Global Achievement Gap: Conclusions

Let me say that if you find that you don’t have time in the school year to read Tony Wagner’s “The Global Achievement Gap,” do consider reading Chapter 6, “Closing the Gap: Schools That Work,” pp. 207-253.  In it Wagner profiles three schools, High Tech High in San Diego, “The Met” in Providence, RI, and The Parker Charter School outside of Boston.  Wagner’s study of these schools makes you want to close the book and take action, knowing that it is a reality somewhere else, if not at your school.

A refrain kept running through my head as I was reading this chapter.  During our kitchen remodel a contractor once told me that it’s more costly to renovate a house than to build one from the ground up.  These three schools were built upon founding principles that make this kind of learning possible.  From the beginning they had teacher/parent/administrator buy-in, they built the grading infrastructure in such a way that allows for project-based, student-directed learning.  Finally, the level of attention given to the individual student makes 1-on-1 student-teacher contact an everyday part of the experience.

Question: So what’s standing in the way of us emulating these models in our schools?

Answer: Our schools.

In order to refocus attention on the individual student, and in order to make as emphases something resembling Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills, we need to reach 100% of the staff and faculty, rethink the texts we’re using (and if we should be using texts), reconsider the validity of the 100 pt grading system, re-evaluate validity of the “mile-wide, inch-deep” AP content.

One thing that I think we have GOING for us is that class size may be LESS of an issue than once thought.  In the process of exploring the viability of a Foreign Language PLC, we’re discussing whether or not class size will be deleteriously affected.  If we continue to deliver instruction by the teacher-centered model, then yes, class size is important.  But if we change to student-centered, paired or small group inquiry-based learning, with the teacher acting as facilitator, then the model works theoretically up to 20 students.  (Some schools are already there, however we’re right around an avg of 14/15 students per class.)

Wagner’s book has left me with a sense of hope and determination.  My desire to effect change in my teaching has been there for some time, but undeniable exigencies of the existing system and the inspiring examples of 21st century learning that Wagner presents in “The Global Achievement Gap” have strengthened my will to do so.

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2 Responses to Global Achievement Gap: Conclusions

  1. Lynnae says:

    I totally agree with the diagnosis– I’m grappling with how to affect any kind of change in a system that, to many, doesn’t seem broken. We get kids into decent schools. AP scores look fine. Students know how to take tests. Why change?

    But I will also add that the driver for the status quo is in large measure the parents of students. College acceptance is too risky for too many for a general excitement about shifting strategies and approaches. Sure, Johnny can think more critically, but how does that show up on an SAT score? Jane can debate with students in another school, but how does that help her AP’s?

    I think teachers appreciate the subtleties at work here, and become excited about deeper learning, whether or not transcripts reflect it. (The question then becomes, how to have grades reflect this work.) I really don’t know that parents share that enthusiasm, especially when their own children are the “guinea pigs.”

  2. Ted says:

    Lynnae,
    Now that you’re fluent in Ecuadorian, I’ll convey my remarks in Spanish:
    Me acuerdo contigo en absoluto. Cualquier cambio dramatico requiere licencia de los padres (nos confian a sus hijos con expectativas, claro). Pero sobre todo, creo que el cambio empieza “desde arriba,” no por abajo. O sea, primero las universidades mas prestigiosas (oye, Wagner, llama Harvard) deben abandonar estandares antiguas como el SAT por maneras mas autenticas de calificar las potenciales de sus candidatos.

    For the uncorrupted:
    I totally agree, Lynnae. Any dramatic change requires parental support (after all, they entrust their kids to us with expectations). But beyond parental/administrative support, the change will happen “from the top down,” rather than from the bottom. In other words, when the elite universities (“uh, Mr. Wagner, Harvard on line one”) abandon antiquated metrics like the SAT in favor of more authentic methods of gauging candidate preparedness, we’ll have the “green light to get funky with change.” Yes, I said “funky with change.”

    Good night all. I’m going to wrap myself in the soporific blanket of Massachusetts Special Election Coverage, or as I like to call it, “Health Care Electric Chair on MSNBC!!!”

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