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All humans have the potential and ability to be creative, and we do ourselves a disservice when we refer to individuals such as Mozart and Einstein as the defining examples of creativity to which we should all strive to emulate. This genius bar misrepresents the concept of creativity and distracts us from the necessary conversations on how to foster the creative mindset and why it’s so important to include in conversations around education. According to James Kaufman, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Connecticut who presented last week at the Partnership for 21st Century Skills Summit, creative people are more likely to get promoted, be satisfied with their jobs, be in better physical health and be more resilient. Those are all outcomes we hope for our children. ...

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

Born in Another Time

If you are ever curious about the nuances and challenges of local policy-making and governance, look no further than the U.S public education system. When you consider the statistics and actors – nearly 14,000 school districts, 95,000 principals and more than 90,000 school board members – it is no wonder that public schools see higher levels of success when local leaders come together to collaborate and develop solutions.

The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) represents the state boards of education that govern and design education policy at the state level. These bodies set the tone, agenda, and overall vision for their state. One area in which their leadership is urgently needed: education technology. To that end, NASBE recently commissioned a study group, whose core composition consisted of 18-20 state board members, that produced Born in Another Time: Ensuring Educational Technology Meets the Needs of Students Today – and Tomorrow.  This report puts forth a vision for education technology in our nation’s public schools, along with key recommendations on how to get there. In essence, it takes a big, bold vision for 21st century learners and ...

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

Voices From the Field

Education reform debates increasingly belong to a relatively small number of very loud voices. Hundreds of thousands of other voices get lost in the din. They belong to students and teachers, and their vision for our nation’s high schools varies dramatically from the content in mainstream education reform discussions.

The College Board recently released a supplement to Phi Delta Kappan that highlights key thoughts from students and teachers on both school reform and student engagement.  The results are worth summarizing and repeating mostly because the takeaways are remarkably uniform with regard to recommendations and advice for education reformers. The main message is that we need a long-term commitment to a well-rounded, multi-pronged approach to school improvement. ...

There should be no debate when it comes to children’s wellbeing and ensuring they have a healthy learning environment. Still, in an era where budgets are tight and the public school system finds itself under intense scrutiny, it is understandably necessary to justify the “why” behind a change or shift in policy. Green Cleaning Schools, the February issue of The State Education Standard, which is published by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE, a member of the Learning First Alliance), covers the why, the how and more of green cleaning in our nation’s schools. It highlights key benefits ensuring thorough and thoughtful consideration.   ...

We’ve been hearing a lot recently about how we, as a nation, need to increase the amount of time our students are in school. How our school calendar is based on an agrarian economy that no longer exists and hindering our competitiveness in the information-age. How students in the nations that outperform us on international assessments have a longer school year and/or spend more time in class each day. How one thing we can learn from high-performing high-poverty charter schools is the importance of increasing the amount of time that students in poverty spend in school. Students in those schools tend to have both days, a longer school year and school on Saturdays.

No real argument here. I personally agree that it's time to revisit an academic calendar designed in an era that no longer exists.

But consider what John Merrow said in a recent blog post: 

“With the awful truth that 6,000 kids drop out every school day staring them in the face, wouldn’t someone question the wisdom of extending both the school day and the school year? I mean, what are these dropouts leaving behind? ...

People on the stage moaned about the antiquated (agrarian) calendar and the fact that schools still look and act as they did 50 or 75 years ago—and then suggested that what our kids need are more hours and days of this!”

Yet again, we may be taking a promising idea, and killing it with simplicity. Simply increasing ...

An old idea is making a strong comeback in several states: Let 10th graders graduate from high school and enroll in community college if they're ready to do so. The idea of early graduation has a lot of merit, because it lets students choose a course that best suits their specific talents and aspirations.

But what about the opposite idea? What about late graduation?

No natural law dictates that high school should take four years. Some students can do it more quickly if they're ready to move on. But others, like recent immigrants who are still learning English, may need more than four years.

A high school principal once told me that she did what she could to keep some recent immigrants in her school as long as possible, even though her school's on-time graduation numbers suffered as a result. Some students arrive at her school at age 15 with no English and little or no formal schooling under their belts.

