Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Agents of Change in the Secondary & Higher Ed World

Collaborative relationships between school districts and universities are significant in both the university role for teacher training and the goal of high school students' matriculation.  And, the education system has long advocated itself as a K-16 model.  Yet, the sad reality is that far too many students do not transition well to higher education, and colleges have long lamented how poorly prepared students are for the rigors of university.  In fact, the role of AP classes in providing access to college level work for qualified students has been complicated by the moves of many colleges to limit the AP credit given to students.  Dartmouth recently decided to no longer give any AP credit, and the College Board added synthesis and research-style DBQs in response to university complaints that students weren't being adequately prepared for college-level research papers.  Critics argue that universities are implementing these restrictions simply to increase revenue because they were losing money on general education requirements - which are often a school's cash cow.

The problem is the students who are caught in the middle - though innovative thinking about curriculum and scheduling can contribute to a more efficient and effective education system.  The rise of concurrent enrollment (CE) and dual credit classes is contributing to a closer relationship between the two entities, especially in terms of curriculum.  As it becomes clear that many students can complete both K-12 and higher ed in less than than traditional time, the blurring of lines between high school and college will benefit students both financially and academically.  Relationships that exist now between schools like Golden High School and Red Rocks Community College have created opportunities for students to literally walk across the stage at graduation and accept a high school diploma and an associates degree at the same time.  Additionally, plans in the works in places like New Hampshire may someday allow high school "graduation" as early as sixteen if the student is qualified and gains admission to a associate degree or career training program.

The system - though traditionally rigid - is in flux with the rise of edu-punks and edu-preneurs (to use Anya Kamenetz's term).  And with the rise of new systems such as CE and dual-credit, as well as MOOcs like Coursera and edX, the lines will continue to blur in ways that benefit all stakeholders and create more efficient, accessible, and effective education.  For those entering school administration, then, it's of primary importance to be "a leader [who] promotes the success of every student by understanding, responding to, and influencing the political, social, economic, legal, and cultural context."

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Teaching and Relevance - Especially in Math

Math teacher and edu-blogger Darren Miller at RightontheLeftCoast posted a couple thoughts on the teaching of math and the idea of relevance in education that are worth considering.  The first bit of information comes from a short TED Talks video, featuring math teacher Dan Meyer who argues that our current method of delivering math instruction is setting our kids up for failure and a contempt for - or at least frustration with - the entire skill of computation and numeracy.  

Dan Meyer's points need to be discussed in math departments and schools - and even at dinner tables - across the country.  His points about the blockades to effective math literacy are well explained as:

  1. Lack of initiative
  2. Lack of perseverance
  3. Lack of retention
  4. Aversion to word problems
  5. Eagerness for formulas

A second point of from math teacher Arthur Benjamin argues that our math scaffolding holds as its pinnacle the study of calculus, when it should really focus on the study of probability and statistics.  That, he points out, would be much more relevant and applicable to everyone's life.

Interestingly, the issue of relevance was discussed by education writer Diana Senechal in a recent guest post for Joanne Jacobs.  Diana's points are well developed.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Whole New Schooling

America's high school graduation rates and college admission rates are at their highest level in more than thirty-five years, and America educates a far larger percentage of its population to higher levels than almost all other industrialized countries.  America's higher education system is still the envy of the world, and because of its opportunities, the United States remains that "shining city upon the hill" that John Winthrop described nearly three centuries ago.  In terms of international rankings, when schools with less than 25% poverty are ranked, American schools actually lead the world in test scores, and the highest achieving states like Massachusetts actually outperform perennial academic all stars like Finland, Singapore, and Japan.  In many ways, the public education system is one of the greatest success stories in American history.  Yet, there are clearly huge discrepancies in the opportunities and access to education provided by the current system, and there is no logical way to argue that the system is equitable or that public education is meeting the needs of every child.

The American education system works very well for students whose parents know how to work it.  If a family is not restricted by where they can choose to live and enroll their children, or how much they can access the extras of education - from summer camps to college counselors and ACT prep courses - then they are in great position to reap the benefits of a clearly defined system.  However, the income gap is nowhere more significant in America than it is in the public education system - despite the beliefs by many Americans that the system is a level playing field.  The American system also works very well for many teachers who are granted great autonomy in their ability to manage their classrooms and their workloads and, in many ways, their evaluation.  Teachers are generally more focused on their content and their style of presenting information than they are on adapting to and understanding the way students learn.  In almost all fields, especially professional areas like accounting and medicine and law and information technology, employees need to pursue regular professional development to stay current.  Not so much with education.  And that must change.

With my principal's license I have no immediate interest in becoming "a principal."  However, I am committed to progress in education by contributing to areas of professional development and school culture.  In my perfect world, I could live with one foot in the classroom and one foot in the administrative office, working as an advocate for both teachers and kids, but focusing primarily on "what's best for kids" and whatever works.  Too many teachers lack the support or motivation to be truly visionary in adaptive change.  That doesn't mean, however, that they are altogether opposed to it.  My goal is to find a way to be a bridge and facilitator for teachers who will struggle with the changes demanded by Common Core and SB191 and the school improvement plan.  NCA expects that teachers learn to use data to guide instruction, and teachers will need support in how to do that.  In a pseudo-administrative role, I would seek not so much to be a buffer as to be a filter, breaking down information on what teachers need to know about new expectations, so they can focus on doing what they do - which in my experience can be pretty magical.

As I've noted before, I am interested in working toward a world where teachers don't say "I teach math or English or history" but instead say, "I teach kids."  I've been reading a lot by "ideas guru" Daniel Pink who advocates for new thinking in developing skills in kids which allow them to succeed.  Rather than a particular content, Pink focus on the need for students to develop skills in "numeracy, design thinking, and sales," as these are marketable skills.  The ideas put forth by people like Daniel Pink or Po Bronson or Malcolm Gladwell on "the way the world really works" are the kind of information that I would like to help weave into school culture.  From places like High Tech High to books like A Whole New Mind to plans like "Tough Choices, Tough Times," school culture needs to be adapted and developed to allow greater access and choice for kids.  However, the focus must be on data and results.  "Whatever works" is my motto for education.