POSTED: December 4th, 2011
This past week, I had the opportunity to see Sal Khan give a talk to a large group of school board members. He was quite engaging and if you haven’t see what the Khan Academy is all about; I would highly recommend you go to www.khanacademy.org and check it out. I think it’s a great tool for learning that can be of great benefit for many children – and adults. In twenty years, I’m not sure that we’ll still be talking about it, but for now it’s a piece of the puzzle that can take us to the next level. But, that’s not what I want to write about today.
What I want to write about today is this: Not seeing the greatness in those around us.
As I was sitting in the meeting, and listening to anecdotal stories about the academy, there was really only one piece of data produced. It was regarding 7th grade at a school where students where participating full-scale in the academy. What it showed was a pretty good increase for students who participated in the program. Some in the audience seemed really impressed – and it was impressive stuff. But, as I watched it, I wasn’t as impressed as you might think. And, not because the Khan Academy isn’t good because like I said it’s really good. But, because I just saw some data from another district that was even better. And, it got me thinking: Are the answers to our questions standing right in from of us? Are we so focused on the newest and greatest that we don’t even see greatness when it’s sitting five seats to our right? Listening to the same thing we are?
What if I told you, there is a school district in Southern California that has done the following in the past three years: On state standardized testing, they have more than tripled the number of 8th graders who scored advanced or proficient in language arts, more than doubled the number of students who take algebra in 8th grade and quadrupled the number of students who scored proficient or advanced in 8th grade algebra. In addition, they pretty much improved at all levels and have seen test scores soar – The high school’s scores went up by over 62 points this past year, alone. Student attendance rates have climbed from 89% to 95%. They have also developed middle school sports and music programs and have not affected any teacher layoffs, or reduced student or teacher work days even though many other districts have had to do so. They are truly doing great things everyday.
This district doesn’t make a big deal about it and would be embarrassed by the mention. They just think they are doing the job they were given to the best of their ability. They don’t really do too much special besides work hard and expect their students to do the same. Yet, they are a true success story in the making.
But, it makes me think about how there are a lot of people out there who are creating a lot of wind and buzz for themselves. And, how we tend to fall all over ourselves trying to get a glimpse and shower them with honors and platitudes.
Because we tend to look at the next big thing and think it will make us all better, or we see something shiny and think we will all be enriched by its light we follow and hope for the promise it may bring. Yet, sadly we will once again walk away when the promise is under delivered. When we return to our practice, we go back past the people we see each day who go about their business without fanfare or glamour. People who just continued to grind and work and do the amazing. We never think to stop and ask what it is they are doing that is making such a difference. And we look out the window for the next flash in the sky.
Therefore, I think I’m going to stop looking for the next big thing – at least for a while and look out my own backdoor.