EducationNext, whose writers and editors are decidedly “pro-privatization”, featured an insightful and informative “debate” between two technology advocates, Benjamin Riley and Ale Hernandez, on the question “Should Personalization Be the Future of Learning?”. Given the venue for the “debate” (which is actually an adaptation of blog posts from each of the authors from 2014), there is not a substantial difference of opinion.
Riley focuses on two assumptions and hypotheses regarding personalized learning:
1) students will learn more if they have more power over what they learn (“the path argument”), and
2) students will learn more if they have more power over when and how quickly they learn (“the pace argument”)
Riley asserts that students will not learn everything that is important if left to their own devices and they will invariably go as slow as possible unless they are overseen by an adult. Therefore a teacher must closely monitor the work that is being done and, since that is the case, “personalization” can be achieved with the traditional teacher-centered classroom model if the teacher can effectively differentiate the instruction to match the students skill set.
Hernandez has a slightly different set of hypotheses regarding personalization:
Personalized learning theory is built on the twin pillars of 1) differentiated learning pathways for students and 2) feedback that enables students to make informed judgments about what they’ve learned, how well they’ve learned it, and what to learn next.
Hernandez is more sanguine about children’s ability to motivate themselves and views the teacher as a bottleneck in the current paradigm, especially when it comes to offering timely and well crafted feedback. He believes the pacing issues raised by Riley can be overcome by setting some kind of minimum rate of speed to proceed through a predetermined set of learning objectives, acknowledging that he is “…unapologetically pro-standards” and fully supports the Common Core since it can serve as a means of measuring individual progress.
I have a slightly different slant on the value of personalization as opposed to the current benchmarking model. We currently assume that all students progress through learning sequences in different content areas at a constant rate. While I concur with Hernandez’ support for standards, I fear that his embrace of the Common Core reinforces the “…arbitrary, age-based academic standards and fixed pacing guides (that) exacerbate… most teachers’ ability to manage multiple learning paths in multiple subjects.” I DO believe the Common Core provides a valuable baseline document for professional organizations like the NCTM or ASCD and cognitive scientists to use as a template to develop learning sequences in content areas. Having a politically acceptable and scientifically supported learning sequence is an essential first step to personalizing learning. Secondly, I am not convinced that all students can progress through the entire sequence of “college-ready” objectives nor should they do so. Our economy does not require that everyone go to college. Moreover there are many service economy jobs that pay well and do not require college as much as they require self-direction, ambition, and hard work. These qualities should be by-products of a personalized learning environment. Finally, if we do “personalization” the right way we will create an environment of self-actualized learners. Both Riley and Hernandez agree that teachers are needed at the outset of a child’s schooling, but Hernandez seems more comfortable with the notion that ultimately the student owns the learning. If K-8 schooling can develop this kind of self-sufficient learning, secondary education could change dramatically making it possible for students to move into community based apprenticeships and/or preparation for post-secondary learning.
One thing is clear: the current lockstep method of instruction is undercutting the self-direction, ambition, and work ethic needed for success in the work place.
In a piece of legislation that the Onion could not pass off as satire, the Oklahoma legislature has decided to replace AP History with… wait for it…
… a long list of “foundational documents,” including the Ten Commandments, two sermons and three speeches by Ronald Reagan.
Judd Legum’s Think Progress post reporting on this story selected the juiciest examples from the list of the 58, but it also held back on some unsettling details until later in the story:
Many of the texts are uncontroversial and undoubtedly covered by the Advanced Placement U.S. History course, such as the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and Gettysburg address. But the bill also has an ideological and religious bent. In addition to 3 speeches by Reagan, the curriculum as includes a speech by George W. Bush but nothing from any Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson.
We learned in yesterday’s ThinkProgress post that Oklahoma’s legislative leaders don’t believe in the separation of church and state… today we’ve learned that they also do not believe in the two party system of government or the need to present multiple perspectives on the tough issues we are facing today and Oklahoma students will face in the future.
I’ve written on multiple posts that the process that yielded the Common Core was deeply flawed and the intended use of the Common Core to assess students based on their age is misguided… but the NEED for a common curriculum that provides all American students with the ability to think clearly and make decisions based on evidence is indisputable. If you think otherwise, move to Oklahoma and treat your children to a social studies curriculum that views the Ten Commandments as a “foundational document” that MUST be taught and, therefore, will undoubtedly be part of the standardized assessments used to determine the quality of that state’s schools.
An article posted by Think Progress ought to give pause to anyone who thinks that allowing states to set standards for education is a good idea. A sub-committee of the Oklahoma House overwhelmingly approved proposed legislation that would ban AP History in that state’s public schools. Why?
…(AP History) only teaches students “what is bad about America.”
