You're encouraged to join and participate in what I hope will be an on-going conversation. Your participation will make this effort a much more worthwhile endeavor. Be sure to click on the "Comments" tab below to read what others have written in response. I look forward to hearing more from you.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reading at Risk

Chances are that you aren't reading this.  Of course, there could be lots of reasons why but I won't touch any of them - except one; that fewer people are reading today than was the case almost thirty years ago.  At least this is what was reported in an extensive study conducted by the Census Bureau back in 2002 (at the request of the National Endowment in the Arts), and the findings - mixed with anecdotal observations - seem to be even more relevant in soon-to-be 2011. So, if you devote time each day to reading, you're in a club whose membership is dwindling each passing year.

Here are the ten significant findings:
  1. The percentage of adult Americans reading literature has dropped dramatically over the past 20 years -now 30 - with less than half of the adult American population reading literature.
  2. The decline in literacy reading parallels a decline in total book reading.
  3. The rate of decline in literary reading is accelerating  - meaning that the percentage of adults who aren't reading is declining faster than in previous decades.
  4. Women read more literature than men do, but literary reading by both groups is declining at significant rates.
  5. Literary reading is declining among whites, African-americans, and Hispanics.
  6. Literary reading is declining among all education levels (the higher the level of education, the higher the reading rate - but it's still declining).
  7. Literary reading is declining among all age groups.
  8. The steepest decline in literary reading is in the youngest age groups.
  9. The decline in literary reading foreshadows an erosion in cultural and civic participation.
  10. The decline in reading correlates with increased participation in a variety of electronic media, including the Internet, video games, and portable digital devices.
This is telling data - if you've made it this far in the post.  It does not bode well for the future of American democracy if there is a positive correlation between reading rate and voter participation rate - which there is.  But some also feel that it's innacurate data because it doesn't take into account the various forms of literacy that have emerged in this age of technology.  For instance, they claim that individuals need to cultivate a digital literacy that is more visual (video) than the reading literacy addressed in the above report.  Given the various ways in which information is now presented, it calls into question how one actually defines "reading" these days.

No doubt, we're deluged with information from every which way.  And we're challenged in our efforts to manage this information, to sort through and make sense of it. Keep it short.  Keep it simple. Where is the Spark Note version?

We were told back in 2002 by the Commission on Adolescent Literacy of the International Reading Association that teenagers entering the 21st century would be reading and writing more than at any other time in human history.  What do you think?  If teenagers are modeling their behavior after the adults described in the above report (see http://eosguidance.blogspot.com/ ), then it may be easy to read the tell-tale signs.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Survey Says Students and Parents Are to Blame for Dropout Rates

There has been no shortage of criticism unleashed about (or upon) public schools in recent years, with the latest vitriol wrapped in a movie called "Waiting for Superman ".  So, it may appear like old news when word arrives that Stanford University united with the Associated Press recently to conduct yet another survey about what's wrong with schools.  Except what is new(s) about this is that the results of the survey point the accusing finger at a different target.  In this case the subject of the survey was higher education and not K-12 schools, and it addressed the issue of low graduation rates for those students who matriculate after high school graduation to four-year public institutions.  With this data, it now seems like no one has been spared on the battle front.  Continue reading to see why.

Let's first frame this research. The AP-Stanford University poll was conducted during the last week of September, it involved interviews on land line and cell phones with 1001 adults across the nation, and it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.  It was made possible by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

So, what did the survey say?  See the bullets below:

  • seventy (70) percent of respondents said that students should shoulder much of the blame (either a great deal or a lot of it) for low graduation rates, while 45 percent felt that way about parents.
  • between a quarter and a third placed the blame with college administrators, professors, teachers, unions, state education officials, and federal education officials.
  • not to leave out politics, 70 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Democrats (an anomaly, of course, in that there is agreement here) fault students for low graduation rates.  Republicans were also more likely (ever so slightly) than Democrats to cast blame on federal officials.
  • fifty-seven percent of minorities blame parents while 40 percent of whites do.
  • minorities are also more likely to blame professors and teachers, with 40 percent of the former doing so and just 29 percent of the latter.
  • interestingly, when asked about the quality of schools, public four-year institutions received the highest grades, with 74 percent saying they were excellent or good.  Not far behind, though, were nonprofit private colleges (71 percent), two-year public colleges (69 percent), and private-for-profit colleges (66 percent).  Fifty-seven percent of respondents gave high marks to private for-profit trade schools.
The report indicated that just over half of first-year students who entered college in 2003-04 had NOT earned a degree or certificate within six years, and this is slightly worse than what was found in 1995-96.  According to the Census Bureau, about 4 in 10 adults between the ages of 25 and 64 have a two-year college degree or more.

