By Lars Johnson
"Why does our whole discussion about improving learning go on with no one questioning the old institution of adolescence?"
These were Ted Kolderie's opening words in a TED talk at the New Schools Venture Fund 'summit' May 1 in San Francisco. The session topic was: "It's time to give up on _______ and replace it with ______". In the three-minute video below he explains why we should give up on adolescence and replace it with 'adultness'.
Kolderie's assertion that "young people are today the most discriminated-against class of people in our society" might be a bit ahead of its time. We'd be interested, as always, in what you think. We welcome your comments, below.
Guest post by Julie Sabo, currently a 5th grade teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota and former state Senator.
Hopes and dreams
A popular way to begin the school year is with an expression of Hopes and Dreams from students and sometimes also from parents. When I first began doing this beginning of the year ritual the Hopes and Dreams expressed were usually broad and blustery, grand in nature. Some students dreamed of worldwide social justice, some for personal strength, fame, great riches, and some for very specific careers.
An interesting change has happened in children’s Hopes and Dreams statements lately. I noticed that they have become measurable. They have become manageable. They have become boring. “My hope is that I will become a Z reader.” “My hope is to have 10 new friends this year.” “My dream is that I will get a 4 in math.” My hope, as a teacher, was to spark their curiosity, to develop their relationship with learning. I wanted to sell them on the greatness of learning, the power of knowledge, and the benefits of personal discipline. But measurable outcomes, manageable steps, and the rigidity of standardization dominated all of our hopes and dreams.
If you think standardization of curriculum and testing isn’t impacting your child, please think again. Standardized testing that defines which schools, teachers, and students are successful and which are not has resulted in the narrowing of school experiences, including reducing participation in the arts, the quality of art programs and the incorporation of the arts in academics. Creativity, executive thinking skills, social skills, and other cognitive and non-cognitive skills have been stifled. Stifled and narrowed, and so, it seems, are the hopes and dreams of students.
What parent ever said, “My hopes and dreams for my child is that they are a good example of a standard child, nothing special, or unique, just grow into a standard issue person.” No, the word standardized is not typically used. Creative, happy, successful, inspired, cared for, loving, kind, strong, determined, just, thoughtful, maybe even powerful are words more commonly used when describing what we hope and dream for our children, but standard is not commonly used. Yet, “standard” has become the focus of our schools.
The assumption is that standardized testing is a good, overall measure of how our children are doing. “Are they doing well or not? Let’s look at their test scores.” But is that what we learn from these tests? Do we know how well a person perseveres in challenging situations? Do we know how well they work within groups? Do we know how empathetic they are? Do we know how well they evaluate or think divergently? To use the newest favorite word in education, grit, does it measure how much grit they have? No. Standardized tests miss a lot of information. As Albert Einstein is quoted to have said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
You might be nodding your head, who can argue with the wisdom of Albert Einstein? Yet these tests now dominate our schools. Our children’s learning environments are being defined by them, designed to get test scores higher but not necessarily children learning better. Tests are given excessive power, determining which children, teachers, and schools are successful and which are not successful.
Success, as measured by these tests, is what judges your child’s accomplishments. If your child’s gift is creative, divergent thinking, too bad, it’s not on the test. If your child’s strength is music, too bad, it’s not on the test. If your child’s strength is group dynamics, sports, verbal discourse, too bad, because it’s not on the test. That is a lot of power for single tests. That is too much power.
“But wait.” you say. “They measure something of value. Don’t they?” Sure. Standardized tests are not bad. As long as we understand that they are limited assessments of some knowledge and skills. That the tests are a snapshot of how a child performs on that day, and at that time; that the tests are limited and that their power should be limited too. We ought to be calling for, demanding, appropriate use of standardized tests, as part of a broader set of assessments to help educators and district administrators make educational decisions that move each child to his or her own next level of achievement. Decisions not about who fails and who succeeds, but decisions about how to help all kids grow, by changing what we have been doing; including changes in how we assess and respond to children in an educationally, culturally, economically and socially appropriate manner. That is the only way we will leave no child behind.
