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Permanent Record Redux

May 31, 2013 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on the new reality: after years of mythologizing, the advent of the permanent record is upon us. This past week I read two items that reinforced this notion: Anthony Cody’s May 21 blog post in the Education Week and the powerpoint from Classsizematters.com I referenced in a post earlier this week. Both of them reference the change in FERPA regulations that make it possible for education institutions to sell information that was previously confidential to for-profit data warehouses like InBloom, who are free to use the data for commercial purposes. Oh… and InBloom spdcifically indicates that they “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”  If a teacher whose evaluation documents are stored in an InBloom warehouse gets indigestion, think how the parent of a student whose special needs status, free and reduced lunch qualifications, and disciplinary records are stored in this potentially leaky “cloud” warehouse. And these deals provide lots of fodder for conspiracy theorists given that InBloom funded by the Gates Foundation, uses an operating system run by former NYC superintendent Joel Klein and owned by Rupert Murdoch— a trifecta!

In dealing with student discipline we were always able to assure parents that their child’s 14 year old antics wouldn’t haunt them in the future if their behavior improved… nor would their grades in middle school be readily available… but now, all bets are off in that regard. Worse, as Anthony Cody points out, teachers’ permanent records may be undercut when Value Added Scoring is introduced. Given the convoluted methodology in use in many states, this could effectively blackball a teacher whose Value Added performance grades were based on students he or she never taught.

What was done by changes in FERPA regulations in 2011 could be undone… but the more data that gets pushed to the cloud, the more difficult it will be to pull it back… and the more the misdeeds of teenagers will haunt them into adulthood.

 

 

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Fighting for Democracy

May 31, 2013 Leave a comment

This morning after watching a Real News segment I accessed through Common Dreams, reading Diane Ravitch’s blog post about InBloom’s eagerness to sell previously protected personal information to “vendors”, and a City Paper article on the continuing dysfunction of Philadelphia schools, it became clear to me that there is one root cause to all of the disparate problems I have been blogging about: the loss of democracy in the governance of public schools… especially urban schools.

Locally elected school boards would never support the wholesale  privatization of public education. Local elected school boards have a sense of what their community wants from its schools. They know whether a school deemed to be “failing” based on standardized tests has taken the steps needed to improve and they know the unique challenges each school faces in meeting the needs of its students. When state legislatures and city councils passed laws that ceded the oversight of public education to mayors, democratic governance of schools disappeared and the door was opened for privatization. When state legislatures began enacting laws crafted by pro-business lobbies like ALEC, grassroots democracy took a back seat to “efficiency” and “cost-effectiveness”, and the door to privatization on a state level was opened.

At this juncture, most school boards and most parents are only experiencing the indirect effects of the privatization movement (e.g. the adoption of the Common Core assessments), and seemingly accepting the sweeping pro-ALEC legislation being adopted in many states. Most school boards and most parents think that this whole school closure thing is an urban problem that has no relationship to their local schools… but it is evident that legislators seeking to tame “runaway spending” in public education will be more than happy to change the democratic governance of “failing” schools in exchange for the lower operating costs promised by privatizers. And here’s the real bottom line: CEOs in schools operated by for-profit businesses don’t answer to the voters: they answer to shareholders. And shareholders only care about one thing: maximizing profit at all costs. 

This isn’t a fight about education issues like the common core, standardized testing, teacher rights, student privacy, or funding equity. Those are sideshows designed to distract us from the core issue: the fight over who will control the schools. Will it be voters or shareholders?

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The Sequester’s Trickle Down Cuts

May 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Anyone who follows the dysfunction in DC could see this one coming: the Special Ed (IDEA) funding from Washington is expected to drop by $2,000,000,000 or 20% in the coming year! How come it isn’t a smaller cut? How will that play out at the local level? First, the money flows through the States who may use some of those funds to offset local costs for residential placements and/or to pay for staff who provide technical support to districts and/or to enforce the provisions of the law. Since those costs cannot be cut because the functions are essential, districts will likely absorb all of the cuts. But wait! Special education services are mandated by law and cannot be cut… which means when special education funds are reduced they must be replaced by local funds… and that, in turn, means staff reductions… and that means the loss of programs, higher class sizes, or fewer non-mandated support services for students.

