Finishing the Job
The DC State Board of Education has several major initiatives in the works that will establish the “architecture of excellence” for every school and student to flourish. I want to stick around to complete them:
1. Revising graduation requirements and giving credit for “competency,” not just time spent in a high school classroom.
This will allow teachers to be creative, students to follow their passions, and schools to partner with parents, universities, nonprofits, community and arts groups, and businesses in creative and exciting ways. Under current rules, playing a varsity sport or dancing in the youth ballet doesn’t “count” for physical education. Nor can math whizzes get credit for acing a high-level college math course. Crazy, huh? It doesn’t have to be that way, and the State Board can use this lever to effect deep change. By valuing what students want to learn, we might motivate more to stay in school and graduate. Which is crucial given that only 58 percent of District of Columbia public school students graduate in four years.
The State Board is the public’s voice in public education. GIVE US YOUR FEEDBACK on graduation requirements!
2. Transform science education through new Next Generation Science Standards coming up for approval in all 50 states later this year.
These game-changing learning standards include engineering and design and require students to “do” science — to design, build, fail, improve, and test — rather than just “study” it in a book. As the “science guy” on the DC State Board, I’ve been working with science teachers and the State Superintendent’s office to review draft versions of these standards. I also write about engineering and science education for a living, including publishing an e-newsletter with engineering activities for science teachers.
If implemented well, these new learning standards have the potential to engage every child in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), as President Obama has urged.
3. Implementation of the new Common Core literacy and math standards.
The District of Columbia joined 46 other states two years ago in approving a common set of expectations so that our kids would be as prepared to succeed in college, work, and life as their peers around the nation and world. Fewer, higher, and clearer, these new standards emphasize analysis, writing, reading works of non-fiction – such as Lincoln‘s Gettysburg Address or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail — and developing arguments based on the reading. Teachers like my step-cousin, who’s a math teacher in Harlem, are excited about the potential for these standards to transform instruction and engage kids. But there are a lot of hurdles, including developing the Common Core online assessments that will replace the DC CAS. The District of Columbia has played a lead role in designing these new tests, and my colleagues are part of our state implementation team. DC is also moving more swiftly than other states to align the state test with the Common Core. Not only did this year’s DC CAS completely conform to the reading standards and include a writing portion for 8th graders, it also included health questions. By next year we will have a sense of how well schools have implemented DC’s first-ever health standards, which we approved in 2008.