Standardized tests and the achievement gap
So what about the gap, the achievement gap? How have these tests been used to bring educational equity to all children? Well, they haven’t. They have demonstrated a testing gap between different groups of students. A testing gap that was labeled an achievement gap, but standardized tests do not measure achievement by any realistic definition. They measure the narrow set of skills being tested, and these skills do not automatically translate into achievement. In fact, non-cognitive, social and personal skills are shown to be associated with academic achievement and future success. These tests are typically biased to the dominant culture, and used to entrench existing patterns of employment, school admittance, and school graduation. Testing gaps have typically been used to exclude, not include equitably. And these tests have been no exception.
An interesting example of this testing gap, which is present at all levels, and how it is typically used to entrench existing patterns of “achievement”, was discussed in Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. In this example, the testing gap was at the University of Michigan Law School. In an act of affirmative action the University accepted minority students with significantly lower standardized test scores and lower undergraduate grades. Now, the assumption of our testing culture is that these students were less qualified, of a lower caliber than students with higher marks, and that more qualified, better students were not accepted as a result. It seems logical, the higher you score, the better you are. Right?
Well, the University followed up with these students after they had graduated from law school, when achievement really begins, in the real world. After a thorough study that included both personal success and community contributions they found no significant discrepancies between the higher scoring white students and the lower scoring minority students. They were all qualified to be lawyers. There was no “achievement gap” consistent with the testing gaps.
The law students all met the threshold of being able to achieve as lawyers, regardless of the testing gap. But that testing gap was used primarily to exclude minority students. Our testing culture wrongly assumes that the higher you score, the better you’ll achieve. In fact, as Malcolm Gladwell points out, beyond a certain point it is those other skills, that are not counted or valued by standardized testing that matter in actually achieving beyond school. Our assumptions about standardized testing are wrong and have been used to exclude minority students to a much greater level than to bring about equity.
To break the existing patterns of “achievement”, we must not embrace the very system of methods that have created and strengthened these patterns. But we have. We’ve accepted the narrowed scope of success and teaching methods, when the opposite was required. We should broaden our methods of teaching and look to new, culturally appropriate forms of assessment. As our student population diversified, we’ve stood by while our schools narrowed the teaching methods and standardized the assessments. That’s not a logical response as we find ourselves responsible for educating young people from a broadening range of cultures.
We need to identify, recognize, and take-up innovative ways to teach culturally and economically divergent students and demand that our schools assess success in a broader manner than we currently do. We responded to high drop out rates, and gaps caused by a system heavily reliant on family resources, by making school more rigid in the name of equity. Why are we surprised the results haven’t changed? Why are we surprised kids still don’t see their hopes and dreams in our schools and continue to drop out. Is standardization the best way to approach the issue of greater inclusion? Nope. It’s proven not to be.
This post was originally blogged on the Education Week Of, By, For blog.
Young people can be very ambitious and are capable of great achievements. Consider these stories of teens' achievement from a different time, as described by Newt Gingrich in Business Week:
"At age 13, Benjamin Franklin finished school in Boston, was apprenticed to his brother, a printer and publisher, and moved immediately into adulthood. John Quincy Adams attended Leiden University in Holland at 13 and at 14 was employed as secretary and interpreter by the American Ambassador to Russia. At 16 he was secretary to the U.S. delegation during the negotiations with Britain that ended the Revolution.
"Daniel Boone got his first rifle at 12, was an expert hunter at 13, and at 15 made a year-long trek through the wilderness to begin his career as America's most famous explorer. The list goes on and on."
In their time, Franklin, Adams and Boone were able to transition seamlessly from "child" to "adult." If they were living as teenagers today, however, they'd be spending their time at school. There are many reasons why "adolescence" came to exist, some well-intentioned, but as acceptance for it grew, so did the idea that we could control teens' activities. Case in point: We've made school attendance and rigorous coursework compulsory, with high stakes, slowing teens' progress toward making the kinds of achievements that young people have made in the past. We presume teens will comply because of our assurances that education, as we now offer it, will yield a promising future.
