TED Conversations

Gever Tulley

Author & Founder, Founder, Tinkering School


This conversation is closed.

Test Schools, Not Children

Instead of subjecting children to an endless series of tests and grades, we should be testing the schools for how engaged the children are, and how many ah-ha! moments there are in a typical day. In the long-term we should test how durable the learning is (how much 5th grade algebra and trigonometry do you remember?), how much curiosity the graduates retain, and how passionate they are for learning as adults.


Closing Statement from Gever Tulley

People perceive many issues in education today, and it is clear from our conversation (sometimes heated, sometimes brilliant), that any attempt to address one single issue necessarily leaves many unanswered issues. In general, those well served by a traditional education seem to see little problem with continuing the practice, and those who struggled through school embrace the notion of change - not for the sake of change, but for the chance that we might invent something better.

In seeking to change how we assess children, I started this conversation with the suggestion that we switch the focus of assessment to the schools. To many, this seemed to be a naive approach. A few commenters seemed to be saying, "the system can work, we just need to be more targeted with our testing." Many agreed that there was too much testing, but that some testing can actually be beneficial. Others found merit and suggested ways that it be implemented. Some concern was raised regarding the time it would take to know when a school was failing.

Eric Mercer turned the topic around, asking, "An educational system reflects, not creates, the habits and practices of a society. So which is broken?" My immediate thought is that the best way to fix an ailing society starts with fixing education, which seems to echo the sentiments of many commenters who suggested that schools aren't doing a good job of helping students discover what they truly want to do with their lives. Lee Wilkinson's high school experience seemed to be putting up more roadblocks when it could have been paving the way; "The problem as I see it is; I told them back then that this is what I wanted to do with my life and was told to stop day dreaming."

This has been a fascinating conversation, and I thank everyone for joining in. I am doing my small part to explore new ways to create meaningful education through Tinkering School and my newest project, Brightworks (http://sfbrightworks.org). All my best,

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    Feb 17 2011: I have had the privilege of briefly running a school back about 20 years ago based on Montessori and Piaget guidelines. It was considered an "Integrated Day School" which meant that the learning came from the theme. Sometimes the children worked as a group, sometimes individually. We had mixed K-4th grade in the same room. When we closed the school, most of the parents chose to home school over returning their children to traditional classrooms. The ones who did return to traditional classrooms surprised the schools they returned to prompting phone calls to me to discover what "miracles" I had performed with the children. The only thing I can honestly say is that we set them free to learn what interested them. That's all!
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      Feb 23 2011: Sounds like a good situation. Out of curiosity, why was the school closed?
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    Feb 16 2011: I read about this somewhere, I can't find it again now, but I'm pretty sure it was about this guy's project/school:

    In return for high salaries, the teachers in this school would be required to sit in on each others lessons in order to expose them to a wider view of things and other teaching methods. They would have to evaluate their own performance and that of their colleagues and show improvements. They would have to attend a required yearly amount of specialized conferences both about teaching and about their core subject etc.
    Basically the idea is to attract high performing experts with the high salary, and then make sure they put in the right kind and amount of effort. Rather than 'test' the teachers, or for that matter the students, it is more a matter of keeping all engaged in the activity of learning.

