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?

Bill Gates Talks Successes & Failures in First Annual Letter

I feel like a Bill Gates fanboy. He’s one of the few public figures that I seem to continually bring up in my posts because I think so highly of his move from Microsoft to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation six months ago. When he first made the announcement that he had planned to do that, it was an acknowledgment to the entire world that we are facing extremely grave social problems, and that it was going to take commitment from talented people to solve those problems. And it was like a high five for the nonprofit sector. Thanks Billy.

Recently, Bill released a public letter about the foundation’s  efforts to improve education and global health, as well as the impact of the economic downturn on those efforts.

What I liked about the letter was Bill’s candid review of the foundation’s successes and failures, particularly in the education field. He discusses that even though they’ve made over $2 billion in grants to create better high schools over the last nine years, “Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way.” Rather than investing in existing schools to improve their systems, the foundation will focus on creating new schools out of radical charter school models that work, like KIPP, and invest in systems that will foster the creation of better teachers. He said, “If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.”


He also praised the Obama administration for committing to education despite the recession and dwindling tax revenues, as we saw with the education portion of the stimulus plan.

I also wanted to point out that the foundation’s website says “Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation BETA.”

Seriously? BETA? Come on… What’s up with this beta culture spreading to the nonprofit sector?

Check out the lengthy letter at this link or by clicking the pic above. If you don’t want to read all 20 pages of the letter, I’ve picked out a few choice excerpts from the U.S. Education page after the jump:
Continue reading Bill Gates Talks Successes & Failures in First Annual Letter

Are We Entering a New Era in Federal Education Spending?

 According to this New York Times article, “The economic stimulus plan that Congress has scheduled for a vote on Wednesday would shower the nation’s school districts, child care centers and university campuses with $150 billion in new federal spending, a vast two-year investment that would more than double the Department of Education’s current budget.”

The bill would increase 2009 fiscal year spending on Title I, a program of specialized classroom efforts to help educate poor children, to $20 billion from about $14.5 billion, and raise spending on education for disabled children to $17 billion from $11 billion.

Those increases respond to longtime demands by teachers unions, school boards and others that Washington fully finance the mandates laid out for states and districts in the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, and in the main federal law regulating special education.

“We’ve been arguing that the federal government hasn’t been living up to its commitments, but these increases go a substantial way toward meeting them,� said Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union.

The federal stimulus plan’s implications on education are massive and will probably change the course of history for countless young Americans. I’m glad that we, as a nation, are starting to make education a high priority.

Click here to read the article at NYTimes.

Related Post: The State of the American Education System is a Disaster…

Are we preparing our students to be successful in 21st century society?

This is an old video, but my dad sent it to me, and it’s definitely worth the 8 minute viewing.

It really poses a lot of questions for the future of education because our future is zooming into some vast unknown. If mainstream education is changing, what does that mean for our students and our systems that are currently failing our students? What needs to happen to catch them up?