Yet for many teens, our assurances are not enough. They want to know the connection between their coursework and their potential life's work. Their human instinct to pursue achievement in the way that Franklin, Adams and Boone did has them wondering, "What exactly IS a promising future? What is it that adults do all day in their various professions, and which profession is for me? Where will I make my mark? How will school help me, and why should I commit to it in order to achieve my goals?"
In a 2011 Citizens League Students Speak Out project, students reported that exposure to professionals to learn about jobs and careers is a major missing piece of their education, both inside and outside of school. Students pointed out that there are college fairs, but no career fairs. They perceive that their school counselors' job is to help students make academic choices that keep them on track for college. Teachers' job is to teach academic content so students are ready for college. Students wondered: Could it be someone's job to ensure students' exposure to many career possibilities so they can identify their purpose for graduating from high school and going to college OR another post-secondary option of their choosing?
More and more students are expressing this idea. Project Tomorrow reached 319,223 K-12 students and 25,544 teachers in its 2007 national Speak Up survey. Among other things, the survey sought to learn what would interest middle and high school students in pursuing STEM careers. Choosing from 12 possible factors, the students clearly indicated that interactions with professionals and professionals' job environments would be among the most influential. Yet just five percent of teachers surveyed indicated that they introduced students to science professionals as an instructional strategy.
Chapter 8 of the 10-part video series A Year at Mission Hill documents how the teachers at Boston's Mission Hill K-8 School know that learning academic content and having real-life, professional experiences alongside adults need not be mutually exclusive. In the position to collectively make the decisions influencing whole school success, these teachers have consciously decided to expose students to the world of work as part of the learning program.
In one project, students researched and practiced how to interview adults from a wide range of professions in ways that would draw out the information they wanted to learn. Later they conducted the in-person interviews and wrote up their findings in engaging, first-person essays, as if they were the professionals. These students worked with writers from the nonprofit 826 Boston to produce and publish a compilation of their work, called A Place For Me In The World, discovering what it is to take on a project from start to finish. This takes "learning writing standards" to a whole new level. These students don't have to wait to make "adult" achievements. They are published authors!
In Trusting Teachers with School Success, my colleagues and I found that teachers who call the shots often prioritize giving students the opportunity to regularly connect with professionals and try their hands at professional-level work. These teachers put middle and high school students in the position to design and manage their own learning activities using guidelines that include making strong connections with community members who work in their chosen areas of study.
Student Holly Marsh, as a senior at Avalon School in St. Paul, did a capstone project on education policy. She spent 800 hours working on the project with various education policy professionals in and around the Twin Cities, cited 262 sources in her 45-page research paper, attended 32 legislative committee meetings, lobbied 27 politicians, co-wrote five reports, and gave testimony four times. All of this contributed to the revision of one state statute and the enactment of another. These activities weren't a side effort for young Marsh. They were experiential learning, alongside adults, for school credit! Marsh is now employed as a legislative assistant for Minnesota Senator Bev Scalze and is also a student at Metropolitan State University. (Notably, for an earlier project Marsh worked as an interpretive park ranger for the National Park Service, but learned that career path wasn't for her.)
Students who attend schools like Avalon and Mission Hill are learning what their lives will be post-graduation, and what it will take to pursue their professional ambitions. School work and the world of work are interconnected in their minds and in their experience. For these students, outside-of-school achievements are in the realm of what's possible now - professional achievements aren't something obscure and unknown, delayed until some point in the future when they will finally be adults. If we want more students to stay committed to the pursuit of a promising future, then perhaps we ought to consider doing what the Avalon and Mission Hill teachers have done. That is, let the students experience tomorrow today.
Kim Farris-Berg is an independent education policy consultant based in Orange County, CA and a Senior Associate with Education Evolving.
By Dan Loritz
National Public Radio education reporter Claudio Sanchez did a (five minute) story late last week about the 30 year anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s “Nation at Risk” report. Sanchez interviewed several leading national figures in the education realm, including Education Evolving’s Ted Kolderie. The story provided a sobering assessment of how little has changed in American education in the last three decades. Click here to listen to the full story.
