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John Merrow

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A Pot Luck Meal Of Ideas

Posted: 05/16/2012 12:11 pm

Remember pot-luck suppers, when everyone brought a dish or two? What follows is the the equivalent -- although substituting ideas for food. Because the last few entries on this blog have been pretty grim, this week I want to share some good stuff that has come across my desk or into my professional life somehow. My pot-luck includes books, and school and service programs. I hope you will click on at least a couple of the links -- and add your own to round out the meal.

A national program I'm keen on is the Arts Education Partnership, which describes itself as being "dedicated to securing a high-quality arts education for every young person in America." Its 25 (and counting) partners include national groups like Americans for the Arts, state and local arts councils and two major foundations (Wallace and Ford), but the key player seems to be the Council of Chief State School Officers. I spent some time with AEP folks this spring (moderating a panel, giving a speech, and hanging out), and, if we could bottle the positive energy that arts advocates give off, we would be a long way to solving some of schooling's problems.

I am intrigued by Global Citizen Year, which says it is "building the next generation of American leaders though a bridge year in the developing world." I've met the founder, a whirlwind of energy named Abby Falik, a graduate of the Harvard Business School. GCY is narrowly focused ("It's not freshman year. Not a study abroad program. It's a year of deep experience in the real world before college," the website boasts). In other words, this may not be for you but for your children or grandchildren, or your neighbor's kids, but it's worth a look.

Boston Globe columnist Gareth Cook wrote about Global Citizen Year on March 4: "Harvard freshman Gus Ruchman did Global Citizen Year after high school, and found himself living with a host family and doing deeply fulfilling public health work a few hours east of Dakar, Senegal. He was on his own, navigating an Islamic culture, learning that not everyone on the planet shares the American obsession with being right on time - all experiences that changed him for the better and helped prepare him for the overwhelming experience of starting college.

"I absolutely loved it,'' says Ruchman."

The Future Project is a service program with an audacious goal: "Our mission is to put the world's dreams into action -- starting in the most historically underserved schools and neighborhoods across the nation." It does this by connecting service-minded adults with adolescents with big dreams.

Now underway in New York, Washington, D.C., and New Haven, it was started by two recent Yale graduates, Andrew Mangino and Kanya Balakrishna. Tim Shriver, the Chairman & CEO of the Special Olympics and a TFP Board member, had this to say about TFP:

"The Future Project is all about saving the country and saving the world. It's big ideas and big vision. It's about saying no to apathy, and indifference, and defeatism. It's about marshalling the energies of a new generation to believe in themselves, to believe that we can create a better world than we've got today, to trust in young people as the engines of that change and the engines of that vision. I can't imagine anything more important."

I'm a new fan of the Alliance for Catholic Education, a group I learned about when I spoke at Notre Dame on April 30th. ACE 'exists to sustain and strengthen Catholic schools,' surely a noble goal at a time when parochial schools are struggling. The easiest way to understand ACE is to say, "think Teach for America." TFA and ACE began about the same time, roughly 20 years ago, and both programs recruit and train teachers and send them into classrooms. But ACE -- unlike TFA -- brings the rookie teachers back to Notre Dame (home base) for the summer after their first year of teaching, for R&R&R&R, which I guess means "rest, recuperation, renewal and re-education." TFA does not do that, and the ACE retention record suggests that the second summer of training makes all the difference. About 80 percent of ACE graduates stay in teaching for at least a third year, and 75 percent are still in education within five years of graduating. The TFA numbers are nowhere near that.

I have read two of the three books I am enthusiastic about and hope to read the third this weekend. One of them, Liberating Teachers, isn't out yet -- I read the manuscript -- but its subtitle, "What happens when we trust teachers with school success," should be enough to make some of you want to get it when it appears.

Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story is an engaging history of the origins of the charter school movement, written by the courageous Minnesota State Senator who pushed and pulled the original legislation through her legislature back in 1990. Ember Reichcott-Junge's book came out earlier this month, and I hope you will pick up a copy. (Full disclosure: I blurbed it.)

By my bedtable is Dan Willingham's new book, When Can You Trust the Experts? -- subtitled "how to tell good science from bad in education." (Jossey-Bass) This is help we all can use, from one of the most sensible guys around.

ReadWorks serves a need. We have a reading crisis in this country, and some of that stems from the harsh truth that many elementary school teachers aren't well equipped to teach reading. Rather than curse that darkness, ReadWorks offers help -- tons of it. I urge you to share this website with every teacher you know. It's free.

Harmony is a program I love. It provides musical instruments (free) and music lessons (also free) to underprivileged kids, and we had the privilege of spending some quality time with Harmony kids in two New York City public schools, then later with Placido Domingo. Watch our NewsHour piece here, and I wager you will be a fan too:

Core Knowledge is the living legacy of one of education's greats, E.D. "Don" Hirsch, Jr. If you saw our piece about reading and the Common Core this week, then you saw the Core Knowledge reading program in action. But Core Knowledge is more than a reading program. It's a comprehensive approach to elementary school, based on the firm belief held by Don Hirsch, a 'small d' democrat, our culture has a core of knowledge that should be available to all, regardless of family income, et cetera. I've been in a fair number of Core Knowledge schools over the years and have consistently been impressed by the intellectual electricity of the place.

The more I learn about Blended Learning and Deep Learning, the more impressed I am. Both of these approaches to schooling are swimming upstream against the tide of bubble testing and superficial learning, and that's enough reason right there to encourage them. For "Blended Learning," think Sal Khan and the Khan Academy and take off from there.

What about "Deep Learning"? The astrophysicist Neal DeGrasse Tyson spoke at Teachers College graduation this week and, without mentioning Deep Learning, used a wonderful example of what I think of as Deep Teaching. Imagine a spelling bee, he said, and the word is CAT. The kid who spells it C.A.T. gets an A. The two others spell it incorrectly, K.A.T. and Q.Z.P. Both get an F, which makes no sense at all because, Dr. Tyson said, one student came very close while the other kid had no clue. But in a system -- ours -- that rewards only the precisely correct answer, much is lost. It's time, he said, for teachers to dig deep into how kids' minds work -- and, it follows from that, encourage them to dig deeply into subjects that interest them.

There's a network of "Deeper Learning Schools" that includes EdVisions Schools, Big Picture Learning, ConnectEd, High Tech High, New Visions for Public Schools, Expeditionary Learning, New Tech Network and the Asia Society. I know some of those organizations and the people behind them, and, I promise you, that's a lot of positive energy and brain power. We will be doing some reporting on this, with the help of the Hewlett Foundation.

If I had my way, every week a school devotes to test-prep and testing would have to be matched by a week of project-based work, allowing students to delve deeply into what matters to them.

Early College High School is an approach, when done well, that changes the game. I've just come from spending some time in an Early College program in Texas. Would you believe that the school district that adopted this approach has cut its dropout rate from about 40% to below 5%? Or that nearly 100 students are getting both their HS diploma AND the AA degree from the local community college this spring? We're editing a piece for PBS NewsHour now, and it's going to change the way you think about high school.

Please feel free to share your own favorites.

 

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