Hinsdale IL Screening

Hinsdale IL ScreeningAs RTN moves on in its campaign for change, the film continues to break down barriers. Once the film has been viewed, audiences are transformed, revved up and ready to confront the complex questions raised and buoyed by the sense that through strong coalitions, anything is possible.

We recently screened in Hinsdale, IL, a suburban community 20 miles west of Chicago, for an audience of over 1,000. Though our destination was Hinsdale Central High School, the presence of the Chicago school system couldn’t be ignored.  With more than 600 schools and over 435,000 students, Chicago Public Schools is the third largest district in the nation.  One bright spot in Illinois, is a mandate that all schools K-12 must teach social and emotional learning (SEL) to all students (called the IL Children’s Mental Health Act of 2003).    SEL helps to develop skills such as self-awareness, self-management, awareness of others, decision-making and problem-solving, all of which go a long way in supporting academics, positive behaviors, and health, as well as providing students with the skills needed in the 21st century workplace. The positive effects of social and emotional learning were also highlighted recently in a research article published in the journal of Child Development.

Joining me to lead the discussion was Dr. Janet Stutz, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction for the district.  Not surprisingly, in the Q and A after the screening, the subject quickly turned to homework.  Audiences are still surprised to discover that homework has increased over the last several decades in spite of the research that says there is no correlation between homework and academic achievement. What’s driving the increase in homework assignments? The wide range of content teachers are expected to cover in a limited time period and pressure, in some cases, from parents.

We highlighted the many ways that homework and other issues are being addressed nationally and the successes we have seen: elementary schools that have eliminated homework altogether, as administrators have reviewed the research and come to accept that during the elementary school years, the most valuable ways for children to spend their evening time is having dinner with their family and reading for pleasure; high schools, public and private, that have eliminated AP programs, freeing their educators from teaching to the test so they can develop courses that inspire students to dig deeper; high schools that have eliminated grades, instead using narrative transcripts; others that have instituted later start times or have gone to block schedule allowing students the time to dig deeper and process what they are learning during the day and reducing the number of classes they are preparing for each night. One way that Hinsdale Central has already addressed the pressures on students has been to eliminate class rank.

One school administrator brought up the issue of testing, saying we have to factor in what happens at the state and federal levels, the demand for rigorous curriculum and the ability to compete in the global society. “I need my students to be able to be measured according to the requirements of the state and federal government; since the enactment of No Child Left Behind, we live in an environment of accountability.  How do we do this and not have kids lose their love of learning?"

We highlighted the impact of the high-stakes testing regime instituted by NCLB on students, teachers, families and communities.  These tests do nothing to stimulate problem solving capabilities or critical thinking. The reality is that a teacher in a classroom is always assessing students. Rather than tie assessments to flawed, high-stakes tests, why not allow teachers to do formative assessments - taking notes about students, working collaboratively, to encourage students to take part in evaluating their performance and assessing their needs on an ongoing basis?

We need a shift away from placing so much value in inexpensive, multiple choice tests to a system that holds schools accountable for providing the best educational environment for all students.  We need to recognize individual talents and needs rather than today’s system that requires each student fit into a one-size-fits-all approach.

We’re producing a generation of test-takers who can study for a test and regurgitate the material, but we need to look at the loss in creativity, individuality and innovation.  Are we focusing on the skills our children are going to need in the future?

The ideal of collaboration and our cultural obsession with competition was brought into sharp focus by a cardiologist from south Asia who was surely the most dynamic questioner of the evening. The need to change our mindset around competitiveness was best illustrated by the doctor’s example of a patient in the ER with 10 physicians who, instead of consulting with each other, were standing around trying to determine who was best equipped to provide treatment. 

“As long as the culture remains a culture of winning rather than living and enjoying the moment, nothing will change,” the doctor said. “It’s important to not place the responsibility for change on just educators and makers of policy, but on everybody who has children—on all of us.”

There was a follow-up meeting this week where a group of 50 who attended the screening came together and participated in a follow-up dialogue using the World Café structure.  We were able to film this meeting and will be featuring footage on the website next week.  Stay tuned for that.