Archive for September, 2010

There seems to be widespread lingering confusion on this point.

What is important – going to school or learning?  And why would this question puzzle some folks – because it would and will.  Isn’t school where you go for learning?  But this is just the point, schools are about grades, rules, conformity and some remembering, but too often little learning takes place.

A while back Seth Godin wrote this:

Should this be about school or about learning?

School was the big thing for a long time. School is tests and credits and notetaking and meeting standards. Learning, on the other hand, is ‘getting it’. It’s the conceptual breakthrough that permits the student to understand it then move on to something else. Learning doesn’t care about workbooks or long checklists.

For a while, smart people thought that school was organized to encourage learning. For a long time, though, people in the know have realized that they are fundamentally different activities.

He gets it.

“Getting it” is what matters.  But not enough students are getting it and not enough schools focus on this – that’s why the education crisis is exploding today.  That’s why charter schools and independent schools are growing, though, sadly the vast majority of these are mere variants of the traditional model and still haven’t figured out how to allow learning to happen.  That there’s an effort, though, tells us that there’s a lot of scurrying around looking for new solutions for a broken system.  Just because they don’t know how to repair the system doesn’t mean they don’t know it’s broken.


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Two independent films have been launched across the country at this ‘back-to-school time of year: Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere, Both films present the very real and very dangerous issues facing public education in this country.  I’ll next wait for the film that address the very real and very dangerous issues facing TRADITIONAL education across the country.

Both of these films present pictures of children being underserved by the school system.  They depict children vying to get in to local charter schools by lottery and children simply not having real opportunities to deevlop into the people that they could be.

There is no shortage of education reformers with different ideas that could work.  Why, in this century of change and innovation, are we not breaking free of government-run schools?  Why are we not letting charter organizations and other with different ideas, to set up schools as they wish and let parents take their education tax dollars where they would like: just like deciding which restaurant to eat at.  In the “land of the free”, in the country that celebrates the individual’s responsibility and ability to “make something of  her life” why are we still allowing governments to mandate what kind of schools we can have.  They have failed miserably.  The evidence for this is all around.

Let’s take to  the streets, parents.  Let’s take back control of our children’s lives in this hugely critical arena.

Go out and see these films,  Get on their websites and make sure they are coming to your town.  Ask your local school board to watch them, show up at a school board meeting and ask what’s going to be done.

We need parent/school choice because not every child learns the same way and because there are many ideas out there. Let the best ideas rise to the top like in other fields.  Let the best school models show themselves.

It’s a sad state of affairs that “lurking bellow the surface in America a menace threatens our children’s futures and we’re waiting for that superman/hero who always comes to the rescue….” .  Yet, superman is at present tied down – OUR government won’t let him be free because they are in control of education.

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This has simply got to be one of the death-knells of traditional education.  “Content delivery” is the idea that you go to school to be “taught” some “basic skills” by another person.

So long as the educational world holds this as its raison d’etre the problems of education will remain.  We need to move well beyond the idea that delivering content is the goal or purpose of education.  Does this sound so wrong?  Does it make you ask, “but, what then would education be?”?

Education needs to be about process.  It needs to be “orienting the learner to the process of learning”.  Once you’ve achieved this you can relax, the job has been done.  A learner who has learned what the process of self-development, exploration, inquiry and learning actually is, and how to go about it, doesn’t need you any more.  If you want to talk about “building a nation of lifelong learners” that shouldn’t mean a nation of people who keep learning new content, it should mean a nation of people who’ve learner how to learn, on their own.

You can’t achieve this goal with traditional methods of course.  Traditional methods are geared to the traditional model of delivering content: sit down, be quiet, comply, and remember.  That does not engage.  That does not create a culture of inquiry and exploration.  Yet, without these there is no learning.  Do not forget: remembering is not learning.  Memorization is not meaning.

Maybe we need to march in front of traditional schools and district offices with placards that read “STOP CONTENT DELIVERY NOW” – who’ll make the bumper sticker, the lapel pin?

Let’s change the education conversation so that meaning-making via engaged explorative work becomes the norm in all schools.  We want process, not content.  The content will come on its own anyway.

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This concept was just introduced to me.  Already a few years old, it has grown from the business world where it was launched and found it’s way to the world of education as a “solution” to the problem that traditional education has in meeting the individual learning needs of all students.

The person behind the phrase/concept is Clayton Christensen (Harvard Business School).  His idea makes sense, but his proposed solution for education is off-mark.  Probably because he’s coming from a business perspective, he’s simply taken his idea and applied it to “schools” without having a deep appreciation for what learning is and how it happens.  That’s okay, his idea still has merit.

