Articles tagged with 21st century skills

The week in blogs: A school board member’s ‘unabashed reasonableness’

Amid the clamor for an educational “silver bullet “ — be it charter schools, or vouchers, or more hoops for teachers to jump through, or more mandates from Washington — a guest columnist for Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog talked this week about creating “a vision that looks at the entire system of public education” in the author’s home state and “how to move it forward.”

Who writes with such unabashed reasonableness in this age of partisan stridency and politically loaded speech? A school board member, of course. Namely, David Johnson, president of the Georgia School Boards Association and vice chair of the Floyd County Schools in Rome, Ga.

The system Johnson is referring to is the GSBA project: A Vision for Public Education: Equity and Excellence.

“Instead of picking apart the system and deciding on where or on whom to lay blame, we now have a vision that looks at the entire system of public education in our state and how to move it forward,” Johnson writes. “It’s proactive, productive and positive.”

And well worth a careful look – no matter what state you live in.

The plan specifies immediate actions and long-range steps to address issues such as early learning; governance, leadership, and accountability, and culture, climate, and organizational efficiency.

Other good blogs this week include Joanne Jacobs’ look at the other side of South Korea’s phenomenal test scores, or, as she puts it, South Korea: Kids Stop Studying So Hard!

“You Americans see a bright side of the Korean system,” Education Minister Lee Ju-ho told Time magazine, “but Koreans are not happy with it.”

In other news, Eduwonk calls “sobering” new data on poverty in Hispanic households and the latest statistics on college completion.

Lawrence Hardy|September 30th, 2011|Categories: Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , |

The week in blogs

Who wants yesterday’s paper?” Mick Jagger asked decades ago in a song that had more to do with a failed relationship than the newspaper industry. But as a former newspaper reporter, I’ve tended to take that line quite literally and protested, if only to myself: “I do. I want yesterday’s paper.” Because you can learn a lot from yesterday’s paper (it’s not all breaking news, after all) and, for that matter, yesterday’s books and magazines, yesterday’s poetry and music, yesterday’s take on the world.

And what about yesterday’s classroom technology? Or, more broadly, yesterday’s teaching methods and the curricula that went with them? Are they still relevant today? Not only are they relevant, argues Core Knowledge founder E. D. Hirsch Jr. — they’re far superior to the process- and test-based approaches of today, an approach he says is responsible for across-the-board declines in verbal SATs.

“Our national verbal decline transcends this ‘achievement gap’ between demographic groups,” Hirsch writes. “The language competence of our high school graduates fell precipitously in the seventies, and has never recovered. What changed — and what remains largely un-discussed in education reform — is that in the decades prior to the Great Decline, a content-rich elementary school experience evolved into a content-light, skills-based, test-based approach that dominates in our schools today.”

It’s an intriguing argument; and, for what it’s worth, I buy some, but not all, of it. Hirsch thinks we’ve all gone skill-based crazy, but at my daughters’ elementary school in Virginia, for example, the approach to skills and content is quite obviously  “both-and,” not “either-or.”  Is it an outlier? I don’t think so.

Another critique of what some consider today’s newfangled education can be found in The Quick and the Ed, where Richard Lee Colvin proclaims that “dumb uses of technology won’t produce smart kids.” He’s commenting on a recent New York Times article on how state-of-the-art technology has not led to higher test scores in many classes.  Once again, his argument is interesting, if taken with a dose of skepticism.  I doubt, for example, that Colvin could find a lot of school technology experts who think that dumb uses of technology are just the thing to make their students smarter.  It’s a bit more complicated than that.

We’ve quoted from the conservative side (Hirsch) so I thought it only fair to go the other direction, and what better place than to education commentator Susan Ohanian? And it turns out, her guest writer, Yvonne Siu-Runyan, president of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), is pining for the old days too. More specifically, a time when school libraries and public libraries weren’t staggering under huge budget cuts. Siu-Runyan quotes an American Library Association study showing that school expenditures for information resources decreased overall by 9.4 percent from 2009 to 2010, and in high-poverty areas by an alarming 25 percent.

