Posts Tagged ‘funding equity’

Personalization vs. Digitalization: A Useful Construct for Viewing “Disruption”

September 1, 2015 Leave a comment

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.

Rethinking Work…Especially Teaching

August 31, 2015 Leave a comment

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.

NYTimes Column Illustrates Vouchers’ Subtle Shortcomings

August 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Brittany Bronson’s op ed column in today’s NYTimes points out the many flaws with the voucher legislation passed recently in her home state of Nevada. But unlike many of the earlier columns I’ve read on this topic, which tend to focus on some of the obvious problems (e.g. giving $5,000/year to parents who are already paying for private school education and home schooling using computer-assisted-learning modules), Ms. Bronson digs deeper, noting the link between the working conditions parents in poverty face as compared to those faced by typical middle class parents. She writes:

In Nevada, about one in four children live in poverty, not because their schools have failed them, but because their parents juggle multiple jobs on a stagnant minimum wage, have little job security and are denied paid time off.

These economic challenges present direct conflicts with the type of parental involvement and support that are necessary for quality education. Erratic and unpredictable work hours make it difficult to organize transportation to and from school and after-school child care. Long workdays limit parents’ ability to ensure that children’s academic responsibilities outside of school are being met. Low wages without benefits make it impossible to afford enriching activities outside the classroom or quality health care that plays a crucial role in academic success.

Ms. Bronson’s analysis of the impact of the “on-demand” workplace and parent engagement is cogent and long overdue. Those who want to find comfort in the fact that charter schools outperform neighborhood schools often overlook the fact that the enrollment process to get into a charter school requires the ability for the parent to make and keep appointments at the school they wish their child to attend or take time off from work to wait in line to register. A parent working unpredictable part-time hours whose continued employment is contingent on showing up for work whenever their employer needs them cannot, in many cases, keep an appointment AND keep their job. Those of us who worked predictable hours in full time jobs have trouble grasping how challenging it is to raise children with the schedules many parents face today.

One other point Ms. Bronson emphasizes is one made by the Anna E. Casey Foundation:

The Anne E. Casey Foundation argues that improving the well-being of children in poverty requires a two-generation approach, meaning you can’t improve the situation for children without addressing the economic realities of their parents. Its 2015 report states that, “Boosting low family income, especially early in a child’s life, can have lasting positive effects on cognitive development, health, and academic achievement.”

As I have often lamented in this blog, politicians and taxpayers want a cheap, fast, and simple solution– like vouchers— to a costly, slow, and complex problem– like the seemingly intractable cycle of poverty. If we want to break the vicious cycle of poverty, we need to show compassion for those trapped in its web, be willing to share some of our resources, and be patient.

This Just In: Standardized Tests DON’T Measure School Quality and Money DOES matter

August 24, 2015 Leave a comment

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

August 23, 2015 Leave a comment

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.

The Children of the “Unworthy Poor” and the Vicious Cycle of Poverty

August 21, 2015 Leave a comment

I just read Serena Rice’s Common Dreams article titled “Our Perceptions About the “Unworthy Poor” haven’t changed” and it reinforced my belief that our political power system is predicated on the continuation of this misperception. According to this concept, anyone who is poor lacks industriousness and is therefore unworthy of any government assistance. This concept can be reinforced by finding singular examples of individuals who are freeloaders— and there are undeniable and verifiable examples of individuals who take advantage of welfare the same way, say, hedge finders take advantage of the tax code— and write an airtight set of laws that penalize those who try to take advantage of the system. The results of these arguably well-intentioned laws is to penalize children born into poverty even more.

Rice’s article offers one example of a State who’s rules required an unwed mother to move back with the father of her child in order to get any benefits for that child…despite the fact that the father was not gainfully employed and despite the fact that he refused to use birth control. When the woman hd a second child out of wedlock, the mother could not collect any additional benefits for that child. Worse, it was more difficult for the mother to find employment, more stressful at home, and BOTH children in the family faced even more abject poverty. The law penalized this MOTHER for being “unworthy” to receive welfare, but the real recipients of the penalty were the CHILDREN. With less money available for each child, no means of providing the children with sufficient food let alone intellectual stimulation, is it any surprise that these children begin school with more deficiencies than those of the hedge fund manager who gamed the tax code.

Progressive blogs and writers expose the flaws in the mental model that characterizes those on welfare as “lazy and undeserving” by illustrating the challenges all workers face in this economy and the way the current system I rigged in such a way that corporations now anticipate their employees to supplement their low wages with welfare. But the mainstream media by and large unquestioningly repeat the conventional thinking of conservatives and neo-liberals-that welfare recipients take advantage of the government’s largesse while corporations make shrewd investments that enable them to avoid onerous taxes. In the meantime the children of “the undeserving poor” are underfeed, under-stimulated and unprepared for entry into school…and we continue to believe that with a mix of grit and good luck they will be able to move up the economic ladder in order to avoid facing the fact that since Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” we’ve seen the demise of social mobility as we knew it.

Washington State Supreme Court Gets It Right: Money Matters and a Deal is a Deal

August 17, 2015 Leave a comment

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.

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