Archive for October, 2012

Learning is Constant, Time is the Variable

October 31, 2012 1 comment

Over 20 years ago Ron Edmunds decried the fact that we had it backward in our public schools: we had time as a constant and learning as a variable. If a student didn’t master the material presented in the allocated time, they failed… time marched on and the information they didn’t grasp in the allotted time was never learned and the skills they didn’t get in the allotted time was never mastered. Over the years, more and more information was unlearned and more skills were not mastered and, of course, the gap between the “fast learners” and the “slow learners” widened.

Off the Clock, a recent article in Education Week echoes this assertions. calling time a false metric. The writer, Kyle Redford, a teacher in Marin Country Day School, recommends that ALL students be afforded the time they need to complete assignments or tests:

How did teachers ever come to rationalize cutting students off before they had ample time to express their understanding of a subject? How did we, as educators, allow a two-tier system to spring up that lets students with parent advocates, enlightened schools, or family means gain access to a basic educational accommodation that is denied students who have the same need but can’t get or afford a diagnosis?

I’m unaware of research that supports the idea that educators learn anything additional about students’ depth or breadth of knowledge by measuring how quickly they can recall answers or express what they have learned. There are many things that cause one student to finish an assessment faster than another, and it is not always influenced by mastery (with the exception of something like a math-facts quiz).

My comment to this suggested that time constraints on assignments are the tip of the iceberg: the biggest time constraint is the one that suggests students of a certain age should be expected to master a body of material within a fixed time frame we called a “grade level”.. . and THIS time frame is reinforced by the standardized testing we do year in and year out. The reason for this “grade level” paradigm is that it was efficient in the day and age when schools were designed to sort the fast learners from the slow learners— but that day is over and HAS been over for decades. If we expect ALL students to learn, we need to recall that Edmund’s aphorism was ALL children can learn given sufficient time and appropriate instruction…. unfortunately the qualifying phrases have been dropped from this in our mania to test children using the easiest and cheapest means possible.

Another Pro-Charter Angle: Green cards for $$$$

October 31, 2012 Comments off

My step-daughter who lives in Burke, VT, recently told me that the somewhat shopworn ski resort in their community was recently acquired by “investors from China” who intended to spend lots of money to upgrade the lifts, the condominiums, and build new houses in the region. They were rewarded for their investment with a green card… which seemed like a win-win situation for everyone: the economically challenged North East Kingdom of VT would get jobs, more tourism from Boston and Montreal, and the investors would get to relocate their families to our country.

A recent article in Reuters indicates that this opportunity is also available for foreigners who invest in charter schools.(Thanks to Diane Ravitch’s blog post for this link!). As the October 12 article by Stephanie Simon reports:

Under a federal program known as EB-5, wealthy foreigners can in effect buy U.S. immigration visas for themselves and their families by investing at least $500,000 in certain development projects. In the past two decades, much of the investment has gone into commercial real-estate projects, like luxury hotels, ski resorts and even gas stations.

Lately, however, enterprising brokers have seen a golden opportunity to match cash-starved charter schools with cash-flush foreigners in investment deals that benefit both.

“The demand is massive – massive – on the school side,” said Greg Wing, an investment advisor. “On the investor side, it’s massive, too.”

Two years ago, Wing set up a venture called the Education Fund of America specifically to connect international investors with charter schools. He is currently arranging EB-5 funding for 11 schools across North Carolina, Utah and Arizona and says he has four more deals in the works.

And that’s just the start, Wing says: “It’s going to be explosive.”

Explosive indeed! What school district in this day and age can raise $500,000 for facilities without creating a firestorm in its community… and what charter investor is willing to pony up $500,000 for a specialized facility that might not make it, especially since banks are reluctant to loan funds to a start-up like a charter school. According to the article, “…the government approved 3,000 petitions from foreigners seeking to participate in the program – nearly twice as many as were approved all last year” and many investors are eager to fund charter schools because they are viewed as recession proof and somewhat altruistic. Ali Faisal, a Pakistani investor put his money in charter schools because

…he felt he’d be serving society as well as helping himself. The schools he saw impressed him with their rigorous science curriculum and he said he hoped his investment would help nurture a new generation of American entrepreneurs.

“Investing in some type of hotel will not give me that inner satisfaction.””

Investors with altruistic motives like Mr. Faisal are somehow more acceptable than investors who want to make profit from charter schools…. and those coming into our country with Mr. Faisal’s perspective seem to be seeking entry here because they believe that  upward mobility is possible in our country and they realize that education is key to achieving that advancement.

At first blush it seems that this is no different than the investment in Burke Mountain Ski Resort: it will bring improved facilities to public education, create jobs, and benefit residents in districts where the $$$ is being invested. But the dilemma is this: charters are competing against public schools and public schools cannot raise $500,000 from foreigners to enhance their facilities or buy new technology or hire additional teachers… so the field is tilted in favor of the privatizers. If we want to be the kind of country Mr. Faisal believes we are, we need to invest in our PUBLIC schools and stop relying on external funding to save the day.

Cutthroat Capitalism, Cuddly Capitalism, and Charter Schools

October 31, 2012 Comments off

Eduardo Porter’s column in today’s business section of the NYTimes invites readers to choose the form of capitalism they want to have in the future… and suggests that we are where we are today because of choices WE made in the past.

In his column he cites a monograph by Daron Acemoglu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, James Robinson of Harvard and Thierry Verdier of the Paris School of Economics that contrasts the United States’ “cutthroat capitalism” with the “cuddly capitalism” of Scandinavia. Here’s a quote from the abstract of that monograph:

We show that, under plausible assumptions, the world equilibrium is asymmetric: some countries will opt for a type of “cutthroat” capitalism that generates greater inequality and more innovation and will become the technology leaders, while others will free-ride on the cutthroat incentives of the leaders and choose a more cuddly form of capitalism. Paradoxically, those with cuddly reward structures, though poorer, may have higher welfare than cutthroat capitalists; but in the world equilibrium, it is not a best response for the cutthroat capitalists to switch to a more cuddly form of capitalism. We also show that domestic constraints from social democratic parties or unions may be beneficial for a country because they prevent cutthroat capitalism domestically, instead inducing other countries to play this role.

As any political junkie can see, the highlighted phrases all sound like talking points from the Republican side of the aisle and the business community… while the underscored sections reflect the progressive point of view… which is to say not necessarily the view put forth by the democratic party.

It struck me in reading this article that the charter school business represents the cutthroat side of capitalism. Market based charter schools set in motion the “… relentless dynamics (that send) unheard-of profits toward the prosperous few while threatening the jobs and eroding the wages of the rest” (see earlier posts on the wages paid to CEOs of charter schools and low wages paid to teachers) and does nothing to address the high social costs we have incurred as a result of the cutthroat capitalism that dominates our overall economy.

Charter schools and technology could be combined to address the social ills outlined in Porter’s article, but only if the government had incentives on collaboration among agencies and provided funding for those agencies that could break the cycle of dependency. Unfortunately no one is advocating ANY form of cuddly, cooperative capitalism… only the competitive, cutthroat capitalism that our businesses assume is the ONLY way to move forward.

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