Monday, November 9, 2015

Petrilli weighs in (pun intended) on Michigan's M-STEP

M-STEP scores may shock, but don't shoot the messenger |

Michael Petrilli has never met a high-stakes test he didn't like. Well, that's not exactly true. He actually only likes those assessments that ensure all kids are not above average, based on his paraphrase of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon. In other words, he demands assessments that ensure us a fair percentage of kids will score below average.

What's even more revealing is the statement he and his collaborator, Robert Pondiscio, make at the close of this piece:
Virtually all kids aspire to go to college and prepare for a satisfying career. Now, at last, we know if they're on track to do so.
Because words mean something, it's clear that the purpose of Petrilli's test-view of the world is to provide an accurate post-mortem on whether kids are on track for college. Of course, he assumes that "virtually all" kids aspire to go to college (guess that's why college enrollment of incoming freshmen in many areas is down this year) and we certainly want high-stakes tests that tell us often too late that they're not on track.

You would think that if Petrilli were actually concerned that all kids (including urban poor, minority and limited English speaking) be on track for college, he would recommend eliminating the traditional end-of-year "weighing of the pig" and instead advocate that the time wasted on these tests, as well as the countless hours of prep that goes into them, be exchanged for purposeful, relevant, formative assessments that provide the feedback teachers, students and parents need to know on a continuous basis to guide the student along the right path.

NCLB and RTTT's appetite for ratings and rankings by annual assessment has us all headed on the wrong track and folks like Michael Petrilli are helping steer the train.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

You just cannot incrementally improve the existing K-12 education structure

Just read: The Payoffs and Pitfalls of Flagging ‘At-Risk’ Kids in Early Grades | MindShift | KQED News

Another day, another attempt by well-meaning educational professionals to close achievement gaps is shot full of holes.

One of the reasons I'm pressing for a new K-12 structure is that every time you turn around, anything we've "tweaked" in the past or any interventions used to "plug the holes" turns out to be just another problem in a long list of problems. The 1890's school structure has got to go and a basic new structure must be designed and built around the all-important, teacher-student learning relationship (without all the interfering obstacles beginning with calendars, clocks grade levels and vertical curricular designs).

We're on our way.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Natural learning the way it was meant to be

Last week was the culmination of a six-week project centered on the learning concept of the Cardboard Challenge by the Imagination Foundation. Several teachers and the principal at our early childhood center combined with our district technology integration specialist to devise a school-wide learning activity that captured the imagination of over four hundred five, six and seven year-olds. Joining them was one of our Spanish teachers at the middle and high school along with dozens of her students. They came weekly to lend a technical hand to their younger friends while at the same time, learning from the unfettered creativeness of younger children.

This is what real life learning is all about.  While some of the goals of these projects were uniform, how each child visualized and created his or her "sculpture" or "working machine" was left up to them. The school was transformed into a marketplace of ideas and a system where the fledgling talents of these young children combined with the technical skills of their older partners to create something that had meaning for both. Not all of the classes enjoyed the mixed-age partnership but the first grade class that did may have ignited a new passion for learning in our schools. Time will tell where that goes.

Peter Gray in his seminal book, "Free to Learn," claims that children learn best on their own initiative, through their own self-chose and self-directed means. Most of what I observed in art class periods and during the weekly mixed-age work sessions was based on those premises. Each child got to decide for themselves what they wanted to create from simple cardboard. They chose from discarded boxes and scraps the materials they needed to achieve their respective vision. They used the tools necessary to cut, shape and support their 3-D model or working machine. Trials often led to failure and new ideas formed. "It needs more tape," or "I think I'll try this," were commonly heard. In the case of the classroom working with older students, their heads were together as they collaborated on a specific "carnival game" (this group of students were attempting to recreate Caine's Arcade) and worked as a team on each step of its creation. The adults stepped in only when asked or if they wished to offer a suggestion, which was rare. The kids were given the time and space to play and explore with their creations. Skills like responsibility and self-direction were evident.

During the culminating event held last Friday, all of the students throughout the school had a chance to display their creations for parents, visitors, staff and fellow students who toured each classroom during the afternoon. They described their 3-D sculpture or arcade machine and answered questions about why they chose what they did and how they constructed it. As with most young children, it took some imagination to see what they saw in their creation but isn't that what creativity is centered on? The fledgling and often rough ideas of a youngster come to life. We all remember the great times we had with the boxes our Christmas and/or birthday gifts came in. We might have called that big refrigerator box a spaceship, even though it took some real imagination on the part of our parents to think of it as something that would travel in outer space. That didn't make it any less than what we kids thought it was.

