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robertogreco : richardarum   2

A venture capitalist searches for the purpose of school. Here’s what he found. - The Washington Post
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"I was now fully consumed with this cause. I stepped up my pace, criss-crossing the country to visit schools and gain perspective. I was in hot pursuit of the right answer to the question: “What is the purpose of school?” Everywhere I looked — mission statements, meetings with school leaders, websites — I’d find sensible, even inspiring, purposes:

• teach students cognitive and social skills
• teach students to think
• build character and soul
• help students in a process of self-discovery
• prepare students to be responsible, contributing citizens
• inspire students through the study of humanity’s great works
• prepare students for productive careers

I probed educators on these alternatives, trying to determine the purpose of school, as though answering an SAT question. But I gradually came to realize that this choice was poorly framed. For starters, each of these goals have merit. If some classrooms prepare students for productive careers, and others prioritize on character development, that’s a good thing. And shouldn’t we celebrate an educator who accomplishes one of these goals — not snipe over whether an alternative purpose is superior?

But what came across loud and clear in my journeys is that schools don’t have the luxury of striving for any meaningful purpose. We’ve somehow imposed a system on our educators that requires them to:

• cover volumes of bureaucratically-prescribed content
• boost scores on increasingly-pervasive standardized tests
• get kids through this year’s vacuous hoops to prepare for next year’s vacuous hoops
• produce acceptable graduation rates and college placements
• deal with parents who are either obsessive micro-managers or missing in action.

How did we get here? A deep dive into the history of education helped me appreciate that our school model was brilliantly designed. Over a century ago. In 1893, Charles Eliot of Harvard and the Committee of Ten anticipated a surge of manufacturing jobs as our country moved beyond agriculture. They re-imagined the U.S. education model, ushering in a factory school model to replace the one-room school house. This path-breaking system of universal public education trained students to perform rote tasks rapidly without errors or creative variation — perfect for assembly-line jobs. The system worked spectacularly, a robust middle class emerged, and America became the world’s most powerful country.

Somewhat incredibly, we still utilize this covered-wagon-era education model. Warning signs about its faltering effectiveness go back for decades. In 1983, the blue-ribbon report titled “A Nation At Risk” concluded that if our education system had been imposed on us by a foreign country, we’d declare it an act of war. Yet instead of reinventing the model (as the Committee of Ten did in 1893), we chose to muddle along with short-term, often counter-productive, tweaks. Teachers and students described to me endless additions to content, baffling new standards, and relentless high-stakes standardized tests of low-level cognitive skills. Our nation is hellbent on catching Singapore and South Korea on test scores — a goal those very countries have concluded is nonsensical. We’re betting millions of futures on No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top — our twin orbiting black holes of education — with annual reports on par with the season run-down for the Washington Generals.

And how much are our kids really learning? If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that they’re not learning. Practically anything.

In my travels, I visited the Lawrenceville School, rated as one of the very best high schools in the United States. To its credit, Lawrenceville conducted a fascinating experiment a decade ago. After summer vacation, returning students retook the final exams they had completed in June for their science courses. Actually, they retook simplified versions of these exams, after faculty removed low-level “forgettable” questions The results were stunning. The average grade in June was a B+ (87 percent). When the simplified test was taken in September, the average grade plummeted to an F (58 percent). Not one student retained mastery of all key concepts they appear to have learned in June. The obvious question: if what was “learned” vanishes so quickly, was anything learned in the first place?

The holy grail in our high schools is the Advanced Placement (AP) track. Pioneered 50 years ago by elite private schools to demonstrate the superior student progress, AP courses now pervade mainstream public schools. Over and over, well-intentioned people call for improving U.S. education by getting more of our kids — especially in poor communities — into AP courses. But do our kids learn in AP courses? In an experiment conducted by Dartmouth College, entering students with a 5 on their AP Psychology exam took the final exam from the college’s introductory Psych course. A pitiful 10 percent passed. Worse, when the AP superstars did enroll in intro Psych, they performed no better than classmates with no prior coursework in the subject area. It’s as though the AP students had learned nothing about psychology. And that’s the point.

Along the way, I met Eric Mazur, Area Dean for Applied Physics at Harvard University, and was surprised to discover that many of our country’s most innovative ideas about education come from this one physics professor. Over a decade ago, Eric realized that even his top students (800 on SAT’s, 5 on AP Physics, A in first-year Physics at Harvard) were learning almost no real science. When asked simple questions about how the world works (e.g., what’s the flight path of a pallet of bricks dropped from the cargo hatch of a plane flying overhead?), their responses were little better than guessing. He abandoned his traditional course format (centered on memorizing formulas and definitions), and re-invented his classroom experience. His students debate each other in engaged Socratic discussion, collaborate and critique, and develop real insights into their physical universe. While his results are superb, almost all other U.S. high-school and college science classes, even at top-rated institutions, remain locked into a broken pedagogy whose main purpose is weeding kids out of these career paths..

