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Let’s be honest about annual testing

Testing pencils

Let’s be honest: students and parents obtain no tangible benefit from large-scale annual testing. Kids and families give up numerous days of learning time – both for the tests themselves and for the test prep sessions whose sole purpose is to get ready for the tests (and maybe also for the testing pep rally) – and for what? The data come back too late to be actionable. The questions are shrouded in secrecy so that no one has any idea what students actually missed. As Diane Ravitch has noted, given the immense amounts of time, energy, money, and personnel that we expend on our summative assessments, “there’s no instructional gain … [there’s] no diagnostic value.” The tests fail the fundamental rule of good assessment – which is to provide feedback to fuel future improvement – and come at a tremendous opportunity cost.

All of this might be fine – students and families might dutifully and kindly take a few hours or even days out of the school year to support their local school’s desire to get some institutional-level benchmarks (like when I was a kid) – if the stakes currently weren’t so high and the problems weren’t so prevalent (unlike when I was a kid). The use of extremely-volatile, statistically-unreliable data to punish teachers and schools… the misuse of assessment results to fuel anti-public-school political agendas… the billions of public dollars that go into the pockets of testing companies instead of under-resourced classrooms… the narrowing of curricula and the neglect of non-tested subjects… the appropriation of computers for weeks on end for testing instead of learning… the recharacterization of schools as test score factories, not life success enablers… no wonder parents are starting to scream. It’s a miracle that more families aren’t opting out of these tests and it’s awfully hard to blame them if they do.

Our assessment systems are a complete mess right now. As parents experience empty-threat tantrums from policymakers, vindictive ‘sit and stare’ policies from school districts, and testing horror story after horror story, they are rightfully pushing back against testing schemes that offer no learning feedback or other concrete benefits to their children. There are looming battles with governors and the federal government around opt-out policies. Put your money on the parents.

Many educators are still running scared on this front. Most schools are still fearful and compliant. Our inactivity makes us complicit. When do we say ‘enough is enough?’ How bad does it have to get before we stand with our parents and our communities? When do we fight for what’s educationally sound instead of caving in (yet again)?

Image credit: perfect, romana klee

3-month updates: Digital Leadership Daily, School Visibility Initiative

Digital Leadership Daily Photo

Three months ago I launched both Digital Leadership Daily and our School Visibility Initiative.

Digital Leadership Daily is now up to 714 subscribers across its text messaging, Twitter, and Facebook channels.

The School Visibility Initiative now has 66 participating schools from 29 unique states and countries.

Awesome!

Snuffing out our own progress

Crabs in a bucket

I just left this comment at Tony Tepedino’s blog in response to his statement that we have to stop pretending that academic rigor can only occur in a traditional classroom setting:

I have seen innovative, project-based learning environments killed – by OTHER TEACHERS IN THE SCHOOL!!!! – because kids liked those learning spaces better than what their more traditional teachers were offering. Rather than shifting their instruction, they snuffed out the promising new directions instead.

Ugh.

I saw a wonderful video long ago from Gloria Ladson-Billings that reminded us as school leaders that we have to make sure the change people win. We must fight these crab bucket cultures with everything we’ve got…

Image credit: Crabs in a bucket, Todd Shaffer

We can’t do what that other school is doing because…

We can’t do what that other school is doing because…

  • they are bigger and have more resources
  • they are smaller and are more nimble
  • they are rural and have strong-knit communities
  • they are urban and have access to the city
  • they are suburban and have more money
  • they don’t have the same time issues we do
  • they don’t have the same discipline issues we do
  • they don’t have the same personnel issues we do
  • they don’t have the same financial issues we do
  • they don’t have the same transportation issues we do
  • they don’t have the same accountability issues we do
  • they have parent support
  • they have community support
  • they have business support
  • they have paras
  • they have teacher’s aides
  • they have volunteers
  • they have a different schedule
  • they have different standards
  • they have different policies
  • they have different professional development
  • they have more supportive administrators
  • they have a more supportive school board
  • they have more expert veteran teachers
  • they have more eager new teachers
  • they can get kids to come before school
  • they can get kids to come after school
  • they can get kids to come during school
  • they don’t have all of the extra committees that we do
  • they don’t have all of the extra duties that we do
  • they have computer labs
  • they have computer carts
  • they have laptops
  • they have iPads
  • they have Chromebooks
  • they have better Internet
  • they are a private school
  • they are a charter school
  • they are a magnet school
  • they are an online school
  • they have [fill in the blank] where they are
  • they don’t have OUR kids
  • they ???

We’re really good at finding reasons for inaction. How many of these have you heard? What would you add to this list?

How you gonna change the world if you can't change yourself? [Graffiti]

Image credit: Change starts from within, Phillip

We have to stop pretending

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending…

  • that short-term memorization equals long-term learning
  • that students find meaning in what we’re covering in class
  • that low-level facts and procedures are a prerequisite to deeper learning
  • that analog learning environments prepare kids for a digital world
  • that what we’re doing isn’t boring

I’m going to try to turn this into a challenge. I’m tagging George Couros, Sylvia Martinez, Wes Fryer, Vicki Davis, and Steven Anderson.

