What is the essential learning that schools impart to students?

Mike Klugman - mklugman@bcsd.neric.org (twitter @mklugman) blog @ Science Synergy

MK: I am leaving Will's initial post at the bottom of this page. I decided to kick in as moderator for the following reasons:

1. As a District-wide Science & Technology Supervisor for a suburban school (of 5,000 students) just outside of the capital of New York I continue to promote the imperative of science education to be facilitating students' ability to make informed decisions utilizing a scientific process as a life-long skill.

This includes being able to validate claims made through any medium, and the skills requisite to this ability. Science is about utilizing a methodology to validate, refute, rebut, conclude and / or vet what we are presented as being truth in our lives.

Few would argue that schools must facilitate meta-cognition (learning how one learns) and the intrinsic drive to continue one's learning curve through life. This represents a shift from my generation (Y) focus where we believed and were led to believe that we should achieve mastery over a finite amount of information. To be "professorial," or "genius" in my generation led one to believe that an individual of this ilk just knew more than the average person. To be professorial, or genius now should lead one to believe that this sort of individual is able to "learn," or process a particular challenge despite perhaps not having any knowledge of it at present.

Of course science is also about exploring wonder, awe, and the "how" of how things work in the world.

2. As a member of an independent team of educators taking on the task of evolving the New York State science standards, tied for most-dated in the country, the charge of exploring this thread is at the core of what our team is exploring.

As schools grapple with an ever-increasing amount of content information it does not make sense that we can continue to operate by packing the "new stuff" onto the ends of our curricula. To quote a citation from District Leadership that Works (Marzano & Waters) about what the authors suggest doesn't work in schools.

"While it might not be evident initially; state standards documents as currently formatted represent a major impediment to a formatively based, value-added system of assessment. One reason is that state (and national) standards documents simply articulate too much content. To illustrate, a study conducted by researchers at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) found that schools and teachers need 71% more instructional than is currently available to address the content in state and national standards."
Resources / Links & Guiding Questions

1. What are the essential skills students need to become effective learners?

2. Is there content that is enduring, essential, or so foundational that it forms our curricular imperative?

3. Aside from skills and content what other taxonomic categories should education prioritize (eg: dispositions)?

UBD (Understanding by Design) links
Curriculum 21
Nat'l Science Stds
AAAS Project 2061
TIMMS report
NAEP Information

Will's Initial Comments
I will start things out by positing that it is difficult if not impossible to agree on essential learning in terms of content. I will further posit that creating lists of specific skills is equally risky. I'll suggest that essential learning is as much about mind-sets and attitudes as it is about skills and content. For example (needs honing, but to get the idea across...):

By graduation, all students should be able to...
... express themselves coherently in a variety of media appropriate to their chosen profession(s).

A little out of the box..., let's imagine that it is time to eliminate the subject areas? No math, no language arts, no science, etc. etc. The fields are still taught, but they are taught in a manner that puts more emphasis on creativity, imagination, and problem solving. These non-definitive instructional areas become the center point for measurable achievement. What would that look like? Okay, way out of the box now...what if every student just had one class. A class that would be age/level appropriate and incorporate all the old school traditional content areas in a manner that requires their use in a specific situational/environmental/or problematic quest or game like implementation. To work, it would essentially have to be something that would not be limited by traditional constraints. The closest thing I can think of that may resemble an instructional environment would be Chris Dede's work in virtual environments such as River City Project As a teacher, what if you had a collection of these virtual type environments, that you could deploy at will, say VMware like Virtual Appliances, when they were appropriate for students at specific levels of their development. The environments could change as more students add to them and the problems and tasks could also change. Teachers could begin to collect these virtual environments, keeping and tweaking particular revisions to bring out more student work in areas were students needed more support with old content standards. This example also comes to mind, Quest2Learn, http://q2l.org/. MacArthur Foundation recently came out with additional information related to Quest2Learn, http://www.macfound.org/site/c.lkLXJ8MQKrH/b.4462309/apps/s/content.asp?ct=8045175