Archive for March, 2020

Do We Want to Emulate South Korea? I Don’t Think So!

March 30, 2020 Leave a comment

This article describes the obsession that South Korean parents have with a national exam that determines whether their children will be able to attend the universities or not. It strikes me that if we continue to use standardized tests as our primary metric, especially TIMMS scores, we will soon find our parents emulating the South Korean parents and our country becoming explicitly stratified based on one test. NYC is there already. There must be a better way forward!

No Surprise: Heritage Foundation Sees School Closures as Opportunity to Expand ESAs

March 29, 2020 Leave a comment

Heritage Foundation education policy specialist Lindsay Burke wrote an op ed piece for Fox News using the emergency closures of public schools as evidence that states need to expand their use of Education Savings Accounts— a wholly predictable and unsurprising conclusion. What WAS surprising to me was that Michael Horn, one of the advocates of the disruption that online education would create, was very clear-eyed about the practical impact of this emergency implementation:

Michael Horn, distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, writes that “all of a sudden, the competition for online learning isn’t live, in-person classes. Those classes are canceled. Now, the alternative is nothing at all.”

Typically, when there is a flood of new entrants into a market (in this case, families thrown into homeschooling out of necessity), one would expect that enabling technologies (such as online learning) would be able to gain a good share of the business — either as a facilitating service or as a viable or even more desirable alternative.

Yet Horn isn’t so “sure we’re in the typical circumstance where the logic and usual patterns of disruption hold,” particularly if students experience “poorly constructed, hastily built online courses by faculty.”

These reservations are especially applicable to higher education, where professors are now being asked to translate in-class lesson plans — including laboratory exercises — into online instructional experiences.

Horn’s reasoned expectations do not stand in the way of the true believers of Education Savings Accounts, though. Here’s how Ms. Burke connects the dots. She begins with this premise:

Freeing up existing education dollars to be more nimble generally and to follow families to learning options of their choice is good policy anytime, and perhaps a critical policy during a global pandemic.

Then, after acknowledging that this interruption of services might not change the minds of parents regarding the current format of schooling, she concludes that the coronavirus’ impact should “…change the way government officials think about education policy.” How so? Well… it appears that the “good policy anytime” argument works here as well!

Students who were already learning online, homeschooling, or accessing private tutors are likely experiencing less disruption in their education. Freeing up existing education dollars to be more nimble generally and to follow families to learning options of their choice is good policy anytime, and perhaps critical policy during a pandemic.

And… here’s added benefit! It’s less costly!

To that end, states should provide emergency educations savings accounts (ESAs) to families for the remainder of the academic year. States should deposit into these parent-controlled accounts 90 percent of what the states would have spent on their children in the public school system from the time public classrooms were shut through the end of the school year.

Families should then be allowed to use their ESA to pay for private tutors, online tutors, special education services and therapists, online courses and curricula.

So, if Mr. Burke’s idea caught on, States could cut 10% of their spending for the balance of the year and parents would froths point forward get 90% of the funds their state spends on average to, presumably, go to the school of their choice.

Heartwarming Essay on Value of Public Schools Overlooks One Reality: Economic and Racial Homogeneity STILL Prevails

March 29, 2020 Leave a comment

A few days ago I received a heartwarming essay on the value of public schools written by Donald Cohen titled “COVID-19 is Putting the Value of Public Education on Display“, an article that made many of the same points I described in an earlier blog post that I honed into an op ed piece that was published yesterday in our local newspaper. In the essay, like my post, Mr. Cohen points out all of the services public schools provide above and beyond instruction on the basic skills. But I believe he overstates one of the qualities provided by public education in reality (as opposed to in theory):

But perhaps most importantly, public schools provide kids with the opportunity to learn alongside their peers. Schools are where the community comes together to learn and grow regardless of skin color, income level, sexual orientation, or any other difference.

I desperately wish this were so and (probably incorrectly) believe it was the case in the small college town where I attended high school in the early 1960s. I DO believe ALL public schools aspire to being a place where their “…community comes together to learn and grow regardless of skin color, income level, sexual orientation, or any other difference”… but I also know that fewer and fewer communities posses economic or racial heterogeneity and, therefore, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for children to experience the opportunity to be with children of different skin colors, income levels, or nationalities. I also sense (and fear) that too many students in our country encounter different treatment based on their gender and/or their sexual orientation and that changing those behaviors will take decades.

