Posted by: schooleducator | January 19, 2010

The Future of High School

THE FUTURE OF HIGH SCHOOL – Fieldston School Conference, 1/15/10

Interesting conversation about the future of high school at the Fieldston School

Tinkering, fearful of significant change – moving beyond tinkering, to make significant changes?

Ted Sizer – shopping mall high school – comprehensive missions – problematic issue – what exactly are individual school communities wanting out of school? A lot of assumptions people bring to school – when you lack a defined set of values, you are at the mercy of what people want that place to be – be specific about what you are good at and what they are doing; consequences for program based on mission – all school settings struggle with this – feel at the mercy of greater society and competing forces; embrace tinkering quite fully? Corporate level pushing the limits of innovation – rapid prototyping – IDEO – before you implement – students and teachers being the tinkerers

Pedagogical risk-taking is counter cultural – fear of the guinea pig feeling from students and parents; changing a curriculum is like moving a cemetery – Woodrow Wilson; sometimes it’s a matter of will – what we have been doing has been working and we need to be aware of that; we need to capture occasions of brilliance – build from that which is working well

Whole sale change is a risky operation; we do become tinkerers – not so terrible – we are doing good work – examine the edges and look inward; work slowly and carefully; impediments? There needs to be a real long conversation with higher ed and the secondary schools – mixed messages going out to schools; college admissions process places limitations on what we can and cannot do; there is a disconnect; make sure there is permission to try new things, move forward with curricular change – empower faculty

What are the levers for change?

Change ought to begin in the classroom with teachers specifically; impediment is that folks are already working hard – will ask more of us; we become researchers and teachers – we need to provide evidence that the work we are doing are worth their taking the risk with us; need to create time for teachers to conduct extra research projects

Culture of permission is tangible – the whole community can decide this is possible; you have to go to the teachers to play part – a serious part in a process of change; one assumption – quantity over quality – we want to do a lot of things and that’s better – app process puts stock into this – glass if half full – if we want regurgitation not a demanding cognitive function – that’s aiming too low; what can we not do? The workload has increased significantly, so need to make decisions on what not to do; not enough to try and you need systematic way to hold people accountable for innovation – we need to see that we have made an impact and had an effect
A battle of public relations – if we are running into difficulties with board then we need to change the conversation; we need to do a better job of selling the concept; we may be losing the battle in terms of what’s important; we need to lay the groundwork publicly for the conversation to happen – need to take advantage of technology to reach people

How do you deal with tests – APs and SATs – how do you engage with the colleges?

Colleges are moving toward optional standardized test scores; students do not take standardized tests at Carolina Friends until they apply to college – no number or letter grades – narrative performance reviews – no prizes awarded – thick folder for colleges – the admissions officer knows the child better – a diversity case or edge; student scores are a bit lower than other independent schools, but students are self-directed and self-motivated

Moving away from AP designated courses – you need to move away – they establish de facto rigor – backward designing from those courses; certain exams promote thin coverage of material at the expense of deep understanding and thinking; easy way for colleges to read folders; you have to deal with standardized testing like SAT IIs; benchmarking outside of the schools – college work and readiness – critical thinking assessments – CLA, CWA online assessment for kids

Public sector – not a lot of movement away from standardized testing – race to the top monies from government – many different requirements – tying teacher evaluation to student achievement – we are still going down the road of evaluation based on assessment – will only worsen situation; good teaching, rich content will get kids through state assessments; autonomy and freedom with rich curriculum; examining getting rid of a gpa – pushback is huge; don’t always need to give the colleges what they want; the colleges will need to read the narrative in the file – takes bravery – look at different ways to present kids – force their hand

Harvard has a freshman program based on quantitative knowledge; statistics is an essential skill, but we don’t get a chance to teach kids that; the science program in the AP track is to focused on content coverage; Harvard – two year science program is now more issue based – those kids are doing better in more advanced science courses

Range of student abilities – how do you meet their needs and for whom does revision need to happen?

CFS includes students who go to community college – wide range of learning styles – there is no excellence without diversity, including diversity of learning styles – differentiated instruction emphasis

The middle – a lot of energy is going to high achieving and those students who struggle – we need to spend some time on the middle; real change happens between a teacher and a student – the energy needs to be on teacher training, innovation, supervision, evaluation, professional development – that’s where change begins;

Need for structural change?

It is about every student. The system infantilizes students – put responsibility back on students and families – we should expect more of every student; APs shunts kids into tracks – you lessen expectations for some – up the expectations – redefine rigor – we’ve misplaced it – Tony Wagner, Harvard; what does it mean to be intellectually engaged? Not, jump through hoops – reinforces fixed mindset; grad requirements are based on seat time vs. mastery; portfolios and exhibitions and performances – how do you put that in a school setting?

Find the structural support to make change happen

Sustainability as guiding principle to break the logjam?

What is the vehicle for the dialogue with higher ed? Right now it’s happening in scattershot

We’ve given up the moral high ground as far as academic work – schools should be about social change – microfinance – kids should be involved – disengagement – how to improve the world – you need to do that in tangible ways – the class goes out and does something

Right now admissions officers have been talking with higher ed admissions offices – we need to connect with teaching faculty – take the college admissions folks out of he equation – link educators with educators

What is the purpose of high school? Real world vs. college prep?

Urgency is the operative word; Haiti provides a dramatic example, much smaller examples – we have the opportunity build teaching and learning around real problems – urgency – it matters that much

If we listen to business, is that good for education? Liberal arts experience vs. industry

How to achieve audience buy-in to non-traditional teaching?

Redefine rigor – it’s not as rigorous as it could be – we give a lot of work but does that work have enduring value – essential skills for life – de facto rigor is defined by doing well on standardized tests; IB program is different than the AP – given a poem, and they have to go in front of a panel to explain their interpretation – authentic and high end; we need to demand that on a regular basis – our kids can perform at a higher level
The chem teachers regive the same exam they gave in the spring in the fall again – same group of students – 50 percent failure rate – AP/SAT II scores were great, but they were not coming out with enduring understanding; have faculty sit down and look at student work – in groups with blind assessments – we need to give time to that

We need to examine student work – what does that result look like?

Include college folks on secondary school accreditation teams

In a lot of schools, faculty members are skeptical of college admissions process; reframe process as self-actualization – create an interesting profile for a student

Students are outsourcing their knowledge – wikification of knowledge – value of internalizing of knowledge – the brighter they are the more they outsource; the need for efficiency outpacing the need for knowledge

Education for action – “the ultimate aim of education is not knowledge, but action”

Apply knowledge – inert knowledge – so much knowledge in your head but you never use it; value and use in their daily lives – schools need to push them


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