Updates and Insights: Vol. 3, No. 3

Mailing Date: 
May 4, 2007
Updates and Insights from Education|Evolving
Vol. 3, No. 3May 4, 2007Jon Schroeder, Editor

Welcome to this latest edition of Education|Evolving's electronic
newsletter -- UPDATES AND INSIGHTS.

IN THIS ISSUE:

E|E'S NEW "STAYING IN!!" REPORT AND EXPANDED WEB SITE DOCUMENT DIFFERENT KINDS OF SCHOOLING THAT ARE CRITICAL TO MOTIVATING STUDENT SUCCESS

Education|Evolving released a new report this week adding "student voices" to the nation's debate about how to improve student performance and school success. View E|E's new report -- "Staying IN!! -- by clicking the link below, or pasting the address into your web browser:
https://www.educationevolving.org/pdf/Staying_In_School.pdf

The new E|E report reviews several studies of student attitudes about effective schooling. And it offers in-depth case studies of five Minnesota young people who -- after rocky starts elsewhere -- are now succeeding in very different school environments. The report's principal author is E|E Associate Kim Farris-Berg, with a context-setting introduction by E|E's Co-founder Ted Kolderie. E|E Associate Carl Phillips assisted with student interviews.

"Staying IN!!" is the latest in a series of E|E reports that seek to give voice to young people both attending and not attending today's schools. The reports are part of a larger E|E initiative linking today's young people and public policymakers. The Student Voices initiative Web site and other related resources are a major feature of E|E's recently expanded and redesigned Web site.

REPORT REVIEWS RECENT STUDIES, IDENTIFIES TEN KEY FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE SCHOOL COMPLETION AND SUCCESS

"Staying IN!!" begins with the premise that too many adults see education as something they have the ability to do to young people. Adults commonly talk about "delivering education." Acting from this mind-set, policy makers and school leaders are now focusing on making schools' learning programs more rigorous -- primarily by forcing students to take additional and more challenging traditional courses in order to graduate.

But, asking and listening to young people describe what motivates and influences their success in school might lead to very different approaches to increasing graduation rates and better preparing young people to succeed in life.

That, at least, is the conclusion "Staying IN!!" reaches from its analysis of several recent studies on student attitudes about schooling -- as well as from in-depth case studies of five Minnesota young people who said they clearly weren't headed for success -- but now are!

UNDERSTANDING WHAT MOTIVATES STUDENT SUCCESS IS CRITICAL IN ERA OF NCLB

The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires that all students be proficient -- as defined and measured by state-by-state standards and tests -- in reading and math by 2014. When adults see education as something they can do to young people, it is easy for them to act as though we can identify some one intervention that will improve learning. Today, adding rigorous course content and tougher accountability requirements are the principal means of intervention. But can forcing all students to take more and higher levels of traditional subject matter in traditional ways sufficiently improve learning for all of today's diverse young people?

Particularly if asked of young people not on a traditional path to success, the answer is "Most likely not." For sure, there is no single answer to achieving NCLB's lofty goals. Instead, E|E's analysis of three studies on student attitudes identified ten common factors that adversely affect school completion and success:

  1. Lack of motivation
  2. Lack of personal attention from teachers, counselors and/or administrators
  3. Teaching strategies and curricula that are not challenging, interesting, interactive or culturally relevant
  4. Poor academic performance
  5. Gradual disengagement or absenteeism
  6. Personal circumstances not conducive to school participation
  7. Limited access to campus and to resources that would aid learning activities during non-school hours
  8. Discipline and attendance policies that are too harsh and/or too unstructured
  9. Bureaucratic processes and requirements following disruption in school attendance
  10. Students sensing they are not respected, or are feeling stigmatized, discriminated against and powerless to participate in discussions about school policies

While generalizations are almost always dangerous, the studies do circle back to student motivation -- and factors that influence motivation -- as critical to achieving success and "Staying IN!!" school. It’s not that rigorous content and high standards don’t matter. They’re just not enough.

CASE STUDIES OF FIVE MINNESOTA STUDENTS -- AND THEIR VERY DIFFERENT SCHOOLS -- BOTH DOCUMENT CHALLENGES AND OFFER HOPE

In a series of in-depth vignettes, "Staying IN!!" listens as five Minnesota students attending unconventional schools describe how their varying school environments helped motivate them to stay in school and succeed.

Codie, a self-described "former gangbanger and ward of the state of Indiana," says he received good grades and graduated from the High School for the Recording Arts in St. Paul because academic accomplishment was the only way to earn coveted time in the school's recording studio. There he "made beats" and learned the ins-and-outs of music production, which he does for a living today.