But wait… there’s more!
Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) has introduced “emergency” legislation “prohibiting the expenditure of funds on the Advanced Placement United States History course.” Fisher is part of a group called the “Black Robe Regiment” which argues “the church and God himself has been under assault, marginalized, and diminished by the progressives and secularists.” The group attacks the “false wall of separation of church and state.” The Black Robe Regiment claims that a “growing tide of special interest groups indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.”
Fisher said the Advanced Placement history class fails to teach “American exceptionalism.” The bill passed the Oklahoma House Education committee on Monday on a vote of 11-4. You can read the actual course description for the course here.
For other lawmakers, however, Fisher is thinking too small. Oklahoma Rep. Sally Kern (R) claims that all “AP courses violate the legislation approved last year that repealed Common Core.” She has asked the Oklahoma Attorney General to issue a ruling. Kern argues that “AP courses are similar to Common Core, in that they could be construed as an attempt to impose a national curriculum on American schools.”
Before those of us who oppose standardized testing throw our support behind legislation that diminishes the federal role in setting educational standards we need to think about how that will play out in states like Oklahoma where legislators are eager to attack the “false wall of separation of church and state”.
Two articles in today’s NYTimes, one about vaccinations for childhood diseases and one about a dispute in AZ over curriculum governance, underscore the conundrum opponents of NCLB and RTTT face in arguing against the Common Core. Here’s where I see a parallel:
Vaccinations are not a federal mandate but rather determined on a state-by-state basis. As the article indicates, the vaccination requirements vary from State to State with some states affording broad discretion for parents on the basis of religious convictions while others are insistent that public well-being trumps religious convictions. The recent spread of previously eliminated contagious diseases is making the public question those states with “flexible” policies and may lead to a rethinking of guidelines in place. But even though the flexible exemption policies demonstrably increase the risk for outbreaks, changing the guidelines may be complicated:
Granting exemptions does increase the risk of disease. A 2006 study in The Journal of American Medical Association showed that states with easy procedures for granting nonmedical exemptions had approximately 50 percent higher rates of whooping cough.
Some legal and public health experts say that one solution would be to get rid of personal and philosophical exemptions, and to retain the religious ones but enforce them strictly. State legislatures would have to vote to eliminate the exemptions; as long as they remain on the books, it will be difficult or impossible to stop granting them.
The problems legislatures would face in tightening the regulations is that most of the exemptions are based on religious convictions, and, as any political analyst knows, when politics and religion intersect it often creates an intractable public policy debate. EVERYONE will pay a peace, though, if states fail to tighten vaccination restrictions:
“I think if you did that, you would see a significant long-term reduction in outbreaks of childhood infectious diseases,” Mr. Gostin said. “If you don’t do that, you virtually guarantee that in the future, we will have as many outbreaks if not more of measles, pertussis and a whole range of serious childhood diseases.”
The ongoing debate about the Federal Government’s de facto mandate that states adopt the common core is similar to the vaccination issue. Strictly speaking, the USDOE, like the CDC, cannot prescribe actions: they can provide guidelines that states can choose to accept or reject. In linking substantial grant funds to States to the adoption of the Common Core, the USDOE effectively mandated their adoption. As the Times article on AZ’s struggles against the Common Core indicate, when states began to assert their authority to control the establishment of education standards, debates about WHO should establish the content of those curriculum standards are occurring at the STATE level… and in every case cited it is the Governor who seeks to control the issue. As a result of this trend, the decisions about content are becoming increasingly politicized and polarized.
These two articles underscore the conundrum opponents to standardization face if they advocate that STATES be given the authority to determine the curriculum that will be put in place. Will states who rely on oil revenues include global warming in their curriculum? Will states in the Bible Belt include evolution in their curriculum? Will states with conservative and neo-liberal governors and/or legislatures insist that VAM be the primary basis for teacher evaluations? And finally, if State Boards of Education are stripped of the authority to set curriculum and assessment standards what is their reason for existence? And while I disagree with the position the elected AZ State Superintendent has taken with regard to the Common Core and the fact she fired civil servants, I strongly disagree with the notion that the Governor has a role in determining who will be retained in the State Department of Education.
And here’s the bottom line: if ignorance is a contagious disease the politicization of curriculum standards will almost certainly lead to an outbreak. The best antidote would be to keep decisions about curriculum and assessment in the hands of State Boards of Education and out of the State House.
Bill Duncan, a member of the NH State Board of Education, wrote a post on his “Advancing New Hampshire Public Education” blog that described the politicization of the Common Core by flagging the conservative’s critique of the mathematics standards. Duncan quotes from an earlier post by Common Core mathematics editor Bill McCallum, who described Texas Governor Abbot’s disdain for one of the Common core techniques used to addition facts to first grade students. On Fox News Abbot ridiculed the ” “make a ten” strategy for memorizing math facts” because it took the teacher “more than a minute” to explain why 9 + 6 = 15.
