Thursday, February 11, 2016

Most Likely to Succeed

Last night at +Holy Child Academy Drexel Hill,  I saw the third of what to my mind is a trio of education movies, all of which highlight High Tech High School in San Diego. This film, Most Likely to Succeed, is largely persuasive in pointing out the futility of the traditional "factory"  model of education. It rightly points out that our model started a 125 years ago when the Committee of Ten pushed for a standardized learning system. I'd argue against the movie's point that the committee wanted to create compliant factory workers, indeed the factory model of education was in part supplanted by the Committee's suggestions of sorting learning into disciplines and separating students by age.  However, I agree with the film's larger point that the Committee's model now no longer works.
    This brings me to my other problem with the movie's premise. It still posits school's goal is to
create "successful" people. It still equates learning with "work" and success. It is a larger, socio-economic and political truth that wages no longer keep up with productivity. It explains the anger that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are channeling.  The skills traditional education teaches students no longer helps them "compete" in the modern economy. I agree. The film instead suggests that "soft' skills such as creative thinking will let kids succeed in the new economy. I don't buy it. Yes, it will work for a few. Yet, how many creative jobs will there really be? If we define success as wealth accumulated as an adult, the vast majority of our students will not be successful whether they come from a traditional school or a school like High Tech High. How many visionary, creative CEO type jobs exist? Not nearly enough.  What we are going to do with a now idle workforce is something society is going to have to figure out. It is a problem that needs a solution bigger than anything schools can provide.
    The film is most successful when it challenges basic tenets of traditional education. To people who argue  that kids need to know content, it devastates that position by pointing to studies that prove that students-across academic disciplines-forget 90% of content within 3 weeks of taking the test. Truly, what is the point of testing for mastery of facts? Why do we give final exams in June based on the mass recall of facts when these facts will be forgotten by July?
    The film is also effective in showing the power of metacognition and that students learn through self-reflection. I like that the very model of High Tech High makes this type of thinking central to what students to there. It also effectively argues that this education is more "sticky" than the fact-based model. Students at High Tech High do better on standardized tests than do the kids who go to schools which explicitly prepare their students for standardized tests. Perhaps progressive educators can have their cake and eat it too.
    I appreciated the film's honesty in saying that whether schools like High Tech High actually work better than traditional schools, at least according to traditional measures, is unknown.  We don't have long term longitudinal studies.
    Go see the movie.
Click here to view trailer

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