Education: The Free Market
by Julie Brock
I do not protest to understand the stock market. Even though Bloomberg runs in the background while my partner in this life checks Robinhood, I am happily ill equipped to invest your money. However, I do like metaphors. Lately I have found myself saying two phrases ad nauseum as they pertain to education:
University of YouTube
Is there an actual YouTube University? No. There is a channel named YouTube University, but no, there is not an actual YouTube University. However, think about how many times you have used YouTube to figure out how to change a headlight, remove a stripped screw, or build a retaining wall.
There is valuable information on social media platforms that people are using and gaining knowledge for free and it isn’t just for hobbies. As a college first-year, my son found his way into a physics class that was harder than any class he had previously experienced. He went to office hours, met with the graduate assistants, asked for resources, and at the end of the day, he found an educator on YouTube that explained the material in a way that worked with his learning style. In addition, he learned how to build a chicken coop to code, how to replace his graphics card, and numerous other helpful learnings that he continues to build up in his learning portfolio.
And I ask my higher ed colleagues:
This matters because students are opting out of higher education. According to the Minnesota Student Longitudinal Data Set (SLEDS), roughly 70% of Minnesota high school graduates who enroll in college settings persist in earning a Bachelor’s degree. The number drops for 2017 high school graduates, which makes sense: their 3rd year is the 2019-2020 academic year.
A disruption as large as a global pandemic will have serious consequences on college persistence, however, the trend was holding prior to COVID-19.
There are many variables playing into this scenario that were barriers to higher education well before COVID-19:
Internet learning is disrupting traditional education, and unless higher education institutions find a way to compete, their relevance is waning for rising generations. According to NPR, more students are opting to stay out of higher education because of rising costs of tuition and life. Without a clear return on investment, it is hard for people to see the value of attending college when, perhaps, they can learn the skills on the job or online.
Corner Market, no longer
Offering credit for prior learning is one way higher education can stay relevant in this ever-changing education market, in addition to helping students understand the importance of accredited programs as a solid investment of time and money. And both these are good return on investment arguments. Thinking that higher education has the corner market on knowledge and information is no longer relevant or real.
Crowdsourcing is not just for restaurant recommendations. People have eye witnesses across the globe at their fingertips. There is no need to rely on an educational institution for information or knowledge. Operating as such only perpetuates an antiquated system of learning. What higher education institutions do have to offer, if accredited, is the verification of learning for employers. However, with a 3% unemployment rate and more employers offering livable wages, it is tough to compete with going straight into the workforce.
Instead, how can higher education institutions create experiences that pull in the technological advances that students cannot get elsewhere? How about simulators, AI, and accredited degrees that can transfer and pay-off over time? How do we transform higher education as a conduit of information and knowledge that accentuates and builds on the skills students are learning elsewhere?
What can higher education do?
Overall, if higher education promotes themselves as a collaborative partner in the success and growth of individuals and the community, then higher education can find their place in this open and free education market.
by Nick Truxal
Recently, I took a break from my years as an educator to get new training on better leading and applying evidence: specifically, data driven evidence. The focus of my program is the corporate world, and as such, I am having a number of revelations.
The one that I want to focus on today is that the corporate world is transforming in many of the same ways that we have been doing in education. There is an enormous focus on skills: building new skills in employees, breaking jobs down by associated skills, understanding the skills needed to perform well in teams, as well as assessing and reporting based on skills.
Since our inception, Third Eye Education has been speaking about skill-based reporting. Just a few examples:
I personally love feedback only, skill-based instruction and reporting. The remarkable thing is that the entire world seems to be making a pivot in this direction as well. There are a few key reasons driving this transformation, and a few key takeaways for educators.
What's driving this transformation?
These reasons may sound familiar, but the slant on them I find unique:
What may educators pull from this?
I see these as being parallel to the conversations we’ve been having in education. Of course, each can be applied to how we, as teachers, are assessed as well as how we assess our students. I do wish that I had considered the third bullet point above, which is offering options to better our practices, before jumping into the work, myself.