Systematic studies, such as the findings of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s groundbreaking book “Academically Adrift,” reach similar conclusions about how little our students are learning, even at the college level. They report that “gains in student performance are disturbingly low; a pattern of limited learning is prevalent on contemporary college campuses.” Richard Keeling and Richard Hersh, in “We’re Losing Our Minds,” conclude that far too many college graduates can’t “think critically and creatively, speak and write cogently and clearly, solve problems, comprehend complex issues, accept responsibility and accountability, take the perspective of others, or meet the expectations of employers.”

The debate about the purpose of education ignores the elephant in the classroom. We have wrapped up our schools in rote memorization, low-level testing, and misguided accountability — preventing them from achieving any real purpose. It’s a fool’s errand to debate whether students are better off memorizing and forgetting Plato’s categorization of the three parts of a human’s soul, the quadratic equation, or the definition of the Cost of Goods Sold. If classroom “learning” is a mirage, it doesn’t matter whether it’s based on “The Odyssey,” a biology textbook, AP History flashcards, or a phone book.

At this point, a part of me felt like declaring education to be our domestic equivalent of Iraq. Maybe I’d be better off going back to my original travel-and-bad-golf plan. But, actually, I was inspired. Why? I was finding the most amazing rays of hope — schools offering powerful learning experiences. I realized moving our schools forward can happen, since we know what to do. Greatness is happening daily across our country, often in schools with scant financial resources. Our challenge is that these innovations are isolated, when they need to be ubiquitous.

The United States now has more than 500 “Deeper Learning” schools, most in our nation’s poorest communities. Clustered into a dozen networks, these schools aren’t “cookie-cutter” replicas of each other. But in their own creative ways, they deliver exceptional learning based on shared principles:

• self-directed learning
• a sense of purpose and authenticity in student experiences
• trust in teachers to teach to their passions and expertise
• a focus on essential skills (collaboration, communication, creativity, critical analysis)
• teachers as coaches, mentors, and advisers, not as lecturers
• lots of project-based challenges and learning
• public display of meaningful student work

Many focus on project-based learning (PBL), a bland phrase for a powerful approach to learning. One PBL leader, High Tech High in San Diego, now includes a dozen schools spanning K through 12, and offers its own graduate school of education. Curiously, out of 1,400 schools of education in our country training our next generation of K12 teachers, only two are integral to a K=12 school. In walking the halls of HTH (and they get more than 3,000 visitors each year), I observed a school experience that doesn’t look anything like what’s taking place today in most U.S. grade 7-16 classrooms. I felt real urgency in helping more people see the power of this pedagogy.

When it comes to PBL, two school networks are scaling rapidly with exceptional results — the New Tech Network and Expeditionary Learning. Both provide training for teachers along with a vetted curriculum, and cost-effectively … [more]
unschooling  deschooling  education  pedagogy  schools  us  2015  projectbasedlearning  learning  howwelearn  internships  apprenticeships  collaboration  communication  creativity  criticalthinking  tcsnmy  thefutureproject  bigpicturelearning  hightechhigh  mostlikelytosucceed  success  teaching  trust  mentoring  mentors  self-directed  self-directedlearning  richardarum  josiparoksa  ericmazur  bureaucracy  teddintersmith  purpose  schooling  schooliness  howweteach  curriculum  anationatrisk  williamderesiewicz 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Our Universities: Why Are They Failing? by Anthony Grafton | The New York Review of Books
"Christopher Newfield is not the only sober, informed observer who believes that political elites are deliberately attacking middle-class education.

Perhaps it’s not a crisis. After all, as many observers have pointed out, this is the way we live now, and room remains for exceptions and for hope. Still, the dark hordes of forgotten students who leave the university as Napoleon’s army left Russia, uninspired by their courses, wounded in many cases by what they experience as their own failures, weighed down by their debts, need to be seen and heard. Perhaps some of those who write seriously about universities could stop worrying so much about who gets into Harvard, Yale, and Princeton and start worrying about the much larger numbers who don’t make it through Illinois and West Virginia, Vermont and Texas…"
education  colleges  universities  history  highereducation  highered  2011  anthonygrafton  naomischaeferriley  benjaminginsberg  jeromekarabel  christophernewfield  williambowen  matthewchingos  michaelmcpherspon  richardarum  josiparoksa  anthonykronman  nancyfolbre  higheredbubble  society  class  academia  teaching  learning  liberalarts  humanities  money  policy  institutions 
november 2011 by robertogreco

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