I cannot help but wonder if, in our efforts to understand and address the reality of very real achievement gaps, if we went down a very wrong path by looking to testing as the solution in the first place.  In her book the Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch mentions Deborah Meier’s idea that our schools need to be “data informed” rather than “data driven” (p. 228) and I think there is important wisdom there- she does not suggest ‘test score informed’ vs ‘test score driven’.  It’s time to re-evaluate our conception of data that will best inform high quality of teaching and learning.

In addition to thinking about testing, I am also thinking a lot about standardization and wondering if this focus, too, might be something we are erroneously attributing to solution and thinking it may actually be part of the problem.  Until lately, I argued that there is nothing wrong with standardized assessment, it is the high stakes USE of that assessment that is so problematic.  Now I am not so sure.

Here’s some of that thinking… the issue with standardized measurement is that we try to measure common achievement in common content to common ends- BUT children come from uncommon backgrounds (within and across cultural and language groups, gender, age, purpose and motivation) and this results in disparate ways of being and interacting in the world. We also recognize that there are significant gaps that can be mapped to some of the above attributes. I wonder if we don’t have all, or maybe we even are focused on attributes that matter less vs the ones that matter more…  So, to be clear, the notion of closing academic gaps, particularly providing access to high level thinking and content in all schools for all children is critical- I am not arguing against THAT… but I am very much questioning if we are on a path that could ever actually get us there.

So, to challenge my thinking about what this looks like on a large scale, I recently had the opportunity to consider significant gaps between different children from different families in my daughter’s grade level.  On the surface, the 6 children all seemed similar- educated parents, literate backgrounds, English speaking, school oriented, attending a school in which the program is designed to support engagement and academic achievement appropriate in early childhood (to the best they can while adhering to current district, state and federal policy.)  These 6 children are all making significant growth, developing in language, literacy and content understandings.  But, ‘success’ and ‘achievement’ looks radically different for each of them- as they approach and attach to very different elements of the curriculum and perform VERY differently on standardized assessments.  My consideration of these specific children has led my thinking down new paths and I do not think the answer for these kids is to get them to all be able to perform on these tests, or even be standardized to achieve the same things.  The individual approach to thinking, creative application of ideas and ways of expressing themselves should not be fit into ‘common expectations’.  The normal variation in these 9 year olds does not need to be ‘fixed’.  Those not performing highly on standardized tests do not need to be ‘saved’. They need latitude and engagement and highly informed teachers who can understand who they are, how they learn and ways to access high level thinking and interacting (spoken and written) about ideas.

When I think of a response to what other standardized measurement do we need… I wonder if ‘other … measurement’ is what is important, and perhaps it is the standardization part that doesn’t work?

are we in our own way?

November 6, 2010

I see the Eight Year Study as fascinating because it so clearly illuminates the challenges of reform, particularly the idea that sustainability is perhaps impeded because we are going about identifying ‘problems’ and finding ‘solutions’ that are peripheral, rather than central to actual change. What I am thinking about lately is that we are actually focused on mediating the wrong variables. This focus on ‘achievement’ and ‘closing the gap’ and ‘excellence’ seems on the surface to be a path to improvement but is turning out to not be so. My sense is that we have a serious mismatch between what kids need and what we provide right now in schools.

And with that, I am not sure if I agree that people ‘don’t want to change’ and ‘do not care’ about kids in inner-city schools. I think that our social narrative is one of authority and that undermines our ability to actually support change. I see the national narrative about schools and reform founded on the notion that ‘we’ (those privileged and with power) ‘know what is right’ (common core standards, content of curriculum, content of standardized tests, etc) and that this narrative dictates that to be a caring and just society, we operate from a deficit perspective and seek to ‘fix’ the kids who come to schools with different funds and have needs beyond this core. I see this narrative perpetuated through the broadcast venues of our society- television, films, popular magazines, church leaders, politicians to name a few. I see this both beyond and within the conversation about education.

We need to build education policy that examines and builds upon the real life experiences of our children, and as children’s experiences vary, is flexible enough to vary as well. If we examine their real lives- nutritionally, emotionally, physically, and intellectually- and recognize the funds of knowledge they bring, and in many cases the damage they embody, then we cannot and will not be able to design educational experiences that will support the achievement and academic success all children deserve. My sense is that until we take a good hard look at the real lives of our real children- we will continue to construct reforms that are predetermined to fail.

seriously?

