Jason Glass was recently selected as the new director of the Iowa Department of Education. This change is occurring at a critical time in a very hostile political climate. His leadership and that of the “new” governor (he previously served for 16 years), and legislature will certainly have a big impact on the future direction of education in the state of Iowa. I realize that many readers of this blog aren’t from Iowa, but I hope my thoughts below may still be of interest to you.
On Monday Jason posted three questions on his blog. My responses are below, but you may be interested to read the responses from others around the state. I must say that I am excited to know that our new director uses his blog and Twitter as communication tools!
1. What should we stop doing?
We need to stop relying so heavily on the standardized tests currently used in Iowa today. Those assessments do not evaluate higher level thinking skills. The tests, which have become the strongest indicator of a district’s success, have been a driving force behind instruction taking place in our schools. The emphasis of “teaching to the test” has greatly crippled education in Iowa. Assessment certainly has the ability to transform education. With your leadership and the help of other Iowa educators, it could be possible to embrace an assessment tool that positively transforms both teaching and learning in Iowa.
2. What should we keep doing?
We need to keep moving forward and not accept the status quo. Although Iowa has performed fairly well nationally, there currently seems to be a fairly prominent movement in Iowa to truly transform learning in our schools. Many schools have implemented initiatives such as Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) and/or the one-to-one initiative in an attempt to reform their schools. These initiatives have seen mixed results. It is no secret that I am a huge proponent of one-to-one, yet I agree with some of the points Jerrid made in an earlier response. If we simply implement any initiative without focusing on how teaching and learning need to look differently, the initiative will not produce any results different than what we currently have. The state has also focused on reform with the Iowa Core. I first heard about the Core while serving as a principal, and I was very excited about its potential. It seemed like something that could truly transform our schools. I do worry that that focus has changed. I’ve heard educators talk about how they are going to align what they are currently doing with the Iowa Core. That will not produce the changes that we need! We certainly should not drop the Iowa Core, but a renewed and energized vision may be appropriate.
3. What should we start doing?
I have provided 3 points encompassing technology as areas we need to improve. Iowa’s best one-to-one schools may serve as models for the rest of the state if the state embraces technology as a way to enhance education.
- We need to stop acting like technology is something “extra”. Teaching technology as a class and not integrating it throughout the curriculum is a big mistake. As schools, our job is to prepare responsible skilled citizens for our society. Can students truly be contributing members of the future in which they will live (not the world we live in) without a firm grasp on technology use? Almost all of the jobs our students have will involve some sort of new technology. Most will also be heavily involved with technology in their personal lives. We can’t expect them to gain these skills without the help of our schools.
- We need to embrace technology as a way to teach 21st Century Skills. Tony Wagner’s lists the following seven things as 21st Century Skills:
- Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
- Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
- Agility and Adaptability
- Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
- Effective Oral and Written Communication
- Accessing and Analyzing Information
- Curiosity and Imagination
I will argue until I am blue in the face that the work students are producing in our technology rich schools in these seven areas is almost unimaginable without the technology. The Iowa Core also has a focus on the 21st Century skills. By embracing technology, our students will be much more equipped with these skills.
3. EQUITY! This is an issue that I am very passionate about, but very rarely get a chance to speak about. Our poorest students are at a huge disadvantage because of their lack of access to technology. Unlike their wealthier classmates, they are unable to get online and continue their learning at home. A long time ago, schools figured this out in the area of reading. Elementary teachers would make sure that their young little readers always went home with plenty of books. Schools and communities also arranged book giveaways to help provide a better home environment for students. Most schools have done nothing to close the technology gap between our students. I have strong feelings about all three of my points, but the equity issue is the one that really makes my blood boil. As a teacher and then principal, I worked with many students from very poor families. Those students were at a disadvantage from their peers for many reasons, but lack of access to technology does not have to be one of them. Give them the opportunity to learn, play, and connect with their peers by providing them with access to technology. Obviously, some will not take advantage, but many will. ALL of our students deserve that opportunity!
Thanks for reading!