Thinking Differently . . . part 1.

Inno_Ed_USThinking differently… is the theme for the next several blog posts. Of course, this is implicit in the title of the Howard Gardner’s book that introduced the world to the multiple intelligences: Intelligence Reframed. In order to bring this idea into reality we need to think differently about the problems that confront teachers and students in their day-to-day school lives.

Let’s begin on the macro level by thinking differently about what constitutes quality in a school or classroom. I was startled this week by a small article in Education Week that stated, “U.S. schools and classrooms rank near the bottom among the countries … on education innovation…only the Czech Republic and Austria ranked lower, and with New Zealand tying the U.S.”

This makes me wonder if the same could be said in the decades prior to the onset of standardized testing movement when many instructional innovations were more acceptable. Some say that the drive to standardize our nation’s curriculum is, in fact, motivated by the desire to squelch teachers’ creativity in order to achieve higher standards. In this sense then, the imposition of nation-wide testing regime is accomplishing its goal – stamping out innovations that deviate from the norm. Sadly, this is a hollow victory. We may have won the battle to narrow the curriculum, standardize instruction, and impose conventional thinking, but we’ve lost the war to engage students so they can achieve at higher levels.

More than a decade’s investment in the testing mania has resulted in minimal improvements in academic achievement. Interestingly, only math test scores have risen modestly. I wonder if there is any relationship between the decrease in educational innovation and the rise in math scores? Is there a causal correlation?  Are we sacrificing creativity (a hallmark American attribute) for slightly better math skills? What might be the long term consequences of this policy? Perhaps we should ask Japan that has suffered nearly two decades of stagnation all the while having students score highly on international math tests. The Japanese are known to be excellent at replication, but not so much for innovation. Is this the model of school reform that will lead us into the future? Something to think differently about, indeed.

My next post will look into strategies to think differently about reading instruction.

Measuring Innovation in Education. Education Week, Aug 6, 2014.