Tuesday, October 18, 2011

HUMP DAY TRAILER, 10/19/2011

The last SQUINTS was so pessimistic about the trajectories of US public K-12 (and higher education) that it provoked a search for hope, or at least ideas that were not simply regressive.

What caught the eye this AM is a story about – in spite of national miasma about US futures – thinking from DARPA and NASA envisioning a way to get to the stars.   One of the scientists, with a sense of humor, expressed the vision in a couplet:  “On to the stars!  Cowards shoot for Mars.” 

The couplet triggered a perspective of how US public K-12 and higher education are being positioned, frequently devoid of creativity, drowning in “calf path” thinking, and committed to continually funding functions in their respective comfort zones and in many cases serving primarily self-interest, or interests that do not have learning as their hallmark. 

The last SQUINTS cited two posts by the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews airing a dozen schools and/or ideas that break the traditional K-12 mold. Unfortunately, even if that sample dozen is projectable into a small fraction of US systems pursuing creative changes in K-12, it has to be referenced against our 99,000 public schools.

Below are some ideas that are off the "calf path:"
  • One size does not fit all K-12 learning progression and scaffolding; do the research to determine at what stage traditional classrooms can yield to a more free-form model of collaborative and constructivist learning.
  • Instead of the massive deployment of our multiplying digital/computer capabilities (including incipient AI) to only entertainment, create a challenge, an open source movement and awards to develop digital testing models or mechanisms for evaluating learning that reflects genuine knowledge (full contexts for meaning, not the same as information, facts, data, word sequences, identities, formulas, etc.), and developed competence in critical thinking, problem solving, and how to foster creative-thinking.
  • Totally end the seat time model, rigid classes, and the six-sigma attempted production of human widgets – the Orwellian education model – essentially creating learning and tracking performance individually for every student.  Fantasy?  A school is already experimenting with the model powered by digital capabilities that now support daily individual lesson plans and formative assessment.
  • Throw away the present 9-12 versus entry collegiate scenario, and create a blended system that engages higher education to put its money and thinking where its gripes are about high school preparation for the collegiate model of education; in parallel, require 9-12 educational resources to engage with one or more colleges on a regular basis to understand their educational methods and requirements.  
  • While higher education is about it, running on literally medieval models of education and curricula frozen in time, go back to the drawing board to redesign post-secondary education for this century’s demands.  That may require redefinition of the chestnuts that collegiate education cannot occur without small armies of bureaucrats, winning football/basketball teams based on buying the best incipient pros they can recruit, $50+MM student entertainment centers, and that every learning resource be judged primarily, excepting most of the sciences, by a mixed bag of research and arcane publications receding into history as desiderata.  To see a world already retreating to dinosaurs and hype, one only has to view most of our B-schools. 
  • Re-engage parents in the K-12 learning process by making them full, and at least regularly on-site partners in a school’s operations.  Change the role of “teacher” to at least partially encompass the re-education of those adults to be primary learning modalities. 
  • Re-engage our schools’ physical facilities, and those funding them, with virtually all aspects of a true "learning community."  Open facilities fully to community function, and start widely employing as adjunct learning resources a community's professional human resources who in many cases bring more intellect and training to the party than most of a system’s teachers.
  • Trash the present model of school governance by superintendents and principals, who can become bureaucrats for life, by moving the goalposts:  Terminate those who can’t or refuse to push creativity and invention to change the playing field to achieve individualized and non-programmatic learning, and who reject contemporary models of leadership.   Require regular system rotation of service of even the successful administrators to minimize comfort zones and empire building.
  • To the stars -- start constructing digitally simulated schools that combine learning mechanisms deliverable digitally and by distance with human resource application where it is interactively most effective.  Far out?  The perspective is similar to the one gained by putting your head down on the floor next to your pet’s, you get a different view:  This Fall, the monthly average use of two online interactive simulated social life models reached over 140MM.  Those are our K-12 students -- learning is happening, but much of it is already outside of our educational infrastructure. 
  • Lastly, flip the model of education “expert” versus “boots on the ground.”  Require school of education faculty and administrators to teach in a K-12 school once every N periods.  In parallel, require future “teachers” to:  Have a masters degree or some equivalent at minimum to even get into a K-12 school; be competent in research design on classroom learning methods and resultant data interpretation; have training in curricular design; be competent in testing theory, test design, and interpretation.  Develop a process quality control model of K-12 delivery, then trash in perpetuity the present debacle of standardized testing and its ex post positioning of the opportunity for learning.
Hard?  For sure, but the challenges remind me of a group president (liked and hated simultaneously) to whom I once reported when in executive garb.  His favorite retort when delivering a seemingly unattainable performance goal was:  "If it was easy, I'd do it on a postcard over a martini."

Lastly, almost invalidating the "on to the stars" good feeling of the morning, attempts to game public K-12 education to support a testing and hype agenda really do stretch common sense.  Restoring sanity is today's blog by Dr. Diane Ravitch, that shreds the hype; it should be required reading for our K-12 bureaucrats and Congress.

Aiming or settling for the status quo is neither a challenge, nor one of the more prescient definitions of work as "hard fun"...


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