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Tag: portrait of a graduate

Do We Have Vision?

In his comment to an earlier rant about planning for a 1:1 program, Will asks a good question.

So, technology rollouts begin with a clear vision for teaching and learning first, with or without technology. The device should amplify your vision. So, does your district have one?


Well, we have a plan of sorts. It’s called the School Technology Profiles and lists the type of equipment that classrooms at each level should have (assuming the ideal budget situation). But that’s a shopping list, certainly not a vision for learning.

We have a huge committee, with members from IT, instruction and support, that meets once a month to discuss technology in our overly-large school district. But that’s more about a parade of reports from the various offices on their current work. Maybe some short term vision but very little about teaching and learning.

The superintendent has a project called Portrait of a Graduate, which is supposed to define the skills a student leaving our schools should have. Stuff like “Uses technological skills and contemporary digital tools to explore and exchange ideas”. But that’s the only mention of technology in a list of 27 traits most of which, as I’ve explained in other posts, would have been appropriate for a successful adult living in almost any of the past ten centuries. Not much vision there. For learning or the use of technology to enhance it.

Of course, the school board has their “Beliefs, Mission, Vision” page. Doesn’t every organization have something like this? It was likely assembled by a committee with representatives of all the “stakeholders”1, the result being a laundry list of inspiring statements strung together into something that says nothing. We’ll call it “vision”.

So, I guess my answer for Will is that yes, our district has a vision for teaching and learning. It’s muddled, antiquated, vague to those of us whose work it’s supposed to guide, banal sounding to the community, and not nearly far reaching enough to address the needs of students who are entering an increasingly uncomfortable world.

As to his other question about what I mean by learning… still working on that one.

Missing Kids

Today is the first day of a new school year here in the overly-large school district and the Washington Post, making one of it’s occasionally passes at playing a local newspaper, documents some of our changes. Actually, beyond a few numbers about how big we are, most of the article reads like excerpts from a press release about the superintendent’s Portrait of a Graduate project.

Anyway, I’ve ranted about the portrait a few times in this space but there’s one major problem with this plan that I don’t think can be repeated enough.

The “portrait” concept developed under the guidance of a 70-member task force of parents, teachers, principals and local corporate executives.

Seventy people and they didn’t bother to include any future graduates. No recent graduates. No students who dropped out of school. Not one member of the group that this plan will most directly impact.

However, there’s nothing unique about our district in this regard. Look at the whole school reform movement in this country and you will find few if any student voices. We have lots of politicians, rich business people, news personalities, philanthropists, technologists, occasionally a teacher or two, all manner of adults with proposals for “fixing” our “broken” education system.

But we never seriously include the kids themselves when making important decisions about their education.

And anything called “reform” will be meaningless until that changes.

Creating Students

At an information session I attended recently, one of the instructional leaders here in our overly-large school district said: “Portrait of a Graduate2 is the framework for the kind of student we want to create.”

“student we want to create”?

It wasn’t a phrase that was emphasized, probably not even necessarily planned. Just one that hit me the wrong way and stuck in my head. Because it represents a very traditional vision of school, as a place where teachers mold kids into graduates over a period of twelve or so years.

And, while we tell ourselves around here that our schools are changing to emphasize student innovation, creativity, higher-level thinking, and the array of whatever is currently considered “21st century” skills, our thinking and instructional practice very much reflects that concept of “creating” students.

Screen Shot 2014 07 27 at 7 55 03 PM

Image: screen capture from an RSAnimate presentation of a talk by Sir Ken Robinson.

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 product2, 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.

What’s Missing From This Portrait?

For the past few months our overly-large school district has been working on a big project called Portrait of a Graduate, which, according to the information page/press release, is supposed to produce “a guide to create a long-range strategic plan for the school system” for “our community’s expectations of what they want a graduate … to know and understand”.

Not a bad goal. Take a step back and completely reevaluate why we exist as a school system in the first place. Or am I reading too much into that?

Anyway, so who is involved in developing this ambitious plan?

…a task force representing parents, teachers, school administrators, community and civic leaders, and businesses is meeting in three facilitated sessions from October to December to examine new models of a 21st century education that is tied to outcomes in terms of proficiency in core subject knowledge and skills that are expected and highly valued in school, work, and community settings.

Notice anything missing from that “representing” list? Yep, no students. No future members of that graduating portrait. No young adults who actually graduated from our schools in the past few years. No one who dropped out of school.

Why is it that school reform discussions almost never include meaningful participation from kids, the people most affected by the decisions that will be made?

Certainly would make for a better, more accurate portrait.

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