Much upcoming, and some new commentary.

1. Upcoming school visits include EnVision’s Metro High School (SF) Thursday, Dec. 4; High Tech High Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 8 and 9; and Wildwood School Wed., Dec. 10; and Sonoma Academy Tuesday, Dec. 16.

2. Jay Matthews at the Washington Post has returned to the topic of 21st century skills– regular readers here my remember my response to his cranky column bashing 21st c. skills advocates two months ago. In this most recent piece, he acknowledges his crankiness, and moves to accept that there is some reason to accept that we should place a higher priority on teaching students to think creatively and evaluate analytically. (I would add to solve complex problems, at a minimum). I appreciate his point that there is nothing terribly new about what we are calling 21st c. skills– these were certainly valuable things to learn in preceding centuries– but I think there is a sound argument that as the world changes, these intellectual skills are more important than ever. I am not quite as enthusiastic as he is about teaching high school students a lot of factual content to memorize, but I will happily accept the following:

The most important conclusion of Silva’s well-sourced 11-page study is that the best learning happens “when students learn basic content and processes, such as the rules and procedures of arithmetic, at the same time that they learn how to think and solve problems.

Matthews goes on to ask where is this happening– this kind of teaching– and it is fun for this blogger to find the example cited being that of New Technology High School (NTHS). Regular readers of this blog know that my visit and student shadowing at NTHS was perhaps the most impressive of my 15 school visits thus far (I visited at the Sacramento campus, but the programs are very consistent as I understand it across the several sites).

Also good to see Matthews quasi-endorse, if mildly and a bit back-handedly, the College and Work Readiness Assessment, which is another favorite here at Good High School; Matthews, who wrote Supertest to praise the virtues of the IB, also takes another opportunity to praise IB warmly.

The Silva article cited above has prepared a thorough research analysis for Education sector on Measuring Skills for the 21st century; I plan to return to review this report soon.

3. Delighted here at GoodHighSchool with the recent research publication by the MacArthur Foundation: Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. Click here for a two page summary, and here for the NYT article about the research report. This very large study, with a team from several universities and conducted over several years, brings us the entirely unsurprising “news” that teens like to spend a lot of time on “new
media”– particularly the internet, social networking sites, and communicating via other digital tools. More important than this “revelation” is the following:

“It may look as though kids are wasting a lot of time hanging out with new media, whether it’s on MySpace or sending instant messages,” said Mizuko Ito, lead researcher on the study, “Living and Learning With New Media.” “But their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.”

The report emphasizes two main points: new media strengthens and extends their
social lives in ways much more often positive than negative, and we all know how
important socializing, and social development, is for our adolescents; and,
perhaps more interestingly, (but still unsurprisingly), it greatly strengthens
their ability to delve deeper and pursue further their passions and interests,
in what the report calls “geeking out.”

Some youth “geek out” and dive into a topic or talent. Contrary to popular images, geeking out is highly social and engaged, although usually not driven primarily by local friendships. Youth turn instead to specialized knowledge groups of both teens and adults from around the country or world, with the goal of improving their craft and gaining reputation among expert peers. While adults participate, they are not automatically the resident experts by virtue of their age. Geeking out in many respects erases the traditional markers of status and authority.

Great stuff– let’s keep working to provide our students the tools, the training, the support, and the respect for their usage of digital media.

4. Interesting article last spring by Rothstein regarding performance incentives in education, asking many tough questions about how appropriate, and how effective, they can be in the educational setting. Rothstein argues that “goal distortion, gaming, and corruption” are almost inevitable consequences from performance incentive plans (pip), even when pip’s do raise average performance slightly. He delves into whether pip’s in corporate settings really are as prevalent, or as effective, as school pip advocates suggest, and answers that they are not. He also considers the importance of intrinsic motivation for teaching in the teaching profession, arguing not that we should diminish the importance of better compensation in general for educators, but that pip efforts might be particularly unsuited to a profession that is as much an avocation as a vocation. He also points out how devestating pip’s can be to teamwork and employee morale. Diane Ravitch brought me to Rothstein article from her blog posting today. She also points readers to a new book, Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us, which I am ordering promptly. (I am a little sorry to see Ravitch throw a punch at Michelle Rhee, whom, from a distance, I have apparently more appreciation for than does Ravitch.)

5. More on the topic of the distortion educational testing can cause– cheating is apparently on the rise again. The AP reported on the new Josephson Institute survey, finding 64% of high school students have cheated, and yet 93% of them are pretty self-satisfied with their ethics. This concerns me, certainly, as it is supposed to, the way the results are presented and articles written. Nonetheless, there is much cause for more nuance and more thoughtfulness when examining the issue. I’d suggest first we separate things out more than these discussions do: cheating is one thing, stealing another, and ethical self-satisfaction an altogether different third thing. As for cheating, we do need to recognize that a huge proportion of high school students are being educated in an environment which encourages them, even demands of them, that they “Do School,” or play “The Game of School,” to quote the title of two books on the subject previously reviewed in this blog. When we test kids relentlessly, testing them on what we deem important rather than on anything they view as meaningful or relevant, and we tell them that the results of this testing will count for more than any more authentic assessment of their human wholeness– well then, what can we possibly expect other than widespread disdain for the testing, and hence cheating. This also explains the seemingly irreconcilable statistics about the numbers who cheat with the numbers who view themselves as ethical. What these kids are saying, I would hazard, is that they believe themselves to be ethical in the ways that matter or are meaningful. As for this second point, nuance requires us to recognize that there can be no simple yes or no answer to a question about satisfaction with personal ethics and character. Life is insanely complicated, adolescence even more so than adulthood I would suggest, and student growth occurs by not answering such a question with a single worded answer, but grappling with it– what do these terms mean in my life, and what are the many ways in which I struggle to fulfill my personal goals in the way I treat others and maintain my integrity. Life is hard, and kids struggle, and they cheat and they lie. I don’t like it anymore than anyone else. But these kinds of scare-tactic anxiety raising statistics don’t really help us address what really matters: are our kids finding their high school years personally fulfilling them, is their schooling genuinely serving them in advancing upon their goals, and they intrinsically motivated to address real-world problems? Let’s address these things first, then worry about whether they are cheating.