Archive for January, 2014

Internet Filters’ Biggest Flaw

January 31, 2014 Comments off

This article about the UK Government’s “discovery” that blocking access has flaws is scary on several levels.

First and foremost, I confess that I had no idea that the UK public was willing to allow the government to interfere wit its access to information. This is a deplorable encroachment on personal freedom. Somewhere George Orwell is weeping… weeping because I don’t believe he would take any pleasure in saying “I told you so!”

Secondly, it is hard to believe that the electorate would allow the government to determine which sites should be blocked and which should remain open. If our country ever thinks this is a good idea I dread to think how we will learn about evolution if the Tea Party extremists take over or, for that matter, how anyone might be able to get maps of the Capital offices since we are so fearful of extremists that we might conjecture that they could use that information to engage in terrorism. Drawing the line on what information to shield is fraught with peril.

Thirdly, it is hard to believe that if a government wanted to shield the public from some information it would be incapable of finding programmers who couldn’t do a better job… I hope the government’s ability to shield the internet from hackers is better than the UK government’s ability to shield the public from naughtiness.

Finally, it is sad to say that we are setting up our country for “white lists” and other forms of filtering.  While some schools have abandoned filters altogether, too many schools keep them— even at the HS level. Consequently we are “training” too many students that filters are OK the same we we’re training kids that metal detectors and surveillance cameras are OK. Information wants to be free and children want to be free… we can’t provide 100% protection for children from risks on the internet any more than we can provide 100% protection from automobile traffic, slipping and falling on the playground, or injuring themselves playing sports.

Bottom line: information needs to be free and available to all.

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Broadband and Equality

January 30, 2014 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes Bits blog post addresses the need for cheaper broadband in schools. While this post may be a repetition of previous ones, it is important, I believe, to keep beating the drum of technology access for all. To that end, I posted the following comment:

Thank you for bringing this to the public’s attention. Two more issues need to be emphasized.

First, it is imperative to provide the schools with the physical AND staffing infrastructure needed to take full advantage of the increased bandwidth. Schools often have insufficient servers and routers to take full advantage of increased bandwidth and seldom have the technical staff needed to ensure that all of the equipment is in good repair and operable.

Second, the neighborhoods surrounding the schools need to have access to bandwidth. If schools hope to use methods like flipped instruction and on-line tutorials to supplement struggling students they need to know that students AND teachers can use technology at home.

I know, I know, all of this will cost money and no one wants to pay for it— especially if it takes profits away from the telecommunications businesses or requires more taxes. Better to have broadband in affluent schools and neighborhoods and blame the teachers in high poverty urban schools for failing.

If we want to use technology to change instruction, we need cheaper and more widespread broadband, upgraded infrastructure and staffing in our schools and neighborhoods, and, yes, more public funding for both.

Wishful Thinking on Pre-K

January 30, 2014 Comments off

The NYTimes editorial page has an article by two UVa professors, Daniel T. Willingham and David W. Grissmer, describing the kinds of steps that are needed to provide constructive information on the effectiveness of preschool education programs. I agree with every point the writers made, but fear that their work at the University of Virginia has insulated them from the realities of politics. As noted in a recent post, diBlasio’s funding request, while far more that Cuomo’s, falls one year and roughly $3000/student short of the per puli costs of the best programs offered in New Jersey.

I had two problems with this article, which I enumerated in the comment section.

First, Willingham and Grissmer assume that evidence will guide policy makers. If that was the case in reality, policy makers would be looking at what’s happened with the “reform” movement and rightfully conclude that the high-stakes-testing regimen is making on difference whatsoever and might decide something different is needed. They might examine and per pupil spending and see that there is a strong link between per-pupil spending figures and student achievement and decide to provide urban schools with more funding.

Secondly, the article assumes that policy makers are interested in developing comprehensive plans to gather data that can be used to inform decisions. Inevitably Pre-K measures will be reduced to some form of standardized assessments that measure what’s easy to measure as opposed to what’s important to measure. As the article accurately notes, “…comparing preschool programs is hard because quality depends not just on factors in the classroom like the curriculum and the teacher’s skill, but also on how those factors interact with sleep, nutrition, parenting and other aspects of domestic life. Yet we know little about such interactions.” Those same exogenous factors come into play in K-12 education but have been dismissed by “reformers” as “excuses”.

MAYBE the implementation of pre-K will result in policy decisions that more funds are needed to provide a quality program and lead to the realization that exogenous factors play a role in the effects of schooling… but I have my doubts that either will occur.