For her leadership in the areas of teacher quality and educational equity and reform, the Learning First Alliance has named Stanford professor and accomplished author Linda Darling-Hammond as our 2013 Education Visionary Award winner.
Standards that Matter
If you have any doubts about the need for good civics education, then read this. David Barstow's account of troubling undercurrents in the Tea Party movement shows us just how precarious the fate of our civil society can be.
And lest people think I'm singling out certain Tea Partiers unfairly, I'll extend the critique to anyone on the left or right who flings about words like tyranny or fascism any time they encounter an opposing political view. It's all too easy to paint those we disagree with as traitors to the American cause.
It's not enough to swear fealty to the Constitution. We have to sustain and build institutions where people with different views work together to tackle common problems. And we have to nourish better civic habits in our young people. We shouldn't leave people to discover the nation's founding documents for the first time when they feel a grievance or sense that the world is changing around them. We have much to worry about if Americans get their first taste of civic action in a climate of fear and anger.
Tell me--Am I right to worry? ...
If you believe school reform is urgent (and you should), then you should be in an absolute lather over the quality of our standardized tests. Here's why:
The tests are allowing us to stay in a state of permanent emergency response. Despite all our talk of high expectations, we've geared the system to minimum expectations for many of our students. Lousy tests have become de facto standards in too many places. As the pressures to make Adequate Yearly Progress build so will the pressure to narrow schools' vision. With many of the tests we have, it will be hard to tell the difference between the schools that stay in triage and those that lift their students to world-class standards. So much for transparency.
The tests are becoming the measure of everything, not just schools or Students. Every reform, every innovation, every old or new practice seems to rise or fall on the results of state tests. We make sweeping judgments about what works on the basis of tests, and we often use anemic (though "significant") gains in scores to proclaim one reform better than another.
Take the on-going debate about class size, for example. Research on the benefits of small class sizes is mixed. But Nancy Flanagan offers a bracing caution: "When our only measures of student success are memorized material, spit back on a bubble-in test, then a class of 45 listening to a teacher's lecture may be ...
According to Joel Shatzky, this is how your garden-variety public school 9th-grader wrote in the 1950s and 60s:
Color is rampant and the woodlands and countryside are ablaze with every hue of the spectrum; lemon yellow, bright saffron, tawny orange, lively russet, flaming scarlet, brilliant magenta, deep crimson, and rich purple…. With such a prelude it is no wonder that the contrast of the weird subterranean world of the Caverns strikes one with tremendous impact.... Instead of the sparkling sunlight there is a Stygian darkness pierced by colored lights.” -- Ninth grader, Crestonian, Creston JHS,1957 (SP class)
That's a far cry from the digital grunts we get from today's students, Shatzky tells us.
I'm sorry, but I'm just not buying it. Not even for a minute. How many high school freshmen actually wrote that way as a matter of course? And what happened to all those splendid writers after they graduated from high school? I worry that this talk of a golden age can actually do damage.
It sure is alluring, though, and has been for a long, long time. In the 1950s, the Council for Basic Education published a book of essays on the sorry state of U.S. schools. (The authors clearly did not share Shatzky's admiration for the writing students were doing 60 years ago.) One essay writer claimed that his public ...
We often hear that students in other countries are leaving ours in the dust. That fact, in turn, becomes the rationale for all manner of reforms.
But reformers often pay scant attention to what those countries actually do to get where they are. Are we slipping in the rankings? Quick--institute merit pay! Grease the rails for alt cert programs! Open more charter schools! That oughta do it!
These may be worthy goals to pursue in their own right, but they won't be enough to close the gap between us and our high-flying competitors.
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Common, high academic standards. Excellent (and often free) teacher preparation. Strong and sustained support for staff. Time in the schedule for staff to work together. And--crucially--very good assessments that don't knock everything else off course. Darling-Hammond finds all of these things in countries that ...
Don't judge schools solely by their students' test scores in math and reading. Also judge them by those students' later success in college and work. That's the thrust of a new report by Education Sector's Chad Aldeman (PDF). It's a compelling piece of work.
First, Aldeman does a better job than most of exposing flaws in current state accountability systems. He finds little correlation between a school's success in making "Adequate Yearly Progress" on state test scores and its students' later success in college.
Two Florida schools help him tell his story. The state gave the first an "A" for two years running, and Newsweek anointed it as one of the best high schools in the country. But students from the second, a D-rated school across the state, did better in college:
D-rated Manatee was arguably doing a better job at achieving the ultimate goal of high school: preparing students to succeed in college and careers. But because Florida's accountability system didn't ...
David Kelley is a legend in technology and design circles. Decades ago, he founded a design firm that dreamed up the computer mouse as we know it today. That firm has since evolved into IDEO, a global design company that has left its unique stamp on everything from consumer goods to social innovation. IDEO's work has probably touched your life in ways you don't even know.
