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Friday
Dec032010

What I Love About Texas

The Public Education VISIONING INSTITUTE:  Challenging Standardization
by William Madigan

Texas Blog Series (1 of 3):  In honor of the AVID National Conference in Texas next week, AVID guest blogger William Madigan picks his favorite gems from the Public Education VISIONING INSTITUTE report, written by a group of forward-thinking Texas educators,  that is filled with common sense principles, premises and calls to action for policy makers and educators in Texas.  In their report, they agree that major changes in policy need to be made and “assert that schools must be transformed on a different set of assumptions and beliefs.”  They declare that educators must be included in creating a framework for the education system they are tasked to run and implement. 

Everything is big in Texas, including the state’s potential budget deficit of $25 billion.  What vision will direct the upcoming legislature as they work to provide a quality education for all students with deep budget cuts looming?  

PART I

Standardized curriculum and the corresponding high-stakes standardized tests are damaging the education system.  Keenly aware that such "one-size-fits-all" standardized learning approaches too often ignore the individual identity of students, the Public Education VISIONING INSTITUTE in Texas focused on “examining the culture and structure needed in schools to meet the needs of learners in a more global environment with attendant new expectations.”  They also explored “moral and intellectual leadership, the nature of the future learner, assessment systems and accountability mechanisms, and more innovative ways to use resources.” 

The resultant observations and insights, published in their report, Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas, (May 2008) are nothing short of inspiring and liberating.  Here’s just one of the preliminary gems presented in the report:

GEM #1 - For students:  “Standards should focus on the development of the whole person, tapping curiosity and imagination, and providing opportunities for all students to be cultivated, nurtured and valued.”

This statement defines personalization at the student level.  It mirrors the research inspired by the great linguist Lev Vygotsky, much of which speaks to the great importance of tapping the natural awe, talents, and genius that each human has and guiding these gifts to greatness.  In a student-centered classroom, a child’s unique qualities and capacities are honored and cultivated.  As educational leader and speaker Sir Ken Robinson has noted, we need to move away from the “industrial model” of education and toward the “agricultural model” where the teacher becomes a gardener, creating the environment where growth happens.  He explains further that the “gardening” model is “looser” in structure than the traditional model where lock-step assignments ignore and erase the specific gifts of each child.

For over two centuries, American education has increasingly tried to cram students of growing ethnic and cultural diversity into one standardized box. Therefore, never has there been such an urgent need for educational flexibility, especially considering today’s dizzying pace of technological changes.  Fortunately, many of AVID’s student-centered activities and strategies exemplify this agricultural approach.  For example, Socratic Seminars, Philosophical Chairs, tutorials, and Reciprocal Teaching are teaching approaches that honor individuals’ needs to think critically and process learning for themselves.  Without such personalized learning, our country will be forced to continue producing non-thinkers.  William Dagget said in a study that 1,200 valedictorians and salutatorians were given final exams that they had taken years before as freshmen.  He asked us what percentage of these “top” students passed these tests as graduating college seniors.  I remember guessing 80 percent, but Dagget disabused me of that guess and said only 15 percent had passed!  These were the top two students in their high school class, and most failed the tests they themselves took as freshmen.  Is this the result of standardization?

Standards really need a new look.  And the Texas folks are right on target in making that a focus for education policy. 

What are you doing to personalize teaching while still meeting standards in your classroom or school?

About the author:  William (aka Billy) Madigan is a guest blogger for AVID.  Billy is an AVID teacher at Steele Canyon High School in San Diego, California, and is one of AVID’s top staff developers, highly respected for his work.  Billy was asked to review the VISION INSTITUTE document and offer his critique and comments. 

Coming next:  More gems from the VISIONING INSTITUTE as they address accountability systems and the theory of “profound” learning. 

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