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images (4)About a month ago, Kelsey Sheehy wrote in US News & World Report  that she expects three major changes for high school students in 2013:  “Blended Learning,” “Flipped Classrooms,” and “Standards.”  I think there may be some other, more stark realities for high school students in 2013, but I’ll comment briefly on her three predictions first.

Blended learning: Rather than flooding classrooms with more devices, educators will likely take a step back from “shiny device syndrome” and evaluate how to best use the technology acquired over the past year…

The idea here is that technology in the classroom just for technology’s sake is old news and that students can make more use of online information.  The acknowledgement here of the usefulness of such sites as TEDEd and Khan Academy is only the tip of the sea change that will be taking place for high school students.  The more access that high school students have to independent learning online, the less relevant the traditional classroom will become.  Teachers who can’t incorporate a new style of information and online learning will find themselves struggling to keep the attention of students.  Meanwhile, more and more students will discover that they can accomplish their basic education on their own and be college or career ready by using the multiplying resources available.

Flipped Classrooms: In the traditional classroom model, teachers lecture during class time and send students home with worksheets and assignments to gauge what they retained. The flipped classroom turns that model on its head.

The “traditional model” has been moving out of style for over half a decade now.  Most high school teachers have found that the in-classroom collaborative approach is much more effective than old-school style lecturing.  For schools that still have homework, it has often become about preparation for in-class work, rather than retention assessment.  This particular “prediction” seems a bit lazy to me.  Far more is changing in classrooms than styles of teaching with regard to homework.  The fact that teachers in many districts are now facing class sizes approaching 60 means that there are a lot more management and curricular issues at stake.

Standards: The Common Core State Standards don’t officially go into effect until fall 2014, but districts are already rolling them out and will continue to do so in 2013. The standards revamp English and math lessons to teach critical thinking and analytical skills in order to prepare students for life after high school.

Besides the fact that this is a short-sighted reading of Common Core, it simplifies the issue of standards.  Common Core is not meant to simply revamp English and Math lessons – it’s meant to infuse ALL curriculum with rigorous foundational skills in reading, writing, and math.  Many schools and districts are missing the point on this completely, putting more and more pressure on English and Math teachers – the very ones who are already feeling the strain of high stakes testing.  Common Core is for ALL subjects and would be highly effective if actually applied that way.  Unfortunately, along with this standard, many states are invoking unfunded mandates on their schools that rely heavily upon high stakes testing for funding, teacher evaluations and graduation.  None of this is unfamiliar to high school students who have for years now been the ping pongs tossed between education “reform” mandates.

All three of these “predictions” are more like “current observations.”  What is more likely to affect high school students in 2013 is their state’s budget. The Great Recession continues to affect public education sector in highly negative ways.  Over 300,000 teachers have lost their positions since 2008, and most states will be passing budgets that will cause further layoffs this year.  In addition, several states that have been “borrowing” from their school pension funds are seeing the bill come due and it’s a very painful bill, as Illinois is discovering.

In my own state, the budget proposed for education falls far short of what is needed.  The district from which I was laid off is looking at 75+ more layoffs this year without a larger budget.  The biggest district in the state is looking at 350 or so layoffs.  In all, the state could be looking at thousands of teachers out of work by next school year.  Even with a bit of an increase, high school classrooms will still be faced with massive class sizes and lack of teachers.  But the state does not have the revenue to readily fix the problem, so there are no easy answers.

High school students are also faced with the growing “College Problems,” which include: unaffordable higher education, college degrees that are no longer marketable in a failing economy, and the slavery/internship trap.  Most of their high schools no longer have the capability to train them for solid skilled careers outside of higher education, and the mediocritization of curriculum to simply get high stakes tests passed, means that more and more college-bound high school students have few of the critical thinking and decision making skills necessary for higher ed.  On the other hand, teens who are pursuing independent learning, seeking out accelerated online programs and studying for college-credit exams (like the AP) on their own, are finding more and more resources available to them that can make their brick and mortar classroom redundant.  Online schools are increasingly making diplomas more accessible for students who have dropped out from educational institutions, and allowing acceleration for others still enrolled, but held back by bureaucratic requirements.

To add to that mix, some of the most passionate and energetic teachers, along with the more newly trained teachers with technology skills and enthusiasm for dynamic changing methods of teaching no longer can find a classroom position in which to engage students.  The teachers themselves are beginning to move to alternate forms of teaching and pursuit of education careers that aren’t subject to the uncertain vagaries of a school district.

Significant changes are ahead for American high school students.  However, the best teachers and the best instruction for their success may no longer reside only in the traditional classroom.

cross-posted at Enlightened Instruction

To buy Cari’s book that details her sudden unemployment, “How to Finish the Test When Your Pencil Breaks” please click here

Image via Wikipedia


Cari Zall has been a Social Sciences educator for over 12 years, in both brick & mortar and online...

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  1. My experience with classroom flipping is that the students are no more prepared to go home and prepare the material for the next day than they are to do homework; it's a ridiculous proposition to expect them to 'do the work'. With a few exceptions, students return to class unprepared, and are comfortable saying "I don't know" when called upon to comment or interact.

  2. I agree that critical thinking skills are important, but without the basic math skills and understanding of the process and concepts needed to solve a problem, the student is not prepared for the rapid change in expectation. You still need a foundation to be able to master higher level thinking.

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