Archive for January, 2018

Ohio HS Alumni Connects Dots… Why Can’t Ohio Legislators?

January 28, 2018 Comments off

Pasted below is a letter to the editor that appeared in today’s Columbus Dispatch: 

Let me connect the dots for Dispatch readers. Columbus City Schools are laying off teachers. The layoffs are from a budget shortfall. The shortfall is because the state cut funding. The state cut funding because the money had already been spent. The money had already been spent because more than $1 billion in taxpayer funds have gone to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, a charter school operating fraudulently by inflating its attendance figures.

ECOT was not shut down earlier because the state officials who were supposed to have oversight looked the other way. Not coincidentally, ECOT made big donations to those same state officials who were supposed to be safeguarding students’ interests. So indirectly, the money that was supposed to pay Columbus teachers has somehow found its way into the campaign coffers of state-level officials.

In other words, this is not a story of financial mismanagement by a local school district; it’s a story of state-level misconduct at the expense of local schools and their students. Follow the money, connect the dots.

Christopher Sunami

Columbus Alternative High School ’93

If Ohio were the only place this happened it would be a local story… but it has happened across the nation and is being exacerbated by the “reformers” who want to encourage parents to choose deregulated charter schools like ECOT in favor of closely monitored schools governed by locally elected officials. Hopefully readers of the Columbus Dispatch will connect the dots and let their legislators know that they are wise to their shenanigans.


New Research on “Nature vs. Nurture” Debate Indicates it’s BOTH… and Neither…

January 28, 2018 Comments off

In recent “head-spinning” research in Iceland on how DNA affects learning, geneticist Albert Kong and a team of researchers in Iceland determined that the impact of DNA variants carried by parents but not passed to their children had about 30 percent as big an impact as that of the genes that the children actually did inherit. Dr. Kong elaborated on his findings in a recent NY Times article by Carl Zimmer:

“The direct genetic effect is quite a bit smaller than what people thought,” said Dr. Kong, who now a professor at the University of Oxford.

How can that be? Dr. Kong speculated that the genes carried by parents influence the environment in which their children grow up. “Variants that have to do with planning with the future could have the biggest effect on nurturing,” he said.

In effect, the interplay between genes the parents possess and those the children don’t possess can have as much impact on the intellectual growth of a child as the genes the children DO possess. A geneticist from the Netherlands offered an example of how this plays out in the field of livestock:

“I am not surprised by the findings,” said Piter Bijma, who studies livestock at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “These are to be expected.”

Dr. Bijma and other researchers have amassed a wealth of evidence showing that animals are influenced not just by their own genes but by the genes of their parents. Calves may grow quickly thanks to their own growth-promoting genes, or because the same genes in their mothers make them produce more milk.

A calf may inherit those milk-boosting variants from its mother. But just because the calf carries them doesn’t mean they directly make the calves bigger.

Compared to other mammals, Dr. Bijma observed, human children are especially dependent on their parents — not just for food and other essentials, but for social development. So it stands to reason that they’d experience similar effects.

Humans provide substantial care to their offspring, and so the nurture they create is very likely to have a genetic component,” said Dr. Bijma.

At the conclusion of the article, Mr. Zimmer draws on the studies of Paige Harden, a psychologist at the University of Texas who co-authored a commentary on Dr. Kong’s research:

Dr. Harden said that taking account of genetic nurture could improve research on the effects of poverty on how children do in school, as well as studies of methods to improve educational attainment.

“It’s so obvious in retrospect, and so elegant,” she said. “A lot of people are going to say, ‘I can see my data in a new light with this.’”

Exactly HOW this research will help teachers who are dealing directly with “the effects of poverty on how children do in school” and  improve educational attainment are unclear to me, unless family therapy is somehow combined with DNA analysis to develop parent-child IEPs. But given Dr. Bijma’s observations based on his research on livestock— that human children are especially dependent on their parents– it seems to me that it is imperative to work closely with parents who are disengaged from their child’s schooling. That is, instead of addressing the concerns of parents who are sufficiently engaged in their child’s well-being to make an informed choice about where their child should attend school, “reformers” should instead find ways to engage those parents who are NOT making applications to charter schools to determine how to engage them more effective in their child’s learning.

Given the Choice, 2011 NYTimes Articles Indicates Tech Moguls Choose Waldorf Schools… I’ll Bet They STILL Do Today

January 27, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch shared one of her favorite articles in yesterday’s stream of posts, a NYTimes article from 2011 titled “A Silicon Valley School that Does’t Compute“. The article describes the curriculum offered at the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, described as

…one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.

The irony is that this particular Waldorf School attracts the children of several tech magnates who reside in the area, technology experts who intentionally keep devices out of their children’s hands. Why?

“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school,” said Alan Eagle, 50, whose daughter, Andie, is one of the 196 children at the Waldorf elementary school; his son William, 13, is at the nearby middle school. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”

Mr. Eagle knows a bit about technology. He holds a computer science degree from Dartmouth and works in executive communications at Google, where he has written speeches for the chairman, Eric E. Schmidt. He uses an iPad and a smartphone. But he says his daughter, a fifth grader, “doesn’t know how to use Google,” and his son is just learning. (Starting in eighth grade, the school endorses the limited use of gadgets.)

The article describes the kinds of activities Waldorf students engage in at each grade level and how Waldorf schools ignore any metrics that involve standardized testing. Waldorf parents, though, are confident that their children will learn the skills needed to succeed given Waldorf’s 94% college placement figures. But how will Waldorf students cope in a Google-world where cell phones and technology are ubiquitous?

And where advocates for stocking classrooms with technology say children need computer time to compete in the modern world, Waldorf parents counter: what’s the rush, given how easy it is to pick up those skills?

“It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”

Knowing several Waldorf teachers and several Waldorf students, I believe their mantra might be “WHAT’S THE RUSH? Waldorf Schools batch students by age but allow their skills to develop at whatever pace is comfortable for the child… and they allow the children a lot of freedom in selecting the content they pursue. The notion of slavishly following a curriculum based on test questions tied to an age is preposterous to them.

Could the Waldorf model work in public education? Matt Richtel who wrote the article for the Times seems to infer that it couldn’t be because their results are largely the result of the families who enroll in the schools. He notes that Waldorf students are “…from families that value education highly enough to seek out a selective private school, and usually have the means to pay for it“. In that observation, Mr. Richtel seems to echo the attitude of the “reformers”, who think that instruction driven by standardized tests is good for children raised in poverty but inappropriate for those with the means to attend selective schools. Poor children need to rush… affluent children, not so much…