Extending the AP Conversation

Quantum Progress has now posted two thoughtful and engaging blog posts on the relevance of an AP approach to teaching advanced curriculum in high schools. I think the postings contain clear and logical arguments for why the AP program is an insufficient vehicle to teach advanced science effectively, unless your measure of success is getting a 4 or 5 on the College Board AP exam. One of his many arguments, which are well constructed, is that AP exams are inadequate ways to measure a student’s understanding of the curricula. He also makes the case for why other AP courses do not meet students’ needs in the 21st Century. Some who have commented, have identified with his views, while others have not. ChemEducator LLC dismissed his arguments with comments like, “I’m not at all sure that I WANT “deep conversations” about what I teach and why I teach it, and that’s sort of my point. This stuff doesn’t interest me much. Does that make me a bad teacher? Maybe it just makes me a really bad candidate for education administration.”

I certainly understand the thoughts and feelings of people who have devoted their career to teaching AP courses or to those who have benefited from taking many AP courses in preparation for college. As a former AP teacher, biology for five years and chemistry for eight years, my experiences were mostly positive. However, I must add that in both teaching experiences, the AP science class I taught was the student’s second year of the curriculum. The prerequisite to AP was taking an introductory biology or chemistry course. In fact, in AP Chemistry at my school in Los Angeles introductory chemistry and physics were prerequisites. As a result, I had much more flexibility to go outside the confines of the AP syllabus, both in content and laboratory work. At an excellent independent school in Atlanta, where I now work but do not teach, AP Biology and AP Chemistry are taken as a student’s first, one-year exposure to the curriculum. I think the structure in this school prompts CRASH and BURN teaching and learning. Promoting a course of study with AP as the first and only experience with a discipline, cannot produce anything other than students memorizing details to pass the College Board exam.

No dobut, the school justifies the course of study because a large percentage of the very capable students it admits get 4s and 5s on AP exams. However, I don’t think scores students receive should be used as a measure of successful teaching of the curriculum. Deeper understanding of concepts, application of those concepts to real life experiences, and the joy of learning in the discipline should be some of the measures of success. Not test scores. There is no correlation between high test scores and “interested and engaged students” moving beyond the AP program to more advanced study of the material in college. Now that may not be the goal. If not, then what is the purpose of having students memorize lots of content, pass unit tests that are multiple choice format and built like an AP test, and then cram to get a high score on the AP?

In their comprehensive and research-based book, AP: A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program, Philip Sadler, et.al. address many of the arguments for why the AP program answers schools’ needs for an advanced program. They also carefully construct the history of the AP program from its inception in the early 1900s to today. In addition, they point out that the multi-billion dollar industry in the hands of the College Board is not likely to change readily or adapt to students’ needs in the 21st Century. Quantum Progress points out in his blog entries that the College Board’s attempts to revise their end-of-course tests have not moved out of the starting gate. As a big business, the College Board is mostly interested in maintaining the status quo.

I think the challenge for any AP teacher in areas of biology, chemistry, US History, European History, Art History, and others is to cover the extensive, sometimes unlimited, scope of the curriculum in roughly 30-32 weeks. What content is “relevant” and what content needs to be shelved? Should you have students know the formula for potassium phosphate and balance chemical equations or should you have them understand how equilibrium principles apply to the world they live in. What’s in and what’s out? What are the essential learnings or enduring understandings in an advanced chemistry, biology, physics or US History course? It is my view that teachers should be interested in talking about and answering this question.

In addition, with the science APs it is challenging to implement a really good lab program. The AP labs are “cookbook-oriented” labs. They do not lend themselves to a more inquiry approach to teaching science through experimentation. Lack of time, especially quality lab time, is the “enemy.” Also, I think it is extremely challenging to fulfill a teaching philosophy that embraces critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and analytical and synthetic thinking. In Bloom’s taxonomy, most AP teachers are teaching the acquisition of knowledge (content) and/or understanding the basic foundations of the subject. They are less able to explore his next four levels of high-order thinking: application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Teaching these four levels effectively requires making connections to other disciplines, analyzing data from experiments (science), making connections between different ideas, engaging in systems thinking, and evaluating the content being taught. There isn’t time in the typical year to teach using methods that promote higher-order thinking. Teach the content in one unit and move on to the next.

Now, some might argue that this is not the goal of a typical advanced course in high school. I would argue differently. I think we have a responsibility to help young people, who are preparing to enter high education, to think critically and work effectively in collabortive and independent settings. I think AP courses do not lend themselves to stretching beyond traditional models of teaching (lecturing, standard discussions, reviewing typical problems, etc.) It would take a leap of faith for an AP teacher to engage in problem-based learning, project-based learning, or use inquiry in their teaching practice. For those reasons and others, I think it is imperative to ask and research the question, is the AP program the right or best way to teach and prepare the inquisitive mind for the 21st Century.

