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PTA Coffee Break: District leaders discuss new initiatives

September 27, 2011|By Kate Rogers, Special to the Coastline Pilot

PTA's adult-education arm welcomed more than 70 parents and educators last week for its inaugural meeting at the Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course. There was a feeling of excitement and change in the air due to the new venue, and the speakers continued the theme.

Supt. Sherine Smith and Assistant Supt. Nancy Hubbell announced the very exciting news about the Laguna Beach Unified School District's Academic Performance Index (API), which hit 904 this past year in a system where anything over 800 is considered excellent. This represents a 7% increase over the past five years.

As we move into the 21st century with such a strong showing, LBUSD is also moving toward adopting "Common Core Standards." Education in our country has been described as "a mile wide and an inch deep," where standards are unclear and curricula not rigorous.

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In fact, 48 states, including California, will be adopting these Common Core Standards in which fewer areas are mastered in more depth, and where a higher-order of active thinking is engaged. Described as the "four C's," these skills are: critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication. The immediate goal is to be ready when in 2014-15 the new assessment system addressing these Core Standards is begun.

Whether students move on to college or into vocational schools or other jobs, there is a 90% overlap of skills required, according to recent studies conducted by ACT and the American Diploma Project. This simplifies the goals of primary education and reinforces just how important it is to develop these skills.

Coffee Break Chairwoman Cindy Newman-Jacobs then introduced Dr. Enoch Hale of the Foundation of Critical Thinking. Hale is a fellow at the Foundation for Critical Thinking, and has been a teacher and researcher for many years. Hale works with teachers, educators and parents to help them understand the value of critical thinking and how they can foster it. Hale defines critical thinking as the "art of analyzing and assessing thinking in order to improve it."

Hale enlivened the group with many examples of how teachers can deepen the level of thinking in their classrooms in a refreshingly old-fashioned way. No white boards, computers or special effects are needed. To learn anything, you must actively bring it into your thinking.

For example, instead of asking a class to "break into small groups and discuss the significance of Plato's Crito…," Hale suggests setting up a game plan or "lens" through which to work.

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