In Linda Darling-Hammond’s book, The Flat World and Education, we learned that the US has LOTS of work to do to create equitable education opportunities for all. Why should we? Because we are falling farther and farther behind every other country in our ability to produce educated, well rounded, 21st Century learners! In her final chapter, she summarizes what it would take for us to climb rank. Here are my two cents about these suggestions...
Meaningful learning goals:
Don’t we want goals for our kids, the kids of the nation, that are meaningful, achievable, and will empower them to thrive in and transform our world into a better place so that they will be prepared to do the same for future generations? A shift from assessment practices that are detached from real classroom learning to school based, task oriented portfolios or blended assessments could help everyone focus better. Instead of stressing out and “teaching to the test,” teachers and students could concentrate on deeper learning. Teachers, schools, and districts could have more control over what they would like to assess so that it matches what is happening now in 21st Century classrooms. These “free-range learners” (Nussbaum-Beach, brain-based learning video) could be assessed using the tools with which they are learning 21st Century Skills.
Intelligent, reciprocal accountability systems:
Are we doing our absolute best to give ALL students the opportunity to become successful citizens of the 21st Century? If Dr. Darling-Hammond’s recommendations were followed, not only students, teachers, schools, and districts would be held accountable for performance, but so would the state and the country. We could evaluate the state and federal systems to see if they are providing the MEANS for students to access a quality education. I really like the “reciprocal” part here. Everyone has some responsibility, so let’s look at all the moving parts. I believe that the author’s suggestion of a revamped ESEA would be a major tool in creating this reciprocity by bringing to light system and structural failures--IF done right! I hate to admit that I would not have much faith that it would be done right! However, if we are going to “do right” by our children, it’s important to think about everything that could be done.
Equitable and adequate resources:
One of my favorite quotes in Darling-Hammond readings: “The onus of NCLB is on individual schools to raise test scores. However, the law does not address the profound educational inequalities that plague our nation.” Amen! Then there’s the obvious truth that student achievement is dependent on many things outside the school walls: health care, nutrition, housing, and community factors. Equitable and adequate resources across the country seems like the biggest issue of all. In order to produce decent results, poverty stricken areas don’t just need education reform--they need so much more. If Darling-Hammond’s prescriptions under the “opportunity to learns standards” were followed, high poverty states would get higher shares of resources, provisions would be made for a good supply of highly qualified teachers, appropriate curriculum, materials, technology, and supportive services= a good start.
Strong professional standards and supports:
I really loved this section the best. Hammond’s suggestion that we model the teaching profession after the medical profession and create teaching hospitals with interns to learn from highly skilled master teachers is genius. I believe this type of system would also elevate respect for the teaching profession, as in the highly successful countries that were mentioned in the book. The use of performance assessments for both teachers and administrators would ensure quality and prestige to these positions.
In this section, Hammond also suggests that teacher preparation and professional development needs to be revamped so that “teachers can meet 21st century learning needs and develop sophisticated skills.” This concept rang a bell for me after watching the brain learning video entitled “The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in the Digital Age.” The idea that there are new literacies that both students and educators must attain for success in the 21st Century seems evident. I love that Darling-Hammond says, “...Furthermore, these leaders need to know how to design and create the schools of the future, not just administer the schools of the past.”
Schools organized for student and teacher learning:
School redesign would be a huge job--almost too huge to imagine anyone actually doing it. The suggestions in this section seem so viable, though! Why hasn’t all of this been taken into consideration? Things like: time for teacher collaboration (more than double what is currently common), lesson study, collective planning, peer coaching, working in teams… In fact I think people **think** these things are happening, and they are. But maybe they’re not happening enough, or not consistently enough.
As part of the changes needed in school organization, Darling-Hammond addresses the idea that schools need networks that foster learning from one another. Also, all this change should include investments in technology that would allow teachers and students to access an “infinite variety of resources and tools for learning, and in new assessment systems that value students’ abilities to use these tools to solve real-world problems.” These statements speak directly to the content in “The Connected Educator” video, where one of the main ideas is that teachers need to have online networks and communities from which to learn, contribute, and lead. Hammond is talking about “School 2.0!” This discussion is motivating because some of these technology focused objectives are not so out of reach for someone like me, at my school, and in my district.
Last favorite quote: “No society can thrive in a technological knowledge-based economy by depriving large segments of its population of learners. The path to our mutual well-being is built on educational opportunity.” ~Linda Darling-Hammond