Friday, May 11, 2012

New Resource: Selected international good practices in youth participation at the local level

I just posted a new resource on the Leading Now website. It's a list of sixteen local youth participation projects in Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France. The document was published by the International Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Germany. It's a good sampling of the variety of ways localities can engage youth. The document also provides some brief context on some of these initiatives that might be helpful to others seeking to support youth participation.

Of course, it helps that in each of these countries there has been state-level support for youth participation. In the case of Finland and the Netherlands, in fact, youth participation is required by law. And since all five nations have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, they are bound to support child and youth participation. Alas, the United States is one of only two nations in the world (the other is Somalia) that have not ratified the UNCRC.

Here's a link to the document, called Selected international good practices in youth participation at the local level. You might also want to check out some of the many other resources on the Leading Now website, including case studies, research and tool kits.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On apprenticeships

Before there were schools, there were apprenticeships. Young people learned a trade from a journeyman, and once these young people attained a certain level of mastery they were able to make a living in that trade. Apprenticeships still exist, of course, but the majority of young people in the U.S. receive a formal education by attending traditional schools.

Apprenticeships, as the primary means of educating young people, were fairly inefficient when compared with the model of schooling we use today. Working professionals had to invest quite a lot of time teaching and supervising a small number of apprentices (although they did benefit from the free labor provided by the apprentices). With the more efficient public school model, a relatively small number of teachers, support staff and administrators can educate nearly every child in the country, while the rest of us are able to focus on our jobs. In addition, the K-12 system is designed in such a way that by the time students complete high school they have a much broader base of knowledge than apprentices who only learned one trade, theoretically enabling high school graduates to choose any career path.

Despite their inefficiency, however, apprenticeships did provide one thing that schools are often less successful in fostering: deep relationships between young people and adults. Apprentices and masters spent so much time together that they got to know each other very well. It’s not hard to imagine that even after apprentices left their masters, the relationships probably continued. Because of the number of students they see every year, teachers are unlikely to forge lasting relationships with more than a few children.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Performance-based learning and youth civic engagement

In recent years there has been a movement in K-12 education in the U.S. toward what is known, variously, as “performance-based learning,” “competency-based learning” and “proficiency-based learning.” What these three terms all describe is an educational approach that values outcomes rather than inputs.

If you work in K-12 education you have undoubtedly heard the term “factory model.” This refers to the fact that American schools use essentially the same approach to instruction and learning that they did during the Industrial Revolution. Students are assigned to grades based on their ages rather than what they know. They spend most of their time in classrooms with some thirty same-aged peers while one teacher transmits his or her knowledge to them. Students advance through the system by accumulating credits, or Carnegie units, which they earn for completing required courses. All students without some sort of disability are expected to learn at the same pace.

Public K-12 education is primarily the responsibility of states and local school districts. Most states maintain policies mandating that students complete a certain number of hours to receive credit for courses. These rules are known as “seat-time” policies.

Seat-time and Carnegie units are inputs. They prescribe what students must do, not what they learn. Of course, most states have academic standards that prescribe what students should learn at each grade level, along with the relevant learning objectives. But most state standards also prescribe a sequence of learning based on age. Seat-time rules and Carnegie units reinforce a rigid approach to learning that does not allow for differences in student abilities and interests. This results in many students who do not “fit” the system either being passed along while falling further and further behind, or simply dropping out.

An educational approach tailored to individual students’ needs, one that does not force students to proceed in the same way and at the same pace, would also help reduce inequality and facilitate the development of more engaged citizens. Many students learn better through hands-on activities either in school or in the community. Some might prefer to spend their time in a traditional classroom. Others might do better with online instruction. Most would probably benefit from all three.