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The heart and soul of education

Editor’s note: The author of the following is Northeast Nebraska’s representative on the Nebraska State Board of Education.

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The month of August is all about county fairs and students going back to school.

This summer, I had the privilege of volunteering at a one-room school house located on the Burt County fairgrounds.

Some hard-working, dedicated teachers and retired teachers worked diligently to display artwork of students attending Burt County schools.

The school also showcases the history of 72 former one-room school houses.

Yes, that is correct: at one time there were 72 one-room school houses in Burt County.

You may be wondering where this article is heading.

No, I am not advocating that we go back to one-room school houses, but I do believe — after hearing so many stories from former teachers and students who worked and attended school in these very small schools — that there are some great similarities between teaching and learning in a one-room school house and teaching and learning in a highly successful classroom today.

It begins with the teacher — the heart and soul of the learning experience for every school student every day.

At our August meeting, the state board started a new study committee on competency-based education. The first task will be to define competency-based education. Typically, the definition includes a learner-focused education experience. Student progress is based on their ability to demonstrate proficiency or mastery of key concepts and skills. Competency-based education is typically very personalized, tied to individual learner needs.

Hmm, sounds like the strategies used by teachers in one-room school houses.

Teachers today have digital tools and resources to individualize and personalize learning for every student every day while the teachers in the one-room school houses had few resources, but they used those limited resources to individualize and personalize learning for every student every day.

While I am on the subject of the heart and soul of teachers, one topic covered at the August board meeting was the breach of security in state testing in Nebraska.

Nebraska has had eight serious testing security breaches since 2009. These are truly minimal breaches of testing security when you put it in perspective. Since 2009, over two million individual state tests in reading, writing, math and science have been administered in Nebraska. I believe the number of breaches is minimal  because Nebraska has great teachers who have strong ethics. Simply stated, Nebraska teachers just don’t cheat.

Other states have created high stakes around testing and tied teacher performance to one state test score, but that is not how we do business in Nebraska! In Nebraska, teachers are evaluated on multiple measures including student performance, but more than one test score.

Nebraska also is moving forward with an accountability system that goes beyond a test score. Student success, teacher success and school success is more than one test score and Nebraska’s new accountability system called AQuESTT — Accountability for a Quality Education System Today and Tomorrow — is about more than one test score!

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Jimmy Johns