Quantum Progress has asked this question and stated his views. I would support his premise and ask us to consider what are other approaches to constructing an excellent advanced program that gives teachers the flexibility to teach in depth, for deeper more lasting understanding, versus breath. I would also hope that the argument against this approach is not that those opposed to the AP program are not interested in content. I think that has been answered. We need a strong foundation of content in all of our courses. The question is merely what content and how much content?

In the independent school culture, there are schools that are starting to move away from the AP program. The Independent Curriclum Group is a consortium of about 26 excellent schools that have abandoned the AP program as their advanced curriculum. On their homepage they articulate their goal this way: “The schools of the Independent Curriculum Group put students at the center of the education process. We are part of a growing movement of leading college preparatory schools that emphasize site-based, teacher-generated curriculum for advanced courses.” The organizaiton runs its own professional development conferences and innovation roundtables for member schools. None of these schools are going out of business and most definitely none of these schools are finding it hard to get their graduates into good colleges.

I have come to a place where I believe that content-driven, test-driven, standardized curriculum, like AP programs, are not the best way to teach higher-order thinking in most disciplines and will not prepare students to be 21st Century problem solvers.

Disruptive Innovations and Creating a Culture of Innovation

In their book, Living on the Future Edge, Ian Jukes, et.al. use the term disruptive innovations. They devote a chapter (chapter 9) to this concept which they argue is at the heart of why we need to rethink our structures for educating students in the 21st Century. They reference a number of works, most notably, Christensen, Horn, and Johnson’s book, Disrupting Class: How disruptive innovations will change the way the world learns. For more on the work of Christensen, et.al. there is an interview in the most recent edition of Phi Delta Kappan conducted by Joan Richardson, Disrupting How and Where We Learn.

An example of a disruptive innovation is the cell phone. The evolution of phone communication followed this sequence: wall phones that had to be cranked; rotary phones that had to be manually dialed; sleek, push-button phones; large, cumbersome cellular phones; and sophisticated cell phones that take pictures, surf the internet, handle tweets, and serve as GPS guides. “Each one of these phones progressively expanded the way we communicate with one another and were disruptive.” (Jukes, et.al.) The newer versions made the old ones obsolete.

Christensen et.al. write, “A disruptive innovation is an innovation that transforms the complicated, expensive services and products into things that are so simple and affordable that you and I can use them.” They make the case that online learning and other types of free curricula, which are relatively low cost, when made available to facilitated networks where people can access, use, and evaluate them may transform how we educate our children. They sight the Florida Virtual School where students only pay for a course once they have mastered the curriculum. Think of how traditional schools would have to change if they needed to compete with virtual schools employing this logical practice. Adapt or parish!

In their book and interview, Christensen et.al. make the point that their principles related to disruptive innovations, which were developed for business, apply to education. Schools, like businesses, are places where people work with other people, where ideas are exchanged, where technology is deployed to aid in the work, and where people’s motivation carries them through the work.

Jukes, et.al. site other disruptive innovations than the cell phone, such as the way we listen to music, the way we prepare documents, how we get around using maps, the way we buy and sell things, or the way we do our banking. New innovations disrupt our old ways of doing things. They discuss how these disruptive innovations have totally altered our way of living, the landscape in which we operate, or the priorities that guide us. The increasingly rapid rate of change that is occurring requires us to be highly adaptive, but for many of us the pace of change has “outstripped out capacity to cope.”

From this perspective, they argue that the way we educate our children must adapt more readily to the disruptive innovations that are unfolding before us.

When answering the question, what is the job of education, Jukes et.al. outline three mandates for public education. I think we could argue these are roughly the same for private education as well.

1. Acculturation of individuals.
2. Cultivate the appreciation for the social, moral, aesthetic, esoteric, philosophical and ethical. We want students to develop the skills that will allow them to be socially functional, good, and productive citizens.
3. To leave school being prepared with the 21st Century skills that allow them to learn to work, work to learn, deal with their career.

If they are correct, they point out that a school with these mandates must adapt to the innumerable disruptive innovations confronting them. We are educating our students in a world where the lines are blurred between work, play, learning, creating, collaborating, producing and distributing information and ideas. Students can do these things anytime, anywhere. For example, online video games can be played between people collaborating, playing, and learning across the globe. Harvard Education Letter, December 2010, published an article by Robert Rothman, that looks at the influence video game technology could have on building more effective classroom assessment that measure the complex skills required to manipulate a video game. Another example of how disruptive innovations could alter how students learn is Khan Academy. It is possible for a student anywhere in the world (who understands English) to take a math course or have math concepts explained by an online teacher using video instruction. Jukes et.al. write, “we can’t just pretend that for education and educators it continues to be business as usual in our schools.” We will become obsolete very quickly.

