Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Fundamental Disconnect?

I ran across this story and wanted to share it with my staff. You should read the entire story (always), but I'll pull out a few quotes to stimulate some discussion (emphasis added by me).

. . . a fundamental disconnect exists between the way high school teachers prepare their students for the future and how students truly achieve success and meet the demands of college.

. . . The problem, panelists said, is that high school standards, assessments, and course requirements are not aligned with those of colleges . . . Many professors believe teachers are covering too many subjects too broadly, when only a few core subjects should be taught and basic skills should be well developed in all students.

In terms of assessments, multiple-choice tests rarely ask students to explain their reasoning or apply knowledge to new situations. "High schools are increasingly boxed in by assessments," said Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education at Stanford University's School of Education. "There's just a huge mess of expectations."

. . . ACT's definition consists of four parts: habits of mind, key content knowledge, academic behaviors, and contextual skills.

"Habits of mind" refers to the skills that professors consistently identify as critical thinking skills, such as analysis, interpretation, problem solving, and reasoning skills. Key content knowledge is the essential knowledge of each discipline that prepares students for advanced study, or study of the "big ideas" in each content area.

Academic behaviors include skills such as reading comprehension, time management, note-taking, and self-awareness of how one is thinking and learning. Contextual skills are skills needed to get into college, such as understanding the admissions process, placement testing, financial aid, and the expectations of college life.

. . . teachers must be given more time to collaborate with colleagues and talk with individual students. They need time to "give feedback and ask for work revisions," Darling-Hammond explained.

Teachers also must receive ongoing professional development to know their subject at a college level and to update their knowledge regularly, in order to incorporate critical-thinking skills into the classroom.

. . . "We're trying to fundamentally change the culture and beliefs of high schools across the country."

So, no major commentary from me this time (I think I've said enough lately), but three quick disclaimers. I don't believe that all we're about in K-12 is preparing kids for college and to be future employees, but certainly that's part of what we do. And I do think that - at my high school at least - we do a fairly good job at many of the above things. Finally, I'm not agreeing or disagreeing by my use of italics, simply trying to point out some of the key ideas that I've seen repeated in a variety of different places.


  1. If we are to rethink our focus in K12 education and if we are serious about more adequately prepare students for the future we must rethink assessment and grading. What we value is reflected by what we measure. Currently assessments tend to focus on recall and grades focus on recall and student compliance. If we wish to teach "habits of mind" we need to assess these "habits of mind" and our grades should communicate student progress toward these "habits." No matter how much we proclaim to value higher level thinking, it is meaningless talk if we continue to assess, record, report and reward students' ability to regurgitate material and students' efforts to finish homework, prepare a title page, and bring in a box of kleenex. WE MUST EXPECT AND MEASURE STUDENT UNDERSTANDING!

  2. I find this article frustrating. It's so simple to play the blame game. As high school teachers, we could just as easily point our fingers at middle schools and elementary schools to say they are not preparing students for what we expect.
    That would not be doing all these teachers justice. We are not talking about elementary vs. middle, middle vs. high, high vs. college. We are talking about a largely broken educational system that, as I think Tony points out, places the focus on the wrong things--assessment, testing, grades, etc.
    Until students understand that school is about learning and not about jumping through hoops--no matter what the grade level--achieving those higher level thinking skills will be difficult. This mindset is not the result of high school teachers, but rather of teachers at all grade levels, including post-secondary levels.