I have long known that students are individuals, each with their own style of learning. They come to classrooms with varying degrees of competencies. They come with a wide variety of interests, motivations, hopes and dreams. They come from a wide variety of socioeconomic and family environments, even within the same towns, districts or neighborhoods. So why are public schools presently being told to teach students as if they are all the same? Why are they being taught in a substandard and homogenized way?
All of you can decide on the answers to that question, and there are many that I will don’t rant about here. I have done plenty of that. It is not the time to rant. It is, as it usually is, the time to discuss and propose options and better solutions and better solutions.
It is a lie to say schools do not have high expectations, even for selfish reasons. Who wants to look bad? As Linda Darling Hammond and Hilary McLean have written in a piece published in the Sacramento Bee, students must be “tested” on the right skills for college and career. And by tested they and I don’t mean standardized tested.
The rhetoric we hear talks about students needing to be creative, critical thinkers, socially responsible, and lifelong learners. Hammond and McLean tell us, and I concur, that as long as policies continue to give schools grades those policies are hypocritical. This century has been devoted to an accountability system based on standardized tests that measure relatively low-level skills and have been supported by the common curricula and test preparation time that support these tests.
Tests obviously have their place in measuring preparedness but we should not be relying on them as heavily to help us understand how our students become who we say we want them to become.
Innovation is a funny word. I know of many educational techniques and programs that were innovated 40 and 50 years ago that were proven to work, but now have a hard time being recognized for their success in the US because they are not supported by those “invested” in new innovation for profit.
Project based learning, portfolio assessments, inquiry, mastery learning, and various programs offering experiential learning intertwined with academic learning have long existed and been quite successful. I ask, who profits at their loss? Not our students.
Let’s return to those goals we have for high school graduates. Ultimately we want them to be successful at whatever they do post high school, whether it be college, career, or post college career. To be successful we want them to be creative, critical thinkers, socially responsible, and lifelong learners. So what programs have 21st century policies funded that explicitly do that? VERY FEW.
Why? Why do we dismiss what worked to excite, challenge, and make relevant while at the same time prepare them to excel at careers and college?
We are standardizing and commonizing them to intellectual death. Most are bored, unchallenged, and think most classes are irrelevant. All you have to do is ask them.
So I want to celebrate what I, thousands of teachers, and tens of thousands of students and parents know works: well-designed, highly structured, experiential academic programs such as WISE and California’s Linked Learning. These programs “integrate academic and technical courses in high school with real-world workplace learning. The objective is that every student will graduate ready for a wide range of postsecondary and career options” (Hammond and McLean) as well as develop the life skills we all know are necessary to be successful in general.
“In a world where knowledge is rapidly expanding and technologies are constantly changing, “college readiness” and “career readiness” are no longer entirely different things meant for entirely different students. More and more of the competencies that high school graduates will need in the workplace are also what colleges expect: the ability to find and evaluate information, weigh and balance evidence, communicate effectively, collaborate to solve problems and learn independently.” (Hammond and McLean)
Finally, lets look at the outcomes of experiential/academic learning.
Students in programs like WISE “benefit from internships, service-learning projects and school-based enterprises where they apply learning to real-world problems.” They “can show what they’ve learned in applied assessments. Imagine students demonstrating their Web design abilities by building a website, or their accounting knowledge by creating a spreadsheet.” This is the type of assessment over 40,000 WISE students have had since 1973.
As Hammond and McLean state, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the measures used for accountability also have value to students themselves? We could develop new ways to communicate with postsecondary institutions that go beyond the traditional GPA and test-score reports by using student profiles, [presentations,] and portfolios that showcase students’ products,” along with evidence of the process of their growth.
Now that would really be innovative!
NOTE: Linda Darling-Hammond is a professor of education at Stanford University and chairwoman of the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing. She is also on the advisory board of WISE SERVICES. Her daughter, Kia helped start a WISE program in her High School (New Rochelle) in 1993.