Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What it Will Take to Close the Global Achievement Gap

Professor Tony WagnerTony Wagner serves as Co-Director of the Change Leadership Group (CLG) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education since its inception in 2000. “An initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, He also the author of The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need--And What We Can Do About It and presented this past week to the American Youth Policy Forum..

Wagner’s basic argument is that a global achievement gap exists so that even students attending our best schools fail to meet the expectations that leaders of large firms like Microsoft. Google and Xerox. Everyone in these firms need to communicate with passion, problem solve and collaborate at far higher and more sophisticated levels than ever before. Furthermore today’s tests can tell us almost nothing about who has those skills and who does not. What are some of the components we should look at to improve? Better tests, vastly improved teacher preparation with a greater emphasis on the clinical , more R&D that can point to specific areas concerning how to improve practice are among the key points that need to change. Where do we look for a model? No further than Finland--the highest performing educational system in the world. Wagner is just back from a trip to that country-- a nation he notes that is not entirely homogeneous--20% of the population migrated from other countries.

Finnish system is characterized by :

• Need a Masters Degree to teach
• Finland’s student teachers are better prepared and higher performing than most experienced teachers in the US
• National curriculum standards-local responsibility for implementation
• One third of all high school classes are electives

Wagner advocates—some of the following actions need to be taken:

• students’ have digital portfolios linked to teachers’ portfolios
• Recertification of teachers’ every 5 years
• A National Teachers Academy similar to the National Army, Navy and Airforce Academies—where exemplary teachers demonstrate their skills
• A greater emphasis on R&D to help understand how to teach at these higher levels that are now needed by our society and economy.

Asked what specifically we could do when NCLB is up for reauthorization this year—explore alternatives to the useless tests we now have. Finland he notes employs very few tests.

My questions are now as follows:

  • Do we have the leadership, money and the willingness now to reinvent both assessments so that they truly reflect the 21stcentury skills we need today

  • Can we improve our teacher preparation and form it along Finnish lines?

  • Can we find leaders like Wagner willing to clearly explain the facts to our attention challenged media, policy makers and others that even our best students are not prepared for the global workforce?

  • Can we all acceept that what our students need at this time is something different from what we all endured in the last century--teacher led instruction? Can we finally shift over to student centered engaged learning ?

  • Can we use technology as a key tool --so that all our students from the least academically motivated to the most want to come to school and don't end up as passengers on a bus they don't know why they are on?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Join iEARN's campaign to Pair Every School Globally by 2016

Ed Gragert is a great advocate for global communication leading to better cultural understanding. As CEO of iEARN in the US, he has tirelessly dedicated himself to the mission of assisting schools around the world enrich their curriculum through global connections--expanding the organization from a few countries in the late 1980s to one that currently "engages about 750,000 students in 38 countries with significant Muslim populations in collaborative online project work."

In a recent Huffington Post op ed he calls for the President to set a challenge to US schools to "link every school in the US with at least one other school somewhere in the world -- through virtual exchanges by 2016."

The boosts to language learning, to global awareness and 21st century collaborative and problem solving skills would be enormous as would our students' quantum growth in global knowledge and understanding.

How do we make it happen by 2016? Ed calls for a "public-private partnership "ENGAGE The World" Initiative can be created that brings together the 30+ organizations that are already linking US schools with peers internationally to create a one-stop place online through which schools, teachers and youth organization leaders can find examples and opportunities to establish cross-cultural connections and learning with the global youth community."

The effort needs to be organized through every state department of education who needs to help get the word out and to suggest ways in which the curriculum can be enhanced through such exchanges.

As I wrote in an article for E-School News on the Rise of the Globally Connected Student we don't need a new network as President Obama indicated in his Cairo speech to do this, we have the existing networks so in the President's words "a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo."

But we do need to follow through and make the leap into the future that will really begin to help this generation of students truly engage in the 21st century globally interconnected and inter-dependent world they will inherit.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Engage The World: Effective Networking for Global Awareness and Global Education

Thanks for this article --lets hope it renews interest in global education using the web to authentically connect to the students across the world
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time to Rethink Higher Ed for the 21st Century?