It doesn’t bode well for creating the kind of content-rich environments that Hirsch and so many others say are critical to our future.


Lawrence Hardy|September 23rd, 2011|Categories: Week in Blogs, Educational Technology|Tags: , , , , , |

The week in blogs

The College Board didn’t make a big deal about falling SAT scores when it released the annual results this week: It chose, instead, to emphasize that nearly 1.65 million students had taken the nationwide test, the largest and most diverse group in history.

“The good news is we have more students thinking about college than ever before,” James Montoya, a College Board vice president, told the Washington Post. “Anytime you expand the number of students taking the SAT and expand it the way that we have — into communities that have not necessarily been part of the college-going culture — it’s not surprising to see a decline of a few points.”

Still, the headline on the Post’s story – SAT Reading Scores Drop to Lowest Point in Decades – was pretty stark. Was this mainly the result of the expanding pool of test-takers or evidence of a more general decline? Bloggers were all over the map on that.

Still blaming poor SAT scores on test-takers?” wrote Robert Pondiscio on the Core Knowledge Blog. He said that argument “was effectively dismissed by E. D. Hirsch [Core Knowledge’s founder] when scores were announced last year.”

“What changed,” Hirsch wrote back then, “has less to do with demographic data than with “the anti-intellectual ideas that fully took over first teacher-training schools and then the teachers and administrators they trained.”

Bill Tucker, of the Quick and the Ed, had a different take on the data –and the response. He called the latter “SAT score hysteria” and pointed out that the College Board itself said, in a news release, that “a decline in mean scores does not necessarily mean a decline in performance.”

Perhaps the most measured approach to the data was from Jim Hull, a policy analyst with NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

“No matter the reason, the drop in SAT scores over the past several years is a cause for concern,” Hull wrote. “Yes, more students are taking the SAT than ever before — which is a good thing — but that can cause scores to drop. Yet, more students are also taking the ACT and those scores have increased. With no clear national explanation, it is important for districts and individual schools to examine their own ACT and SAT results to gain a better understanding of how prepared their students actually are for college.”

Other important postings this week included the Post’s Valerie Strauss on new national statistics showing that 22 percent of American children are living in poverty, and a telling graphic of what it really costs a poor family to eat in This Week in Education. (In short: Just because you have a refrigerator, doesn’t mean you’re not poor, as some commentators have claimed.)

Also on Strauss’ site, read a guest post by Dana Smith, a member of the board of directors of the New York State School Boards Association, on what it was like to be bullied in school.

Lawrence Hardy|September 16th, 2011|Categories: Uncategorized, School Boards, Week in Blogs, Center for Public Education, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , , |

The week in blogs

Communicating with parents and the community takes time, writes Idette B. Groff, a board member for the Conestoga Valley (Pa.) School District. But it more than pays off in the end.

She offers this advice to parents as a guest columnist in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog:

“If your district doesn’t keep you informed of opportunities to serve on short term district committees and provide opportunities to hear your input, tell them what you want. If they already do this, give a little time to be part of the process. It’s like being a part of the school board without having to invest as much time.”

How well does the U.S. stack up to other countries when it comes to teacher pay? A disappointing, 22nd out of 27, according to one measurement, writes Jack Jennings, president of the Center for Education Policy. Jennings, writing in the Huffington Post, is referring to an international comparison that looks at the ratio of the average salaries of 15-year teachers to the average earnings of other full-time workers with college degrees. It turns out that these U.S. teachers, on average, can expect to make just 60 percent of their college-educated peers. That compares to ratios of between 80 percent and 100 percent in many other countries.

Need another reason to invest in the STEM subjects (Science Technology Engineering and Math)? Read MIT President Susan Hockfield (“Manufacturing a Recovery”) in the New York Times.

Lawrence Hardy|September 2nd, 2011|Categories: Uncategorized, School Boards, Teachers, Week in Blogs, STEM Education|Tags: , , |

Are U.S. students as bad off as international tests make it seem?

