Archive for May, 2015

Bi-Partisan Rejection of Public Education via Homeschooling, Un-schooling

May 30, 2015 1 comment

Two sources from opposite ends of the political spectrum recently wrote articles about parents who are rejecting public education in favor of DIY schooling.

While Breitbart’s short article describing the “soaring increase” of home schooled children didn’t explicitly knock public education, the commenters certainly did. An example: “Public schools are where you go to get indoctrinated into liberal thinking and come home a walking infectious disease.” As one who taught a college course on statistics, I know that some of the numerical information presented is done so in an “artful” but potentially misleading fashion. The 61.8% increase in homeschooling sounds stunning, but it comes from a low baseline. The overall percentage of homeschool students remains at 3.4% of the total school age population, a relatively small proportion but substantially larger than 10 years ago. The article also took the total number of “new” home schooled students, 677,000, and compared it to the population of sizable urban areas like Memphis, Boston, Seattle, and Washington DC to make the number more impressive. Breitbart’s mathematical manipulations aside, there IS a marked increase in homeschooling.

Pacific Standard writer Paul Bisceglio’s post “Leave Those Kids Alone“, describes the nascent un-schooling movement through an interview with Boston un-schooling parent Milva McDonald. Appealing mostly to progressively minded parents, un-schooling lets children learn at their own rate and learn what THEY are interested in. Why would a parent un-school their child? Here’s McDonald’s response:

When [my first child] was in kindergarten I became really disillusioned. The work they were doing was so boring. I thought it was a big time waste. And I didn’t like the social dynamics.

Given the increased emphasis on “academic instruction” in Kindergarten and the emphasis on order, conformity, and regimentation I can see where a parent might see school as “…a big waste of time”. 

Given public schools emphasis on test scores and the attendant emphasis on “following rules and algorithms”, and given public schools lack of emphasis on the development of social skills and the attendant de-emphasis of moral development, it is not surprising that both ends of the political spectrum are seeking alternatives to the status quo. Here’s hoping we can change our model for public education so that we might get bipartisan support for our schools.

Article on KU’s “Technology Enabled Personalized Learning” Illustrates Challenges of Scale

May 30, 2015 Comments off

I have written frequently about how technology might serve as a means of equalizing opportunities in education and suggested that the major obstacle to taking full advantage of technology’s capacity was the need for universal access to broadband. In reading an overview of a report co-authored by University of Kansas’ associate professor James Basham, I was reminded that fulfilling the promise of technology will also require common standards, agreements on how data can be shared among various agencies, and lots of training. After recounting a conference where Mr. Basham presented his concept of Technology Enabled Personalized Learning” (TEPL) to an interdisciplinary conference, conferees identified three major issues that need to be addressed in order to implement TEPL:


  • The development and adoption of technical standards for tagging content, defining and exchanging data, and easing integration of the myriad components of the Technology Enhanced Personalized Learning ecosystem needed to support educators, recommendation engines and related pedagogical research.
  • Data policies, agreements and research protocols needed to scale research and development across data silos about what works with which types of students under what conditions.
  • Redefining educator roles and supporting professional development to ensure that the human capacity needed to shift from a traditional teaching model to a student-centered TEPL model.

Operationalizing a technology-related improvement, like using technology to personalize learning, is easy to formulate but painstakingly slow to implement effectively without an infusion of money. When I read articles like this, I lament the fact that President Obama missed the chance of a lifetime to expedite the potential of technology by investing his political capital and stimulus funding on Race To The Top. IF he had thrown support behind an initiative to use technology to personalize and individualize instruction, federal funds could have been used to:

  • expand broadband (instead of expanding testing)
  • facilitate the development and adoption of technical standards (instead of the Common Core)
  • help educators redefine their roles and responsibilities in a world where instruction is individualized (instead of promoting VAM which commits educators to their role as dispensers of information)

Maybe one of the presidential candidates for 2016 will see the promise of technology and advocate federal funding to accomplish the tasks needed to transform public education. In the meantime, schools remain ensconced in a silo.



FOIA Requests and Deregulated Charters

May 29, 2015 Comments off

After serving as Superintendent of Schools in a NYS district where anti-tax groups used Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to exhume presumably wasteful spending I found it somewhat ironic that charter school leaders to complain about FOIA requests from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. An article by Kathy Bocella in the Philadelphia Inquirer described the “hardship” these requests pose and described the lines drawn by both sides in the controversy:

Tim Eller, executive director of the Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools, lashed out at the requests as “frivolous.”

“There’s an anti-charter school movement out there,” said Eller, who was spokesman for the state Department of Education under Gov. Tom Corbett. “The traditional public school establishment is anti-charter schools, because [charters] are focusing on what’s best for students and these organizations [traditional public schools] are wanting to do what’s best for the status quo.”

If what’s best for students matches what’s best for shareholders Mr. Eller might be correct… but as William Penn superintendent Joe Bruni pointed out near the end of the article, if an on-line charter school is providing education for less money than they are billing the district they should receive less money. Bruni poses this question “Who is that money going to? If that happens to be private individuals or elected officials and they’re also on the charter payroll, it could be a conflict of interest.

Eller went on to say that “…everything the school boards group seeks can be found in annual online reports filed with the state Department of Education, as well as yearly reports to the school district that issued its charter and in federal nonprofit tax filings.” But the Pennsylvania School Board Association’s spokesperson, Steve Robinson “…insisted the information the school boards association seeks, including contracts, salaries of key administrators, and other data, was unavailable in public filings.” Lawrence Feinberg, a Haverford School District board member who heads the Keystone State Education Coalition, a grassroots public education advocacy group made up of school board members and administrators, had this to say:

“We get hammered over spending, but think about charter schools – there’s little if any fiscal accountability”

While I lamented the demands FOIA requests placed on our administrative staff, I urged full disclose of any and all records because I believe taxpayers need to know how public funds are being spent.  I know that the voters I worked for over 29 years did NOT want to see their hard earned dollars being used to pay “high salaries” to administrators and teachers, “frills” like travel costs for board members or administrators, or on whatever they deemed to be “wasteful”. I cannot for a minute believe that giving shareholders a high yield on their investment in for-profit schools would be on the list of items taxpayers would support. It’s bad enough that for-profit privatized schools are exempt from most regulations that affect public schools. It’s even worse if they are not required to disclose how they spend the money they are getting.


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