Three posts from three different sources illustrate the emerging and irresistible trend of parents resisting the “reform” that is really “hyper-standardization”.
The first post, by Rebecca Mead of the New Yorker, “The Defiant Parents: Testing’s Discontents”, describes how the Brooklyn New School is supporting and assisting parents of 5th graders who want their children to be able to opt out of the standardized tests that are used to rank schools and, increasingly, rate teachers. The fifth grade social justice curriculum at the New School asked students to consider the question “What are we willing to stand up for?”… and seizing on that question the Principal invite parents to opt out of the mandated tests and instead take two 45 minute “alternative tests” that the NYC district administers. Mead describes the “…burgeoning opt-out movement, with parents, teachers, and administrators questioning the efficacy of the tests as they are currently administered, in measuring both the performance of teachers and the progress of students.” The post also provides an overview of the shenanigans of testing giant Pearson and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s derisive comments about “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—[find] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” Mead’s synopsis of the opt-out movement is different from Duncan’s:
Parents in this year’s opt-out movement are standing up for something larger than their own child’s test-day happiness: the conviction that all children have better things to do with their days than fill in bubbles on a multiple-choice sheet, and that all children have better things to do with their heads than bang them against a table in despair.
“Owning Up to Being a Homeschool Parent”, the second post, is written by Jennifer Kulynych in the January 22 NYTimes Motherlode blog. Dismayed with the lack of challenge her daughter experienced in the public schools in NYC but unable to afford the pricy private schools, Kulynych describes her reluctant decision to homeschool her child. She was initially unwilling to acknowledge to her employer and co-workers that she was undertaking this role, and describes the daunting schedule she faced once she decided to homeschool, but on balance she found the experience extremely rewarding:
What bolsters my wavering confidence are my daughter, who begs to continue home schooling, and, surprisingly, how much fun we are having. Our educational collaboration transcends the mother-daughter conflicts of impending adolescence: Together we are co-conspirators in a counterculture adventure, eating our academic dessert first whenever we like.
Kulynych concludes with this paragraph, which succintly describes the expected expansion and anticipated result of Network Schooling:
… I can’t help thinking that there must be others like me: working professionals who, out of necessity, because the economics are so compelling, or simply for the fun of it, are home-schooling their children sotto voce, on the quiet. If we spoke up, maybe we would dispel the skepticism and the stigma. And we might argue we’re in the vanguard of educational progress: According to Wired magazine, researchers find that children make the greatest academic gains when we spend less time lecturing them and more time equipping them to teach themselves. Done right, that’s home schooling at its best.
The final link in this post comes from a post by Diane Ravitch on “Hackschooling”. Ravitch’s post included a link to this TEDx Talk by a 13-year old self-proclaimed “Hackschooler” from Nevada named Logan LaPlante. While LaPlante’s educational and life goal— to be happy and healthy— is probably unattainable, it is in the final analysis more worthy that that of Race to the Top or any outcome sought by, say, the Business Roundtable or the US Chamber of Commerce. Ravtich concluded that LaPlante’s talk
…is a plaintive and passionate protest against the factory model, industrial age in which he cram information and instructions and tests down the throats of bright young people and expect them to like it. They don’t.
Earlier in the post, though, Ravtich made a statement that I thought missed a larger point, and responded with this comment:
You write that this form of schooling “…is not for everyone, only for those who are very self-motivated, curious, energetic, and industrious…” but this is precisely what schools need to turn out for the jobs of the future. Our schools today are designed to squelch self-motivation, curiosity, and energy and we are surprised when students are not industrious. Kids like Logan know they can learn more looking at screens that interest them than they can by looking at books that prepare them for tests on the common core. Schools need to change the way they do business to encourage this kind of self-directed learning instead of insisting on batching students into age-based cohorts.
And here’s what’s REALLY perplexing: the business community that clamors for standardization in schools is simultaneously clamoring for “self-motivated, curious, energetic and industrious” workers. What’s wrong with this picture?
