Another School Board blogger?

A fellow “school board blogger” from the eastern part of the state wrote to me recently; in his note he mentioned the keynote speech from PSBA’s October convention, given by Tony Wagner. I had intended to write about this, so my thanks to him for the reminder.

(There aren’t many of us, so you should check out Jim’s blog, here:

What is the ‘crisis’ in American education?  What's the problem we’re trying to solve?

Wagner maintains that the education system is not so much “failing” (although there are places where it clearly is) as it is obsolete. This is due, in part, because we have failed to consistently ask this question on behalf of students: “how will this be useful to me?” 

It has been true since the dawn of education that students are more likely to learn when they have an intrinsic motivation to do so.

It is also true that in order to make the best possible use of a limited resource - instructional time – we need to periodically evaluate what is important. (A couple of obvious examples: 40 years ago it was important to learn cursive writing and long division. Not so much, now.)

Wagner’s thinking is consistent with that of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, which I’ve written about previously. But to P21’s “4 Cs” of critical-thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity, he adds initiative and adaptability. In this century, these will be survival skills.

Particularly useful was his refinement of the concept of Critical Thinking, which he calls “habits of mind”.  In his view, critical thinking skills include:

·    the ability to ask good questions
·    an awareness of various viewpoints
·    the ability to weigh evidence in support of different arguments
·    the ability to assess social value
·    an understanding of cause and effect
·    an ability to use conjecture; to ask, "what if?” questions

If we want to get serious about accountability, we will have to find ways to measure the things we think are important. Wagner believes there are already some pretty good assessment tools out there; he mentioned the on-line College and Work Readiness test as one example.

Beyond that, the way to make the evaluation process more rigorous is to have teachers develop performance standards for Critical-thinking, Communication skills, etc. What does “mastery of communication skills” look like? 

Clearly, this runs counter to the current movement of easily administered, mass-produced testing. But if this approach seems impractical to you, consider this: when making critical business decisions - such as whom to hire - businesses don’t rely on standardized, fill-in-the-bubble tests; they use "informed human judgment." 

In addition, if we believe that collaboration is an important skill for students to have, then every teacher should be on a team for collaborative learning, as well. (This is already happening locally, as I learned on a recent board visit to Easterly Parkway Elementary.)

A couple of Wagner’s other recommendations:
·    Every student should have an adult coach.
·    Student and teacher video portfolios


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