11970922351384635865neocreo_Blue_World_Map_svg_medFifteen-year-old students in Shanghai outperform their peers around the world in math, science, and reading on standardized tests.

Question is, does that make these students better prepared for the global economy of the 21st century? And could it be that U.S. students—who rank 20th in science and 30th in math—are in better shape than most pundits think?

Apparently Chinese educators are a bit worried that their first-place ranking isn’t as impressive as it first appears.

“What the Chinese are very good at doing is achieving short-term goals,” Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal of the elite Peking University High School, told USA Today recently. “They’re good at copying things, not creating them.”

That could be a telling observation. Administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2009, the test results, released last month, reveal that students in several other Asian nations—Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and Japan—also outperformed U.S. students.

Such academic success suggests that Asia is preparing a well-educated workforce for tomorrow—and poised to challenge the dominance of the U.S. economy.

Naomi Dillon|February 3rd, 2011|Categories: Governance, Student Achievement, Assessment, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , |

Building a 21st Century Education

Though it was one of the final breakout sessions of the afternoon and snow showers continued to blanket the DC Metro area, Saturday’s program on building a 21st century education drew a packed room and ended with a lively discussion.

Led by Patte Barth, director of NSBA’s Center for Public Education, the 45-minute session offered a brisk overview of the forces that have changed the workforce in the last few decades and how schools must adapt to equip students with the necessary skills they need to be successful.

In 1980, for instance, Americans collectively consumed 4,500 trillion words a day; in 2008 that figure is 10,845 trillion words.

“Can anyone even comprehend what a trillion is,” Barth asks the audience.

“That’s like our national debt,” shot back an audience member.

After the laughter subsided, Barth explained that while the Internet — which feeds some 3.6 zettabytes of data to U.S. consumers a day — has made information more accessible, it hasn’t made it more attainable.

“The information is just bombarding us now, we have to process it, digest it, make sense of it,” Barth says.

Hence the need for higher-order thinking skills and a broader view of competencies. The traditional curriculum is not enough, Barth says, students need to develop the ability to apply what they learn in various contexts.

In the 21st century, students need to have the 3C’s: critical thinking or problem solving, communication/collaboration, and creativity. Barth referenced a scene from the movie, Apollo 13, to illustrate what the 3C’s look like in action.

“This engineer comes in and throws all these random parts on a table and says this is what they have to work with, figure out a way to fix this ship and get them back to earth,” Barth says. “Of course, the engineers knew their stuff, but they had never encountered this situation before and they had to collaborate, and communicate with one another be really creative to find a solution.”

Before ending the session, Barth turned it over to the audience, to find out what solutions their school boards had discovered or what educators as a whole should work on to bring schools into the 21st century.

“Having an analysis of the outcome, not being afraid to fail, it’s a way of thinking that has to start in kindergarten, one audience member posited. “Why do kids like math in kindergarten, but they hate it in fourth grade? Teaching critical thinking skills starts early and needs to continue through education.”

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor, Publications

Naomi Dillon|January 30th, 2010|Categories: Leadership Conference 2010, Educational Technology, School Board News|Tags: , |

The school librarian, the unheralded yet critical conduit of 21st century skills

Photo courtesy Stockvault

Photo courtesy Stockvault

Encyclopedias are wonderful things, and you can learn a lot from them. But could you imagine if, on your first day of ninth grade, your social studies or science teacher sat down your class and said:

“Please go to the encyclopedias and start reading. We’ll have a test at the end of the year.”

No sane educator would expect a ninth grader — or any student, for that matter — to negotiate the multitude of topics, organized solely by where they happen to fall in the alphabet. And yet, that’s sort of what we expect students to do when we turn them loose on the Internet.

To help students get the most out of the truly remarkable Internet, schools need professionals who are experts in information retrieval, assessment, and analysis — they need certified school librarians.

