Archive for October, 2013

Brick By Brick

October 31, 2013 Comments off

Diane Ravith’s column today includes a link to an article from the Gotham Schools blog that reports on another influential group who is protesting high stakes testing: students from elite public high schools. Student leaders at Stuyvesant HS, one of NYC’s hyper-competitive schools, are mobilizing a boycott of the tests that has NO consequences for them and high stakes for teachers. Why? Because they think its a waste of their time and a completely inappropriate way to measure their teacher’s performance. Knowing how most standardized tests are written the Stuyvesant kids are right on both counts.  The test is probably easier than what they are working on now and because it doesn’t have much “head room” it will not be able to measure student growth in any meaningful way making any “value added” calculations impossible. The children shall lead us….

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Brave New World?

October 31, 2013 Comments off

Two articles in the NYTimes sent chills up my spine this past week: one on public education’s struggle with monitoring children’s internet habits and Nick Kristoff’s column on the eavesdropping debacle in Europe.

Tuesday’s article, “Warily, Schools Watch Students on the Internet” described a quandary schools are facing:

… as students complain, taunt and sometimes cry out for help on social media, educators have more opportunities to monitor students around the clock. And some schools are turning to technology to help them. Several companies offer services to filter and glean what students do on school networks; a few now offer automated tools to comb through off-campus postings for signs of danger. For school officials, this raises new questions about whether they should — or legally can — discipline children for their online outbursts.

Our country’s fear-based desire to protect students from bullying is contributing to this dilemma as is the desire to closely monitor students’ use of time on computers. The legislation regarding bullying opens the doors to schools giving serious consideration to this kind of monitoring as does the notion that schools are responsible for suicide prevention in addition to academics. The article describes how one district, Glenwood Unified School District (GUSD), secured the services of Geo Listening to monitor students’ social media postings in response to a rash of suicides. The company uses algorithms to monitor the posts and got $40,500 from GUSD for its services. It’s president predicted he would have 3000 districts signed up by the end of the year… and he’s not the only one in tis market. CompuGuardian, based in Salt Lake City, is offering it’s services to “…monitor whether students were researching topics like how to build bombs or discussing anorexia.” and their CEO is “…optimistic about market growth.” It is telling that this article appeared in the Business Day Technology section of the newspaper. The market for fear-based products is growing.

In addition to monitoring posts and on-line searches schools are unapologetically monitoring the time students spend on homework when they use district issued laptops or I-Pads. Details on this “academic monitoring” can be found in countless articles in education journals. To a degree this kind of monitoring is as much an invasion of privacy as the monitoring of social media because it conditions students to accept virtual monitoring of their everyday lives.

Kristoff’s column has nothing to do with schools but everything to do with our political and cultural conditioning. In the concluding paragraphs he writes:

Yes, there is still a place for drones, for spying on allies, for the N.S.A. But they need to be subjected to scrutiny, context and brakes, as they were before 9/11.

Commercial aviation would be safer if we were all required to fly stark naked. But we accept trade-offs — such as clothing — and thus some small risk. In the same way, it’s time to pause for a breath in the security realm and start examining the trade-offs, rather than just doing things because we can.

It was the last sentence that prompted me to go back to my queue of pending blog articles and dig out the one on monitoring social media. Are we monitoring students more closely “because we can” or is this monitoring expanding the mission of “state schooling” to a level that is unacceptable and unrealistic? This line of thinking led me to make this comment to Kristoff’s article:

One of the “trade-offs” we have accepted in our efforts to “protect children” is to keep them behind locked doors with surveillance cameras and expecting “the state” in the form of public schools to monitor their every move from the time they leave home until the time they return. Oh.. and to protect them even more we want them to walk past an armed guard to get into their confined quarters. Oh… and if THAT’s not enough we want to monitor the time they are spending each night doing homework. What kind of world are we creating for the future? Are the “trade-offs” worth it? When will we start “…examining the trade-offs” rather than doing things that are politically expedient and based on fear?

Most young adults can’t believe there was a time when you could walk right into an airport and meet your loved one when they got off the plane. What will my grandson think when I tell him about my school days in the 50s? Is his world really less safe than mine was or are monitoring his world more closely because we can?

Bard’s Botstein Gets It Right

October 30, 2013 Comments off

The NYTimes invited Leon Botstein to respond to the Room For Debate Question on whether high school should be four or six years and his response was on the money: secondary education needs to be completely overhauled.

Some context to the question: last week Barack Obama visited P-Tech, a six year high school in Brooklyn that he singled out for praise in his State of the Union address. The school begins in ninth grade and, as I learned in Botstein’s response, is “…unabashedly vocational, designed and supported by IBM”. Graduates receive a technology related associates degree at the end of their education and, presumably, a ticket to employment in the technology industry.

Botstein concurs that high school should be six years, but he envisions a completely different model making three points in doing so:

  1. “…high school should start and end earlier. Middle school and junior high school need to be discarded… We waste our adolescents’ time in school. Properly structured and taught, much more could be accomplished in less time.”
  2. “…the curriculum that begins in the 11th year, which should be the first year of post-secondary education, needs to be taught not just by teachers but by professionals: biologists, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists and the like, just as is the case in our universities.”
  3. “…schooling should not be linked to corporations, or to a single employer or current technology, even if the sponsor is IBM or Google. They too, like General Electric and Kodak before them, will downsize, disappear and be replaced.”

Botstein has long advocated the elimination of the senior year in high school, but this is the first time that he’s discussed middle level education. Having recently researched middle level education as part of a consulting assignment I think his ideas merit serious debate. Too many people ascribe student’s boredom to recent technological developments, but I believe students are bored because they want to know WHY they are learning information… and learning to “pass a test” so they can go to “another level” where they can learn how to pass ANOTHER set of tests is not motivating them to learn about content or learn about themselves.

A future post will tie together some recent articles I’ve read on MOOCs and mastery, two elements that could bring Botstein’s ideas to fruition.