I know that there is a school of thought that closing the deficit is important to sustain the economy in the long run… but a stronger counter argument is that cutting education, while saving money and closing the deficit in the short run, will put our country further and further behind in the long run. Here’s hoping that the sequester ends before lay-offs begin.

The Common Core and Common Sense

May 29, 2013 Leave a comment

In “Caution and the Common Core” he NYTimes editorialized in support of the Common Core State Standards on Monday while indirectly and obtusely criticizing NYS and the USDOE for their hasty implementation of the tests that accompany the CCSS. The second paragraph summarizes the message of the editorial:

The Department of Education has rightly pushed the states to jettison outmoded systems in exchange for a challenging, writing-intensive approach. But the department, which has set a rapid timetable for this transformation, will need to give the states some flexibility so that teachers — who themselves are under pressure to meet evaluation standards — can adjust to the new curriculum.

The editorial provides a brief overview of the benefits of the CCSS and the USDOEs mandate that CCSS assessments be the basis for teacher evaluations as part of the NCLB waivers. The closing sentence of the editorial implicitly supports a year of field testing these CCSS assessments before using them to evaluate teachers:

But the Education Department should give states the flexibility to refrain from penalizing schools or teachers based on the test data for at least a year, until an evaluation system for the Common Core is validated. This would only be common sense.

Unfortunately, the editorial does not explicitly call out the NYS Regents plan to use this year’s test results as the basis for evaluating teachers nor does it specifically chastise the “reformers” argument that the “urgency” for “change” requires immediate use of tests based on the CCSS despite the fact that NYS teachers have had NO time to adjust to them. The editorial also misses the point that teaching to a test based on age-based grade groupings does not promote changes to the practice of teachers and administrators. On the contrary, it reinforces the factory model and the top-down command-and-control model or management that most businesses have abandoned.

 

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Powerful Powerpoint

May 28, 2013 Leave a comment

My daughter, whose son attends a public school in Brooklyn, follows Change the Stakes on Facebook and through that site she downloaded a Powerpoint presentation by Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters. The statistics in the presentation show the erosion of student performance, increase of class size, and increase in profiteering that occurred during the 12 years of the Bloomberg administration. The information also infers that the State was complicit in this action given that Bloomberg used State funds to reduce class sizes to supplant the local taxes and given the “stick” they wielded to support Bloomberg’s efforts to impose the RTTT testing regime on NYC teachers.

The last slide is the most dispiriting. The first two bullets show the deep unpopularity of Bloomberg’s education policies and lack of support for continuing mayoral control of the schools. The last bullet reads:

  • Yet no mayoral candidate has come out strongly for changing law to provide real checks and balances. 

Why is this so? The mayor has crunched the numbers and knows where he needs to ameliorate class size and where he can make deep cuts. One slide shows that Kindergarten class sizes have markedly increased everywhere… but the numbers in Manhattan and Brooklyn are relatively under control. In short, the mayor has not upset the applecart among parents who would actively oppose his privatization agenda and fed the discontent among voters who oppose the “fat” union contracts and the fantasy of privatization that fat cats in “Hedgistan” believe.

I hope that one candidate, in an effort to differentiate themselves from the pack, will come out in opposition to Bloomberg’s privatization-is-the-solution myth and restore funding to public schools and the wrap-around programs that could make them as successful as those charters who are richly endowed by philanthropists. The parents in NYC will jump on board if such a message is delivered…. and Haimson’s powerpoint gives that candidate the talking points they need.

Disrupting Class Redux

May 27, 2013 Leave a comment

A few years ago Clay Christensen and Michael Horn wrote Disrupting Class, a book I read and circulated to school board members and administrators in my district. The book describes how technology disrupted several businesses (e.g. banking, telecommunications, broadcasting) and how it was about to have a disruptive effect on public education.

Earlier this month Diane Ravitch offered a link to an Executive Summary of a White Paper Christensen published recently and, after reading the summary, I downloaded the entire white paper, which I found thought provoking and hopeful. Basically, Christensen sees public schools remaining intact in the same ways that bank branches are intact: they will provide support for students but will offer basic services in an easier and more convenient format. He describes the future function of schools in the following paragraphs, with emphases added:

As disruptive models of blended learning do begin to transform schooling by replacing the traditional classroom, the fundamental role of brick-and-mortar schools will pivot. We suspect that schools will no longer become the primary source for content and instruction and instead focus their capabilities on other core services.

