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Personalized Learning Requires a Change of Thinking About Time

October 31, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this month, Julia Freeland Fisher published a thought provoking article for the Christensen Institute Newsletter suggesting that personalized learning can only work if educators and policy makers shed their notions about time. Ms. Fisher notes that in many cases when an innovative technology is introduced, instead of replacing and old way of doing business the organization adds a new layer… in much the same way a bookkeeper who worked for me in the early 1980s persisted in keeping books in a handwritten ledger at the same time as she entered data on the “newfangled” computer. She writes about how this applies to schools who are introducing personalized learning:

This is especially true for traditional systems that may be aiming to adopt new approaches to teaching and learning but less willing to do away with legacy structures. Innovation theory shows us that in industry after industry, existing organizations often default to hybrid innovations that combine new technologies or approaches with old ways of doing business. Put differently, rather than actually making any real tradeoffs, organizations may start doing new things without stopping doing old things.

Ms. Fisher contends that personalized learning that is enhanced by technology will only work if schools abandon one of their deeply held legacies: the time paradigm.

Although schools may manage to add more time on the margins, personalized learning at scale will likely require a massive rethinking of how schools use time, alongside pursuing new efficiencies that can save time. I was reminded of this while reading Silicon Schools’ recent report on its past five years supporting new and redesigned schools in the California Bay Area. In it, the fund’s leaders share actionable insights about the promise and pitfalls of personalized approaches. Among these takeaways, the word “time” appears a total of 39 times in the report’s 27 pages.

Specifically, the report highlights a vital reality on the ground: how schools use time is a balancing act. The report enumerates tradeoffs schools personalizing learning have had to weigh: how much time students should spend working on their own versus in groups; how much time students should be in front of screens versus offline; how much time students should work on content that is at versus above their current instructional level.

Ms. Fisher outlines several ways time can be used more efficiently and different kinds of software products that can facilitate the different uses of time. But ultimately, Ms. Fisher’s advocacy for changing the time paradigm falls short of the mark in one important aspect: she still implies that time will be constant for learners batched in age cohorts. If schools want to truly personalize learning they will need to abandon the legacy structure that insists on grouping students in age cohorts and having them complete curricula based on moving in a lockstep time frame based on objectives linked to those cohorts. Technology makes this possible… but the mental model of the factory school must be abandoned before it can take place.

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Bill Gates & Betsy DeVos: Mr. and Mrs. Public School Sabotage

October 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Blogger Steve Singer makes a strong case for Gates’ and DeVos’ efforts to undercut “government schools” based on their faith in technology and the marketplace… faith that is clearly misplaced and disproven… 

Source: Bill Gates & Betsy DeVos: Mr. and Mrs. Public School Sabotage

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Big OOPS! Chicago Charter Schools Hiring Public School Personnel Blacklisted by Public Schools

October 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Chicago Tribune writer Juan Perez reports that as of last December, Chicago charter schools had 163 staff members on board who had been blacklisted by the Chicago public school system… and in the article seemed to imply that this was a problem for the public schoolsHere are the details from the opening paragraphs of Mr. Perez’ article:

More than 160 Chicago Public Schools employees who were barred from the district because of alleged abuse, misconduct or poor performance were found working in new jobs at city charter and contract schools last year, according to a report from the district’s inspector general.

The list included three workers who were fired or resigned and blocked from being re-hired at CPS because of sexual abuse accusations, according to the report, which was released Tuesday. Twenty-two were put on a “Do Not Hire” list “due to improper corporal punishment or physical abuse of students,” according to the report.

Nearly 80 others were blocked from returning to the district due to incompetence or violating school rules. That included a list of probationary teachers who were blocked from future employment at CPS because of poor performance.

The 163 unidentified employees — 98 of them teachers — represented a small fraction of the workforce at the city’s publicly funded but independently operated charter and contract schools, the reported noted.

But Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s office also found that CPS had no system for those schools to determine if their potential employees had been blacklisted by CPS with the “Do Not Hire” designation. Despite preliminary steps taken to fix the problem, the IG’s office said CPS has not finalized a policy on how to handle such situations.

The report did not name schools that hired the former district employees. Officials from three of the city’s largest charter school operators either declined to comment on Schuler’s report or said their schools conduct criminal background checks but don’t have access to CPS’ list of prohibited employees.

