Documentary used to open local educational ‘conversation’

By David Broyles -

The Carroll County Public School District used a October 7 early release day to enlist ask its teachers to think about changing “business as usual” in classrooms with a showing of the film “Most Likely To Succeed” in the Carroll County High Auditorium.

“The reason we’re here today is to start a conversation,” said School Superintendent Dr. Strader Blankenship. “This movie isn’t a how to or a something that will be. It is a conversation on where we’ll go in education in the future.” The 89-minute documentary was directed by acclaimed documentarian Greg Whiteley, the film has been named “among the best edu-documentaries ever produced” by Education Week and was shown at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

The feature-length documentary Most Likely to Succeed examines the history of education, and suggesting the growing shortcomings of our school model in todayʼs innovative world. A basic premise in the film is a link between form and function, evidenced by America’s change from one-room school houses and an agrarian economy to industrialism and public schools, with a standardized knowledge base and students arranged in assembly line like rows.

According to the film, for most of the last century, entry-level jobs were plentiful, and college was an affordable path to a fulfilling career. A world many graduates have found no longer exists. Statistics mentioned to support this include:

•53 percent of recent college graduates are under—or unemployed.

• Student engagement in school plummets as they get to higher grades—from 80 percent in elementary school to just 40 percent by the beginning of high school.

• Eleven percent of employers believe colleges are effective in preparing graduates for the workplace while 96 percent of academic provosts feel colleges are effective.

• A Lego Foundation study reports students lose more than 90 percent of their creative capacity during their school years.

• Gallup found college grads who had opportunities to apply classroom learning to internships, jobs, or ambitious projects are twice as likely to be engaged in work later in life.

• 65 percent of today’s grade school children will end up in jobs that haven’t been invented yet.

• The current length of a job for a millennial is an average of 2.6 years, and millennials will have 15-20 jobs over the course of their working lives.

• By 2020, 40 to 50 percent of all income-producing work will be short-term contracts, freelance work and so-called “SuperTemps.”

• 45 percent of recent college graduates return home to live with their parents.

The film also notes developments in robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are predicted to replace many jobs currently held by people. It offered the computer “Deep Blue” victory over chess master Gary Kasparov and Jeopardy Champion Ken Jennings’s defeat to the computer “Watson” as evidence.

California’s “High Tech High” was among other schools used to demonstrate student engagement, how students learn, and how teachers collaborate and innovate. It suggests any school or teacher can make sure work assigned to students authentic and challenging, that their learning reflects their passions and interests with a priority on developing essential skills, not memorizing facts and low-level procedures.

The work stressed teachers need to learn and grow professionally by collaborating (teaching in teams of new and veteran educators) and receiving feedback and support in real time. It is felt veteran teachers typically offer guidance and support while new teachers bring fresh approaches and ideas. The concept is encouraging teachers to be innovative reinforces students to be innovative, creative problem solvers.

The film also stressed innovation in (teaching) practice needs to be in the context of why changes matter, and foster deeper learning. It also favored encouraging teachers to take chances and experiment.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t go into education for test scores,” Blankenship said. “There are other ways to do what we do and have them (students) do well on test scores. If we teach the same as we did yesterday we’ll rob them of tomorrow.”

He told staffers he is a realist and that test scores would not be eliminated. He said since there is no one “right” school model it’s essential to engage and inspire students and teachers to produce outcomes which matter most for students. Blankenship said the film would also be shown to students and to “Parent Connect” participants to draw them into the conversation.

“Can we go further? Absolutely,” said Blankenship. “The important thing to me is we answer where are our kids going. Let’s figure out what we can do. We have a huge head start here in Carroll County. Admittedly, the hardest ones to convince will be the parents who we taught well (and will question why change). There needs to be a change in the way we do business and the way we think about business.”

David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.

By David Broyles