McCallum noted that had Abbot examined his own State’s standards he would see that the very same technique is included at the very same grade level… and concludes with this point:
It’s a pity… that Governor Abbot didn’t look at his own state standards before mocking this method, since Texas follows exactly the same progression at exactly the same grade levels. And for good reason: math is math whatever state you are in, and teachers have been using methods like this to help their students memorize math facts for years.
I’m sure Governor Abbot’s perspective on this will not change. Nor will the perspective of his like-minded political allies because acknowledging the value of the Common Core would be an admittance that teams of experts (in the case of the Common Core) or the State Department of Education (in the case of Texas) are more qualified than the Governor to write standards for mathematics.
In response to Duncan’s post, in effect defending the Common Core, “Jane” wrote:
As usual progressives always want everyone to do things the hard way.
No… progressives are trying to show students there is not “one right way” to get an answer in mathematics and are trying to get students to develop deep understanding of a subject. Rote learning accomplishes neither of these outcomes. The pushback against the Common Core by politicians will only reinforce the need for a common set of standards across our nation. There cannot be Texas mathematics and New Hampshire mathematics. As one who moved from PA to OK between 3rd and 4th grade I can attest to the fact that national standards are needed. In the late 1950s 4th grade mathematics in OK was virtually identical to 3rd grade mathematics in PA. While the gap has closed somewhat, the chart at the conclusion of this article from the Dallas Morning News illustrates that Texas’ current standards are far behind the expectations set by their own standards team, standards that were undoubtedly set in response to the Common Core, standards that would align Texas’ expectations with those of states like (gasp) Massachusetts.
But this example of “leadership” by the Governor of one of the largest states in the union is an illustration of why some set of national standards are needed and why acceding to the notion of having States set their own standards would be a step backwards. If Governor Abbot’s and “Jane’s” notion of standards were adopted we’d be back to rote learning and students would believe there is only one right answer and only one way to get that answer. Here’s hoping “Texas mathematics” doesn’t prevail.
Ars Technica blogger John Timmer wrote a post describing the reasons for the refusal of the West Virginia State Board of Education to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards. It seems that the standards incorporate theories on global warming that are antithetical to the political realities of West Virginia. Consequently the State Board has decided to modify the findings of science and replace them with politically acceptable notions.
Timmer notes in the opening paragraph that West Virginia is not alone in their unwillingness to accept the findings of science:
(The Next Generation Science Standards) seem to have introduced state legislators to the reality that evolution and climate change are widely accepted by the scientific community. That has led to a showdown between legislators and the governor (Kentucky), the rejection of the standards in two states (Oklahoma and Wyoming), and a private lawsuit (Kansas).
Some progressive educators who oppose the Common Core State Standards see each rejection of those standards as a victory… and while the Next Generation Science Standards are not part of the Common Core per se, their rejection in some cases reflects the anti-intellectualism that is blatantly evidence in the actions cited above.
The notion that a State Board can vote to reject the reality that the planet’s temperatures rose over the past century is all the evidence I need to believe that some form of national standards developed by teachers and academics are needed. Otherwise students in KY, OK, WY, KS, and WV will enter college, the work force, and the voting booth without a solid understanding of factual information.
Just before Christmas blogger Audrey Watters posted an essay titled “What is Competency Based Education” that defined that term as follows:
Rather than moving students together through materials for a fixed duration of a class, CBE enables students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. They are assessed along the way, and if they can demonstrate “competency” on a particular skill, they can move forward to the next. This is seen as an alternative to traditional models where students receive a grade — and credit — at the end of the course, but that grade can range from A to D, meaning that students have attained very different levels of understanding of the course materials.
I’ve used a set of questions she posed at the end of that article to write a series on the topic of CBE, which is the instructional backbone for what I call “Network Schools”. This post is part of that series.
Can students be engaged in determining “competencies”? How might CBE help give students more responsibility?
Student involvement in the determination of competencies would likely occur in the development of the screening assessments at some post-secondary institutions. For example, given their current ethos colleges like Evergreen, Hampshire, and Bard might engage their current students in such a process and some progressive employers might use recent entrants to their workplace help them devise screening assessments as well.
As noted in an earlier post, CBE schools would engage students and increase their responsibility by including them in the assessment process for determining mastery of “soft skills” and thinking skills. Just as the best employee evaluation systems incorporate peer review, CBE assessments would incorporate student reviewers on the panels that determine mastery of abstract and interpersonal competencies. This would reinforce the skills the students mastered earlier and increase their level of responsibility within the CBE school.