Look for a more detailed discussion of his education ideas (in his “Disrupting Class” book) in this space soon.  “Disruptive” is good.  Fundamental Innovation is good.  We just aren’t seeing it.

What I know of Christensen’s education solution so far is that it’s not unlike what “School of One” is doing in NYC under Joel Klein (see yesterday’s post). Actually, Klein got his ideas from Christensen, so there’s a direct link.

The solution to “individualized education” already exists… is it really so unknown to so many?

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custom education

In a world where so much is tailored to the individual customer – you get just what YOU need – it is interesting to see that this attitude is creeping into education with “School of One”.  This is a program in New York City aimed at making the learner the focus and not the classroom, according to Joel Klein, the “willing to try bold new things” chancellor of NYC schools.

I came across this story written by a young man who dropped-out of college, after barely making it through high school, who was told that he’d never amount to anything.  Because this happened in Baltimore he was destined for jail and not the job pool.  As it turns out he ended up with a decent career in journalism, initially working for Time magazine in an office high above street level in mid-town Manhattan.  The question he asks himself, as he thought back about his dissatisfaction with school, was “how could I utterly fail in practice [school] then succeed in the game [life]?”

Of course, if he’d been reading what’s been written in this space he’d understand that the traditional school system is not life and does not prepare you for the living of life –  so failing at it is no indication that you’ll fail at life itself.

The author writes about how a job can be highly personalized and that school cannot.  This is where the NYC example comes in; it’s an attempt to change this.  School of One is an attempt to address the fact that learning is not “one size fits all” because each learner has a unique style, pace and approach to learning.  In order to reach all students, School of One makes use of technology to connect different learners to a strategy that works for them.  It is brilliant that someone has recognized this and this first step is worthy.  But let us also remember that learning only goes so deep in front of a compute screen and that there needs to be some real doing built into the system.  While some students may connect to geometry better sitting at a computer watching a tutor in another city and others may connect with a white board in their own class, all of them are only “learning” disconnected content.  We need to make the meaning the focus and not “how to get the content in” the focus.

In other words, we may improve on the latter and feel that we’re serving students better, but unless they are attaching meaning to that content, building meaning, they won’t be very far ahead.

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just remember…

Only connect.  That’s the basic message if we want “high functioning, high achieving” students/people.  Only connect to what you’re learning, what you’re exploring.  Connect via interest and passion.  Connect via the freedom to be “you”.  Connect via personal responsibility.

I had a conversation yesterday with an elementary teacher about changing the name of a drop-off box in the class from “work to be corrected” to “work for review”.  The point was that when the teacher sets him/herself up as the “correcter” they are saying “I’m the authority with the answers, I’ll tell you what’s right or wrong”.  This does NOT encourage the student to engage, assume responsibility or value their own abilities.  Ask them if they want their work reviewed in order to improve, get guidance, etc. and you’ve shifted the nature of the interaction: they are now collaborating actively in their learning, you’re not the authority unleashing pronouncements.

Just remember – learning requires an active, engaged learner.

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In one recent news story surrounding the flare-up over \”value added\” teaching assessment – there was also a big story in the L.A. Times last week – there’s a comment that goes to show that we’re so far from coming to terms with what’s wrong with traditional education, it simply amazes me.

The whole “value-added” thing is the idea that it’s worth evaluating teachers by how much improvement can be measured year-over-year, by test scores.  If student A scores a 76 in one year and an 83 the following year, the teacher has “added value” – helped the student to improve beyond what would be expected or typical.  So we’ll then pay this teacher more – they’re a better teacher.  Never mind this form of teacher evaluation – save that.

The problem is that there are still supposedly intelligent people in the field who can casually toss-off remarks like “Test scores — that is, measuring students’ knowledge and skills….”.  What?!  Test scores DO  NOT measure knowledge and skills… is this not common knowledge in the field yet?  That’s scary.  We all know, or so I thought, that test scores measure “knowing the answers to certain questions” – that by itself is not evidence of “knowledge” nor “skills”.

To make matters worse, this whole teacher evaluation approach appears to have some traction around the country.  This means that teachers will have no choice but to comply and “get their test scores up” in order to get a good evaluation.  You got it: more teaching to the test, less real learning, less concern for the learner… we’re going backwards here.  You read it here first.  Give if five years of so and this will  be the “unseen” or “unintended” result and we’ll have another problem, another “great idea”  piled on the heap and more years of more students poorly served and undereducated.

Education evolution, revolution…. where are you?

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