Tag Archives: 21st Century skills

Power and Privilege and the Boiling Frog

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America, the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”–A Nation at Risk, 1983

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All schools have a choice. My schools have a choice. Bayfront Charter High School and Mueller are at a familiar crossroads, and the world is not waiting. On January 20, Trump will begin to govern as he promised and we can prepare our students to compete in that game or we can soldier on—business as usual.

And as usual, we ain’t taking that chance.

Inside my building are Latinos, immigrants, girls, African Americans, LGBT kids, Moslems, Jews and children of democrats. At least that describes 99% of them. And of those, 85% qualify for the free federal lunch program on the basis of their parents’ income. They are–if we falter– the next generation’s working poor. And they are all in our new government’s crosshairs to either deport or demoralize.

America’s educational system has experienced multiple defining moments during which sweeping social or political events have led to ideological and transformational change in the direction of our schools.

Think US History 101:

In the earliest days of our country’s founding, there was a clear religious motive behind teaching kids to read. As waves of Christians colonized the new world, they brought their Bibles and handed down their favorite verses to children who were expected to spread the good news. After the Revolutionary War and the subsequent ratification of the US Constitution, our Founders banked on an “informed citizenry” to nurture and grow the new experiment in democratic governance .

Fast forward 100 years and the industrial revolution churned kids out of farms and prairie schools and into factories that prepared kids for the factories.

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Then in 1958, the Russians launched a rocket into space, and the subsequent race to the heavens was on. Sputnik scared the crap out of America’s post-WWII “Greatest Generation” who realized in the span of one evening newscast—that their kids had somehow been passed up in math and science. So the education pendulum swung to math and science with a vengeance—and schoolkids paid.

Then there was the Civil Rights era. The malaise of the 70’s. Forced desegregation and bussing and waves of white flight to suburbs and private schools. And education was the medium for maintaining the sociocultural and economic advantage that was a perceived birthright of white families.
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The ominous warning of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 unleashed the pendulum again. Reagan’s ‘rising tide of mediocrity’.

Then the Apple IIe drove a whole generation of post-Viet Nam War era teachers to ask “what am I supposed to do with an Apple IIe?” And they used them as door stops on the theory that this too shall pass.

By the early 2000’s Bush had appropriated no child left behind from the Children Defense Fund and we were awash in still another pet project of Republicanism: “back to basics” and the core belief that what we really need to do in schools is just test the hell out of kids and fire the teachers and the schools that can’t produce evidence of extraordinary achievement.

Public education. America’s whipping boy. Always something.

So now what?

George Bush’s “soft bigotry of low expectations” has given way to trump’s straight up, bold-face racism. And our students have heard every word.

ap_77642174753What is the purpose of schooling in a trumpian culture where bluster and lies and bullying and misogyny are rewarded with keys to the White House; when shadowy election schemes and gerrymandering and voter suppression and an archaic electoral “college” are intentionally designed to undermine democracy; when in 2016 it is harder for citizens to cast their ballot then it was in the era of poll taxes and literacy requirements; when it is impossible for citizens to believe that their vote is even really counted; when half our nation considers it anarchy to remind ourselves that black lives matter?

unknownRemember the parable of the boiling frog:

If you place a frog in a pan of hot water– he’ll jump right out. But if you place that same  frog in a pan of cold water, then bring it gradually to a boil—he will be oblivious to the changing temperature. Pretty soon it’s too freaken hot to jump!

Our schools move too often like the boiling frog. They wait until it is too late to jump, and for our children, even generations at a time, the results are fatal.

One thing this past election has taught us is that our students need the skills to navigate a massive sea of propaganda and misinformation that seems to routinely persuade the adults to vote against their own best interests. They need a discerning eye that separates entertainment from “the truth”; that rejects Facebook’s brand of political discourse and revives the tradition of deep critical thinking and informed debate.

They need to compete in a workforce that demands higher levels of thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurialism.

They will need to find their generation’s “true North”. And then their voice. And then a spirit of activism which is in their DNA: empathy, vigilance, authentic patriotism, and advocacy for others.