Mr. Perez eventually made a point that effectively exonerates CPS… but this points appear at the end of the article:

One challenge, Schuler noted, is that the law allows charter schools “considerable latitude” on their hiring decisions.

State law prohibits schools from hiring candidates who have been convicted of certain criminal offenses. CPS also elects to bar a range of other offenders from being hired, though charter schools are not required to follow suit.

“Although the Board decides not to hire those individuals, it does not have a statutory basis to require charter schools to defer to the Board’s conclusions about the risks presented by those individuals,” Schuler’s office said.

The Illinois State legislature, like so many others across the country, favors deregulation. But, as this article unwittingly notes, deregulation in hiring practices can have some deleterious consequences for children. When “considerable latitude” in hiring means that some charter operators don’t even bother to call the previous employer, please don’t blame the previous employer for the problem! The legislature’s mania for deregulation should not free for-profit charters from the responsibility of hiring only qualified candidates and should certainly NOT free them from the responsibility for hiring sex offenders!

Betsy DeVos Takes the Side of Private College Scammers: Is Anyone Surprised?

October 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Late last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the USDOE was changing its stance on the forgiveness of loans to students who were scammed by private for-profit colleges. Instead of the virtual blanket forgiveness provided by the Obama administration, Ms. DeVos was limiting the number of bilked students whose loans wold be forgiven. As reported in the New York Post by the AP:

The Education Department is considering only partially forgiving federal loans for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, according to department officials, abandoning the Obama administration’s policy of erasing that debt.

Under President Barack Obama, tens of thousands of students deceived by now-defunct for-profit schools had over $550 million in such loans canceled.

But President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is working on a plan that could grant such students just partial relief, according to department officials. The department may look at the average earnings of students in similar programs and schools to determine how much debt to wipe away.

The consequences of this decision will be favorable for the profiteers and the banks that issued the loans, but deleterious to the borrowers who were misled by the fraudulent schools. It is particularly problematic since some students have already received complete forgiveness for their loans while 65,000 others, whose reviews were underway, might get only partial forgiveness… or MAYBE the full forgiveness will be rescinded! The AP report indicates USDOE indicated to a contractor trying to resolve the loan repayments that “policy changes may necessitate certain claims already processed be revisited to assess other attributes”. It went on to say that “The department would not further clarify the meaning of that notice.

This whole episode was  lampooned by Gail Collins in NYTimes, who noted throughout her column the fact that Trump University was one of the many for-profit colleges forced to pay millions of dollars in fines for misleading advertising, excessive tuition costs, and usurious loans. She concluded her column noting that Mr. DeVos’ suspension of loan forgiveness would provide the public with a constant reminder of Mr. Trump’s mismanagement of his “University”:

For instance, the Department of Education has stopped approving new fraud claims against for-profits, leaving a backlog of more than 87,000. Every time the number goes up, we could say, “This is even more than the number of students who complained about their loans for Trump University.”

If DeVos says what the country needs now is less regulation, we can recall that Trump University had instructors allegedly handpicked by Donald Trump himself, although it turned out that he’d never even met them.

Consider it a teaching moment.

It is a teaching moment for anyone in “class” that is paying attention. The question is: are the voters paying attention… or are they distracted by tweets about the NFL players who continue to protest the treatment of African Americans by the police?

“Problem Children” Biggest Problem is Lack of Self-Awareness

October 30, 2017 1 comment

Last Tuesday’s NYTimes column in the “Fixes” section by Suzanne Bouffard described two successful approaches to student discipline that emerged independently from the same source source. Called the Collaborative Problem Solving (C.P.S.), Ms. Bouffard reported that this seemingly permissive approach was developed in the late 1990s by Dr. Ross Greene, now the director of a nonprofit called Lives in the Balance, and later expanded upon by Stuart Ablon, a psychologist who runs the Think:Kids program at Massachusetts General Hospital. It works like this:

An adult and child collaborate to understand why the child is struggling and what to do about it, using a strategy called “Plan B.” Plan B starts with the child stating a concern. Next the adult does the same. They then brainstorm realistic solutions that address both parties’ concerns. That method diverges from more typical responses, like when an adult tries to exert her will by applying consequences (“Plan A”) or lets go of the expectation for a specific behavior (“Plan C”).

