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Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage point difference between the share of prosperous and poor Americans earning bachelor’s degrees. Today, that gap is 45 points.
-Martha Bailey and Susan Dynarski, University of Michigan (taken from article by Jason DeParle)
This past weekend I had the opportunity to read a heartbreaking and gut-wrenching piece written by Jason DeParle in the New York Times. This article depicts the rise, and subsequent fall, of three promising students from Galveston, Texas. These three young women, all excellent students, seemed to have overcome the challenges brought on by their financially poor background. They were in excellent standing within their school, had earned high marks both academically and socially from their teachers and school staff, and, by all accounts, were “college and career ready.” Yet, as DeParle goes on to describe, this designation did not, in fact, prepare them for college and their future careers.
If you were to go by the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s designation of what “college and career ready” truly means (at least for ELA) you would likely find that these three young women were quite qualified to earn this title. In their school lives, they exhibited all of the tenets necessary. Yet, as their stories exhibit, it was what was happening outside of their school (and what occurred once they entered post-secondary education) that truly put them at a disadvantage.
This article, along with an in-depth discussion with my Superintendent (my thanks to Dr. Langlois for helping to turn my reactions to the article into a blog post) helped me come to the realization that college and career readiness is all but meaningless if it is seen as an endpoint, and not a benchmark along a much longer road. The story of these three promising young ladies shows that currently, a “college and career ready” designation is as much edubabble and jargon as it is truly beneficial to students. To truly help students ready themselves for college and be prepared for the challenges once they enter the workforce, much is left to be done. Here are three steps that I believe must be taken to put us on the right path:
If we truly believe that students must be “college and career ready” to succeed in life, our education system must prove it. We can’t assume that it is only the responsibility of K-12 institutions to do this, nor can we truly state that college and career readiness is only built in the classroom. Let’s stop adding to educational jargon, and put meaning behind the terms we use. I encourage you to read DeParle’s piece and see how it makes you feel, and then think about how you would view education as a whole if you were these students or if they were your children.
DeParle, Jason. (2012, December 22). For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/education/poor-students-struggle-as-class-plays-a-greater-role-in-success.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
National Governors Association. (2012). ELA-Students Who are College and Career Ready. Retrieved from: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/introduction/students-who-are-college-and-career-ready-in-reading-writing-speaking-listening-language
It’s that time of year again. The emails are already starting to roll in from the Test Prep companies offering gigantic gains on state assessments if you purchase and implement their products. Everybody wants a piece of the Race to the Top pie and they know that test scores are the cherry on top.
In his recent State of the Union Address, Barack Obama told the audience that teachers should not be teaching to the test. Then he turned and said that No Child Left Behind waivers would require teacher evaluations based on high stakes tests. Arne Duncan recently thought it would be a great idea to link teacher preparatory programs and high stakes testing, exploring how we can get teachers to really hone in on what it takes to do well on these tests.
Enter “fix it” companies to sell a product to help teachers help their students master the tests. (Not master the content or skills--just the test.) Sigh.
What if, and I know this may sound radical, but what if we just engaged in Deep Teaching? In a previous blog post I talked about Andrew Chen’s quote,"in America, the standards are the ceiling. In most other countries around the world the standards are the floor.”
There are many lenses through which we can look at curriculum practice and curriculum design and one of the big ones is being prepared for any test at any time. In many of the curriculum mapping books or curriculum texts I’ve read, this is one of four lenses along with readiness, leverage, and endurance through which we prioritize the content and skills that we will teach. In Larry Ainsworth’s book, Rigorous Curriculum Design, he explains that the “Any Test, Any Time” lens is about, “those concepts and skills that are most heavily represented on external, high-stakes assessments.” (2011)
In terms of ditching test prep, I’d like to re-frame the “any test, any time" lens to refer to teaching at a level of complexity and depth that the kids are prepared no matter when the assessment happens or what the assessment includes.
But teachers will say that they have no time. They will say that there is too much to cover. That may be true, but it seems a large number of schools find the time to do weeks of “test prep.” It is time to ditch these traditionally held notions of getting ready for the assessment. Teach Deeper. Uncover the curriculum.
