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Archive for January, 2013

Internships, Co-op Programs, ELOs, and MOOCs

January 31, 2013 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes has an article on internships describing their expansion and the complications that occur when businesses require that colleges grant credit for internship experience. Here’s my comment, which is a reprise of earlier posts on MOOCs:

My theory is that MOOCs created in partnership with businesses will make college credentials irrelevant. If the business community wants narrowly trained graduates (as opposed to liberal arts majors) they will partner with a willing college and university to design a MOOC or series of MOOCs that will result in the award of a credential that certifies mastery of the desired skills. If my computer breaks, I’m calling an Apple certified repair person, not a person with a college degree in computer technology.

As one who attended a university that was unashamedly career oriented and has the co-operative work-study program as its centerpiece (Drexel), I am a strong advocate for pursuing work activity that is related to ones major. Had I not spend a year as a management trainee for Ford Motor Company and a half-year as a trainee for Mobil Oil I might well have spent unsatisfying years in the corporate world instead of working as a teacher and school administrator, which I found challenging and rewarding. New Hampshire offers students the opportunity to pursue External Learning Opportunities– or ELOs— that award credits for internships, work study opportunities, or virtually any activity that a student can relate to the high school curriculum. This kind of un-schooling or de-schooling opportunity is rare: to the best of my knowledge few states offer it… For years I expected home-schooling parents and anti-testing parents to seize on ELOs as a way to provide “legitimate” non-traditional schooling for their children… it hasn’t happened yet but may be the trend in the future. It took a while for the private sector to see the value of internships… it may take even longer for them to adopt ELO-like opportunities to provide educational opportunities for students BEFORE they enter college…

Is Bill Gates an “enemy of teachers”?

January 31, 2013 Leave a comment

Here’s the concluding paragraph from the section of Gates’ report that deals with public education, with one phrase IN ALL CAPS that I added:

“I think the most critical change we can make in U.S. K-12 education is to create teacher feedback systems like the one in Eagle County that are PROPERLY FUNDED, HIGH QUALITY, and TRUSTED BY TEACHERS. These measurement systems need to provide teachers with the tools to help support their professional development. The lessons from these efforts will help us improve teacher education programs. The countries that have better education systems than the United States provide more teacher feedback than we do today, but I think it is possible to do even better than any country has done so far.”

I mostly agree with Diane Ravitch’s column and strongly believe that there is too much emphasis on standardized testing and strongly believe that emphasis reinforces the factory model thereby blocking any chance of changing the current organizational structure of schools. But I am not buying into the meme that Bill Gates is “…an enemy to teachers” nor am I buying into the notion that ALL measurement is bad. Today’s blog post, “Bill Gates and the Cult of Measurement” provided an opportunity for me to offer a comment that explains where I have a difference of opinion on these issues:

Bill Gates portion of the annual letter concludes with this paragraph, with my emphasis added: I think the most critical change we can make in U.S. K-12 education is to create teacher feedback systems like the one in Eagle County that are properly funded, high quality, and trusted by teachers. These measurement systems need to provide teachers with the tools to help support their professional development. The lessons from these efforts will help us improve teacher education programs. The countries that have better education systems than the United States provide more teacher feedback than we do today, but I think it is possible to do even better than any country has done so far.

I find it hard to argue with this aspiration. I also find it hard to criticize the exemplary evaluation system Gates describes in the article. Teachers are observed 10 times a year and coached by peers. It appears that the teachers endorse the linkage between the observations, student test scores, and compensation. But Gates’ aspiration depends on three variables: “proper funding”, which requires money for more direct supervision; “high quality”, which requires the incubation time afforded the teachers in Eagle County, and “trust”, which requires solid, sustained leadership from the school board through the master teachers. Gates’ problem is that he contends ANY measurement system is better than NO measurement system and so he ends up supporting evaluation systems that are NOT properly funded, do NOT provide the time needed to meet the unique needs of every district, and, therefore, do NOT engender trust.

I don’t think Bill Gates is an enemy to teachers. What teacher WOULDN’T support a properly funded, high quality and trustworthy evaluation system. I DO think Bill Gates is naive if he thinks that this aspiration of his can be accomplished cheaply, quickly, and imposed from the outside.

I DO think Gates and his “reform” colleagues would love to see school boards disappear because achieving fast, widespread change requires top-down approaches that are ultimately anti-democratic. (i.e. when Ethan Allen furniture closed in Canaan VT they didn’t hold public hearings or ask for a vote among townspeople). And I DO think the “reformers” would like to see unions disappear as well, because unions prevent the businessmen from defining and paying “market value” for labor. If public education was privatized it would operate under the same rules as the private sector: lower cost health benefits, 401-ks instead of defined benefit retirements, at will employment, etc…. and consequently it would be “cheaper”. Finally I DO think the “reformers” want to have lower local and State taxes and, if they operate the schools, increase their profits.

In short, Bill Gates and the “reformers” all favor and have unquestioning faith in unregulated capitalism…. and public education, a public good, cannot operate under that system if we hope to achieve an equal opportunity for all students.

The Lesson of Multiple Choice: There is One Right Answer

January 31, 2013 Leave a comment

“New Reasons to Dislike Multiple Choice Tests” an Edutopia article posted earlier this week, offers some subtle insights into these tests.

One compelling reason to dislike multiple choice tests resonated with me: they imply that there is one right answer to every question… and that implication is misleading at best and damaging at worst. The concluding section of the post, “Beyond Either/Or” describes this phenomenon:

But the real issue here isn’t one of assessment design as much as it is looking at the overall tone of learning.

In the 21st century, networks are a kind of collective wisdom — or at least they can be. How you connect with others automatically informs how you’ll connect with their ideas. If digital interdependence doesn’t completely change both sociology and education over the next 25 years, we might need to go back and see what happened.

So let us look at multiple-choice questions in this light. More than anything else, when a multiple-choice question is given to a student in hopes of measuring how well he or she understands something, it manufacturers the illusion of right and wrong, a binary condition that ignores the endlessly fluid nature of information.

It alters the tone of learning, shifting it away from a constant process of reconciling old thinking with new data, and toward something of a pitch-and-fetch scenario. One question, four answers, and only one of them is right.

Just point to the right answer.

Increasingly, everyone will need to learn how to live in ambiguity and uncertainty: we’re never given four choices where only one is correct… we all need to learn how to muddle through…

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