Reading and ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic?

A child in California will spend more than 15,000 hours in school in his or her lifetime. Toward what end?

The team at GO Public Schools Fresno has engaged the community and reviewed leading research and shares their findings and the significance.

For anyone from my generation, the purpose of school was clearly laid out in the Three Rs – Reading and Writing and Arithmetic. While my amazing Fresno Unified teachers supported me in many other ways beyond “the basics,” it was clear from the work we focused on that reading, writing and arithmetic were paramount. I still remember doing multiplication tables and being sorted by speed. Yet, as we enter a new age – one littered with new challenges for so many young people and flush with new opportunities for all of our graduates – it is imperative that we continue to determine how to best use these 15,000 hours to help our children unlock their full potential. Today’s blog will share community feedback and leading research on the goals / purpose of school and will help us understand what we must do differently with this new purpose.

What is the purpose of school?
What is the end goal for all of our young people?

During the fall of 2017 members of the GO Public Schools Fresno team worked with more than 30 “house party” hosts to have discussions across the city with more than 500 Fresnans to discuss this question and more. Educators, parents and community allies took part in these small house parties to look at data and to discuss their hopes and dreams for their own children and students. By starting with the end in mind – we posed the question: “What are your wildest hopes and dreams for your child at age 25?” – we uncovered the kinds of preparation, skills, behaviors and mindsets that mattered most to Fresnans. Their answers are mirrored by the latest research and have helped us drive toward a broader purpose for our Fresno schools.

Respondents across the city – whether they be rich or poor, parents or educators, with kids in school or already graduated – were clear and consistent. They wanted their children to be happy, to be passionate about what they do, to have ample choices, to be financially secure, to be surrounded by people who cared for them and to be a part of something bigger. Their responses aligned with the 2010 findings of Tom Rath and Jim Harter, laid out clearly in their book Wellbeing, which identified 5 areas of well-being: career, social, financial, physical and community well-being.

In thinking about the challenges of today, many respondents focused on a child’s desire to feel connected, passionate and happy. They expressed strong worries that their children weren’t on a path to reach those goals in school today. Their worries about students’ emotional well-being is backed by research conducted in 2015 by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. In a study they conducted, high schoolers were asked to describe their feelings about high school and the top three responses were “tired,” “stressed” and “bored.”

In thinking about the opportunities of tomorrow, many parents were dismayed about the shifting workforce that will require a multitude of new and changing skills. Again, none discounted the importance of excelling in reading, writing and math, but instead noted that doing multiplication tables quickly is no longer a skill valued in the workforce. A new set of 21st century skills and behaviors were required – such as the ability to work in teams, to ask questions rather than simply answering others, or to understand and manage their emotions. This feedback from Fresnans is aligned to some great new reports out that detail new skills, behaviors and dispositions needed for success:

Now what? What are the implications of a broader purpose for school?

With a broader purpose for schooling, the implications for our schools and for our role as community members are profound. A new graduate profile is an important first step. But a graduate profile alone doesn’t change the experience for students. We must be willing to shift how we educate students and how we measure success to align with this new purpose for schools.

There is a need to rethink how we are educating students to ensure these new skills and behaviors are not simply inserted into the traditional model, which was built to meet the previous purpose of schools. Some schools in Fresno have already begun this work, with Patino Entrepreneurship High School, Design Science Middle College High School and our dual immersion elementary schools as shining examples. A set of Fresno-area educators will join GO in our GO Schools Transformer Fellowship to engage in this process of reimagining what a school could look like to meet this new purpose starting in February.

For the rest of us, we must ensure we’re measuring what we value and reviewing those measurements often. In GO’s Choosing Our Future Report, which will be finalized this spring, we will share data and analysis to show where our students are today.

Fresnans and researchers alike are clear on the new purpose for school. Now it is up to all of us to create these schools. Every child is precious and 15,000 hours is ample time to ensure we can unlock every child’s full potential.

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