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Next week we will conclude the 2012-2013 school year, and the focus will turn to our graduating seniors as they walk across the stage on June 9th.
At this time, then, let me take a moment to offer my thanks to the Marshall community for the opportunity to serve as your leader the past three years.
Over the course of this blog, I've written more than 110 entries sharing my thoughts on educational trends and Marshall School, as well as offering congratulations to a variety of students and faculty on specific accomplishments.
Marshall School is a wonderful place, filled with inquisitive and hard-working students and passionate faculty. In the day-to-day of our work together, we can sometimes fail to see this specialness -- as we get consumed with pressure of deadlines and the complexity of relationships.
It is refreshing in my role to get to see the school through new eyes on a fairly regular basis.
I hear stories about the welcoming warmth of our student body from new parents, who are anxious about the transition for their children. I hear about the high expectations that we hold in our curriculum from transfer students in almost every grade level. I hear about the intense pride students have in Marshall when I take seniors to lunch each spring.
I get to see Marshall regularly through a different lens when we recruit new faculty. The interview process affords a chance to see how outside professionals view the school. Candidates are impressed with our students, faculty, and programming. All are impressed particularly with the school's mission-driven focus.
Of course, it is one thing to impress a candidate during an interview and quite another to hold that good feeling over the long haul. I absolutely love it when a new faculty member stops by my office, usually towards the end of the first year, and says: "Thanks! Thanks for hiring me. I love my students. I love working here."
This has happened a lot in the last three years, and that positive energy is infectious.
I see Marshall through different eyes when I meet with trustees and community members -- folks who believe passionately in the transformative power of education and the importance of educational choice for a community like Duluth. Our board members hold the school's mission in trust -- valuing the history but focusing on the future. The changes in our science program and the focus on technology reflect a belief about what competencies our students will need in this new world.
It has been my pleasure to serve the school and its students over the past three years.
Marshall School is a special place that will continue to be embraced by new families, new faculty, new administrators, and new trustees. They will be attracted by the school's mission, its belief in innovation and continual improvement, and its focus on building a strong community.
on Friday May 31, 2013 at 10:34AM
Two years ago, the Marshall School science department made the bold decision to offer an accelerated curriculum to all our students. As a school, we are convinced that success for our graduates depends on deepening their core competencies in math, science, and technology -- a goal that aligns with our mission to educate global citizens.
Results from our just completed course registrations would indicate that this bet is paying off, as enrollments in higher-level science courses are skyrocketing.
|Physics (any level)
All Marshall students now take biology in 9th grade and chemistry in 10th grade. This is the normal sequence for science courses in high-performing states like Massachusetts, but it is one year accelerated from the normal sequence in Minnesota public schools. As a result, Marshall students have the opportunity to take physics as well as another higher level science before graduation -- or even double-up and take two AP science courses in one year.
Marshall remains committed to the AP route for its college-level courses, as we believe the program is both challenging and transferrable. A great number of our students look to colleges outside of Minnesota, and the AP remains recognizable to the largest number of schools around the US.
This trend is creating higher expectations among Marshall students about what they can accomplish in high school. That positive peer pressure creates an expectation of academic excellence that is contagious.
Likewise, next year the school is taking another bold step by introducing laptops into the US program. We believe that integration of technology is essential in preparing students to be successful in college and beyond.
To support this initiative, the Marshall technology staff is recruiting students to serve as technology ambassadors next year. Calling themselves the Technology Brigade, we can expect some fabulous things from this new corps of student leaders.
Learn more here: http://www.marshallschool.org/page.cfm?p=1580
on Tuesday April 30, 2013 at 01:53PM
Every year, usually around college admission season, I get a question or two from parents regarding the competitive nature of the college search. The question usually goes like this:
"Why would we want to send our child to a school like Marshall, where they will face more academic competition and harder classes? If they stay in public school, they will get all As. At Marshall, won't they be disadvantaged when it comes to college acceptance?"
I often start my answer with the practical: Colleges understand that not all high school's are created equal. They know Marshall, and they know that a B+ at our school means something different than a B+ at another school. Or an A, for that matter. Colleges like to accept students who have taken the most challenging academic course load possible. They know that not all GPAs are created equal.
From my perspective, however, it is more important to ask: How can my child be prepared to SUCCEED once they are in college?
