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Rising Above A Flat World And The New Rigor For Our Students

When Thomas Friedman declares that the world is flat, he is not contradicting notions prior to Columbus. Rather, he is describing how technology has led to a global society that has allowed people and nations around the world to have access to communication and knowledge that they have not had before. As such, these opportunities have leveled the playing field on a global basis. Simply put, competition from other countries has increased over the last decade. For our students in Prince Edward County, this means that they will not only have to compete with other students in our state and country, but around the world.

In the World Is Flat, Friedman suggests that in order for current American students to compete with other students on a global basis, they will have to learn skills that students may not have previously learned. In the past, rigor meant learning various dates and events in history, reciting lines of Shakespeare and completing extensive problems in math. The new flat world that Friedman describes will require students to work with others and solve problems. This will require our students to think critically, and in many cases to create. Students will have to not only have an understanding of content, but also make judgments and evaluate this content. It is not enough for students to recite content, they must explain their answers. In short, the definition of what is difficult has changed. Moreover, the definition of rigor has changed.

The Virginia Department of Education supports this notion. Over the last few years, the college and career readiness initiative has promoted a new level of rigor throughout the state. During the last few years significant changes have occurred in regards to the standards of learning (SOL) assessments. During the 2010-11 school year, our students along with students across the state took end of course SOL tests that reflected a higher level of rigor in history. These tests required students to think on a more critical level. This year, students took similar tests in the area of math. During the coming school year, students will take assessments that reflect this rigor in the areas of English and science. All of these tests are meant to assess teaching and learning that is on a higher level. Moreover, these tests are to insure that all students, not just students who are taking advanced courses can compete on a global basis.

Prince Edward County High School will continue to address not only the changes in SOL testing, but more importantly, supporting students in regards to competing in a global society. To address changes in English and science SOL tests, our teachers will continue to receive professional development that involves rigor and instruction that challenges our students to think critically. Also, new school wide initiatives will be introduced to support our students in regards to rigor. Writing will be emphasized in all content areas. Additionally, our teachers will discuss what the rigor looks like in their content areas and how this will be implemented throughout the year.

Parents and community members can join in partnership with Prince Edward County High School in helping our students to compete on a global basis. While rigor should be an emphasis in all classrooms, there is still value in encouraging our students to take higher level courses such as Honors, Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment classes. In the past, taking these courses meant that students had a chance to obtain college credit in high school. Today, that is coupled with a greater chance to compete in a new global society.

Most importantly, we can encourage the learners in our community to read. Without question, reading is the most critical element in learning. To add, it is an essential component to academic success in secondary and post secondary learning. But as a community, we can encourage our learners to read outside of the classroom. More importantly, we can encourage our students to make judgments, evaluate, and even question the validity of what they read. Today, it is not enough have read Romeo And Juliet; rather, our students must interpret and make judgments about the themes that Shakespeare was attempting to communicate.

Additionally, we can push our students to immerse themselves in activities that will encourage them to think critically. There is extensive research and literature that indicates that writing is another key component in helping students to think critically. This year our juniors will be required to write more persuasively when they take the writing SOL. As such, any opportunity our students have to write persuasively in writing contests or in editorial pages will further prepare our students for these new assessments.

Finally, in an age in which technology and the internet has made information almost infinite, it is extremely important that we promote the idea of our learners judging media. Our students are extremely familiar and comfortable with receiving information on the internet. However, the new flat world will require our students to evaluate information on the internet and judge the validity of this information.

Because this year is an election year, there is a perfect opportunity to push our students to think critically. As a community, we should support the notion of not only our students becoming politically aware, but also to evaluate each political party, candidate, and their respective ideas and platforms. Ultimately, we want our students to critique and evaluate the platforms that will be promoted in 2012.

Most people become educators because they believe they will have an opportunity to make a difference. Today, that opportunity is still available. While our students will face numerous challenges in the new flat world that Friedman describes, we as a community can strengthen and prepare them for the global competition that awaits them. We must continue to encourage our students to excel in school, keeping in mind that the definition of rigor has changed. As a community we must push our students to think critically, create, and write more. Reading continues to be an emphasis, but our students will have to question, critique and evaluate what they read. For our students, that is the new challenge and as a community supporting our students will be the new challenge.

(Mr. Reed is principal of Prince Edward County High School and writes this On The Wings Of Eagles column for The Farmville Herald)