What is the future role of schools as online learning improves and snaps itself into brick- and-mortar schooling environments? Society “hires” schools to do a number of jobs, only one of which is to impart learning to students. Another central job is simply to care for children and keep them safe while parents are at work or otherwise unavailable. Schools provide important social services for many students, which range from counseling and mentoring to health services and free meals. In the years ahead, schools will likely provide more of these services, not less, for some students. From the perspective of children, having a place to have fun with friends is also vital, as is having a place to be exposed to various extracurricular activities like sports and the arts. Schools can do these jobs quite well for some students, even as other students have alternative options to fulfill them.

… In many ways the arrival of online learning is welcomed news for stressed out schools that have long been asked to do too much with too little. Once online learning becomes good enough, schools will be able to rely on it to deliver consistently high-quality instruction adapted to each student. That will free schools to focus on nailing the other jobs. These other jobs will likely include things like guaranteeing high-quality meals; clean and pleasing physical environments; the elimination of bullying; a range of athletic, musical, and artistic programs; and excellent face-to-face mentoring.

If you read my own White Paper on how Vermont could consolidate administratively while retaining its small schools you will see why this resonated with me. In the end, Christensen believes hybrid versions of public education will dominate making it possible for ALL students to have access to high quality personalized education at a very reasonable cost.

Radical Management and K-12 Education

May 26, 2013 Leave a comment

A Facebook post by Christopher Chase on the Innovative Educator blog this morning featured an excerpt from a Forbes article by Steve Denning written in 2011 titled “The Single Best Idea for Reforming K-12 Education”. That idea was distilled into two sentences:

To my mind, the biggest problem is a preoccupation with, and the application of, the factory model of management to education, where everything is arranged for the scalability and efficiency of “the system”, to which the students, the teachers, the parents and the administrators have to adjust. “The system” grinds forward, at ever increasing cost and declining efficiency, dispiriting students, teachers and parents alike.

The article hammers this point home, noting the fruitlessness of pursuing top-down management approaches, carrots-and-sticks, and ruthlessly rooting out failing employees. Another paragraph emphasizes the fruitlessness of prescribing instruction:

The inapplicablity of these methods is aggravated by the changes in the economy. Not so long ago, we could predict what jobs and careers might be available for children in their adult life. The education system could tell little Freddie or Janet what to study and if he or she mastered that, he or she was set for life. Not any more. We simply don’t know what jobs will be there in twenty years time. Today, apart from a few core skills like reading, writing, math, thinking, imagining and creating, we cannot know what knowledge or skills will be needed when Freddie or Janet grows up.

The first article got so much positive feedback Denning published Part 2 a week later. In this article he contends that those who want to run education like a business are picking the wrong business as a model. He asserts that software developers have learned the hard way how to “manage knowledge work on a large scale” and recounts the lessons they learned:

At first, when managers encountered these problems in software development, they did what is now happening in education. They disciplined people. They tried tighter management. They asked for more detailed reports. They sent the developers on death marches. They fired them. But the replacements did no better. So much money was involved that a solution had to be found.

And the solution was found, largely by doing the work in self-organizing teams in short cycles, drawing on the talents of the team, and getting direct feedback from users at the end of each cycle. This way of working (dynamic linking) turned out to be hugely productive for the organization, much more satisfying for competent people doing the work and much better for the people for whom the work was being done. So there is now a huge global movement to manage software in this way, under names like Agile or Scrum. And it is spreading into all forms of knowledge work, under the name, Radical Management. When the whole organization adopts this as a way of working, the organization tends to become astonishingly profitable.

So we shouldn’t have to go through another multi-decade battle in education to discover what we already know: that bureaucratic management doesn’t work in knowledge work. We can all learn from what’s happened in other fields, and stop wasting people’s time, money and lives.

Denning wrote this eighteen months ago before I started blogging and started my consulting work… I’s sorry I didn’t read it earlier! Chase’s Facebook post is sardonically titled “The Memo Bill Gates and Arne Duncan Forgot to Read”… Thanks to Chase for letting me read it ex post facto!

 

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