A new article from the executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talent Youth sounds a warning about the preparation of our so-called "A students."
Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Elaine Tuttle Hansen says that many schools today are doing a huge disservice by not challenging these smart, talented kids. The underlying calculus at many schools is: These kids are doing fine. They don't make any trouble. We've got other worries.
"The truth is that not all of the smartest kids who have jumped through the hoops required for selective college admissions are ready for the demands of college-level work," says Tuttle Hansen.
The research shows that when we don't challenge students throughout middle school and high school, they lose ground. According to a Fordham Institute study, up to half of students who scored in the 90th percentile in elementary school fell backwards when they moved from elementary to middle school or middle school to high school.
"And the focus on low-achieving students in public schools has disproportionately left more smart minority and low-income kids behind, creating a well-documented 'excellence gap.'" writes Tuttle Hansen.
Perhaps the most compelling answer to the question about college preparation comes from David, a college student quoted the Chronicle article:
"By the time I found academic work that challenged me, ... I realized my work ethic and study skills were atrocious, in large part, I believe, because I had never been forced to use them.
"I would like to know the person I would have become had I been engaged as a young learner."
on Tuesday March 19, 2013 at 01:26PM
Great article from Emily Bazelon in the March Atlantic Magazine on the challenges parents face when trying to stop cyberbullies.
Bazelon highlights a story from Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Connecticut, where a girl she calls "Drama Queen" created an anonymous Facebook account to sew discord among her school's 750 students -- 500 of whom at one point followed her page called Let's Start Drama. The site was a way for her and others to pass along cruel gossip and spread rumors without fear of personal consequences. Before long, the site resulted in many broken friendships and an actual fistfight.
Unfortunately, the Let's Start Drama page is not an outlier. Similar Facebook pages and Twitter accounts exist in towns all across America -- Duluth included.
Bazelon wanted to know, however, how you can put a stop to this. When requests to take down the Let's Start Drama page from administrators at Woodrow Wilson Middle School went answered, Brazelon went to Facebook headquarters in California.
She spoke with a manager at Facebook's Hate and Harassment Team, whose job it is to troll through the 2.5 billion pieces of content posted daily and decide what crosses the line. Facebook's policy, she learned, is to accept first-person complaints by victims of harassment.
“If the content is about you, and you’re not famous, we don’t try to decide whether it’s actually mean,” Facebook's Dave Willner told Bazelon. “We just take it down.”
Third-party reports, such as those made by a school, however, are reviewed on a case-by-case basis (meaning a much longer wait for action).
Facebook's approach seems to be in line with what I have learned about formal reports of harassment made to police. In conversations with the Duluth Police Department last year, we were told that if a student is being bullied online, a school can discipline a student within the context of its code of conduct. If a student is being harassed, however, the school cannot report this to the police for legal action. Instead, the actual report must come from the victim directly.
Unfortunately, in the case of the Let's Start Drama page, despite complaints by individuals and the school, it took more than six months for the site to be taken down by Facebook.
"Someone made a mistake," Willner said to Bazelon in her story. Because of the volume of material the Facebook employess must review, they simply missed coding the complaints correctly. "This profile should have been disabled."
Little consolation to the many students at Woodrow Wilson who were harmed by the page -- and a lesson for parents who are trying to help. Keep at it.
on Tuesday February 26, 2013 at 01:50PM
We like to say that it is "cool to be smart" at Marshall School. A new study out this week from research affiliated with the National Science Foundation indicates that this phenomena could be contagious.
The concept that a peer network might influence children, both positively and negatively, makes common sense to parents. The study entitled "Spread of Academic Success in a High School Social Network" concludes that this effect can have a positive impact on grades as well.
In a study of 160 students in a New York high school, researchers determined that students whose friends' average GPA was higher than their own were likely to improve their GPA over time. Likewise, if you had friends with lower GPAs, your grades were more likely to drop.
While the study was too small to draw definitive conclusions, it certainly squares with other patterns that parents see with their children, from the influence on musical tastes to clothing to hobbies.
on Thursday February 14, 2013 at 01:36PM
Marshall School kicked off a winter STEM Symposium series with a stimulating morning conversation with Dr. Chris Jones, a project manager for Microsoft and the teacher of our AP Computer Science class. Jones works in Seattle and teaches our students virtually. He was in Duluth for the last three days to take his students to the Fargo Microsoft campus to meet with the programmers and discuss career paths in computer science.