By Ted Kolderie
A story in the Pioneer Press earlier this week, More green lights, less red tape for Innovation Zone schools, explains Minnesota's developing interest in innovation, though it doesn't quite capture how we at Education Evolving believe innovation can most effectively appear in schools.
At Education Evolving we see innovation as both "top-down" and "bottom-up." The "innovation zone" legislation from a year ago encourages administrators to push innovation in districts . . . to create a culture where innovation can be practiced from the bottom up in schools. During its last session, the Legislature also amended the site-based, decision making statute to encourage principals and teachers to propose greater "individualized learning."
We see "bottom-up" innovation as important because we believe those closest to the students are in the best position to understand their unique interests, aptitudes, and learning styles -- and, therefore, in the best position to foster the individualization and motivation essential to student learning.
In the story, I was quoted about innovation in Minnesota classrooms. If you haven't seen the Education Evolving video about a Minnesota teacher who took the initiative to individualize learning in his classroom, click on Ananth Pai.
By Lars Johnson
Next Monday, April 29th, a Minnesota chartered school authorizer, Innovative Quality Schools, will be holding a conference on school redesign. Education Evolving associate Robert Wedl is on the IQS leadership team.
- Learn about redesigning school for the 21st-century. Includes discussion of: individualized learning, non-traditional ways of measuring achievement, and the "Age 3-to-Grade 3" approach to primary school.
- Learn about different organizational and institutional arrangements for schools, including: teacher professional partnerships, site-governed district schools, and chartered schools.
The conference features 30 presenters and 12 breakout sessions. It is designed for educators, school designers, policy makers, and anyone else interested in school redesign.
By Lars Johnson
EE's Curt Johnson appeared on TPT's Redesigning MN: Educating the Workforce series on April 5, 2013. Curt says: "big, rapid and inevitable changes" are coming to higher ed due to the converging forces of relentlessly rising cost, and emerging online technology. Also: students are questioning the value of going to college and "collecting credits" as a ticket to the marketplace.
Johnson challenges college faculty saying, "if you can see the future coming and help design it—rather then deny it and rather then push it off—you will have a better role in the future."
By Lars Johnson
In his recent Op-ed piece in the StarTribune, “Higher education: Five steps to the future,” EE Associate and former Minnesota education commissioner, Robert J. Wedl, warns if we’re to meet 21st century workforce demands—where a predicted 75 percent of all jobs will require a postsecondary education by the year 2018—we’ll need to stop grumbling about the current tax-and-cut based policy solutions to higher education issues. Instead, we'll need to focus on a large-scale redesign of what is the equivalent of grades nine through 14.
Wedl proposes a more affordable and individualized system where graduating high school students would be “well on the road to completing” a postsecondary education, rather than just “ready” for one. Read the full piece.
Originally guest-blogged on the LearnmoreMN blog, April 02, 2013.
Perhaps the ‘perfect storm’ metaphor is overused. But it’s an apt description of the forces converging on higher education these days. Graduation rates for most institutions remain stubbornly low; employers chronically complain that those who do graduate don’t know what they need to know or have the skills jobs require.
Meanwhile, college costs continue their relentless rise — exceeding over the past three decades even the increases in health care costs. Into this supercharged atmosphere now emerge serious online offerings. Once considered marginal, quaint and not very good, the online option has almost suddenly burst into the market as a major disruptive force.
It’s easy to find professors dismissive of this trend. And in Minnesota’s outstanding community of private colleges and universities, there may remain a rationale for high confidence — for a while. You don’t worry much when your institution is doing well.
Here’s the reality: education — including and maybe especially its higher forms — is the last of the ‘old media’ to be disrupted. The disruption is following a familiar path — starting as not so good, appealing first on affordability or convenience, then getting better and ineluctably grabbing market share.
Skeptical? Let’s start with one word: Kodak. In rich historical irony, Kodak scientists actually invented the digital camera in 1975. But Kodak executives, keenly aware that the company’s profits came primarily from selling film, waved the scientists away. In Helsinki last summer, I was told that engineers at Nokia went to management a decade ago with a product design that almost eerily presaged the iPhone (which didn’t emerge until 2007). Again, executives dismissed the engineers with the reminder that the company was doing quite well selling its phones. Well, you know how these stories ended.