In this month’s issue of ASBJ, I have a story on why school librarians are so critical to helping students develop 21st Century skills. The story quotes from a fascinating British Library study called The Google Generation, which concludes — perhaps surprisingly — that technology has not improved the information literacy of today’s students. Moreover, the report says, “their apparent facility with computers disguises some worrying problems.”

“But you can just Google it!” the skeptics say.

Naomi Dillon|January 5th, 2010|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

How a Virtual Learning Environment Can and Should Help Learners

Jeff Borden gave a great presentation on the rationale of why and how online learning can help students and teachers. His talk was not full of the often empty rhetoric about how “digital learners” are different from the rest of us. I’ve thought and written about this on my blog ( Jeff said the learners haven’t changed–the way they and we learn has changed. I think the sooner we include everyone in the conversation about learners the better. No one benefits from creating a divide between so-called digital and non-digital learners. Another point that Jeff made was that students like technology because they like variety. We all like variety–young and old. Online learning can help address this deep need inside of all of us.

Another important way Jeff made for the case for online learning is that the technology can meet the many needs that teachers have everyday. As teachers, we want our students to write more, to think more, to create more. Online technology tools can help us achieve these goals. By using some very straight-forward tools effectively, we can get a lot of return for our investment. What really came through in Jeff’s talk was that he wasn’t just a “tech head” going off on the cool new tools. It was very clear that he uses these tools in actual classrooms. It’s great to hear from someone who has “the goods” and can help teach and inspire others.

Lindsey Pahs|October 29th, 2009|Categories: Educational Technology, 21st Century Skills, T+L|Tags: , , , , , , |

Cell Phones…toys or tools?

Yes- a ringing cell phone is an unwelcome classroom disruption.  And a texting teen isn’t exactly getting the most out of the lesson plan. But does that mean that this prevalent piece of technology should stay on the black list of banned technology in the classroom?  Or can it be something more?

Elliot Soloway encourages school leaders to rethink the attitude towards mobile technology like cell phones.  Soloway, a University of Michigan education and computer science professor, argues that cell phones and other handheld devices can actually be used in the classroom to add an element of real world application to lessons and enhance instruction.  One of today’s most challenging conversations is how to reach a mobile generation.  And since today’s students undoubtedly are digital natives, why not make use of technology that is practically glued to their hands?

Come explore the argument first-hand in Denver this October.  Register now for T+L’s breakfast session with Elliot and his co-speaker Cathleen Norris– Educating the Mobile Generation- Go Mobile! Go Global!  Elliot will also be a featured speakers during the TEDxTLN Summit, an elite conversation that will re-inspire your definition of leadership in education.

kmangus|August 25th, 2009|Categories: Educational Technology, Student Achievement, 21st Century Skills, Student Engagement, Professional Development, T+L|Tags: |

Life’s Certainties: Blue JELL-O and the Cartoon Network

The start of the school year is a great time to stop and take stock of exactly what frame of reference the customer (our students) bring into the education system. Take a look at the annual list Beloit College compiled of the cultural touchstones for their future class of 2013. Their world is different. They don’t remember a world without the Cartoon Network and blue JELL-O! In addition, text has always been hyper, the European Union has always existed, and Rap music has been main stream. The way they communicate with one another, view the world, and find information bears no resemblance to student behavior of the 1970’s…a time when many of today’s teachers and school leaders were in high school. Understanding the fundamental differences between the students of yesterday and today’s youth is an ongoing challenge in a world where technology introduces new opportunities and potential pitfalls at an ever increasing rate.

NSBA’s Technology Leadership Network offers K-12 educators an opportunity to learn from one another about the best ways to serve this amazing new generation of students with their passion for creating and connecting. Student voices will be an important part of the mini-academy on 21st century learning during NSBA’s T+L Conference in Denver, Oct 28-30, so participants can hear first-hand how they blend technology throughout their lives and how they want and expect it to support their learning. Join us!

Ann Flynn|August 20th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, T+L|Tags: , , |
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