The larger point of any flexible graduation scheme is that the number of hours you spend warming a seat in your school should be less important than what you learn while you're there. As we weigh the benefits of early graduation, we shouldn't forget the needs of those students who need a little more time. ...

Emily and Bryan Hassel have an idea: Don't get too hung up on plans to make teachers better. Instead, figure out how to help the best teachers reach far more students. After all, they argue, the top 20 percent of teachers are three times as effective as the bottom 20 percent.

Try as they might, though, they cannot escape the need to support teachers through good old fashioned staff development, curriculum and assessment. It's time the education economists paid much closer attention to these critical areas, which are just so déclassé these days.

Of course, the Hassels' argument raises all sorts of questions. How do you identify the top 20 percent of teachers? Do we trust test scores? Will teachers stay in the top 20 percent from year to year? Are the "top" teachers good in every kind of school? Are they effective with every kind of student?

But the Hassels face an even bigger challenge. Their plan will require nothing short of a massive investment in all those things their fellow educonomists find oh-so tedious: Teacher training. New curricula. Much, much better tests. If we pursue the Hassels' brave new reforms the way we pursue most reforms--on the cheap--then we're going to be in a whole heap of trouble.

The Hassels, like so many of their ideological brethren, seem to believe that great teachers are born, not made. Hence their relatively dim view of staff development. (I've always found it curious that so many reformers who insist that every child ...

Success Stories

iGRAD: An Individualized Graduation and Diploma Program

Magna Awards on Behalf of Kent School District, Washington

Story posted March 24, 2014

Results:

  • Enrollment has nearly doubled since the program started in 2002 with 225 students
  • So far, 92 students have earned credentials with 18 diplomas, 73 GEDs, and one technical certificate.

Kent Superintendent Edward Lee Vargas stopped at a gas station recently, where a young man told him he used to attend one of the district high schools, but he’d dropped out. Vargas asked him: Why? The school was too big, the young man answered. “There were too many distractions. Things moved too slowly. I stopped coming, and no one ever called me.”

However, he’d heard from a friend about iGrad, Kent’s program to bring dropouts back to school. There, he said, “I can work at my own pace.”

That, says Vargas, is “a powerful testimonial on why we need in education to adapt our services to our students.”

The Individualized Graduation and Diploma Program (iGrad) is a partnership between Kent and nearby Green River Community College, which brings 16- to 21-year-olds back to school and helps them earn high school diplomas, GEDs, college credits, or professional certification. ...

A Wake-Up Call Sparks Action in Arizona

Stephanie Sheaffer, Vail Unified School District, Arizona

Story posted April, 2008.  Results updated October 23, 2012.

Results:vailstudents1.jpg
• In 2012, Vail exceeded all state proficiency averages, across grades and subjects.

• Students in all grade levels are scoring at or above proficiency at rates of 90% and higher.

Administrators and staff at the Vail Unified School District recognized they had a problem back in 2003. Student scores on the new statewide AIMS test showed a downward trend as children in Vail schools moved up through the grades. For example, while third-graders were scoring in the 70-percent range on average in math, by middle school and high school proficiency rates dropped into the teens.

"It was a real wake-up call," said Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Debbie Hedgepeth. "Students weren't performing where we knew they could and should." ...

Creating a Learning Environment--Moving from Chaos to Achievement

Dayton's Bluff Achievement Plus Elementary School, Minnesota

Story posted February, 2008.  Results updated August 4, 2011.

daytonsbluff1web.jpgResults:
• In 2010 60% of students met or exceeded state math standards, and 70% did so for reading--about the state average despite serving a significantly higher proportion of students in poverty.

How could Dayton's Bluff Achievement Plus Elementary School, a school so troubled that children rode their bikes in the hallways, become a beacon of achievement and learning? The transformation took leadership, vision and a willingness to turn a chaotic place into a nurturing learning environment.

A K-6 urban school that draws almost 90% of its students from low-income families, Dayton's Bluff was by all accounts out of control. Overall discipline was inconsistent and the learning environment was in shambles. Nine out of 10 students could not read at grade level. Teacher morale was low and turnover high. It was labeled the worst school in the city. ...

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