    The only thing a test and a testing service does is give a lot of people superfluous jobs to return statistics on how good the test-takers are at taking tests. It doesn't prove anything useful.
    • Feb 16 2011: I fully agree the concept--it should be the norm for all teachers
    • Feb 17 2011: RE testing--I would add one thing testing has done on a huge scale: moved public school monies to private corporations such as McGraw-Hill. With those dollars going to testing firms for not only the tests but the scoring and then all the ancillary texts books and supplemental materials, we're talking big bucks each year. This is not reported on much. And standardized tests presume standardized kids. We all know this is not only not true but not possible--so we have an artificial situation that is a blind for moving tax dollars away from their purpose and toward for-profit corporations. That's one major thing wrong with schools today IMHO.
  • Feb 20 2011: Over the past two years I have realized my children's most important school years were 1-5. They developed a worthwhile base for Middle School, High School and College while there. It was a good school, and I was happy with it. Perhaps they were doing more that would have given them a 'good grade'. I certainly wouldn't have given some Middle School and High School teachers a decent grade - but my children were able to move through the teachers silliness. It was because of that elementary school grounding.
    • Feb 22 2011: I like this comment
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      Feb 22 2011: Well said William. It amazes me that our culture only sees early education as a means to higher education. This is why we have a crisis in education. If you adopt a pet you don't wait till it is fully matured to train but keep it in a day care hoping that if it is behaved enough that it will have a chance to be taught by a more renowned teacher when it is older. Yet this is our educational model. Children are inquisitive creatures by nature, full of curiosity, but after a couple of years starring at a blackboard (Maybe an I pad if your school is tech savvy) and what have they learned. Not to talk to peers, how to tell what information will be tested, and how to disregard the rest, that after 45 min of studding something it is time to stop and do something new. The sad part is a great education would be affordable. A simple garden can be a multi- grade lab where one class is learning about how provide basic care for plants while the higher ups can be studding soil composition. Instead of spending money for state of the art computers where children learn "programs", the modern equivalent of secretarial skills, take in donated computers that need work. Teach them how to reprogram them so they work. A few years of this at an impressionable age and we will have a population that will be able to tach itself and each other.
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    Feb 18 2011: This is industrial-era perspective. Don't test at all. I am still enthralled with TED SpeakerSugata Mitra's presentation.

    TED: Sugata Mitra–The child-driven education

    FACT: The five billion poor are never going to sit in a school for 18 years.

    FACT: Human brains (five billion poor especially) are the one inexhaustible resource we have with which to create infinite wealth.

    BELIEF: Connecting the five billion poor to the Internet in a manner that cannot be corrupted (e.g. Google showing you what someone else has paid to put in front of you) or shut down (e.g. Egypt) is the single most effective thing we can do to "educate" the world. Solar-powered Internet meshes across every parish, satellite access from every diocese.

    REFERENCES: These books in particular have inspired me:

    Review: The World Is Open–How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education

    Review: Making Learning Whole–How Seven Principles of Teaching can Transform Education

    Review: Don’t Bother Me Mom–I’m Learning!

    Review: Digital Natives & Digital Immigrants

    Review: Everything Is Miscellaneous–The Power of the New Digital Disorder

    Review: Ideas and Integrities–A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure

    OPINION: Neither government nor testing have a place in the far future of Panarchic Collective Intelligence. Open Source Tri-Fecta is the key.
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    Feb 18 2011: Has CORE been mentioned yet? I didn't see it as I rescanned the conversation here. CORE is designed to be a more holisitic assessment that provides 360 degrees of feedback, from students, parents and educators. From the website:

    "The Idea:
    The CORE (Creativity, Openness, Resourcefulness, and Engagement) test is an alternative assessment that flips standardized testing on its head. Right now students are required to take top-down standardized tests that measure only left-brain skills. In contrast, the CORE test will work from the ground up, inviting students to evaluate how well their school is providing a creative, engaging learning environment. Parents and teachers will be encouraged to take the test as well; it will be customized according to its audience.

    The CORE test will:

    provide the first set of standards for schools to develop right-brain abilities in students
    allow students, parents, and teachers to critique their schools on creativity using a public platform
    be widely appealing and easy to use."

    Check it out: http://rightbrainsare.us/ideas/core-students-parents-and-educators-score-the-schools-on-creativity/
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      Feb 19 2011: Thanks for the information about CORE I shall be looking this up. I think the new TED Conversastions are such a useful means to pass on great ideas and developments such as CORE. Thank you.
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      Feb 19 2011: As a teacher, I am concerned about how subjectively teachers are evaluated already. I think making it more subjective. Unfortunately, teacher evaluations, as well as opinions I hear from students and parents about teachers, essentially make teacher evaluation (on or off the record) a popularity contest. Opinions differ greatly on methods and what is rewarded one day is punished the next. I think the solution is a more set method of delivering what students need that is put into place nationally. This would have to include recommended methods and engaging materials for various content. Right now, teaching is like an independent quest for each and every teacher, rather than a body of professionals using the methods that research shows are the best for students.

      By the way, schools are evaluated where I am from by boards of educational professionals who visit various schools and look at the atmosphere and the quality of education taking place there.
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        Feb 19 2011: Matthew,

        This is a great perspective. I understand that this issue of subjectivity and bowing to the pressures of being popular are what thwarts the integrity of some college level courses as some professors seek the positive praise of student evaluations at the end of the course.

        The danger I hear in what you are saying is that its logical course leads to standardization. "Well if we can't rely on subjective feedback, we need objective standards by which we base our evaluation." This is the argument right? And this is what you are advocating for, correct? This is what is happening with common core standards, a national framework of standards for use in all public schools. I've argued about the virtues and liabilities of this system at www.coopcatlyst.org with other educators from across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia.

        It also sounds like you work at a private school, where accreditation teams come to visit is this the case? I have been a part of this at both a private k-12 school and a college. It's an interesting process that requires a lot of work. I am not sure that all the work is worth it.

        As for "acting like a body of professionals using methods that research shows are the best for students" there is no research that shows what is best for all students. There may be certain baselines like providing basic physiological comforts--warmth, food, water, physical activity--for students, but after that there is nothing I have seen that is clear cut. There are a myriad of methods that are equal but different, and it takes the mastery of a teacher to understand what method to use when. I've seen scripted classrooms (an extreme of what you propose) and they do not work to create rigor, only mediocrity and complicity of thought.

        I hope we can continue this conversation.
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    Feb 17 2011: I haven't seen an actual standardized test recently, but watching IBM's Watson defeat the Jeopardy champions makes me wonder if schools and testing are currently geared toward Jeopardy-champion-style knowledge instead of the kind of knowledge and wisdom that is still beyond a Watson? As kids increasingly have external access to Watson-style knowledge, they should be taught more about meaning, connection, consequences, application of knowledge that may be harder to test en masse.

    Whether I remember 5th grade algebra or trig is not as important as whether the process of learning it at the time strengthened my ability to learn abstract concepts in general. I know I can easily and quickly look up the law of sines, so I don't have to be tested on remembering it or not. What needs to be durable is understanding the concept and applicability of trigonometric relationships so I can be simultaneously surprised, delighted, and understanding when I see trigonometry applied to semantic spaces in search engine algorithms. I don't know how to test for that.

    One of my favorite test questions was from my daughter's 3rd grade math workbook: "Harry had 36 oranges. He gave some to his uncle. How many did he have left?" It wasn't a multiple choice question; you had to provide an answer. How do you standardize on that?

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    Feb 17 2011: Gever! Bravo Bravo Bravo! I stand with you in asking school reformers to rethinking their testing paradigm!

    How bout the TED community creating a compassionate coaching retreat where the head honchos who set school policy meet up with gamers, designers, neuro, cognitive and somatic scientists along with progressive and conventional educators to reflect and learn what really tickles and inspires young brains to grow, develop new skills and become learners for life!

    I'd be happy to lend my institute as a framing device for the conversation!
  • Feb 16 2011: A very interesting concept, and NCLB is about evaluating schools. Of course it didn't take long before we decided we could measure a teachers worth with the same multiple choice tests given to students. The quickest way to improve student test scores and make AYP? Teach students how to better guess at the answers they don't know. In effect we are evaluating the effectiveness of schools and teachers on a students ability to guess on a multiple choice test. Yeah, I know that the test developers and number crunchers can find ways to validate these tests, but the basic premise is flawed! The overarching question is do we want students to be able to recall facts--my computer does that pretty well. Or do we want the to be innovative, problems solvers, to be able to make fine distinctions, to have compassion, to be able to adapt, to have an aesthetic sense, and to understand the larger world around them. If it is the later, how in the heck do you assess that? It requires a different paradigm.