So here are some possibly inconvenient facts for those who like to equate education success with attending a four year college. According to New York Times reports

* “Of the 30 jobs projected to grow at the fastest rate over the next decade in the United States, only seven typically require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
* “Among the top 10 growing job categories, two require college degrees: accounting (a bachelor’s) and postsecondary teachers (a doctorate). But this growth is expected to be dwarfed by the need for registered nurses, home health aides, customer service representatives and store clerks. None of those jobs require a bachelor’s degree.”
* Of those who passed the German Abitur, the key final high school test allowing allows “some Germans to attend college for almost no tuition, 40 percent chose to go into apprenticeships in trades, accounting, sales management, and computers.
* “Students who graduated from college in 2008 with loans carried an average debt.” of $23,200 — an increase of nearly 25 percent, or $4,550, when compared with those who graduated just four years earlier”.
* An estimated “40% of college students will leave higher education without getting a degree, with 75% percent of these students leaving within their first two years of college. Freshman class attrition rates are typically greater than any other academic year and are commonly as high as 20-30%”

Something seems clearly wrong with this picture. Too many students find their way into colleges either unprepared or unmotivated for college work and because of the pressure (usually exerted by families and school counselors) find themselves in debt and cast as failures in the early twenties without anything to show for their efforts.

We need a real debate about the type of higher education that is right for the 21st century-one that looks realistically at alternatives to four year degree programs that are not well aligned with the nation’s job market. Some examples of the dysfunction are provided in the New York Times article by Professor Richard Vedder.

“It is true that we need more nanosurgeons than we did 10 to 15 years ago,” said Professor Vedder, founder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a research nonprofit in Washington. “But the numbers are still relatively small compared to the numbers of nurses’ aides we’re going to need. We will need hundreds of thousands of them over the next decade.”

Some of the alternatives mentioned in the New York Times article include : “short-term vocational and career training, through expanded high school programs and corporate apprenticeships.” Others must include some on-line learning and work experience as well as university and community colleges that could design their programs to include a better balance between work experience, project based learning and mentoring opportunities organized by the colleges themselves.

20th century education was based around the notion that there were some clear credentials that once obtained would reflect the knowledge and skills necessary to be competent in the society for a lifetime. The nature and shape of 21st century realities require a starkly different approach—in the new global economy in which rapid changes in technology lead to as many as five or more career changes in a life time means—students today will be continuously learning and so that intensive investment into four years of one’s early life may not be as valuable as extending and increasing that investment over the course of a lifetime. Higher education needs to catch the same 21st century bus that schools need to jump on if they are going to successfully adapt themselves to changing realities.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The World's Great Teachers Available from Your Desktop--Now What?

We appear to be entering a golden age when it now possible for free to view the best teachers and professors on line. Thanks to the wonders of You Tube and great Web 2.0 Technologywe can share the delights of what a great teacher can bring in terms of understanding of the material, ability to transmit their knowledge and what is often so very important infect their love of learning with their audience. Here are a few examples of what I mean--we will be following up with others in later posts.

The following video was referenced by the New York Times article by Katie Hafner, An Open Mind,

" At 83, Marian C. Diamond has been teaching anatomy at the University of California, Berkeley, for 50 years. Her class is so popular that it’s difficult for students to get in, though she holds court at the campus’s largest lecture hall, with room for 736. She begins by opening a colorful hatbox. Dressed in an elegant suit and scarf with her hair swept back into a chig¬non, Professor Diamond pulls on a pair of latex gloves and reveals the box’s contents: a human brain. It is in alcohol, she says, “because alcohol will preserve the brain. Need I say more?” The students laugh as they take this in. She has the room in the palm of her hands."

The implications of this are truly enormous. We are only just at the beginning here as the Open Courseware movement takes off--initiated by MIT but having initiated the movement with their desire to place some (as it turns out a quite limited set of materials on line). Now we have an extensive set of other places on the web to gather great educational materials Take a look at the directory the New York Times managed to put together.

We need a discussion of the ways we can best use these materials--in schools, college and for online learning.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Charity Reflections this Mother's Day

As I was reviewing my giving for this upcoming Mother's Day, (I wanted to give something of value to celebrate the life of my own mother who passed away at the end of last year and decided on a gift that UNICEF provides for those children who do not have school supplies. ) I thought how does anyone know that their preferred charity is administratively sound--that we will be getting our money's worth? How much is their overhead? Could they be better organized if they worked together rather than pay for separate staff and facilities both domestically and in other countries?
One tool you can use is Charity Navigator--they provide vital statistics of more or less most charities. I was glad to see UNICEF was in their highly rated category with their overhead costs a modest 2.8%.

Educators might want to use this tool as they help their students to understand the increasingly important work of charities and discuss their role. Charity Navigators'
include some useful tips on giving that might be the subject of some discussions and exercises.