Archive for April, 2014

Prekindergarten Testing? Ay yi yi!

April 28, 2014 Comments off

Diane Ravitch’s blog post today includes a link to an article written in February 2014 on the ECEPolicy Matter blog titled “Developmentally Inappropriate: ECE’s Faustian Bargain”. In the article Susan Ochshorn describes the implicit trade off being made by accepting the federal government’s intervention into early childhood education: namely, academic standardization based on a child’s age. When politicians fund preschool programs with the expectation that the early childhood programs will “graduate” students “ready for school” they are simultaneously putting some kind of standardized assessment in place that measures “school readiness”… and as long as schools are organized into age-based cohorts those tests will do nothing to promote academic success. Why? Because is all children are expected to hit an academic norm (i.e. the 50th percentile) half of them will necessarily fall short of the mark! After reading the blog post and article, I left the following comment:

The root cause of all of this testing is the preposterous notion that students need to be batched into age cohorts and progress academically in lockstep. If they DON’T match the SLOs set for their age cohorts they are “failures”. This batching process underlies the entire standardization movement. We started batching students this way nearly a century ago for “efficiency”. The “worksheets and exit tickets to check for their understanding” are a by product of the engineering and spreadsheet mentality that “reformers” advocate.

When will we ever seize the opportunity to use the power of technology and the research on child development to come up with a means of individualizing instruction instead of standardizing it?

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InBloom Withers

April 27, 2014 Comments off

The NYTimes reported yesterday on InBloom’s decision to close. The reason given by the CEO was that InBloom was ” ..a victim of erroneous censure“. The Times article did a good job of describing the more complicated reality. InBloom was breaking new ground, operating in a regulatory vacuum, and was a profit-driven enterprise as opposed to a philanthropic undertaking.

The article did contain one paragraph that describes a possible way of moving forward on the systematic gathering of student information, using the eScholar model:

Given inBloom’s challenges, some companies are emphasizing that they have a different business model. Consider eScholar, which sells data warehousing software to about 5,000 school districts across the country. This 17-year-old company doesn’t repurpose student data for other ventures. In fact, eScholar doesn’t store student records; schools run its software and aggregate student data on their own sites.

“It is for us a tremendous sense of clarity that we are getting paid by educators to do what they need done,” Shawn Bay, eScholar’s chief executive, told me.

From my perspective the most optimal solution would be for Bill Gates and the other entrepreneurs who hoped to capitalize on student data collection to donate their services and expertise to help schools and legislators figure out the best way to skin the cat in data collection and retrieval. As Andrew Carnegie provided towns with libraries with no intention of making profit, Bill Gates could use his financial largesse and technological expertise to help public schools by developing some kind of open source software that wouldn’t “…repurpose student data for other ventures.”  


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Grass Roots Democracy’s Shortcoming

April 27, 2014 Comments off

An AP story on the Mustang School District’s decision to offer an elective course developed by the Museum of the Bible is a case study in why the Common Core might be a good thing… and why grass roots democracy in the form of local school board governance might be problematic.

Without assigning names to the players in the drama, it seems that a wealthy fundamentalist who serves on the board of directors of a museum devoted to celebrating the Bible found a like minded school board in Oklahoma, “The Buckle of the Bible Belt”, and offered them a chance to pilot a new HS curriculum “…billed as a way to teach archaeology, history and the arts through Bible stories”. The new curriculum uses a textbook that covers:

…the role of religion in early America, discussing the New World as a haven for those seeking to escape religious persecution. It also talks about the role of religion in art, citing the role of patrons such as the Catholic Church and wealthy families during the Renaissance.

The book also uses popular culture, mentioning songs written by U2 that it says are based in the Psalms, to illustrate the Bible’s modern relevance. It does not name specific compositions.

From the outset, the book describes God as eternal, “faithful and good,” ”full of love” and “an ever-present help in times of trouble.”

The wealthy fundamentalist, who declined to be interviewed by AP, “…said he wants the program in thousands of schools by 2017.”

And who is the as yet unnamed wealthy fundamentalist? None other than Steve Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby, whose name has been all over the newspapers because he sued the federal government after the passage of the Affordable Care Act claiming that providing certain types of birth control to its workers would violate the religious freedom rights of the company’s owners.

In years past I’ve witnessed some of my colleagues deal with school boards with a majority of fundamentalists who wanted to ban books, re-introduce prayer, and propose curricula based on Biblical teachings. After a few years these candidates, who often ran without being clear about their intentions, got voted out of office. What makes this story disturbing isn’t that a school board adopted a curriculum that a Religion Professor at SMA described as lacking “scholarly insight”, that kind of thing has happened in the past. What makes this disturbing is that an individual with deep pockets and a penchant for litigation is behind the introduction of the curriculum and intends to expand this curriculum into other schools. And what schools in what states might be open to offering an elective funded by the Museum of the Bible? Methinks it might be the very states that are abandoning the Common Core because they don’t want the federal government meddling with local control.

Bottom line: we live in a complicated world… but one where the person with the deepest pockets will have the biggest megaphone. I think we’ll be hearing more about this in the months ahead.

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