It is unfortunate that the term “disruption” has been firmly linked with the for-profit education firms that have privatized public education, because Clay Christensen, who coined the term” did not see intend to link “disruption” with “profit” or “privatization”.
In Julia Freedland’s post, “Rethink Funding for Quality Learning“, which appeared in WISE Ed Review a few days ago, she contrasts “personalization” (another term expropriated by profiteers) and “digitalization”. Personalization measures and targets students’ needs and strengths: it is a means of ensuring students attain mastery in skills they want and need to fulfill their unique individual goals. Digitization computerizes the existing factory model of education and uses traditional standardized tests to measure learning. As Freedland writes:
Some online tools may leverage technology to drive down the cost of delivering instruction by simply digitizing the traditional, factory-based model of education. For example, if traditional students merely watch recordings of lectures but are not assessed for understanding in a different manner, the traditional classroom—and its limited ability to support individual student’s needs—will remain intact.
Freedland is not averse to seeking private investments to leverage the transformative change Clay Christensen envisioned when he wrote Disrupting Education… but she IS concerned about those seeking quick returns on they investment:
…(W)e… need savvy investors—in the VC and philanthropic communities—to provide patient capital to support disruptive innovations in education. Disruptive innovations do not compete in the traditional market, but instead target pockets of nonconsumption and the low end of the market. By definition, these disruptive markets are small and harder to estimate at the outset. Firms pursuing a disruptive strategy may struggle to attract investors because as disruptors, they tend to get their starts in these smaller markets. However, disruptive innovations will be vital to moving toward a system that leverages technology to personalize—rather than merely digitize—education. Investors, therefore, should evaluate investments in disruptive innovations based on companies’ ability to make a profit in these distinct markets (i.e., to create a viable, cost-effective product within an albeit small market) rather than to grow quickly right off the bat. VC and philanthropic portfolios need not be dedicated entirely to disruptive innovations; however, investors should be aware of the possibility that they will need to use different metrics to assess sustaining versus disruptive opportunities in the EdTech space.
Freedland, unlike, say, Bill Gates, realizes that it will take time to introduce, field test, and fully implement the changes in instruction, measurement, and public support needed to transform public education.
How can these kids of changes be facilitated by public policy? Freedland suggests that state funding mechanisms may hold the key, and cites NH’s means of funding as the direction more states should head:
A better funding system would reward successfully driving individual student performance among both schools and EdTech providers. Take, for example, the manner in which the state of New Hampshire funds the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, a statewide source for online learning opportunities. Because New Hampshire is one of few states to have gone fully competency-based, VLACS’s instructional model and funding model are contingent on students advancing—and being funded—only upon demonstrating mastery.
Freedland provides a chart that illustrates how VLACS receives funding based on the extent to which each student achieves mastery the content. VLACS received 30% funding for a student who masters 30% of their objectives and 100% for a student who masters all the objectives. This mechanism shifts the funding incentives away from enrollment data and moves it toward mastery data: away from inputs that are easily measured but unimportant to learning outputs that are more difficult to measure but far more important. In examining the means of funding disruptive change, Freedland asserts that both the private and public sector need to change their thinking:
In short, to drive toward high-quality personalized learning, we need to rethink both private and public funding streams. This will require more patient capital, more hard-nosed accountability based on outcomes, and a commitment to creating an education system in which the expanding EdTech market will grow with student outcomes as a priority.
And a by-product of this kind of funding will be the abandonment of the existing grade groupings based on age and the institution of a means of providing each and every student with the support of a caring adult who monitors their progress toward the attainment of a personalized learning plan they develop in coordination with their parents and school.
In yesterday’s NYTimes Barry Schwartz article, “Rethinking Work”, described how Adam Smith’s assumptions about workers and the importance of efficiency serve as the basis for work as we know it over two centuries later. The article suggests the need for us to reconsider the way we define work in our culture and includes these paragraph:
The transformation I have in mind goes something like this: You enter an occupation with a variety of aspirations aside from receiving your pay. But then you discover that your work is structured so that most of those aspirations will be unmet. Maybe you’re a call center employee who wants to help customers solve their problems — but you find out that all that matters is how quickly you terminate each call. Or you’re a teacher who wants to educate kids — but you discover that only their test scores matter. Or you’re a corporate lawyer who wants to serve his client with care and professionalism — but you learn that racking up billable hours is all that really counts.
