Friday, October 3, 2008

Determined to Practice

In response to Tracy Rosen’s October 3, 2008 blog post Educational Malpractice: "A Values Charged Assessment" on her blog Leading From the Heart, and in response to a comment by Heidi Glass Gable in her October 3, 2008 response to my October 3, 2008 blog post, "Well…Is THIS Educational Malpractice?”

Tracy and Heidi, you raise interesting and thought provoking ideas and questions. I thank you for getting involved in this conversation! It is not easy to step forward and share thoughts and feelings. It takes courage.

Heidi, you suggest that such conversations are “useful as a beginning step to determine what the issue is.” Thank you for making this observation. That is precisely the intent of my initial blog post, "Is This Educational Malpractice?" I sincerely believe that most members of our profession will not interpret the hard questions as a “judgment of failure.” We are much tougher than that. Most educators know they are not failing. Some acknowledge that the change mandates facing schools are not unreasonable and some accept the logic behind the directives. Some superlative educators are more than willing to embrace personal accountability on issues surrounding 21st century skills - and, some educators are embracing student-centered learning with one (functional!)computer in their classrooms! As Tracy (who knows she is not failing) points out - active, engaging, social learning does not necessarily require computer hardware and connectivity. While it is possible for students to practice many learning skills in the absence of technology, I ask WHY? I suggest that using the tools of the age is essential to building the skills students will need for success in a modern society and a global economy. In my opinion, we need all of the teachers to embrace the 21st century challenge! We need every student to have opportunities for participation in the world’s conversation - just as we are participating now. Students need opportunities to demonstrate competence in essential 21st century learning standards and performance skills. To do so, they must be able to use technology. In a time when the digital divide so seriously threatens “equity” for all students, the schools serve as “the bridge of hope” for technology literacy for many American children. We cannot let these children down.

Tracy, you suggest that we identify those who are “mal-practicing” and you put forward a far more complex and serious observation: “If there is malpractice it is systemic.” I say, thank you. While I am not at all in favor of pursuing “mal-practicers,” I am most interested in a conversation that advances our profession’s ability to articulate an argument for substantial, proactive change in our nation’s classrooms. I embrace your good observation and pose it back to you as a question: “Is education malpractice - with respect to the 21st century skills - a systemic problem?” I’m not sure it is, but I am willing to suggest that a time of reckoning is upon our profession. As a member of the education community, I am prepared to objectively consider the possibility of systemic malpractice in implementing the 21st century skills in our schools. I am willing to partner with teachers, leaders, policy makers and government officials to be certain the barriers (which Heidi describes as “what stands in the way of DOING”) are removed. Common barriers cited by educators include: 1.) lack of teacher professional development; 2.)lack of teacher time for learning and practice: 3.) fear of change; 4.) fear of technology; 5.) resistant attitudes; 6.) lack of technology: 7.) lack of technical support; 8.) blocked web access and on and on. There are many barriers – but they are not insurmountable. There are solutions. I am willing to be a part of solutions that makes it possible for educators and students to learn using the most powerful learning tools of the age - in spite of the barriers. There are scores of teachers that work toward these goals on a daily basis. There are some education leaders across this nation that work daily and diligently to eliminate barriers. But we need help. I suggest that the entire education community is needed to support the migration from traditional education practices to 21st century learning environments.

Tracy, I totally disagree that the compelling need for 21st century skills is “a values-charged argument.” I suggest that adopting, embracing and teaching the learning skills it is a responsibility. I also disagree that the whole language movement is “values-charged” movement. The whole language movement (simplified) advocates for knowledge construction as learners make meaning in language-rich environments. Promising research-based principles that point to efficacy of whole language methods attract educators. Yet, in the current decade, the 2000 National Reading Panel released "The Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read," which concludes that children benefit most from explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, text comprehension and oral reading fluency. Now, here is my point. The "reading wars" are a debate between two research-based methodologies. It has become an emotionally-charged issues for some educators - but both camps agree on the value of teaching children to read. The methods teachers use do not deprive students of reading instruction. Clearly, our nation’s teachers work to teach reading - and they are passionate about it. With respect to 21st century skills, however, a teacher’s decision not to use technology (where it is available) deprives a student of opportunities to practice and learn the 21st century skills in technology-empowered, information-rich environments. It is irresponsible to "decide" not to use technology for learning. I'm calling for a passionate teacher workforce that champions the use of technologies to advance the 21st century skills.