Frank Levy and Richard Murane write in their book, The New Division of Labor, that we are seeing a decline in manual and routine work, but a rise in nonroutine cognitive work. This type of work requires people who can apply and integrate knowledge from diverse disciplines. People who can think critically and creatively with knowledge and technology to solve complex problems. Nonroutine cognitive work requires the skills of the 21st Century. Nonroutine cognitive work is not part of a traditional school’s curricula, especially the curricula that is mandated by state standards or external standards like the College Board’s AP program. See a recent blog entry by Quantum Progress about getting rid of the AP program.

Jukes et.al. write, “There is no way to sugarcoat it. The bottom line is that the current school system is just not built for a global digital age and the digital generation.” A teacher-directed classroom that has the teacher in total control of the flow of information does not fit the kind of learning that students of the 21st Century want to engage with. “There are highly disruptive times for education.” So are we going to sit back and wait to become irrelevant or are we going to adapt to the disruptive times we live in, trying to design an education that is engaging and relevant?

Overview of 21st Century Summit-Solution Tree, IL, 2010

After returning from the 21st Century Summit sponsored by Solution Tree, a small subgroup of the Drew and Westminster cohort that attended the summit put together the following set of slides (Google Docs) that will hopefully give you an overview of the material presented by the ten keynotes. While it is difficult to capture all that a presenter shared in their talk, we hope each slide tells a short story of their perspective.

Some of the slides have links to other websites that were referenced by the presenter. I think the best way to explore the summary is to go through each slide, navigate through links, and then reflect on the themes or major ideas you notice.

One of the questions that comes up in the conversation around 21st Century teaching and learning, what are the 21st Century Skills that students need to learn? In the Ken Kay slide, he shows the 4 Cs that he advocates get married with the 3 Rs. The P21 framework from the Partnership on 21st Century Skills identifies the skills students need to learn, as well as the content or 21st Century themes. Robin Fogarty and Brian Pete share what they see as the 7 Cs, or the essential skills students must learn for the 21st Century. The link below is for a table that shows a compilation and comparison of the 21st Century skills advocated by four major thinkers (groups) in this work.

Comparison of 21st Century Skills

Share your comments and reflections about the summit overview, as well as your thoughts about those skills identified as “21st Century skills.” What do you do to teach these students these skills in your classroom?

What am I reading that is challenging my thinking?

blog picture.12.11.2010

I am in the midst of reading a number of different pieces that are causing me to think about the classroom in different ways. I am not exactly sure how they are all related, but I have a strong feeling that they are.

First, Living on the Future Edge, a book written by Ian Jukes, Ted McCain, and Lee Crockett, paints a very interesting picture of the future. We live in a world that is changing exponentially. The authors present four trends that are impacting global societies in amazing ways.

Trend 1, Moore’s Law, is the exponential growth of computer technology in which data storage, processing speed, and working memory are doubling every 12 months with the associated costs decreasing dramatically.

“Remember, that in exponential times, what is common sense today will not be common sense 20 years from now. Global exponential trends are not neutral, nor are they discriminating, and so they affect us all in different ways.” (1)

Trend 2, Photonics, represents the enormous changes in how data is transmitted across fiber optics and wireless platforms.

“We could go on and on, but the point is this: We want out students to excel, to thrive, and to survive. We must understand that social and intellectual capital are the new economic values in the world economy. The ability to memorize and regurgitate information, or perform low-level cognitive tasks, will not be enough–it’s already not enough.” (1)

Trend 3: The Internet, with 2 billion users in more than 180 countries, sharing information or communicating. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Skype, Wikipedia, and Second Life are just some examples of internet resources that are transforming how we communicate and share information. The authors ask the question, “What’s Next?” The World Wide Web is transforming the world we know. What does it mean to prepare students in 2010 for the world they will inherit 10 years from now.

“The Internet Revolution has just begun. Yet it is staring to overwhelm us, outstripping out capacity to cope, antiquating our laws, transforming our morals, reshuffling out economy, reordering our priorities, and redefining our workplaces. At the same time, it is only marginally affecting teaching, learning, and assessment.” (1)

Trend 4, InfoWhelm is the immense accumulation of new information that is changing every 24 hours. “How about the search for global warming? More than 31 million references to global warming in 0.11 seconds.?” (1) Too much for anyone to process. Students need to acquire the skills to not remember or know all this information, but to discern what is important, relevant, and necessary.

“This begs some fundamental questions, though. What types of skills and knowledge will people need to have to effectively use devices? What will individuals need to = sort through the massive amount of information available?” (1) The authors wonder whether schools are preparing students for this world. They don’t so. Check out the 21st Century Fluency Project that outlines approaches to addressing the 21st Century skills question.