Today Dr. Jones (pictured at left) spoke with faculty, administrators, and some special guests on the connection between programming, role playing games, and preparation for STEM-related careers.
By 2018, he said it is projected that there will be 800,000 new high-end computer jobs in the United States. Five of the 10 fasted growing jobs will be in the computing field.
Unfortunately, as Microsoft Great Plains site manager Don Morton told Marshall students Thursday, "We don't know what kind of jobs you'll be doing in the future."
This disconnect -- between the knowledge that the field will need workers but uncertainty about the exact types of jobs that will exist -- is a challenge for people who would like to think of a career path as a linear process.
Jones said that he viewed understanding basic programming as a way to develop core logical thinking skills that can be likened to learning chemistry, biology, and physics. While future jobs might not map clearly to any particular course, the skills learned in computer science will no doubt be useful in areas that are becoming increasingly technological -- such as medicine and engineering.
If he viewed understanding computer science as a logical step to providing base STEM skills, Jones then discussed his own personal emotional lens -- role playing games (RPGs). The skills learned in gaming, he said, are much more applicable to the uncertainty that our students face. Rather than being linear, RPGs are organic and call for user customization. In addition, they demand to be explored and they encourage risk-taking. In many ways, this might mirror the experiences that our students will have as they patch together a quilt of courses, skills and experiences to create their own career paths.
This sparked a lively discussion with the group about motivation and the role of failure in both RPGs and our schools.
The lessons schools could learn from RPGs is a hot topic in educational circles right now. They are explored in a little more depth in this six-minute interview with programmer Jane McGonigal, author of the book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.
In the end, Jones said, that the unknown future of STEM jobs will demand the same types skills necessary for success as are needed in role-playing games: self-motivation, life-long learning, and an understanding that failure is an essential component of personal growth.
on Friday January 4, 2013 at 05:45PM
Improving the state of math and science education in the United States has been a top priority for many years. In the past few months, updated reports have been issued that can help us assess our progress. As you might expect, the overall picture involves a few steps forward and a few steps back.
Rankings Stay Stable
The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) report comes from the National Center for Education Statistics. TIMMS began in 1995 and is now administered to 4th and 8th grade students in 54 countries and 20 other educational systems around the world.
While US 8th graders ranked above the global average in mathematics in the recently released 2011 survey, they were behind students in South Korea, Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, Israel, and Finland. The most recent scores of US 8th graders remained unchanged from the 2007 testing.
The results are similar in science, where US 8th graders scored above the world average but behind students in Singapore, Taipei, South Korea, Japan, Finland, Slovenia, Russia, Hong Kong, and England. Like in math, there was no noticeable improvement in scores in US students from 2007.
In an interesting new development, some US states -- including Minnesota -- were allowed to participate in the survey and to be treated as a stand-alone educational entity (like their own country, if you will). In those tables, participating states did quiet well. Minnesota ranked higher than the US averages in math and science. Massachusetts was the best performing state in the US.
In a separate report, the National Center for Education Statistics released its "Condition of Education 2012" report, which contains a slew of data about educational trends within the US. In one of the most interesting nuggets, the report details the types of math and science courses taken by seniors in 1990 and then nearly 20 years later in 2009.
In every category, the US has seen an uptick in the number of students taking a more challenging course of study. Most notable is the increase in students taking a full year of study all three major science disciplines: biology, chemistry, and physics. Nationally, the number went from 19% of seniors in 1990 to 30% in 2009.
At Marshall, 70% of this year's seniors have taken all three courses, and we expect this number to go even higher when students begin to complete the new science sequence that we introduced last year. Under our new sequence, students are taking biology in 9th grade and chemistry in 10th grade. Most students will then take physics in 11th grade. This sequence is one year advanced from the standard Minnesota curriculum but in alignment with the standard course sequence in top-ranked Massachusetts. It will give students more opportunity to take advanced level work in the junior and senior years.
on Wednesday January 2, 2013 at 04:36PM
The Council for American Private Education (CAPE) released a report this week with some interesting statistics regarding private schools. CAPE represents both parochial and independent schools, which collectively serve 1 in 10 students in the US.
In fact, one in four schools in the US is private.
Independent schools like Marshall are a smaller sub-set of that bigger group and make up about 1% of the student population in the US.
According to the CAPE report:
- Private schools save American taxpayers $50 billion a year.
- 67% of private school graduates attend four-year colleges vs 40% in public schools.
- Private school 8th graders performed, on average, one or two grade levels above public school students in the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress in math and reading.
- Private school students take a more rigorous courseload in math and science than their counterparts -- with 75% of students in private schools taking a higher-level math course (above Algebra II).
- The 2011 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report on school crime and safety reveals that students in public schools are victimized at twice the rate of those in private schools.
- A separate NCES report in 2010 indicated that 79% of parents with students in private schools report being very satisfied vs. 52% of parents in public schools.
- Finally, a 2012 report called State of Our Nation's Youth reports that private school students are twice as likely than students in general to give their schools an "A."
The world of private schools is varied, and sometimes these top-level statistics can be confusing. However, the report does make a strong case that private schools have an important place in American education and within individual communities. The full report is available as a PDF or as an interactive iBook.
on Wednesday December 5, 2012 at 02:08PM
If the latest report card on American youth is any indication, student ethics are improving.
For the first time in a decade, the biennial survey on student behavior shows that lying, cheating, and stealing are on the decline. The survey of 23,000 students conducted since 1992 by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics covers students at charter, public, and private schools.
"It's a small ray of sunshine through lots of dark clouds," said founder Michael Josephson on the Institute web site.
Some of the highlights:
- Students who admitted cheating on an exam dropped to 51% in 2012 from 59% in 2010.
- Students who admitted lying to a teacher about something significant dropped to 55% from 61%.
- Students who admitted lying to their parents dropped to 76% from 80%.
- Students who admitted stealing something from a store in the past year dropped to 20% from 27%.
Within the data set, however, are some troubling gender gaps.
Boys were nearly twice as likely to steal from a friend than girls (19% v. 10%).
Almost half of boys (45%) believe that "a person has to lie and cheat at least occasionally in order to succeed." Only 28% of girls held that same belief.
Boys (20%) were twice as likely as girls (10%) to believe "it is not cheating if everyone is doing it." Interestingly, the answer to this question did not change much if the students were in honors/AP classes or in varsity athletics.
Girls are much more likely to volunteer (70% v. 55%).
Both genders report that "being physically attractive" is important (91% boys and 90% girls), although, interestingly, "being popular" is much more important to boys (65%) than girls (48%).
You can see the full report here.
on Monday November 26, 2012 at 04:21PM
The evolution of online learning has been fascinating.
Only a few years ago, online courses were seen as a distant and somewhat odd member of the educational family. Over time, and with the help of a federal study showing its effectiveness, online learning has moved into the mainstream.
The 10% growth in online enrollments in colleges and universities greatly exceeded the traditional enrollment growth of 2% last year -- and, according to the Babson Group, 31% of college students now take at least one course online.
That trend has moved younger, as more and more secondary students are now taking online courses. A new report from the Evergreen Education Group, entitled Keeping Pace 2012, highlights states that have approved fully online K12 schools.
Six states (Alabama, Idaho, Florida, Michigan, and Virginia) have gone so far as to require an online course as a graduation requirement.
The more recent emergence of MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) has complicate the landscape, as individual faculty and/or schools have begun to create free open enrollment courses that are attracting tens of thousands of students.
While things are evolving and a number of high profile universities have joined forces in new consortium (edX or Coursera), a sticking point has been that these courses offer nothing more than a certificate of completion and a pat on the back. No credit or credential to take to an employer.
That is beginning to change. The American Council on Education is now looking at some Coursera offerings from elite schools and may recommend that other colleges grant credit for course completion.
In another development, a new group of colleges has joined together to launch a new online consortium, but one that will charge for classes and offer credit. Formed by universities such as Duke, Northwestern, and the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill, they expect to offer up to 30 courses next fall to their currently enrolled students (and included in their regular tuition) but also to open these courses up to other students who are willing to pay.
It is too early to see how this might play out, but the movement to offer credit is significant. MOOCs and school consortiums offer enormous potential to open educational opportunities for students, but the real growth is being held back by the uncertainty over credentialing.
The evolution is happening rapidly enough that students in high school today should see some significant new opportunities in the next few years.
on Thursday November 15, 2012 at 04:50PM
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