Accountability and the Common Core Standards

Like many states, we in Arizona are implementing what has been labeled, “Common Core Standards” for K-12.  The challenges are considerable, but it will be essential for those inside and outside the system who favor reform to persevere in 2013.  Sunday’s issue of my hometown newspaper, the Arizona Republic, cataloged the challenges confronting Arizona’s schools in implementing tougher standards, increasing accountability, and developing a new examination program for students.  The challenges are probably not distinctive to Arizona.

Among the leading challenges is training teachers in teaching methods that lead students to use critical thinking in teaching math and language.  Sound teacher training remains at the heart of improving our educational system.  The good news is that some colleges, like Dean Mari Koerner’s at Arizona State University, are committed to graduating new teachers with these pedagogical skills.  The bad news, according to the Arizona Republic, is that many teachers lack training in this area, and districts lack funding for re-training.

This blog has written before about the role that critical thinking plays in learning science.  I pointed to the advantages that arise from teaching science based on the “Five E’s” –Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend and Evaluate.  Study shows that software like that from Adaptive Curriculum encourages learning based on the Five E’s.  Success with the Common Core Standards depends upon teaching methods that encourage critical thinking is expected.  That teachers lack this skill may be a surprise to many.

The challenge for individual teachers – and districts – is to rectify short-comings in teachers’ skills at using teaching methods that encourage critical thinking.  Both have a responsibility.  Like other professionals who must continuously develop themselves, teachers have a similar responsibility.  School districts, of course, have a responsibility to find funding necessary for professional development training in an area that will make graduates more competitive globally.

That teachers lack training in methods associated with critical thinking is surprising, especially since the Five E’s have been around for decades.  What is also surprising is that the focus of some states like Arizona appears not to include as much of an emphasis on science as language or mathematics.  If the US is to be competitive globally, we will need high school and college graduates who have the capacity to meet the challenges of science, math and language skills.

Tougher, “Common Core Standards” are a major step forward.  That some 46 states are adopting them is really positive.  Now the challenge is to ensure that teachers are capable of implementing them successfully in math, language – and science.

What Business Schools Can Learn from K-12

What we have learned about teaching science in high school matters for higher education as well.  Over a year ago I wrote about the challenge of limited learning in college, described by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in thier book, Academically Adrift.  Among the causes for limited learning at college was how little undergraduates, especially business students, studied.  Higher education need not accept this outcome of limited learning, nor should business schools, especially, accept it.  Advances in technology coupled with new pedagogical formats can make a difference in higher education, and K-12 is showing the way.

Two decades ago K-12 science education received the benefit of the IBM and Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.  It introduced a model of how students learn science based on the 5Es: Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend and Evaluate.  Still touted by NASA for educators, the model views students as building their own understanding of science from experience and new ideas.  While focused on science, the model has much more widespread application, and one of them is in college-level applied areas like business.

Business students often complain that their classroom instruction is too theoretical.  In turn, employers criticize business schools for students’ failure to learn and for their failure to have the ability to apply what they have learned to practical decisions on the job.  We should expect more from business schools and business students – undergraduates and MBAs.  The 5E model explains how high school science students learn science by becoming engaged in the subject, having the opportunity to explore on their own through experiences, explaining what they are learning to others, and testing their knowledge through application.  If this sounds like how one learns about the applied practice of business, it is.

Now, of course, higher education, like K-12, has the opportunity to couple technology with the 5E learning model.  Digital learning technologies have enabled a relatively new K-12 education concept called the “flipped” classroom to spread.  The flipped classroom uses class time for interaction between student and teacher while off-loading lectures and reading to non-classroom time.  It depends upon an engaged learning model where students study on their own.  Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams have told their story of the creation of the flipped classroom at Woodland Park High School in Woodland Park, CO, and their story credits technology with the origin of the concept.

What the flipped classroom offers for higher education is mostly unexplored, but technology is making exploration easier.  Business education naturally demands applied learning experiences that make the theoretical understandable and useable.  The 5Es of Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend and Evaluate fit the way business and other applied subjects can be learned.  Technology provides the foundation for the learning method’s use in a classroom environment that is characterized by a version of the flipped classroom.  In it the professor can focus on students’ explanations and applications.  Reading and lectures can be completed via digital learning technology outside of the classroom.  The combination of the 5Es, technology and the flipped classroom can increase learning – and the kind of learning that matters to employers.