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Globally Minded vs. Globally Competitive Schools

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We welcome Randy Aleshevich, Coordinator of Student Assessment for the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, as today's guest blogger.

In his 1963 Talk to Teachers, Pulitzer Prize winning author, James Baldwin said, "one of the paradoxes of education is that precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society. It is your responsibility to change society if you think of yourself as an educated person." 

I have been in education since 1998, where I began my career as a pre-kindergarten teacher.  I have taught several primary and intermediate grades at the elementary school level, and currently am an instructor in the graduate department of education at Loyola University, in Maryland.  For the past seven years I have worked in assessment and accountability for Baltimore County Public Schools and now for Montgomery County. During this time, I have seen the massive increase of assessments in education.  Next fall Kindergarten students will be administered four standardized assessments in the first two months of school, the purpose of why I am not sure. That is the issue I think we currently face in public education in this country.  We have not stopped to ask why we are doing what we are doing.  What is our purpose?

We want our students to exhibit skills that will help to make them successful in our ever- changing global economy. These skills have come to be known as 21st century skills, but I would argue these skills are not new. They have always been around, but only a small few really learned and developed them.  As our country debates the merits of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and the assessments and evaluations tied to them, I feel we are in a constant state of debate of the "what." Yet we haven't taken the time to discuss the "why." We live in such a competitive society and we replicate this competition in our schools.  Is the purpose of education to create winners and losers? How many parents really want their child to be globally competitive?  Is it ok that our child succeeds at the expense of another?

For more than thirty years we have been claiming that we want to close the achievement gap and we want the opportunity for all students to succeed.  The whole point of competition is that we have winners and losers.  How can we level the playing field and ensure all students are being given the opportunity for success if our educational foundation is based on the notion that only some students will succeed?  I guess that is why Kindergarten students will take four assessments in the first two months of school.  We need to identify if they are ready for the competition.

The CCSS standards are an improvement.  My experience with the new PARCC assessments during the field test this spring showed me that they definitely are better assessments than what we have been using in Maryland to have students demonstrate proficiency in reading and math.  However, they are only an improvement over what we have been doing all along.  Our current focus, which mimics our focus of the past, will not provide different results. 

I recently sat down to write a letter to the administrators and teachers at my daughter's school to try and articulate what I hoped for my daughter to receive in her education.  It is what I believe my hope is for all students.  It read:

Our daughter needs to be with a teacher who:

  • Has a growth mindset and believes all students are talented and capable of learning. They don't apply predetermined labels to a student's academic potential.
  • Addresses my daughter's academic, social and emotional well-being
  • Encourages her to develop independence and to take responsibility for her own learning
  • Supports her efforts to gain understanding of the world and to function comfortably within it
  • Helps her establish personal values as a foundation for being a globally minded person who respects different cultures and perspectives.

We would love for this school to provide her an education that affords a balance between acquisition of essential knowledge and skills, development of conceptual understanding, demonstration of positive attitudes, and taking of responsible action.  It would be ideal that her teachers help her to learn the following transdisciplanary themes found in the Primary Years Programme (PYP), from the International Baccalaureate (IB) Organization:

  • Who we are--an inquiry into what it means to be human, including our relationship with others including other cultures. 
  • Where we are in place and time--an inquiry into the interconnectedness of individuals and civilizations, from local and global perspectives.
  • How we express ourselves--an inquiry into the ways in which we discover and express ideas, feelings, nature, culture, beliefs and values.
  • How the world works--an inquiry into the natural world and its laws, the interaction between the natural world (physical and biological) and human societies.
  • How we organize ourselves--an inquiry into the interconnectedness of human-made systems and communities and their impact on humankind and the environment.
  • Sharing the planet--an inquiry into communities and the relationship within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution.

In all, if my daughter leaves this school as a self-regulated (self-managed, self-directed, independent) learner because of skill based, process focused teaching, the school will have satisfied our daughter's needs as a learner and our hopes as parents.

For many IB has been associated as a rigorous program for gifted or highly intelligent kids.  However, the PYP and Middle Years Programme (MYP) are for all students and serve as a foundation to provide a rigorous and challenging curriculum of inquiry for students that's mission is to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.  

As we embark on our current path of new versions of the same old competitive practices, my hope is that more and more of us decide to speak up for something better.  Do we want globally competitive students?  Or do we want globally minded students, who hold culture as an asset in the solution of global problems?

We need more approaches like the IB programs, where the focus is not on competition, but on fostering a cooperative community of learners who will lead us to a better world than that in which we live today.  In such a world, culture and diversity are seen not as problems to overcome, but as benefits, because the fostering of multiple perspectives can help us solve some of our most challenging issues.  In such a world, compassion for others is the norm, and survival of the fittest is a thing of the past.  We need students who are global minded, not globally competitive.

Delivered October 16, 1963, as "The Negro Child - His Self-Image"; originally published in The Saturday Review, December 21, 1963, reprinted in The Price of the Ticket, Collected Non-Fiction 1948-1985, Saint Martins 1985

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