I trust the Mathbabe’s analytics… and the short answer to her question is: “mostly yes”!
Originally posted on mathbabe:
Yesterday I looked into quantitatively measuring the rumor I’ve been hearing for years, namely that charter schools cherrypick students – get rid of troublesome ones, keep well-behaved ones, and so on.
Here are two pieces of anecdotal evidence. There was a “Got To Go” list of students at one charter school in the Success Academy network. These were troublesome kids that the school was pushing out.
Also, I recently learned that Success Academy doesn’t accept new kids after the fourth grade. Their reasoning is that older kids wouldn’t be able to catch up with the rest of the kids, but on the other hand it also means that kids kicked out of one school will never land there. This is another form of selection.
Now that I’ve said my two examples I realize they both come from Success Academy. There really aren’t that many of them, as you can…
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Today Diane Ravitch cross posted an excerpt from a blog written by ME 4th grade teacher Emily Talmage, who decries the reforms being introduced into her state, reforms funded by Bill Gates and the Nellie Mae Foundation. In her post, which is a letter to Mark Zuckerberg imploring him to dissociate himself from Bill Gates, and in the comments that follow, there are several negative comments about “reform”, “personalized learning” and “mastery learning”—all terms that have been expropriated by those billionaires who see education as the next place to make even more money.
The term “reform” and all its variants, which I at one time associated with Ted Sizer and other progressive educators, is now used by profiteers and the neo-liberal politicians who take their money and promote their ideas.
“Personalized learning”, a term embraced by the technology-based crowd who want to disrupt education, has also lost its original intention which was brought to life in Vermont as part of the Education Quality Standards (EQS). In Vermont, the idea was that all seventh grade students would develop a personalized learning plan (PLP) that would be the basis for their course selection in high school as well as learning activities that would take place outside of school. The notion was that this plan would help bring purpose to the coursework in school and tie the students out-of-school learning and activities to those happening in school. While you might use a computer to write this plan down and modify it annually (or as needed), it had nothing to do with the kind of computer-driven instruction described in the Talmage’s post or the comments that followed.
I also find it maddening that “mastery learning” is being conflated with behaviorism, because boiling that concept down to answering a series of multiple choice questions will corrode that phrase as well. In my way of thinking, mastery learning requires benchmark assessments that are administered when the student is ready to demonstrate that they have mastered a skill. As noted in previous blog posts, the driver’s test is the paradigmatic mastery test: If you fail it the first time– or the first five times— once you demonstrate mastery you get the same “certificate” as an individual who passed it the first time. In mastery learning, time is the variable and content is constant.
In looking back on my 40+ year career in public education I can see the source of these ideas in my first assignment. As a rookie 8th grade math teacher in an overcrowded junior high school in Philadelphia in 1970 I was handed a schedule that assigned me to four sections of roughly 35 homogeneously grouped students who I taught in over 20 different “classrooms” that included a small gymnasium, a section of the cafeteria, and a science lab with 24 lab stools. The book I was issued matched the city’s 8th grade pre-algebra curriculum. Most of my students could not perform basic operations… and given that I had 8-24, 8-30, 8-34, and 8-36… all sections in the lowest 1/3 of the age cohort… this was not surprising. The mismatch between my student’s skills and the expectations of the text book was gaping. My solution– which it took me several months to stumble upon– was to borrow a 3rd grade book of mimeo masters from my father’s best friend, who sold textbooks in the suburbs, and integrate them into a mimeograph “textbook” I wrote and issued to one of my classes. The discipline problems in that class diminished markedly from that point forward… and I began using modifications of this in the other three sections to the same effect.
The name for that kind of approach in 1970 (according to the observation report that was written by an observer of that class) was “individualized instruction”. Today, with the data collection and analysis capabilities, “individualized instruction” has been renamed “personalized learning”. The application of this aspect of “personalized learning” is limited to curricula that are hierarchical in nature, requires adept and timely intervention by a teacher, and is not intended to replace school. It could be a means of getting students out of the lockstep age-based groupings that lead to 8th grade teachers being required to offer pre-algebra to students who have not learned the basic skills.
Mastery Learning, a concept that was taking root as I was in graduate school in the early 1970s, has always seemed unattainable because of the massive amounts of paperwork required to track each student’s progress. By definition it requires a hierarchy of skill levels and focusses on the assessment of those skills… but hierarchical skills exist in virtually every area of learning and performance and assessing learning and performance is a skill that cannot be delegated to a computer… unless, that is, the goal of the school is to measure only easy-to-measure content.
When “reformers” who advocate “personalized learning” claim that computerized assessments measure “mastery” three terms lose their meaning… and the factory school model is reinforced because the effectiveness of all of this “reform” is determined by whether students progress at a uniform rate based on their age… they are widgets moving along an assembly line, not sentient beings who need connection with others.
The Seattle Pilot reports that a coalition of astro-turf organizations in Washington State is seeking passage of legislation that would allow nine charter schools governed by private boards to re-open. The legislation is needed because:
The state Supreme Court, in a decision just before Labor Day, ruled that charter schools don’t qualify as “common schools” and can’t receive public funding. The key issue, the court said, is that charter schools are controlled by their own boards and not by elected school boards.