    One way to evaluate schools is to identify what the best practices are for developing these important attributes and then observing the learning activities at the school to see that these best practices are being used. My idea for best practices would be project based learning built around a theme that is relevant to the students and is managed by a facilitator to ensure that the important concepts (standards?) are addressed. This would mean a major rethinking and retraining in the existing education community, but the basic ideas has been around for very long time.
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    Feb 16 2011: I believe the problem lies on the content of the tests. Basically all tests in school strive to find the kid that has the ability to memorize concepts and not necessarily understand them. Why do we spend so much time congratulating this kind of behavior when society does not have a need for this trait of memorizing. The true need is the ability to create and improvise not recite and memorize. We should restructure the paradigm of school, it is severely old fashioned and has little to do on what matters the most.
    • Feb 16 2011: That is especially true considering we heavily rely on google and the internet to look up facts that most of us left behind long ago in school (or more accurately) moments after we took that exam. We have information at our finger tips via cell phones and computers 24 hours a day.

      Critical thinking and creativity are needed in schools more then facts. People need to be taught the why's and how's of things to have a deeper understanding, not just memorize enough facts to get through a test. The test really means nothing in the end.
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    Feb 15 2011: Learning is durable when students are empowered and have ownership over their learning. While this is being done in pockets around the world, it is far too infrequent. The idea of grading schools is great but I would counter that it is not a matter of grading schools but rather offering more examples of what kind of learning happens when students are engaged.

    Examples like your Brightworks School, among others, offer the opportunity to provide evidence to school systems on the value of a more engaged and empowered student.

    Changing "failing" schools is a massive cultural hurdle but if we build more schools that focus on students making a difference and engaging in something real and tangible, rather than simply throwing computers at them, we can offer some valuable examples to what is possible in schools.
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    Feb 14 2011: Gever,

    I am in complete agreement with you on all points except for testing schools. Instead, let us reimagine schools as open, collaborative, creative, and hands-on with the real world. I think the problem lies with parents. Kudos for starting BrightWorks school as I believe is is absolutely the model for the future. It's very tough, though, to get parents to see alternatives to institutionalized learning when they believe that a letter grade is what matters most in getting into a good college. Perhaps if more universities openly embraced alternatives to grades and SAT scores, parents would feel more comfortable with alternatives like BrightWorks. I believe then that the tide will turn and BrightWorks-type schools will be part of every community!
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    Feb 26 2011: Have we also thought about the fact that if we are to change the way in which students are taught and tested then surely we must also change the way that we are accepted into College and University. The system at the moment allows higher education to have a method of of testing student for acceptance (SATs, A Levels and IB) flawed as it is surely that would also need to change. How would we get the higher education system to change it's approach?
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    Feb 26 2011: The many issues that have been raised still leave me with a unanswered question, primarily because the solutions offered seem directed at symptoms of educational failure rather than the cause of public school failure. I would like to suggest that the issue of purpose is avoided. Why and for who's benefit do we educate? I have a purpose for education that does not seem to be on the previous agendas; and here it is:

    To promote in students a capacity for critical independent thought with a responsibility for the commonwealth (community). IN other words I would be more concerned with developing a student's ability to learn rather than spending too much time on what to learn. I am interested in promoting cognition as an aspect of social responsibility. I'd like students to develop a capacity for making meaning out of experience in a way that nurtures critical thought.

    After reading the preceding comments about schools and who should be measured I felt that schools should be competent at learning as organizations (Peter Senge) because if they couldn't learn as a collective then they couldn't do a very good job of supporting learning in either the students or the staff.

    I'd be interested in how these thought coincide or conflict with other views on this subject.

    Rogier Gregoire
  • Feb 25 2011: I totally agree!
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    Feb 25 2011: I'm 20y old and in the 7th grade I wasn´t aproved to the 8th grade, at that time I remember not having "happy" days in school, all I used to do was wrinting stuff that were on the blackboard and no interaction with teachers and all the material besides the black board were like a world map of the 60's and documentaries of the 80's.
    The teachers weren't motivated, they didn't like their jobs and that reflects on the students,
    At my second year teacher looked at me like I was a lost case and didn't bother about me and I became a part of a group of "lost cases" where teachers don't look to us and only see an F in my brain..

