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Archive for January, 2016

Emotionally Intelligent Robots Teaching PreSchoolers in Europe and Turkey

January 26, 2016 Comments off

The heading for this post is not based on an article from The Onion but rather based on a recent post from Atlantic by Jacek Krywko titled “When Class is Run by a Robot“. In the article Krywko describes ongoing research in Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands where scientists are “currently working on language-teaching machines” that ” help students learn basic vocabulary and simple stories, using microphones to listen, cameras to watch, and artificial neural networks that will analyze all the information that’s collected.

The article is simultaneously fascinating and chilling as it describes how technology can read the faces of individuals to determine if they are bored, confused, engaged, or flummoxed and adjust the way content is presented accordingly. It is perversely heartening to read that the researchers biggest challenge is dealing with day dreamers and disrupters… but the dystopian side of my personality leads me to fear that the ultimate solution for “those kinds of kids”will come from the pharmaceutical industry.

The net impact of the article is to pose the ultimate question about scientific progress: is it always beneficial to seek efficiency through the use of technology? If not, where should the lie be drawn and who gets to decide where to draw that line?

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Is Our Obsession with College Wrongheaded? Australian Employers Think So

January 26, 2016 Comments off

A recent post by Liz Burke in news.com.au with the provocative title “University Degrees Irrelevant to Big Employers” offers evidence that several major employers in that country are no longer requiring a college degree of applicants. Why?

Australia Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive officer Kate Carnell said employers found 20-somethings were more qualified than ever before. Graduates were showing up to work with degrees from universities but were “disconnected with the workforce”, she said.

“A number of our members consistently tell us they’re seeing students come out of university or training programs and they might have the academic or theoretical skills, but no skills to work at all. It makes them really hard to employ,” she said.

“General issues are not understanding that a job is about turning up on time every day, not just when you feel like, that it’s about taking direction, and basic things like you’ve got to be well presented and you’ve got to be pleasant.”

After reading Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz I am not surprised by this finding. Students who slavishly work to build a resume to get into the best colleges are often following an algorithm to seek a means to an end without determining the end they want to seek. And in many cases these resume builders have never held a part-time job or figured out what job they want. They possess “…the academic or theoretical skills, but no skills to work at all.” 

I also know many people who have a single minded passion for their work, lack college degrees, and have solid social skills that make them excellent employees and could ultimately land them promotions to leadership positions…. and national “celebrity” CEOs like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the late Steve Jobs are all examples on non-degreed individuals who experienced wild success in the technology fields.

When i first clicked on this article I thought it would focus on outliers like Gates, Zuckerberg, and Jobs… but it seems the trend in turning away from college grads is substantial in Australia:

The 2015 Graduate Careers Australia survey showed more than a quarter of bachelor degree graduates had failed to find work within four months of completing their studies. The money they’re being paid is on the slide, too, with university graduate salaries going down.

Meanwhile, soft skills, such as being personable, adaptable, possessing strong digital skills, and adept at time management are being increasingly valued.

This could be a signal that employers’ are racing to the bottom on wages and no longer showing preference for college grads who are seeking employment as, say, baristas at a coffee shop… but it could also be a signal to public high schools that their relentless emphasis on college prep courses neglects the soft skills employers value most… maybe being “ready to work” requires an opportunity to actually BE in the work force.

Naked Capitalism Reports on the Negative Consequences of Philanthrocapitalism

January 25, 2016 Comments off

My favorite blogger, Yves Smith, wrote a post today describing how the oligarchs use their power to indoctrinate the public and advance their own agendas. Using a New York Review of Books article and a blog post by Inside Philanthropy blogger Mike Massey as a springboard for her post, Smith offers several examples of the “cognitive capture initiatives” launched by the philanthro-capitalists. Because she omitted one of the hugest “cognitive capture initiatives” I offered the following comment to her post:

No public enterprise has been “rescued” by seemingly well-intentioned philanthropists more than public education. The philanthropists’ have successfully convinced the public that public schools would be better off if they were subjected to market forces, run like businesses who are answerable to shareholders, and measured by standardized achievement tests that assume the one-size-fits-all industrial model of schooling established in the 1920s is inviolable. Philanthropists have underwritten studies and pilot programs that use the cold analytics of data analysis combined with test scores to impose “value added” measures to reward good teachers. And, as we’ve just witnessed for 7 years, this “run schools like a business” mental model has captured the imaginations of both parties. When you child cannot experience art, music or PE because they need to boost their test scores, send your thank you notes to the philanthropists.

 

This Just In: Flint Water Crisis, Privatization are Linked and Not Limited to Michigan

January 25, 2016 Comments off

An Occupy Democrats blog post by Omar Rivero reveals that emails from the publicly operate Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to MI Governor Rick Snyder indicate they could provide water to Flint residents for 80% of the costs Snyder was paying for another provider. Why? Rivero reports that fellow journalist Steve Neavling of the independent newspaper, Motor City Muckraker, believes that the water pipes were switched “…to break up and privatize the DWSD by starving it of a crucial customer base.” You see if DWSD’s efforts to cost-effectively expand its customer base succeeded the Governor would not be able to take it over and privatize it as he had taken over cities and school districts across the state. Rivera expands on this later in the post, describing in the last sentence how the starvation of revenues makes it possible for the State to take over the operation of public schools:

It just goes to show how dangerous the Republican Party’s crusade to dismantle all public institutions and replace them with privatized alternatives that put profits over the well-being of their customers truly presents to our nation. Governor Snyder, who was propelled into office with over $12 million in corporate campaign cash, has spent his entire governorship implementing all the trademark pieces of the Koch Brothers’ plan for America – an Americans For Prosperity-spearheaded union killing right-to-work law (even though he promised he wouldn’t during the election); the appointment of rule-by-decree”emergency managers” for major cities; slashing corporate taxes and instituting a budget-crippling flat tax; crippling public schools with budget cuts and replacing them with charter schools

In his concluding paragraph Rivero calls out other Republican governors who have pulled the same stunt as Snyder, citing Brownback and Jindal as examples. Unfortunately his list is incomplete when it comes to starving schools and gutting unions… and with States getting more power over schools as a result of ESSA it is not difficult to imagine a poisoning of minds equal to the poisoning of water that took place in Flint, MI.

“Emergency” Cuts, Adjustments to Funding Formulas Become Permanent and Inequities Expand

January 25, 2016 Comments off

The Washington Post wrote yesterday about a recent study completed by researchers at the Commonwealth Institute, a Richmond-based think tank, which concluded that “...Virginia schools are being shortchanged $800 million a year ­because of formulas that under­­estimate what it actually costs to educate children.” How did this happen? As reported by Moriah Balingit  it is the result of an adjustment to the ending formulas to Virginia schools made during the height of recession. Instead of cutting the budget during the recession, the legislature changed the funding formulas and, in doing so, increased the inequity in school funding by shortchanging the schools serving poor children in that state.

Poor districts that rely more on state funding felt the brunt of the cuts. The study said Lee County lost nearly $2,500 per student between 2009 and 2014, accounting for inflation, the most of any district in the state. Lee County is among the poorest counties in Virginia and spent approximately $12,000 per student in the 2013-2014 school year, so the losses had a sizable impact on the district’s budget.

Some of Virginia’s poor counties struggled to make up for the losses in state funds. The cut in state education funding blunted the ability of the state to act as an equalizer… and was felt disproportionately by poor districts.

After reading this article about the work of a left-leaning think tank in a state led by a Democrat I wondered how changes in funding played out in states like, say, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas, Texas, and Illinois where conservatives were in the State house and dominated the legislature? I don’t think it takes an advanced degree in political science to know the answer.

Editorial: John Kasich

January 24, 2016 Comments off

Our local newspaper, while hardly having the clout of the Manchester Union Leader, DOES hold sway among mainstream Republicans in our region… and they’ve (probably correctly) identified Kasich as the least objectionable Republican candidate. But they’ve overlooked his horrific record on the privatization of public education and the reality that unemployment among 18-35 years olds when those who’ve stopped looking for work is over 11%. There is no economic miracle in Ohio and the Congress Kasich served in… the bipartisan problem solving one… is long gone. My fear is that voters in my home State will be eminently reasonable when they get to the polls and Kasich will emerge as the “moderate” alternative to Hilary or Bernie. Here’s hoping people remember this phrase from the Valley News Editorial: “Right-leaning voters need not fear that Kasich is squishy. He is solidly of the tax-cutting, budget-balancing, strong-defense, pro-gun, anti-abortion school of conservative thought. One of his central themes is that power should be drained from Washington and directed back to the states.”… He’s a moderate only in comparison to the rest of the slate running for office!

New Hampshire primary voters who fear the consequences if this year’s Republican presidential race ends in a train wreck should

Source: Editorial: John Kasich

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Metrics Can’t Quantify the Most Important Factor in Schools…. LOVE

January 24, 2016 Comments off

Last Sunday’s NYTimes featured an op ed column by Robert M. Wachter, a professor and the interim chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and the author of “The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age.” Titled “How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers“, Wachter’s article focussed primarily on the medical field, but he noted several parallels between the efforts to hold teachers and doctors accountable through the use of objective measures.

Wachter opens with the observation that in both medicine and education we are “…hitting the targets, but missing the point” as we introduce layer upon layer of measurement. Wachter offers this overview of what has happened since the advent of these metrics:

Education is experiencing its own version of measurement fatigue. Educators complain that the focus on student test performance comes at the expense of learning. Art, music and physical education have withered, because, really, why bother if they’re not on the test?

At first, the pushback from doctors and teachers was dismissed as whining from entitled and entrenched guilds spoiled by generations of unfettered autonomy. It was natural, went the thinking, that these professionals would resist the scrutiny and discipline of performance assessment. Of course, this interpretation was partly right.

But the objections became harder to dismiss as evidence mounted that even superb and motivated professionals had come to believe that the boatloads of measures, and the incentives to “look good,” had led them to turn away from the essence of their work. In medicine, doctors no longer made eye contact with patients as they clicked away. In education, even parents who favored more testing around Common Core standards worried about the damaging influence of all the exams.

At the end of his piece, Wachter quotes Avedis Donabedian, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, an eminent expert in medical quality measurement.  At the end of his career Professor Donabedian was asked what was the most important quality in the delivery of medicine. His response:

“The secret of quality is love,” he said.

Wachter concludes his essay with this paragraph:

Our businesslike efforts to measure and improve quality are now blocking the altruism, indeed the love, that motivates people to enter the helping professions. While we’re figuring out how to get better, we need to tread more lightly in assessing the work of the professionals who practice in our most human and sacred fields.

And on this Sunday, let us all say “Amen”.

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