Our kids will need the armor of resiliency– in the face of an apparent national sentiment that their success, their future…their very lives may not matter at all.

So in our school at least, at Bayfront Charter high School, EVERY student will be…

  • Ready for college whether they go there or not; and they will be
  • Equipped with the real 21st Century skills: including the ability to think, create, communicate and play nice with others; and they will be
  • Masters of technologies that are befitting of digital natives; and
  • Keen and curious observers of their community– with a depth of civic literacy and   global awareness; and finally, they will be
  • Beneficiaries of learning that is confined by neither time nor space.

In defiance of who this president promises to be, we will be proactive. The water’s on the boil… but our children rise.

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Filed under 21st Century Skills, California budget, charter schools, college, El Milagro, empathy, immigration, innovation and change, ISTE Standards, public education, resiliency, school reform, standardized testing, technology in schools, the Dream Act, Trump, Uncategorized

DR. ZHAO ASKED THE WRONG 5 QUESTIONS ABOUT COMMON CORE

images-3Dr. Yong Zhao has been a provocative voice in school reform as he challenges educators and public policy experts to refrain from panicking over our children’s consistently low international ranking on standardized tests:

“Although American schools have not been as effective and successful in transmitting knowledge as the test scores indicate, they have somehow produced more creative entrepreneurs, who have kept the country’s economy going. Moreover, it is possible that on the way to produce those high test scores, other education systems may have discouraged the cultivation of the creative and entrepreneurial spirit and capacity.”

As a product of the school system in mainland China, he is perfectly positioned to remind Americans that our advantage in the global economy is our innovation, our creativity, and our knack for entrepreneurialism.

So I was a little surprised by his recent post about the Common Core State Standards and all the misinformed commentors who piled on in the anonymity provided by a typical blog debate.

“I wanted to ask all of us to ask again,” he writes rhetorically,  “if the new world of education ushered in by the Common Core will be better than the old one scheduled to end in a year.”

Fair question.

Then Zhao offers five more questions which he answers in support of his own position:

• What makes one globally competitive?

• Can you be ready for careers that do not exist yet?

• Are the Common Core Standards relevant?

• Does Common Core support global competence?

• What opportunities we may be missing?

His collective answers to these would suggest that he doesn’t think so.  But I have actually read the Common Core State Standards and monitored the developments of the new assessments, and respectfully disagree.

In fact, Dr. Zhao asked the wrong 5 questions.  Here are mine:

 • Are the 21st Century skills—including the ability to be “creative and entrepreneurial”— essential for our students?

 • Would you favor a return to the era of no standards… where educational quality and academic outcomes were solely left to the interests and whims of individual teachers and learning was optional?

• Is the ability to think deeply, read closely, invent, create, collaborate and apply their learning essential for educated citizens of our global society?

• Are these skills what you want  for your own children?

•  If this is not what is called for in the Common Core State Standards—what is?

images-5In 1990, the SCANS (Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills) report captured the consensus of corporate America when it described the skill sets that were critical for young people as they entered the work force of the 1990’s.  The report is called “What Work Requires of Schools”  and consists of two main sections:

Three- Part Foundation: Basic Skills (Reading, writing, mathematics, speaking and listening,  Thinking Skills (including creative and critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, and reasoning) Personal Qualities (responsibility, sociability, self management and honesty);

Five Workplace Competencies: Interpersonal (including teamwork and leadership),  Managing Resources, Information, Systems, and Technology.

In a March 1992 article for ASCD’s Educational Leadership, Arnold Packer, the SCANS executive director wrote;

“Students won’t learn SCANS skills by osmosis nor will schools meet new standards without fundamental changes in teaching methods and materials.  The most effective way to teach skills is in the context of real-world situations and real problems.  Students should not be filled with abstract data to be recalled for a test and forgotten, but rather, they should begin by applying their knowledge.”

