Thursday, December 8, 2016

THE SHORT VERSION: An open letter to Journalists asking them to write about Rhode Island's new program to allow students to earn a high school diploma by making presentations (instead of passing standardized tests)

This is an invitation to journalists to raise attention to Rhode Island's new regulation.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Revisions in the high school graduation requirements were approved unanimously Tuesday night by the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education. Under the new rules, which will apply to eighth graders who will graduate in 2021, the state will no longer require adequate performance on standardized tests for graduation, although students are still required to take the tests. Students also will have to demonstrate proficiency through a senior project, exhibition or portfolio, for which the state will set the scoring standards.Download it at


I'm writing to you to ask you to take on a writing assignment.   I'm pretty sure a magazine might be interested in the new regulations in Rhode Island that allow a student to "get a diploma through portfolio and exhibitions."  


What is the goal of a teacher?
Here's the list that I found in a book by Dennis Littky

See page 1 of his book
When I watch kids walk into the building on their first day of school, I think about what I want them to be like when they walk out on their last day. I also think about what I want them to be like on the day I bump into them in the supermarket 10 or 20 years later. Over the course of three decades watching kids walk into my schools, I have decided that I want them to
❊ be lifelong learners❊ be passionate❊ be ready to take risks❊ be able to problem-solve and think critically❊ be able to look at things differently❊ be able to work independently and with others❊ be creative❊ care and want to give back to their community❊ persevere❊ have integrity and self-respect❊ have moral courage❊ be able to use the world around them well❊ speak well, write well, read well, and work well with numbers ❊ truly enjoy their life and their work.
To me, these are the real goals of education.  is the full book is the NPR interview in 2005

One of my goals is to learn something from my students.  That is my test that:
a.  I am open to listening.
b.  The student is clearly communicating
c.  The student has  found something interesting to him and somehow figured out that the topic might be useful to another person.  The student is serving another person.

"Learning should be fun for the learner."  Apraham S. Fischler,      (I edited Dr. Fischler's blog into a book of commentaries.  Here's the link to the free ebook


I'm walking through this somewhat long process to ask you a question:

Do you want to write about the new pathway to a high school diploma?

An article in the NEW YORKER would be a remarkable step forward for this idea.

Dennis Littky in 1995 was approached by the Rhode Island commissioner of Education Peter McWalter

Contacts:   Peter McWalter
401 954 5340

Dennis Littky can be found through

Enrique Gonzalez, a former principal at a school that used projects and exhibitions.
909 456 9152

The Big Picture Learning method has "ten distinguishers" (ten procedures that make it different from school).

RESULT:  October 11, 2016, the Board approved regulations that give students the option to get a diploma with portfolios and exhibitions.


I'm a teacher in Fort Lauderdale.   I would love to see this option of a multiple pathway toward a diploma.

I started a blog to get this regulation adopted in Florida

I don't have the skill to tell this story in a compelling way, the way you  and Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Pink tell stories to reveal the "obvious next step" that we should adopt as a society.

Dan Pink wrote about alternatives to current schools.   His piece in REASON magazine in 2001 grabbed me (and turned into Chapter 15 of his book Free Agent Nation"
"HEY TEACHERS:  Your students need that option to become FREE AGENTS!"
Dan Pink has served on the board of advisors for Big Picture Learning in Providence, RI.

What do I get out of your involvement with this?  I need to build broad awareness of the Rhode Island regulations.

Suggested title: "Stand and Deliver:  Getting a diploma by talking and showing us what you can do with what you have learned."

It's a long title and it might confuse some people who are aware of Stand and Deliver, the story of Jaime Escalante, the math teacher who showed poor kids how to ace the AP Calculus exam (the dramatic moment came when his students were disqualified because the ETS system thought there had been cheating.  how could poor kids in a failing school in Los Angeles possibly pass a college credit test?   The students had to retake the test and they got the credit.)  


HOW TO USE "projects" to getting a high school diploma though portfolios and exhibitions....