As the final event, all of the kids in the school as well as parents and staff had an opportunity to play the carnival games created by the 1st graders and their middle/high school partners. There was everything from skeeball to foosball, from fishing games to bop-a-mole with hundreds of youngsters having fun while the creators of these arcade pieces looked on with pride. You can't create that same experience in a traditional academic lesson.

There was something missing throughout the weeks-long Cardboard Challenge at the Early Childhood Center: there were no written assignments, quizzes or high-stakes tests to interfere with real learning. The staff removed the pressures to perform at a high level (which naturally interferes with real learning) and to be as creative as they wished (which under pressure would actually interfere with creativity or innovation). They created learning spaces where these young students were free to exchange ideas and work as part of a democratic community as they brought their vision to life. Empathy skills, something that cannot be adequately taught in a typical teacher-led lesson, were reinforced as older students mixed with their younger partners and avoided evaluating or criticizing what they were creating. They encouraged their young friends and modeled the type of collaborative behaviors we want our students to grow up with.

No standardized test will adequately capture what went on during the ECC's Cardboard Challenge and no common core curriculum can ensure that each child has the opportunity to build on their own unique strengths and capture their dreams with a simple cardboard box. But there was plenty of learning along the seven survival skills that Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith list in their book, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing our Kids for the Innovation Era, a companion book to the incredible documentary film by the same name produced by Dintersmith that's currently sweeping the country in hundreds of locales:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Collaboration
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative
  • Effective communication
  • Accessing and analyzing information
  • Curiosity and imagination
For another perspective on this learning activity by a first grade teacher, read her post on her blog In the Mitten with Miss Stasiak titled Cardboard Challenge 2015.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Our current school structure and policy ignores readiness to learn

Because I couldn't say it any better, although I have tried on many occasions and still keep trying:
     Many of us in formal learning situations are on a lockstep treadmill. It is indifferent to our needs, to our circumstances, and to our preferences and what we have to contribute to others. 
     Because it is efficient to teach in groups, we are bunched by combinations of age, required (not desired) subjects, testing, time, and space allotments. All of these ways of grouping are likely to be unresponsive to our readiness (or the lack of it) to learn. 
     Learning does not proceed in a straight line. It cannot be organized and disseminated uniformly to groups. It is not a systematic stratification of facts and schemata to be regurgitated at appointed times. 
     One does not learn by surrendering to an established order but by discovering new orders in connection with individual experience. It happens in fits and starts. It is driven by questions generated by a learner's desire to know. It makes early leaps in one individual while stumping the next, only to be leapfrogged by the stumped one when he or she finally 'gets it' on a whole new level. 
     To herd learning into an appointed linear path and into a uniform conclusion is simply folly. This is common sense, yet we ignore it....It begins to suggest the unthinkable -- throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
     It is important to recognize here that none of the continuing education reforms dictated by public policy and signed into law by 'education' governors, senators, and presidents addresses the underlying faults of traditional and institutionalized learning as addressed here. Until they do, we are 'rearranging deck chairs.'
Davis, Edward L. Lessons for Tomorrow: Bringing America's Schools Back from the Brink. Northport, MI. Orgone Press, 2006. (pp. 82-83) 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

We're killing empathy in our kids

Attacking a referee in a football game? Pulling off an opposing player's helmet and hitting him with it? Smearing icy hot ointment in a player's eyes? What the heck is going on? Maybe we know but aren't willing to admit it.

I believe we are beginning to experience the depravity that may come from a general lack of free play by kids, especially in their early years. Free play, particularly with multi-ages teaches empathy, caring, as well as creativity and communications. Kids are growing up with this significant developmental void because (1) parents unjustifiably lock their kids in at home instead of allowing them free play time with other kids in the neighborhood and (2) society has forced schools to turn the youngest years into test-prep, sit-in-your-seat, segregated-by-age, learning activities instead of freedom to learn through play and discovery with a variety of age groups. As a result, more and more research shows that kids are growing up lacking empathy and becoming more self-centric. 

I recommend reading a series of articles from Peter Gray, author of a great book titled, "Freedom to Learn. "

And if you haven't watched these three videos in the past weeks, you should.

Video: Some High School Football Jerk Smeared IcyHot In His Opponent's Eyes: LAist

Football players suspended for doing this to ref

Linden player hits Immaculata player with helmet