For more than a decade, many progressive school systems relied heavily on the recommendations from the SCANS report as they defined their own standards for students.  Then NCLB began testing for only one component from SCANS (basic skills in reading and math) and the rest gradually disappeared.

Many of us who are actually leading in K-12 public schools remember the SCANS report and have been arguing that NCLB does not prepare children to compete in college or eventually become contributing citizens to our world—global or otherwise. We have warned that missing from the current basic skills pablum is an equal passion and reverence for creativity, invention, authentic thinking, teamwork, complexity, initiative, perseverance, LANGUAGE… and relevance.  Not just “content” standards in basic skills… but “performance” standards that are authentic and empowering.

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In the 21st Century we call these 21st Century skills and colleges and employers are still looking for them.

To counter the race to the bottom over the past decade, I have advocated that our teachers infuse 21st Century Skills into everything they do.  With Common Core and the assessments currently being developed, this is exactly the curriculum we will shift to.

So all the drama around “common” state standards across the country is puzzling.  Sort of.

It is apparent that many of the individuals who argue (at least in blog threads and twitter) against the Common Core state standards– haven’t read them!  “Standards” do not equate to standardization.   They don’t compromise local control of schools. But they do set a high bar which every student will have to eclipse no matter what else local schools want to do.  To me, it’s an issue of equity.

Dr. Zhao is fully aware that Americans eschew standardization.  But he fails to address that thorny little problem we have with differences and diversity.

We ought to excel at 21st Century skills!  But America’s potential global advantage in education is also our greatest weakness.  We have the most diverse student population on the planet, but have failed to develop a school system that simultaneously celebrates each child’s uniqueness while insuring that every student has fully developed the skills they need to compete at any level and any walk of life they choose.

The public school system has been designed to never change… and so it rarely does.   Thus, the achievement gaps that reveal disparities in terms of race, ethnicity, native language, and in some areas, gender have not gone away.

This is where a profound difference between Common Core and the “accountability system” engendered by NCLB is apparent.

NCLB is a punitive system that is not focused on what children actually need to be successful in their lives.  In many ways it was created to expose public schools as ineffective, and drive institutional change through unfunded mandates and threats.  The result – for all the wrong reasons– was a hyper-focus on multiple choice testing and test prep in a narrow band of the curriculum (basic skills in reading and math).

No wonder the teachers in Chicago went on strike to protest the use of test data in their evaluations.

No wonder the teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle staged their own little  Arab Spring and refused to administer the MAPS assessment.

No wonder parents are standing behind their classroom teachers.

No Child Left Behind targets educators.

The Common Core, on the other hand, re-focuses our schools on the needs of children. With the stated emphasis on college and career readiness—(What Workplace Requires of Schools)– it has “north star” potential  in the quest for the uniquely American concept of equity. If implemented with integrity, it will assure that every child, in every community, has access to a highly trained teacher and a curriculum designed to promote 21st century skills.

Dr Zhao asks rhetorically: Do we want individuals who are good at taking tests, or individuals who are creative and entrepreneurial? As if we have to choose between the two.

If the vision of common core is realized, we will have both.  Our students should excel at taking authentic tests that are as innovative as we expect American kids to be.  And in the spirit of local control, that is exactly the vision of El Milagro.

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Filed under 21st Century Skills, California charter schools, charter schools, college, Common Core State Standards, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, innovation and change, post-secondary education, public education, school reform, standardized testing, teaching

A BLINDING FLASH

I’m back.  I have been sleeping.  Drifting through the universe.  Holding on for dear life.

I’m trying to get my second book published and figure out where I go from El Milagro.  So I am going to resurrect my blog and lose myself in thought again.  Maybe Mondays.  I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know…

We got our test results back and they were very strong… very satisfying- at least  from the standpoint of trying to engender higher test results.  We had to give up a lot to get our 35-point growth on the Academic Performance Index (API).  We had to give up science and social studies, for instance.  We also had to give up the arts and music– not that we were ever real strong in those areas before.  We had to give up creative writing and critical thinking and dancing on the blacktop and “the Mission Project” and quality physical fitness time (though we implemented a new standard for nutrition) and problem solving and the science fair.  Our kids did not weigh in on either the ecological crisis in the gulf or Arizona’s immigration policy. In fact, they didn’t apply their learning to very many authentic tasks at all.

