How a Charter School in the U.S. Shares an Educational Vision with China

The talk at Arroyo Vista Charter School was about 21st Century skill sets. Educators from China and graduate students from the School of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University were touring Arroyo Vista recently as part of a symposium led by Dr. Cheryl James-Ward, an assistant professor of educational leadership at SDSU.

When it comes to employment, Dr. Ward contends, it is not that there is a shortage of jobs. “There is a shortage of people ready to take the jobs of today,” Dr. Ward emphasized. “The skill sets have changed. The skill sets of today require that kids are able to think independently.”

That was reflected in the classrooms of Arroyo Vista, Dr. Ward said, which is critical for their future–and ours.

“You don’t see as much of that in China,” Dr. Ward said, “but the (Chinese) government understands that. And they are saying, ‘We can’t continue down this path where we are constantly feeding information to our students. We’ve got the factories. We’re producing. But we’re not creating, we’re not designing. In order to create real wealth, we have to create and we have to design.’ ”

Arroyo Vista is one of 45 schools in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, and among the highest performing. Its state Academic Performance Index score of 914 last year placed it in rarefied company in San Diego County.

The focus of the SDSU symposium was to identify the implementation of core concepts around 21st century teaching and learning. To prepare, Dr. Ward and the graduate students visited 11 schools in three provinces in China. They were extremely different schools, Dr. Ward said. A high school with an international mix of students was impressive for its instruction and how well behaved its students were. A more traditional high school there had 60 kids in a class. The students did not shuttle off after each class period, the teachers did. Every teacher rolled out with their materials from one classroom to the next.

The Chinese educators also noted differences in the San Diego area schools they visited.

“Here, (at Arroyo) when you walk into a classroom, the kids are engaged, the teacher is working with a small group, and you see that the kids are able to take ownership of their own instruction,” Dr. Ward said. “Even in the kindergarten, first grade classes …the kids are already working independently within their groups. For me, when you think about 21st Century skill sets, we need more than anything, kids who are innovators, kids who can take control of their own learning, expand their own learning. Those are the leaders of tomorrow.”

Arroyo Vista Principal Pat Roth said she was proud to host educators from both countries. Teacher collaboration, students working cooperatively in small groups—these are topics that resonated with her staff, Roth said.

“Teachers working by themselves and doing all the talking–that is not how it is done anymore,” Roth said. “We need to help students understand how they can take what they already know and combine it with what they are learning to apply it to a real life situation. That is what we are trying to work toward, and that is exactly what China is trying to work toward.”

About the Chula Vista Elementary School District

Located between the City of San Diego and United States/Mexico International Border, the Chula Vista Elementary School District is the largest K-6 district in the state. The District serves more than 28,000 students. Four charter schools, including Arroyo Vista, also enroll middle school students; one charter also serves 9th grade. California uses the Academic Performance Index (API) to annually rate districts and schools on a scale of 200 to 1,000. The state target is 800. In 2010-11, the District’s index score reached 861, a 13-point year-over-year gain. In addition, 40 of 45 District schools each achieved API scores greater than 800.

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