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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.

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