But we got to 835 on the API and there is satisfaction in improving our teaching and learning– if in fact we improved our teaching and learning beyond what is required to prepare children to take the California Standards Test.

This year we are striving to improve the API from 835 to 860.  But this time…we are bringing the rest of the state’s curriculum back and organizing around multi-age classrooms.  We are also emphasizing the importance of the 21st Century Skills… since we think it is pretty important that our children can actually compete in a future when grade school accountability movements may very well have run their course.

We will take the 35-point increase on the API because it is better to leverage growth than to have to explain why our students aren’t keeping up with the test prep academies.  We will be all about growing their basic literacy skills.  But we can’t be blinded for a moment by the bright flash of the API or the illusion that it is enough just to get higher test scores.

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50 QUESTIONS

“We are looking at schools that are producing genius… collaborative, gregarious, brave children who care about stuff  like their culture. Around the world people are testing out the ingredients of what makes that work and those ingredients are being assembled into some stunning recipes in different places.  It is a very exciting time for learning. It is the death of education but the dawn of learning and that makes me very happy.”

Stephen Heppell, CEO Heppell.Net, Ltd., UK from the video:  “Learning to Change– Changing to Learn”

2cIn 1985  I bought my first personal computer– an Apple IIc with the chicklet keybpoard and alien screen.  It seemed almost portable enough to carry around like a briefcase.  Or maybe like a computer that could sit right on your lap.  Compared to those old green Kaypros and clunky Apple IIe’s, it was revolutionary. I had a milk crate in my living room and that’s where I put the screen.  I wrote my entire dissertation on my Apple IIc and stored every chapter on a box of labeled discs.

I envisioned a whole classroom lined with Apple IIc’s.  I taught writing and the whole “word processing” phenomenon appeared– in the mid-1980’s– as if it was going to stay.  In fact, when the old grey-haired English teachers bitched in the faculty lounge about “word processing” and how it would never replace the pencil and paper and that it would only make children intellectually lazy because it insulated them from the rigors of real writing (which, to my knowledge, none of them had ever successfully  done)– I refused to join the debate.  I just went back to my classroom, wrote more grants (on my Apple IIc) and lined the walls with the computers that seemed to engage children in writing in a way that few other strategies could.  

mac-floppiesThen a teaching colleague named David Mika pulled up to Muirlands Junior High School with his new Macintosh thing.  You could actually manipulate the cursor right on the screen and “Oregon Trail” evolved accordingly.  And the discs were smaller and made of hard plastic.   They just fit in your pockets better.  They didn’t fly as well as the old floppy discs though.  (I could flip the old discs halfway across the playground.  Digital frisbees. They could put your eye out.  But soon enough they were replaced by CDs which sailed three times as far as the floppies so I startted to feel better about where the technology was headed.)  And so I upgraded my classroom with first generation Macintoshes while still making the best of the now-antiquated IIcs.

Then we could MacDraw and add art work and graphics on color screens.  Then there were internal operating systems.  Then they added audio.  And the high-techpersonal computer wars between IBM and HP and Compaq and Apple and others resulted in business disasters and technological wonders.  Marketing pitches tapped into a nation’s fears about losing our humanity.  IBM’s signature advertising campaign featured Charlie Chaplin in black and white, approaching the PC on a table adorned with a vibrant red rose.  “High TECH”, said John Naisbett, “demands high TOUCH.” And thus, the rose.

Soon enough computers were creating more computers.  The technology was showing up everywhere– from our watches to our automobiles.  And then the internet was born.  And then DVD’s and scanners and document cameras. Then IPods and IPhones and Kindles and Wordles and Wikis and Facebook  and Flip cameras and Wii and Prometheon Boards and Blogs and we know we are only scratching the surface of innovation that our economy and environment will inevitably demand.  Progress is insatiable.  That’s why it is called progress.

