Shifting Education into the 21st Century

A few weeks ago, I listened in on a webinar entitled “Lessons from Abroad: International Standards and Assessments� presented by Stanford professor and renowned education researcher Linda Darling-Hammond (I also attended the Kerner Forum at Stanford a year ago where she was the keynote speaker). It’s been a busy few months since I came out of my sabbatical, and I’ve focused a lot on work and the efficacy of what we do, so I was interested to hear more about international education standards.

Overall the presentation was quite eye-opening, especially in regards to America’s archaic and sometimes obsessive focus on results, to the detriment of actual student learning. She points out that while most US standardized tests (think SAT, ACT, CAHSEE, ABCDEFG…) are designed to assess whether students learned what they were taught in school and focus on recall and recognition of facts, there are a set of international tests designed to assess if students can “apply what they’ve learned to new problems and situations, focusing on inquiry and explanations of ideas.�

How novel.

She goes on to mention how schooling evolved through the ages from “The School of the Church� in the middle ages to the Industrial Age’s emphasis on educating for discipline. It made sense back then because workers in factories and other industrialized functions required routine manual and cognitive behavior to be successful. But the demand for skills changed, especially over the last 20 years with rapid growth in technology, social and cultural contexts.

The education challenges today and in the future are to prepare motivated and self-reliant young people to analytically think and interact via multiple mediums.

Welcome to the Knowledge-based Society, kid.

So what can be done to take our slow and bureaucratic education system to the next level – to prepare our youth to be competitive for the knowledge-based society?

1) Improve the use of technology in schools – Remember your school’s computer lab? Get rid of it! I envision a future where students don’t have to go to a lab to access computers, where the technology is built into every classroom and seamlessly integrated into the learning experience. Imagine if teachers used technology to have real-time student assessments so that they can adjust their teaching techniques and styles as quickly as their students can text their classmate across the room.

2) Institute summers of service – Americans need to stop wasting summers! I don’t necessarily think we should have year-round schools, but I imagine a future where instead of wasting away at home playing video games, students are engaged in summer learning activities, like community service or entrepreneurial endeavors. Check out this cool start-up social venture that shows amazing promise for this initiative: Summer Advantage.

3) Invest in recruiting, retaining, and developing teachers – By strengthening the professionalism of the teaching force, teachers will not only get the training that they need to continuously grow, but teachers will also want to stay in their profession. There are interesting models out there that are experimenting with performance-based pay for teachers, most notably in Washington, DC and Singapore, and while I don’t know if that specific change will create the desired results, I do know that teacher compensation needs to rise to that of comparable civil servants.

4) Institute leadership training for principals and school leaders – Outstanding principals drive schools, teachers and students to achieve better results. School leadership is an important and sometimes misunderstood piece of the education puzzle. At a meeting with a principal at one of our partner schools recently, she constantly joked around about how tough her job was and how her marriage was at stake because of all of her responsibilities. Yet the culture and tone that the principal sets impacts the quality of instruction, the development of staff, and orderly administrative tasks. Because it can be lonely at the top, principals should routinely collaborate with colleagues and receive leadership training from seasoned coaches.

5) Implement assessments to inform investments & improvement rather than to deny diplomas and sanction schools – This last one is a Linda Darling-Hammond staple, as I have heard her say it at several events. Because of No Child Left Behind, American assessments are obsessed with results. “Assessment systems should support the learning of everyone in the system, from students and teachers to school organizations and state agencies.� School systems need to take back the power of assessments so that they can be used positively.

Anyway, there’s my end-of-the-year rant on the education system. Click here to read more about the Darling-Hammond’s webinar.

Which of the five improvements above do you think will be the most important for the next generation of education? Or do you have an idea for an improvement I didn’t mention?

Trendspotting: Philanthropic Weddings

I’m going to four weddings in the next nine weeks. As Karla told me, we are coming to that age when many of our friends from high school and college are getting hitched.

I’m really looking forward to Mike and Alex’s wedding this upcoming Sunday because 1) Alex is one of my best friends and we go all the way back to the elementary school days, and 2) they’re employing what I think is a pretty neat philanthropic idea at their wedding.