Looking forward, I hope that public schools will break down the artificial boundaries that have the effect of isolating students based on their race and income, for if that were the case I believe there would be far more empathy that we experience in our society at large today. MAYBE our on-line encounters based on current school boundaries could be intentionally re-designed so that groups of students from the heartland could meet groups of students from the coast… and groups of students of different races could interact with each other to discuss common issues… and students of different economic backgrounds could interact with each other. MAYBE we could find a way to use our technology to bring students from disparate groups together in virtual classrooms to engage in dialogues about their experiences during the lock down. if we did so, I think we would find that we have more in common with each other than we now believe.

In a District with No Broadband a 10 Year old Xerox Machine Works Overtime

March 28, 2020 Leave a comment

Homeschooling Vs. Unschooling Explained

March 27, 2020 Leave a comment

This article provides a good overview of the difference between homeschooling and unschooling noting that those who adopt the former are required to effectively replicate the traditional schooling model at home while the latter tend to allow their child’s interest to determine how, when, and where learning takes place.

$2,000,000,000,000 Bailout Winner: For-Profit Colleges!

March 26, 2020 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes article describing some of the fine print in the $2,000,000,000,000 bailout and this one sentence paragraph describes one sector that won:

And for-profit colleges will be able to keep federal loan money from students who drop out because of the coronavirus.

Further down in the article, which enumerates many intended and perhaps unintended beneficiaries of the new bailout, is a description of WHY the profiteering colleges would benefit:

A provision in the bill would allow all colleges to retain federal funds allocated to help educate qualifying students, even if the students in question dropped out because of coronavirus-related emergencies. While the provision applies to all colleges, critics of for-profit colleges contend that, because those schools tend to have higher dropout rates, they would be able to retain more of the money they collect via federal loans to their students than would traditional nonprofit colleges.

“What’s happening now is causing a crisis for all sectors of higher ed, and I understand the intent, but it would disproportionately help for-profit schools because their dropout rates are higher than other segments of higher ed,” said Toby Merrill, the founder of the Project on Predatory Student Lending.

In a massive spending bill like the one passed by the Senate it is impossible to push back on each and every flaw, but the fact that this was not flagged earlier is, the cynical part of me believes, an indication that for-profit education institutions that benefit because they fail large numbers of students are not an anathema to the leadership of the Democratic party. I hope my cynicism is misguided.

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Another Positive Outcome of Covid 19 Outbreak: Internet Inequality in the Limelight

March 24, 2020 Leave a comment

Over the past several days i’ve read countless articles on the impact of internet access inequities on student learning during the time interval when schools are closed. One of the best articles is an interview with MIT’s Justin Reich by Sarah Kleiner of the Center for Public Integrity titled “Yawning Gaps in Learning Expected During Pandemic“.  The reason for these gaps is explained in the Mr. Reich’s response to Ms. Kleiner’s first question, which was whether schools were prepared for this shift:

Schools use all kinds of technology to varying degrees, but the technologies to support in-class learning only partially overlap with the technologies needed to support distance learning. But certainly our schools, especially urban and rural schools, are dreadfully underfunded, and that insufficient investment will be increasingly revealed in the weeks ahead. Schools were not only unready in the sense of not having enough technology, but unready in the sense of having been woefully underfunded at least since the growth of 1970s era anti-government, austerity policies.

The greatest gap will be in K-12 education, where parents play a key role in educating the child even if the child’s education is on-line. Ms. Reich notes that the parents who will suffer most are those who will be laid off from work who will be under severe stress and looking desperately for some means to provide food, clothing ad shelter for their children. Those parents will be hard pressed to serve as the “coach and teacher” an online learner requires at home, for that is an essential element for success:

Most K-12 virtual schools are what we might call “coached homeschooling.” They depend upon a full-time parent as a coach and teacher. There is no viable model for elementary schools to provide remote instruction without every child having a parent, sibling or other guardian to instruct, assess and coach them.

In most cases, affluent parents have the wherewithal to provide that kind of support and to have the online tools available in their houses. Children of hourly employees are not so fortunate.

Reich… points out that internet access is a scarce commodity for many Americans. Just 56 percent of adults in households earning below $30,000 have broadband internet at home, and about 17 percent of adults access the internet at home through a smartphone only.

And so… as always seems to be the case, the rich get richer and the poor fall further behind. MAYBE the widening technology disparity will become clearer and get the attention it deserves.