Test prep is wasted instructional time. There is absolutely no reason in the 21st century for students to learn how to take a test. While I do believe that there are good reasons for teaching students test taking tips embedded within instruction throughout the course of the year, I do not think that it is at all good practice to stop instruction to beat information into a kids head when we could be using that time for learning.
Test prep is good for one thing: lining the pockets of the companies that are taking advantage of teachers and their students. Deeper and more rigorous instruction are what’s needed in America's classrooms. The testing situation that we have is out of control. Unfortunately for the time being, it doesn't look like our method of assessing children is going anywhere.
What is actually happening is that NCLB waviers, Teacher Evaluations as a part of the Race to the Top grants, and the newly formed opinions around teaching teachers to teach to the test are going to have unintended consequences when they are based solely or even in part on high stakes testing:
Our current system of assessment is borderline cruelty but at the moment there is little that can be done about it, until those in power see that they are funneling America’s children into a drone-like state of testing compliance. I’m not saying that there aren’t good assessments out there or that assessment is bad. I’m saying that we are wasting time and resources buying test prep materials and shutting down instruction for test preparation because we are driven by that one score captured in one moment.
Those resources and time could be better spent digging deeper in instruction, concentrating on more formative assessment moments multiple times through the school year that could guide students and shape instruction well before the high stakes testing moment.
Ditch the test prep. Ditch the testing pep rallies. Ditch the focus on the high stakes test. (Don’t Ditch Assessment, though!)
Focus on deeper and more rigorous teaching. Focus on learning that is explorative, authentic, and meaningful for students. Focus on increasing complexity from one learning moment to the next--day to day, month to month, year to year. Focus on frequent assessments for the sake of individual student growth and performance, not the one size fits all summative test.
Ainsworth, L. Rigorous curriculum design, how to create curricular units of study that align standards, instruction, and assessment. Lead Learn Pr, 2011.
On Twitter: @fisher1000
In America, success is defined by short-term business decisions…how quickly you can implement a plan that delivers a big monetary return. We are all familiar with those people who are revered for their ability to be able to do this: athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs. Unfortunately for the rest of us, in each case it comes down to inherent talent that makes this possible. So how do we find worth in a society that reflects value in dollars? Some try to get-rich-quick playing the lottery and the market, while the majority of us work hard to achieve honest accomplishments that pay the bills.
Public education is the antithesis of what is valued in American culture. No no no don’t gasp or protest…I’m not saying it’s right…I’m just stating what we all know to be true. If American culture valued education, teachers would be paid well and students would be provided everything they need to be successful, as an investment in our future.
But look at the headlines over the past year:
It’s a three-cornered-conflict…three powerful forces pitted against one another:
Resources are shrinking, our culture continues to look for short-term wins, but our long-term prosperity depends on investments we make now.
My question to you is this: is American public education, by definition, doomed to be under-valued and under-resourced because of the culture in which it subsists? Or are there ways to re-think education that could produce short-term wins that add value that attracts new resources and then greater investment? I know this is hard to even conceive given our career-long experience as educators, but this is what the cycle would look like:
I’m not here to tout possible solutions. I’m simply asking the question. What if the equation is this quantifiable, rather than speculating on grand visions of sights yet unseen? If you could plug in one short-term investment to start kicking this cycle into motion, what would you come up with? It may be as simple as this.
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
Discussions are taking place online that get at the core of the struggle to reclaim and reinvigorate the heart and soul of public education. Please read the following three short threads and consider how you can contribute to a new, common understanding of where we are headed as educators:
Thread 1: A discussion around Finland hiring teachers from the top 10% of its university graduates to teach in public education.
Link “Academic, security worries at Dunbar.”
Dunbar Senior High School is becoming an important test of reform efforts under an interim D.C. schools chancellor and a new incoming city administration. Concerns are rising about the school’s management, academic performance and security. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2010/12/14/GR2010121408292.html?sid=ST2010121500057
Colleague 1 This is an old story. So the kids progressed from throwing algebra textbooks to sexting and doing unspeakable things with technology. The care and feeding of kids in inner city situations is not something that can be met by boot camp teaching.
