Tag Archives: education reform

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

CRUCIBLE

Three weeks remain in the 2009-10 school year an we have just finished testing. We expect to see significant growth over the year before and we expect the schools down the street will  have gotten even more growth and we will be reminded that the schools down the street did it right and we are somehow not as efficient or effective or committed or skilled or blessed or insightful or something.

In the meantime, we also moved the ball down the field on our plan to implement more multi-age classrooms and transform our teaching. We are preparing to return to a curriculum that inspires our children to think and create and spring out of bed in the morning and race down the street to El Milagro because there are things happening here that are worth learning.  In the post-test celebration our students danced on the playground and I was reminded how much I miss seeing them find their rhythm.

Along the way we even challenged ourselves to find a solution to that stubborn dilemma that all teachers face in June: what to do with the kids that aren’t ready for the next grade.  Retain them? Socially promote them?  Transfer them to the schools down the street that have all the answers?

We decided that no one zeros in on student needs like we do.  We decided that we wouldn’t have to retain or socially promote kids that weren’t ready… if we just get them all ready!  And since kids learn and develop on their own time , we decided we would give each struggling learner their own timeline and gameplan for promotion… and multi-age classrooms allow us to do that.

So much is happening at El Milagro… even in the face of opposition and cynicism that we are somehow cheating or taking short cuts.  If you read this blog you know… we are totally focussed on finding a better way.  So we dip, even for a moment, into the fires, searching for that wisdom that even those schools down the street might learn from us.

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Filed under charter schools, children at risk, El Milagro, innovation and change, school reform, Un-graded schools

RESURRECT A DREAM

A new study from the Center for Research and Reform in Education at John Hopkins University has concluded that “Spanish-speaking children learn to read English equally well regardless of whether they are taught primarily in English or in both English and their native language.”

In other words, bilingual instruction does no harm as it relates to the acquisition of English literacy skills; we can reintroduce the goal of bilingualism  and Spanish literacy – without any negative consequences to English reading acquisition.

In still other words… if it does no harm… and thus there is no adverse impact on test scores… then the advantages of bilingual instruction now outweigh the disadvantages… according to the latest research on the topic!

The director of the report, Dr. Robert Slavin, noted that

“Here’s a study that gives more solid information than has existed before that quality of instruction is important. The idea that the language of instruction is going to be decisive just doesn’t come through. You can succeed in either language. You can fail in either language.”

We have always said that it’s the quality of the teaching and the passion for promoting biliteracy that makes the difference!!!

Of course at El Milagro, we have stretched to squeeze every point we can from the California Standards Test.  Our student mobility and the drive to stay out of Program Improvement forced us to abandon dual language instruction.  But next year we are eliminating those external pressures by

• Dramatically increasing the number of multi-age classrooms on our campus

• Developing a rich, integrated curriculum for those multi-age classrooms

• Placing students in grade levels according to their performance level (and not according to their age)

• Promoting students only when they demonstrate mastery of their grade level standards

Not only does this allow us to satisfy all the AYP demands, it will allow us to reintroduce the arts, health and fitness, science and social study.  We can teach children to think again.  We can promote creativity and performance and  problem solving and innovation.  The multiple intelligences!

But it also suggests that it is time to resurrect our dual language program… and our dream of biliteracy for all children.

Joy. Authentic learning.  Dos idiomas.  El Milagro.

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Filed under bilingual education, charter schools, El Milagro, gifted children, innovation and change, school reform, teaching

BLAZED

Delaware and Tennessee were evidently the big winners in the Race to the Top dough.  Delaware, which was ranked No. 1 on the competition’s 500-point grading scale, will win about $100 million, while Tennessee, which came in second, will get something like $500 million.  That’s cool for them.  But I read their plans.  I studied the language.  They talk about:

Expectations, accountability, student achievement, test results, teacher evaluation, teacher quality, academic standards, standardized testing, labor and management and consensus and shared decision making…

Then I wondered…

Wasn’t  Race to the Top money awarded  to encourage school reform?  Real Innovation?  A billion dollars worth of fresh thinking?  Transformation? Transcendent change?

Isn’t it true that if you keep doing the same things over and over again… even if you call it something new… you’ll get the same results?

Tennessee’s Education commissioner, Timothy Webb said:  “We believe that if you take all of the technology out of the classroom, … but you leave the highly effective teacher interacting with students, the students will grow.  All those other things are great to have, but we know without a shadow of a doubt that we have to invest in great teachers.”

I get his point and they are not proposing to remove technology from their classrooms ( at least, I don’t think)… but the premise here is that teachers alone are enough to create extraordinary schools.  We know you can’t have extraordinary schools without them.  But what about a “highly effective teacher interacting with students” and using the tools that our students will actually need when they finally escape the gravitational pull of a K-12 public education system and go into the world to invent a new future?

Or at least try to keep up with the one we have.

Arne Duncan, our Secretary of Education said when awarding Tennessee and Delaware the RTTT  prize money:  “We now have two states that will blaze the path for the future of education reform.”  And I hope they do.

But if you are going to”blaze” a new path you have to first get off of the old path.

For less than the $500 million dollars that President Obama invests in racing to the top in Tennessee… there are schools that will be blazing!

El Milagro.

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Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro, innovation and change, President Obama, public education, school reform, standardized testing, technology in schools