Please join us. When it comes to education, what are 5 things that we have to stop pretending? Post on your blog, tag 5 others, and share using the #makeschooldifferent hashtag. Feel free to also put the URL of your post in the comments area so others can find it!

** Check out the responses from everyone who has participated. Awesome! **

Make school different

(feel free to use this image as desired)

UPDATE

Since it’s hard to impart nuance in 5 short bullet points, I thought I’d explain my thinking behind what I blogged above (particularly given the thoughtful replies below from Keith Brennan)…

1. Too many teachers cover stuff for a week or two, the kids regurgitate it for a week or two, and then they’re off to the next thing. If you ask the kids six months later, much (most?) of what they ‘learned’ is gone. But we call this process ‘learning.’ And while that may be true for the short term, it’s not very true for the long term. Memorization isn’t the concern, it’s the overemphasis on short-term memory without concurrent attention to long-term memory.

2. My understanding from the cognitive psychologists is that we remember what we attach meaning to. If it’s not meaningful to us (i.e., we don’t find internal reasons to hang on to it), we might keep it for a little while (particularly if we’re forced to) but sooner rather than later it starts to fade away. The challenge is that it’s hard to find meaning in decontextualized fact nuggets and procedures, which is why students have been asking the same questions since time immemorial: ‘Why do we need to know this? Why should we care? What’s the relevance of this to our lives now or in the future?’ We give those questions short shrift in most classrooms and then wonder why students disengage mentally and/or physically.

3. The key word here for me is ‘prerequisite.’ I don’t know anyone who thinks that factual knowledge and procedural knowledge aren’t essential components of robust, deeper learning. What inquiry-, challenge-, project-, and problem-oriented learning spaces seem to show us is that so-called ‘lower-level’ learning doesn’t always have to occur FIRST and often can be uncovered or discovered rather than just initially covered. What needs to come first and what can come later is dependent on the interplay between the individual learner and the surrounding learning context. Coming at learning from larger, more holistic, perhaps real-world-embedded, applied perspectives often can help students attach meaning (and motivation) to factual knowledge and procedural skills. If schools did a better job of eventually getting to deeper learning, this sequencing issue might be less of a concern but too often what should be a foundational floor instead becomes an actual ceiling and students rarely get to go beyond and experience deeper learning opportunities.

4. If I want to learn how to lift boxes, cut down a tree, or lay tarmac, I can only get so far with a digital app or simulation. Similarly, if I want to learn how to be functional and powerful in digital knowledge environments, ink-on-paper learning spaces only get me so far. Schools are supposed to be about knowledge work and nearly all knowledge work these days is heavily technology-suffused. It’s difficult to adequately prepare students for digital information landscapes without regular immersion in and use of digital tools and environments.

5. Kids are bored out of their skulls with much (most?) of what we have them do in class, particularly as they move up the grade levels. Just ask ’em… Our biggest indictment as educators and school systems is that we don’t seem to care very much and simply accept this as an inherent condition of schooling.

Building a bridge

Peoria bridge

A school board member said to me a while back:

Scott, I hear what you’re saying about active, hands-on, project-based learning. But I got to tell you, when I’m driving over a bridge, I want to have confidence that the people who designed and built it knew what they were doing. So if that takes a lot of practice on worksheets until students know their math and science, so be it.

I responded:

I agree that I don’t want the bridge collapsing under me either! If we want graduates who know how to build solid, long-lasting bridges, we absolutely can have them do a bunch of practice problems on worksheets until we think they know the math and science and we’ll hope that they will remember it later.

… (pause) …

Or we could have them build bridges.

… (pause) …

Who do you think will be better bridge builders?

How do we help our communities understand that authentic learning is possible?

School is broken

Will Richardson said:

I think the fact that only 44% of our kids reporting engagement in high school strongly suggests [that school is] “broken.” I think the difference of educational opportunities for the kids in Camden v. the kids at Lawrenceville Prep is “broken.” I think spending an inordinate amount of time on curriculum that will soon be forgotten, curriculum that most kids don’t care about despite our best efforts to make them care, curriculum that then gets assessed in ways that really don’t show if kids can actually apply it and is used to evaluate teachers in a blatantly unfair way… all of that is “broken.” 

via http://willrichardson.com/post/114524327210/can-we-talk-about-change-without-hurting-feelings

Humility

When you approach your work with the humility that everything you do is open for dialogue and can be made better, the rewards you reap are immeasurable.

#makeitbetter

Digital Leadership Daily: 1-month update

Digital Leadership Daily Photo

A month ago I blogged about a new initiative, Digital Leadership Daily. So far over 550 people have signed up. Woo hoo!

Want to get one (and only one!) awesome digital school leadership reading or resource each day? Just text @dldaily to 81010. Also available on Twitter and Facebook.

School Visibility Initiative: 1-month update

I posted about our new School Visibility Initiative a month ago. To date we have 66 subscribers from 52 different school organizations. Thirty of those organizations are from outside Iowa. We have twenty unique states and countries represented. Awesome!

Are you signed up?

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