September 15, 2010

This morning I went to NBC’s Education Nation  http://www.educationnation.com/ to check out the plans for the summit that is going to help us ‘reinvent America as an Education Nation. I am particularly interested in the forum for teachers in this summit- the Teacher Town Hall.  To participate in the live, exclusive conversation, first teachers need to apply.  My fav part of the application:

Share your big idea!

Please suggest one major change that you think could help to transform education in America.  Please keep your answers short.  (100-200 words max.)

We will select a few big ideas to discuss during the Teacher Town Hall.

Seriously? I appreciate the outreach, but, um, are they looking for ideas or soundbytes?  *Sigh* more of the same media hoopla.  But… in an effort to engage…  I will play along.

Here’s a big idea to improve education (in less than 200 words):

First, trust teachers. Then— stop crying crisis and join in to support them to be the best possible teacher for the kids with whom they work.

Outside of schools: invest in infrastructure to eliminate inequities that negatively impact learning— do all children have adequate food, shelter, housing, clothing and safe places to play? If not, take a good hard look at why and fix it.

Inside of schools: re-align standards with the continuum of human development and brain science then support teachers to develop skills and competence of individuals. Support teachers to develop open curriculum with scope, not sequence. Assess skills and competencies of individual learners to support further learning. Eliminate punitive measures, period. They don’t work. Evaluate teachers and programs on effectively supporting growth to developmentally appropriate targets.

And while you are in schools to evaluate them, look around— while there are definitely classrooms, schools and even whole districts experiencing significant struggle at the moment, there are also classrooms, schools and even whole districts with a whole lot of fabulous going on.  Identify the bright spots and build from there.

Education reform is complex.  As I read, write, converse and consider different perspectives and realities, I turn to thinking about the box- what could contain the information I need, the thoughts to consider in a space where I could examine what is and think about what might be?  Rising from my ongoing conversations and work with the folks engaging in the conversation at #ecosys, I have developed the following wish list:

Resource Creation: I want a systematic collection of evidence and information that underlies current realities and potential decisions by topic:
Identification of Purpose of Education (addressing equity, Elements of Ecosystem and Definition of Terms)
Historical perspective (and systemic analysis?)
Current Perspecitve: Legal requirements and realities
Portraits of success- identification of avenues
Portraits of challenge- identification of barriers

I want to explore and ultimately develop position papers on elements to influence reform:

  1. Teacher preparation (sophisticated knowledge and skills to understand learners, brain science, families, social constructs, standards, curriculum, assessment and methodology)
  2. Administrator preparation (sophisticated knowledge and skills to understand learners, brain science, families, social constructs, standards, curriculum, assessment and methodology)
  3. Parental Engagement (define) inclusive of worldview/cultural norms
  4. Identification of Standards: framed via skills and competencies (21C)
  5. Open Curriculum w/ scope, not sequence; aligned w/brain science; inclusive of worldview/cultural norms
  6. Open Methodology- target skills and competencies (instead of Standards?? Or is this standards?) aligned with brain science; inclusive of worldview/cultural norms
  7. Assessment (identification of skillset, interest, goal setting, progress monitoring, standards achievement????); aligned with brain science; inclusive of worldview/cultural norms
  8. Evaluation of teachers (parental engagement, id of standards, implementation of curriculum, implementation of methodology, implementation of assessment)
  9. Evaluation of programs (parental engagement, id of standards, implementation of curriculum, implementation of methodology, implementation of assessment)
  10. Political Activism- to influence clear, flexible policy to ensure accountability that children meet standard goals

A while back I read a blog post by Will Richardson that was a continuation of a conversation started at Educon…  The post gave background to the conversation and the big question that arose, “What are the ‘big’ conversations that schools should be having in relation to the ‘tectonic’ shifts that are occuring with social learning online?”  It then presented the list that had been generated by the group.  I could not help but make connections with so many of these ideas, to what I have been thinking about in the engaging and inspiring #ecosys conversations about school reform…

So I decided to build on these and generate some of the thousand million questions I consider as I think about change in education:

  • What does an educated person look like today? Do all educated people look the same? And what do they look like at each stage along the way?
  • How do we change policy to support a true learning? Across time?  And space?
  • How does our thinking about time, physical space and schooling change?
  • How do a range of stakeholders: K-12 educators, adminstrators, parents, community members and higher ed educators bring together varying perspectives and have this conversation about change together?
  • How do we define and then support the changing roles?  of teacher? of student? Of parent? Of administrator? Of community member of the immediate community? Of community member of the nation?
  • What is the purpose of school? Do all stakeholders share the same view of purpose?  What are the differences? What do we need to do about that?
  • What should be compulsory about school? What are the good things that all children deserve to access?
  • How do we ensure that all children can access them? and access the opportunities that are linked to school experiences?
  • How do we address issues that impact learners success and challenge in the classroom when they are not in the control of schools: poverty, hunger, homelessness, language difference, cultural difference, learning difference, predjudice, assumption?
  • How do we know what is working?  How do we know what is not?  What do we measure and evaluate? Processes? Products? How often? How?
  • And once we know what is working and what is not, how do we know if it is scalable? Or if it even should scale? Or if the resources and permissions that allow what works to work should be what scales?
  • What is preventing us from being adaptable to change? In schools? In society?
  • How will we address marginalization as a result of change? In schools? In society?
  • What is our obligation to collaborate with other systems going through similar changes? Are we stronger together? Do we gain insight from viewing the same problem through various lenses?
  • How do we become better equipped, both as individuals and as systems, to sustain productive change?

Thoughts? Ideas? Other questions?

*and in case you were curious:

thanks goes to the Moody Blues for the title inspiration

Google to the rescue…

September 5, 2009

It has been a very productive week as I have updated and prepared my Early Literacy Instruction class to open next week.  Just a quick post to share two ways I am using Google to make formerly cumbersome assignments easier:

I am now using Google Forms to collect information on a Needs Assessment.  Every semester I do a needs assessment and have students tell me a few things about their technology and themselves.  The tech questions ask them to identify things like what type of computer they use, their connection speed, their browser, their comfort level on the internet. I am not as interested in the details as much as I like to provide them the opportunity to find out this information if they do not already know it.  The other questions have them sign off on having read the entire syllabus, the academic honesty policy and the approximate workload expectations to successfully complete this class.  By providing a place to sign their agreement to class policies, it raises their awareness of the expectations and if they have special circumstances, often this leads to the conversations about modifications so we can make plans that will support their success right from the start.

In the past I have used the exam tool to gather this information and tally their responses.  This semester I am embedding a Google Form so it will be easy for them to provide the information, and easy for me to access it once it is compiled.

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I am also using Google Documents to compile my Introductions posts so my students can upload pictures and add text to introduce themselves to one another as the class begins.  I used to use a threaded discussion in the Learning Management System (eCollege in my case) but students had to attach a picture to a post and then download it to see it.  This was cumbersome to say the least and highly problematic at times.  The Introductions assignment during the Orientation week of class helps students learn how to use Google Documents (which we will then continue to use throughout the class) and they have a user-friendly, single page access to basic bio information as they get to know their classmates.

@LindaTietjen today posted an interesting comment about Twitter vs. Facebook and made me stop and think for a minute about what I like and  how I use social networking in general and specifically how I use each of these two services differently.

To use a water analogy I see the whole of  social networking as a river.  Facebook is an eddy, off to the side, somewhat protected and calm(ish). Twitter is a a Class 3-4 rapid running right through the middle. Takes a bit of technical prowess to navigate- and when it gets to be too much I sometimes bail out for a bit and walk around. For the most part, as long as I can pick my path (via Tweetdeck) I even enjoy it and often tame that rapid into a much more gentle, meandering stream.

To get out of the analogy and into reality- although I post all updates to both, Facebook for me is to connect with people and engage in personal conversations. I do have personal/professional relationships on Twitter but mostly use direct message for those conversations and they tend to be pointed, and lead to further conversation in a more expanded venue (Instant Messaging, email, or even face to face or telephone). On a day to day basis, though, I use Tweetdeck to manage the volume and track topics and people interesting to me. I hardly ever read my All Friends feed… it’s too much! But when I use Groups to track the people for whom I want to be sure I catch every tweet, or Search to see what people are posting about topics, it allows me to focus and draw from the stream only what I am interested in that day.

I love that Twitter is so huge and fast moving and continuing to grow.  I love that there are other applications building on or creating alternative versions of communication applications.  I believe that accessibility, mobility (you can participate in so much of social networking by phone) and the resulting spread of these services are making the potential of social networking ever stronger.  In a strong and dynamic network, any of us can draw out the little bits that are meaningful for ourselves.  The presence of the stream allows us to leverage mass collaboration without requiring additional structures or communication mechanisms, and, when that pool is rich and diverse, growing each day, the likelihood is greater that the quality and range of what I will be able to draw is worth them time and energy of participating and contributing to the stream myself.