Meanwhile, Krissy, a student at Trio Wolf Creek Distance Learning Charter School in Lindstrom, MN works forty hours a week, during the third shift, at a plastics factory and is expecting her first child this May. The school's flexible hours, and strong social support network, make attending and learning a possibility. She needs sleep just after work, and she also has to attend a number of prenatal appointments. Traditional school hours simply would not have been conducive to Krissy's needs.

The stories shared by Codie, Krissy and three other current or former students profiled in "Staying IN!!" have everything to do with motivation, and how motivation helps produce success. If we approached schooling as something students do, rather than something adults do to students, motivation would be more central in our decision-making. And while "Staying IN!!" is based on a small sample of students, it does document a strong link between increased student motivation and the creation of new and fundamentally different schools -- at least for the significant percentage of students not now achieving their full potential in traditional school environments.

EDUCATION|EVOLVING CONNECTS STUDENT VOICES TO MAJOR TOPICS IN CURRENT EDUCATION POLICY

Students are not commonly seen, and student voices are not commonly heard, in meetings and discussions about K-12 education policy. Yet the adults who control policy, and districts and schools, could learn much from listening to what students say about their experiences, about their interests and desires for learning -- and about what they do and how they learn outside formal school.

Through a combination of its expanded Student Voices Web site, publications, partnerships and links to others, E|E's Student Voices initiative offers a variety of resources, including:

  • E|E's publications connecting the opinions and feedback from today's students with some of the major topics in current education policy. These publications include E|E's newest "Staying IN!!" report.
  • Student Voices on Video: All new from E|E, a collection of 3-5 minute videos documenting unconventional schooling and learning from the perspective of students and teachers.
  • An expanded clearinghouse of student voices on education policy topics available on-line, as well as research, how-to kits, and theory about involving students.

WEB SITE FEATURE "STUDENT VOICES ON VIDEO" IMPROVES OUR UNDERSTANDING OF UNCONVENTIONAL LEARNING AND SCHOOLING.

With the launch of its new Web site, Education|Evolving also debuted its "Student Voices on Video" project. The project chronicles unconventional schooling and learning from the perspective of students and teachers in videos that can be watched while perusing the E|E site.

The videos help bring life to some of the experiences students and teachers have with unconventional learning. And they can help people familiar and unfamiliar with new and different learning models (like project-based learning, distance learning, outside-of-school learning) get a sense of: How do students learn in fundamentally new and different schools with unconventional learning programs? What unconventional learning is taking place in conventional settings? What motivates students to learn? Is unconventional learning and schooling legitimate? More videos, documenting a variety of learning programs, will be available in the future as this project expands.

E|E co-founder Joe Graba also describes, in a context-setting video at the top of the Student Voices on Video Web page, that the videos demonstrate some of the essential features of nontraditional learning occurring in schools today. Joe says, "We believe that key features of radically different schools need to be that they provide motivation for the teachers and the students and, hopefully, customized approaches for student learning. And any educational enterprise in the 21st century has to make maximum use of the new and emerging, continually improving, digital technologies that we've experienced in the last 25 years."

Web site visitors who watch the videos are encouraged to provide feedback. E|E's video content represents an exciting expansion in the way E|E communicates with its online visitors. E|E is also exploring ways to offer dynamic audio and video content throughout the site in the future. E|E is always working to improve the Student Voices on Video project and our other work, and your feedback helps us make our products useful and relevant.

EXPANDED CLEARINGHOUSE ALSO IMPROVES AWARENESS OF STUDENT VOICES IN EDUCATION POLICY

In the course of its work, E|E has identified a number of other on-line resources that give voice to the opinions of young people on their schooling. Those resources are collected and linked in the new Web site’s Student Voices Clearinghouse.

Anyone thinking about the importance of including students in education policy discussions, and/or anyone wanting to learn more about how to gather authentic student input, might also be interested in E|E's collection of research, how-to kits and theory about involving students.

E|E is eager to share these resources to improve the potential for including student voice in education policy discussions. Visitors to the site might use the clearinghouse to get a quick sense of what students are saying about a variety of current topics. An understanding of young people’s potential insights and input might also help develop visitors’ discussions. Visitors might even test their ideas against what students are saying, or just get a better sense of what school is like today.

If you are aware of resources that we ought to include these sections, please send them to studentvoices@educationevolving.org.

SEND E|E COMMENTS; ACCESS ARCHIVE OF PAST EDITIONS

Education|Evolving, a joint venture of Hamline University and the Center for Policy Studies, is a Minnesota-based project committed to helping K-12 education evolve and meet the challenges, demands, and opportunities of the 21st Century. E|E welcomes your comments or questions regarding the new Web site and any of its other activities and resources. Please direct them to info@educationevolving.org.

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