    As my case there were a lot, like 20% of the students that weren't aproved each year, all them get lost in drugs, and thinking that they're ideias didn't worth the effort, for example a big friend of mine wanted to be an Geographer and he wasn't aproved 3 times and he droped out, now he is just a guy addicted to cocaine, alcohol and living with sadness and with a "phobia" to schools.

    So, if schools should be tested, I guess yes, but first of all we need give the materials that a school needs to work.
  • Feb 25 2011: Before even testing schools, teachers or students we should experiment with different approaches to teaching and understand what is valuable to learn and what is not?

    I think students need to acquire the following skills and knowledge for life:
    - creativity
    - communication skills
    - team work
    - basic facts but not 'trivia' type of information
    - concepts in science and math
    - ethics and history

    So instead of asking students to memorize formulas and facts that can be found at Wikipedia etc, why don't we engage them with local and national competitions in science, math, arts, creativity etc. They will learn great deal of skills needed for their careers as well as learn how to deal with peers.

    In addition we should give students more flexibility in what they can learn and how, at their pace while ensuring some basic goals are met at the end of the year. (the founder of Khan Academy organization has some interesting ideas on how to do that)

    Facts will become important once students attend apprentice, college or university but by then they will at least develop solid framework of life skills mentioned above.
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    Feb 23 2011: I think that we should seek out educational diversity. An educational monoculture exhibits the same weaknesses that a biological monoculture does. If we are to thrive in a world of economic, political, and climatological shifts, we should promote the development of a diversity of education systems. We need a generation of adaptable individuals who exhibit the tenacity necessary to solve big complex problems in a range of career paths that don't even have labels yet, the resilience to work through and around a near infinite list of setbacks, and the creativity to imagine the solutions.

    The best way to figure out what works best might be to start trying some different approaches. Summerhill, Sudbury, Waldorf, Montessori, Reggio Emelia - these are great experiments that have been running for decades. The children who graduate from these programs tend to graduate from college at rates equal to or better than the best traditional schools (private and public), and yet those successes are not integrated in classrooms. We need to integrate the best results and continuously innovate, never expecting a single permanent solution in education.
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      Feb 23 2011: We must be careful using "students who attend college" as the success measure. This omits around 70% of the entire student population.

      Would it be accurate to assume that families who can afford these different approaches can also afford the cost of post-secondary education? Also the success rate for first-generation college students is quite low when compared to second and third-generation students. What this unfortunately points at is the design of an educational experience for an educated few.

      Is public education failing us because it cannot screen its students?
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        Feb 23 2011: I agree Eric, the common use of "getting into college" as a metric is fundamentally flawed. I think it's more interesting (but still flawed) to look at college graduation rates, but we are always going to have an apples-to-oranges problem as long as the cost to attend an alternative school separates students along economic lines.

        Our new school (http://sfbrightworks.org) uses a sliding scale tuition and deliberate outreach to make it accessible to low-income students, but we find that the social barrier is even more difficult to cross than the economic one. We find ourselves having to work constantly to overcome the perception that an alternative education is not a "real" education.

        Measuring success is always going to be tricky when the pedagogy does not allow testing the students. We need to look longer-term and look at broader definitions of success. An oft-quoted study of the alumni of the original Sudbury Valley school, revealed a consistently happy and successful group of graduates (http://bit.ly/eZKOGt). Summarizing the study, one reporter said:
        "The Sudbury Valley School recently completed an extensive study of former students that provides qualitative and quantitative evidence of the success of the model. Graduates tend to see themselves as creative individuals who feel successful and happy about their lives. They pursue a full spectrum of diverse careers and interests; 45 percent of those surveyed were self employed or owned small businesses; 82 percent of graduates go on to higher education. In addition, colleges and employers view a Sudbury-style education as an asset and a predictor of success."
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    Feb 20 2011: In my opinion the US educational system is broken and no amount of "testing" is going to fix it. There are many interesting observations threaded here and some serious misconceptions too!

    Here's my top 5 must do's.