The second piece I read that has resulted in me wondering about how we educate students is an article in October 2010 edition of JSD written by Ryan R. Gogel and Nick Sousanis. The article is entitled, A Different Kind of Diversity. (You will need to be a member of Learning Forward to read the article for free) They promote an educational environment that honors the value of interdisciplinary connections. The authors write, “when we as teachers don’t reach outside our discipline to connect to content that might be of interest to our students, we increase the risk that our students might miss out on the richness of the subject we are trying to explore.” (2) In this sense, disciplinary specialization in schools create learning environments with narrow perspectives.

We know from the types of problems that we face in the 21st Century that students will be called up to think about complex problems crossing many disciplines. Take the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico during the summer of 2010. People involved had to be able to navigate environmental science, crisis management, deepwater engineering, water quality, marketing and communication, and political skills in resolving this challenging problem. Are we preparing our students to think critically and synthetically across the disciplines? Are our teachers prepared and trained to help create a more relevant, connected, and interdisciplinary curriculum? The authors would suggest that the answer is no to both questions.

We need to prepare are students to be innovative, to think critically and solve problems that span the disciplines. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1997), Sir Ken Robinson (2001), and Howard Gardner (2007) all argue that we need to teach our students to work across the disciplines to develop their creative thinking capacity. Gardner writes about the value of the synthesizing and creating minds, two of his five minds for the future. Again, are our schools preparing students? What do you think?
Lastly, I am reading the book, Assessment for Learning: Putting it into Practice, by Paul Black and his colleagues. In order to create a transformation of the learning environment in the 21st Century, we must transform how we assess student learning. I have written other blog postings on this topic. We assess students too much and assess them the wrong way. There is too much summative assessment that tests what they are suppose to have learned, and too little formative assessment that assess what they are learning along the way. Many educators are convinced that unless we change the assessment landscape any innovation of the learning environment will be temporary.

In closing, we need to prepare students for the exponentially changing world they are growing up with a new paradigm for teaching and learning. We need to create more relevant, interdisciplinary curriculum that connect students to the challenging problems we face. Finally, we need to transform our assessment practices to include more formative assessment, assessment for learning, and rely less on summative, high-stakes tests.

Teaching to the Test


Whether you teach in a public school with high-stakes yearend tests as your guidepost or a school with the College Board Advanced Placement program and AP tests as your guidepost, teaching to a test is a limited way to engage students in the learning process. In fact, it is probably safe to say that teaching to a test is one of the least effective ways to help students see the value of lifelong learning and prepare them for the world they will inherit. Kelly Gallagher, in her recent commentary in Education Week, November 17, 2010, Why I Will Not Teach to the Test, gives a convincing argument for why teaching to a test “ensures mediocrity.”

She points out that in the standards-driven culture of public schools, it is nearly impossible for a teacher to teach for deeper understanding. On Edutopia’s website, there is an interesting article about the value of inquiry-based teaching and cooperative learning as methods that build deeper understanding in the learning process. Darling-Hammond and Barron point out that, “a growing body of research demonstrates that students learn more deeply if they have engaged in activities that require applying classroom-gathered knowledge to real-world problems. Like the old adage states, “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.”

Gallagher points out that there are too many standards to teach in a typical school year and the high-stakes test is not designed to reward deep understanding of a standard. The same problem exists for AP teachers, who consistently complain that there is too much content to teach in a normal school year of 170-190 days. This is particularly true of AP courses that are content-driven, like the AP science and AP history courses. With all the content to cover, it becomes nearly impossible to help students develop an appreciation and deeper understanding of the important content embedded in the standards.

She writes, “it is important to note that the standards are not the problem. We all want standards that set high expectations for our children’s learning. The problem is there are too many standards.” p.36 The task for educators is to deconstruct the standards, make wise decisions about what standards are required, and then design stimulating lessons that encourage students to explore the content using 21st Century skills. The challenge facing teachers is that high-stakes tests cover all the standards and so they feel the pressure to cover all of them and teach in “shallow” ways so that students are “prepared.”

In their study concerned teaching for depth versus breadth, Marc Swartz, et.al. discovered that students performed at a higher proficiency in college-level science classes when their high school science courses were based on some in-depth coverage of concepts versus broad coverage of many concepts. They conclude that the deeper understanding coming from mastery of fewer concepts pays dividends in the long run. Students tend to be more successful in the learning environment when they cover concepts in a way that facilitates deeper understanding, as well as promotes application of the knowledge they master.

Gallagher discusses how important it is to have students write to express their understanding of concepts. Since high-stakes tests rely heavily on multiple choice testing, she argues they are an inadequate vehicle for measuring students’ deeper understanding of concepts. I would offer the following observation that unless we are disciplined to change the culture of accountability from high-stakes multiple choice testing to a more flexible and varied approach to testing for deeper understanding of standards, our students will be inadequately prepared for higher education, but more importantly, the world of complex problem-solving in the 21st Century workplace. I think Gallagher would agree.

