Archive for January, 2015

The Limits of Technology: It Can Provide Information. It Can’t Educate.

January 31, 2015 Comments off

Two recent essays on technology posed related questions in their title. Susan Pinker’s NYTimes op ed piece asked “Can Students Have Too Much Tech?” and Larry Cuban’s three-part series of blog posts asked “Will Teaching and Learning Become Automated?” My response to both questions is “NO”.

Pinker’s response, though, is: YES! Based on studies conducted over the past decade it is evident that providing all children with equal access to technology increases the performance divide instead of diminishing it. Why? Here’s Pinker’s answer with my emphases:

We don’t know why this is, but we can speculate. With no adults to supervise them, many kids used their networked devices not for schoolwork, but to play games, troll social media and download entertainment. (And why not? Given their druthers, most adults would do the same.)

The problem is the differential impact on children from poor families. Babies born to low-income parents spend at least 40 percent of their waking hours in front of a screen — more than twice the time spent by middle-class babies. They also get far less cuddling and bantering over family meals than do more privileged children. The give-and-take of these interactions is what predicts robust vocabularies and school success. Apps and videos don’t.

Larry Cuban, long a technology skeptic, rightly believes technology has been oversold as the ultimate solution to providing a cheap means of offering an equitable education and especially laments the effects this line of thinking has had on the definition of schooling and teaching. In the third part of a three part series, Cuban undercuts the “…conceit that super-duper software will eventually, not today but in some future tomorrow, automate teaching.” He opens his argument by describing the new, narrow “purpose of schooling” and contrasting it with the definition in previous eras:

What technophiles forget, neglect, trip over—pick a verb–are the multiple purposes for tax-supported schools in a democracy. They and many other futurists err—my verb choice—in equating access to information with becoming educated. The purpose of schooling is reduced to acquiring information.

Tax-supported public schools have been and are social, political, and moral institutions whose historic job has been to help children and youth acquire multiple literacies, enter the labor market well prepared, vote, serve on juries, contribute to their communities, think for themselves, and live full and worthwhile lives.

Until three decades ago, these diverse purposes for tax-supported public schools were obvious; now those purposes have been narrowed to job preparation… Engaged citizenship, contributing to one’s community, and living worthwhile lives remain in the shadows. Few policymakers, philanthropists, technology futurists have challenged (or are willing to challenge) the swelling embrace of automated instruction that promise transforming schools into information factories.

Cuban eloquently and passionately describes the importance of good teachers:

Effective teaching, like work in other helping professions such as medicine, social work, and religious counseling is anchored in relationships. Those student/teacher relationships convert information into knowledge and, on occasion, knowledge into wisdom about the self and world. Teachers, then, from preschool through high school  are far more than deliverers of information.

In classrooms, they set and enforce the rules that socialize the young to act consistent with community norms. They set an example of adult behavior becoming for some students exemplars to model. They create classroom cultures that can encourage individual achievement, cooperative behavior, and independent decision-making….

Teachers make thousands of decisions in planning, conducting lessons, and assessing how well students are doing. Hundreds of those decisions are made in the nanosecond during teacher/student exchanges in daily lessons. Many decisions are moral ones in that they involve her authority as teacher, parental expectations, and student behaviors. Decisions over right and wrong are ever-present in classrooms. Teachers sort out conflicts daily among students over truth-telling and differences between parental values and school norms…  No software program that I know has algorithms that either make instantaneous decisions when events pop up unexpectedly or split-second moral decisions.

Given these complicated human interactions, Cuban cannot see a day when teachers will be replaced by technology.

While both Pinker and Cuban are wary of the overselling of technology, both recognize it has a place inside and outside the classroom and both tacitly acknowledge that the roles of teachers will need to change in order to take full advantage of all that technology has to offer. After reading both articles, I found that Pinker’s conclusion and Cuban’s analysis overlap in Pinker’s concluding paragraph:

“…the public money spent on wiring up classrooms should be matched by training and mentorship programs for teachers, so that a free and open Internet, reached through constantly evolving, beautifully packaged and compelling electronic tools, helps — not hampers — the progress of children who need help the most.”

