Sunday, February 28, 2010

NAIS Conference Reflection

The National Association of Independent Schools held their annual conference here in San Francisco this past week. I was able to attend on Friday...a few of my personal highlights and reflections follow:
  • It was awesome meeting Sarah Hannawald, Jason Ramsden and Demetri Orlando, three people with whom I've known through a range of online networks over the past few years. It was great re-connecting with Sam Morris and meeting Matt Scully for the first time as well. With the exception of Demetri, all of these folks are from North Carolina. I'm glad I didn't stick my foot in my mouth by bringing up the University of Wisconsin's domination of Duke earlier this season in Men's basketball ;-)

  • Seeing the youth musical performances on Friday morning during the general session was easily the highlight of the day. The high school choir was composed of 3-4 Bay Area schools, including Castilleja School where I work, and their performance was beautiful. The elementary school student instrumental performance group featured youth from The San Francisco School-their performance was incredible as well. Many of you know that I am a huge advocate for all forms of arts education-it was great fun getting the chance to see these youth perform in front of such a large audience.
  • Pat Bassett, the President of NAIS, facilitated an excellent morning workshop panel with Michael Horn (Disrupting Class) and John Couch (VP-Apple Education). This was a fascinating conversation, with Horn and Couch sharing their thoughts on what learning is starting to look like due to the influence of digital networks and other disruptive innovations. This was the second time in the past week that I had the opportunity to listen to Michael-I think his message is an important one. He argues that we have unparalleled opportunities to provide structures that support the deep customization and personalization of learning-it is going to be fascinating to see how private schools do (or do not) implement an infrastructure that allows for the systematic personalization of learning for ALL students. John followed up Michael by talking about how Apple's strategy early on was to help unleash and amplify the 'genius' and creativity in all of us. He also presented his three trends in education. Nothing surprising here, but they are: 1-the proliferation of digital content 2-the transition to mobile 3-the integration of social and professional networks. I would also add a fourth item about the fact that our students have unlimited opportunities for creating and publishing content for a potentially huge audience. 
  • Tony Wagner's session was phenomenal. Tony is the author of "Global Achievement Gap" and this was the first opportunity that I've had to hear him speak. Tony is a former Independent School Head so he knows the private school world inside and out. Tony challenged the audience with many questions, but I thought the following was the most challenging of all, "Private school kids come in smart and leave smart. Where is the value added?" This is a GREAT question and one that all GREAT schools should be asking of themselves.
Perhaps the quote of the conference came from NAIS President, Pat Bassett, during his workshop session with Michael Horn and John Couch. Bassett closed the session by saying, "This may prove to be the Death of Education as we know it and the birth of learning as we need it." I might change 'education' to 'schooling,' but either way, Bassett's statement is HUGE and will undoubtedly generate some needed conversation about school change in the private school world.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Race to Nowhere Screening

This past Tuesday I attended a sold out screening of the documentary film, The Race to Nowhere, The Darkside of America's Achievement Culture, here in Palo Alto, California. I learned about this film when I saw the trailer on the OP-ED video section of the NY Times website a few weeks back. As I posted on Facebook, this is one of the most powerful education-related films that I've seen in my 16 years of experience working in K12 schools. Race to Nowhere essentially chronicles our nation's twisted obsession with 'achivement' at nearly any cost (including the health of our children). Students, parents and families from a wide range of economic backgrounds were included in this film-so if you think this is an issue related solely to the weathy in our country, think again-it is something that is impacting ALL of our youth, regardless of SES. It was a privilege to get the opportunity to hear from the film maker and many of the youth and adults in this film after the movie. I can only hope that this film has the same type of impact on you as it did on me.

So what can be done? One immediate fix that we can make deals with homework. Elementary aged children are often receiving well over an hour of homework each evening, with these numbers increasing dramatically through the middle and high school grades (some high school students report 3 and 4+ hours of homework nightly!) Research shows that ANY homework in the elementary grades has NO impact on student achievement. Anything beyond 60 minutes in the middle grades and 120 minutes in the high school grades yields diminishing returns. An AP Bioology teacher from the film pointed out that when he cut homework in half for his students, their performance on the AP actually went up!

It is unclear when or if this film will make it into theaters, but it will be out on DVD at some point in the future. It is possible to arrange for a screening of the film in your community (I HIGHLY recommend this if it is possible) by visiting the film's website and submitting a request. Until you are able to view the film, keep up with this project by visiting their website and fanning their page over on Facebook.

I posted a few questions to Facebook throughout the screening of the film and I'm including a few of these below. Also included is the trailer posted at YouTube.

There is a strong connection between play and learning, creativity, problem solving, and socialization. Why, then, is play being lost from all of us??

Are we letting kids be kids or are we turning them into "little professionals?"

 Race to Nowhere Trailer: