Imagining School

Boldly Reshaping Education

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Data vs. Heart

By: Alex Wenzel

It was hard for me to pinpoint exactly why I hated all the ‘high-stakes testing’ in education today.  That was until I read Diane Ravitch‘s book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System:  How testing and school choice are undermining education.

Here’s the reader’s digest:  Tests don’t always test what we think they do.  Material on tests becomes valued more than all other knowledge and skills.  It’s impossible to make a perfect test.  How do you test creativity, cooperation, communication skills, and critical thinking?  Judging teachers and students based on test results is meaningless.  In this scenario, teachers and schools learn to cheat or ‘boost’ scores.  Students learn there is nothing more important than a score on a piece of paper.  Good teachers burn out and leave.  The heart of teaching is gone.  Judging teachers based on scores also undermines the most important factor in a student’s success; their home life.  High-stakes testing is a gross oversimplification of good teaching and learning is.  There are no shortcuts or magic bullets.

These are quotes I found powerful from the book (all supported by research):

“The intense pressure generated by demands for accountability leads many educators and school officials to boost the [test] scores in ways that have nothing to do with learning” (Pg. 155)

“The biggest risk is in forgetting that tests scores are an indicator, not the goal of education. When the indicator becomes the target, we lose sight of other, more important goals, such as the ability to understand and apply what is studied, to expand one’s knowledge, and to develop good character and ethical ideals” (p. 280)

“When tests are the primary means of evaluation and accountability, everyone feels the pressure to raise the scores, by hook or by crook”

“Our schools will not improve if we continue to focus only on reading and mathematics while ignoring the other studies that are essential elements of a good education.”  (pg. 226)

“As every educator knows, families are children’s first teachers, on the very first day of school there are wide differences in the children’s readiness to learn” (Chapter 13, 51:11).

”One problem with test-based accountability…is that it removes all responsibility from students and their families for the students’ academic performance.” (p162)

“Of what value is it to the student to do well on a state reading test if he cannot replicate the same success on a different reading test or transfer these skills to an unfamiliar context?” (p. 160)

“ The fundamentals of good education are to be found in the classroom, the home, the community, and the culture, but reformers in our time continue to look for shortcuts and quick answers” (p. 225).

“Good education cannot be achieved by a strategy of testing children, shaming educators and closing schools.”(p.111)

“Between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers do not survive the first five years (p.177.)”

“In education there are no short-cuts, no utopias, and no silver bullets, and for certain there are no magic feathers that enable elephants to fly” (Chapter 2, 06:59)

“Accountability as we know it now is not helping our schools. Its measures are too narrow and imprecise, and its consequences too severe” (p. 163)

How do you measure the heart in education?  Teachers that care.  Students that are inspired.  Lives that are changed.  I fail to envision a test that could actually improve education.  Can you?

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Studio Schools: Is the UK on to something?

By:  Alex Wenzel

If you haven’t heard about them before, check out the Studio Schools popping up all over the UK.

Why they exist

High school students are bored, teachers are frustrated, parents don’t know what to do.  The modern high school model simply doesn’t work with all students.  Set up for university admission and conformity  to a body of knowledge that is outdated and often useless, our modern high schools today fail to answer the questions of ‘why is this important?’ and ‘why should I care?’

Employers are disappointed with the results.  Students entering the job force lack the skills they need to be successful.  They lack the non-cognitive skills such as motivation and resilience as well as communication, collaboration, and problem solving skills.

Studio Schools exist for these bored students, giving them an entirely different approach to learning and work.

How they do it different

Among the elements of a Studio School are small school sizes that make the learning environment more supportive and personalized.  The curriculum is almost entirely project-based.  The project have extensions into the community and students are often commissioned on real projects for businesses like a health report for their local hospital or a business brief for a local employer.  The curriculum is still based on national standards and can prepare students for university or for employment and entrepreneurship.

What I think is the most critical part of their innovative model is the non-cognitive skills for employment that are woven into the curriculum.  Among those, ’emotional intelligence’ and ‘relating to others’ stand out for me.  The technology age has posed a real need for these skills as well as empathy, understanding, and honesty.  Studio Schools respond to this growing need articulated by employers and put it at the forefront of their model of education.

Authentic challenges, team work, and the support from a community of other teachers, students, coaches, and professionals, make Studio Schools a model for student success.  The research is there to support it.

Is it working?

Two years after the opening of the first two Studio Schools academic results showed the poorest performers jumping to the top quartile.  Here Geoff Mulgan talk about it on TED:

The popularity of Studio Schools is spreading quickly, mainly by word of mouth, and transforming the lives of teenagers that are really bored in traditional school.  This may not be the universal answer for every student, but it certainly serves some students very well.

What if we imagined school is small pockets like this?  Unique, small communities serving small populations of students.  Let’s let go of our ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

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Why don’t we allow Innovation in Education to happen?


By:  Alex Wenzel

Sir Ken Robinson, Sugata Mitra, Geoffery Canada and nearly every big name in education are talking about it.  In fact, everyone’s talking about it.  My co-workers, my neighbors, politicians, hollywood figures.  The news, internet, and media sources.

The education system needs to change.   At least we all agree on that part.

Why?  The traditional system is a one-size-fits all model designed for a different era.  Students are educated in batches receiving the same content at the same time and at the same pace.  The system demands conformity in a factory-like setting.  But the western world today isn’t setup for production and manufacturing like the traditional model was intended.  Professionals today agree, we need creativity and innovation in our markets.  Students need flexibility, critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills to be successful in jobs of the future.

Children today grow up in a connected, rapidly changing world of abundance.  Traditional school models don’t matchup with students’ daily reality.  As a result, our students are demotivated, disenchanted, and uninspired by what schools have to offer.

What should education look like and how do we make the transition?

As a group of educators from all over the globe, we’ve decided that we can and will imagine schools differently.  This blog is our brainstorming canvas.  We embrace the impossible, unlikely, and far-fetched  ideas.  We listen to the needs of our students, our schools, our communities, and our world.

We are Imagining School as we would dream it so we can create it.