Archive for May, 2017

“Rigorous Pre-Schools” Prove that We’ve Learned Nothing from “Reform”

May 31, 2017 1 comment

“Free Play or Flashcards? New Study Nods to More Rigorous Preschools”, Dana Goldstein’s article in today’s NYTimes, made me want to scream. The article describes what should be self-evident: the more information a child absorbs before they enter school the better they will do once they enter school. That well-known reality is the basis for providing more preschool opportunities for children raised in poverty, children whose parents often have less education than children raised in affluence, whose parents work long and unpredictable hours at low wage jobs, or who are raised in single parent households. The idea behind these preschool opportunities is to compensate for the lack of nurturance and intellectual stimulation they receive at home as compared to that offered by better educated parents with more time.

Ms. Goldstein’s article described a study comparing  “rigorous” or “academically oriented” preschools with traditional prekindergarten programs. She wrote:

The study defined “academic-oriented” prekindergarten programs as those in which teachers reported spending time most days on activities like sounding out words, discussing new vocabulary, counting out loud and teaching children to measure and tell time.

Having raised two children and witnessing the upbringing of five grandchildren, I do not see this as anything different from what my wife, children, and step-children did or are doing with their preschoolers. While neither my wife nor my daughters and stepchildren intentionally taught their offspring how to read, they ALL read to their children frequently and visited the library regularly to keep their children stocked with new and interesting books. My grandsons all knew more about dinosaurs, sharks, and large equipment than I do and they all continue to pursue in depth study of topics that interest them. This is the kind of encouragement that ALL children need, because given the opportunity children have a desire to learn and to train their minds to think about the world they live in and the activities they have done or plan to do.

As an educator who worked in districts with high numbers of children raised in poverty, though, I know that not every parent takes the time to help their children enunciate words properly, learn how to count, learn the alphabet and the sounds associated with each letter, or tell time. The parents are all doing the best they can given the circumstances they find themselves in, but in some cases they have neither the time nor the wherewithal to provide the intellectual stimulation that their children need and desire. In some cases, children raised in poverty do not have the structure in their lives that my children and grandchildren have. When parents have an irregular work schedule, or are working multiple jobs to provide food, clothing and shelter, or when one parent is absent, it is difficult to eat at regular times, set a standard bed-time, establish daily routines, or engage in “play dates” or other structured play activities. By entering school at an early age, these children receive the structure and intellectual nurturance that is a “given” for more affluent and educated families.

Looking at my upbringing, my children’s upbringing, and my grandchildren’s upbringing to date, it is evident that we all grew up in a child-centered environment…. and that is what children want and need from schools in the early years. When “rigor” is measured by standardized tests, the focus on the developmental needs of each individual child will take a back seat to the needs of the adult teachers to “get those test scores up” at all costs. We’ve witnessed this for over a decade in schools thanks to NCLB and RTTT. I hope “reformers” can learn from that lesson… but fear that the lure of the bell curve will pull them away from the need for children to receive the intellectual stimulation they need.

Choice Advocate Kerry McDonald ALMOST Gets Illich’s Ideas on Schooling— But Misses Crucial Point

May 31, 2017 Comments off

The title of self-described school choice advocate Kerry McDonald’s article in Forbes, Public Education vs. Public Schooling, intimated that she might be familiar with education philosopher Ivan Illich… and sure enough her op ed piece DID use Illich’s ideas as the basis for the distinction between education and schooling. She opens her essay with this promising premise:

I am a true believer in, and a full supporter of, public education.

The trouble is that public education and public schooling have become synonymous. Schooling is one method of education; but it is certainly not the only one and, I argue, not the best one. Until we separate public education from public schooling–to truly “de-school” our perspective on learning–we will be mired in a debate about reforming one, singular method of education (that is, mass schooling), while ignoring other methods of education that could be better.