As a Buddhist practitioner for the past 12 years, I see this approach as being similar to an approach in reconciliation advocated by zenmaster Thich Nhat Hanh called called Beginning Anew, an approach designed to have both parties develop mutual self awareness about how their behaviors affect each other. But, as Ms. Bouffard notes, the notion of developing self-awareness as a means of changing behavior flies in the face of conventional wisdom and conventional thinking by adults:

Approaching misbehavior this way runs counter to many educators’ instincts. Deciding to share power rather than impose it requires a mind-set shift. One might see that as “giving in to the child.” But what would be the point of punishing a child who literally could not sit still? The C.P.S. conversation taught Jayden that his perspective mattered and that using calm problem solving pays off. It also kept him and his classmates learning.

As a high school disciplinarian for six years, I quickly learned that in the minds of many teachers anything that failed to punish the child explicitly was viewed as “giving in”: that every time a child was sent to the office and there were no “automatic consequences” they felt betrayed by the administration. In the minds of some teachers, sending a child to the office was a power play and if I failed to use my power to assign a detention or take some kind of punitive action I was failing to support them. In the minds of other teachers, a trip to the office was intended to provide a place for the student to collect their thoughts and for me to arrange a conference with both parties. As a disciplinarian, I had to learn the expectations of the teacher and adjust accordingly. But is struck me that the same was true of the students: they, too, had to gain an understanding of what each teacher expected.

Ms. Bouffard’s article was triggered by the fact that preschools are suspending children at an alarming rate and, as a result, legislators are looking for changes in approach. She writes:

Early childhood education can be an invaluable opportunity for learning social and emotional skills. But when teachers repeatedly punish young children, their efforts can cause lifelong harm… Nearly 1 in 10 preschoolers is suspended or expelled for behavior problems. Their infractions — generally hitting, throwing things or swearing — need to be addressed, but educators are recognizing that removing 3- and 4-year-olds from classrooms is not the answer. It doesn’t teach children how to behave differently, and it often makes matters worse.

Young children who are suspended are often the ones who need the most social and academic support — and they end up missing opportunities to get it. Early suspension predicts disengagement from school and dropping-out. And the fact that African-American preschoolers are far more likely than white children to be suspended raises serious issues of equity and access to educational opportunity. As states like Illinois and Connecticut pass legislation prohibiting or restricting expulsion from state-funded preschools, teachers desperately need better options for handling misbehavior.

I am appalled at the consequences of imposing the will of adults on children who are misbehaving, an approach that is often used in so-called “no excuses” schools. I am especially appalled when the adult’s will is based on unquestioning adherence to rules that cannot be readily followed by children who have special needs or who come from homes where they have experienced childhood trauma. Here’s hoping that the legislation adopted in states seeking to reduce preschool suspensions leads to the development of self-awareness on the part of students at an early age and mutual respect between teachers and parents at all grade levels.

Oklahoma Charter Schools Join Public Schools Seeking More State Funds… But… Who Benefits?

October 29, 2017 Leave a comment

I read and re-read an article by Tulsa World reported Andrea Eger on the efforts of public schools and charters to get more revenue to operate their schools to get the answer to this question: if a for-profit school gains more State revenues, who benefits? Is it the children? the employees? the taxpayers? or… is it the shareholders who own stock in the for profit school. If the answer is “All of the above” taxpayers might want to ask themselves why they are supporting these enterprises since their tax dollars supporting them are going to profiteers instead of the schools themselves.

And one other question: are Florida and Colorado, both of whom are providing increased funding for charter schools, doing anything to regulate the profits of the schools that benefit from them? I think I know the answer… and it explains why politicians are falling all over themselves supporting “reform:.

While China’s Leaders Want Tests De-Emphasized, NYC Chinese Immigrants See Testing as the Way Up in the US

October 29, 2017 Leave a comment

In contrast to an article in the NYTimes a few days ago described the Chinese government’s efforts to abandon the test-centric curriculum that drives instruction but stifles creativity, an article by Alice Yin in Sunday’s NYTimes describes the Chinese immigrants continuing efforts to use NYC’s— and the Ivy League’s— test-centric admissions policies as a means of providing their children with an opportunity to climb the economic ladder in our country. And as the title of the article indicates, these Asian test prep centers offer parents what they want: results. 