page 53-54  Big Picture
The atmosphere of a school is so important, and all of the issues I’ve discussed here are equally important to the creation and maintenance of a positive atmosphere. When all of these things are present, a school becomes like a great newspaper officebustling with excitement, every- one busy and engaged, working together and working on their own proj- ects with purpose and passion.
The typical school principal pats his or her belly with satisfaction and smiles proudly when he or she walks through silent halls. To me, a silent school is not a school at all. Dewey has great stuff to say on this. First: “The nonsocial character of the traditional school is seen in the fact that it erected silence into one of its prime virtues.”But even better, he says, “Enforced quiet and acquiescence prevent pupils from disclosing their real natures.”7
“Enforced quiet” not only keeps kids from being themselves and keeps teachers from finding out who the kids are, it also kills learning.Communication is the lifeblood of education. My favorite description of The Met is that it is an “ongoing conversation.” Numerous visitors to the school have called it this, but my friend Deborah Meier, the noted principal and educator, really got to the heart of it when she wrote this after a Met visit:
The young people that I met had no trouble talking to me about all kinds of subjects having to do with themselves as learners—and not to mention the world around them, but also about themselves and about the school itself. And the conversations were like having a conversation with a colleague. And I saw that going on throughout the school, this kind of informal but respect- ful conversation. The school was an enormous conversation between people who appeared to be there voluntarily, who seemed to feel that this was a community in which people gathered together every day because the environment was intellectually and emotionally stimulating.8
I had the opportunity a few years ago to meet with Alan Alda and talk to him about education and The Met. When I described our school to him, he said it reminded him of Second City, the improvisational theater group in Chicago, where he and so many other famous comedians got started. He said that everyone at Second City was already a very good comedian when they joined the troupe. But the environment of Second City was one of growth, and it allowed each of them to become even crazier, wilder, bolder—and better. To me, this is a great analogy to what a great school atmosphere can do for kids and teachers. If you put good people in an environment that allows them to continue learning and that reinforces their risk taking, their passion, and their commitment, then you can make good people great. You can make ordinary people extraordinary just by giving them the right environment in which to do their thing (whether it is comedy or teaching or learning) and letting them grow. 


Procedures at The Met School (a typical Big Picture Learning school)

The Ten Expectations

Why can’t all schools meet students at the center of their own learning? There are many answers to this question, but one that comes to mind is that schools simply self-impose pressures on themselves that keep them from finding the flexibility within whatever structure (either literal or figurative) that confines them.
For instance, one very specific self-imposed barrier is an insistence that schools themselves set the expectations for learning, which students must adhere to. Desks must be positioned a certain way. Classrooms must last a certain time period. The level of volume in the room must always hover around a certain (quiet) decibel. And, above all, teaching must occur at school.
But while we often hear of the expectations that schools have of students, we rarely get a chance to hear about the expectations that students have of schools. These get less attention, but are essential to keeping students engaged and in school.
At Big Picture Learning, we have been working steadfastly for over 20 years designing and assisting schools who are interested in finding ways to put students at the center of their own learning. And you can’t do that without first asking hard questions like: 
  • Do I know about my students’ individual interests and talents?
  • Do I help my students understand how learning contributes to our community and the world?
  • Can my students learn things in an order that fits their own learning style(s)?
  • Do my students have opportunities to tinker and make guesses?
  • Do my students have real choices about what, when and how to learn and demonstrate their abilities?
So we’ve developed a set of tools for educators which lay the path toward a more student-centered approach to learning, a path that—remarkably—is open to both resource-rich and underserved communities. Through the 10 Expectations portal, we’ve made available (for free!) videos, rubrics and interactive surveys that can help students, parents and educators determine whether their school is truly an engaging learning environment, one which asks the essential question: “Have we considered students’ own expectations of us?”


The 10 Distinguishers

However, there are many elements within our learning design that are uncommon and distinct, which pull our network together and distinguish them from most other schools.
ONE STUDENT AT A TIME - The entire learning experience is personalized to each student’s interests, talents and needs. Personalization expands beyond mere academic work and involves looking at each student holistically.
ADVISORY STRUCTURE - Advisory is the core organizational and relational structure of a Big Picture Learning school, its heart and soul, often described as a “second family” by students. Students stay with an advisor and a group of fellow classmates for four years, building close personal relationships that last a lifetime.
LEARNING THROUGH INTERESTS AND INTERNSHIPS (LTIs) - Real world learning is best accomplished in the real world. Big Picture students intern--often twice a week for an entire school day--with experts in their field of interest, completing authentic projects and gaining experience and exposure to how their interests intersect with the real world.
AUTHENTIC ASSESSMENT - Students are assessed not by tests, but by public displays of learning that track growth and progress in the student’s area of interest. Assessment criteria are individualized to the student and the real world standards of a project. Students present multiple exhibitions each year and discuss their learning growth with staff, parents, peers, and mentors.
SCHOOL ORGANIZATION - Schools are organized around a culture of collaboration and communication.They are not bound by the structures of buildings, schedules, bells, or calendars. There is an interdependence between school and community.

PORTFOLIOS and EXHIBITIONS:  You can read it right there in the distinguisher.  Big Picture Schools were one of the laboratories that the Rhode Island Board of Education watched and learned from.  

I hope you will develop an interest in the new regulations and help to bring the idea into wider awareness that "there is a school system that uses projects to award a high school diploma."   


Steve McCrea
Fort Lauderdale

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