Published by Lori Pickert on January 18, 2011 at 06:45 PM

You are told that to make it in life, you must go to college. You work hard to get there. You or your parents drain savings or take out huge loans to pay for it all.

And you end up learning ... not much.

A study of more than 2,300 undergraduates found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.

Not much is asked of students, either. Half did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week.


“The great thing — if you can call it that — is that it’s going to spark a dialogue and focus on the actual learning issue,” said David Paris, president of the New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability, which is pressing the cause in higher education. “What kind of intellectual growth are we seeing in college?”

— Student Tracking Finds Limited Learning in College

Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can't answer basic math, science and reading questions, according to a new study released Tuesday.

The report by The Education Trust bolsters a growing worry among military and education leaders that the pool of young people qualified for military service will grow too small.

“Too many of our high school students are not graduating ready to begin college or a career — and many are not eligible to serve in our armed forces,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the AP.


The report by The Education Trust found that 23 percent of recent high school graduates don't get the minimum score needed on the enlistment test to join any branch of the military. Questions are often basic, such as: “If 2 plus x equals 4, what is the value of x?”

The military exam results are also worrisome because the test is given to a limited pool of people: Pentagon data shows that 75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don't even qualify to take the test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn't graduate high school.

Educators expressed dismay that so many high school graduates are unable to pass a test of basic skills.

“It’s surprising and shocking that we are still having students who are walking across the stage who really don't deserve to be and haven’t earned that right,” said Tim Callahan with the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

Nearly 1 in 4 Fails Military Exam


A work of one’s own

Published by Lori Pickert on September 14, 2010 at 03:44 PM

Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. — Anne Morrow Lindberg

A few weeks ago we had some good conversation in an open thread about stress and perfectionism in relation to journaling/documenting.

“takes me away from being engaged and produces an insane amount of guilt and perfectionism”

“the pressure these days to make everything we make a perfect thing of beauty and creativity”

“it might just be simple like starting something new is hard”

What I write about here and what I advocate for children is helping them find their own meaningful work — helping them to identify their interests and dig deeply into something that engages them totally.

As I say over and over, this is challenging work. Challenging for you. It means doing something new that might feel awkward and make you feel unsure. It means examining — deeply — your beliefs about children and learning. It means trying new things, experimenting, making mistakes, trying again — and sharing the process with your child so she can accept all those necessary stages of learning.

It is important for you to find your own meaningful work as well.

And even if “learning mentor” isn’t your destined meaningful work, I believe it can put you on the pathway to finding it. Or help you develop your strengths if you have already found it.

When you decide to really become a researcher, studying how your child learns and how you can support him to become an independent, self-directed learner, you are embarking on your own personal learning journey.

How do we begin to walk the path that we want for our children?

Perfectionism is your enemy when you are learning something new.

It can insidiously whisper in your ear that you have no natural talent for this, so why continue? But it’s the people who continue to chip away at it who will succeed in the end.

You need to apply the exact same expectations to yourself that you would apply to your child. If you don’t expect perfection from her, why would you expect it from yourself?

If you want her to dive into life with gusto, accept mistakes and bounce back with new ideas, rise up to challenges, and not be afraid to set high goals ... don’t you want those same things for yourself?

You are doing something new and challenging, exploring new ideas, trying new approaches.

Support yourself the way you would support your child:

• Be encouraging and positive.

• Provide a great working space and attractive materials.

• Urge ownership of the work. This isn’t something done to impress someone else, get a good grade, or get posted on the internet. This belongs to you and your opinion is what matters.

• Be supportive and follow through.

• Build reminders into your schedule and your workspace to help you fulfill your goals.

• Know that mistakes are a necessary and unavoidable part of learning. It’s how we react to the mistakes that matters.

Remember that when you judge yourself harshly, you are teaching your children without saying a word. And when you dig into something challenging and work hard at it until you’re flushed and happy with the results, you’ve taught them something else.

Everything you do doesn’t have to be worthy of sharing on the internet. Take time every day, even if it’s only a few minutes, to do something for yourself. Read, listen to music, walk, garden, whatever refills your well. You don’t have to be alone or child-free — make it a priority to do the thing that you enjoy most, whether you’re alone or not! Get in the habit of thinking of yourself as worthy of time and attention.

Privacy can be the richest luxury of all. You can have your own thoughts and ideas, you can pursue your own dreams, and you don’t have to tell anyone else about it or photograph it and put it on flickr.

Instead of defining yourself by your successes, define yourself by your traits — your humor, your passion for learning, your refusal to quit, your willingness to experiment, your creativity, your joy. When all is said and done, you may want to share what you’ve learned, mistakes and all. But you don’t have to. Sharing yourself is a choice.

