Universal Broadband Required to Improve and Equalize Opportunity in Vermont

July 23, 2018 Leave a comment

The following is testimony I provided to a meeting convened by the Green Mountain Economic Development Commission that involved ISP providers, Governor Scott, and government officials from the State of Vermont who are interested in workforce preparation.  

In December 2013, the Vermont State Board of Education unanimously approved the Education Quality Standards, an updated set of rules designed to ensure that “…all Vermont children will be afforded educational opportunities that are substantially equal in quality…”.

Four years later, in November 2017, the State Board unanimously adopted the International Standards for Technology Education (ISTE), which outline “…what all Vermont students should know and be able to do with respect to information technology.”Upon their adoption, State Board of Education Chair Krista Huling said: “These standards also strengthen Vermont’s commitment to citizenship in the digital age at a time when civic engagement at all levels are key to strengthening our democracy.”

As one who has consulted in school districts in eastern Vermont ranging from Canaan to Halifax, I applaud the high-minded ideals set forth in both the Education Quality Standards and the ISTE standards. Based on my experience working with rural districts in Essex, Orleans, Orange, and Windham Counties, achieving those goals will require a marked increase in the availability of high speed internet in schools. Moreover, knowing the financial challenges placed on Vermont school districts, such an increase can only happen with a targeted increase in technology funding from sources outside of district budgets. The FCC’s bandwidth goals for 2017-18 is to have at least I Mbps per student in every school in our country. This speed is required to ensure a media rich environment for students in the schools, an environment that will enable them to do browsing, on-line testing, video collaboration, and streaming of remote instruction like Khan Academy.

In order for technology to fulfill its ultimate promise, these FCC goals for schoolsshould also apply to allresidents. If we expect students to complete homework that involves internet research, to receive asynchronous remote instruction at home, or to work on projects with classmates when they are outside of school, they need to have high speed internet access at home. If we expect teachers to be capable of using all of the technology tools available today outside of school, they need to have high speed internet at home. Most importantly, if we expect that “…all Vermont children will be afforded educational opportunities that are substantially equal in quality” we cannot continue to limit high speed internet access to many of our students. As a map prepared by Broadbandnow illustrates (see https://broadbandnow.com/Vermont), a substantial minority of residents in Vermont do not have access to the kind of internet services needed in order to experience the “media rich” environment the FCC hopes to achieve in this current school year. These marked disparities in high speed internet services available to students will widen the achievement gap between students who reside in communities with broadband and those students residing in communities where no high speed internet is available.

Today, I expect that you will hear direct testimony on how disparities in internet access affect students, teachers, and parents across Vermont. I also expect that you will hear ideas from ISP providers on the steps the State can take to help accelerate the provision of high speed internet access across the state. For the sake of rural and low-income students across the state, I urge you to take the actions recommended in this session.


Dora Taylor: The “New Gentrification”: Charter Schools and Teacher “Villages” for TFA

July 22, 2018 Leave a comment

The commenters insights explain the awfulness of this idea, which exemplifies the way oligarchs suppress wages and control the ability of workers to seek work elsewhere…. all the while increasing their wealth.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Dora Taylor, a parent activist in Seattle, noticed an interesting new development.

A developer plans to build a project that includes retail, low income housing and at one time, a charter school, the Green Dot charter school chain, in Southeast Seattle.

Based on further research, I found this is not an anomaly but a national trend.

Bankers, developers and real estate brokers are working together with Teach for America (TFA) and charter school enterprises to offer low income housing mainly for Teach for America recruits and other teachers who do not have adequate pay for clean and safe housing along with free space for charter schools through city and state support. These are our tax dollars paying for highly lucrative business ventures where all the profit goes back to the bankers, developers and brokers.

These people are not developing these projects out of the goodness of their hearts, they…

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New Hampshire’s Persistent Underfunding Leads to Perpetual Inequity and Interminable Lawsuit

July 21, 2018 Leave a comment

The Advancing New Hampshire Public Education blog featured a post yesterday with graphics that underscore how poorly funded New Hampshire public schools are. This is not a new phenomenon, and not a phenomenon that is likely to change until a Governor is elected on a platform that calls for some kind of broad based tax that will help underwrite the schools. Based on what I’ve read of Democratic candidates thus far, it is unlikely that any of them will come forth with a platform calling for a brand based tax. But in a state where the “no broad based tax” pledge is embraced by both parties, it is conceivable that a third party candidate who opposed the pledge and advocated for taxes could win. If a candidate could show voters how such a tax would help relive property tax burdens and increase funding for schools, for example, they might get 40% of the voters to support them. If the other two parties split the remaining votes, the pro-broad based tax individual would win. Whether their victory would enable them to get a tax measure through the legislature is an imponderable… but at least it would break the longstanding deadlock that has led to the inequality among schools in the state.

A New Strategy is Bringing in Millions for Public Schools in St. Louis

July 21, 2018 Leave a comment

This article unwittingly describes everything that is wrong with public schools relying on philanthropists…. for philanthropists want to make ad hoc contributions that underwrite their pet projects to the detriment of the needs of the educational institution. This is why some colleges have wonderful swimming facilities but no programs to help first generation students adapt to university life… or even worse facing deficits in operating costs that lead them to cut “non-essential” programs like foreign language and liberal arts. If public education falls prey to the whims of philanthropists for funding expect more inequality, more high-tech “solutions”, and fewer programs for disadvantaged children. 