Pretty soon, you lose your lofty aspirations. And over time, later generations don’t even develop the lofty aspirations in the first place. Compensation becomes the measure of all that is possible from work. When employees negotiate, they negotiate for improved compensation, since nothing else is on the table. And when this goes on long enough, we become just the kind of creatures that Adam Smith thought we always were. (Even Smith, in one passage, seemed to acknowledge this possibility, noting that mindless, routinized work typically made people “stupid and ignorant.”)
…How can we do this? By giving employees more of a say in how they do their jobs. By making sure we offer them opportunities to learn and grow. And by encouraging them to suggest improvements to the work process and listening to what they say.
Needless to say this resonated with me as one who deplores the “reform” movement that reduces he measurement of teaching to a single test score measuring skills that measure student performance on material provided in “teacher proof” curriculum guides, skills that were imposed without the direct involvement of teachers and whose suggestions and ideas are dismissed as unimportant.
For those politicians and businessmen who value efficiency over humanity, their spreadsheet analyses over the observations in classrooms, their belief that money is the primary motivator for employees, and their desire for saving money over improving the lives of children and their employees, the aspirations of teachers are unimportant…. and the consequence is that the routinized work they are creating in the classrooms will not appeal to those with creativity and intelligence.
I’m behind on my [posting a reading and just now got to an Upshot article from the NYTimes by Kevin Carey. In the article, Carey offers data to support the fact that the Federal Government has done little to no intervention in public education and suggests that consequently the ongoing squabbles about the reauthorization/repeal of NCLB are much ado about nothing.
I have two reactions to this piece.
First, like NCLB, it unquestioningly accepts the premise that the effectiveness of a school is determined solely by test scores. This leads to the notion that “data-driven instruction” is needed and that “old school” teachers and administrators who try to cultivate a love for learning need to be replaced by newer teachers and technocratic administrators who see test results as the ultimate end. Here’s what decades of testing have revealed: students who attend schools with high per pupil expenditures in affluent communities outscore students who attend schools with low per pupil expenditures in poverty-stricken neighborhoods or communities.
Secondly, the writer (like the “reformers” and politicians) under-emphasizes one of the key findings of SIG research:
“When districts and schools are given targeted funding—either from philanthropic organizations or the government—they are better positioned to achieve significant change.”
Stated bluntly: money DOES make a difference… especially when it is targeted. The federal government wants neither more money nor more oversight: they want a cheap, fast, and superficial solution to a problem that requires money, time, and comprehensive work by multiple agencies.
Amazon’s “Profits” = Lost Revenue for States = More Struggles for Schools, Children Raised in Poverty
This past week I was on vacation at the end of one of Maine’s many peninsulas and one of our party discovered he was out of a food provision that was not typically found in a local convenience store…. but it was not a problem. A quick text on the cell phone and within 48 hours a UPS truck was at our doorstep delivering the product thanks to his Amazon preferred membership. The convenience was wonderful… but as I read this morning, it DOES have a hidden price.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) published a critique of a recent column by Joe Nocera who wrote that Amazon had “plowed potential profits back into the company“. After noting that “potential profits” are no basis for reinvestment unless there are gullible investors, CEPR notes:
It is also important to note the big handout that Amazon has relied upon from taxpayers. Amazon has not had to collect sales tax in most states for most of its existence, giving the company an enormous subsidy in its competition with brick and mortar competitors. The cumulative size of this subsidy almost certainly exceeds its cumulative profits in the years that it has been in existence. Any discussion of Bezos success should mention this huge subsidy from the government.
And the ultimate costs of Amazon are paid by publicly funded institutions like schools… and those who rely on public funds for their well-being– like school children raised in poverty and the employees laid off from Amazon’s brick and mortar competitors.
Reuters reported last week tha the Washington State Supreme Court instituted a fine of $100,000 per day until the legislature passed a bill that provided a clear blueprint to address a suit filed in 2007 that determined the fundingnof schools in WA was inequitable. As noted often in previous posts, 42 states have been sued for deficient and/or inequitable education funding. This is the only case I know of where a State Court has taken firm and tough action to enforce their determination that the legislature fell short of it’s court mandate. Bravo to the WA justices for holding their legislature’s geet to the fire… Maybe other State Supreme Courts will follow suit.