We expose so much of ourselves online, but we know that's not the real us that we're showing. It’s a carefully curated slice of our lives, the part we want to show. Maybe it’s gotten to the point where we think things aren’t worth doing if they aren’t worth doing well ... well enough for being photographed and shared with the world.

But there are so many things worth doing that are worth doing badly ... worth mastering slowly and even painfully ... worth our time and attention and focus. We need to remember that we own our lives and we can close the door on the world and enjoy our simple pleasures and our complex dreams alone, just for ourselves. And let the world look at someone else for awhile.

Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win,
By fearing to attempt.

— Shakespeare, Measure for Measure


The reward for learning should be learning

Published by Lori Pickert on August 3, 2010 at 04:48 PM

In my 20 years of teaching, I have seen students come and go, and have followed their postgraduation careers and learned from their own epiphanies about the world. But I have seldom been so worried as I am now. How to Teach the Trophy Generation, the Chronicle of Higher Education.

This article by a college professor contains some interesting ideas about using students’ “‘connectivity’ — that is, a strong desire to be connected to the community, and a propensity for social networking … well served by interdisciplinary study,” plus ideas about how to motivate students who are spoiled by a history of being rewarded for just showing up.

There is also a wonderful and touching story about her grandmother learning for learning’s sake.

Valedictorian against schooling

Published by Lori Pickert on July 20, 2010 at 02:26 PM

“I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning.”Valedictorian Against Schooling

hat tip: F-Yeah Unschooling

A little bit from here, a little bit from there

Published by Lori Pickert on April 6, 2010 at 07:06 PM

From my post yesterday, veteran teacher Mr. Hollen Mott, who taught in rural one-room schools for 38 years and was interviewed in 1973:

This educational whirl runs in cycles and when the pendulum swings, it’ll swing too far to one side. If only we could pick out the good of both and put them together...

From Joanne’s post yesterday, veteran New York teacher Arthur Goldstein in 2010:

Almost once a year for the last 25 years, I’ve listened to some expert or other explain there is one way to teach, only one way to teach, and that anyone who wasn’t teaching that one way was simply not doing things correctly. The new way was far better than every other way, there was no doubt whatsoever, and anyone who questioned the validity of this method had no business pretending to be a teacher.

Why can’t we take a little bit from here, a little bit from there, find out what works for us, and then use it?

Why indeed?

We are moving away from allowing teachers to be individuals, working with kids in their own way. The standardization movement is standardizing not only the methods, but the human beings who work with children … and the children themselves.

It’s important to find your own way. Especially if we want children to find theirs.

If only we could pick out the good of both

Published by Lori Pickert on April 5, 2010 at 07:16 PM

I have found that if a student is reading it doesn't make any difference whether it’s classwork or not, but if he’s reading, he’s going to be all right. 

They learn from each other.

Yes, definitely. We learn from meeting each other and contact with people and so do youngsters. Youngsters, of course, pick up that kind of thing much faster than adults do, too.

You mentioned something about education cycle. Could you tell us more about it?

Back in something like ’25 there was quite a change going on right then with the letters. Up to that time they had just taught the letter, learn your letters first. And then they’d start phonics. They started using that in the last days of teacher training in the high schools. They got away from the old learning the alphabet, see, and then they started teaching phonics. Do you know we’ve passed about forty years in that or thirty-five at least and that trend came right back. This educational whirl runs in cycles and when the pendulum swings, it’ll swing too far to one side. If only we could pick out the good of both and put them together ....

This new math is like the phonics?

Yeah, that’s what I had in mind.

I guess you’re aware of the fact that a lot of teachers and a lot of school theorists, are coming around to the point of view that the one-room school house is in fact the best way of educating kids and are now in the process of coming back to the one-room school concept. Maybe we here in the Ozarks have recognized the value of the one-room school and kept it because we felt it was the best way to teach. Or maybe we’re so old-fashioned that we are almost “modern”?

interview with Mr. Hollen Mott, who taught in rural one-room schools for 38 years, published in Bittersweet magazine, Fall 1973

Homeschooling has a lot in common with the one-room schoolhouse.

I also enjoyed Teacher’s Plan Book. My plan makes room for games, too.

Distorted priorities

Published by Lori Pickert on April 3, 2010 at 01:47 PM

[A]pplying the principles of business to instruction leads to distorted priorities. It leads, for example, to an overemphasis on test scores as the sole measure of schooling, simply because it is a measurable. Business methods do not acknowledge that the non-measurables may be even more important than what is measured. — Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

Charters became the favorite new toy of businesses and businessmen. Some hoped to make a profit off it, some hoped to find fame and glory, some just liked to be part of the latest fad. They saw testing as a way to relatively cheaply control their quality, and ward off regulators and monitors. They saw teachers and parents as buyers/clients/wage earners. The model was business — and maybe not the best of business at that, as some business reformers warned them.

