Educating Potential

An open letter: Opt-out Movement

I have been watching the opt-out movement across the US with fascination.  What I find most remarkable is the reaction of many in the education reform community to the growing chorus of voices pushing back on current reforms.  Many of us have been worried about the direction of reform for years, but it was easy to ignore us as naysayers.  Now that students and parents have taken matters into their own hands and pundits like John Oliver have taken up the cause the concerns are not as easy to ignore.

But what I find astounding is that many in the education reform community still don’t get it.  Sure there are small elements of this movement that are about conspiracy theorists trying to claim “government intrusion” into state education affairs.

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Kids’ inner voices

I’m having a lovely weekend with a friend who is expecting her first baby this summer. My friend and her husband are in the process of name selection and she was sharing with me the challenge she is having figuring out how to have the name reflect both her and her husband’s family. It is a struggle I think many of us have had, as more women elect to keep their maiden names after getting married. Whose last name does the baby get? Do you hyphenate and let the child make the hard choice about which name to keep when he grows up? Do you have one parent’s last name be the middle name knowing that most people don’t use their middle name, thereby making that name less important? Do you make up a new name? It’s a bit mind-boggling.

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Teacher experience matters

Shocking? Research finds that teachers’ experience level matters

When a Colorado task force, the LEAD Compact, was convened in 2013 one of the questions that arose was the issue of teacher quality. A range of experts came in to speak to the group about the research that underlay one of the unspoken assumptions of the task force’s conveners and reform advocacy groups: that teachers gradually reach a plateau in their effectiveness after 3-5 years on the job; that there is little evidence that improvement continues after the first three years; and that on average, teachers with 20 years of experience are not much more effective than those with 5 years of experience.

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Kids, movement and health

I was at a Montessori school in New Haven last week and got to spend some time watching primary kids ages 3 years to 5 years in their classroom. Montessori primary classrooms have an area called practical life that is filled with activities like sweeping, washing, cutting, pouring. For the uninitiated it is a little disconcerting to see children in school apparently “working” rather than learning.

We forget that for millennia human children lived lives that were very different from the ones they lead now.  They were outdoors, they explored, the moved, they encountered dangers, they learned through experience.  Our society has evolved rapidly over the last 100 years, but our basic human nature, our brains and our physical bodies have not.

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Professional insight and parenting

Last fall I had friends over whose son was in the same class as my son at our local Montessori school. They were a bit annoyed at the school and the teacher because they felt that their son was floundering and nothing was being done; they were considering changing schools. Montessori schools are organized into multi-age classrooms and their son had just moved from a primary (ages 3-5 years) classroom into a lower elementary classroom (grades 1-3).

My older son had made that exact same transition the previous year and he had had a similar experience. He had a hard time settling into an academic rhythm; instead he seemed more interested in watching what other students were doing; had difficult social encounters with other students; and just generally seemed untethered and unfocused on learning. He came home upset about interactions with other kids almost on a daily basis and it broke my heart to see him struggling. Part of me wanted to jump in, call other parents, ask the teacher to step in and protect him from what he was finding hard.

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When it comes to the brain it’s the HOW not the WHAT

I’ve just finished reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary and it is an amazing book – well worth reading. However, most of us are not fortunate enough to have adequate reading time built into our professional duties so I thought I would share a few thoughts the book raised for me. It may provide food for thought and conversation at an upcoming holiday cocktail party … this may be why people tell me I am too serious at cocktail parties.

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The Sense and Sensibility of Boarding School

I’ve been reading a lot about adolescent development behavior recently and the more I read, the more I am coming around to the idea of boarding school for middle and high school students.

A lot of expat kids come home to Singapore for the holidays. And I’m not talking about college students – I’m talking about middle and high school students. In the US the idea of sending your child to private boarding school is generally unheard of outside of a small subset of families. However, in much of the rest of the world boarding schools are a far more common phenomenon. It’s been interesting to chat with some of my nephews’ friends who have been at boarding schools for a large portion of their middle and/or high school career, and even more interesting to hear the perspective of these kids’ parents.

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Can we be virtually real?

Our family is spending the Christmas and New Year holidays in east Asia this year. One of my older brothers and his family live in Singapore and we not seen them in over two years. Given how often they come to the US, it seemed a good time to make the trip over. As it turns out, our trip has been a four for one deal.

We flew through LA to spend some time with another brother and his family. We arrived in Singapore to find that one of my cousins and her husband are doing a biking tour of Vietnam and that we are overlapping with them for a few days. And yet another cousin who lives in Australia is heading over to India for a work event and routed herself through Singapore to see us when she learned we were in the area/region.

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Do as We Say, Not as We Do

There is a fascinating trend in policy these days that is related to the “decision-based evidence making” that I wrote about a few months ago.  It appears that Texas, the state where standardized testing beatification began in the late 1980s (thanks to Ross Perot), reversed course.  

For better or worse, however, the “Texas miracle” led many other states, advocacy organizations and the federal government to make standardized tests the lynchpin of education reform efforts, most notable No Child Left Behind and other “accountability” systems at the state level.

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High school that works for all students

I just got back from a series of school visits for my book research. It is always re-invigorating to get back into schools, and these visits were particularly interesting because they were to schools that have instructional approaches which are fairly new to me. I was particularly struck by my visit to the MET Schools in Providence, RI, schools which approach learning in a very different way than traditional secondary schools.

The underlying philosophy is that human beings are situational learners, namely, that we learn things best when we learn them in the context in which we need to know them. Certainly, this makes sense. Young children learn by doing, and they learn to do whatever they need to do at any given moment in order to explore, navigate and master the environment they are in. If a child lives in a community where people speak only Mandarin, he learns Mandarin.

If she is in a household of people who are deaf-mute, she will learn to communicate in sign language. If children are provided with environments that require them to climb, read, weave baskets, ride bicycles, milk cows, or forage for food, they will learn these skills. This is how human beings have always learned.

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