Heidi, I'd like to answer your good question: “Why, as a system, are we failing so miserably in providing teachers with mentors and coaches who will help them (teachers) through this change?” That is, in fact, the specific work that I do each and every day. I work with teacher leaders and mentors who “lead the learning” in schools committed to becoming models of 21st century learning. We are not failing. These educators are amazing! Education specialists who guide and support teachers through the process of transforming education are an invaluable investment. They are hard to find. They are hard to keep. They are, in my opinion, the change agents needed to make positive change happen. And I believe, they are responding to the call to "stand up" for updating our schools for the students of the 21st century. Still, there are too many educators that irresponsibly "decide" not to participate. That is a shame.

So, we have had quite a discussion! I’ve neglected some very important work this past 36 hours – and must get back to it - but I consider this conversation worth a lost night’s sleep. I’m signing off on this topic now – but leave you with an earnest question. Are we, as an education community, willing and able to consider the question of "malpractice" with respect to implementing the 21st century skills in our classrooms? I find the question intriguing. I've been thinking about it each day since I heard it. I am not discouraged and I am not defensive. As an educator, I am determined to practice the 21st century skills!

Well...Is THIS Educational Malpractice?

In response to a comment posted by Dan Callahan on October 3, 2008 in response to my October 2, 2008 blog post, "Is This Educational Malpractice?"

Dan, I'm so glad you zoomed in on my mention of "standards of practice" in my October 2, 2008 blog post "Is This Educational Malpractice?" I anticipated that readers might question the "accepted standard" caveat articulated in the definition of malpractice offered on You didn't let me down and I appreciate that! Thank you for reading my blog and for encouraging me to explain my position.

I would argue that the "standards" for 21st century teaching and learning are widely published and accepted at this time. For example:

1.) The International Society for Technology in Education updated the 2000 NETS.T in January 2008. The 2008 National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers detail and profile the internationally accepted standards for 21st century teaching. ISTE describes these standards as "a framework for educators to use as they transition schools from Industrial Age to Digital Age places of learning."

2.) In 2007, the American Association of School Librarians released the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner. These standards detail the skills, resources and tools that are crucial for students who will live and work in this century. According to AASL, the standards provide "a guide and beckon... to serve as a tool for library media specialists to use to shape the learning of students in the school."

3.) In 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007, the International Technology Education Association(ITEA) published the Standards for Technological Literacy. The intent of ITEA's standards is to help educators define and recognize quality technology instruction.

4.) The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an advocacy group composed of education leaders (National Education Association and American Association of School Librarians), business leaders, community and government leaders published a powerful Framework for 21st Century Learning. To date, nine states have adopted the P21 Framework and are systematically working to infuse standards for 21st century teaching and learning in public schools.

5.) Every state in our nation has developed and implemented technology standards for students. In our nation, there is a statutory requirement that requires schools to ensure that students are technologically literate by the end of the 8th grade. The portion of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act known as 'Enhancing Education Through Technology Act of 2001' (E2T2) requires schools: To assist every student in crossing the digital divide by ensuring that every student is technologically literate by the time the student finishes the eighth grade, regardless of the student's race, ethnicity, gender, family income, geographic location, or disability.

I could go on and on with examples of “accepted standards” but I know you get the idea.

If you are arguing that the 21st century skills are not standard PRACTICE in U.S. public schools, I would wholeheartedly agree with you, and thank you for making my point. The "accepted standard" (and,I might add LAW, see #5 above) is not the accepted practice. Let me return to the medical malpractice definition and analogy. First, I admit, I’m no attorney, so I'm simplifying to make a point. If a physician notes a suspicious lesion and fails to evaluate the cause and follow an accepted standard in practice, the physician does harm to the patient. In a like manner, if an educator is aware of a pertinent educational need of students charged to their care - and fails to assess the need and implement an accepted "standard" of instructional practice, they do harm to the student. Let's look at it another way. What consequences might follow if an educator decided NOT to teach reading in his class? What if he ignored reading as an “accepted standard” of practice? I think we know the answer. The 21st Century skills are often compared to reading – as an essential life skill for students who will live and work in this century. How can educators NOT embrace the teaching of these skills with the same passion and vigor as they embrace the teaching of reading?