I believe the testing regimen will soon be behind us, and the factory model of schooling might not be far behind. Once parents like those in the Brooklyn New School, like Jennifer Kulynych, and like Logan LaPlante’s leave the reservation it will be hard to get them back… and easy for them to find disillusioned kindred spirits in the ranks of public education. Here’s hoping that those students remaining in public education have an opportunity to seek happiness and health.
A Bloomberg Technology article reports that only 5% of those who signed up for MOOCs offered by Harvard and MIT completed those courses, using that data point as evidence that MOOCs are not all they are cracked up to be. I’m not so quick to jump off the MOOC bandwagon for several reasons:
First and foremost, I believe the reason for these MOOCs low pass rate is that K-12 education requires compliance and teacher oversight while MOOCs require initiative, self-direction, and the ability to learn independently. The irony in this is that the business community claims it wants creative, self-directed and independent thinking employees and yet it insists that schools use standardized tests to measure the effectiveness of K-12 schools and teachers.
Secondly, these aren’t just ANY MOOCs: they are ones offered by MIT and Harvard, neither of whom watered down the course they offered nor, to the best of my knowledge, made any effort to make their courses appealing to a broader audience. Roughly 5% of those who apply to Harvard and/or MIY get in. Is it any surprise that only 5% of those who TRIED a course from those institutions COMPLETED the course?
Third, as the article noted, getting a certificate of completion may not have been the goal of those who registered for free. I have one retired friend who watches philosophy lectures given at an elite institution with his wife and afterwards they use the material from the course as a springboard for discussion. I’m sure that somewhere there are “MOOC Clubs” springing up the same way there are “Book Clubs” and folks are convening meetings to learn from each other in addition to learning from the lectures.
Finally, the fact that only highly educated people signed up for MOOCs is not evidence that they will not eventually be a democratizing force. At this point, only a few technologically informed individuals are aware of the opportunity to take on-line courses for free. Once more guidance counselors, home school parents, and parents who want to provide supplementary learning opportunities for their children learn of MOOCs, their enrollment base will expand and the availability of free courses from leading institutions will expand opportunities. Indeed, even with a 5% completion rate, 43,000+ students completed courses at Harvard and MIT: that’s FAR more than attend those colleges and even more students will be registering once the word spreads.
I am still convinced that the curve for MOOCs will bend upward like the curve for the use of cell phones. MOOCs, like cell phones, are marginally lower in quality but drastically higher in convenience and in meeting individual needs. Don’t count them out yet….
The Naked Capitalism blog often features links to posts by Cathy O’Neill, the “Math Babe”. On occasion I have referenced her posts, but I found her analysis of the impact of MOOCs on college math departments to be one of the most thoughtful ones I’ve read… and as a result decided to sign on to receive future posts from her. Here was the comment I posted after reading her analysis and the 30+ comments that followed:
As a blogger who has written many posts on the potential impact of MOOCs on public education (http://waynegersen.com/?s=MOOCs), I found this post to be one of the most insightful analyses I’ve read. Of all the comments, the one that got my attention was Cathy’s response to a comment, where she promised “…to write a follow-up with a few suggestions on how mathematicians can try to take early and strong control over a definition of success and a design of testing of this so that the debate isn’t completely co-opted by people with purely commercial interests.”
In public education the debate has already BEEN co-opted by privatizers and the effect has been a retrenchment into the status quo by those who are techno-phobic and/or traditionalists… and in public education we have decided to measure what is easy to measure instead of what is important to measure… mainly because it is cheaper to use multiple choice tests for most content and scanner-friendly algorithms for essays. My advice to colleges: keep your eye on USDOE! They will be developing the metrics and designing the tests that will be used to define “success”… and if the proposals I’ve read so far are any indication colleges, too, be on the defense. USDOEs “Race To The Top” has resulted in a race-to-the-bottom for wages and some nice paychecks for privatizers.