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What do Hong Kong’s top schools and NH’s Pace Setter Districts have in common?

Hong Kong consistently performs well on international comparisons of student performance. Ed Week went to several schools to figure out why, and it turns out the answer is simple–they put the students at the center of their learning, and their accountability systems reflect the whole-student philosophy.

Like the New Hampshire districts that participate in the Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) program, these students have to own their learning and are given the opportunity to pursue their passions:

They loved their school as much as the faculty was devoted to them.  Like the faculty, they saw the classwork as only part of a much larger mosaic.  They made no distinction between the core academic curriculum and what we would call the extracurricular activities or the sports program or the extensive activities related to community service and extended visits to other countries and cultures when they described their school.  They understood that what one learned as a prefect was just as important as what was learned in physics class.  For students and faculty, building character was just as important, if not more so, than cognitive development.

How would you measure the things that define what makes this composite vision of a school successful? The faculty of these schools would tell you that their school is about the balance, the totality of the vision and of its execution in their school, how it all fits together into one harmonious whole.  That is their school.

And that’s what NH’s Pace Setter Districts are doing. They are taking a whole-student approach, moving assessment away from the “bubble test,” to a process that allows students to demonstrate not only their content knowledge, but how they apply it, how they’d use it in the real world. They are shifting the focus from rote memorization of facts to an emphasis on critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving. By no coincidence, those are exactly the skills that our children will need in the 21st century beyond graduation.

It might not be easy, but it’s worth it. From Hong Kong to small towns and communities in New Hampshire, there’s something that these schools need to be successful:

This school, which had formerly led students to lives and careers on the margins, had been successful at creating a whole range of attractive opportunities for them.  Devoted teachers had set high targets for the students and helped them believe in themselves and their capacity to reach those targets.  Part of the secret had been to mobilize people and institutions outside the school that were willing to provide tangible and intangible supports that must have made the students feel that it was not just the faculty who thought they had a future.

The whole community has to be engaged, from parents to businesses to neighbors. Reaching Higher NH is working to help develop these networks in communities so our schools can do what they need to help students flourish. They can’t do it without the crucial support networks.

If you’re interested in getting involved, send us an email. Or, attend a screening of Most Likely to Succeed in your community, where we’ll be facilitating community discussions about the future of education after the film. Don’t see your community on the list? Email Sarah, our Director of Community Outreach, to schedule one at sarah@reachinghighernh.org. For a listing of upcoming screenings in NH, click here.

Read Ed Week’s full article here.

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