Let me make an important point that you bring to my attention. I am quick to praise our nation's educators who are doing an admirable job teaching many, many, many "standards." Our teachers are masters at TEACHING content. My October 2 post, however, is calling attention to a set of LEARNING skills and abilities that students will need for success in the 21st century. These skills include: constructing knowledge in modern contexts; practicing life skills through real-world problem-solving; experiencing creativity and testing innovation through relevant projects and activities; gathering, analyzing, creating and communicating information to audiences of peers throughout the world. The "accepted standards" for these skills, in IMHO, are not widely visible in contemporary classroom practice. My question remains, Dan. Is this educational malpractice?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Is This Educational Malpractice?

I’m a new blogger and I have a writer’s block. It is not the “block” one typically associates with blank paper. It is, in fact, the opposite. This block is like trying to stream live video on very low bandwidth. The video stream of my mind pushes so much data into the narrow “pipeline” of my keyboard that the path clogs and the hourglass of “wait time” begins to spin. You see, I’m extremely concerned about the compelling need to reform our nation’s schools. Our national economic security depends on bringing our schools into the 21st century. In my small circle of influence, I have championed the progression of the 21st century skills movement for 25 years. I became passionate about the need for school reform with the first national call for change - A Nation at Risk in 1983. I have followed and reacted to a plethora of urgent “change mandates” for a quarter of a century now. I’m clearly focused on the need to upgrade schools and I’m serious about it. Now, given a blog forum, I’m eager to “push” every challenge and each potential solution into the blogosphere and I’m limited by one text stream!

I’ve decided to “beat the block” by letting the stream flow with one of the most thought-provoking statements I’ve heard in my experience with school reform efforts. It happened just last week as I attended a conference of instructional support specialists representing school systems throughout the U.S. During an administrative briefing, the topic shifted to our schools’ need for leadership in implementing the 21st century skills. The speaker, armed with data and rationale, made the challenge real. Her admonition: “Failure to implement the 21st century skills in our schools constitutes malpractice.” Simple. Bold. Clear. Finally…the bottom line!

Malpractice, according to is defined as:

“… a professional's misconduct or failure to use adequate levels of care, skill or diligence in the performance of the professional's duties that causes harm to another. In order for malpractice to be actionable, injury, loss or damage must be suffered by the person who retained the professional's services, or those otherwise entitled to benefit from or rely upon the professional's services.”

How many times have I walked through schools and left with a heart heavy for the students who are being harmed by omission of the 21st century skills? Too many children have passed before my experience deprived of opportunities to learn academic content in relevant, contemporary contexts. Too many, who are entitled to a 21st century education, sit passively in rows at the expense of learning to self-direct, innovate, collaborate and demonstrate responsibility for their own learning. I’m beyond being perplexed at the mindset that stubbornly determines to “beautifully prepare students for a world that no longer exists.” (Eric Hoffer) I find myself aligned with a brilliant woman who had the courage to call it what it is: MALPRACTICE.

I Googled “malpractice” as I began writing this blog entry. A lengthy list of links to “medical malpractice” appeared. I looked around with trepidation as site after site defined malpractice as “negligence by omission of accepted standards of practice that cause injury to others.” I can’t help but wonder how long our profession can sustain malpractice. How long will stakeholders forgive institutional tolerance for “omission” of 21st century skills? After twenty-five years of public policy, reform and change mandates pleading for upgrades to schooling, I can’t imagine continued patience. I suggest that the day of “educational malpractice” is upon us. Let every educator at every level examine “omission” of 21st century skills in their own practice. This is serious. Upgrading the seriousness of the 21st century challenge might be just what is needed to upgrade education's sense of urgency.