Educator: Time to transform state regulations

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(Host) Vermont’s top education policymakers say it’s time to shake up the system.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, the state Board of Education will hold hearings about how to "transform” the way schools are regulated.

(Sneyd) Education Commissioner Richard Cate says schools are doing a good job, despite limitations imposed by the state.

But he says there are still students who are being overlooked.

(Cate) "There’s still a third of our students are not achieving standards. And in all my visits to schools it’s clear to me that we are not always able to serve within the current system some of the higher-achieving students in that top 10-15% as well as I think we should be able to.”

(Sneyd) But Cate doesn’t blame the schools – and neither does the state Board of Education.

They say it’s the system – and more specifically state regulations – that get in the way.

Cate offers an example of some rules that he thinks could be changed.

There are very specific state standards about how long a student should sit in a history or a mathematics classroom.

Cate wonders whether that’s still necessary.

(Cate) "If one student takes three months to become competent in a particular course and another one takes 12 months, then why should we care. Let’s create a system that allows those students to migrate through the system as they become competent and be less concerned whether they fit into a high school schedule or something like that.”

(Sneyd) Cate envisons an "individual learning plan” for every student, one that recognizes the interests and abilities of each of them.

He concedes that could be a tall order, but he believes it’s worth considering.

That’s just what the state board wants people to do – talk about how education could improve.

It plans a series of meetings over the winter in a search for ideas.

The state’s largest teachers’ union thinks it’s heard all of this before.

Joel Cook is executive director of the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association.

(Cook) "There’s nothing particularly startling going on here. Every commissioner engages in an exercise at some point or another about changes he or she would like to see in the form of education in Vermont. So I’m not particularly concerned about it or excited about it.”

(Sneyd) Cate and the state board say they’re serious about the initiative and don’t intend it to be just another study.

The board will be spending a majority of its time in the next few months developing proposals. Then it will figure out how to implement them.

Cate figures it could be about four years before the work is done.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.


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