This survey addressed the relationship between education and the economy as well.  Eighty-percent agreed that the country's system of education has a major impact upon the health of its economy and they also agreed that the economy would improve if all Americans had at least a two-year degree.

So, the verdict here is convincing - the better the education that students experience (and degrees earned), the stronger will the US economy be.  It certainly appears that money spent on education is seen as an investment and not an expense.  And it would appear, too, that the perceived failure of schools to graduate students - at least in higher education - is the fault of students who attend and their parents as well.

But is that what the public really believes?  And is anyone growing tired of this blame game? 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How Accurate Is This 20/20 Vision?

So, in the short life this blog has had thus far (almost a month old), there have been four posts (this counts five) and over 1350 page views, the latter a pleasant surprise, but the written response of participants in what is designed to be a public discussion has been sparse.  Still,  blog life will go on with the hope that more voices will be heard in this space.  And this post is a continuation on the theme of education in the 21st century.

In a recently published book entitled 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, authors Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel (Co-Chairs of the Standards, Assessment, and Professional Development Committee of the Partnership for 21st Century Schools) offer up suggestions for schools in a world that has clearly seen fundamental change.  This shift has been so dramatic in the past few decades that "the roles of learning and education in day-to-day living have also changed forever."  Skills like critical thinking and problem-solving that have been highly valued for years may be even more relevant today, but the authors contend that what has changed in this 21st century is the manner in which these precious skills are learned and practiced in everyday life.  Some new skills (not even imagined several years ago), like digital literacy, are also required in order to compete successfully in a global world that - with expanding technology - grows smaller (and moves faster) with each passing day.

Trilling and Fadel begin early on to construct their argument - that schools must adapt to this fundamental shift in the roles of learning and education in everday life - by posing four questions, imagining that the reader has a child, grandchild, nephew, niece, or friend (you get the idea) who has just entered kindergarten this year.  Here are the questions:

1)  What will the world be like twenty years or so from now when your child has left school and is out in the real world?  (I think of what life was like even ten years ago, when email first entered our lives, and never did I ever imagine I'd be writing in this medium.  Words like "blogging", "emailing", and "google it" are now common words in our language, and "text" - once used often to refer to books - has obviously assumed a much different meaning in the con-text of what kids "read" today).

2)  What skills will your child need to be successful in this world you have imagined twenty years from now?  (There are things we know that we know, things we think we know but don't, things we think we don't know but really do - "oh yeah, I know that" - things we know we don't know, and there are things we don't even know we don't know.  It's this last point that I think of when contemplating question #2).

3)  This next question involves the reader's personal experience when Trilling and Fadel ask the reader to think about their "own personal peak experiences" in life.  What were the conditions that made your high-performance learning experiences so powerful?

4)  Taking into consideration your answers to the first three questions, consider this last one - What would learning be like if it were designed around your answers to the first three questions?  The authors wonder if your answer would be "more in tune with the demands of our times and the needs of today's students."

Seriously, take a few minutes to reflect upon these questions.  It's clear the world has changed in fundamental ways, and a vision of the college  in 2020 that reflects this change was offered in a previous blog post.  It's also clear that we need 20/20 vision as we look ahead to predict what more will change in our lives.  What would your answers look like? Would you be willing to share them?  This isn't a multiple choice test?  And there isn't one right answer.  Rather, there are many.  Trilling and Fadel offer their answers in the book.  

What are yours?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Does A High School Education Mean?

Piles of data collected in recent years show the value of education in terms of income earned, healthy habits observed, civic involvement, and participation in a democratic process (meaning that more education translates into more likely to vote, and - while we're at it - likely to earn more money, lead healthier lives, and more likely to volunteer.).  If schools function to prepare students for productive work and citizenship, then they are  - as long as students continue to climb higher up Mount Formal Education (while avoiding a landslide of debt that buries many long into their adult lives).  So, we can safely conclude that a relationship exists between higher education and higher income, etc. (see http://chronicle.com/article/Education-Pays-but-How-Much-/124552/?sid=pm&utm_source=pm&utm_medium=en), but what does it really mean to be an educated human being?  And what should we expect a high school graduate to know at graduation in 2011? 

Both questions tend to be politically charged because the answers reflect value judgments that often clash among competing constituencies/interest groups.  What does it mean to be an educated person?  What is it that they know that earns them this status?  What skills do they possess (dare I say "have in hand" to suggest hands-on skills?)?  Is this "knowledge" different today than it may have been two decades ago?  Well, colleges can't seem to agree.  Even a cursory review of graduation requirements at three schools, never mind the three thousand or so more out there, will reveal pretty significant differences.  St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland (and Santa Fe, New Mexico), a highly respected (in academia) but little known (in the public) college, requires all students to complete the exact same curriculum - reading the same books and taking the same courses.  The school promotes itself as the ideal liberal arts institution and assigns students many of the "Great Books" chosen by a panel of faculty members and students (changed periodically).  The University of Chicago is a bit to the right of St. John's College but still offers little flexibility in its core curriculum.  Brown University in Providence, RI, on the other hand, is the yogi master in higher education. The school offers total flexibility, giving students the freedom to choose ANY courses they wish as long as the credits bend in a way that match the number of credits prescribed for a degree.  And all the other schools fall somewhere along the continuum that begins with St. John's College at one point and ends with Brown at the other.  So, is it a stretch to say that one school produces more educated graduates than another?  Or is there more than one way to scale the "Mountain"?

And what about high schools?  What should students really know when their date of manufacture is stamped at graduation?  The CT State Department of Education (CSDE) provides broad requirements (which are supposedly about to change in a few years) for high schools in the state to follow, but local school districts usually add their own ingredients to the mix.  Even within high schools there are differences in department requirements - some are more specific than others.  Take EOSHS, for example.  Four credits in math are required, but there isn't any specific math course required of all students.  In science, there is - but just one and that's Biology.  Otherwise, students are required to earn two more credits besides Biology to meet graduation requirements.  Four credits in English are mandated, and these courses are relatively fixed at each grade level (and course level), although the CSDE doesn't dictate the content that must be offered in any of these courses for credit.  The Social Studies Dept. defines its requirements even more specifically - all students must complete Politics (required by the CSDE), Geography, U. S. History (also required by the CSDE), and World Civilizations.  So, there's quite a difference even among departments within a school in terms of deciding what students should know once they reach that stage in life.  Imagine what it's like "out there" across the country?  It's little wonder why many colleges still adhere to the SAT requirement in order to evaluate readiness for success in higher education (for those who now make it optional, there are other reasons for this than simply thinking they agree that the test is flawed - one major reason is that it drives up applications)?  However flawed the test may be, it's at least a measure that may be applied to all students (who choose to take it) regardless of the schools they attend or even courses of studies they take within their respective schools.

There are all sorts of discussions about common assessments and a common curriculum that should be set in place for all high schools throughout the country to follow.  Good luck on this.  It's a political football in Texas alone as the State Board of Education there scrimmages over the content that should be included in textbooks.  This "gridiron" battle is producing nothing more than gridlock as the opposing parties play out the partisan politics seen too often in Congress.  Crafting a  national curriculum will prove to be all the more challenging.  Even colleges are arguing about this as the federal government is putting pressure on them to put in place some kind of assessment that measures growth over the duration of a college experience (click on the link to learn more about the Collegiate Learning Assessment - http://www.collegiatelearningassessment.org/).  All that exists now to measure the "value" of colleges are SAT scores, acceptance rates, and yield rates on those accepted - all measures of entering students and not of those graduating from the colleges.