Finally, I would argue that most teachers will need effective, targeted professional development to prepare the kinds of assessments, both formative and summative, that mirror what will be expected of them in the workplace. Authentic assessments based on “real world” applications of the knowledge students master are not necessarily easy to design and implement. In addition, teachers will need some support and training to deconstruct the standards and decide what are the most important standards and content to master.

While the challenges are significant, we will not lead substantial and important education change until we confront the “teaching to the test culture” that is responsible for much of the mediocrity.

Assessment For Learning-CFT Initiatives and Progress

The Center for Teaching is promoting work at Drew Charter School and The Westminster Schools on assessment. In both cases, we are helping faculty learn more about the assessment process using a professional learning community (PLC) model, as well as supporting their professional development in assesment. A cohort of 19 faculty from both schools recently attended the Assessment Summit sponsored by Solution Tree in Atlanta, GA. This conference attracts some of the most accomplished researchers, educators, and speakers on the topic of assessment.

In the JHS at Westminster, the Center for Teaching is facilitating a group of seven teachers who are working for the second year in a PLC format on assessment. Their first year was devoted to looking at the work of Richard Stiggins and his team at the Assessment Training Institute, Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing it Right, Using it Well. Along with studying the text, the study group also took assessments from their classroom and applied what they were learning from Stiggins work. A significant amount of time was devoted to learning how to function as a PLC and thinking about how to apply what they were learning about assessment, especially work on designing clear learning targets or essential learnings. The second year of the study group will be devoted to working more deeply on their own classroom assessments, deconstructing and reconstructing them using the principles outlined in Stiggins work. The group has decided to break up into three book groups during the year and read the following pieces on assessment:

1. Transformative Assessment, W. James Popham
2. Teacher As Assessment Leader, edited by Thomas Guskey
3. Classroom Assessment and Grading that Work, by Robert Marzano

Each of these books offers a slightly different approach to the study of assessment. Teacher As Assessment Leader is a series of essays by different authors covering a wide variety of topics on assessment. The other two books are well respected resources in the area of classroom assessment and grading.

In the Elementary School at Westminster, Laura Pattison, a former faculty cohort member, is leading two professional learning teams of four 2nd grade and four 4th grade teachers that meet weekly to discuss issues around classroom assessment. The entire group of nine faculty went to the Assessment Summit at Solution Tree for a common professional development experience. Each PLT is exploring how to build good common assessments. Doing this work requires that they coordinate curriculum and discuss the learning targets being taught and that will be assessed. They are using Kay Burke’s book, Balanced Assessment: From Formative to Summative, as their reference for understanding how best to build an effective assessment program.

At Drew Charter School, the CFT is working with the Administrative Team to explore the DATA WISE improvement program designed out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. We are reading the book, DATA WISE, published by Harvard Education Press, and working through a series of ten, hour-long workshops studying the eight steps of the improvement plan. The DATA WISE program “shows how examining test scores and other classroom data can become a catalyst for important schoolwide conversations that will enhance schools’ ability to capture teachers’ knowledge, foster collaboration, identify obstacles to change, and enhance school culture and climate.” With the use of assessment data from high-stakes tests, classroom assessments, and other student data, we hope to develop a plan to improve teaching, especially our understanding of assessment, and thereby improve student achievement. One adminstrative team member, Nicole Tuttle, is working with the 2nd grade team on teaching strategies that will improve their vocabulary instruction. They are using resources, such as Robert Marzano’s book, Vocabulary Games for the Classroom, as well as other materials to design new strategies for teaching vocabulary. The 2nd grade teachers are also implementing peer observation to watch and learn from each other, collect data on teaching vocabulary lessons, share their observations, and collaborate on improving instruction.

If you want more information about our work on assessment or you want to discuss in more detail these initiatives, contact me at robertr@westminster.net or visit our website at www. westminster.net/cft.

21st Century Skills Summit in IL

I am attending the 21st Century Skills Summit sponsored by Solution Tree in Rosemont, IL. Thus far, we have heard keynote talks from:

Ken Kay, Partnership for 21st Century Schools
Richard DuFour
Chris Dede
Jay McTighe
Robin Fogarty and Brian Pete

Ken Kay introduced us to the work of P21, developing a rationale for why we need to give serious attention to 21st Century Skills in our conversation about school reform. Reflecting on the rapid pace of change in our society, he made the case that in order for students to be well prepared to face the challenges that these changes present they will need a new skill set. While some of the 21st Century skills are being taught in our schools, he pointed out that most schools do not teach them in an integrated and intentional fashion. He proposed that we need to develop an educational model that responds to the economic needs of today and prepares students for the non-routine analytical and non-routine interactive type of jobs that are dominating the workplace. Organizations are flattening and within them people are expected to be more self-managing. Kay pointed out that the framework for 21st Century Skills has content interwoven into its fabric. He said, “you can’t critically think about nothing.”