And that’s the history of computers in schools.  25 years in a nutshell–  from the Apple IIe to MacBook Pros on every desk and I wonder:  Why are we still not seeing a technology-driven transformation in teaching and learning?  And lots of other people are wondering that too.  In fact we have never seen a complete technology-driven transformation in our schools.  There always seem to be a few tech-savvy teachers on each staff– like David Mika. Eventually they end up in High Tech Charters or become district technology coordinators who advocate for the infusion of computers into every classroom.  They go to tech conferences and write Technology Plans and sometimes they get so comfortable in their knowledge and their favorite strategies that the tech wave crashes over top of them just like it crashes over everyone else and they don’t even know what hit them. 

The knack for integrating technology and effective pedagogy,  it seems, has to come from within.

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So on Friday we had our weekly 15 minute staff meeting at Mueller Charter School.  The teachers were asked to watch the video “Learning to Change-Changing to Learn” on You Tube and to write a compelling question inspired by the video that no one else is likely to ask.  Create the $64-million question and bring it to the meeting. And so they did.  And in the space a of a very short time frame, 50 questions were generated that encapsulated all the fears and cynicism and pragmatic reticence and wide-eyed possibility that technology brings to the tough work of teaching children.  

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Our teachers get it.  The world is changing.  The needs of our children are changing and you can see the themes reflected in the Wordle above.  Toffler said:  “Schools must not just prepare children for the future… they have to prepare them for the right future!”– one of  relationships, community, connectivity, and access.

i-poddiesjpeg1In the range of “50 Questions” there are the understandable doubts about techno-distractions and gimicks and silvery sirens that are more toys than tools.  There is evidence of the constant numbing pressure from standardized tests and unattainable goals of NCLB. Yet somehow there is also that awful realization that the video is right: that our “children are exposed to a much more rich and stimulating environment outside of school than in school.”  

And these teachers– most of whom belong to Generation Y; most of whom were raised and schooled in the post-Macintosh world when the light switch for the internet had long since been flipped on… most of whom have Ipods and text daily with friends and update their Facebook page in between prepping for another challenging week at El Milagro– these teachers still stretch to find the application. 

So my epiphany, humming like the IIc  with its ET-head monitor– lead to these   “5 Tenets for Integrating Technology at Mueller Charter School”: 

TENET 1: The mission of our charter is still to get 90% of our children to grade level as measured by the California Standards Test; 

TENET 2: Since the standards and competencies required by the CST are not enough, we must also help children develop the behaviors, attitudes and skills that are appropriate for the 21st Century: critical thinking, entrepreneurialsism, innovation, collaboration; (“I’m calling on our nation’s governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity.” –President Barack Obama, March 10, 2009)

TENET 3: There are multiple pathways  to mastery of these standards– but every pathway  requires that we ENGAGE our students in their own learning;

TENET 4: The “tools” for engaging learners may include pencil and papers, books, teacher charisma and other conventional methods–  but they include technology as well. (“Every turned off device ,” the video warns, “is potentially a turned off child.”)

TENET 5: The more IMAGINATIVE our teachers are in using technology, the more likely they will use the right technology in the right way for the right outcomes… and the more they will heighten student engagement… and inevitably, student achievement.

We are not short on imagination.  Nor are we lacking in resources or information about the latest in tech trends.  We only needed to pause between our own texting and Googling and downloading music to examine our teaching practice and assess the degree to which we use all of our tools to inspire and engage.

dsc019863Now that I think about it, every outstanding teacher I have met since  propping up my Apple IIc on a milk crate in 1985 seems to possess that common gift of Imagination.  They all have an ability to integrate the use of new tools, new strategies, new technologies to heighten student engagement, and to engender extraordinary learning. They are willing to stretch and take risks. To imagine.

I listened on Friday as our teachers discussed their 50 questions.  It was the sound of still another generation of teachers learning to change– yet desperate to maintain their humanity.  

 

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