Archive for the ‘Educational Reform’ Category

Education in the age of information surplus

June 14, 2011 1 comment

I am not sponsored by TED, I promise. However, I really enjoy embedding videos in posts and TED makes it easy to do so. Today I typed in “education” into the TED search box and after a little browsing I found this talk about teaching.  My favorite theme of knowledge transmission versus transformation appears as Laufenberg gives us her brief family history of educational experiences and while many have responded to this shift with efforts to improve 21st century skills and put more technology in the classroom, I think the question proposed by Laufenberg hits the nail on the head.

“What do you do when the information is all around you? Why do you have kids come to school if they no longer have to come there to get the information?”

Of course, this would presuppose two things. The first being that the kids are already literate and the second is that they have consistent access to the “surplus of information.” Provided these two conditions exist, what is the reason for having kids come to school?

Is it to…

  • pass on cultural heritage?
  • babysit?
  • socialize?
  • educate?
  • stratify?
  • prepare?
  • cultivate lifelong learners?
  • promote progress?
  • maintain the status quo?

I don’t know, but I do think the new landscape of information and technology demands that we reconsider our old answers.


Looking for innovation?

June 1, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a great talk on “new” resources for educational innovation. I am wondering how others feel about his statement that our system of education “stratifies society as much as it liberates it” and his suggestion to look to the slums for examples of creative solutions to our educational dilemma.

Competitive Disadvantage

May 13, 2011 2 comments

Watch this uplifting video promoting the Common Core State Standards. I found a link to it on the facebook page of PARCC, one of the assessment consortia working to develop tests for the CCSS.

I am struck by the propaganda in this video. One woman says we are adopting the CCSS to “make sure America maintains a competitive edge.” And here I thought it was about helping students learn!

The statistics at the beginning also say a lot about our national self-esteem. Any psychologist would tell you that constantly comparing yourself to others and trying to “measure up” is not a healthy outlook. Just because Shanghai has 5,000 high rises and we only built two in LA does not mean we are failing as a country. What does that have to do with educational standards? Maybe it is a good thing we did not build more high rises. Maybe that is not what LA needed.

Is it possible that these countries were not motivated by the need to out perform their neighbor? What it is we are competing for exactly?

I am not sure, but I do know our national self-esteem is low and as a result, we feel very threatened by other countries’ high rises and high-speed rails. Perhaps we need to follow some positive thinking advice,

“Instead of thinking about what you’re missing, try thinking about what you have that everyone else is missing.” Unknown

What do we have?

Everything is a Crisis

May 12, 2011 1 comment

The Creativity Crisis: Why American Schools Need Design – The Atlantic.

Did you know there is another educational crisis looming on the horizon? Not only are we behind in math and science, but we lack creativity as well. I think this article raises a great point, but fails to identify the root of the problem.

First of all, I do not believe we are not in a “creativity crisis.” Creativity is a natural human resource. What we have created are systems of education and professional training that do not allow or cultivate creative expression. It may seem like there is no creativity, but it is there, we just have to tap into it. Also, we have to stop adopting the deficit model for every single educational initiative. Maybe it is not that students lack these qualities, but that they lack opportunities to express them.

For example, this article referenced the frustration of some Stanford engineering, architecture, and design professors who, “realized that their best students had never taken apart a bicycle or built a model airplane.” It is not the students’ fault that they are in this position. It is the failure of our leaders and “reformers” to consider the consequences of a standards and assessment based educational system. Why does it take 12+ years to figure out that the education that was meant to prepare you for “any opportunity” is actually limiting your abilities and career potential?

What is being done? The article highlights one effort, led by RISD’s president, to change STEM into STEAM (A for the arts) presumably in line with Ralph Raimi’s suggestion that, “the first purpose of educational reform is to change the climate in the hierarchy of education so that our descendants will be able to advance a ‘true cause.'”

But I don’t think this is the answer. Adding an A to alter the hierarchy is not going to solve the crisis, because there is no crisis.

“The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed-it needs to be transformed. The key to transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” Sir Ken Robinson

The resources are there in our students, maybe it is our job to think more creatively about the educational process.

Just thinking….

What would John Dewey say?

May 11, 2011 4 comments

I keep thinking about this idea as education as a means for achieving social justice and why the exercise of designing, adopting, and implementing new standards does not seem to be the answer for me. I guess I feel as though new standards put a band-aid on the problem. They are reactions to a failing system and can only treat symptoms of a deeper, fundamental problem. Our mile wide, inch deep curriculum in American schools is not the result of too many standards, but of our overall philosophy and approach to education. The goal seems to be to fill up the knowledge deficits in our students by supplying them with the information they require to be “successful” or “competitive.” Reducing the amount of information we teach without addressing the underlying assumptions and values that inform our practices is not going to be a lasting or satisfactory solution. What is missing for me, and maybe for many others too, is a guiding philosophy or set of principles that I can buy into.