You know how at the end of weddings, they give out those (usually) tacky wedding favors? Generally it’s a piece of plastic crap that has the couple’s names and the date of the wedding on it. Or perhaps it’s a food-related favor like a bag of cookies or packaged cupcakes. Alex’s idea was rather than paying $3-4 per person for a random wedding favor, she would instead donate the cost of the favors per person to a nonprofit organization that she and Mike valued. She  asked me to help her choose a nonprofit organization or charity that aligned with their values, and after some research, I sent her a list of 17 recommendations, and my opinions of each. The list included some of my favorite orgs like College Summit, Ashoka, and Green for All.

She recently told me that she and Mike chose BUILD (I swear I didn’t twist her arm or anything) as the recipient for the donation, and each guest at the wedding will receive, in lieu of a wedding favor, a little piece of paper describing the organization.

In two weeks, I’m attending Erwin and Coy’s wedding–Erwin is my chorus brother and their wedding will be my first gay one (Go California!)–and they are also employing philanthropy at their wedding. On the back of their invitation, they’ve written:

Because we already have more things than we need, in lieu of gifts we ask for donations to help continue the right of GLBT folks to marry. We encourage gifts to Equality California at

It’s hard not to be cynical at weddings, but given that both of these weddings have the underlying theme of giving back, I think they might turn out to be fun after all.

Help me bring Learn-a-Palooza to SF

Karla was telling me about this fantastic community-organized event they hold annually in DC called “Learn-a-Palooza.” Check out the description from their FAQ:

Learn-a-Palooza is a day-long fair being held May 10, 2008 where DC’s Mid-city (Adams Morgan, U St, Columbia Heights, Dupont) residents, artists, and business owners will offer classes on hundreds of different topics. Classes will range from “3 Basic Yoga Poses”, to “How to Change a Bike Tire”, to “10 Words in Farsi”, to “Columbia Heights History”, to “Intro to Red Wine”, to “Learn to Sing”, to “Be a YouTube Star”. Anyone who has something to share (and basically we all do) can offer a class.

The event will be free and open to the public.

How cool is that??? I feel like this is something that should have already been happening in San Francisco. Maybe we do? Has anyone heard of anything like this in SF?

If not, I don’t think it would be too hard to put together. And imagine the benefits! Community engagement, learning for the masses, people getting to step out of their comfort zones, businesses/organizations getting exposure. The benefits are limitless.

Who wants to help me organize this for 2009? If anything, it will be an interesting experiment in community engagement.

Epiphanies are slow and gradual, not big bangs

Almost a year ago today, I thought of writing  a post with this title because I was driving to work with Karla and had an epiphany. It wasn’t a big huge crazy epiphany.

It was more like a puzzle all falling into place, and all of the pieces were gathered throughout time.

Anyway, the epiphany was that I wanted to teach at the university level. OK, so that unto itself is not a very concrete epiphany, but I like it the way it is. It’s flexible, and I am sure I can make it work.

Another great idea: A Summer of Service

Last month I wrote a post about how I have dedicated my life to serving children and youth, and after thinking about my past experiences and thinking about the Time article, I thought of another fun idea:

Kids have summers off, and most of the time if families don’t have money or resources to educate or keep their kids occupied during the summer, they are left to fend for themselves and basically end up watching TV.

Why not create a summer camp for kids from under-resourced areas where they learn about leadership by giving back to the community? It could be in a camp setting, in an urban setting, even in a suburban setting…  Clearly this idea is still very much in the idea stage… What do you think?

A fortune from a fortune cookie

I got this from Eric’s Chinese Restaurant:

Reasonable people endure; passionate people live.

How appropriate.

I just interviewed 8 candidates back-to-back for our Incubator Program Assistant and E1 Program Assistant positions through Public Allies (an Americorps program), and I swear… if you don’t have passion, you need not apply. Passion is so important when you’re applying for a job and for when you’re actually working in the job.

I don’t know how people can live life without being passionate about what they are doing. It would eat away at the very core of me if I were to do that.