Civic Enterprises has released its latest study, Raising Their Voices, concerning America’s dropout crisis. What resonated with me the most was the voices of the students in the report. Here are some samples:
“To me, high school is like elementary and middle school. It’s all the same. We’ve been doing the same thing over and over again.”
“If you just fight your way through it now and get through school … eventually it will be interesting when you get into your career field.”
“I’m going to be honest: school is really, really boring. I hate coming here.”
Issue 1: Student boredom
I hate coming here. If you just fight your way through it. The same thing over and over again. These are pretty damning words. They also are pretty common. As the report noted, many students view high school as something that must be tolerated as a stepping-stone to [something] better (emphasis added).
When’s the last time your school organization asked its students how interesting and engaging their classes were (and then took their responses seriously)?
Issue 2: Meaningful community discussion
The researchers brought together students, parents, and teachers in four different communities to collaboratively discuss the high school dropout program in their local area. In each case, individuals remarked that this was the first time that teachers, parents, and students had been brought together to talk about any issue, including the dropout crisis (emphasis added).
When’s the last time your school organization had teachers, parents, and students (and, yes, administrators) in the same room talking candidly and safely about important issues?
Issue 3: Disconnects between groups
The report noted that:
while dropouts cited boredom as the leading cause for dropping out, many educators we surveyed did not see this as the central cause. In fact, only 20 percent of teachers saw a student’s lack of interest in school as a major factor in most cases of dropout. More than twice as many believed students were making excuses for their failure to graduate. . . .
Additionally, although students said that higher expectations would have mitigated the factors leading to their dropping out, only 32 percent of teachers agreed that we should expect all students to meet high academic standards and graduate with the skills that would enable them to do college-level work, and that we should provide extra support to struggling students to help them meet those standards.
These disconnects exist everywhere, of course. No organization is immune from them. But perception shapes reality. If students say they’re bored and teachers just think students are making excuses and don’t reflect on their own instructional practices, the problem never gets solved.
When’s the last time your school organization intentionally worked to uncover and then meaningfully address existing cognitive, emotional, and perceptual disconnects between groups?
The Raising Their Voices study was conducted on behalf of the AT&T Foundation and the America’s Promise Alliance. The report illustrates the kind of conversations that can occur when you bring disparate groups of school stakeholders together. It also shows that disconnects between groups can be effectively bridged through structured dialogue and a spirit of mutual respect. The report includes recruiting instructions and a sample discussion guide to help schools set up their own local focus groups. As school leaders, we should do this more…
Conference organizers usually strive to have participants leave upbeat and energized at the end of the conference. I violated that rule on the last day of the ASB Unplugged conference in Mumbai, India.
Each of the February TEDxASB speakers had 3 minutes to speak to the audience. Scott Klososky’s segment with an American School of Bombay student was particularly awesome and I hope someone captured it on video.
In both of my two leadership workshops, I kept hearing variations of the same theme from the international educators in attendance. One participant summed it up:
I'm not sure you appreciate how far along are most of the schools here today. We're far from average in terms of our implementation of technology.
When it came to my 3 minutes, I just couldn’t keep quiet about this. So I said something like the following:
One of the participants in my morning session said that I didn’t appreciate how far along you all are and that you are way above average when it comes to integrating technology into your instruction. And yet, from my conversations with many of you over the past few days, it’s very clear to me that there still are many things you’re not doing.
For example, most of you have yet to put a computer in every kid’s hands; that’s why you’re here at this 1:1 conference. Most of you have yet to incorporate online courses into your curricula in any kind of substantive way. Few of you are teaching students to be empowered – not just responsible – digital citizens in our new information landscape. Few of you have a staff full of educators that are modeling active participation in that landscape. As far as I can tell, none of you has robust student assessments at every grade level that target higher-level, more cognitively-complex thinking and doing and being. None of you has moved to a truly personalized learning environment for every student, one in which students’ progress is facilitated and perhaps assessed by technology and is organized around student competence and completion rather than age and grade level.
So some of you are sitting there in the audience feeling pretty good about yourselves. And you should. You’re blessed with wonderful financial resources, fantastic facilities, and amazing faculty. But for those of you who think I don’t appreciate how far along you are, all I can say is that I'm not sure you appreciate how far you still have to go.
I’m still second-guessing my decision to use my final statement in this manner. Despite tempering my negativity with a fun follow-up Animoto of the conference, I still think I might have violated one of the cardinal rules of conferences…
This likely is my final post about my trip to India. Here are my previous posts:
One of the highlights of my time at ASB Unplugged this year was the opportunity to participate in TEDxASB. Here is my TEDx talk, Are schools dangerously irrelevant?. Other than saying ‘divergent’ instead of ‘convergent,’ I think I did okay.
Here's another envisioning of the forms that traditional print publications are going to take as tablet eReaders and computers become more prevalent. This one is from Penguin Books and shows what some interactive experiences might look like for younger children.
