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April 2013

March 2013

One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student's Assessment of School

Nikhilgoyal2I started seeing Nikhil Goyal's name about a year ago and immediately took notice.  I follow the work of a group called the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO), which advocates root-and-branch transformation of education to make schooling far more democratic and student centered.  AERO had just published Goyal's book, One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student's Assessment of School, with a subsequent torrent of media attention. 

One Size Does Not Fit All is a scathing indictment of American schooling that synthesizes a lot of arguments familiar to people who closely follow the various streams of education reform.  But what makes Goyal unique is that, at the time of the book's writing, he was a 17-year old New York high school student.  Now 18 and a graduate, Goyal travels widely and writes copiously in his advocacy for new ways of thinking about schooling.  I've been pleased to follow Nikhil on Twitter and correspond with him via e-mail, and I was happy to finally get a chance to read his book.  While One Size Does Not Fit All has some flaws, Nikhil Goyal's message is worthy of every educator's attention and consideration.

Goyal makes the case that American schooling is stifling to children's creativity and treats learning as a kind of industrial, input-output process that promotes rote memorization and behavioral compliance.  Drawing inspiration from the work of John Taylor Gatto (whose book Weapons of Mass Instruction I reviewed here and here), Goyal explains how schools are still configured for the 19th-century industrial workforce and a mission based on ranking and sorting students.  He argues that if schools are going to properly prepare 21st century students, a shift to emphasizing innovation, creativity, and student-directed learning must take place, and here he borrows liberally from the work of school reformer Tony Wagner (whose book, the Global Achivement Gap, I reviewed here; I think the links between Goyal's interest and mine are probably becoming very clear).

Goyal lays most of the blame for the poor condition of schooling on the test-obsessed culture of Goyal_Cover_final_small1-400x600education, which started emerging with A Nation at Risk and its concern for America's education standing relative to other leading countries, and then rapidly accelerated with the ill-conceived No Child Left Behind Act.  Goyal draws heavily here from the work of Diane Ravitch (more reviews here and here), who makes one of the best cases for how standardized testing has been misused to improperly measure student learning and mischaracterize the work of teachers and schools.  And like Ravitch, Goyal disparages the move toward for-profit educational alternatives and "corporate" educational reforms that he believes work hand-in-hand with the drive for test-based school accountability.

Goyal calls for a radical transformation of schooling to include far more student voice in school governance and especially in learning and a richer, broader curriculum infused with the arts and real-world learning, enhanced and facilitated by new technologies.  His vision closely aligns with my own interests in dismantling the structure of schooling and rebuilding it into something that is far more student centered (like the Montessori Method).

I would recommend, however, that Goyal rethink his allegiance to Diane Ravitch and her crowd of educational traditionalist because their ultimate goals and methods will not bring about - and in many cases stand diametrically opposed to - the kinds of changes in school that he envisions.  As I have written elsewhere, Ravitch makes a vital contribution to the debate on education reform by raising questions about the place of high-stakes standardized testing, but errs in conflating the school choice movement with testing and "corporate" interests. 

The transformation Nikhil Goyal is looking for will best be accomplished by establishing meaningful school choice options for all families that will foster new innovations in teaching and learning.  Simply paying teachers more, giving them more autonomy, and forgetting about testing and accountability will give us the educational outcomes of the 1970's - not a time when schooling was particularly student centered or conducive to rigor and higher-ordered thinking.

These disagreements notwithstanding, I am thoroughly enamoured with Nikhil Goyal and his book, in no small part because he speaks with the passion, and above all the authority, of someone who has just lived the experience of schooling as a high school student.  On a personal level he reminds me of myself at the same age, all full of idealism and hubris, but with far more drive, organization, and follow through (after all - how many high school students write books and then launch worldwide speaking tours?). 

Nikhil Goyal represents our future.  As one of the best and brightest - both because of and in spite of our flawed educational system - we need to heed his warnings, and his calls for how to make schooling better for all students.


Free SLLA test prep session returning to WKU in April

My WKU colleague, Dr. Mike Putnam, will be reprising his hugely popular test prep session for the School Leaders Licensure Assessment (SLLA), required of all aspiring school principals in Kentucky and many other states.  The session will be held on Saturday, April 27, from 3:00 to 9:00 p.m. Central time, continuing on Sunday, April 28, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. in Gary Ransdell Hall Room 3096 on WKU's main campus.  There is no charge for the session.  Participants are asked to pay $25 for access to online materials (see note below).

The next round of SLLA testing will be the week of April 29 through May 4 at a cost of $425.

Dr. Putnam developed this test review with Dr. Dennis Bunch of the University of Mississippi.  Kentucky currently has a passing cut score of 160 on the SLLA.  Previous prep sessions at WKU have resulted in a 100 percent pass rate for participants.

The session will include a review of the six ISLLC standards upon which the SLLA is based, and feature timed test prep exercises and hands-on activities and discussions.  Participants must agree to confidentially share their SLLA test score results with Dr. Putnam, as he and Dr. Bunch use this data to continue refining the test prep process and may publish an analysis of results in the future.

