Rethinking How Students Learn: Linda Darling-Hammond

Waiting for Superman, movie poster

Did you know? On the 2006 PISA, an assessment of students in 40 countries, the United States ranked 35th in math and 31st in science. Shocking. It makes you wonder why.

Linda Darling-Hammond theorizes about the underachievement of American students:

  • The US educational system moves back and forth, like a pendulum, between polar extremes.
  • Top-performing countries have little external testing and instead emphasize school-based assessments that are open-ended in nature.
  • These top performers are constantly evolving curriculum and assessment, teaching both content and skills.
  • Teachers in those nations have an average of 15-25 hours per week in which they plan their lessons TOGETHER.
  • Students in those nations have longer periods of time to work under the guidance of their teachers on project- and problem-based activities.

Darling-Hammond’s observations made me think. He observations made sense. I especially am keen on the idea of longer class periods (like the “block schedule” many schools use) to allow students a more continuous stream of thought and activity on a given task. I also like the idea of teachers meeting together once a week for an extended period of time to plan interdisciplinary activities. But, 2006 results are far gone now. I was left wondering, are there more recent PISA results – and if so, how did the US do?

Here’s what I found. The 2009 assessment shows that the US has improved in some categories:

  • 14th in reading
  • 17th in science
  • 23rd in math

But in one important statistic, we still fall short. About 18% of American students did not achieve a Level 2 (“literacy”) score in math and reading assessments. Our schools still need change if we are to best prepare our students for their future.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what kind of PISA scores Heritage Hall students would achieve. I have a feeling we’d be knocking it out of the park. And that is exciting, considering that, as a school, we are already embracing changes that will promote our students to think more deeply, express ideas more creatively, and collaborate in innovative ways with our world neighbors.

Posted on 14 February 2012, in Books, General Info, Research & Stats and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Scores don’t always tell the story but are an indicator. How we/they are able to utilize the skills while working through a problem in life is what is difficult to test. Great information to remind us we must continue to evolve and change.

  2. integratedintention

    I definitively agree that educational reform seems to oscillate between extremes! It seems like the most important evaluation tool for educational reforms is the age of the reform. In our unceasing quest to find a mythical silver bullet we end up skipping around so much that we don’t give good ideas time to be successful.

    For example, I think all of the recent hoopla over Khan Academy is an educational fad. There are serious concerns about the lack of research supporting the effectiveness of Khan Academy. It hardly seems like innovation to replace an in-person lecture with an electronic lecture (screen cast).

  3. While I agree with you “integrated,” that replacing human interaction with digital lectures is not truly 21st century learning, I disagree that the Khan Academy is an educational fad. I believe the true value of the Web site is that students can augment their classroom experience with on-demand tutorials…and, trust me, they will use Khan Academy. I could be wrong, but I’ll be shocked if it vanishes into oblivion any time soon.

  4. integratedintention

    Yes, I didn’t mean to suggest that no students will use Khan Academy in the future. After all, MIT open courseware has been available since 2002. Students have and will continue to use resources like these as a supplement.

    I just don’t believe that Khan Academy will ever be anything more then a mediocre substitute for higher quality instruction. Dr. Walter Lewin’s physics lectures are widely considered some of the greatest ever given (and are publically available on MIT open courseware). Dr. Lewin found that even for his MIT caliber students, listening to his awesome lectures in person, students weren’t learning.

    In 3 years will Khan Academy continue to be promoted by politicians/the media as the solution to education? Will multimillion dollar gifts continue? I doubt it. By then the lack of evidence supporting students actually learning will be hard to ignore. Besides, we will have moved on to some other newfangled thing by then anyway.

    Just my 2 cents.

  5. I think the ultimate factor in whether Khan Academy continues to attract investors is how well it adapts and grows alongside educational and Internet transformation. It’s survival hinges on how it evolves as a learning tool. How have web tools like Google and Facebook flourished while competitors like Ask Jeeves or MySpace have not? Some tools have sticking power and others fade away. If Khan Academy evolves ahead of the curve, it likely won’t be replaced by a newfangled thing; if it doesn’t adapt, it’s likely to disappear. The bottom line…neither of us has a crystal ball to know whether Khan Academy will be relevant to education in 5 years. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    Another angle we haven’t discussed in this digital conversation is this: When a student has capability to move at a faster pace than a formal education, especially in a public school system bound by testing constraints, can provide…is not Khan Academy a great resource to self-teach oneself at a challenging yet comfortable pace?

  6. integratedintention

    Sure, if Khan Academy evolves intelligently it might be relevant – although in my opinion that’s a big if. Agreed, we don’t know what’s going to happen. It is fun to predict though, and I think right or wrong we end up learning.

    I definitely agree that your question about students looking for independent study is an important one. I have seen some of Khan Academy’s physics videos – I obviously wasn’t impressed. Personally, when I start an independent learning endeavor Khan Academy is the last place I’m going.

  7. I personally think that Kahn Academy is a fantastic resource. In mathematics, Kahn Academy has thousands of practice problems ranging from elementary addition to derivatives. A student can even add his/her teacher as a “coach” to let the teacher check on progress and give the student notes on particular problems. It seems like a great resource to help students practice the computation side of mathematics. Maybe it will add a similar database of questions for other subjects.

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