Finally, it seems that high schools and higher schools (colleges) don't agree on what a student should know at the point of one's high school graduation.  Of the seventy percent of high school graduates who go on to some form of higher education, less than half actually complete a four-year degree.  And many take more than four years to do it.  For those who opt for (or have no choice but to go to) community colleges, about forty percent don't meet the benchmarks on placement tests and are placed in remedial courses that cost lots of money but are worth nothing in terms of college credits.  For the vast majority of these students, college ends before they ever get past the next remedial course required.  Let's acknowledge that a four-year degree is not for every high school graduate - nor should it have to be.  But some form of higher education should be, especially in a changing economy that's beginning to take on an hour-glass shape, one in which there will be plenty of jobs available that require professional degrees and plenty that we'll always need - plumbers, electricians, automotive technicians - and that will still require certification and requisite skills as evidenced by performance on entrance exams into certification programs.

So, what should students know after four years in high school?  What should they be able to do, no matter what direction they take in "life after high school"?  Are the requirements that have been in place for so many years now still pertinent in the 21st century?  Is the mode of instruction appropriate as well?  Twenty-first century skills - what are they, really?  Will the high school of 2016 prepare students for the college of 2020?  And, more importantly, will they prepare students for successful entry into adulthood, even though we may not even know what kinds of jobs will be needed in a world that is changing so rapidly?

What do you think?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Vision: The College of 2020

The Chronicle of Higher Education Research Services recently released a report that provides a vision of what colleges will look like in the year 2020.  The report is based upon reviews of research and data on trends in higher education, interviews with experts who are sculpting the future paradigm of colleges, and the results of a panel of college admissions personnel that was selected by the Chronicle Research Services.  The defining questions asked were 1) What is college? and 2) Why should I go? The answers reflect a significant shift in the way students envision higher education and how they will wish to pursue a degree.

The following points appeared in the Executive Summary:
  • The traditional model of college is changing, as demonstrated by the proliferation of colleges (particularly for-profit colleges), hybrid class schedules with night and weekend meetings, and, most significantly, online learning.
  • Students' convenience is the future (more students will attend classes online, study part-time, take courses from multiple universities, seek three-year degree programs, and low-cost options).
  • These changes, and the pressure they will put on colleges to adapt, are coming at a particularly acute time (the hour glass-shaped economy of the future will require a college degree as a means of entry and/or advancement in higher-paying, career-oriented professions).
  • Colleges that have resisted putting some of their courses online will almost certainly have to expand their online programs quickly.
  • The conversion to more convenience for students will multiply over the next decade.
  • Colleges will need to offer these options in addition to the face-to-face instruction.
  • Students now going to elementary school are going to expect more connectivity and creativity from colleges.
  • Today's high school students see their educational futures built almost entirely around technology.
Below are three quotes extracted from the report:

"The students of 2020 will demand an education on their terms and will be seeking a technology-based customized approach.  The bottom line is that they will want it all: a plethora of learning options that they can mix and match to play to their strengths."

"The Internet has made most information available to everyone, and faculty members must take that into consideration when teaching. There is very little that students cannot find on their own if they are inspired to do so. And many of them will be surfing the Net in class. The faculty member, therefore, may become less an oracle and more an organizer and guide, someone who adds perspective and context, finds the best articles and research, and sweeps away misconceptions and bad information."

"Good teaching will always be at the core of a good university, but for most colleges, higher education will become a more retail-based industry than it ever has been.  The students of the future will demand it.  Many colleges have a long way to go before they can fulfill that demand."

This, according to the report, is what the 21st century college will look like.  Students (and their parents) will be seeking more affordable options, recognizing the value of higher education while opting for the best value as a return on their investment.  If this is so, and high schools are charged with preparing students for success in higher education, then will high schools have to change as well in order to adapt to this paradigm shift at the college level?  And is this what it means when reference is made to developing 21st century skills?  Will standards be compromised if they are adapted to meet the needs/demands of students?  Or will any change in standards simply reflect more compatibility with life in the 21st century?  Is there a more cost effective way of conducting the business of education - of providing an enriching learning experience?  And if these changes are made, will they reduce the role that teachers presently play in the process (oracle) or, instead, change the role to fit a new model (guide an organizer)?  What do you think?

