Tag Archive for schoolreform

Book Review: Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice

inside the black boxHere is a very brief review of Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice: Change Without Reform in American Education. I so appreciate that Larry Cuban continues to publish productively on the history of education and school change. Through his blog, book forwards, and latest book, Cuban explores the most confounding quality of school reform: the more policymakers change, the more classroom practice stays the same. Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice summarizes Cuban’s past work comparing national education policy to his direct observations of classroom practice. In this way, Cuban explodes myths about the effects of federal and state education initiatives on the student experience in schools. Cuban also spends a chapter exploring parallels to the evolution of the training and evaluation of medical practice.

Central to the argument is the idea of the multi-layered curriculum. Federal education policy is interpreted by states. State education standards are interpreted by districts. District initiatives are monitored by schools. Teachers interpret the curriculum as they teach. Students interpret the curriculum that they receive. Finally, assessments reveal only a partial picture of what students have actually learned. Cuban explains that these many layers have so diluted the original intent of education policy that classroom practice has remained fairly immune to change over decades. He also points out that much national and state education policy has been alarmingly simply in its theory of school change, for example that school accountability to student test scores would necessarily cause improvement in teaching practice, or that adding thousands of computing devices would necessarily improve student learning.

Education is not just complicated, however. It is complex. Cuban explains that complex systems involve humans making varying decisions and lack central command. Interdependencies and interactions exist among many different actors, often with conflicting objectives and methods. Top-down directives and simplified change theories fail to cause actual change in complex systems. Rather, Cuban argues, education policymakers would do better to empower and support teachers as professionals, change agents, and experts. School reform must address all layers of the multi-layered curriculum in order to have any chance of causing actual change on the ground.

Ironically, Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice does not get very far into the classroom beyond confirming that it remains little affected by decades of large scale education reform. Other books and studies help complete the inquiry. For example, David Perkins and Project Zero studied classrooms in depth to determine when moments of understanding were achieved and created a model for effective classroom instruction based on that. Jack Schneider examined four changes to education practice that did in fact take root in the classroom and identified key factors in penetrating the black box of classroom practice. Together, these studies help identify key aspects of each layer that affects classroom practice and ultimately may help educators navigate the complex, shifting worlds of education policy.

School Change Through Experiential Programs

Independent schools have increasingly created specialized positions to lead or facilitate new, experiential learning opportunities for their students. Do you have these positions at your school?

Director of service learning
Director of global programs
Educational technology specialist
Urban studies program director
Director of student life
Outdoor programs coordinator
Director of diversity

These programs feature a common thread: experiential learning. Students engage in hands-on activities grounded in an authentic context such as service, the outdoors, global travel, or multiculturalism.

Where do experiential programs live within the school? How do students access them?

One model: students experience two separate courses of study, a “core” of discipline-based study plus a “peripheral” set of experiential programs.

This structure implies an “influencer” model of school change. The school creates new positions for experiential program leaders. Students participate in these special programs outside of the regular class schedule. Most teachers observe from a distance. If the experiential programs are exciting and the program specialists effective at outreach, then teachers may increasingly partner with the programs to introduce more experiential elements into subject-based instruction. Experiential programs only affect the core as much as they influence from a distance.

The contrast of teaching methods may send students unintended messages. Discipline-based classes may use more recognizable forms of teaching: holding classes, facilitating class discussion, assigning readings, and assessing student mastery through papers, presentations, and tests. Experiential programs may take place in the woods, on Skype, or through a blog. They may emphasize student construction of the learning environment, partnerships with local organizations, special events, and interdisciplinary study. Experiential programs may gain a reputation for being optional or less rigorous.

Another model: students experience a “core” program that incorporates experiential components.

This structure adopts a rapid, comprehensive model of school change. The school makes a decision early on to broadly adopt specific experiential learning themes. All teachers are involved, and all courses integrate experiential learning in some manner. If the school creates special program director positions at all, then these individuals are few in number and partner closely with teachers to create student learning experiences. They do not offer separate programs to students. The weekly timetable is organized to facilitate experiential learning opportunities. Students experience a relatively consistent learning experience across the school program.

How may an existing school integrate experiential programs without completely reorganizing itself?

1. Assign experiential program responsibilities to core teachers. Partly discipline-based teachers, partly program specialists, they are more likely to influence their colleagues to try something new.

2. Mandate special, schoolwide initiatives to introduce more experiential learning, supported by program specialists.

3. Facilitate democratic, teacher decision-making processes to introduce specific types of experiential learning into the school program, facilitated by program specialists.

4. Provide program specialists greater access to school change vehicles, such as administrative leadership and curriculum review committees.

Case studies: schools trying different experiential programs

I would like to list these schools now and write short case studies in the future. What other independent schools would you add to this list?

Urban School: Innovative Teaching

Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences

Lick-Wilmerding School: Public purpose

“Leading from the Middle”

A summer institute offered by the Santa Fe Leadership Center

The Met / The Big Picture Company

I spent the day at The Met, an internship-based school in Providence that has become a national model for a network of 50 “Big Picture” schools. I was so pleased to witness the program, teachers, and students first-hand after having heard about the school for years. Every time I heard something notable, I Twittered it. Here are my notes:

Waiting to board a bus to The MET in Providence. Excited to see the program first-hand!
I haven’t been on a charter bus in ages. Reminds me of college.
4 Met Schools are fully booked today with PD and community activities.

The Met: connecting internships with learning goals and assessment.

The Met: 98% students accepted into college, all required to apply
62% attend college, 40% complete two or four years

Three R’s: relationships, relevance, rigor

No Met schools in MA – because of high stakes testing? Yet their New York school is making it work.

The Met doctor can be a student’s primary care physician. Part of teaching the whole child.

15-20 social work interns practice at the Met, providing that service to the students.

50 Big Picture schools nationwide. I had no idea.
Rhode Island funds schools at $12,000 per ADA per year. That’s twice the rate in CA!

Assessment: employee evaluations, school work products, exhibitions
Pedagogy: knowing student learning styles; active, authentic, hands-on learning; reflection

The Met: online database of resources. Any member can contribute. An example of structure making an online environment more effective?
Al student work maintained online. Mentioned in passing, but so revolutionary.

Open Office concept. Using school resources independently to get things done. about 11 hours ago from web

Students are in internships 10-12 hours per week.

Internships last 3 months to a year.

Most Met schools are contained within larger schools or other organizations. A surprise for me.

Campus design: retained walkways, kept neighborhood roof lines, open facilities to community, red brick not cinderblock.

I bet these graduates are extremely independent and directed in college.

About to start student walk through the school.

Big Picture Soda: a science project turned commercial success!
Incredible media studio: recording, editing, film studios, control room.

Math needs are poorly met through internships. Why is there so little algebra naturally happening in the workplace?

South Carolina district superintendent at this preconference at The Met. Cool.

Students required to complete 75 page autobiography for graduation!

Curricular areas defined by skills, not content. “The Met Learning Goals”

Quantitative reasoning, social reasoning, communication, empirical reasoning, personal qualities

New digital portfolio system will track content competencies in addition to aforementioned skills (The Met)

The Met unapologetic about preparing kids for a successful career (and why not?)

Big Picture Online: I would like to learn more about the portal that these 50 schools use.