Posts Tagged ‘Measurement’

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.

Common Core Debate Should be a Sideshow and NOT the Main Attraction

August 29, 2015 Leave a comment

Natalie Wexler wrote an op-ed column in yesterday’s NYTimes advocating that teachers and schools focus on teaching E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge, which focusses on facts students should learn by a particular age instead of the bright new Common Core, which focusses more on skills students should learn by a particular age. As the title of this blog post indicates, this whole debate on WHAT we teach should be a sideshow!

Three years ago I wrote a post titled “Learning is Constant, Time is the Variable” that described the basis for advocating a complete change to the way schools are organized. Instead of batching children into age based on their age and holding schools accountable for when students master skills and gain knowledge, we should batch students by skills learned and knowledge acquired regardless of their age. This would have been a daunting (but not impossible) task three decades ago when Ron Edmunds suggested it, but with today’s technological advances it can and should be done.

One state, Vermont, is implementing a plan that might help break this mold. In December 2013 the State Board adopted a set of Education Quality Standards that includes one element that has the potential to break the mold of the factory school. Beginning this school year all seventh grade students need to develop a Personalized Learning Plan that defines “…the scope and rigor of academic and experiential opportunities necessary for the student to successfully complete secondary school and attain college and career readiness.” This will not be a one-size-fits-all plan that will be measured by standardized tests administered in grades 7, 8, and 11 but a plan that is uniquely tailored to each student. The plan is intended to be reviewed annually and ideally could drive the “curriculum” offered at the secondary level.

Students are not pieces of clay to be molded into pre-determined figurines defined by “standards”… and whether those standards are skill-based or knowledge based is beside the point. Students are unique individuals who have unique and varied talents and unique and varied aspirations. The faster we move away from standards and move toward Personalized Learning Plans the better off we will be… and the better off our children in schools will be.

Gene Glass, Explains His Decision to Stop Being a “Measurement Specialist”

August 28, 2015 Leave a comment

In his own blog post, that was picked up by Diane Ravtich and Naked Capitalism, Arizona State professor Gene V. Glass explains why he no longer wants to be referred to as a “measurement specialist”… an in doing so gives a history of education measurement over the past 50 years. The post  is full of revelations from a statistician who witnessed the corruption of testing. After getting his doctorate from University of Illinois, Glass worked for several years trying successfully to devise tests that would help teachers assess students based on the student’s learning style. This paragraph describes what happened next:

Around 1980, I served for a time on the committee that made most of the important decisions about the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The project was under increasing pressure to “grade” the NAEP results: Pass/Fail; A/B/C/D/F; Advanced/Proficient/Basic. Our committee held firm: such grading was purely arbitrary, and worse, would only be used politically.The contract was eventually taken from our organization and given to another that promised it could give the nation a grade, free of politics. It couldn’t.

It was around 1980 that politics and testing began to intertwine… and their relationship to the “decline” in American schools was clear to Glass:

The degrading of public education has involved impugning its effectiveness, cutting its budget, and busting its unions. Educational measurement has been the perfect tool for accomplishing all three: cheap and scientific looking.

International tests have purported to prove that America’s schools are inefficient or run by lazy incompetents. Paper-and-pencil tests seemingly show that kids in private schools – funded by parents – are smarter than kids in public schools. We’ll get to the top, so the story goes, if we test a teacher’s students in September and June and fire that teacher if the gains aren’t great enough.

Eventually, the “…cronyism between corporations and politicians” disgusted Glass so much he’s decided to change his teaching assignments:

When measurement became the instrument of accountability, testing companies prospered and schools suffered. I have watched this happen for several years now. I have slowly withdrawn my intellectual commitment to the field of measurement. Recently I asked my dean to switch my affiliation from the measurement program to the policy program. I am no longer comfortable being associated with the discipline of educational measurement.

Many veteran educators I know share Glass’ disdain for the direction schools have headed and feel that the mission of education has changed for the worse…. and in some cases they have not only withdrawn their intellectual commitment to public schools but also withdrawn their political commitment to their improvement. In the coming months those of us who believe education is the best means for eliminating the vicious cycle of poverty need to work to get officials who support the mission of public education elected to offices in all levels of the government.

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.

NYTimes Misses Point of Opt Out Movement, Buys Into Bogus Civil Rights Argument of “Reformers”

August 15, 2015 Leave a comment

The bottom line of two maddening NYTimes articles is captured in the title of this blog post… and until the newspaper of record understands the limitations of testing, the effect of testing on the curriculum, and the need to emphasize funding equity the sooner we will improve schooling for all children. 

