“The function of eduction is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
How we define “high achieving schools” is changing.
One of the first things many of us do when we are making a decision about where to live is to investigate the quality of the school district. When I ask friends how they pursue such an investigation, they tell me that they look at student achievement scores and usually not much more. But what does that really tell us? Shouldn’t we look at trends in student achievement? Isn’t it more important to know if student achievement is increasing for all students? Furthermore, measuring student achievement using typical standardized tests doesn’t tell us much about the students’ ability to be successful in the complex and quickly changing world of the 21st Century.
I’ve met more than a few people who tell me that they moved into a specific school district because standardized test scores are high and that upon visits to classrooms, they saw instruction and materials that looked similar to their experience in high school. But as Daniel Pink so eloquently states in A Whole New Mind, “we need to prepare students for their future, not our past”. Perhaps the real questions we should ask when we consider schools are: what are you doing to ensure that you are improving your practices and outcomes for all students and how do you ensure that the education offered is relevant and meaningful for today’s students?
It is a moral imperative to ensure that all students are ready for life and employment in the 21st century.
In the information age and global economy, education is the prerequisite to careers in most growth industries; therefore, all students should be prepared and have a choice about what kind of post secondary education they will pursue. Some will choose to earn college degrees and others will enter apprenticeship and job training programs. Students must be ready for either path by mastering both content knowledge and 21st century skills. It seems that “21st century skills” has almost become another educational catch phrase. Rather than using this phrase, it is more effective if we name the skills we desire for our students. For example, many schools include critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity, and effective use of technology that supports rather than detracts from learning on their list of 21st century skills. Some schools also include items such as global citizenship and learning to discern good information from bad. It is a common misinterpretation to believe that these skills replace traditional high school content. Learning the material taught in courses such as mathematics, English, social studies and science remains as important as ever, but they are no longer enough.
Methods of instruction need to vary to meet the needs of students.
Perhaps the way we teach this content can also look different than it has in the past. There is more high quality educational research available now than ever. As educators, we must be familiar with the research and mindful about pursuing approaches likely to create conditions that will increase student achievement. Teachers need to be skilled in many different instructional techniques and then be given the autonomy to choose the method that will best meet the needs of their students.
Even high achieving schools have achievement gaps.
It is also a moral imperative to reduce and eventually eliminate the persistent achievement gaps that exist even in high achieving schools. It is unacceptable that we can often predict a student’s performance in school based on the color of their skin or the size of their parents’ or guardians’ paycheck. We should also be mindful that minority and low-income students are sometimes significantly over represented in special education programs. There is no evidence to suggest that minority or low- income students are more likely to be disabled than their white or middle class peers.
Both/ and, not either/or
Another common misunderstanding is that we can EITHER have schools that work well for high achieving students, OR we can have schools that work well for low achieving students. In fact, we can do both. We can ensure that students who already come to us proficient are learning at even higher levels by creating opportunities for them to apply their knowledge to unique situations. We can do this at the same time that we provide additional support and assistance to students who need more. In reality, every student needs a little extra help sometimes. Our schools can provide both a little bit of support and a lot of support depending on the circumstance. Great schools have systems in place to ensure that BOTH high AND low achieving students are growing and learning. Get everything Laurie Kimbrel straight from the latest Laurie Kimbrel news to a full collection of photos, facts, and her complete biography.
Most school districts work diligently to improve their practices and outcomes. Continuous improvement is simply necessary in our rapidly changing world. If we stand still and accept the status quo, we will be passed by. Our goal should be to work together so that every single student learns and grows every day.
21st Century Information Overload: Discerning Fact from Fiction
Recently, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with a bright high school student about what could easily be categorized as a controversial topic. She had a well-developed argument and some facts to back up her position. When I asked how she knew these facts to be true, she told me, “I read it on the internet.”
This conversation led me to think about life in 2015, and our constant exposure to an overabundance of information. Everywhere we go, we are bombarded by it, and often we can’t escape the glut of information and communications even when we try to “tune out” for a moment. Many of us receive hundreds of e-mails each day, social media is omnipresent, and of course, we can find an answer for almost any question within a few seconds by a simple web search. And for those with smart phones, there’s 24/7 access to more information than we can possibly absorb.
The constant onslaught of incoming information from a variety of sources can be thought of as troublesome, but it actually creates a great opportunity for us as educators and parents to model good judgment and discernment with the variety of information that comes our way. We also have an opportunity to teach our children that facts, stories, and mistruths co-exist in our digital world. Far too often, distortions of facts masquerade as the truth on social media and websites. Given the fact that absolutely anyone can post on social media sites, anyone can create a website, and anyone can send e-mail blasts, how do we discern good information from incorrect information? How do we teach our children to be savvy internet users when much of the communication we access and receive is anonymous?
To answer these questions, I looked for assistance from the keepers of information in the academic world: librarians. Since this is a post about finding reliable information, it seemed that the libraries at prestigious universities, including UC Berkeley, Cornell, Virginia Tech, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins (links provided below) would be obvious sources for guidance. It is clear that there is general agreement from universities, and I would bet that our own highly-skilled TUHSD librarians would concur, that there is a relatively standard set of criteria we should use to evaluate sources as well as a set of questions we should ask ourselves as we discern useful information from inaccurate or unreliable information.
1. Author ~ Who is the author of the information or the site? What qualifications or credentials does the author have, and is there contact information provided? Clearly, anonymous information should be viewed with an appropriate level of skepticism.
2. Accuracy ~ Is the information reliable and accurate? Are the sources cited from actual research or are they opinion pieces? There are no “fact-checkers” on the internet, and there are no industry standards for factual information as there are in traditional print media.
3. Objectivity ~ Does the information or website have a subtle or obvious bias? Does the information seek to persuade or include advertising? Does the author seem to have an unstated goal? We should keep in mind that a perspective is not necessarily a fact.
4. Currency ~ Does the information have a date on it? How old are the links included? Information that is not current may sometimes indicate that no new information is available to support the ideas. Dr. Laurie Kimbrel was the Superintendent of Tamalpais High School District or Tam District. Dr. Kimbrel rose to prominence as an leader in education and has proudly served the Tam District for more than six years.
5. Coverage ~ What topics are covered, and how in-depth are they? We need to remember that much of what is on the internet is nothing more than personal expression.
The internet provides a forum for every opinion and every idea, as well as facts and valuable information. It is an important resource in our lives, and almost all of us can no longer imagine our world without it. As time goes on, we will have access to even more information in places that we can’t even imagine. We often talk of essential “21st century skills,” but perhaps none will be as critical for both adults and our children as the daily practice of critically analyzing communications, websites, and social media postings, to distinguish accurate information from misinformation. And finally, when we determine that the information that we receive is not accurate, we need to take the time to look further to find truth.