Thursday, August 6, 2009

Leadership in Innovation and Reimagination

Reactions to an Interview with Leon Botstein, President of Bard College in May-June issue of Miller-McCune magazine.
In reimagining institutional futures, active leadership is key. In an article in Miller-McCune magazine, President Leon Botstein of Bard College reveals some of the approaches he has taken at Bard College over the years and the results achieved.

In President Botstein’s view. Leadership at leading universities has been too insular. They have been focusing on themselves and not their place in the world of education and the world at large. In Botstein’s view, there are major problems with the way American society deals with adolescence, learning, and mentoring young people on what it means to be an adult.

“The real problem in American education is how we deal with adolescence. For all the talk of early childhood and preschool, the real locus of crisis in America if from the onset of puberty to the early 20s. That is a kind of black hole for everyone except the very, very gifted and talented. Even with them we’re not doing as well as we could. We haven’t figured out how to inspire real ambition and a love of learning in the adolescent group, starting with middle school to really the end of college.”

Dr. Botstein’s prescription: Consider a variety of fundamental changes, and do something to change the status quo.. For example, he suggests we could eliminate middle school and start high school work in grade 7, enabling students to finish by age 16. As he puts it, “I think universities have a real responsibility to improve secondary education in the United States. The president needs to turn to the university community and say, “Do something about the high schools,” the same way that university hospitals took over public hospitals.” His advice - Do something.

Bard has done something. They have established Bard Early College High School, which consists of two high schools in New York, one in the Lower East Side and one in Queens. Each enrolls 500-600 students, and for the 160 entering slots, 3,000 applicants, assessed and selected by an interview process not standardized tests. By the end of high school, these students have a NY Regents degree and an Associate of Arts degree. These students are representative of the population of New York and go on to good colleges.

Other public and private colleges and universities are sponsoring early college high school programs, making a commitment to doing something. So have the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other foundations. These efforts are all part of the mult-faceted narratives from communities across the nation about reimaging PK-20 and doing something serious about the parlous state of K-12 education and its impact on student success in PK-20.

Bard has also undertaken community-based learning programs in California and has opened the only liberal arts school in post-Communist Russia.

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