    1. Require teachers to sit in on each others classes - See Kris Nordgren's & Jeffrey Allen's comments
    2. Do away with expensive textbooks - See Cecile Mills.
    3. Continuing to teach the 3 R's - See Aaron Weisman.
    4. Emphasize learning facts and concepts. - See Steve Nelson & Aaron Weisman.
    5. Testing students on the facts & concepts - See Chris Casal.

    Here's what I think are common misconceptions

    1. Let the kids assess the teachers - nonsense. Kids are not qualified to assess teachers!
    2. Students know what they are interested in - nonsense. The whole purpose of education is to broaden their interests.
    3. Don't teach facts, that's what computers are for - ridiculous. Education is about learning the facts. Not to memorize them but to know where to find them later and knowing what to do with them after you have found them.

    Here's what I think are the main problems with the current educational system.

    1. Kids are taking way too many classes/credits. They are "drinking from a firehose". A 5 month semester is not enough time for kids to synthesize and master all the new material nor identify common themes among classes/subjects.

    2. The testing regimen is ridiculous. I have kids taking mid-term exams in several subjects about once every 4 weeks. Again, not allowing enough time for the students to synthesize the material. They study to cram for the exam, not to learn the material - See Gever Tully.

    3. Retention & firing of faculty depends too much on the "student opinion of instruction" surveys. They are student opinions that's all, they are not teacher evaluations nor should they be used as such - see Matthew Fisher.

    4. The high cost of 4 year college education.

    5. The low value society places on education.

    The solution - Test kids once a year!
    • Feb 22 2011: "2. Students know what they are interested in - nonsense. The whole purpose of education is to broaden their interests."

      Is that how our school system turns avid readers into people who absolutely refuse to pick up a book?

      There is a very critical difference between introducing new ideas to a student and overriding the fledgling interests already present in the student. Our modern education has shown no ability to even understand the potential damage it can actually cause.

      "3. Don't teach facts, that's what computers are for - ridiculous. Education is about learning the facts. Not to memorize them but to know where to find them later and knowing what to do with them after you have found them."

      This point is so vague that it contradicts itself. Surely you're not intentionally suggesting that education is about learning the intricacies of quantum mechanics so that if you forget your can look it up on Google later in life.

      Largely the only fundamentals which I can see a reason that they must be taught are simply fundamentals of communication and critical thinking. If a student is able to form and communicate ideas effectively as well as understand outside ideas and analyze them then what other skill could possibly be necessary for someone to teach themselves anything they could need in the future?
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    Feb 20 2011: I loved school and by all accounts I was a pretty mediocre student, I am sure mainly because of the old industrial model of education in 1960s Great Britain. Fairly late on in my life I became an actor. I trained at a conservatory and later had the opportunity to study at RADA. I now also have a Masters from Kings, London and RADA. The point of this is that my love of learning and my ability to learn came together when I was 38. I heave learned and retained more about the world, maths, English, Physics and people skills since becoming and actor and a writer my two true passions than I did in school. The problem as I see it is I told them back then that this is what I wanted to do with my life and was told to sop day dreaming. So many people are like this and while academic study is wonderful for those who can work that way the avenue into education is not the same for all. Testing is really the proof that the system does not work and not the child.
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    Feb 20 2011: The purpose of education is at the core of this discussion. Some suggest testing schools for relevance to one's ideal of life fulfillment is purposeful. Others believe success in ventures beyond and after the classroom is a good measure. Or whether someone retains information and skills in life (say, trigonometry) when perhaps they have gone on to positions that require minimal use or application of these skills.

    It is a commonly held belief that a small percentage of humans control and consume the lion's share of world energy and resources. Do we feel that this is something we should all strive for - to grab our fair share before it runs out? We have but one life to live and it better meet all our expectations and desires of comfort and consumption even if it causes others to suffer shortages? Is greed, self-service and self-fulfillment at all costs driving this discussion to restructure education? An educational system reflects, not creates, the habits and practices of a society. So which is broken?

    If it is guaranteed that our privileged level of consumption, leisure and exciting travel opportunities is sustainable then sure let's further build upon educating for the purpose of sole self-interest as the goal. If not, maybe some adaptation on our part to fair, reasonable, world sustainable outcomes might be in order.