Public education funds are entities that act as conduits between private donors and public school districts. They’ve thrived in Washington, D.C., and New York. But can this model also succeed elsewhere?

Source: A New Strategy is Bringing in Millions for Public Schools in St. Louis

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Cheating, High Stakes Testing, and the Winning at All Costs Ethos are Interrelated.

July 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Anyone who advocates the use of high stakes tests should read a recently posted article by Medium blogger Gustavo Razzetti titled “America Has a Cheating Crisis (Why Leaders Should Worry About It)”.

In the article, Mr. Razzetti describes how cheating undercuts the norms in a culture and offers compelling evidence that cheating, high stakes testing, and the winat-all-costs ethos that permeates our culture are linked. After describing the work done by Freakonomics writers Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in examining cheating in Chicago schools, Mr. Razzetti concludes:

Cheating is a byproduct of high-performance cultures.

Measuring people by goals or achievements makes everyone focus on winning at all costs. Self-interest and the need for self-protection drive employees. People will do whatever it takes to win or survive…

Endless ambition justifies all means; cheating becomes self-reinforcing — we take shortcuts to win. When financial goals are the one and only metric, companies ask little questions about how things get done.

Mr. Razzetti then offers two consequences to the individual that result from adopting an ethos based on “endless ambition”, an ethos that ultimately compels individuals to cut corners in hopes of “victory”:

When you cheat, the first person that you fool is yourself.

When you cheat, your win won’t last forever — the aftermath will.

He concludes his essay with a well reasoned argument that “carrots and sticks”, the underlying theory behind high-stakes testing, inevitably results in cheating which, in turn, ultimately results in an erosion of personal and societal ill-being. Mr. Mazzetti urges readers to draw on their own resources to avoid fooling oneself and suffering the aftermath of cheating. I would advocate a change to the system by abandoning high stakes tests that are driving the cheating by creating a “high-performance culture” ultimately based on financial goals as the one and only metric.




Robots Cannot Replace Humans When it Comes to Grading Essays— But No Matter! They are Cheap, Fast, and Unbiased.

July 17, 2018 Leave a comment

NPR recently ran a story by Tovia Smith on the use of robots (or more precisely computers) to grade student essays and found to no educators’ surprise, that they were not not up to the task. The story opens with this quiz:

Multiple-choice tests are useful because:

A: They’re cheap to score.

B: They can be scored quickly.

C: They score without human bias.

D: All of the above.

It would take a computer about a nano-second to mark “D” as the correct answer. That’s easy.

But now, machines are also grading students’ essays. Computers are scoring long form answers on anything from the fall of the Roman Empire, to the pros and cons of government regulations.

From this point forward in the story, Ms. Smith provides an account of the expansion of the use of computer-graded essays, work done by MIT research affiliate, Les Perelman, who has developed algorithms that generate nonsense responses to machine-graded essays that yield high scores, a rebuttal to Mr. Perelman’s work by ETS, who argue, in effect, that if someone is smart enough to game to the essays they deserve the high grade, and the “cat-and-mouse” game underway to catch students who use algorithms in states that have adopted computerized grading.

At the end of the report, Ms. Smith hits on the real problem with computerized grading: it compels teachers to teach students formulaic writing.

Indeed, being a good writer is not the same thing as being a “higher-scoring GRE essay writer,” says Orion Taraban, executive director of Stellar GRE, a tutoring company in San Francisco.

“Students really need to appreciate that they’re writing for a machine … [and when students] agonize over crafting beautiful, wonderfully logically coherent and empirically validated paragraphs, it’s like pearls before swine. The computer can’t appreciate what this person has done and they don’t get the score that they deserve.”

Instead, Taraban tutors students to give the computer what it wants. “I train them in fabricating evidence and fabricating fake studies, which is a lot of fun,” he says, quickly adding, “but I also tell them not to do this in real life.”

For example, when writing a persuasive essay, Taraban advises students to use a basic formula and get creative. It goes something like this:

A [pick any year] study by Professor [fill in any old name] at the [insert your favorite university] in which the authors analyze [summarize the crux of the debate here], researchers discovered that [insert compelling data here] … and that [offer more invented, persuasive evidence here.] This demonstrates that [go to town boosting your thesis here!]”

It results in a kind of mad-lib writing that is anything but artful, thoughtful, or pleasing to read. But it is cheap, easy, unbiased, and unbiased…. and the ultimate triumph of efficiency over excellence.


Can Philadelphia Ever Be Freed from Charter Mania? It Depends on the School Board Developing a Spine

July 16, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday drawing on a commentary written by Lisa Haver and Deborah Grill, two activists in Philadelphia for thenothebook.org. In the commentary, Mss. Haver and Grill describe the machinations of the Philadelphia School Board who recently took control of charter schools in the city after politicians determined that School Reform Commission was failing in its mission to improve the schools after 17 years of oversight. I was hopeful that the newly installed School Board would insist that charter schools adhere to the same standards and regulations as public schools. But, alas, it appears that school board members are “negotiating” standards and regulations with charter operators behind closed doors, presumably based on the fact they negotiate with teachers behind closed doors. But negotiating standards and regulations are not the same as negotiating wages and working conditions. Nor are they the same as negotiating contracts with vendors who provide indirect services to schools and students. In short, there is no rationale for negotiating standards behind closed doors or negotiating them at all. If teachers and students in public schools have different standards than students in privately operated charters the playing field is clearly NOT level… and the students who attend schools with the lowest standards will clearly suffer. Here’s hoping the Philadelphia School Board develops a spine.