And while neither writer says so explicitly, I think both would agree that in addition to spending money on technology once students are in school, it would be far more beneficial to invest in programs that nurture babies born to low-income families socially and academically and provide more supervision for students after school. Technology can provide information: technology cannot educate.

A Reality Check as National Choice Week Winds Down

January 30, 2015 Comments off

National Choice Week, described by AlterNet blogger Laurie Levy as “…a giant commercial, paid for by a huge list of corporate sponsors (that) is a misrepresentation designed to make me want it.”

In her blog post on this faux celebration”5 Devastating Facts“, Levy undercuts the claims of the pro-school-choice crowd with five documented assertions, all of which have been addressed in prior posts on this blog:

1. There are no data that support the idea that charter schools are superior to public schools.

2. Unlike public schools, charters can pick and choose their students.

3. Children who are better resourced with more family support are the winners in the school choice game.

4. It’s family income, stupid.

5. Public schools, in some communities, are doing just fine.


By the end of her blog posts, Levy concludes that she’s not buying ANY of it.

Peter Greene, whose Curmudgucation blog is aptly named, offers NINE things people should know about school choice in his most recent post. The 9 things are paraphrased below:

  1. Poll data supporting charters is suspect
  2. Only .2% of the students are using vouchers to attend private schools (note the decimal!)
  3. Half of the all of the charter schools in the US are in four states: TX, FL, AZ, and CA
  4.  The “grading system” used by the “Center for Education Reform” is suspect at best.
  5. The 8 states that disallow charters (ND, SD, MT, NE, VT, WV, AL and KY) lack “…juicy urban profit centers”
  6. 1,036 of the 6,700 charter schools that opened since 1992 have already closed
  7. …(T)here are no conclusive studies showing that charters do it better (than public schools)
  8. The Resolution recognizing National School Choice Week was “…sponsored by Tim Scott (Rep-SC) with ten co-sponsors including Ted Cruz , Rand Paul, and Dianne Feinstein” , an interesting list by any standard!
  9. In the last election cycle “pro-school-choice” candidates won in every election except PA, where “…Tom Corbett, who arguably could have been beaten by my dog” was defeated.

Greene’s gloomy conclusion is that the facts may not win out in the end:

It’s not necessary for the things to be true, or even supported by facts– just keep repeating them uncritically and without argument, and eventually, they stick.

I hope Peter Greene’s final paragraph is wrong… but…. after 35 years we “know” that government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem! And we “know” that regulations strangle innovation and the market place should decide what’s best.  Alas, the very creation of “National School Choice Week” seems to support Mr. Greene. Here’s hoping his facts and those of other bloggers can help change the public’s view of their schools.

Categories: Uncategorized

Why Lamar Alexander Opposes Duncan’s Mandate for Teacher Evaluation

January 29, 2015 Comments off

Diane Ravitch is spot on with her introduction to this excerpt of Lamar Alexander’s article.. but I fear she might be off base with this part of her analysis:
“Leaving it (teacher and principal evaluation) to the states raises the possibility that some states will be even more heavy-handed and punitive than Duncan, but it’s hard to imagine how.” Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Mike Pence might have some very vivid imaginations when it comes to heavy-handed evaluation of teachers and principals. RTTT over-reached… but some states will suffer if the governor’s are given free reign.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is conservative; he believes in state and local control of education. He doesn’t think that Washington knows best. He favors legislation to encourage states but not to compel them to do what Washington wants. In this article, he expressed his strong opposition to Arne Duncan’s favorite initiative, evaluating teachers by test scores and offering waivers only to states that agree to do it. Let me be clear that I disagree with his praise for the Teacher Incentive Fund (merit pay), because merit pay has never worked anywhere. The TIF was a waste of $1 billion, and now more money will be thrown at a failed policy. I have no doubt that I won’t like whatever is in the final bill to support privatization and profiteering, but I like Alexander’s clear dismissal of federally mandated teacher evaluation, which is a poison pill invented by Duncan and…

View original post 584 more words

Categories: Uncategorized