Archive for May, 2012

Challenges Closing the Digital Divide

May 31, 2012 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an article describing a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation reporting that closing the digital divide by providing technology to children in poverty doesn’t close the academic divide. Indeed, it may contribute to a widening of the divide since many of the students receiving the new technology use it for games, TV, and social networking instead of academic enrichment. Two quotes stood out for me in the article:

 “…access is not a panacea,” said Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft. “Not only does it not solve problems, it mirrors and magnifies existing problems we’ve been ignoring.”

Ms. Robell, the principal (of one of the students mis-using technology), said children needed to know how to use technology to compete, but her priorities for her students were more basic: “Breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Providing technology is one of the many “good, fast, and cheap” silver bullets that politicians and businessman espouse and many educators buy into… but the cold reality is that without early intervention and parental support for learning there is little schools or gadgets can do for students.

I remain convinced that technology can be a powerful tool for supplementing instruction and providing timely and meaningful data to parents, teachers and students. But in and of itself it cannot fix the problems children are born into or bring with them into the classroom.

First Class and Coach in Public Schools

May 31, 2012 Comments off

Nick Kristoff’s column in today’s NYTimes deals with the thorny question of how to balance capitalist markets with morals. He offers several thought provoking examples of how markets contribute to disparity, drawing the column from a book by Mark Sandel called What Money Can’t Buy, which asserts that “…in recent years we have been slipping without much reflection into relying upon markets in ways that undermine the fairness of our society.”

Kristoff’s column includes the following citation from the book:

“The marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives,” Sandel writes. “We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools. You might call it the skyboxification of American life. It’s not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.”

And follows that citation with the following sentences a couple of paragraphs later:

It is one thing for Delta Air Lines to have first class and coach. It is quite another for government to offer first class and coach in the essential services that government provides.

This inconsistency led me to submit the following comment:

You write that government shouldn’t “…offer first class and coach in the essential services that government provides” yet government has historically offered one essential service– public schooling– in two tiers for decades. Look at the per pupil costs differential between NYC and Scarsdale and you’ll see that differential… and that differential exists in every urban area in the country. If we ever hope to close the divide in our country we need to close the divide in funding for public education.

While I’m not sure I’m crazy about the term “skyboxification”, I think it does capture the difference between, say, Hanover NH and Canaan, NH as well as Scarsdale and New York. But is also accounts for an emerging differential between cities with college educated and non-college educated residents as described in this NYTimes article. Given the choice between Dayton and NYC, more and more college educated folks are choosing urban areas where college educated folks congregate… This is the vicious cycle that only some kind of government assistance can break.

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Presidential Politics: No Discernible Difference

May 30, 2012 Comments off

Washington Post writer Jay Mathews reaches the same conclusion as I did regarding education policy as it applies to the Presidential election: Romney and Obama are mirror images of each other. In an article published on May 27 Mathews notes:

Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have been happily copying each other since a group of Democratic governors (including Bill Clinton) started the school accountability movement in the 1980s and several Republican governors (including George W. Bush) joined in.

He notes that Obama and Romney both champion charter schools, school choice, and “unions-as obstructionists” rhetoric. the only difference is in the parties’ positions on vouchers.  To Mathews’ credit, he accurately points out the key flaw in vouchers:

Instead the two parties pound each other with an education issue that makes them look tough to their most partisan supporters. That convenient weapon is vouchers, tax-supported scholarships for students who want to attend private schools. Obama has cut funds for a voucher program in the District so Romney embraces it. “I will be a model for parental choice programs across the nation,” he said in the speech.

The split doesn’t affect the bipartisan approach to schools much because vouchers have no chance of ever expanding very far. There aren’t nearly enough available spaces in good private schools to meet the demand. Any significant growth in vouchers would lead to heavy government interference in private schools and kill any allegiance conservative Republicans had to it.

To date I have been very disappointed with the Obama administration’s approach to “school reform”, whose centerpiece, Race to the Top, uses standardized achievement tests as the primary (if not sole) basis for school and teacher accountability. I’m hoping that the latest wrinkle in RTTT means some REAL reform in education.

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