Friday, September 24, 2010

"Chance favors the connected mind."

In this TED talk, Steven Johnson talks about where great ideas come from. It is not as we think, that people have "Eureka" moments. Instead, they arise from networks. Hence, the quote in the title. If we want to innovate in public education, we have to encourage networks like professional learning communities. We need to connect with the public in engaging dialogue. We need to overcome the social capital-depleting practices we tend to engage in where we square off against each other, debating and defending our positions.

This TED talks is fun to watch if, for no other reason, you learn how a neo-natal incubator is made from parts originally designed for an everyday machine (I will not spoil the surprise).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Another view of assessment

This New York Times editorial, outlines methods of assessing students that evaluate actual learning.  The challenge of these methods is that they are more time consuming and harder to standardize.  The testing industry has become institutionalized and it will be nearly impossible to move off of the bubble tests used in every state to measure learning (thought we may computerize the tests; relegating the Number 2 pencil to history).  They may not be good measures of student learning, but they are cheap (relative to other methods) and the public has come to accept them as legitimate.

How can we move to more affective measures of learning if current standardized testing methods are no longer challenged as legitimate? 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Creativity: Can it be nurtured in public school?

In this TED Talk, Ken Robinson explains how public education kills creativity in students.  And, given the increased focus on standards and testing as the means for determining educational success, it seems unlikely that creativity will be nurtured in public schools any time soon.

Yet, with the incredibly complex problems we face today, it is imperative that we encourage innovation and creativity in our schools.

One way schools might encourage creativity and innovation is by providing students opportunities to engage in collaboration.  In Slate, Joshua Wolf Shenk, writes about the role collaboration plays in creativity.  According to Shenk, the idea of the lone genius is overblown, that in reality, creative RELATIONSHIPS are the source of new ideas.  The first part of this series looks at collaboration and creative pairs.  Part Two examines a famous creative pair, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  Throughout the series, he will examine how creative partnerships work.

How can this series help us think about creativity and innovation?  How can public schools encourage creativity at a time when standards and accountability continue to focus on individual students?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

More on technical change

Last week I posted a number of resources that examine the common core standards, assessments and the teacher accountability.  In the New York Times Room for Debate, several nationally known education experts examine teacher assessment and the role value added testing plays in the process.

On the surface, value added seems like a pretty good solution to the question of how to hold teachers accountable.  Yet, effective evaluation systems, most likely need multiple measures best illuminate both student progress and teacher contribution to that progress.

Complicating the matter, is the question of how to delivery high-quality instruction and the role of teacher in this process.  In this TED talk, Sugata Mitra presents his research where he gave kids self-supervised access to the web and saw results that could revolutionize how we think about teaching.  My favorite quote from the presentation:  "If children have interest, then education happens."  So, why don't we simply let students do interesting things?  

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Technical Change and Public Education and the Role of Local School Boards

Once again the United States is focused on the technical components of change, as the country continues to grapple with closing the achievement gap and creating an education system that meets the needs of 21st century learners.  This week, two articles in the New York Times talk about testing and teacher accountability.  U.S. Asks Educators to Reinvent Student Tests, and How They Are Given describes efforts to create a testing system that more accurately assesses student learning and provides feedback in a more timely manner.

When Does Holding Teachers Accountable Go Too Far? looks at a project that analyzed teacher performance, connecting student test scores to teachers using a value added model.  The article presents a balanced view of the practice, laying out strengths and weaknesses of using value added to evaluate teachers.

Finally,  the Common Core State Standards Initiative is linked to the development of the new testing systems and I include it here for reference.

Yet again, we are focusing on the technical aspects of change.  The focus of these initiatives clearly reflect the technical aspects of the Key Work framework--Standards, Assessment, and Accountability.  Once again, little is said of the need to focus on the adaptive, or cultural, aspects of change--Vision, Continuous Improvement, Collaboration and Community Engagement, and Climate.

For decades states and the federal government have focused on the technical aspects of reforming the public education system, eroding the power of local school boards in the process. Where does this leave local school boards as governing entities?  It leaves them with the entire range of adaptive change at their disposal.  And who better to lead the adaptive change process?  Local school board members have the potential to engage with local stakeholders in ways that state and federal policy makers will never be able to do.  The "localness" of their position provides opportunity to engage in conversations about the vision for their communities and their schools.  The can model continuous improvement, celebrating success while continuing to ask "What can we better tomorrow?"  They can lead efforts to create a climate that builds social capital, building trust and creating strong relationships that ultimately leads to better outcomes for students.

The role of the school board is changing.  For all practical purposes, they no longer have much influence over the technical aspects of change.  At the same time, they have tremendous power to lead the adaptive change efforts that are needed to ensure the work of revising standards and creating new accountability systems is not wasted.