Archive for December, 2015

Diplomas Rewarded but Skills Lacking: No Surprise When Time is Constant

December 29, 2015 Comments off

Mokoto Rich’s NYTimes recent article “As Graduation Rates Rise, Experts Fear Diplomas Come Up Short”, indicates that the increase in graduation rates does not translate into an increase in the percentage of students who are ready for college or ready for work. Rather, it reflects a either a willingness on the part of of public schools to offer alternative ways to earn a diploma or a watering down of the graduation standards.

The article detailed the many paths schools offered for high school students to attain diplomas, the continuing laments of businessmen and college deans about the lack of preparedness of high school graduates, and the persistently low test scores on ACTs.

I am not at all surprised by this state of affairs. Why would the class of 2016 perform better on tests when state governments did nothing to increase preschool programming in 2000? Why would the class of 2016 be prepared for a workplace that demands the ability to “collaborate and communicate effectively” when schooling has focused on passing standardized achievement tests, schooling that does nothing to develop those skills? And why would the class of 2016 attain different results on the ACT when the structure of schooling in the grade levels leading up to high school have not changed and the instruction in those grade levels has narrowed to help students pass poorly conceived standardized achievement tests? In short, as long as time remains constant the learning will be variable…. same as it ever was.

But here’s the quote that jumped out at me the most:

“Does that diploma guarantee them a hope for a life where they can support a family?” asked Melanie D. Barton, the executive director of the Education Oversight Committee in South Carolina, a legislative agency. Particularly in districts where student achievement is very low, she said, “I really don’t see it.”

I can only say that if Ms. Barton wants to guarantee high school graduates with “…a hope for a life where they can support a family” she needs to look beyond high schools. South Carolina is one of the States that refused to increase Medicare funding, is a “right to work” state that has led the race to the bottom in wages, and is a state where racial and economic segregation of schools persists. Improving schooling for disadvantaged students is important… but so is increasing the minimum wage, providing health care, and providing equitable funding for schools. If South Carolina and other states retain the same K-12 structure, expect all students to learn at the same rate in the same fashion, and expect underfunded schools to perform the same way as schools in affluent communities we will always get what we’ve always gotten… same as it ever was.

Krugman Overlooks W’s Saddest Legacy: Standardized Testing

December 28, 2015 Comments off

Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NYTimes, Doubling Down on W“, describes how the Republican candidates for POTUS are not only embracing President George W. Bush’s tax cut strategy, they are advocating even deeper cuts to the wealthy. In writing about the Republican embrace of Mr. Bush’s flawed tax policies, Mr. Krugman laments the fact that his ideology is still advocated by his party despite evidence that it does no good whatsoever.

But, as I noted in a comment I left, there is another Bush era ideology that Republicans and Democrats have embraced, an ideology that, like tax cuts, has no supporting evidence:

One area where W’s ideology HAS taken hold is in public education… and it’s been as destructive as his ideology on tax cuts. The media has made much to do over the “bi-partisan agreement” in the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act” without underscoring the fact that it sustains the emphasis on standardized testing as the basis for accountability. Worse, ESSA’s shifting the test development to states will make it possible for another W to emerge from a state house claiming to have improved schools while actually jiggering test scores to create the illusion of improvement. And worst of all, we now have a generation of students and parents and a cadre of teachers who never experienced schooling before the advent of test driven curriculum. These children, parents, and teachers think school is about getting ever higher test scores when those of us who taught in the 70s, 80s, and even the 90s recall a different, broader, and higher purpose.


Education Technology in ESSA? Dream On!

December 27, 2015 Comments off

Last week the Google Public Schools feed led to “Education Technology in the Every Student Succeeds Act” an article written by Doug Mesecar for the American Action Forum, a self-described Center-Right Think tank. In the article Mesecar describes the kind of personalized education that could be delivered given the technology available to teachers today:

Yet we’ve known for decades that personalized learning is a vastly better approach.  A 1984 study led by education psychologist Benjamin Bloom found that students given one-on-one instruction consistently performed two standard deviations better than their peers in a regular classroom. That’s enough to vault an average student to the top of the class.

Until recently, technology advancements that may have seemed far-fetched a decade earlier have made this personalized approach possible….

Powerful, adaptive edtech means that all students can have — as part of their instructional team — a digital instructor to help them learn what they need to know, when they need to know it, at their own pace and place.

There is no excuse for doing things the old way, and federal legislation is trying to ensure the old way goes away.  ESSA strongly encourages personalizing education, including through blended learning, as well as attempting to ensure more equitable access to technology and digital learning experiences. It also highlights blended learning as a practice that can help struggling students.

Mesecar then proceeds to make a case that ESSA somehow provides the means for States to use Federal funding to launch a program that will personalize education in the way he describes in these paragraphs, an argument that overlooks two major mitigating factors: the funding provided is paltry and the testing regimen that is continued in ESSA contradicts personalization.

In the opening paragraphs Mesecar throws around funding figures that sound robust. He writes that “Up to 60 percent of the grant funds — almost $900 million — can be used for innovative edtech strategies (importantly, though, no more than 15 percent can go toward technology infrastructure).  This is approximately 4 percent of the overall authorized funding in the bill.” It is the phrase in parenthesis that is crucial: if only 15% can be used for infrastructure that means that only $135,000,000 will be available to connect 23% of the schools that lack any internet services and the countless schools that lack wi-fi within the schools. How will students have “…a digital instructor to help them learn what they need to know, when they need to know it, at their own pace and place” if their school lacks an internet connection or wi-fi? And how will ESSA “…ensure more equitable access to technology and digital learning experiences” if it provides less than $3 per pupil per year for technology infrastructure?

Mesecar’s biggest oversight, however, is the impact ESSA’s testing will have on the notion of providing each student with “…a digital instructor to help them learn what they need to know, when they need to know it, at their own pace and place.” Standardized testing measures students progress against a predetermined “pace and place” and penalizes any student who fails to be at the right place at the right time.

I share Mesecar’s desire to use technology to increase personalization… but do not share his belief that ESSA will move us any closer to that vision. Until some legislator or Governor champions the vision Mesecar describes and provides the funding and accountability model needed to implement that vision I do not foresee any way to get out of the test-and-punish rut that NCLB created over a decade ago. Until someone takes the leadership on this the change will have to happen from the bottom up… through parents who decide that schools are incapable of providing the kind of learning opportunities their children need and go it alone.