As noted in earlier blog posts, this decision is based on the fact that the constitution in Washington allows only those schools operated by elected school boards to receive taxpayer-funding. This makes sense in a democracy where local voters elect school board members with the understanding that those elected to the board will do their best to provide children with a cost-effective education and agree to raise the money needed to make that happen. But the billionaires who see those tax funds as a potential revenue source are opposed to business as usual and are looking for the legislature to fix the problem. And to help the legislature open her minds to this legislation, the billionaires are funding organizations with high-minded name to organize rallies in Washington’s state capitol, Olympia:
The state narrowly passed a charter school initiative in 2012 after a campaign fueled by technology billionaires. Act Now for Washington Students has backing from such groups as the League of Education Voters, the Washington Roundtable, Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children.
I’ve read about these alleged grassroots organizations in progressive education blogs and know that if you follow the money— and there’s a LOT of it— it comes from the same group of technology billionaires who want to deregulate an disrupt public education. I’m in complete support of the need to make rapid and substantial changes to schooling through the thoughtful application of technology, but not at the cost of undermining democracy… and if that means it will take more time to bring about the changes in instruction, so be it.
I do have to begrudgingly admire the chutzpah of the billionaires and their artful manipulation of parents whose children attend their schools. Roquesia Williams, a Tacoma parent with children in several of the charter schools, is quoted in the report as follows:
We are asking our leaders to put politics aside and give public charter schools — and our kids — a chance to thrive. Please don’t slam the door on our dreams.
But politics are NOT being put aside, because incumbent Governor Jay Inslee and his likely opponent, Bill Bryant have polar opposite positions on the issue:
Incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee has lined up with the Washington Education Association, League of Women Voters and El Centro de la Raza — groups which challenged the charter school initiative in court.
“I opposed the initiative that created charter schools because I did not believe that public money belongs in schools that lack public oversight and accountability. That remains my position,” Inslee said in a statement shortly after the Supreme Court ruling…
But the Republicans’ challenger, Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant, has become an outspoken defender and advocate for the state’s charter schools.
“Had I been governor, within days of the (Supreme Court) ruling, I would have submitted legislation clarifying the funding source and keeping these kids in school,” Bryant said Tuesday. “I’ve toured five of the nine publicly chartered schools and will tour all nine before the legislature reconvenes.
I’m certain this issue is far from over in Washington… and equally certain that if it comes down to buying advertising the billionaires will win.
I have been fascinated by Artificial Intelligence (AI) for years. Like nuclear energy, which can be used for good or evil, AI is both promising and scary: a genie we MIGHT want to put back in a bottle.
Today’s NYTimes “Bits” section, which offers insights into the latest developments in technology, describes how a Canadian company is using AI developed in the US to “personalize” shoe purchases by providing customers with an ever narrowing range of options that fulfill their immediate desires. Here’s a description of how it works:
Customers browse pictures of shoes, choosing a favorite type among a dozen images, which leads to a dozen more images, searching for the look someone is after. An initial page of boots might lead to a page with more low-cut items over high, or laces over buckles. The next options could affirm those choices. Or the search could go off in another direction.
From a sales point of view, it could be considered the next step in the A.I. of personalization. Typically, personalization relies on historic associations, or the familiar “customers also bought” suggestion. In this case, the computer is looking at 100 or more factors, and trying to judge how someone feels about them in real time.
“What makes this attractive is that people can get to the shoe they love without knowing what brand it is,” said Roger Hardy, chairman and co-founder of Shoes.com. “If I told you there was an Italian company with the perfect heel, toe and lacing for you, but didn’t know the brand, it wouldn’t do you any good.”
In early customer tests, Mr. Hardy said, the A.I. increased sales, though he declined to say by how much.
An earlier paragraph in the article led me to think of ways this kind of AI application might be used in education:
While (this AI application) is — at least for the moment — limited to retail, over the long haul the technology could demonstrate how important it is for companies to be sitting on vast warehouses of information.
Of late several articles have been written about the vast trove of electronic records we are keeping on students and the fact that some school districts have unwittingly allowed this data to be used for commercial purposes. However, as I’ve noted in earlier posts on this issue, public schools have been keeping written records on children for decades, records that could arguably provide teachers with data on a student’s learning patterns in the same way. Using the highlighted sentence above and making a few substitutions, here’s the result:
…personalization in the classroom relies on a student’s optimal learning modality by using an analysis of 100 or more factors that reveal previous classroom successes when a student was struggling to master a concept and linking them to the how student feels about this learning obstacle in real time. As a result, the teacher is able to see what approach they might take to intervene.
Is the development of such an algorithm for learning possible? If it were, it would clearly benefit schools who, like the shoe companies cited above, sit on “..vast warehouses of information”. And… if the presumed goal of personalization is to customize learning experiences to help each child define their goals and provide teachers with the tools to meet the needs of each child, why wouldn’t we use the “..vast warehouses of information” we’ve been collecting for decades to the best effect possible?