This appeared to be attuned to the thinking behind this blog, which is premised on the notion that learning networks should replace the outmoded factor model of education in place in our nation for over a century. And Ms. McDonald makes it clear that her use of the term “de-schooling” is drawn from the ideas of Ivan Illich, whose writings from 40 years ago resonate with me today:

In his path-breaking 1970 book, Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich wrote about the need to de-institutionalize learning and invest in decentralized education models that support learners in educating themselves. Illich said: “Universal education through schooling is not feasible…The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”

She builds on this promising argument by describing visionary public libraries that serve as educational webs and then draws a clear contrast between the function of libraries and public schools:

The primary difference between public education and public schooling is that the former is openly accessible and self-directed, while the latter is compulsory and coercive. Both are community-based and taxpayer-funded; both can lead to an educated citizenry. But public education–like public libraries, public museums, public parks, community centers, and so on—can support the education efforts of individuals, families, and local organizations with potentially better outcomes than the static system of mass schooling.

But Ms. McDonald goes off the rails when she attempts to support her argument for the replacement of education with schooling by using standardized test data. In doing so, she unwittingly reinforces “the static system mass schooling” that batches students into age-based cohorts and mandates that they take tests based on their age as opposed to taking tests that reflect skills they feel they have mastered. In doing so she misses Illich’s most important point: education holds time as a constant and allows learning to be a variable; schooling holds learning as a constant and allows time to be a variable. We will never be able to promote de-schooling until we use a different metric than standardized testing.

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Could Princeton’s Model Be Used in Public Schools?

May 30, 2017 Comments off

David Leonardt is providing an outstanding service by developing and promoting the College Access Index, or CAI, a ranking system for colleges that places a premium on equity. Unlike the US News and World Report’s system of rankings that uses SAT scores, acceptance rates, endowments, and other easy-to-measure-but-irrelevant metrics to rank colleges, Mr. Leonardt’s  CAI “...measures how many lower-income students graduate from a college and how much they must pay to attend it“. It uses the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants as a proxy for low income entrants, and ranks only colleges who graduate 75% of entering freshmen within five years, which is a proxy for “competitive colleges”. The other factor in the CAI is the affordability, the “…tuition, fees, room and board, net of financial aid — that the college charged students from families with annual income between $30,000 and $75,000.

In a succession of columns this past week, Mr. Leonardt has profiled competitive colleges who are making an earnest effort to expand the number of undergraduates who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Today he describes Princeton’s efforts to diversify based on income, and based on his column they are doing an admirable job:

Only 6.5 percent of the class of 2007 received Pell grants, which typically go to students in the bottom half of income distribution. The share among the class of 2017, which graduates next week, is 14.9 percent. The share in both this year’s and next year’s freshman class is 21 percent.

The changes aren’t just about one statistic, either. Princeton is also enrolling more middle-class students and low-income foreigners, who are ineligible for Pell grants.

As Mr. Leonardt notes,this is not accidental. It is the result of a commitment by Christopher Eisgruber, the current college President to, in Mr. Leonardt’s words, “…create urgency in his own community about the American class divide — a divide that has led to anger, alienation and the most worrisome political situation in decades.” 

And that challenge should extend to public education as well. I know from reading his columns regularly that Mr. Leonardt is an advocate for charter schools and the choice model in place in NYC, which requires parents of middle and high school students to go through a lengthy and complicated application process. This process, which was intended, in part, to encourage the kind of even-playing field opportunity for children in the city has not done so. An article by Iris Rotberg in Education Week three years ago cited some disturbing trends that resulted from the expansion of charter schools and choice, including:

a strong link between school choice programs and an increase in student segregation by race, ethnicity, and income.

risk of segregation is a direct reflection of the design of the school choice program.

increased segregation for special education and language-minority students, as well as in increased segregation of students based on religion and culture.

She concluded her well researched article with this:

Proponents of charter schools believe they’re giving low-income and minority students opportunities they otherwise would not have had. That belief is true in some cases; all charter schools do not result in segregation. But far too many do, and the trend is unfavorable. It takes a lot of care through targeted funding and oversight to mitigate the pressures that lead to yet more segregation. But whatever motivations drive the choices families and schools make, it is important that government does not exacerbate the problem of segregation by ignoring the unintended consequences of its policies. The risk is an increasingly divided public education system.

In the intervening years between the publication of this article, with the unyielding expansion of charters and choice under the Obama administration and now with Ms. DeVos at the helm of the USDOE and a pro-privatization administration in place, it is more likely than ever that re-segregation by race and worse segregation by income will persist…. and our divided public education system will lead to anger, alienation and an even more worrisome political situation.