○ You have to collaborate around the content
○ You have to critically think about the content
○ You have to create with the content
○ You have to communicate with or about the content.

Kay discussed the six steps to consider when promoting this work in your school.

1. Adopt a vision based on 21st century student outcomes and LEAD!
2. Create a community consensus and get buy in
3. Align your educational support systems with the educational outcomes
4. Focus on 21st professional development
5. Embrace innovation and partnerships
6. Focus on assessment

Rick DuFour shared with us his vision for how professional learning communities need to be part of the 21st Century professional development plan in schools. He pointed out that embedded, on-going, and collaborative professional development has been shown to have a positive impact on student outcomes. Effective PLCs focus on student learning. If we want students to be successful in the classroom we have to model the things we expect them to learn. For example, if we want them to be able to:

• prioritize their work
• manage time
• contribute to a team
• be responsible to others
• set goals
• focus on and producing results
• engage in ongoing learning

then we (teachers) need to model this for our students through our collaboration. These seven ideas are at the heart of what happens in effective PLCs. All Things PLC is a website that brings together the thinking and resources teachers and administrators can use to begin this work.

Chris Dede helped us visualize the future of education and the type of tools that students might use both inside and outside the classroom. He spoke about two skills people will need to regularly apply years from now; (1) Expert decision making, and (2) Complex communications. The biggest single driver is a negative driver–people don’t change because of a compelling vision, they change because they have to. The industrial age school is no longer affordable, it is too difficult to fund. The industrial age school may collapse underneath us whether we want it to or not–we will not be able to fund it. We need to present a vision of an educational model that is different than what we have.

I really struggled with Jay McTighe’s presentation. I couldn’t get my arms around what he theme was. The presentation wandered and until he talked about cornerstone assessments. I thought his point that assessments (assessment process and structure) is a critical part of the 21st Century conversation. It will not matter if we construct a 21st Century framework for our curriculum (teaching and learning) and keep 20th Century assessments. We have to innovate in the asssessment arena as well.

What are your thoughts about these topics? What is your school doing with the 21st Century skill conversation? What progress are you making and what questions do you have?

Bob Ryshke

Creating a High-quality Teacher Workforce


When we talk about the quality of teaching in any of our schools, what exactly are we referring to? How do we measure high-quality teaching or how do we know when we see it? What processes and procedures are in place to identify and nurture good teaching? Is high-quality teaching only about the individual teacher or is it more about the culture in which that teacher finds him or herself? These are important questions for us to consider as we try to figure out who our high quality teachers are and how we prepare or support them in our schools?

There are multiple variables that go into determining whether a teacher is “high-quality.” These could include, but are not limited to:

• The recruitment of teachers.
• Defining the qualifications of the teacher that fits the school’s strategic goals.
• The preparation the teacher has gone through to be in the classroom or the path he or she has taken to achieve their goals.
• For new teachers, the quality of the induction program that establishes their foundational skills.
• A school’s mentoring structure or program for supporting new teachers or teachers new to the school’s culture.
• The professional development the school provides to support a teacher’s professional goals.
• A faculty culture that embraces collaboration using the model of professional learning communities.
• The overall working conditions of the faculty, such as availability of resources and the quality of the facilities.
• A school that understands and tries to achieve a balance between nurturing faculty independence while also holding them accountable for providing an optimal learning environment.
• The supervision and evaluation system of the school that holds faculty accountable and provides guidance in meeting professional goals.
• The compensation systems that are in place to support faculty salaries, stipends for additional work, or rewards for excellence.
• The culture of retention, the support the school provides to promote longevity.

The research tells us that if students have “high-quality” teachers for sequential years, it is highly likely that their performance and achievement will exceed expectations (Aronson, 2007; Ballard and Bates, 2008; and Gallagher, 2002). If the research is right, and there is little reason to doubt it, then schools need to develop a comprehensive plan to sustain a culture of highly competent teachers. I would propose that accomplishing this feat requires a conscious plan that includes addressing all the elements in the above list.

The danger of programs like Race to the Top, the initiative by the Obama administration, is that they will over simplify what it takes to create a teacher workforce with high standards and a high degree of professionalism. To receive Race to the Top funds, states must show that they will take four steps: adopt common standards and high-quality assessments; develop and use state longitudinal-data systems; improve evaluations of teachers and principals that take into consideration student-achievement scores; and turn around failing schools. While one of these steps involves creating a faculty culture that promotes the identification, nurturing, and retention of high-quality teachers, the initiative falls far short of comprehensively supporting school districts. It strikes me that Race to the Top is not the visionary realignment of No Child Left Behind that this country needs.

