Response to ‘school is too easy’ survey, Huff Post article

I was interviewed via Twitter and email yesterday about a report released this morning by the Center for American Progress, claiming students find school too easy and that what is needed are more “rigorous standards”. I’m sure I was just one of a number of educators the writer interviewed, and my comments didn’t make it into the Huffington Posts’s article, posted today.

Essentially, the CAP report suggests the move to the Common Core and more strenuous state-wide standards will challenge students more. Here’s my response:

I think the survey results are an indictment of the standardization of education, not of instructors, or schools more generally. I’m dismayed by the Center for American Progress’s call for increasing standardization at a time when leading thinkers in the field of education like Yong Zhao (University of Oregon), Howard Gardner (Harvard University) Diane Ravitch, Sir Ken Robinson, and Tony Wagner frequently make the point that we need a whole different understanding of learning for the 21st century.

If the data are correct that students report certain school tasks are easy, I suspect it is because they are bored and uninspired by one-size-fits-all curricula. It has been my experience over 20 years that students engage in school more deeply and report they are challenged when they are allowed to pursue their passions. This can be done using project-based/inquiry-based learning strategies and by giving students more choice in what and how they study.

If the Center for American Progress and others concerned by this report would like to make recommendations for improving our public schools, they should look carefully at the work of project-based schools, like High Tech High in San Diego. At these innovative schools, students are deeply immersed in high-quality exploration of real-world problems, working cooperatively and creatively. Students find their work challenging because they and their teachers are allowed to set the bar high for personal development, not toward conforming to standardized outcomes. It is schools like these that represent the model for improving education.

In an era of mass customization, policy-makers should not seek to take our schools backward to further standardization.

You can read the report here, and the Huffington Post report here.

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Mike Gwaltney