Colleague 2 Yes I knew you had some years in DC. I understand all this, and I appreciate the link, but there's a disconnect about the top 10% of university students teaching. The top 10% of college grads includes inner city kids who earn degrees, yes? Is there something I'm missing that the top 10% wouldn't include that demographic? I've also worked in urban public chools with the kind of conditions you describe, so I do understand what you’re saying about the unique needs of inner city schools.
Colleague 1 The problem is that in the learning landscapes in which we are now, only those teachers are honored. Teachers who are as effective, but not Ivy League graduates are dissed. It is the subject of much discontent in the learning community.
Colleague 2 Yes but it seems to me that is a defensive backlash (Lord knows the profession has multiple reasons to be defensive) that paints us in a bad light. It is not the case that Ivy League teachers are the only ones being recognized. Instead of defensive posturing we would be better served by taking charge of the dialog and agreeing that "of course we want the highest caliber teachers in our profession." It doesn't mean that current teachers are any less high-caliber. It just means as new teachers come in we want the best and brightest...who wouldn't? With that point behind us we can get on with the REAL dialog, how to save public education before it is completely co-opted by private interests.
Colleague 1 Be realistic. Read the New York Times essay. I have experience. My cousin was one of the friends of Bedford. I reached out to Rhee, and she was brutal not wanting anyone who was not an Ivy League graduate. My cousin had NEVER taught school. He was however a friend of Bedford.
Colleague 2 I don’t mind being a voice of dissent in a profession where everyone points to Diane Ravitch and the NYT to hear what they want to hear. It's good to have voices that disagree and make everyone think. And it's ok to disagree. Keep fighting the good fight! I will do the same. :)
Colleague 1 I don't care about Diane Ravitch. She helped to create the situation. When we have more and more dropouts, and when the technology that kids use is for nothing, we have a problem. No one ever speaks of Margaret Spellings who did not want people to teach science. Here's the thing. We will lose most people interested in teaching because of the problems in the press. Teachers are being made the scapegoat. The real problem is society and class.
Colleague 2 You know we both agree on the problems. As a profession we need to get our house in order and agree on the solutions.
Colleague 1 Some of us had our house in order. My family begged me not to teach, but I did it with a passion. I believe that there are people who need to make change, but the people who make the decisions in education are NOT the teachers. I have been through those hoops.
Colleague 2 Not individually....collectively. There are too many pockets of innovation and equally as many pockets of self-interest. Too many agendas and not one single strong voice to lead. We've all been through these hoops. Time to completely reinvent public education. The old model has to go.
Colleague 1 If teachers are to blame for the state of education in the nation, who is responsible for a decade of neglect in science, math, engineering and technology? Those of us who tried to create possibilities for students and who broadened engagement, were mocked by those who preached NCLB, and who held the nation, in leadership. Teachers are at the bottom of the sphere of influence and are a small part of the learning landscape in that they report to school boards and administrators.
Colleague 2 The only difference between you and I is how we are interpreting the same set of facts. I refuse to see myself as a victim. I want to take responsibility for my part in the current state of education and I want to help take charge of transforming education into what it needs to be now and for the future.
Thread 2: A discussion of the role of technology in transforming education, and in education meeting the needs of society, in response to an eSchool News report on the cost of a 1:1 computing initiative in New Mexico.
Link “High-tech classrooms come at a high price”
New Mexico district’s experience shows the challenges in maintaining a mobile learning program. http://www.eschoolnews.com/2011/09/02/high-tech-classrooms-come-at-a-high-price/
Colleague 1 The model needs to be personal devices on a campus network....the higher ed model.
Colleague 2 Explain equity of access to me.
Colleague 1 The equity is in providing the network. Government does not owe everyone a personal computing device.
Colleague 2 Why do you allow government to provide personal sitting and writing devices then?
Colleague 1 If you follow that logic, the government might as well provide everything. Not that people don't love being given things, but philosophically where is the responsibility of families to provide their students with tools like technology that they will not only use in school but at home?
Colleague 2 It sounds like you're prepared to draw a line then. Where will that line be? If everyone went home to June and Ward Cleaver, it might be possible. That's not today's reality. There are over 2,000,000 people in prisons in your country. If education isn't the savior and the great cultural equalizer, what is?