Race to the Top, only about 1% of the federal funds for education, is not the only initiative supported by the Obama administration. They have aggressively supported federal programs in early childhood education, as well as trying to improve general child well-being through their health care initiatives. Therefore, criticism of Race to the Top is somewhat myopic in that it is a small, voluntary component of the federal government’s attempt to change the landscape of public education.

However, I do think that if we want to truly increase the achievement of our students we must put a more concerted effort into the adoption of a plan that helps school administrators adopt a more comprehensive approach to recruiting, growing, and maintaining a high-quality teacher workforce. We cannot promote high-quality teachers if we focus on one aspect of what it takes to create a profession culture of teachers within a school.

What’s in my Reading Corner: Is there value in the AP program, what about the teacher as “researcher”?

There are some interesting articles in the new edition of Independent School Magazine, Spring 2010, NAIS’ website. As I write this, the newest edition is not yet posted.

One of the articles, Having the AP Conversation, written by Roger Weaver, former Headmaster of Crossroads School in Santa Monica, CA, really struck my interest. Crossroads School is a member of a consortium of independent schools that have taken the leap into new ways of thinking about curricula. Can we teach our advanced curricula through an approach that relies on teachers designing interesting, relevant, challenging, and 21st Century courses that have coherence with the mission and philosophy of the school, as opposed to farming out our advanced curricula to the College Board by adopting their Advanced Placement, test-driven courses? The answer for 14 schools who belong to the Independent Curriculum Group (ICG) is yes. These schools have essentially dropped the AP program for the freedom to design their own advanced study curriculum. See their website for more information and the list of member schools.

In his article, Weaver asks and offers some answers to a series of thoughtful questions. Here is the list:

1. Does your AP program align with the fundamental core values, philosophy, and practice of your school?
2. What might the senior year look like (I would add feel like) if you did not have the AP program?
3. Does the AP program drive course selection by students (and parents) in positive ways? I would add faculty advisors in this mix as well.
4. If the AP program had never existed and someone came knocking at your door to sell it to you, would you buy it now?
5. Are your students getting putative preparation, course placement, and credit advantages in college that they believe would accrue to them taking AP courses? (How do you know and have you collected the data for the current reality?)
6. Would replacing the AP program with teacher-authored, advanced-level courses be “dumbing down” your curriculum? If so, why?
7. Is the AP really strengthening your students college admissions profiles and how do you know? ( I would add has the school researched what colleges would say or do if question 6 was implemented?)
8. Why as an “independent” school is it a good idea to outsouce the top end of your curriculum?

You can read Roger Weaver’s answers to these questions in the Spring 2010 edition on page 37. However, from the experience of Crossroads School, as well as the other 13 schools in ICG, the answers to most of these questions are that it doesn’t matter what “advanced curriculum” a good independent school has, what matters is that it has a thoughtfully constructed and well implemented program. In fact, ICG schools believe that moving in the direction of creating teacher-authored, advanced-level courses unleashes the creativity of the faculty and offers students more interesting, relevant, and in-depth experiences in the disciplines that interest them.

One of Weaver’s points in the article is that it is not helpful for schools interested in evaluating the effectiveness of their AP program to come at it from the question, “should we scrap our AP program?” He would advocate an approach that uses his eight questions, and probably others, to explore whether the AP program is meeting the school’s (and student’s) needs in the 21st Century. His suggestions seem quite sound and may in fact lead to a school deciding that the AP program is “just right.”

Another article of interest was written by Jennifer De Forest, current Upper School Head at The Calhoun School in New York City. She writes a compelling article that advocates for school-centered research, Bridging the Research Practice Divide. She outlines the history of “progressive” education that was more “research-based” to a model of “college prep” education that is focused more on filling the minds of students with content. I think she hits the mark by encouraging independent schools to think of themselves as laboratories of teaching and learning in which faculty are teachers, researchers, and inventors of knowledge about how to students learn best and how to teach them well. We (independent schools) should not relinquish this responsibility to higher education. She writes about encouraging more partnerships between independent schools and schools of higher education.

At the Center for Teaching, we are in the midst of this work. Our Faculty Cohort model uses Teacher Action Research as a method to help faculty see themselves as risk-takers, researchers, and curriculum developers. Brenda Cobler, a 6th grade science teacher, taught science in a somewhat “traditional,” but certainly effective manner. She is a long-standing teacher who has experienced success with a hands-on science curriculum. However, she wanted to know if she implemented a project-based curriculum for part of the year through a service-learning program would her students’ interest and engagement in science positively change. While she knew students were learning in her course, she was not totally satisfied with the overall output.