Ms. Yin describes the reasons for the success of these centers, which are the results student’s desire to succeed, which in turn stems from Chinese culture, parental drive and commitment, and US immigration policy. Ms. Yin profiles several students in her article, whose commitment is captured in a question Join Wang, one of a group of Chinese students attending NYC’s most prestigious HS, Stuyvesant, posed:

‘What are you going to do in the summer?’ ‘Go to prep,’” Wang says. “We all go to prep.”

While many competitive US parents enroll their children in internships or volunteer trips to round out their resumes for college, or sending them to camps to hone their athletic skills, Wang’s HS friends are all enrolled in test-prep schools in NYC. Ms. Yin attributes the industriousness of these Chinese students to culture:

This rigor is seen as necessary to keep up with national test-based systems like China’s, where a single exam determines university placement. “It’s Confucian to emphasize your children’s education,” (Pyong Gap) Min (a sociology professor at Queens College in the City University of New York) says. “You go to China, Korea and Taiwan, there’s after-school programs that they transplanted here.”

She also attributes it to the dedication of parents, who are willing to limit spending on everything else in order to reside in communities served by excellent schools or, if they reside in NYC, to spend thousands each year on “cram schools”. Finally, she cites a wrinkle in the US immigration policy that contributes to the recent emergence of the academic prowess of Chinese students:

Jennifer Lee, a professor of sociology at Columbia University, …argues in “The Asian American Achievement Paradox,” her 2015 book with Min Zhou, that much of Asian-Americans’ educational attainment actually stems from a hyperselective immigration policy: A 2015 census report found that a majority of Chinese immigrants have college degrees, a distinction matched by fewer than one-third of Americans as a whole and only 16 percent of the population in China itself.

This imbalance of Asians in the group of students who score well on tests and therefore are admitted in disproportionate numbers to selective high schools and colleges contributes to the call for the abandonment of tests as the primary metric for admissions, a call that the Chinese and other Asians resist since the test-centric selection methods have thus far worked to their benefit.

In the end, this combination of culture, parent commitment, and the inherent rewards of doing well on tests results in many Chinese students feeling a deep appreciation for the sacrifice their parents made on their behalf. Ms. Yin concludes her article with this anecdote about a Stuyvesant student Join Wang, which illustrates this mindset:

There’s also the concept (Professor) Lee calls “parental bragging rights.” When immigrants move to the United States, she points out, they often experience a drop in status — socially, professionally and legally. Some will never regain that stature, settling over the long term for more menial jobs. But they may attempt to recoup some standing through their children’s success. Chris Kwok, a 1992 Stuyvesant graduate… grew up in a working-class family in Flushing; in China, his father had been an engineer, but in Queens, he worked as a blue-collar city contractor, and Kwok’s mother was employed in a garment factory. For his first summer prep class, Kwok recalls: “I made no decision. It was just, ‘This is what you’re doing.’”

The programs he attended in the late 1980s, he remembers, were “terrible,” but at least half his classmates got into either Stuyvesant or Bronx Science, in part because the classes forced a certain kind of discipline. “My parents spent money that they earned,” he says. “The message is that you’re supposed to be paying attention to studying. If you didn’t, you know, you just felt guilty.”

Now that Wang is halfway through high school, he wonders at times where he will go from there. He admits that he would like to leave New York and try being independent for a while. But, he says, “my No. 1 priority is making my parents happy, because they have done so much for me. After that is what I like.”

On a recent Saturday, Wang was logging in to check his SAT results at a Thai cafe near his house, tapping at the screen as if playing some mobile game. “Oh!” he exclaimed, breaking into a sly smile at the score that emerged. “Checking my answers was so worth it.”

Was he going to celebrate? Wang wasn’t sure; it might be premature. His parents had already started him on private college counseling. He would have plenty of time to relax and pursue hobbies later, he said — once he had a solid job. I was reminded of a phrase he had recited earlier, one that almost every Chinese child has heard, including me: “Xiān kǔ hòu tián.” First bitter, then sweet.

The story told above is an echo of many immigrant stories beginning with the Pilgrims who valued family, emphasized hard work, and encouraged deferred gratification. The shame is that all of these values are being reinforced through a desire to score well on a single test.