Home > Uncategorized > The Emerson Collective’s Re-Boot of High School Sounds Eerily Familiar… and Impossible to Scale Without a Change in Metrics

The Emerson Collective’s Re-Boot of High School Sounds Eerily Familiar… and Impossible to Scale Without a Change in Metrics

April 12, 2019

Rebooting High School“, a recent Axios article by Kaveh Waddell, describes the efforts of XQ Schools, an affiliate of the Emerson Collective to devise a plan for high schools that teaches “future proof” skills. I completely agree with the direction XQ schools are heading as described by Ms. Waddell:

High schoolers are often being taught skills that will soon be handed over to machines, and they’re missing out on more valuable ones.

  • “The current system was created to develop a large body of people who can perform repetitive tasks in a strict hierarchy,” says Scott Looney, head of Hawken School in Ohio.
  • “We’re preparing young people for jobs that won’t exist,” says Russlynn Ali, CEO of the education nonprofit XQ Institute and a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education.

Education research has largely overlooked high school, Ali tells Axios — but that’s started to change. Among a new spate of efforts:

  • A new teaching method at Summit Shasta, a charter school just outside San Francisco, where students choose the skills they want to focus on — pegged to their college and career aspirations. (Read about my visit to Summit Shasta.)
  • A curriculum revamp at Lakeside School in Seattle, in which faculty and students are developing a list of future-proof skills they want to teach.
  • A “mastery transcript under development by a group of top high schools — Hawken’s Looney is the project’s founder — that measures a student’s skills, habits and knowledge as an alternative to the typical list of letter grades.

Some experts liken the potential upheaval from automation to the economic changes that sparked an education revolution more than a century ago, which made high school the norm for American students.

  • The High School Movement, which gathered steam in the 1910s, was the result of two big developments, according to Harvard scholars Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz.
  • The first change was an increased financial return to additional years of education; the second was increased demand for more specialized skills.
  • Those factors may soon be back in play, as companies begin demanding “soft skills” like creativity, adaptability, and oral communication.

As one who entered public education in 1970, I find the descriptions of the 18 schools eerily familiar. They sound like the kind of high schools envisioned by true education reformers like Philadelphia Public Schools Superintendent Mark Shedd, the kinds of schooling advocated by Ivan Illich and A.S. Neill, and the kinds of high schools my classmates in the Ford Foundation program at the University of Pennsylvania dreamed of creating.

Now, nearly fifty years after beginning my career in public education and dreaming of Schools Without Walls or De-schooling Society or schools that meet the unique needs of each child, I am reading the profiles of 18 such schools underwritten by a Foundation funded by the estate of Apple’s billionaire founder whose corporation dodged $40,000,000,000 in taxes.

If businesses and politicians wanted to transform high schools, the first step would be to create and aggressively promote a new set of metrics to assess students, schools and colleges. As described below, our current methods of measurement reinforce the current system that was designed to “develop a large body of people who can perform repetitive tasks in a strict hierarchy”. These metrics compel schools to focus on preparing students to pass tests, a skill that might get them into college but will not prepare them for a future of fast-changing jobs that rely increasingly on interpersonal skills and creativity and less on the accumulation of knowledge that can readily be accessed by machines. Here’s how our current system of metrics undercuts the development of “future proof” skills by focussing relentlessly on test scores:

  • Because K-12 students are assigned numeric or letter grades based on how well they absorb content in a fixed time frame they are not assessed on their skills or habits or the “future proof” soft skills.
  • Because the metrics used to measure K-12 public are based primarily on standardized test scores, public school teachers focus their attention on boosting those test scores at the expense of helping students develop soft skills like creativity, adaptability, and oral communication.
  • Because colleges and universities have effectively adopted the US News and World Report’s metrics they place an increased emphasis on the SAT scores, GPAs, and class ranks of the applicants and especially the entering class. This, in turn, puts pressure on students to focus on improving their test scores and GPAs reinforcing a vicious circle that in no way addresses the “future proof” soft skills the experimental high schools emphasize.

My thought: if the Emerson Collective wanted to REALLY make a difference in ALL high schools across the country, they could take the $40,000,000,000 saved by dodging taxes and invest it in purchasing ETS and the US News and World Report and, after the acquisition, change the metrics used to measure schools and colleges and universities. As the aphorism says: “What Gets Measured Gets Done”… and right now what is getting measured is not what is important for students to know in the future.

 

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