Ultimately, this means a few things for educators:
A small disclaimer as I conclude: I’ve always hated the idea that education should take anything from business. We are not a business. We are here to help young people to grow. I’ve often found it difficult to accept the best practices emerging in the workplace. I think I found it easier this time because it so closely mimics what we’ve been working on for a long while.
Further, it does show a fundamental shift in the way our society is thinking, and having advanced knowledge of such a shift can indeed help us better prepare our young people to grow.
by Phil Olson
Each fall, former students, seniors who are a week or a month into their last year of high school, show up at my door. They try for some small talk, while their eyes communicate that they know I know about the Ask that’s coming. It’s awkward and sweet, and I say yes, telling them it will be my pleasure. And it is.
In recent years, college recommendations are increasingly accomplished via one platform, the Common App, a non-profit organization that represents 900 institutions of higher education.
The application’s commonness allows students to complete one application for undergraduate college admission, instead of completing separate applications for each school. The platform also manages teacher recommendations, which consists primarily of letters of recommendation and a series of comparative ratings.
As far as an unpaid, part-time jobs go, completing college application recommendations is a good one. Let me explain.
First, I enjoy writing recommendation letters because I must pause to reflect on my experiences with students who are about to be done with high school. I think about the work we did together (in fact, I like to revisit and quote their essays!), the things I learned about their personal stories, and I marvel at the truly remarkable process of maturation that unfolds in dramatic, double-time fashion during high school.
Because I teach the spectrum of grade levels, I get to know my students first as kids and later as young adults. I like how the recommendation process caps our time together, and I find it meaningful to have played a positive role, sometimes small and sometimes substantial, in helping students prepare for and take next steps. I also get earnest thank you notes whose words do their intended job of making me feel useful and appreciated, and sometimes students show up to tell me when they’ve been accepted to schools and to talk through plans--often including the fact that they need additional recommendation letters for this scholarship and that. I get to help with those too.
A second, meaningful feature of the recommendation dynamic has made me a better educator, an improvement fueled by the ratings chart below. Give it a close read before we move on.
I have mixed feelings about rating recommendees in relation to student peers, but I continue to appreciate almost all of the categories, as they capture attributes that really matter—for success in high school, college, and life. The thing is that, years back, I realized I was rating students with regard to categories they were not aware of. Sure, these are things that matter to educators, but I can confirm they are not obvious to students who have absorbed messages about the defining nature of GPAs and standardized test scores. To be more blunt, students are confused about what matters, as evidenced by how surprised mine are when I share the chart with them.
Since teachers are evaluating students on the criteria above, it makes sense for us to establish them as "studenting" targets in our classrooms—targets that need to be discussed early and often.
A couple of criticisms:
Okay, “academic achievement” is challengingly broad and inclusive, and rating “intellectual promise” is a toughie, but I like to ponder the promise I see in my students. The student who writes poetry or plays chess beautifully? That’s promising. The student who is passionate about saving the planet, dismantling patriarchy, or understanding physics . . . promising!
The five criteria, with some overlap, that I find most meaningful:
Like many area teachers I am in the midst of ultra-busy weeks as I bring first semester classes to a close, while simultaneously preparing to transition to the second half of the year. This time in the academic calendar is always fraught, with extra helpings of grading (and some grade-grubbing) and planning, as well as a never-quiet Outlook inbox. This year, though, it’s fraught² (An exponent because many of us must wrap and restart in distance-learning mode. **Deep breath, focusing on a long exhale with healing self-talk: Phew... Everything will be okay.**)
As my students and I start second semester, we’ll wait on talk about percentages or papers; instead we’ll use the ratings chart to discuss authentic, effective studenting, which is even more important in distance-learning mode. Then they’ll reflect, in writing, on how they rate themselves for semester 1 before specifying targets for where they want to grow in semester 2.
They will write recommendations for themselves.
Finding the Collaboration Balance
by Nick Truxal
The move to teaching online, even if it may be over for you, dear reader, does seem to have pushed some new practices into place that prove dangerous for teachers and students in the long-term. In particular, I’d like to focus on the new modes of communication and collaboration that have been implemented in the wake of Zooming to class.
