place with strong and effective leaders, where parents are active and where kids want to be. And it can be measured easily: Do children run into school as quickly as they run out?

Disclaimer: Ed Sessions 2.0 and Idaho Education News are funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

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