As noted in an earlier post, the opt out movement had a real impact in New York State where 20% of the students did not take the examination. The title of Elizabeth Harris’ article in today’s paper, “Test Refusal Movement’s Success Hampers Analysis of New York State Exam Results”, indicates that the officials in the state acknowledge that the opt out movement had its intended effect… and it’s leader summed up the desired impact concisely: 

We always said that compliance just means more of the same,” said Jeanette Deutermann, a central figure in Long Island’s test-refusal movement. “The hope was to disrupt it to the point where it cannot be used,” she continued, to where “there are not enough children taking the test to close a school, or not enough data to fire a teacher.”

The Times, like most mass media, emphasize the second half of Ms. Deutermann’s statement while overlooking the first point entirely: the relentless emphasis on testing reinforces the factory school model that has failed and continues to fail children in all public schools. 

“Opting Out of Standardized Testing Is Not The Answer”, the Times editorial today proves that point, It touches all the talking points of the “reform” movement and casts the opt out movement as a group of parents who “ say the tests are too difficult or do not track with classroom instruction”, effectively echoing Arne Duncan, Andrew Cuomo, and all the neo-liberal reformers who believe that failing to use tests will only hurt those who are most disadvantaged. The only reliable data NYS gets is the same data states have been getting for decades: children raised in poverty do worse on standardized tests than children raised in affluence…. and children in affluent districts with high per pupil spending do far better than students in less affluent districts with lower per pupil spending. 




My Answers to US News and World Report’s “5 Education Questions for the GOP Field”

August 12, 2015 Leave a comment

USNews and World Report blogger Nina Rees was disappointed at the limited number of questions posed regarding public education in the initial Fox News debate because they focussed on the Common Core, which she views as a proxy for federal education standards which “none of the candidates endorse”. Rees, who is the president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and has more than 20 years of experience in Washington, D.C., including a stint at the U.S. Department of Education and working as a deputy assistant for domestic policy to Vice President Dick Cheney, recommends that the Republican candidates be asked the following five at Campbell Brown’s forthcoming “education debate”:

1. Which federal education programs will you support and which will you eliminate?

2. How will you support parental choice?

3. Which federal rules and regulations will you amend or leverage?

4. What will you do to support better research on vital education topics?

5. How will you use your bully pulpit to talk about education and its importance today in reaching the American Dream?

WIth my tongue planted somewhat in my cheek I offer an honest though unlikely response to each:

1. Which federal education programs will you support and which will you eliminate? I’ll eliminate any program that redistributes of resources or imposes regulations, including the lunch and breakfast programs, all the Title programs, school bus transportation standards, school facility standards, teacher certification, and audit reports.

2. How will you support parental choice? Parents will get vouchers they can use to enroll their children in any Christian schools, to acquire on-line Christian and/or for profit home schooling, or attend any public school they want to within their district boundaries. I will prohibit the use of federal funds for non-Christian sectarian schools; anti-American, non-Christian, and non-profit on-line programs; and attendance at schools outside their district or, in the case of urban areas, outside the neighborhood unless the mayor is a Republican.   

3. Which federal rules and regulations will you amend or leverage? I would suspend all regulations and let the market determine where parents place their children. Just as I oppose labeling and regulation of foods, I also oppose the labeling and regulation of schools. The marketplace will provide sufficient information about schools without government interference.  

4. What will you do to support better research on vital education topics? I’m no educator but I know that even though 98% of the statisticians in the country believe VAM is worthless my faith tells me it will work because two studies prove it. Therefore I will suspend all research in that area. And even though there is little to no scientific evidence that charter schools, vouchers, or “choice” provides better educational opportunities for children born in poverty, my faith in the market tells me those initiatives will work. Therefore I will suspend all research in that area. Even though on-line courses have high failure rates, my faith in technology tells me better and more sophisticated on-line curricula can make a difference. In short, my faith tells me that the marketplace, technology, and believing in a just and loving God (but only a Western one) will improve test scores a lot more than “research”. 

5. How will you use your bully pulpit to talk about education and its importance today in reaching the American Dream? GRIT MAKES A DIFFERENCE! As long as one child raised in poverty overcomes the obstacles that confront them, ANY child can do so. As long as 1% of those born in the lowest quintile can advance economically, ALL born into that quintile have an opportunity to advance. Grit matters… and it can’t be taught in schools. For that reason, “throwing money at the problem” will not work… except the money we throw at corporations who support my campaign and testing companies that provide results proving that Grit Matters! 

Anyone listening to the debate in Londonderry NH will hear echoes of these responses… stay tuned!