The following is the text of an email I sent this evening to Jack Grayson, who gave the closing keynote yesterday at the COSN / Texas CTO Council conference in Plano. My notes from his session, “Process Improvement and Implementation for Education,” are available.


Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts and insights with us at the CoSN / Texas CTO conference. You gave us a lot to think about and process, and hopefully work on!

I resonated with things you said regarding our dynamic economy, the need for managers and workers to seek out tacit knowledge, etc. These themes are strong in the book by Virginia Postrel, ““The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress” published in 1998. I’d highly commend it to you and your team as you work on these issues.

I am glad to see you are applying your principles to the educational environment, but I think the question I asked at the end which apparently remains unanswered is a key one. Defining metrics and drawing maps is great for administrative tasks, but it is not cut and dry, and easily quantifiable when it comes to authentic teaching and learning. My impression as a quantitative educational researcher is that student performance at the knowledge/comprehension level of Bloom’s taxonomy can be most easily measured– reliably and validly. That is what most of our tests measure, I think.

The disconnect is that we see business leaders and others calling for 21st century literacy skills, that not only include technology skills but also “messier” skills more difficult to assess, like ability to solve problems, work on a team, lead a group to analyze and propose different solutions to a complex problem, communicate with different media modalities, collaborate with a diverse team dispersed over space and time, etc. These are important challenges, and I think the disconnect between high stakes accountability / assessment as well as standards, and these desired outcomes, is one of the big “elephants in the room” when it comes to educational reform. Another major elephant is poverty. When you statistically disaggregate the academic performance data for US schools, you see that our white students are performing quite well against everyone else in the world. I would think this would be primarily correlated to socio-economic status, and it is also, but I am referencing Dr David Berliner, who is at Arizona State and is a noted educational researcher in this area.

For more on messy assessment, I’d refer you to a presentation a gave earlier this year in Richardson titled, “Open the Door – Conversation, Complexity, and Messy Assessment.” David Berliner’s presentation about High Stakes testing (in which he discusses disaggregating the data to account for group differences) is also available as a podcast on my website.

Your work in the area of educational reform is very important, and you have the ear of many decisionmakers whose views matter! I’d be glad to visit further with you or others on your team, especially those working in the area of “messy assessment” for 21st century literacy skills. We need to promote these skills and I am convinced that our current educational envronment mostly promotes traditional, transmission-based education rather than these collaborative, media-rich 21st century skills that students need for a successful future.

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One Response to Thoughts on school reform

  1. Wesley,

    Great email. I’ll be very interested to know what kind of response you receive.

    You bring up some very good points in this message — essentially stating that we are focusing too much on the minimal, low-level, knowledge skills that can be taught through transmission-based methods and not focusing enough on the higher-level, critical thinking/performance skills that our students really need to be learning.

    Thanks for sharing. I also want to thank you for sharing your notes from this past week — they have been very informative!


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