    We can't reach our true potential caring about others? Does an education system have to meet all our individual wants? You can't always get what you want but you just might get what you need (Jagger, 16,17 November, 1968).
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      Feb 25 2011: I echo the comment "The purpose of education is at the core of this discussion." We should be discussing that first and foremost. Before we discuss how we are going to do and what tools and whether to use textbooks, we need to decide on the goal more than just "educating people". What is that goal?
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        Feb 25 2011: My career, such as it was, was spent doing two fundamental things: researching, promoting and implementing new learning opportunities and researching, analyzing and questioning educational fads that promise but never deliver.

        Telling the difference between the two is not a simple task, and a task that was not always done correctly. The fallout comes at a heavy price for the student.

        Presently the buzz in education is early-learning. I believe that this holds merit however it is being promoted as a near 'cure-all' - for which it crosses, in my opinion, into the second category of promises without chance of delivery.

        There are a number of what I refer to as 'key-stones' in education and neglecting any in hopes that any one will bring the success we so desperately desire will lead to another disappointment. One disappointment that comes to mind is our failure to continue to address the learning needs of males.
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    Feb 19 2011: Broadly speaking, I think the goals of educations should be (1) to help young people choose a life path that gives them the most satisfaction, and (2) teach them the human and practical skills they need to excel at that path.

    I'm 33, Ivy-League-educated, and in a stable job that challenges me, enables me to travel and interact with great people, and develop new ideas to use emerging technologies to improve lives. I've also been a teacher and a journalist, and lived in the U.S., Africa, and Europe. By almost all definitions I have "succeeded." I'm happy, yes. But I also feel like I haven't discovered my true passion—a fulfilling life path. I look back at my standard, U.S. public-school education and don't recall being taught to think about what makes me happy and why.

    I think if our goal is to help young people grow into emotionally fulfilled adults (which are surprisingly rare in today's world) we have to do more to help young people learn to be introspective—to identify what makes them happy in life—and then give them the tools to go after those things.

    I'll leave it to the education experts to say what such a system might look like, but here are some of the insights that struck me from this conversation:
    - Pay teachers much more (to attract the best talent) and then require them to sit in each other's classes, both to learn from colleagues' approaches and to evaluate each other.
    - Group learners by interest/learning style (rather than by age) and with teachers passionate about that interest.
    - Find ways to individualize instruction more, by increasing money in the system to decrease class size, but also by pulling more of society into the role of teacher. Young people could spend more time learning from professionals, and more class activities can be guided automatically (computers, virtual reality).
    - We don't need to learn to recall most facts anymore (thanks, Google!). Since our educational needs have changed so much, it's a great time to rethink the system
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    Feb 18 2011: I've been thinking about four interrelated things regarding 21st century teaching and learning:

    creativity - to what extent do we unlock the treasures within each of us?
    citizenship - what does it mean to be a local, national, and international citizen?
    connectivity - how do we relate to each other in a twitter/facebook world?
    compassion - how do we deeply engage with our communities to bring about meaningful change?

    ... the challenge is how to measure these attibutes? As Patrick indicates, if the drivers of tertiary entrance continue to be standardized admission tests, then there is little stimulus for the system to be changed in the education world.
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    Feb 18 2011: Great dialog so far... Enjoyed reading the various thoughts. This is one of my core areas of passion www.21foundation.com :-) and could write for days about this... Top 3 thoughts

