Future of Learning Top Reads for week of Mar 19 2018

 Photo by  Ali Abdul Rahman  on  Unsplash

"Reimagining the High School Transcript," an email exchange between John Gulla / @jgulla and Rand Harrington / @HarringtonRand, published in Independent School Magazine

"Too many teachers think grades are 'objective' measures. They are not. Can they represent something meaningful about a student's progress? Sure. But they weren't handed down inscribed on stone tablets to Moses from on high. Do you know where and when and why their use began? (Mount Holyoke College, 1887, standardization). I could go on and on.

"I'd urge you to consider these questions: Do grades serve your students well? Do they encourage the sort of teaching and learning that you hope to see at KDS?"

Why does this matter to the future of learning?

If you want to understand the issues at the heart of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, you can do no better than this email exchange between John Gulla, Executive Director of the EE Ford Foundation (which awarded the MTC with a $2M matching grant) and Rand Harrington, the Head of School at Kent Denver. This is a thoughtful exchange... with an edge!

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"Five Minutes with Scott Looney," by Leah Thayer / @LeahThayer, in Net Assets Magazine

"Our next step was to try to build a proof-of-concept for this ideal high school. We began by creating a three-credit interdisciplinary honors course called entrepreneurial studies, which provides project- and problem-based learning through direct apprenticeships with startup businesses. We very quickly realized that the traditional assessment system — letter grades and Carnegie units [a time-based standard of student progress] — was getting in the way of giving kids feedback that applies to real-world, problem-solving, group-oriented work. We realized that none of the elements of a traditional transcript made sense in our ideal high school."

Why does this matter to the future of learning?

For Scott Looney, the future of learning will involve...

1. Performance based assessments. The Mastery Transcript is not simply a mechanism for reporting on student growth. If a teacher's goals shifts from content coverage to mastery, then she will need to assess differently. (Performance based assessment is one excellent way to determine degrees of mastery.) And if she needs to assess differently, she will need to teach differently. In other words, the MTC willl result in better teaching and learning, not just a better transcript.
2. Mergers and acquisitions. Declining demographics and an evaporating middle class mean that the supply-demand equation does not favor most independent schools. Look for mergers and acquisitions to create efficiencies in the market.
3. Affordability. In a similar vein, 15+ years of tuition increases above the rate of inflation have created a tipping point that makes independent school unaffordable for most families. As a result, schools are resorting to more and more tuition discounting, which is an unsustainable tactic. Focusing on net tuition revenue is somewhat more helpful, but not a long-term fix.

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"Good Leaders Make Good Schools," by David Brooks / @nytdavidbrooks, in the New York Times

"What do principals do? They build a culture. Researchers from McKinsey studied test scores from half a million students in 72 countries. They found that students' mind-sets were twice as powerful in predicting scores as home environment and demographics were. How do students feel about their schooling? How do they understand motivation? Do they have a growth mind-set to understand their own development?

"These attitudes are powerfully and subtly influenced by school culture, by the liturgies of practice that govern the school day: the rituals for welcoming members into the community; the way you decorate walls to display school values; the distribution of power across the community; the celebrations of accomplishment and the quality of trusting relationships.

"Principals set the culture by their very behavior—the message is the person."

Why does this matter to the future of learning?

In a world of accelerating change, we must remember that learning will depend, first and foremost, on culture. If great Principals set culture, then the best Principals ensure that all faculty and staff own that culture.

Or, as Joe Dumars said, "On good teams, coaches hold players accountable. On great teams, players hold players accountable."

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Question of the week: Who sets--and nurtures--the culture at your school?

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Christian Talbot