David Truss has posted a nice synthesis of several of my recent posts relating to educational reform and learning, and even created a graphic that refers to podcast #79 titled, ‘Reject Rigor: Embrace Differentiation, Flexibility, and High Expectations’.

Thought on School 2.0

In his post, David hits on an “elephant in the room” of educational reform debates: the wide gap between talk of high-stakes accountability and the learning environment students need to remain engaged and thrive:

But there is a dichotomy here: Our ‘educational language’ around standardization and accountability juxtaposed with differentiation and flexibility… we seem to have two mutually exclusive camps, yet there seems to be a move to embrace both. To embrace both is to accomplish neither.

This reminds me of the distinction Gary Stager related last week between those who are advocates of “instruction” and those who advocates for “construction” in classrooms. We need to bridge the gap between these groups. I don’t think the answer lies in merely discrediting rote learning models like the educational reformers did in the early 20th century (although a flashback to those ideas might be helpful.) We need to demonstrate through examples, qualitative anecdotes (storytelling in both digital and face-to-face modalities,) and statistically valid mixed-method studies (like Monica Beglau and eMINTS are doing) that the optimal educational environment for students is one where learning opportunities are differentiated and students CREATE as well as CONSUME knowledge and information. This learning perspective leverages the potential of the “new read-only” as well as the “new read-write” culture and technologies of the early twenty-first century. I discussed this a bit in my presentation at MacWorld last week, and in slightly greater depth in the draft of this presentation recorded just after Christmas.

The idea of bridging perceptual divides when it comes to high-stakes accountability and more desirable learning contexts also reminds me of my presentation at TCEA in February 2006, “Cultivating Digital Literacy Through Blogging and Podcasting.” (Available as an audio-only podcast and enhanced podcast.) In that session, I rhetorically questioned how much overlap there is between the skills cultivated in a high-stakes testing environment, and those a consensus of observers seem to agree our graduates need for success in the 21st century workforce: critical thinking skills, the ability to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences using digital tools as well as face-to-face skills, the ability to collaborate with a group to solve novel problems, etc. This slide summarizes the question:

How Much Overlap?

Of course I readily admit my perspectives are limited, but based on what I know of our public schools in the midwest of the United States, my perception is that the following slide summarizes the answer to the question:

Mutually Exclusive?

High-stakes accountability and NCLB have quashed constructivist teaching methods in many classrooms, and discouraged teachers from helping students acquire digital literacy and other skills considered “21st century workforce essentials.” The political rhetoric of improving education is out of sync with the reality in many classrooms.

In preparation for presentations at the Oklahoma state tech conference and the Texas state tech conference in early February, I am reading the full executive summary of “Touch Choices or Tough Times” from the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, which (after a brief scan) appears to repeat and extend this gap between desired workforce skills and the learning culture fostered through high-stakes testing mandates.

I hope we’ll see new creative, empowering educational reforms instead of “more of the same” high-stakes, big-stick, fear-encouraging legislation in the months to come. Based on the past track record of our politicians, however, I’m not holding my breath. 🙁

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  • Wow, Wes, great post! You succinctly get to some crucial issues in today’s education. Similar thoughts I’ve been pondering over the past few years with NCLB, standardized testing, and the need to create a learning environment that successfully prepares the “innovators” we (and Thomas Friedman) talk so much about needing in the coming decades. Rarely does regurgitation blossom into invention and problem-solving.

  • Wesley,
    I would have spent more time on the graphic if I new it would be used elsewhere… especially by the author of the quote:-)
    Thanks for yet another great post with very practical links.
    Dave

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