So I went looking for some in the best place I could think of, in the works of John Dewey. I read, “My Pedagogic Creed,” one of his earlier essays, and found myself taking notes on almost every sentence (as per usual).

The first theme that struck me in this “creed” is the idea of education as a social process. I read about “social constructivism” as a theory of learning in a previous class, but Dewey is not sharing a theoretical framework for how people learn. He is extremely adamant that the failure to appreciate the social nature of education will result in an educative process that is “haphazard and arbitrary.” A true, social view of education realizes that the process has two sides,”one psychological and one sociological; and neither can be subordinated to the other or neglected without evil results following.”

Currently, it seems we try to deny both elements in the classroom in order to promote the study of abstract knowledge. We do so for the sake of preparing our future students. But Dewey points out, “it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set conditions. To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities.” And although one could stop here and argue that Dewey would agree with the new standards as a way to develop these capacities, he goes on to say that studying specific subject matter should not be the focus of school. According to Dewey, the real “progress is not in the succession of studies but in the development of new attitudes towards, and new interests in, experience.”

When progress is defined in these terms, as I believe it should be, how do our current standards and practices measure up?

Just curious…

Common Core State Standards for Social Justice?

May 10, 2011 3 comments

I have mentioned the CCSS before in my first post as being yet another version of standards for education. I first heard about them in one of my last staff meetings as a teacher at a K-8 charter school in Indianapolis. We were all sitting together in the gymnasium/lunchroom and shown a video released by the Indiana Department of Education introducing the Common Core State Standards. As I remember it, it seemed like an advertisement for a new and improved set of standards. The video also stated that teachers would still be accountable for teaching the old, Indiana state standards as we transitioned into the era of CCSS. You could almost hear a collective groan from my colleagues. More standards?

When I first started this project I thought it would be interesting to develop a curriculum that utilized new technology for the purpose of motivating and engaging students.  When I presented my idea to my professor, I stated that it would be aligned to existing standards because I believed such things were necessary for teaching and I also wanted to make my design marketable for today’s educational market. I also believed that the standards did not prevent me from teaching in an innovative way. For example, I can teach students about photosynthesis (an ever popular topic in eighth grade science) through a traditional, textbook based lesson or I can let them explore the topic on their own in a more open process involving computer supported collaborative learning. I suppose I accepted that there must be standards in education and I was willing to work with them instead of against them. What a convenient position to take.

But what happens when you start questioning the motivation for having standards in education? For me, I have found that I cannot find a satisfactory answer. I have also discovered that people become really uncomfortable and unwilling to have a conversation with you when you broach the subject, especially when they work in education. I do not have an answer yet, but I was surprised to learn that Phil Daro, co-lead author of the CCSS for mathematics, sees the standards as a vehicle for social justice. To paraphrase Dr. Daro, we have to make sure that every kid gets enough math to have decent opportunities in life.

Is that why we should adopt the common core? To achieve social justice? Can a set of educational standards deliver such a promise? Should it?

I hear this rhetoric often in my work. We are teaching students X because we want them to have a “real future.” We want them to have a “decent opportunity.” We believe that teaching them mathematics, science, English, and social studies will help us accomplish this mission. I want to know, have we considered other alternatives? Have we critically examined if the processes we engage in truly match our goals? Why are we so focused on the future, instead of working in the present?

It is hard for me to believe that my students learned about photosynthesis because they too wanted to have a “decent opportunity” for a “good” life. I would imagine some of them learned about it because they were truly interested in understanding the world around them, some maybe felt parental pressure to earn a good grade, or maybe they did buy into the “just in case” ideology of school. Will any of them sacrifice their opportunity for a good life if they do not understand photosynthesis? I could say yes but that is because I know it is covered again in high school biology and I do not want them to fail that course and have it show up on their transcripts.

The common thread here is that these are things we, as adults, want for our students. What about what students want? What about discussing what really motivates them to learn this material? We are so focused on the future that we lose sight of the joy and curiosity students bring with them to the classroom. What about learning just to learn and letting the rest be a byproduct of that process?

Just a thought.

Passion-Based Learning for the 21st Century

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Passion-Based Learning for the 21st Century.

My friend just sent me this interview with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and “passion based” learning. I like her approach for several reasons. The first because it echoes my own ideas about what changes must occur, and secondly because she is not advocating for something so radical that it cannot be practiced in today’s educational system. I have read a lot of teacher bashing reports lately, and I am not wanting to add to them. But maybe teachers act as their own worst enemy by not willing to change their own beliefs about teaching and learning. I myself have been guilty of blaming students, administrators, parents, and the standards for my own inability to try something new. And sometimes, this could be the reality, but I do believe it is less about trying one new thing then it is about changing your philosophy. What will it take to cause such a shift?