Being more accessible to our colleagues, students, and parents certainly has its advantages. We can instantly help a student with a question, quickly let a parent know the status of the classroom, or have a great professional learning community with colleagues across the district, city, state, or nation. Of course, that student may want an answer at 11:00 pm, that parent may be trying to send an instant message during class and wonder why they don’t hear back, and “just one quick ten-minute meeting with administration over Zoom” may happen twice an hour.
Rob Cross, Adam Grant, and Reb Rebele wrote a fascinating piece on “Collaboration Overload” in 2016 (which Rob Cross continued into the book Beyond Collaboration Overload). In the article, they cite some interesting (pre-pandemic) trends. Trends such as:
Of course, in a school, the most in-demand employees are teachers, administrators, counselors, psychologists…all of whom are finding that the world of instant communication has opened up certain flood-gates.
Interestingly, Adam Grant offered a solution to this issue three years before he helped to identify it. He spoke of a certain Fortune 500 company that implemented “Quiet time.” Three mornings a week, employees would not be exposed to superfluous e-mails (or any e-mails), “Just one quick thing” situations, “stand-up meetings,” nor anything else. The interesting part of this: when the company successfully implemented these quiet times, productivity increased an enormous 65%. However, even having employees self-impose (to the extent they were able) a similar policy, resulted in a 47% increase in productivity.
To me, this led to an interesting tension.
In my own practice, and in my own data, I can tell you that communication is important (I am sure you’re shocked). I have long been in the habit of sending FERPA safe emails to every parent with updates every Friday via a mail-merge setup. When communication was personalized and consistent, I found a 20% positive change in the grades and skill attainment that my students had in my classes. Just from communicating with their parents. I did a similar experiment in sending e-mails to my students, and found similar results.
So, communication is vital—and detrimental—to the surprise of no-one.
The Break Down of Implications...
Hold some time as sacred.
Giving students uninterrupted time to work: increase productivity.
I am sure there are many implications to these studies that I haven’t had time to parse, yet. If you have further insights, please feel free to share them with us.
by Sweta Patel
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that, in 2019, two million students dropped out of high school. There are a number of reasons why students choose to drop out, but at the end of the day, as an educator, I want to focus on effecting change for the reasons that are in my control.
At our alternative school, students often report low motivation because they’re already so behind in credits. At a certain point, many assume a ‘why should I even bother’ mentality. To help create hope, while also maintaining the integrity of our academic standards, we are currently experimenting with an in-school, non-computer-based credit recovery system.
This year, we squeezed in an extra period into our school day (a 7th hour). During this time, we are offering “credit recovery labs” in the four core areas—English, math, science, and social studies. Students who had failed a previous English class, for example, can enroll in the English Lab.
When they first enter a lab:
Once the plan is fulfilled, students can move into another needed lab. Students do not have to remain in the lab the entire quarter: they only have to remain long enough to accomplish mutually agreed upon goals.
This process is very different from what we typically see in the educational system. Students who have failed a course are usually required to retake the entire course (despite having completed some work and meeting some standards during the first attempt). With this system, we are acknowledging the learning that was accomplished and are only trying to fill in the gaps. Within this system, students are able to meaningfully and efficiently recover credit in failed classes with a classroom teacher.
When speaking with students in my English Lab this year, they feel the labs have given them hope again. Looking around my classroom, you might see one student reading a self-selected book and working on close reading strategies. Another student might be working on creating a Google Slides presentation around toxic relationships, preparing to deliver it to the health class. And yet another might have a Chromebook in hand, drafting a short story for feedback.
My role is to identify students’ interests, learning gaps, and help create a personalized learning plan. When students complete the plan, I ask the counselor to identify the next lab or class the student can go to—and this might be three weeks into the quarter or six—there is no one start/end time for every student because every student’s plan is different; it’s a fluid and flexible system. Many of our lab students are able to recover a half credit in one quarter… And that is hope.
As we move forward with this experiment, we’re hoping to develop a more efficient system to identify missed standards. This will require that all content area teachers come together and identify prioritized learning standards for each class, quarter by quarter. If a student were to fail a course during a certain quarter, with established learning standards, lab teachers would be able to more quickly work with the original classroom teacher to identify the gaps.