Colleague 1 That must be the line....whether we are in the business of saving everyone or whether we are willing to offer a solid education opportunity in which people must engage themselves and turn into their personal success story. The prison example - they have computers in prison and inmates have the opportunity to learn skills. But to suggest they each deserve their own personal computing device goes beyond common sense. If we return to public education, schools cannot continue to try and bear the brunt of the cost of arming every student in every classroom with computers. Did you see the eSchool News story about the NM district losing thousands of dollars annually through its 1:1 initiative? It's a noble attempt to provide equity, but it is logistically unattainable if schools are also saddled with maintenance and upkeep. Families need to provide handheld devices the same way they provide calculators.
Colleague 2 If it was fiscally possible for all families, I would agree with you. I'm not sure that 1:1 is possible or even desirable. I firmly believe that we need to provide enough so that there is equitable opportunity for all the students in our charge. We haven't even begun to address the true costs which lie in the acquisition of software and the technical support needed along with the professional learning to make it all worthwhile. That's where school systems can step in and bring this in line through scale.
Colleague 1 I used to believe it was attainable. When I led tech departments with insufficient funding I kept thinking, "If I only had enough $ I would do it right!" Then I lead a school system's technology dept that had all the money you could want and guess what? They had the same problems as schools with inadequate funding.
Colleague 2 Regardless, you have to have your ideals and goals. Out sourcing a technology plan to parents is going to cause more problems than it solves. While you may not have achieved what you wanted with your budget, you have to be closer to moving along in a progressive direction than not to have it or not to spend it at all.
Colleague 1 Oh I have my ideals and goals. We're just having two different conversations.
Thread 3: A discussion around NCLB, Common Core standards, and the Finland model of public education.
Link "Vermont poised to seek waiver from education law"
Only 28 percent of Vermont schools met federal performance benchmarks in 2010, a result that some say begs more serious education reform and that others blame on unrealistic targets. http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20110825/NEWS03/108250307/Vermont-poised-seek-waiver-from-education-law?odyssey=nav|head
Colleague 1 - The Common Core seems to be the answer to improving school performance, I am trying to maintain a positive attitude about this. Let's hope that it promotes readiness for college and life after high school. The current testing situation with standardized tests, does not seem to be doing so.
Colleague 2 - I don't think it's a magic bullet for everything we know we need to do to transform education in the 21st century, but having common standards state-to-state will certainly make the dialog easier to have....
Colleague 3 - I still can't comprehend why we think every student should learn the same thing? Maybe it makes sense in courses like math. I always think that if I were teaching an intro biology course to bio majors in college, I would rather my students have a varied background. Some strong in ecological biology and others in molecular biology. Imagine asking a philosophical like question to a group of college students, what is the point if they all spit back the same answer. I may not be expressing myself well here, I just worry that next they will be telling us how to teach the common core as well. There are benefits to a varied education amongst our youth.
Colleague 1 - Other countries do not do a one size fits all approach and they are ahead of us by yards. Some allow for different types of exit requirements and more are completing their education than in the U.S. Perhaps to keep up we need to see where they are doing better and do something similar.
Colleague 2 - How about Finland? The biggest differences there from us are that teachers are recruited from the top 10% of university graduates, they are expected to do action research every year as they teach, and yes they are given flexibility to teach using their own professional judgment. ALSO, in Finland education is highly valued as a national priority and that is reflected in how education (and teachers) are compensated.
Colleague 3 - I was thinking yesterday that all the negative discussion about education in today's media can't help but rub off on students. If parents, public officials, and the news media do not respect teachers or public education then why should they? I haven't experience it from my students yet, but it makes you wonder. Would love to live in a society that values education...
Colleague 2 - I hear Finland is nice this time of year! :)
Colleague 1 - Just because someone is in the top 10% of their class doesn't mean they are the best teacher. The negative attitude is a problem for teachers, media doesn't help any and is busy following along with the what we are doing wrong in education rather than what is going right. This is what the parents and community members hear, pass along to their children, and is reflected in the classroom in student performance and behavior.
Colleague 2 - Doesn't being at the top of your class mean you are a "best student"?
Colleague 3 - Totally agree! Top ten certainly doesn't mean you will be a great teacher. I disagree that this means you are a great student too. I have seen many brilliant students that have ended up in the top ten that sadly never tapped into their full potential in all their courses.
