Ugly Betty, A Hot Flat World, and the Common Core: Reflections on the Council Of Great City Schools Fall Conference 2012
The Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) brings together top administrators and school board members from the largest school districts across the country. Their mission is “…to educate the nation’s most diverse student body to the highest academic standards and prepare them to contribute to our democracy and the global community.” And the passion, skill, and commitment of these educators was in evidence everywhere at the CGCS’s fall conference from the sessions, to the lunch table, to the hospitality reception.
Some of my take-aways:
School districts are doing some pretty incredible things to prepare students for meeting the requirements of the Common Core State Standards. Why? Because they know that this is a monumental shift for their educators and that change is best facilitated when everyone understands the vision and has the skills and support needed to change. Here are some examples:
- Clark County School District (Las Vegas, NV) has created their own curriculum engine that stores their entire district curriculum, for all content areas, and gathers knowledge by unwrapped standards. The tool also includes a drag-and-drop lesson planning tool. In addition, they have a publically accessible site called Wiki-Teacher that is a sharing site for lesson plans, demonstration videos, and other collected knowledge related to the Common Core.
- Broward County Public Schools (FL) has created a site to help demystify the Common Core. The site, Defining the Core, is packed with resources, professional development, and tools like monthly calendars.
Preparing ALL students to meet these rigorous new standards raises some fundamental questions. I attended sessions that discussed:
- Do we teach algebra to all students in middle school or are some students just not mature enough? And if we do, and students still need three to four high school math credits, what options are there for students who aren’t ever going to be successful in courses beyond Algebra II or Geometry?
- What is the impact of retaining students? How do we balance the idea of a reading guarantee with research that shows that that retention may be the single most powerful predictor influencing a child’s decision to drop out?
- How do we provide our students with equitable access to technology and tools both at school and at home? How do we fund it?
Change is afoot. Feature speaker Thomas Friedman, author of Hot, Flat, and Crowded and New York Times columnist, talked about the reality that low skill, high paying jobs are no longer available. These days, the factories that employed many of my classmates and their parents right out of high school use as many robots as workers, and even entry level jobs at our local Caterpillar plant require a field related college degree, apprenticeship, technical school, or military training.
So, what does all this mean for us? Here’s where the Ugly Betty part comes in. America Ferrera, who played the title role in the television series Ugly Betty, spoke at the conference one day over lunch. She talked about her experiences as a graduate of the LAUSD schools and her mother who prized education above all else. She also described her personal conflict between doing what she loves (acting) and doing what she feels a need to do (help others). Although her first instinct was to quit acting, Ms. Ferrara has discovered is a way to leverage her celebrity to promote things that are important to her and make a larger difference in the world than she could in a less visible position. Something all of us can do, although in smaller ways.
I’m left with this thought…it is about so much more than making sure kids pass tests. It’s about much larger issues like equity and the economy. And about seemingly smaller things like making sure all students have the access to things many of us take for granted, like internet access in our neighborhood. And it’s about things we never even considered a few years ago, like figuring out which is the future—BYOD (bring your own device to school) or cell phone valets outside schools.
We are poised on the edge of major changes in education. The Secretary of Education and the FCC want all schools to adopt digital textbooks in the next 5 years. New standards and testing are changing the face of education from the student, to the teacher, to our colleges of education. Parents are trying to support their children, but have a hard time doing so when their child’s experience is so different from their own.
Change, then, is both inevitable and necessary. How we manage change, however, is what will make the difference. Years ago, I was introduced to a model for managing complex change that I’ve used over and over again. Essentially, effective change requires several components: a vision, skills, incentives, resources, and an action plan. Miss any one of those, and the change is hampered. Based on my experiences at the Council of Great City Schools, our schools are blessed with passionate, caring, and competent leaders and teachers who are scrambling to keep up with change and doing a good job of it. But without a vision, skills, incentives, resources and action plan, all our best efforts, passions, and knowledge won’t be enough for our students to compete and be successful in today’s world.
Educators: How are you handling all this change? How are you preparing all your students for the realities of today’s world? Tell us about it in the comment section.
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