It’s precisely when organizations are doing well, succeeding in their field, that they seem more susceptible to the forces of disruption.
So is Minnesota higher education a fortunate exception? Likely not. Minnesota, accustomed for a long time to leading the nation on multiple fronts, actually did lead the nation over the last decade — in disinvestment in higher education. According to some, state investment went down as much as 48% on a per student basis.
A half-century back, Minnesota was an early mover on access to college and got institutions set up all over the state. The idea was to give every student a shot at getting a good college education without moving from home. Well, that is fast becoming an easy proposition — without leaving home at all. Online learning, following the classic pattern of disruptive innovations, is now moving from its early stages to something truly consequential.
If you’re not yet convinced, that’s not mysterious. The online platform for higher education today is about where digital photography was, when all you could buy was a 1.3 megapixel device. Just think back on how fast digital got better. And think then about what truly great learning online is going to do to the undergraduate market (a major revenue machine for many institutions).
Ever since for Stanford University professor Sebastian Thrum and his colleagues offered the first Massive Open Online Course and saw 160,000 enrollments worldwide, assumptions about the future have taken a noticeable shift. And firms like Coursera and Udacity have formed, along with the EdX consortium.
Every college will soon have to answer this question: what is it that we offer that students need to be on campus to get?
By Lori Nazareno, Guest Blogger
A growing movement is spreading across the United States. It involves teachers not only taking responsibility for student learning, but also leading the charge in reimagining what the educational experience and structures should be in order to best prepare our students for the future. This is occurring in spite of a concurrent movement to reduce the teaching profession to a compilation of standardized test scores and evaluation data in order to fire the “bad” teachers.
Despite teacher job satisfaction being at an all-time low (39% according to the recently-released MetLife survey), there are exceptional teachers with bold ideas who are stepping forward to announce that we can do better, we must do better. They are willing to take on not only improving their own practice, but also re-thinking the structure of school. Teachers across the country are taking on the challenging task of creating and running their own schools.
There are approximately 50 schools across the country who are operating as either teacher-led schools or with autonomies (staffing, budget, leadership, discipline, curriculum, etc.) that provide teachers with the ability to make significant decisions in order to meet the needs of their students. In her book Trusting Teachers with School Success, Kim Farris-Berg found that these schools also demonstrate the characteristics of high-performing organizations. Some of these schools have been in existence for a significant amount of time like, San Francisco Community School that was established in 1972. Some schools are relatively new like the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy (Colorado) that I started in 2009, and Reiche Community School (Maine) that transitioned to a teacher-led school last year.
The bottom line is this…if we want significantly different results than what we have been getting, then we must do something significantly different than what we have always done. Blaming teachers, or anyone else, is not going to get us where we need to go, nor is tinkering around the edges by creating new tests, changing evaluations systems and firing the “bad” teachers. What we need is a new way of operating and a system where students succeed because of the system and not in spite of the system.
Creating schools that put students at the center of the design and mobilizing teachers to take responsibility for all things that impact student learning is something very different from what we have been doing. These ideas are central to the success of other nations that have dramatically improved student learning and the time has come for us create schools and a system that supports ALL students. And these expert teachers with bold ideas are ready to take us where we need to go!
If you are ready to design your own school or learn how to do it, please join me for my School (Re)Design webinar series on April 3 and 17. To register go to: http://ctqschoolredesign.eventbrite.com/. Together we can (re)design schools and schooling in order to create the schools our students deserve.
Lori Nazareno is currently serving as Teacher-in-Residence for the Center for Teaching Quality working on School (Re)Design. She taught for 25 years and is responsible for taking the concept of a teacher-led school to reality in the form of the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy. She is a dually-certified NBCT and has served on the Teacher Advisory Board for the Center for Teaching Quality, the NEA Commission for Effective Teachers and Teaching, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council, and the Board of Directors for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. You can contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @lnazareno.