Questioning the Portrait

A few months ago I ranted about our superintendent’s new pet project called Portrait of a Graduate. Her goal is to develop a long range plan for our schools based on a vision of the skills that students should have after 12 or so years in our classrooms.

Since then, the 72 people on the team have released their first product1, a framework of the skills a graduate should have acquired during their 12 or so years in our schools.

It begins…

The [OLSD]2 Graduate will engage in the lifelong pursuit of academic knowledge and interdisciplinary learning by being a: Communicator, Collaborator, Global Citizen, Creative and Critical Thinker, and Self-Directed and Responsible Individual.

Listed below each of those categories are four or five bullet points of evidence indicating a graduate has met the criteria. Stuff like “Engaging in problem solving” and “work interdependently within a group”, the kind of traits you’ve seen before in an endless stream of reports from commissions and think tanks. And therein lies the problem.

The intent of this project is to be forward looking, to consider the major societal changes of the past thirty years and imagine how our schools should change in response. As I said before, an excellent goal, one that is long overdue.

However, this initial document, designed to be a framework for the larger plans to come, strikes me as one that is very much rooted in the present and past, not at all forward looking.

For example, in the Communicator section, although the final item declares students should be able to use “contemporary digital tools to explore and exchange ideas”, the other four bullets deal with standard reading, face-to-face, and formal written communications, the kind of stuff that is heavily tested. The Collaborator section sounds like it came straight out of the handbook of a corporate team-building consultant.

Ok, this project is still very early in the process and I have no idea where it’s headed. So, I’m going to hold off on a lot of cynical ranting based on one page of text and wait to see what gets built on the superintendent’s framework. Instead, I’m just going to toss out a couple of simple questions.

First, repeating from my earlier post: where are the students? the recent graduates? the kids who dropped out?

There’s no evidence they were part of the team that wrote this document (maybe a few were scattered in those “community” focus groups) and the language is very much adult eduspeak. Continuing the conceit that we can discuss education reform without having the people who are most affected at the table as full partners.

Second, how do we resolve these goals with our current instructional practice, especially since very little of the ideas in this document fit with what we do now in schools?

Although we go through the motions of having students collaborate, in the end they are assessed entirely on their work as individuals. While we like to believe teachers are using activities that require critical thinking, in most cases there is still only one right answer and the path to get there was long ago predetermined.

And if I’m allowed one more question, are we really going to change the concept of school to better enable students to live and work in their future? Or will this project fuel just another meaningless reorganization of the same old system?

I have my doubts, but stay tuned.


  1. The document is publicly available on our district website but very difficult to locate and I can’t find anyway to link to it directly, so I’ve uploaded a copy here. We’ll see how much trouble that gets me.

  2. OLSD, of course, being our overly-large school district.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>