Check out her article, Learning By Doing Applies to Teachers As Well, in the CFT’s online newsletter, Insights Into Teaching, where she outlines the project, its success, and what she learned from the experience. In summary, the project was amazingly successful, her students reported being more interested and engaged as a result, and she learned a great deal from the experience and enjoyed the work. She is continuing the work and collaborating with another colleague. If you are interested in more information, you could email Brenda Cobler at brendac@westminster.net.

If you want to learn more about what the Center for Teaching is doing in areas of teaching and learning, the 21st Century classroom, formative and summative assessment, and the work of its Faculty Cohort contact me at robertr@westminster.net.

Building Classroom Community

In their seminal work on building trusting relationships in schools, Anthony S. Bryk and Barbara Schneider discuss how building classroom community can stop the deterioration of social assets present in the classroom and enhance overall student achievement. Their book, Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement, lays the framework for how schools and educators can make substantive changes that will positively impact student learning. The authors studied how relational trust impacts classroom community and student learning in three public schools in the Chicago area. Their work showed that schools in which scores on standardized tests improved had higher levels of relational trust among the existing relationships in the school community, as compared to schools that did not show improvement. In addition, they concluded that high levels of relational trust correlated with effective school governance focusing on school improvement. High functioning schools are social institutions that depend on the relationships among community members. Relational trust is the “glue” that helps a school strive for excellence.

The 2009 Center for Teaching Faculty Cohort decided to spend time studying what it means to build an effective classroom community. From a brainstorming session with eleven teachers from Westminster Schools and Drew Charter School, we put together our list of factors that go into building classroom community:

• Mutual respect
• Trust
• Setting classroom norms
• The presence of student voice
• Feeling valued
• Patience
• Persistence
• Collaboration and cooperation
• Students feeling safe
• Teacher flexibility
• Openness to others’ ideas
• Bring conflicts to resolution
• Humor
• Good communication
• Humanity
• Promote learning from others
• Promote learning from mistakes
• Develop responsibility in class with class jobs
• Creating a welcoming environment

Many of these qualities were observed by Byrk and Schneider in schools and classrooms where high relational trust was present. In the CFT Faculty cohort, we discussed how these qualities can be promoted by the teacher and sustained over time. In one activity, groups were asked to conceive of an image that depicts a classroom community. Below are the two images that were developed: (1) the image of a nest holding the precious child in its grasp; and (2) the image of hands of different shapes and colors coming together in a collaborative spirit.

Image: Students in a Nest

Image: Students in a Nest

Hands: Community collaborating

Hands: Community collaborating

In his book, Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community, Alfie Kohn defines community as, “a place in which students feel cared about and are encourage to care about each other.” Kohn points out that an authentic classroom community “is constructed over time by people with a common purpose who come to know and trust each other.” This description embodies a number of the qualities that our cohort described as being important from their experience.

Susan Johnson, one of the cohort members from Westminster School, shared with the cohort a video of her 5th grade class meeting. The video demonstrated how an effective class meeting structure helps build a collaborative environment in which students’ voices are heard and valued. Ms. Johnson uses class meetings to set class norms, discuss issues important to the class, and help students feel safe and comfortable in the classroom. While Ms. Johnson is a member of the class meeting, she creates an environment in which her students play a central role in the organization and performance of the group.

In Edutopia, Grace Rubenstein, writes about the classroom of Robben Seadler at Franklin Elementary School in Louisville (Jefferson County), KY. Ms. Seadler uses morning meeting (see a video on morning meeting) as a means to help students become self-aware, caring, and connected to their peers. The article, Start with the Heart, discusses the success Jefferson County Public Schools is having with the program, CARE for Kids, started by Superintendent Sheldon Berman. Ms. Seadler comments in the article that, “the better the relationship you have with the kids, the more they’re going to want to learn, and the more they’re going to take ownership of what you’re trying to teach them.” Clearly, her experience with the program has transformed her classroom and improved her students’ achievement.

In Start with the Heart, five essential strategies for success in building community through CARE for Kids program are described:

1. Setting a supportive tone through morning meetings;
2. Setting and reinforcing expectations with kids’ input;
3. Directly teaching social and emotional skills;
4. Using precise teacher language; and
5. Practicing developmental discipline.

These strategies, when implemented successfully in the classroom, have been shown to positively change student behavior. From the work of Ms. Johnson and Ms. Seadler, teachers in a private and public setting respectively, it is clear that the potential for transforming student behavior is independent of the type of school. It is more about the commitment of the teacher to creating a classroom community.

As teachers, we are the role models that students look to for guidance. Alfie Kohn points out in his book that “teachers need to be part of a community of adults in school.” Unless teachers strive to collaborate with one another, following some of the same principles outlined above, to create a community of educators in school it is less likely that effective classroom communities will be created that will ultimately impact student learning in positive ways.