At New Technology High School, most 12th grade students have already completed most of their credits (in addition to college credits and community and school service). As such, since 12th graders still need to take 12th grade English and Government and Economics, my team teacher and I are the only teachers that many seniors see.
The state of California is currently in a state of scrambling to solve the apparent gaps in its students’ academic performance. California’s public education system has been ranked in the bottom 10 or lower of all states for a number of recent years by Education week (Walters 2014). Problems with the state’s management of funding and equality thereof are generally cited as a major contributing factor of this issue (Loeb and Strunk 2007). Of course, these management matters must be handled from a governmental level, but it still leaves teachers in the position of attempting to make the best of what they can without classroom expenditures. As a result, interaction and support from a school’s community, which has shown to be successful in student achievement, can be seen as a way to access resources without expenditure (National Education Association 2008).
The Napa Valley Unified School district has identified the New Tech Network (NTN) model as being an effective method of public school instruction, thanks to its consistently higher-than-national-average graduation rates and its much-higher-than-average college acceptance and persistence of its seniors (New Tech Network 2015). As a result, it is currently working toward full implementation at all schools within the district. Among other things, the NTN model includes PBL, the use of discrete, largely skill based learning outcomes and associated rubrics, and technology-based and -driven curriculum. PBL has been identified as a very effective method for providing students with authentic products (Dahlgren and Dahlgren 2002), and NTN has identified agency as one of their learning outcomes, so on the surface this provides the district with the context necessary to provide innovation-based supports to agency development. However, implementation has been slow and less than well received at a number of school sites. The district-wide implementation is intended to eventually include adoption of the New Tech Network’s Agency rubric in addition to the other NTN rubrics, but this is a few years away. Additionally, the force-feeding of the NTN model to a number of schools in the district has been met with resistance from the teachers, due largely to incomplete teacher training and a concern that these new methods will force them to rebuild curriculum to replace strategies that they already feel are effective. As such, actual implementation has been patchy, and each of the schools in the district are at varying levels of accurate, intentional adoption. Authentic and innovative projects are rare, as the goals of simple adoption are the current priority.
It could be said that New Tech High School, within the Napa Valley Unified School district, has fully adopted the NTN model by nature of its having been the first school and driving force of the development of NTN. Agency was adopted as a formal learning outcome at the beginning of the current school year, so the school is still figuring out how best to implement it. NTN recently is focused on promoting agency as a learning outcome, but much of their work has been focused on the development of cultures focused on Carol Dweck’s concept of the growth mindset. (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck 2007) The school itself openly values the agency skills of student voice and choice, generally with the purpose of attempting to include students in decisions about school and culture redesign (Cook-Sather 2006). Agency education generally manifests via more traditional scaffolds, such as self review worksheets and peer review opportunities. Since the school, like others attempting comprehensive school reform, is moving forward without having a firm plan of how to teach agency to students, it is falling into the trap of teaching skills without associating them to the appropriate context (Bozac, Vega, McCaslin, and Good 2004).
The 12th grade Government and Economics class at New Tech High largely deals with the same issues as the school at large, but deals exclusively with seniors. The teachers of this class, therefore, are acutely aware of the fact that they are the last chance at agency development before the students are released into the “real world.” In light of this fact, and the fact that California’s subject matter testing in Government and Economics are less strict than with the other subjects, agency strategies are prioritized. Authentic projects have historically been valued for their relationship to quality of learning (Stepien and Gallagher 1993, Larmer 2012) but have not been connected deliberately to the development of agency.
When it comes to SITE considerations of my target audience, I think much of the concern will come from the Technological side. The strategies and the data presented are not socioculturally or cognitively problematic, but teachers will undoubtedly have concerns about how to actually implement the strategies discussed. Frankly, implementation with fidelity requires a lot of time and access to community resources. Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy solution to this problem, though my next steps with this project is to develop an easily replicable way of aggregating and collecting community resources and clients.
As can be found throughout the site, the project that I designed as an answer to my hypothesis was validatingly successful. After the project was over, and students had been assessed and surveyed, the evidence showed that putting students in authentic situations that require innovation helped them to develop Agency skills better than scaffolded lessons. As a side bonus, they learned the content better also. As a result of the success of the project, the question then became about how to spread the value of this to other teachers. After all, students everywhere should have the opportunity to benefit form projects like this, but teachers should be able to create projects without having to undertake the insane amount of work that I did.
As a result, I've begun work on a web-based, user-friendly, profile-based platform that will allow teachers to build projects around community organizations and projects that already exist. At present time, this project is still in the early stages, but this page will be updated as the site draws nearer to launch.