The crisis talk, our economic shakiness all seemed a perfect backdrop for scaring people into forgetting about our age-old experiment in public education, an experiment that has been adopted throughout most of the world, above all in democracies.

We have installed new bureaucracies, we have recreated too many chain store schools. Decisions were made further and further from school folks.

[W]e need to work very hard to retain the best examples of public education before even the memory of what it meant for us all to have a stake in each other’s children. — Deborah Meier, Small Schools and Choice Revisited

Mmm, distorted priorities. If I was in a cranky mood, I might observe that educational academics have fallen into the water and decided it’s hot. The rest of us have been feeling the heat for some time.

Ms. Ravitch was pro-NCLB back when it came to be, then over time she became agin’ it. We may fire all the teachers, NCLB may come and go, but educational analysts will always have a job! Well, darn, and I wasn’t going to be cranky…

Ms. Meier writes, “If this privatization fails in the ways I suspect it will, it will have destroyed our public system; and it may be hard to put humpty-dumpty back again.”

Would anyone want to put humpty-dumpty back again? As angry as many of us have become at standardized testing, accountability, and the loss of a well-rounded education, the reason we started tinkering with education (beating on it with a wrench? kicking it?) in the first place was because it wasn’t doing its job well enough. The fact that No Child Left Behind did way more damage than good and ended up leaving far more children behind doesn’t change that.

We are moving inexorably forward. What will education look like in 10 years? Will business-model education take as long to fall out of favor as NCLB did?

Okay, well, I have a personal deal with myself that I will only post so many cranky general observations before I must post something real, immediate, and positive. So my next post will be that — and what better antidote to politics?

As Will Rogers said, “The schools ain’t what they used to be and never was.”


Life-ready education

Published by Lori Pickert on March 23, 2010 at 03:01 PM

Even in these days of partisan rancor, there is a bipartisan consensus on the high value of postsecondary education. That more people should go to college is usually taken as a given. In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama echoed the words of countless high school guidance counselors around the country: "In this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job." Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who gave the Republican response, concurred: "All Americans agree that a young person needs a world-class education to compete in the global economy."

— Time: The Case Against College Education

To give you an idea of how competitive American schools are and how U.S. students performed compared with their European counterparts, we gave parts of an international test to some high school students in Belgium and in New Jersey.

Belgian kids cleaned the American kids’ clocks, and called them “stupid.”

We didn’t pick smart kids to test in Europe and dumb kids in the United States. The American students attend an above-average school in New Jersey, and New Jersey’s kids have test scores that are above average for America.

Lov Patel, the boy who got the highest score among the American students, told me, “I’m shocked, because it just shows how advanced they are compared to us.”

The Belgian students didn’t perform better because they’re smarter than American students. They performed better because their schools are better. At age 10, American students take an international test and score well above the international average. But by age 15, when students from 40 countries are tested, the Americans place 25th.

To talk about college this way may sound elitist. It may even sound philistine, since the purpose of a liberal-arts education is to produce well-rounded citizens rather than productive workers. But perhaps it is more foolishly elitist to think that going to school until age 22 is necessary to being well-rounded, or to tell millions of kids that their future depends on performing a task that only a minority of them can actually accomplish.
It is absurd that people have to get college degrees to be considered for good jobs in hotel management or accounting — or journalism. It is inefficient, both because it wastes a lot of money and because it locks people who would have done good work out of some jobs. The tight connection between college degrees and economic success may be a nearly unquestioned part of our social order. Future generations may look back and shudder at the cruelty of it.
— Time: The Case Against College Educationhat tip Joanne Jacobs, who says “‘College- and career-ready’ is the new mantra.”

Ten years ago, Facebook didn't exist. Ten years before that, we didn't have the Web. So who knows what jobs will be born a decade from now? Though unemployment is at a 25‑year high, work will eventually return. But it won't look the same. No one is going to pay you just to show up. We will see a more flexible, more freelance, more collaborative and far less secure work world.

It’s the American way to try to make as much money as possible. And it’s said that the way to earn more is to get the best education you can afford. But in today’s economy, where so many overqualified people are competing for fewer jobs, the promise of a big payoff from a college diploma can be misleading.

— ABC News: Some Debt-Laden Graduates Wonder Why They Bothered with College

A few thoughts…

At what age do our children start equating education with future income?

When our young adults graduate from high school, are they capable of crunching the numbers and determining whether a college degree will pay off for them?