For years, Kelley has brought his passion for design into the classroom as a professor at Stanford's famed Institute of Design (or D.School, for those in the know). More recently, Kelley has set his sights on the K-12 classroom. He and his Stanford graduate students are working with schools to help teachers and students master "design thinking." He recently told us what that means.
Public School Insights: Let's start with a big question. What is "design thinking?"
Kelley: To me, design thinking is basically a methodology that allows people to have confidence in their creative ability. Normally many people don't think of themselves as creative, or they think that creativity comes from somewhere that they don't know—like an angel appears and tells them the answer or gives them a new idea.
So design thinking is hopefully a framework that people can hang their creative confidence on. We give people a step-by-step method on how to more routinely be creative or more routinely innovate.
Public School Insights: So you are not talking about something that only artists or engineers would use.
Kelley: No. I struggled with what to call it when we first started out. The reason that we put the word design in it is that this really is the way that designers naturally think. It's not necessarily the way that doctors, lawyers or teachers think, ...
If you say that schools should prepare every student for college, someone will object that some students are better off going into the trades. Fair enough. But new research tells us that it's income, not inclination, that sifts people out of the college track.
As far as I'm concerned, that fact alone justifies the "every child college ready" slogan. But college readiness isn't the only issue we have to consider. All kinds of social and economic forces conspire to keep poor students from enrolling in or completing college. We have to address those, too.
That's why I'm pleased to see so many college leaders vowing to boost access to and success in college. They have apparently awakened to the fact that poor and minority students are leaking out of the pipeline at an astonishing rate. At a time when need-based aid is dwindling, they have their work cut out for them.
I'm also pleased to see that leaders are recognizing the many reasons why students don't succeed in college. Yes, far too many low-income students ...
In case you don't know what I'm talking about: Almost a year ago, a battle erupted between champions and skeptics of 21st-century skills. Some skeptics charged the champions with pushing fuzzy skills at the expense of content knowledge. Some champions charged the skeptics with turning facts into fetishes and all but ignoring vital skills like problem solving and critical thinking. Along the way, people on both sides held out hope for common ground.
Jerald's report reads like an attempt to stake out that common ground. He takes 21st-century skills seriously and does much more than most to define slippery concepts like problem solving, collaboration and creativity. He also insists that such skills "are best taught within traditional disciplines."
As Jerald defines them, some of those 21st-century skills seem just as at home in the nineteenth. Creativity, for example, is the ability "to combine disparate ...
Teachers should fend for themselves. May the best ones win.
That seems to be the guiding philosophy behind so many school reform ideas lately. No one can shake the really incompetent teachers out of the system, reformers tell us, and gifted teachers can't rise to the top. Listen to some reform advocates, and you'd think that the former far outnumber the latter. So you use carrots and sticks to help the market do its work.
And what about the conditions that help teachers succeed? You don't hear much about those.
The fuss over teachers who sell their lesson plans on the internet offers a case in point. As always happens in discussions of teachers and money, big questions arise about how we value teachers and their work. Do we cheapen the vocation of teaching when we assume teachers are motivated primarily by money? On the other hand, do we damage teaching as a profession when we make altruism the main job qualification? (For a great discussion of these matters, head on over to the Teacher Leaders Network.) For my money, though, blogger Corey Bower asks the most important question: "The right question is why teachers should have to buy lesson plans."
So here's the vision I see emerging from this discussion. Teachers are free agents. They pay their own way, create their own reality. Those who thrive in this ...
A few months ago, the blogosphere was abuzz with news that American students are shockingly ignorant of U.S. civics and history. Research sponsored by conservative think tanks found that fewer than one in twenty public school students in Arizona and Oklahoma could answer six or more questions correctly on the U.S. Citizenship Test. The most alarming finding: Only one in four could name George Washington as our first president. It turns out that those findings were likely hogwash.
I suspected as much when the studies were released. The results of the Washington question in particular didn't pass the laugh test. Statistics guru Nate Silver had the same reaction in September. For example, he found the claim that not one out of 1,000 Oklahoma students could get more than 7 answers right well nigh impossible. "Isn't there some total nerd in Tulsa, some AP Honors student in Stillwater, who was able to answer at least eight of these ten very basic questions correctly?"
His suspicions grew when Oklahoma state representative Ed Cannaday re-administered the same test to seniors in 10 high schools across his district. According to Cannaday, almost 80 percent of his seniors answered all ten ...
A VISION FOR GREAT SCHOOLS
On this website, educators, parents and policymakers from coast to coast are sharing what's already working in public schools--and sparking a national conversation about how to make it work for children in every school. Join the conversation!