Previous installments in this series were:
- Yes, this is the future of magazines (and newspapers and books and …)
- The future of magazines, part 2
Thanks to Fast Company for leading me to this video. Happy viewing!
The Ames (IA) Community School District – my kids’ district – is hiring both a new superintendent and a new high school principal for next year. Below is the letter I just sent the school board members. I thought some of you might be interested. Everything I do has a Creative Commons license, so feel free to use as desired. Also available in Microsoft Word (.docx) and/or Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format!
March 7, 2010
Fellow Ames citizens and Board members of the Ames Community School District,
I am the coordinator of the Educational Administration program at Iowa State University and the director of the nation’s only center focused on preparing technology-savvy school leaders. I also am a parent with three children in the school district. With the pending departure of Dr. Beyea and Mr. McGrory, you have the chance to hire both a superintendent and a high school principal that share a new vision for P-12 schooling. I sincerely hope that you will avail yourself of this unique opportunity.
The economic imperative
We currently are living in times of exponential change. Not only have digital technologies radically transformed how we conduct our professional and personal lives, they also are destroying entire segments of our society. Non-location-dependent manual labor jobs are increasingly offshored to the developing world, coordinated through technology-suffused global supply chains. Many service jobs also are increasingly fungible, able to be located anywhere in the world that has an Internet connection. The next two decades will see many complex service jobs broken up into component parts, much as we did in previous decades for manufacturing work. Once these tasks are disaggregated, they will be done by lower-skilled workers who can do these discrete components of the overall work, facilitated by software. In other words, many high-paying service jobs will turn into globalized piece work. Since the service professions represent 60% of our nation’s economy, the impacts of this are going to be quite significant. Our school system must prepare graduates for our new economic reality.
The educational imperative
We are creating a new information landscape for ourselves, something that we have not done as a society in centuries. The printing press removed third-party intermediaries (the king’s messenger, the priest) between average citizens and access to information. This new revolution is disintermediating the creation of information, allowing us all to be content creators, not just recipients.
We no longer live in an information push-out world where we passively receive information that is broadcast out to us by large entities. We all now can have a voice. We all now can be publishers. We all now can find each other’s thoughts and ideas and share, cooperate, collaborate, and take collective action. Time and geography are no longer barriers to working together. This too is destroying entire segments of our society.
Long-existing barriers to learning also are disappearing. We now have the ability to learn anything from anyone, at any time, anywhere. Our informal learning is exploding. Formal learning institutions are scrambling to reinvent themselves for the new digital paradigm. Our school system must prepare graduates who are masters of our new information landscape.
The status quo no longer suffices
We are blessed to live in a community whose families possess a tremendous amount of intellectual and social capital. We have a community that understands science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) issues like no other in the state. Our community is not just globally-aware but globally savvy, with international experience and understanding rarely found outside of large cities. We have a community that deeply cares about its children’s education. These are powerful assets, but we cannot afford to be complacent. The status quo no longer suffices.
The technological and information revolutions that now are occurring are upending everything. Our society is being reshaped in significant ways, and the process is just getting started as digital tools and environments continue to advance at a rapid pace. Every information-oriented societal sector – journalism, banking, medicine, politics, travel agencies, music, higher education, television, and real estate, just to name a few – are finding that transformative reinvention is the cost of survival in our current climate. Schools shouldn’t expect that they somehow will be immune from the same changes that are radically altering other information-oriented societal sectors. We can’t continue to pretend that these revolutions aren’t going to affect us too, in compelling and as yet unknown ways.
Dr. Tony Wagner, Harvard University, notes that there are two achievement gaps in this country. The first is the gap between the educational experiences of middle-class children and those of most poor and minority children. The second gap is that between what even our very best schools are teaching and testing versus what all students will need to be successful in today’s globally interconnected, technology-suffused, information economy. The new educational paradigm requires an emphasis on critical thinking, collaborative problem-solving, creativity and innovation, information fluency and media literacy, data synthesis and analysis, and the applied use of many other higher-level cognitive skills, much more frequently than we currently are doing in our classrooms.
Our students and schools have a tremendous track record of academic success here in Ames. We have many things of which to be rightfully proud. But the second global achievement gap that Dr. Wagner so aptly describes will increasingly be an issue for our schools and our community if we do not transition from a system in which student success is judged by mastery of lower-level cognitive work to one that emphasizes to a much greater degree the skills of higher-level thinking and real-world application.
The Board has an opportunity this year to fill two critical positions with educators who understand the new landscape that I have described above, who may even have a track record of success at preparing students for the demands of the next half century. The Ames Community Schools already are an exemplar for many of the state’s school districts. Given the tremendous assets that we have in this community, with the right leadership we not only could do what’s right by our kids but also be an exemplar for the nation and the world. I am hopeful that you will see this hiring opportunity for what it is and act accordingly.
If you are interested, you may view my presentation to the National Education Association Board of Directors on this topic at www.3dwriting.com/mcleod. My presentation to the Dubuque School Board is available at http://bit.ly/c3NnNt. I also would be happy to talk further with the Board about this at any time.