Most educators agree that higher level thinking and actually learning only takes place once there is ownership and buy-in on the part of the learner. And that will only truly take place when CHOICE is available to the learner. Traditionally, choice has been in the form of an elective course in high school, choosing our major in college, etc.
But we need to take choice way beyond that. Choice needs to be part of the the daily learning and educational activities. This can come in the form of choosing a specific school or program (like a charter school or specialty school), choosing an area of interest or focus and so on. But again, how do we create choice in our daily educational pursuits?
This is not a new idea. Universities, researchers and most importantly, successful teacher, have been examining and implement choice in classrooms and learning for a long time. Again, these are not new ideas. Leaders like Alfie Kohn wrote about it 20 years ago: http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/cfc.htm and psychologists agree that motivation is innately linked to choice: http://www.apa.org/education/k12/learners.aspx as well.
Again, to increase ownership and buy-in, and ultimately higher level thinking and learning, students need to have choices. These can be choices on specific areas of study and focus in any course or required subject. These can be project menus where students choose from a list of methodologies in terms of meeting a standard. This could be whom we work with and when. Collaboration is key and students have to have input on how that looks and feels. How about choices on how to communicate with teachers, advisers and mentors? Can the student text, direct message, call, etc. these important facilitators?
What we have seen develop in the last 15 years or more is a lack of choice. In secondary education, electives were reduced or even eliminated. Options on how to meet a criteria or standard were streamlined or standardized. Choice dissipated and so did student engagement and success.
CCSS could move in a better direction. But much of our system (A-G, core requirements, curriculum programs, etc.) are set-up to resist choice. Indeed, it's not always natural for educators either. When choice is presented, ownership is transferred from teacher to student. Most of us know that this is important and successful, but not always easy and certainly not automatic by any means.
The world and the future of work are changing dramatically. Education will have to continue to evolve and change. Offering students CHOICE is just the beginning, but true thinking and learning start there.