Are they conditioned to think critically about what career they will pursue, whether college is necessary, which college will give them the best return for their investment?

One of these quotes predicts in the future we’ll see a “more flexible, more freelance, more collaborative and far less secure work world.” Are we producing young adults who are prepared to thrive in that environment?

If it’s our goal, as a society, to have our students “college- and career-ready,” what about life-ready?


School as employee training

Published by Lori Pickert on March 17, 2010 at 02:08 PM

Yesterday I said

I am all for competition. Let’s be the very best. But who decided that our most important educational goal is competing with other countries for jobs? Why isn’t our most important educational goal offering the best education available on the planet?

Looks like Alfie Kohn agrees with me:

If you read the FAQ page on the common core standards website, don’t bother looking for words like “exploration,” “intrinsic motivation,” “developmentally appropriate,” or “democracy.”  Instead, the very first sentence contains the phrase “success in the global economy,” followed immediately by “America’s competitive edge.”

If these bright new digitally enhanced national standards are more economic than educational in their inspiration, more about winning than learning, devoted more to serving the interests of business than to meeting the needs of kids, then we’ve merely painted a 21st-century façade on a hoary, dreary model of school as employee training.

Read the rest of Debunking the Case for National Standards.

Let’s compete

Published by Lori Pickert on March 16, 2010 at 03:37 PM

One of the most remarkable things about American classrooms is how little real teaching goes on there. Over the past five years or so, I have spent at least three or four days a month in schools studying the relationship between classroom practice and school organization. I observe classrooms at all levels — primary, middle, and secondary grades — and in all subjects. One of the most striking patterns to emerge is that teachers spend a great deal of classroom time getting ready to teach, reviewing and reteaching things that have already been taught, giving instructions to students, overseeing student seatwork, orchestrating administrative tasks, listening to announcements on the intercom, or presiding over dead air — and relatively little time actually teaching new content.

When my fellow researchers and I code our observations for teaching new content, it is not unusual to find that it occupies somewhere between zero and 40 percent of scheduled instructional time. Over the course of a typical 180-day school year with a 6-hour day (subtracting an hour for programmed noninstructional time), this means that a student might lose somewhere between 200 and 300 hours of instruction per year (40 to 60 days) to just the daily friction of classroom processes.

Let’s compare two middle-grade math lessons taken from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The first, in a typical American classroom, begins with a problem-by-problem homework review focused on procedure and factual recall. It proceeds to a teacher-directed lesson with no discernible connection to the homework, and ends with a long period of seatwork focused on tomorrow’s homework. There are probably fewer than 15 minutes of instruction in new content in a 55-minute class.

The second lesson takes place in a Japanese classroom. The teacher begins with a brief introduction to the problem of the day including a short connection to the previous day’s work, followed by a combination of individual seatwork, pair work, and group problem-solving, which in turn is followed by students presenting their work and a discussion among the teacher and students of what the students have produced. All of the content is new. The class moves to another problem; the process is the same.

When American educators watch these two lessons they are shocked by the difference: Students in the Japanese lesson are fully engaged in new content for the entire class, while in the American lesson it is difficult to discern what the new content actually is, much less how much time is dedicated to it. Observers invariably comment on how respectful and comfortable students and teachers are with each other in the Japanese lesson, and how distant and incoherent the discourse is in the American classroom. They see that meaningful work produces meaningful discourse and meaningful results.

— Richard F. Elmore, Three Thousand Missing Hours, Harvard Education Letter

Go ahead and boo me. I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short. You’re competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week, 11, 12 months a year.

— Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, addressing middle- and high-school students in Denver

I promise this is the last one.

When I read Prof. Elmore’s Three Thousand Missing Hours, I thought about Mr. Duncan’s quote about longer school days/weeks/years.

One, why should kids be in school even longer if we aren’t treating that time as a precious gift and making every hour count? Schools say there’s no time for recess and no time for hands-on learning, but Prof. Elmore and his researchers found that

Over the course of a typical 180-day school year with a 6-hour day (subtracting an hour for programmed noninstructional time), this means that a student might lose somewhere between 200 and 300 hours of instruction per year (40 to 60 days) to just the daily friction of classroom processes.

Two, I am all for competition. Let’s be the very best. But who decided that our most important educational goal is competing with other countries for jobs? Why isn’t our most important educational goal offering the best education available on the planet?

Did anyone sit down with America’s teachers and ask them what they need to help them teach and help all children learn?

Did anyone sit down with America’s families and ask them what they want for their children? (If they did, and those parents said, “I want my child to be able to compete with China and India for jobs!”, I will eat my hat.)

Let’s compete. First, though, let’s choose the race we really want to win.