An article appearing in the New York Time (11/21/10) entitled "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distractions" may provide a perspective on the challenges that these new forms of technology pose.  A link to the article is below.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hot Button Topic - 21st Century Skills

What's getting much of the attention these days is the focus upon 21st century skill sets that students must arguably acquire in order to have a reasonable chance of being productive citizens in the new global economy.  It's, no doubt, a hot-button topic.  A simple "Google Search" of the words - 21st century skills - returned 8,500,000 hits in 0.15 seconds.  Okay.  So what's causing the heat?

Well, it's about lots of things, and it all doesn't match up in coordinated fashion.  The one constant in the conversation about 21st century skills, though, is the relative importance of the web and its place in formal (academic) learning.  More and more types of people of all sorts of ages are spending more and more time connecting to the web. On-line courses, on-line banking, on-line shopping, social networking, and open source content -they're everywhere, and can be easily accessed from anywhere, too .  Clearly, the temperature is rising on this hot-button issue as it relates to its place in teaching and learning.

Will Richardson, a 20-year veteran of classroom teaching and author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (2010), made this observation in his Preface - "...we live in a world where the following condition still exists: a growing majority of students are immersed in social networks and technologies outside of school, and most have no adults in their lives who are teaching them how to use those connections to learn.  Our collective inability to recognize a 'tectonic shift' in the way we learn stems, I believe, from one fundamental fact - not enough of us have experienced that shift ourselves.  These shifts will not come under the guise of 'twenty-first century skills' reforms which are actually nineteenth-century skills being remarketed for a new day.  They will only come when enough educators fully understand the open connections, open conversations, open content, and open learning that come as a part of a community of learners who are invested in their own passions."

For some of you, the aforementioned may be a radical view.  For others, it may be right on.  Is it time for a major paradigm shift in education?  Or does it simply mean some minor tinkering with the present model?  Maybe you feel that nothing at all needs to be done. It "ain't broke, so don't fix it."  Maybe technology is driving way beyond the speed limit and educators need to apply the brakes. 

Whatever you may be feeling about this, it's likely you're feeling something.  Will the rising heat bring about a climate change in public schools?  I encourage you to watch the video below (far left, literally, although it may be considered far left in other ways as well) that addresses this issue.  The presentation is very visual.  Take a few minutes - about 11, to be more precise -to view it.  And then take a few more minutes to share your thoughts.  Put them out there and give others a chance to read them. You may encourage others to respond.  And this could perhaps be a place where a community of learners is formed.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why do a blog?

I've been in this profession of education for so long that I can be considered a veteran of mimeograph copying machines.  Back when I first started, I would wait my turn in the "workroom" where this machine was located and then affix my carbon to the roller and start cranking out copies.  Today, and a few decades later, I can now crank out material in so many other ways.  A weblog is just one of these ways.

Our Guidance Department at EOSHS has been gradually making a shift to electronic communication, trying to straddle that line of demarcation that separates "high tech" from "high touch".  There is certainly enough debate out there about the relative merits of online communication - it's too impersonal, too anonymous vs. it's very personal and wholly accountable.  Like it or not, our students are living and breathing in this electronic world.  Adults, knowingly or otherwise, are, too.  So, we (educators) need to reach out in ways that connect us to students -  and parents -  and where they can be found.  And we need to make more information available to everyone in our school community that can be accessed whenever and wherever one may be.  This weblog is one more effort among many that we're trying in Guidance in order to achieve the aforementioned.  It is not, I wish to emphasize, a replacement for the one-to-one, face-to-face meetings that remain an integral part of what we do.  Instead, this is a complement to the personal approach and, perhaps, even an enhancement of it.

But why a weblog, you might ask?  Well, here's why.  Weblogs offer the opportunity for on-going conversations.  Unlike an eboard or a pdf file, a weblog provides a chance for readers to respond, for dialog, and for others to participate in the conversation.  It can become an open forum on matters that invite discussion.  It can also quite simply be another way to convey information.

This is an experiment.  Initially, we'll introduce one topic per week and assess from there. I invite you to join.  Comments will be posted by those who wish to register (anyone can do this by following the link on this page).  Respect, with malice towards none, will be the guiding rule for posts.  In addition, links that I consider useful and interesting will be added at the bottom of the page.  I encourage suggestions to make this experiment work.

Let me know your questions.  It's time to start cranking.