Contact Dr. Putnam at [email protected] by end of the day on April 17 to register.  Space is limited and late registrations are not permitted.

Note: Dr. Putnam will be utilizing his new online SLLA preparation book, which is slated for publication on April 15.  If publication is delayed, print materials will be supplied free to all attendees.

Research week at WKU: Presentation on "Making School Intellectually Stimulating & Personally Engaging"

This is REACH Week at Western Kentucky University, when events across campus highlight the research activities of WKU students and faculty.  A full schedule of events can be found here, but in particular I'd like to invite you to the College of Education and Behavior Sciences (CEBS) Research Showcase this Thursday, March 21, from 4-6 p.m. in Gary Ransdell Hall Auditorium on the university's main campus.  The showcase will be of interest to prospective doctoral students, WKU alumni, and practicing educators from across the region.

From 4-5 p.m. a slideshow featuring student and faculty research activities will be on display, and mini-lectures will be offered by Dr. Janet Tassell, winner of the 2012 CEBS Faculty Research Award, and doctoral student Chunling Niu.  A reception and poster presentations will be display from 5-6 p.m.

Later that evening Dr. Richard C. Anderson, University Scholar and professor emeritus of education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will deliver the 2013 Boyd-Lubkers Visiting Scholars Lecture on "Making School Intellectually Stimulating and Personally Engaging."

Dr. Anderson will discuss recent research on more than 180 collaborative discussions among fourth grade students.  Analysis of the research shows that using the collaborative discussion technique fostered significant gains in students' social and cognitive development.  Students showed an increased mastery of social skills involved in leadership and ability to engage in analogical reasoning and other forms of relational thinking.  Anderson interprets the findings to mean that schooling that is intellectually stimulating, personally engaging, and socially enhancing is an achievable goal for all children.

Dr. Anderson's lecture is free and open to the public and will begin at 7:00 p.m. in Gary Ransdell Hall Auditorium.

(More) Future of High School: Student-led Learning

I have become increasingly convinced that the structure of the American high school is itself the number one barrier to improving student learning.  The whole concept of high school needs to be dismantled and reinvented.  But what would the new model look like?

Technology almost certainly will play a role, but technology itself is a limited answer unless learning is shifted toward an experience that is far more student centered and student directed.

Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts is experimenting with just such a model.  The school-within-a-school approach is called "The Independent Project" and represents a significant break with the traditional high school framework.  Individually and collaboratively, students take near total control of their own learning.  See details, including interviews with students, teachers, and the school principal, in this video:


The Independent Project is very small scale, of course.  Trying to do this on a school-wide basis would necessitate a total rethinking on the part of students, parents, and educators of what school is really all about.  Educators are conditioned by the teacher-centered, compliance-driven, one-size-fits-all paradigm under which most of us were taught, and remain deeply suspicious of empowering students.  And to their credit, years of traditional school has not equipped most students for the kind of autonomy and responsibility student-centered learning requires.  But this doesn't have to remain the fate of our schools or of our students.

The evidence is abundant that our current approach is outmoded and is not just ineffective, but an outright disservice to many students.  Teachers and school leaders themselves must lead the charge so that students can have ownership of their own learning and - I believe - vastly improve real student achievement.

Spread the word to aspiring school leaders: WKU Principal Preparation Program Fall 2013 Cohort

WKU will launch its first cohort of participants in our newly-revised principal preparation program in Fall 2013.  Candidates may still apply for admission until April 22 (another round of admissions will follow so please notify the Department of Educational Administration, Leadership, & Research if you are interested but unable to complete the application process by the deadline).  Screening interviews for applicants will be held on Saturday, April 27.

The revision comes after  a decade of development at the state and university levels to improve the quality of principal certification programs and the candidates they graduate.  The new program will be Rank I only (candidates must have completed a Master's degree already) and will be structured in a cohort format featuring two, six-hour courses per semester over a three-semester period for Level I certification.  The program will be heavily field-based and will be delivered in an innovative, hybrid format featuring four face-to-face Saturdays per semester with the rest of the coursework completed online. 

A new 12-hour Level II program, completed within five years of earning Level I certification, will round out the 30-hour Rank I coursework.

Please encourage teachers who have the capacity to become effective school leaders to find out more and apply for the program.  You may direct questions to me, [email protected].

Download Principal Certification Program to view a PowerPoint with more details about how the program is structured.

NPR: Interviewing biases creep in from unexpected places

A piece on NPR's Morning Edition today discussed research on forms of bias that creep into the process of conducting hiring interviews.  As we explore in EDAD 590, Administration of School Personnel, hiring good teachers is one of a principal's most important tasks.  Being aware of subtle forms of bias that can skew your perceptions of job candidates can help you pick the right person.

Among the patterns revealed in the story: when interviewers see a string of poor candidates, they begin to judge some candidates as better than they actually are, and conversely, a string of strong candidates will cause interviewers to judge them all more harshly.  A psychological effect of assuming that there must always be discernible differences in candidate quality seems to be at work.  Researchers advise interview teams keep a carefully-crafted spreadsheet on all candidates and how they meet (or don't meet) the established job criteria to combat this form of bias.

Hear the full story or read the transcript here.