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We Don’t Need Education Reform

This seems to be the week for offering school-related advice to the new administration.

Ken Robinson, who was my personal choice to be the new Secretary of Education, has some very wise counsel for Obama and his education leaders.

He wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter.

Transforming education has to be at the root of everything the new administration hopes to achieve, and nothing it does in the short term will be sustainable otherwise.

The present system was designed for 19th century industrialism and it’s overheating in a dangerous way. Reforming education isn’t enough. The real task is transformation. America urgently needs systems of education that live and breathe in the 21st century. This is a large task and it can’t be put off.

And, according to Sir Ken, No Child Left Behind is nowhere close to transformative.

I said that the premise of the act [NCLB] is flawed. Actually there are three flawed premises. First, NCLB promotes a catastrophically narrow idea of intelligence and ability. The result is a terrible waste of talent and motivation in countless students. Second, it confuses standards with standardizing. The result is that schools across the country are becoming dreary and homogenized. And third, it assumes that education can be improved without the professional creativity and personal passion of teachers. The result is that too many good teachers are streaming out of the very schools that urgently need them to stay. All of this is holding America back in a world that’s moving faster than ever.

Read the whole thing for more great thinking about why we need more than the tinkering around the edges that passes for education reform in this country.

We need a whole new way of looking at the concept of teaching and learning.

An Educator Leading Education?

When it comes to school reform, I have a great deal of admiration for Alfie Kohn.

He always presents excellent ideas on teaching and learning and his books The Homework Myth and What Does It Mean to be Well Educated? should be mandatory reads for any educator (or people in general).

In the current issue of The Nation, Kohn discusses the search for the next Secretary of Education, noting the candidates are largely people who don’t really want to change anything fundamental about the way we educate children.

[The word] “reform” actually signals more of the same–or, perhaps, intensification of the status quo with variations like one-size-fits-all national curriculum standards or longer school days (or years). Almost never questioned, meanwhile, are the core elements of traditional schooling, such as lectures, worksheets, quizzes, grades, homework, punitive discipline and competition. That would require real reform, which of course is off the table.

Exactly right! All those reformers want “reform” – they just don’t want change.

Of all the potential secretaries mentioned, Kohn favors Linda-Darling Hammond, who has written a great deal about teacher training and school reform and is currently leading the education working group for the Obama transition team.

From what I’ve read of her work, I have more than a few doubts about Hammond’s willingness to push for major alterations to those “core elements of traditional schooling”.

However, while Kohn himself would be a great choice (or my other favorite, Ken Robinson), I respect his opinion enough to believe she would be the best of the bunch being considered.

Besides, Hammond has actually taught in a K12 classroom and having an educator leading American education policy would be a big change from past administrations.

[Thanks to Scott for pointing out the article.]

At The Risk of Being Repetative

This space is probably just a few posts away from becoming a fan site for Ken Robinson. But I still want to point to another of his excellent talks on creativity in education.

Edutopia has video excerpts from a presentation he made to the Apple Education Leadership Summit, a gathering of several hundred “education executives” (re: superintendents and school board members), this past April.

I wonder if any of the “executives” from our overly-large school district were in attendance.

Robinson tells the group that we are “engaged globally in … an actual, full-on revolution”.

A revolution is a period in history when things that you take for granted turn out to be untrue. Things that are obvious turn out to be obscure. Things that you think are certain to happen, do not happen.

The things that are shaping this revolution globally, have no historical president. We have no idea how things will turn out.

Anyway, go watch the video for the full impact of his message.

And I still believe Sir Ken should be Secretary of Education. :-)

The TED Top 10

Celebrating the second year of sharing videos of talks from the annual TED conference (still waiting for my scholarship :-), the people running the site have posted a selection of the ten most popular.

I could quibble with a few of the choices but not with the fact that all are excellent, especially my favorites by Ken Robinson, Al Gore, Hans Rosling, and Tony Robbins.

While the highlight reel is fun, go watch all ten. It will be well worth your time.

BTW, you can also subscribe to the videos in iTunes and take them to go.

Sir Ken for Secretary of Education

I’d like to offer some advice to whoever will be the next president President Obama*…

Appoint Ken Robinson your Secretary of Education.

I’m fairly sure that most people who stop by this space have seen his outstanding talk from the 2006 TED conference. If not, stop reading this and go watch.

Sir Ken was recently presented with the Benjamin Franklin Medal from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA)** and I listened to the ceremony during my commute this week.

Most of Robinson’s formal talk used themes and ideas from his TED talk (but is still excellent) but a large part of the argument that we could use his leadership at the national level comes in the Q&A that follows.

In that discussion, he identifies the path to real school reform by looking at quality control in the “catering” industry (restaurants on this side of the pond).

There are two models of quality control, quality assurance in the catering business. One of them is standardizing and that’s the model that informs the growth of the fast food industry.

So, if you have a favorite fast food outlet, you know which ever one you go to, wherever it happens to be, it will be exactly what you’re expecting and exactly the same as all the other ones.

It’s all horrible but it’s guaranteed.

The other model is like the Michelin Guide or the Zagat guide. What they do is establish a criteria for excellence, very high standards, much higher than those of the fast food people.

But they don’t tell you how to do it, they don’t tell you what to put on the menu, they don’t tell you who to hire, and they don’t tell you what the place should look like.

The way they figure out if you’re any good is they send people who know all about it to see if you’re doing it. And if you’re doing it you’re in the guide and if you’re not, you’re not.

And the result of this is that every one of these restaurants is great, and they’re all different. And they’re different because they use local produce, appeal to local markets, local circumstances and are customized.

I believe this is the only answer for the future. We have to recognize the heart of education improvement is improving the experience individual learners and treating each school individually and not as a mass.

There isn’t a kid in the country who will get out of bed wondering how to improve the nations reading standards. They will get out of bed to improve their reading. It’s a very personal business.

At the very least, listen to the last twenty minutes for why his view of public education is one we sorely need in the US.

Oh, and don’t worry about the British accent. Robinson lives in Los Angeles, as he reminds his audience several times during his talk.

[Thanks to Ewan for the link]

* That’s called hope! :-)

** And isn’t it interesting that a British royal society has an award named after a man considered a leader of the revolution against the 18th century English government.

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