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.
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.
For the past 47 years Phi Delta Kappa, a non-political professional organization for educators, issues the findings from a poll of members of the public regarding their thoughts about education. Some results are the same year-after-year, the primary example being that respondents invariably rate their own public schools higher than public schools in general. Occasionally, though, trends emerge and the fact that they are captured in a non-partisan poll often gets widespread attention among school administrators, school board members, and this year, among the general public.
The trend that emerged in this year’s poll is captured in the title: “Testing Doesn’t Measure Up for Americans”. For politicians and the “reformers” who value standardization and the accountability based on standardized test results the response to these questions cannot be good news:
In your opinion, is there too much emphasis on standardized testing in the public schools in your community, not enough emphasis on testing, or about the right amount?
All respondents: 64% say “too much”; 19% say “just the right amount”
Parents: 67% say “too much”; 20% say “just the right amount”
Do you think that all parents with children in the public schools should be allowed to excuse their child from taking one or more standardized tests?
All respondents: 41% say “yes”; 44% say “no”
Parents: 47% say “yes”; 40% say “no”
In your opinion, which of the following approaches would provide the most accurate picture of a public school student’s academic progress? Select all that apply:
Examples of student’s work: 37%
Written observations by teacher: 26%
Grades awarded by the teacher: 21%
Standardized tests: 19%
And the news doesn’t improve for those who believe tests are the best metric for measuring schools, teachers, or students.
- 55% of the public opposes using standardized tests to evaluate teachers, an increase in that percentage despite the relentless publicity advocating this method.
- Only 19% see standardized get results as “very important” in measuring student learning while 7% see them as “not important at all” and 25% rate them as “not very important”.
- Only 14% see standardized get results as “very important” in measuring the effectiveness of public schools while 13% see them as “not important at all” and 28% rate them as “not very important”.
But here’s the real kicker in the poll:
- 45% see “How Much Money Schools Have to Spend” standardized get results as “very important” while 3% see them as “not important at all” and 12% rate them as “not very important”.
Not only are the standardized tests being overemphasized in the minds of the public, they are being overvalued! This finding should be informing legislators who are (presumably) putting the finishing touches on a bill that will extend the testing regimen imposed by NCLB for at least another five years and should be informing the philanthropists who advocate for school reform that uses standardized testing as the primary metric for school performance. But maybe the money being spent by those who seek to privatize education and the publicity machinery that trumpets test results will drown out the voice of the public.
Yesterday six Republican hopefuls met in Londonderry NH to respond to questions posed by Campbell Brown, a wealthy former talking head from CNC who has created her own education policy website “Seventy Four”, which is devoted to promoting vouchethe and privatization. The gathering Ms. Campbell organized, called The NH Education Summit, featured three bona fide contenders, Jeb Bush, John kasich, and Scott Walker, and three long shots, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindahl, and Carly Fiorina. The NYTimes article covering the event did not report on privatization or choice, in all likelihood because all the candidate held the same view: privatization is necessary to create a vibrant market for parents to choose from and vouchers are where we need to head. The article DID emphasize one area of dispute: the Common Core. While every single candidate called for higher standards, only Kasich supported the Common Core. In doing so he made the eminently reasonable argument that if the candidates wanted uniformly high standards they needed to adopt a uniform set of standards. In the final analysis, this is the conundrum facing those who favor the use of standardized tests as the primary means of accountability. Standardized tests need to be based on standards…and as we witnessed before and after NCLB, different states have different standards. MS’s standards are different from MA’s standards…and consequently different children are held to different standards. The fix to this, a set of NATIONAL standards, is an anathema to Republicans who favor having STATE standards, seemingly willing to accept variability in exchange for keeping control out of the hands of the Federal government.
The NYTimes reporting captured this conundrum well, but in so doing made Kasich, a stridently pro-privatization and anti-union Governor who has underfunded public education in his state, sound like the most reasonable candidate of the six. The NYTimes also repeated the urban legend that the Common Core was a product of the State School Chiefs when it was, in fact, the product of Bill Gates’ largesse.
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.