National Trends in Education

I needed a new outfit to attend the Centenary gala last week in Ottawa and didn’t know what to buy to wear.  Looking for something trendy, I texted my colleague, Sarah Milligan, who advised, “Buy a white jacket to go with your black dress.”  Perfect.

But as I am literally following the saleswoman to go pay for the jacket, two things happen simultaneously – Sarah sends another text to say, “Buy a statement necklace to go with it” – just as the saleswoman asks, “Do you want a statement necklace to go with that?”

Ugh…Too proud to admit that I don’t have a clue what she’s talking about, I say, “Sure!”

The most embarrassing part of this story is that when I proudly reported to Sarah that I bought the necklace and jacket, I called it a “signature necklace”.  She was quick to note that it is called a “statement necklace” and I had no hope of ever being trendy.

Although I cannot keep up with fashion trends, I am obsessed with trends in education, and I am speaking at all of our CAIS partner conferences to share my observations of trends in independent schools around the world.

As we know, some trends resurface.  Yesterday, there was an article in the Globe and Mail entitled, Exams will stop grade inflation, which may reignite an age-old debate about the validity of external standardized tests. I have written about the questionable value of standardized exams, assessment, and grade inflation in the past, so you know I believe that grade inflation is a challenge but one that won’t be solved by standardized exams.

So what is to be done?  Our CAIS schools have to address over 90 Indicators of Effective Practice as part of our whole-school improvement process, including the following:

3.11 – The school’s assessment policies and procedures reflect attention to authentic performance tasks, multiple sources of evidence, educational goals, and individual student learning.

11.4 – The school engages in ongoing development, review and evaluation of its program, including tracking the level of success of its graduates.

Our accreditation process is not trendy. CAIS schools scrutinize their procedures and their results over time and work hard to ensure that student learning is the debate, not just marks.  Maybe, if the university application process would consider more than marks in their admissions process, we might be able to move on to more important educational debates?

I, for one, would love to see the conversation shift towards an examination about what is worthy of teaching and learning in our changing world or the challenges facing students.  In the past week alone, we have seen The Atlantic release an article about The Confidence Gap , the NYT issue an article about Raising a Moral Child, and CBC’s story called Class of 2014: Generation Screwed, about the soaring costs of university tuition.

At CAIS, we are focused on these kinds of trends and more.  At the moment, we are thinking deeply about issues of mental health, online learning, enrolment management, and the unique value proposition for each of our schools.  How do we decide which trend is worthy of more research?  We are driven by our CAIS values – student-centred, leadership, excellence, collaboration, relevance,  national and global perspective – and we continuously debate what is best for students.

In short, we watch the trends, but we act on values.

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