**A New School For A New Generation of Learners**

*Rethinking a system designed by an agricultural society, implemented by an industrial society, and being used to educate a technological society.*

__Part 1 - Making students learn__

Compulsory education has been a part of American schools
since colonial times. While it was still part of the British Empire, the
Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted a law requiring its children to attend formal
schools. In the mid-1800s, the US state of Massachusetts became the first of
now fifty states to require towns to offer nominal schooling to young children.
This schooling amounted to what we now know as 'The Three Rs:' reading,
writing, and 'rithmetic.

In his 1976 article written for The Phi Delta Kappa
Educational Foundation, Michael S. Katz explained that in its initial form,
mandatory schooling applied only to children ages eight through fourteen and
required them to attend school for a mere twelve weeks a year. This law
effectively forced parents to 'raise up their children' in the acceptable
Puritan (Christian) way, and was enacted due to documented failings of many to
do so, thereby "transforming a moral obligation into a legal one."

During the Industrial Revolution, factories often took
advantage of children, forcing them to work long hours while earning pennies on
the dollar compared to their adult counterparts. In an effort to protect
children from hard labor, states lined up to pass similar laws making education
compulsory for all children, but only up to a certain age. In many cases, that
age was sixteen, the age at which it was deemed that children were capable of
working as adults.

To some, the word

**brings to mind images of Olympic figure skaters, all performing in the first stage of their final competition. The compulsory part means they all have to perform the same tasks in their routines, in order to be fairly and equitably judged compared to their peers. Hm…that sounds familiar.***compulsory*
Today all fifty states have some form of required schooling
on their books, and the mandatory ages typically start between the ages of five
and seven, and end between sixteen and eighteen (National Center for Education
Statistics.) What's interesting is that while each state has its own law for
compulsory education, there is no federal standard in place. Despite the fact
that the United States spends in excess of $200 billion dollars on education - admittedly,
around 5% of the overall budget - (US Department of Education 2016 Budget Fact
Sheet) , the federal government does not have the authority to tell states when
their children need to be in school.

What it DOES tell them, however, is what their children need
to know and be able to demonstrate before they leave school. Each state can
decide when children must start and when they may choose to stop attending
school, but while they are in there, much of what they learn is dictated to
them by the federal government in the form of the Common Core State Standards
Initiative.

In the fall of 2007 I was invited to join a team of K-12
educators, post-secondary professors, and mathematicians to once and for all
rewrite the expectations for all Washington state students in mathematics. It
remains to this day one of the most challenging, interesting, and ultimately
rewarding experiences of my professional life - one of which I am still
immensely proud to have been a part.

Over the course of several months, we brainstormed, argued,
pled our cases, talked, listened, and eventually wrote a set of standards for
all mathematics students in our state in introductory algebra and geometry.
When we published our work, we did so with great fanfare, as we believed we had
designed a collection of skills and processes that would ably serve all
students in our state for many years to come. Little did we know that 'many
years' actually meant 'one year', as in 2009, Washington joined the Common Core
Standards Initiative, and all our work was put into the archives. By 2010, the state had provisionally adopted
the Common Core standards, and in 2011, they were formally adopted - Washington
had joined now 46 states in offering and assessing a set of standards that for
the first time represented a national
curriculum.

While working on the Washington state standards team, I
still vividly recall numerous occasions during which I heard some version of
the following, usually from a professor of mathematics or a mathematician: "We can't let kids leave high school
without knowing how to …." And each time someone said this, they were able
to back their claim up. Yes, the Pythagorean Theorem is important in geometry.
Yes, factoring skills are crucial in algebra. Of course students have to be
able to write proofs. And obviously, they need to be able to make a graph and
interpret it… right?

After more than 20 years in the classroom, most of them as a
National Board Certified teacher, I have begun to wonder just what students
'must' know mathematically in order to be successful in their lives. And the
more I think about it, the shorter the list becomes. I pored over the Common
Core standards (Common Core State Standards Initiative) for algebra and
geometry and identified those skills at which every living, working, thriving
adult really must be skilled, laying aside those skills that register as
'critical' to a mathematician, but to a typical adult, are likely never to be
explored again once they close their algebra book for the last time.

In the former category, for example, I include skills such
as the ability to solve an equation (finding an unknown value in a simple or
complex situation), understanding the concept of a function (a construct that
takes an input and returns - spits out - an output), and being able to understand fundamental
one-variable statistics such as mean, median, variation, etc.

The latter group includes skills such as understanding the
difference between rational and irrational numbers, working with vectors and
matrices, trigonometry, congruence theorems, and conditional probability to
name just a very few.

In total, I counted a total of 156 math skills the Common
Core standards expect students to master before graduating high school or at
least fulfilling their legal requirement of compulsory schooling. Of those, I
identified 46 that truly resonated as critical to success after high school. Don't
get me wrong. I love math, and I love teaching math. Therefore, I find the
remaining 110 skills fascinating, and most are intensely useful for further
studies in mathematics. For those students continuing on beyond the most basic
of math instruction, clearly they will need and want to explore many if not all
of those 110 skills. But as a baseline set of required skills, I counted 46. That
amounts to a ratio of 2.5:1, non-critical skills to critical skills. And to
break it down further, nineteen of those forty-six skills came in the final set
of standards: Probability and Statistics. Take that last section out and the
ratio of non-critical skills to critical skills is 100:25, or 4:1.

Perhaps most telling, beyond one person's opinion about
which skill is critical to success in life and which is not, is the following
statement, found in the final note for the standards, a note that summarizes
the role of individual courses and the importance of transitions between them:

"

*Indeed, some of the highest priority content for college and career readiness comes from Grades 6-8."*

I find this comment to be an indicator of the level of skills
expected of high school students and supportive of my assessment of the high
school standards. If indeed, such a priority for both college and career
readiness falls in the Grade 6-8 band, what are we asking of our high school
students? Is it possible we are teaching them too much?

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