Colleague 2 - So then...you reject Finland's model?
Colleague 3 - I think they are doing great things. I am not completely informed about everything they do so I can't accept or reject the model. Since they are successful and not using standardized tests I think we should consider what they are doing. I do think that we would lose a lot of great potential teachers by only accepting the top ten percent of college students. Personally I think there is a lot more to teaching than subject matter knowledge. No doubt it is important, but certainly not the only qualification our teachers need. Also, why duplicate when we could improve? I think their greatest accomplishment is the respect they have instilled in the entire population for education. Creating a community that truly values education could just be the silver bullet that standardized testing will never be...
Colleague 2 - Then let's not reject Finland's hiring teachers from the top 10% of their universities out of hand...
Colleague 3 - Are you saying someone who was not in the top ten percent of their college class cannot be a good teacher? Is everyone that is in the top ten percent definitely going to be a good teacher? Abilities demonstrated in a classroom are more important to me. I have found on numerous occasions that brilliance unfortunately does not equal quality teaching. I still believe that a culture that values education is more important.
Colleague 2 - What I am saying is the system needs to be redesigned so that people at the top of their profession will consider teaching as an option.
These discussions all took place in the last week on different social media channels. They stopped where they ended here, as they are too large for any one conversation.
We have all experienced the experiences shared in these threads. It is how we respond to our experiences that defines our filter. How would you add to these discussions to help identify a single, common, strong vision that resonates with and emanates from all educators, so that we can get on with the work of transforming education? Whether you post your ideas below or have the discussion offline with your colleagues, it is important to vet out these issues and come to agreement on how to proceed.
Mirror site: http://surfaquarium.blogspot.com/2011/09/heart-soul.html
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
Are you a techno-constructivist? How do you envision and implement the use of technology? Scott Noon originally asked this question some ten years ago. Are you a techno-traditionalist? And should you be? I’m still asking the question today.
Techno-traditionalists use technology to complete tasks we have always done, but more efficiently and with more convenience. Crafting lesson plans, managing grades and sharing files are all good examples. It is couched in our Industrial-aged comfort zone; completing tasks at the knowledge, comprehension, application and analysis levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Looking at the summer night sky, studying human body systems and playing a virtual guitar all on your tablet are techno-traditionalist tasks. These things are okay as interim steps, moving towards new ways of creating, producing and problem-solving…as long as we’re pushing the boundaries on technology use. We all begin the journey as techno-traditionalists, but there is a need to grow. We’re not tapping into the power and promise of technology if we are satisfied playing notes on a touch screen piano interface.
Techno-constructivists push boundaries to find new ways to work and play…ways in which we could not imagine innovating in the past. Like all constructivist theory it is based on acquiring and building new understandings at Bloom’s levels of synthesis and evaluation. But how do we begin to even imagine innovating in ways in which we have no experience? By pushing ourselves into wholly new experiences that over time lead to new understandings. It is unfamiliar, uncomfortable and altogether necessary. A paradigm shift is not a destination…it’s the process we work through to reach our destination. Too many of us offer lip service about making this paradigm shift while continuing to settle for being techno-traditionalists. If you want to be part of the future, look past your comfort zone and push yourself to prepare for a world we cannot yet fully see.
Moving from techno-traditionalism to techno-constructivism is a journey that never ends. Fifteen years ago being able to use technology to break down the boundaries of time and space was revolutionary, as students for the first time took virtual field trips and collaborated with partners online from around the world. But these things are now commonplace…and human aspiration is to always go above and beyond the status quo. This is not the only contradiction in which we find ourselves:
Many challenges. Many opportunities. Yet, while we are talking the talk of some brave new world, we are comfortably walking the walk of the world we know. We need to more thoughtfully, more strategically push the boundaries of educational technology use.
In a recent television commercial, a confident voice says, “Now we can watch a newspaper…listen to a magazine…curl up with a movie…and see a phone call. Now we can take a classroom anywhere…hold an entire bookstore...and touch the stars….because now there’s this…” as the ad closes with the logo of the product proudly touting itself as the path to these amazing claims. The accompanying images are inspiring and inviting. The background music is simple yet full of promise. This changes everything….right?
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm