Asking students to work in complete isolation

Sitting alone

Joe Bower said:

I would never ask students to complete anything that is worth doing in complete isolation from their peers, parents, books, or the Internet. I’ve worked hard to encourage my students to see collaboration as a critical characteristic of learning.

Alfie Kohn reminds us that, “I want to see what you can do not what your neighbour can do” is really just code for “I want to see what you can do artificially deprived of the skills and help of the people around you. Rather than seeing how much more you can accomplish in a well-functioning team that’s more authentic like real life.”

In the real world, there simply aren’t that many times you are expected to solve a problem or perform a task in complete isolation – and even if you were, it would be awfully archaic to refuse you the opportunity to reach out for the help you needed to get the task done.

via http://www.joebower.org/2015/05/3-reasons-why-albertas-provincial.html

Image credit: Sitting Alone, naraekim0801


Taking an advanced course should not be synonymous with copious amounts of homework

High school student Carolyn Walworth said:

It is time to rethink the way we teach students. It is time to reevaluate and enforce our homework policy. It is time to impose harsher punishments upon teachers who do not comply with district standards such as not assigning homework during finals review time. It is time we wake up to the reality that Palo Alto students teeter on the verge of mental exhaustion every single day. It is time to realize that we work our students to death. It is time to hold school officials accountable. Right now is the time to act.

Effective education does not have to correlate to more stress. Taking an advanced course should not be synonymous with copious amounts of homework. Challenging oneself academically and intellectually should be about just that — a mental challenge which involves understanding concepts at a deeper level. The ever increasing intertwinement between advanced courses and excessive homework baffles me; indeed, I would say that it only demonstrates our district’s shortcomings

via http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2015/03/25/guest-opinion-the-sorrows-of-young-palo-altans


Schools, baseball teams, and casinos

Baseball

Ramona Shelburne said:

[Baseball] franchises that remain static will eventually regress and deteriorate. People, too. So the antidote is to be proactive. Change before you’re forced to. Keep putting yourself in the best positions to succeed. When things break the wrong way, break new ground.

“The mindset in everything we do is to be the casino,” Friedman said. “We want to be the house. We’re going to make a lot of decisions. It’s a high-volume business. We can’t be afraid of making mistakes. The key is to be right more than we’re wrong and … trust that it will work out well.”

via http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/12630518/the-los-angeles-dodgers-forward-thinking-front-office-force-reckoned-with

True for schools too, not just baseball teams and casinos…

Image credit: Baseball, Peter Miller


The DENny Awards with Dean Shareski

Here are a couple of Dean Shareski’s online promos for the DENny Awards… Happy viewing!

A


Option 3: Actually USE the smartphones

Door sign: Cell phone prohibited

Murphy & Beland’s recent study is making the rounds online, particularly among those who are eager to find reasons to ban learning technologies in classrooms. The economists found that banning mobile phones helped improve student achievement on standardized test scores, with the biggest gains seen by low-achieving and at-risk students. Here are my thoughts on this…

The outcome measure is standardized test score improvement. Is that all you care about or do you have a bigger, more complex vision for student learning? For instance, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving are difficult to assess with a standardized test. Most schools I know didn’t adopt their learning technology initiatives for the sole purpose of test score improvement. (if they did, how sad is that?)

The accepted dichotomy in this study and the media seems to be 1) doing low-level knowledge work while smartphones are banned, or 2) doing low-level knowledge work while smartphones are present (and, presumably, distracting). Neither of these two options addresses the fact that decontextualized, low-level work isn’t very interesting or engaging to many (most?) students, particularly those who already find that traditional schooling doesn’t meet their needs very well. So, faced with the opportunity to do something else, many students do. Youth today aren’t any different than when we were young and adults made snarky, woeful comments about us. They just have different opportunities and resources. How many times were you bored in high school? Lots, so admit that if you’d had access to a smartphone or your friends on Facebook back then, you would have turned that way too. I know that I sure would have. Let’s stop blaming students and/or demonizing technology as an evil succubus and address the real problem, which is disengaging learning environments. The solution to that problem is not to try and force students to pay attention to and comply with our boring lessons. That’s not teaching students ‘grit.’ That’s an indictment of our failure to differently imagine learning and teaching.

How about a third option, that of doing higher-level learning and USING the smartphones to help with that? That sounds pretty good to me. Why isn’t this ever brought up as an option to be considered?

Image credit: Cell phone prohibited, SmartSign


My feedback on the draft ISLLC standards

CCSSO logo

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is working on its latest draft of standards for school leaders. The ISLLC standards are intended to detail the knowledge and skills that effective district and school leaders need in order to build teams of teachers and leaders who improve student learning. CCSSO is seeking feedback on the draft standards. My feedback and comments are below. I hope that you will read the standards yourself and also share some thoughts with CCSSO about whether you feel that they adequately describe an effective school leader for today and tomorrow…

Please list any additional dispositions that you believe educational leaders need that are not listed on page 9 of the ISLLC 2015 standards.

Learner. Just because you’re reflective and/or analytical does NOT mean you’re a learner yourself. We have lots of clueless administrators who don’t understand / have not kept up with external societal transformations because they are not active, engaged, externally-focused learners themselves. So they don’t understand how our new information landscapes operate and what the implications are for educational practice. (neither do most Educational Leadership profs, sadly)

Does the section, “Using the Standards” provide you with sufficient direction about how the standards might be used to improve leadership at the state and local level?

Standards are necessarily vague. So providing TWO pages on ‘using’ them isn’t really going to do much for anyone. There are a few broad generalities here but they’re nowhere near specific enough to really be that helpful for practice.

Please list any competencies for transformational leaders that you believe would NOT fall into one of the categories represented by the seven ISLLC 2015 standards.

Where’s the future-oriented, innovation disposition in these standards, actions, and competencies. I’m struggling to see it…

To what extent do you agree that the ISLLC 2015: Model Policy Standards for Educational Leaders represent a clear, coherent vision for transformational school and district leadership that reflects current expectations for educational leaders and prepares them to effectively adapt their leadership to future changes and challenges? Please share any additional reactions or comments that you have about the standards as a whole.

The standards and the actions listed below them don’t really reflect in any way the ‘innovative’ disposition that is cited earlier in the ISLLC draft document. If ISLLC truly was interested in fostering innovative leadership practice, there would be greater recognition of and emphasis on the seismic transformations that are occurring in our information, economic, and learning landscapes. Instead, there’s nary a mention anywhere of the fact that schools need to look a LOT different than they currently do and the current factory model of schooling appears to be generally accepted as a given across the standards. When it comes to learning, then, what we’re left with in these new draft ISLLC standards appears to be a very technocratic model of school leadership that’s focused on increasing student ‘achievement’ on low-level factual recall items and procedural skills rather than fostering innovative, creative, collaborative critical thinkers and problem solvers [NOTE: if this is not what you intend, then you need to reframe and reword huge chunks of this document because right now it reads like an educational leadership standards document for 1995, not 2015]. Everything that’s listed here in the new ISLLC standards is arguably important. But the standards and actions are neither innovative nor forward-thinking enough so they fail to live up to the ideal of preparing school leaders to ‘effectively adapt their leadership to future changes and challenges’ because there’s nothing really future-oriented in them.

It’s also worth noting for page 10 that simply displaying the 7 standards horizontally across the 8 vertical dispositions in Figure 3 does absolutely nothing to ‘demonstrate how the dispositions are essential to the work of educational leadership.’ There’s no meaning made there. There is no explanation of the diagram or the intersections or what progression/extension might look like. You simply overlay them across each other and then say ‘quod erat demonstrandum!’ That whole section either needs to be explicated quite a bit or discarded.


Test prep works

Bubble test

Sarah Blaine said:

ten years into private practice, I don’t draw on my two months of intensive bar test prep to advise my clients or manage my work. I don’t rely on essay formulas to craft my briefs, and of course I have never encountered an MBE-style multiple choice question. But the thing is… PMBR and BAR/BRI worked. Test prep works. Test prep taught me to immerse myself in the logic of the test-makers, and how to effectively game the system to achieve my goal: a passing score.

The fact that test prep works is what scares me as a public school parent, because as a parent I know that my child’s standardized test scores tell me virtually nothing about whether she’s actually mastered the academic skills she needs for a successful future.

My two months of bar test prep taught me that mass-produced bar prep can successfully raise scores: my MBE score skyrocketed when I left my inquisitiveness, curiosity, and thoughtfulness at the door, and instead immersed myself completely in the test-makers’ logic. I was willing to engage in two months of intensive test-prep because the stakes were so high: I could have lost my new job for failing the bar. Test prep was a means to an end, and it was an end I wanted (passing the bar so I could begin my career as a litigator at a large law firm), so I was willing to spend (my firm’s) money and my time on the commercial test prep courses. Thankfully, though, our (generally tenured) law school professors focused on preparing us for the practice of law, and not on preparing us for a soon-to-be-forgotten standardized test.

But what will my child gain from devoting 9 of her 13 years of public education to test prep? She might become a genius at immersing herself in the logic of the test makers, but will she learn to write purposefully and well? Will she learn to creatively attack a problem? Will she learn empathy and art appreciation and history and how to work as a member of a team?

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/24/why-its-so-scary-that-test-prep-works

Image credit: Bubble World, Benjamin Chun


Notes from the UNI Education Summit

Notes from the UNI Education Summit in Cedar Falls, Iowa a couple of weeks ago…

Jonathan Kozol

Jonathan Kozol (wow, was he wonderful to listen to…)

  • I try to be bipartisan but former Iowa U.S. Senator Tom Harkin has talked with me for years about the damage that testing is doing to children.
  • I’m glad there are so many educators here; I always feel safer in a room of teachers!
  • Teachers have been taking quite a beating lately. In many states they’ve become a scapegoat for all of the evils and injustices of society. But teachers are my heroes.
  • Teachers, particularly those who teach in our most disadvantaged communities, need to be protected.
  • I said to an African-American Boston minister after the Philadelphia disappearances, “How can I be of use?” He said, “You’ve had a wonderful education. I’d like you to put it to use for our children.”
  • The city department of education sent me out as a substitute. My first day was in kindergarten. I was absolutely terrified! Ultimately I survived. I’ve been working with low-income children, mostly Black and Hispanic, ever since. I’m currently working with children, families, and schools in the South Bronx in New York City.
  • I’ve written several books about those children. The sum of it all is that, almost everywhere I go, those funding inequalities are still with us. It’s sad that there is such thing as a ‘poor school’ in America, the wealthiest nation on Earth.
  • The rich districts can go way above foundational funding. In wealthy neighborhoods in cities, parents are holding fundraisers that earn as much as $1 million in a single night to add to their school’s budget.
  • Poverty is poverty, whether in cities or rural areas. The traumatic effects apply to children everywhere. But for minority children in concentrated neighborhoods of poverty, it goes to new levels. 
  • We see hyper-segregation of Black and Hispanic children in every city, large or small. Textbooks sugar coat realities a bit. The media does this too. They indicate that racial isolation is primarily a thing of the past. In reality the very opposite is true. These children are more isolated intellectually and separated physically than any time since 1968.
  • Every year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, white politicians who have never lifted a finger to solve inequity and segregation visit some urban school and give their version of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. I still believe that Brown v. Bd. of Education was essentially correct. Isolation sends terrible messages to our youth.
  • Langston Hughes’ poem, What happens to a dream deferred? I was in Baltimore 8 days ago. 
  • There’s another kind of inequality: rich preschool education. I ask kindergarten teachers in impoverished neighborhoods how many of their children have had real, developmental pre-K for a couple of years beforehand (the kind that wealthy or middle class kids get). They say maybe 40%. The most exclusive pre-Ks in New York City cost $35,000 per child. They’re known as the ‘Baby Ivys.’ There’s not even a pretense at meritocracy.
  • When test scores come out, guess who does well and guess who gets blamed?
  • Could we take the billions of dollars that are going to testing companies and put it into rich, developmental pre-K? This should be a rich entitlement of childhood here in America, along with necessary wrap-around services. Instead of castigating poor parents, help them get the skills they need.
  • Virtually every sector of the population has to take standardized exams. Like in other states, here in Iowa high stakes exams start in 3rd grade. In wealthy neighborhoods in New York, there are strong parent movements to opt out their kids from the exams. The wealthy parents aren’t scared, but the poor people are.
  • In affluent communities, standardized testing takes a lesser toll. The kids easily score fairly well. Parents aren’t frightened of the test. Their concern is whether their children get into their first choice of college.
  • Principals of poor schools are the ones that are running scared. Teachers are obliged to write on the board the specific skill (and number) that they’re teaching. In New York City, it’s very prescriptive. Poor schools are told not to wander too far from the standards, there’s little time for student questions and critical thinking. “Curiosity is nice, but it’s not going to be tested.” Neither will delighted learning, which may indeed be a distraction. Delight and curiosity can get you way off track from the standards.
  • Endless, run-on sentences full of ‘ands’ and ‘buts’ – second graders are almost as good as William Faulkner – at the end, there’s usually hidden treasure and good teachers know how to unlock that. Test-driven teachers usually cut them off and they never reach the hidden treasure.
  • Once we lock a child's spirit into sileng stone, he may never dare again to speak with authenticity - Jonathan KozolOnce we lock a child’s spirit into silent stone, he may never dare again to speak with authenticity.
  • Teachers in these schools are usually told they have to teach reading from standardized materials. Not all of these books are bad. I’m not a fanatic hippie type who thinks that phonics are a form of oppression. Neither are phonics the cure to all of the ills of society (e.g., the lady I met that I now call the Phonics Fanatic of Phoenix!). I hate the emphasis that many urban teachers have to place on decoding, not on the content of what they’re reading (e.g., scripted teaching methods). What happens to many of these children is that they lose the beauty of reading real books, books that are a joy to read. The only reason to read is for the joy it gives you, not to get a number plastered on your forehead. I majored in Elizabethan poetry. Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse is right up there with Hamlet!
  • Learning for its own sake, immersing oneself into the joy and beauty of learning… in many inner-city and/or test-driven schools, this is being lost. There’s no time for orchestra or school plays (but there is in suburban schools). For poor kids who have less aesthetic beauty in their physical neighborhood, we owe it to them to have art and music in school.
  • Many teachers in poor schools are warriors for justice. They represent the best of America.
  • If you do teach in those neighborhoods, don’t assume that children are empty vessels waiting to be filled. Bring out the beauty that’s in their souls. Let their dreams and longings be the starting point for lesson plans, not something that’s cordoned off or relegated to 20-minute enrichment.
  • There’s usually a reason that parents can’t come to school, they’re dealing with their own chaos. Instead of demonizing them, find a way to reach them.
  • Children need beauty in their lives. Other than their family, the teacher is the only adult in their lives that’s around regularly. If you don’t give them happiness, who will?
  • “Mr. Kozol, the whole schools is talking about how quietly your children file down the hallways.” – our way of subverting the system so they would leave us alone and we could have fun without being bothered
  • Teachers often are afraid in poor neighborhoods. In 25 years, I’ve never been touched. I think it’s more psychological than physical. I think it’s the fear of those communities’ suffering and the challenge to their conscience.
  • Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) may have been the biggest hero that kids have ever had. He was a wonderful listener to children. He went with me to the South Bronx. On the #6 train in NYC, it’s only about seven stops from the richest to the poorest neighborhood in the city. Sanitation workers embraced him. Children said ‘welcome to my neighborhood, Mr. Rogers.’
  • The dreams and innocence of children will outlive us all. Life goes fast, my friends, use it well.
How do you measure 'richness' in education? Not with bubbles...

Dr. Mark Grey, Iowa’s (Rapidly) Changing Populations

  • Anthropology professor at UNI, directs the New Iowans Center
  • The context in Iowa is changing rapidly
  • Global events are having local consequences
  • Issues we used to consider secondary or tertiary (religion, language, ethnicity) have become primary
  • Two fundamental shifts
    • The Latino Boom, 1993-2008 (plus smaller populations of Bosnians and other refugees)
    • Today = Microplurality
      • many smaller, ethnically and linguistically distinct populations
      • e.g., 50 langages at Marshalltown HS, 100+ languages in Des Moines Public Schools
      • 180 estimated languages in Iowa now
  • 1990 = only a few Latinos; in 25-30 years, maybe over 400,000 (~12% of total)
  • One-third of Iowa counties reached their peak population in 1900; another one-third in 1950 or so
  • Iowa overall v. Latino median age difference = 15.4 years
  • Brain drain – we lose about half of our college graduates to other states
  • Birth rates in Iowa are less than 2.0; need 2.1 to replace the existing population
  • Four impacts on population = birth rates, death rates, length of life, migration (we have no idea what this will look like)
  • African-American population (including African refugees)
    • 2020 = 125,000; 2040 = 185,000+
  • Asian / Pacific Islander population
    • 2020 = 75,000; 2040 = 110,000+
  • Native-American population will stay fairly stable (but they’re incredibly diverse; numerous tribal affiliations)
    • 2020 = 11,000; 2040 = 13,000
  • Microplurality
    • Growing non-Latino populations in the Heartland
      • Southeast Asia (Hmong, Vietnamese, Burmese, etc.), East Asia (Chinese), former Soviet Union, ultra-Orthodox Jewish (Israel and East Coast), African (Sudan, Somalia), Central Pacific (Marshall Islands, Paulau), Ukrainian Pentecostals, Bhutanese from Nepali refugee camps, African-Americans from Chicago and Detroit, Iraqi refugees, and many more…
    • Iowans take pride in their acceptance of refugees – we have the only state-level office dedicated to refugee resettlement?
    • Sponsorship of refugees dropped to an absolute trickle after 9/11
    • African refugees are pouring into our state – usually they are secondary migrants (first stop was another U.S. location)
    • This is a legal workforce
    • In many districts, multiple languages but they only have a small handful of children that speak each language
  • We have labor vacuums – most local kids aren’t going to pack meat or eggs
  • University research and policy in an era of advocacy philanthropists and agenda-setting organizations
  • Foundations such as Gates and Lumina are bigger, more influential, more strategic, and directly involved in shaping federal and state education policy (K-16)
    • They spawn dozens of smaller groups, which then unapologetically stake out their spots at the capitol building (e.g., Complete College America)
    • Not a great concern for change supported by research – more concerned with ideology – simple slogans, with recipes for implementation
    • Quick to claim causation, but they ignore competing evidence
  • We have to face up to this brave new world
    • Recognize the role of these philanthropies and organization
    • Embrace methods that advocate and direct
    • Debate and criticize these approaches in public forums
    • Find ways to communicate complex information in simple ways
    • Can’t shy away from work with policymakers, have to co-opt their methods (e.g., social media)
  • See Rick Hess’ public presence list

 David Drew, Reforming STEM Education in America

  • What’s driving the emphasis on STEM? 
    • Shift to high-tech and service economy – what’s required for jobs has changed
    • Our nation doesn’t seem to be doing well on international measures of STEM achievement
  • False myths that undermine education reform
    • Restoring American K-12 education in its previous glory
    • the aptitude excuse (e.g., girls, poor kids, students of color can’t do math & science)
    • curriculum reform – the teacher is more important the curriculum – curriculum is important but it isn’t going to save us
    • finding new teachers – we need to do a better job of preparing AND retaining classroom educators
  • Compared to students in high-achieving countries, American students believe strongly that mathematical talent is innate and believe less strongly that effort makes much difference – Anne C. Lewis

There is no shortcut

Andreas Schleicher said:

there is no shortcut to improved learning outcomes in a post-2015 world economy where knowledge and skills have become the global currency, the key to better jobs and better lives. And there is no central bank that prints this currency. We cannot inherit this currency, and we cannot produce it through speculation; we can only develop it through sustained effort and investment in people. 

via http://oecdeducationtoday.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/education-post-2015.html

Simply throwing kids into adaptive drill-and-kill software is NOT sustained effort and investment in people (i.e., human capital development)…


Online sharing is not digital leadership

More

Using social media to share with your community? It’s a start, but it’s not enough.

Using social media to connect with other educators? That’s awesome, but that’s not enough either.

Using what you’ve learned from social media to significantly change the day-to-day learning experiences of students (and teachers)? Now you’re getting somewhere…

In other words, the branding and the PLN work is great. But true digital leadership is much, much more. Let’s hear more about what kids and educators are doing differently, please.

Image credit: More, Thomas Hawk


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