    Change the standards by which the top Universities accept students
    Design accreditation standards to align with 21st Century Skills so the schools are evaluated based on these skills.
    Reward learners and educators for embracing inquiry-based learning
  • Feb 18 2011: This discussion reminds me of the question that usually comes to me when the subject of testing students is discussed. That is why nobody seems to ever realize that we are wasting vast sums of money and time when we test every student in a school to try to assess how the school is performing. It never ceases to amaze me how we can fully accept the results of marketing or political surveys that are typically based on the responses of a small number of people that represent a fraction of the full number of people impacted by a question, yet we think we need to test 100% of the students. We are more than willing to accept the results of a questionnaire that 200 or 1,000 people answer and apply it to millions of people. Apparently most polls, surveys and questionnaires have very small margin of errors even though they may be based on a small fraction of 1% of the total population that is affected. Why in the world do we insist on testing 100% of the students in a school. Let's test something like 5% and let the other 95% or so of the students use the time more effectively to learn more.
    • Feb 23 2011: We talk about expensive books, but the expense of all this testing on school districts and governments is positively staggering. Millions are made on test creation and many more are made to employ and train people to do the assessments. It is my opinion that tests are not properly vetted,nor is the job of choosing which companies are engaged in the development of these tests given to educators. The job usually goes to the lowest bidder, but the company doesn't have to stick to the budget and they know that the gravy train will continue for a decade of of fees for updates and assessment training.

      The situation is already unsustainable in my state - to much testing and not enough learning time.
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    Feb 17 2011: Testing children is what life does. Human beings are a social species and by nature adaptive survivors with untold possible functions and combinations of functions in contrast to narrow specialists like cheetahs. Therefore testing for curriculum retention is incredibly meaningless. In any case one year after high school surveys of GRADUATES show a 20% retention. Testing skills or competencies may have more relevance but which skills? How many rocket scientists do we need? Why do Doctors need trigonometry? It is no longer possible to learn EVERYTHING relevant for even one specialty within a normal lifetime. Since curriculum committees are not Deity why do we let them define what is needed for our children? It is interesting that Einstein and the Dalai Lama seem to agree that technical information without moral-emotional-social wisdom tends to create monsters not happy humans. I hear that in Finland (which is rated #1 in the world) there are NO bad schools. Logically this must come in part from the fact that all their schools compete with all other schools by free choice of parents and students. If a totalitarian planned economy cannot feed the North Koreans why do we think it can work in a much more subtle system like education?
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      Feb 17 2011: I think you may find the notion of 'competition' is what is lacking in the Finnish and all the other top-rated education systems......time to question your not so hidden assumptions?
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      Feb 17 2011: Doctors need to understand abstract scientific concepts and relationships. They may not have a daily practical application of trigonometry (though a little trig could help them understand things like medical imaging technologies), but the process of learning trigonometry strengthened their ability to understand and apply abstract concepts to practical situations.
  • Feb 17 2011: I agree a matrix should be created that allows us to measure and evaluate how the school performs. For example, how child-centered it is? Do they have a recess and then a calm quiet lunch period, or do they do lunch first, so children hurry through their meal and toss most of their lunch so they can go outside and exercise? This matrix should be based on community expectations of schools, not how well the children perform on standardized tests. Several good models exist, including Tribes. I welcome comments and ideas on areas for the matrix/ rubric to evaluate how well schools serve our children and our community. Also, of course, how well they value their teachers.
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    Feb 17 2011: School is both a vital and touchy subject, because everyone relates to their own school system, which is itself set up to produce the future citizens of its own country. School is basically a tool aimed at maintaining a society and has never been about the welfare of pupils/students. So there cannot be one single universal model and it's country leaders who need to be convinced that children's interest will also be the country's best interest. It means changing the way companies and institutions work as well, while they are based on rentability and individual promotion as a result of harsh competition, that the school system cannot but reflect. So the radical change should really come from the top.
  • Feb 17 2011: Schools should undoubtedly be tested. But only if the tests are better than what we apply to the students. How are the critical thinking skills of the students that come out of the schools? How well do they think outside of the box? How do they handle situations they have never seen before? How do the students approach these problems?

    In the future memorization is going to be irrelevant. Critical thinking skills, the ability to diagnose problems and come up with creative ways to tackle those problems are going to be important for the future of the children and our country.
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    Feb 17 2011: I believe that when children get low grades, while having a wish to learn, it means that that particular school is not effective enough in educating them. School should be a system which is able to give the same knowledge to everyone, while adapting it in a way that each of students can conceive the given information in their own best way.
    Now, If you think of how many children in this world get low grades and how many schools they attend, almost all schools will be in the list. The solution is not easy to find and it is not just simple. But we have to find and apply it.