Friday, February 22, 2013

Darling-Hammond: Expect Ongoing Churning of Schools

Darling-Hammond: Expect Ongoing Churning of Schools

 Linda Darling-Hammond, a distinguished long-time public
education researcher, was the keynote speaker at the 2nd
General Session of AASA's 2013 National Conference on
by Scott LaFee
The 19th century education advocate Horace Mann once famously described universal public schooling as “the great invention,” though he likely wouldn’t recognize it today. The great invention has been re-invented many times over the years. It’s in the process of being re-invented again.
Some of the implications on the constant churning in public schooling were laid out in Friday afternoon’s 2nd General Session by keynote speaker Linda Darling-Hammond, a distinguished professor of education at Stanford University and long-time public education researcher.
Part of what’s pushing that process of late is the Common Core State Standards, an initiative to establish a clear, consistent understanding of what students are expected to learn -- no matter where they live. It’s an admittedly broad and bold ambition, with profound implications for not just what students are taught, but how teachers teach and how both students and teachers are assessed and evaluated.
Everything has changed, Darling-Hammond said. Everything is changing. In 1900, just 5 percent of jobs were knowledge-based. In 2000, it was 70 percent, requiring schools to produce graduates with high-order skills -- the ability to think critically, to problem-solve, to communicate and collaborate.
Recent education reform efforts haven’t necessarily produced sufficient numbers of students with these 21st century skills, she said. For example, No Child Left Behind had noble goals, but unintended effects. In its singular pursuit of accountable high achievement, Darling-Hammond asserted that NCLB effectively narrowed the curriculum, chased teachers from high-need schools and excluded low-scoring students. Many students were no better equipped for modern-day careers and lives than if they had come from one of Horace Mann’s classrooms.
The Common Core effort is an attempt to remedy the situation. Rather than provide an education “a mile wide and inch deep,” Darling-Hammond said Common Core standards are “fewer, higher and deeper.”
“Much of what students are going to deal with in life involves knowledge and technologies not yet known,” she said. Rather than teach them about static, “multiple-choice world,” Darling-Hammond said current and future students must “learn to learn.”
Exactly what that means in contemporary classrooms remains to be determined. It’s a work-in-progress in schools and districts across the country. But whatever Common Core curricula results, Darling-Hammond said it will require comparable changes in pedagogy and how teachers are supported.
A key, she added, will be expansive and sustained professional development that focuses upon specific curricula, real problems of practice and how to share new learning and ideas among all teachers.
“The best schools are collegial and collaborative,” she said. “Good teaching is a team effort.”
Re-inventing the curricula will require re-inventing how teachers are evaluated. Future evaluations will need to integrate both student outcomes with teacher practices. On the other hand, she said, they probably should not include value-added measures – at least not yet.
Value-added measures is a method of teacher evaluation that measures the teacher's contribution in a given year by comparing current school year test scores of their students to the scores of those same students in the previous school year, as well as to other students in the same grade.
“VAM is conceptually a good idea,” Darling-Hammond said, but the current metrics based on state tests are “much more unstable, unreliable and biased than we thought a few years ago. Teachers who are ranked at the top one year are ranked at the bottom the next, then back at the top. VAM scares off good teachers and undermines smart decision-making.”
Fixing VAM – indeed fixing all of education’s problems and challenges – requires educators to actively participate in defining education policy, to not leave it entirely to politicians and outsiders, Darling-Hammond declared.
“As administrators and school leaders,” she told the crowd, “you can be formers (of policy, of new ideas, of a new education system). To quote Horace Mann, ‘One former is worth a 1,000 reformers.’”
(Scott LaFee, a writer with the University of California San Diego Health Science Center, is a reporter for AASA’s Conference Daily Online.) 

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