All In: What Matters Most?
We teach a lot that isn’t going to matter, in a significant way, in students’ lives. There’s also much we aren’t teaching that would be a better return on investment.”
—David Perkins, Professor & Author
I haven’t yet read David Perkins’ book, Future Wise, but I read an interview with him that made me think about student learning, mastery and the accomplishments we hope will be realized through school. Of all that we teach our students, what will matter in the great scheme of things?
This is a question I spent many years as a teacher and school building administrator asking my own children and a great many students. It was an honest question. I wanted to know if they thought the content, the tradition or the conflict with a friend mattered in the long run. Does the approach to a situation in the short term change if we look at its significance in the long run? My job was to help the children figure things out. Since there is no perfect answer, I had to engage the children in discussing the situation.
I am confident that reading, writing, speaking and listening—in multiple languages if possible—will continue to be critical skills for the foreseeable future. I am confident that mathematical reasoning, conceptual understanding and procedural skill in math will continue to be essential in our personal, community and work lives. I can’t imagine a world where estimation or number sense won’t be useful. Schools will most certainly continue to teach scientific thinking, environmental awareness, artistic expression, and social and historical perspectives, as well as support physical, social and psychological well-being.
So, as we work to improve and refine our education system, what needs to change? What skills, processes and attitudes are essential to ensure students graduate career- and college-ready, and how do we teach those to all students? I’m not sure I have all of the answers, but I know that much of the information and knowledge once housed in schools, places of worship, and on college campuses is now available via devices accessible in the palm of our hands. But, while we can look up facts, we need to be able to make connections between discrete pieces of information to apply them to our lives and careers.
To help answer these questions, it is essential to regularly review and revise curriculum. In March 2018, the Montgomery County Board of Education discussed the results of a curriculum review that occurs every five years. One of the recommendations by the external team of reviewers was that MCPS implement new instructional materials in English/language arts and mathematics in grades kindergarten through 8. This transition will occur over the next three years. This is exciting work and should serve our students well. You can read more about the work here.
A second focus that helps answer the questions is Career and Technology Education (CTE). Over the past several years, MCPS has developed many options to help students explore their career interests and then pursue them through programs offered both during and after the school day. This helps students connect classroom learning to real life experiences. This connection is essential in order for education to be relevant to students’ lives. Read more about Career Readiness in MCPS here.
While we think about and work to answer these questions, students will continue to progress through school and march toward their high school diplomas. In fact, the Class of 2018 is on the verge of graduation right now. This spring, MCPS will graduate more than 10,000 students. As a school system, we have worked to ensure that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in college and careers. I wish each of these students the very best now and in the future, and I thank all MCPS staff for their work on behalf of these and all students.