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I rewrote so those people who couldn’t see past the citations in the earlier versions of Linda Darling Hammond’s essay in the Sacramento Bee, could actually focus on the point of MY essay.


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.

The rhetoric we hear talks about students needing to be creative, critical thinkers, socially responsible, and lifelong learners. 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 commonizing 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 combine academic and real-world workplace learning. The objective is so students graduate ready life by developing the life skills we all know are necessary to be successful in general.

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.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the assessments we use also have value to students themselves? We could go beyond the traditional GPA and test-score reports by using student presentations or portfolios that showcase evidence of student growth.

Now that would really be innovative!