Our math department is already very strong in this area. Here is an example of the Math Lab teacher’s personalized plan for a student to recover Geometry credit:
We hope to continue to shape our in-person, teacher-led credit recovery system at our school through collaboration among the lab teachers, content area classroom teachers, students, and our counselor. We will refine the processes for identifying students who need a lab, tracking students who move from lab to lab, and the communication between lab teachers and the original classroom teachers.
This is our shared mission: to help students recover credit in a meaningful, purposeful way (with academic integrity) that creates hope and lowers our dropout rate.
Learning from Our Students
by Jean Prokott
The sophomores have spent December writing creative nonfiction, short vignettes that allow them to rummage around for the metaphors hiding in their lives. I’ve been teaching personal essay for the last decade, so I often predict the topics students will choose (failing a test, church mission trip, sports injury) and the symbols they will find (butterflies, water, clouds) and preemptively direct them away from those clichés. The best part is to tell them what not to write. They have to keep rummaging.
Every once in a while, a kid finds a perfect peach of a topic and writes about it in a way that unties me. I want to share with you the story of “nonnie” so you see what I mean.*
That comma splice in the last line alone.
That structure with time, to start and end with death, to bring nonnie to life in the middle.
Her metaphor is one we all know. There's a defining moment in our lives when we learn about death. nonnie represents the literal of this coming-of-age, but also her struggle up the hill represents how my student felt when she lost nonnie.
It was a gift to read this piece. I wrote tomes of feedback in purple pen—mostly stars and wut and this is powerful over and over to the point where she probably thought I’d been living as a recluse for the last decade with only episodes of trash TV to keep me company. (Although to be fair, I think I just described last year and most of this one.)
One would have to be a callous car crash of a person if they didn’t feel their heart explode when they learned about nonnie’s fate and the effect she'd had on my student, and the day I read this, the time of year I read this, that this had been the 80th out of 95 essays I’d read—nonnie’s story was literally the saddest thing I’d ever heard in my whole sad life and I would spend the rest of my days mourning nonnie and my student’s loss.
After I read about nonnie, I had a flashback to an experience I’d had on my grandparents’ dairy farm and a cow named Flopsy, who’d been born with a messed-up leg. The end of that story is predictable: while eating hamburgers one evening, my father brought it up.
That wasn’t the impetus of my response, however.
Because it is quite clear we are all nonnie.
Her tragedy was that she’d wanted to climb a hill. There are so many hills this year. nonnie drowned “all because she faced an incline and couldn't get up. Such a simple action.” nonnie had spent her life free and sassy and getting under fences. She “liked potatoes.” I like potatoes, too, I’d thought. I like potatoes, too.
Since the assignment was not one short scene, but three, when I conferenced with my student this week, I reviewed more rough drafts. One was about a horse named Iago (and I’m sorry, but find a more perfect name for a horse). An excerpt:
Is Iago still alive? I asked. Yes, Ms. Prokott, Iago is still alive.
The third scene was about a chicken.
I read this, I looked up, I said: Why are you doing this? Why are you trying to kill me?
What also kills me is how humble she is. I think I might spend the rest of the year convincing her that, yes, it is that good. I know I will spend the next decade using her essay as a model for the assignment. And I just now realize this random IKEA print of a cow I have hanging in my classroom will never look the same.
My reaction to this powerful piece was not only reader-response, of course—this student has mastered empathy and control of language and voice and happy accidents and every possible technique to make me react the way I did. But I don’t want to talk about how she got there, don’t care to list which activities we did in the classroom, don’t want to get my nails dirty in pedagogy. This was all her. I simply want to share this victory. Her victory to write such a heart wrenching piece, to have the maturity to revisit grief and make it beautiful.
While we’re all nonnies this year, struggling up the hill (and praying we don’t meet her fate) maybe we can also be my student. It’s been a year of loss, so let’s talk about it. Maybe find the metaphors. Learn from our students.
And the next time you have a glass of milk, please pour one out for nonnie.
* The student has given me permission to share.
Third Eye Education posts weekly articles focusing on education and innovation.