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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

School is bad for kids - it is time for new ideas

The Today Show on NBC is missing an important story that they constantly fail to see. This happened 3 times in the 7-8 am slot yesterday and then again today.

Yesterday they discussed kid's texting behavior, the killing of a school principal, and 2 kids being burned or otherwise badly harmed in Florida by kids at their school. Today they reported on a teen suicide caused by bullying at a school in Massachusetts.

The real story here is that the school experience is getting worse all the time and that the government wants to fix it by more testing rather than by realizing that school itself is a failed idea. Kids have no business being shut up in a world of hundreds of other kids whom they don't know. They don't learn much because they are way more concerned with the social standards that have been set by other kids, and they spend most of their time worrying about being accepted, liked, or being in with the "in crowd."

It is time to understand that school is a very bad idea. We are smart enough to be able to figure out a replacement for school that does not endanger children and actually helps them learn skills that will matter to them later in life.

Let's start that dialogue. Let's stop allowing others to torture our children.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Measuring Student Achievement: Ten questions

Governor Crist of Florida (where I live) last week vetoed a piece of nonsense that linked teacher's salaries to "student achievement." I imagine his veto of his own party's bill was about politics and not about education, but let me ask some education questions that are never asked:

1. Why do we need to measure student achievement?
2. What would happen if students were not measured or graded at all?
3. Can we imagine an educational system in which students were seen as consumers and they could consume what they wanted to consume -- letting them learn what they'd like to learn?
4. Why do legislatures think they understand what children need to learn?
5. How well would these legislators do on the very FCATs they mandate?
6. Do legislators regularly take multiple choice tests?
7. Why don't we measure legislators with multiple choice tests?
8. If adult achievement involves actual acts of labor (i.e. doing things) why not measure students in the same way?
9. Why is it so hard to re-think the idea of student achievement, and imagine it as having students actually achieve real things, real abilities, that can be seen and demonstrated and judged in the same way that the actions of adults are judged?
10. Can we imagine school as a place where students pursue their interests and demonstrate real achievements, and not have t o work at improving meaningless test scores masquerading as achievements?

I just thought I'd ask.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Wrong National Standards, Governor Wise, and Casino Management

I saw this statement from Governor Wise, who is the head of the Alliance for Education. He is a nice guy who I like, but he is very much in favor of national standards:

Gov Wise: “Zip codes are no way to educate America’s future workforce.”


I found this statement so odd that I wrote to the man who sent it out who responded with:

wouldn’t you agree that current standards in far too many states are too low to prepare students to succeed after high school?


What a weird take on the problem. The standards are absurd and students know that. States differ on how effectively they force kids to attend schools that they hate. And, while we are at it, zip codes are indeed a way to manage education.

How do we find out what there is to be in life? School should tell us but it does not. I have come to realize that this is a serious issue in our society. We teach people literature and mathematics and then throw them out into the world figuring they will know what to do when they get there independent of that fact that knowledge of literature and mathematics is almost certainly not going it be helpful. We also fail to ask what we want of our students.

I realized this in a deep way one day when I went to the Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico. I was trying to get the legislature to give me money for building an on line school which is part of my larger effort to build many new kinds of curricula for high school students.

I went to the Indian School as part of the kind of politicking one does when one wants a bill to be passed. But once there I had a realization. Telling these people that we could build a technology oriented curriculum was not going to be all that exciting for them. I imagined myself to be an Indian in Santa Fe and I figured that I wouldn’t want my kid on going off to MIT never to return.

Of course, that is exactly what happens in the segment of society I live in. My children were sent to college and were not expected to return. I am not sure where they would have retuned to since I was always moving around myself. But, in hindsight, I am not thrilled that my kids do not live near me and I imagine, if I were an Indian I would be very concerned that they stay around so that my culture does not die.

So I asked them questions about curricula that were meant to get them to think about what their kids could learn that would help their culture survive.

Their answer was: Casino Management. This both surprised me, and then, in retrospect, didn’t surprise me at all. Of course that is what they need their children to learn to be good at doing.

We never got to build that curriculum courtesy of Governor Richardson who simply had lied to me about his forthcoming approval of the bill. But it did make me understand something about what is wrong with the national standards movement (apart from its canonization of the 1892 curriculum.)

People really are different in different places and have different educational needs. In Wichita they have an airplane manufacturing industry and no one to teach students how to work in it. In parts of the country there are hotels in the middle of nowhere that can't find anyone nearby who might know how to manage one.

Education needs to be local at just the time when the country is trying to make it into one size fits all.