Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Montgomery County (MD) Decision to Return to Traditional Letter Grades is Evidence of Where Change is Most Resistant

September 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Conservative columnists complain that teachers unions are the biggest block to making changes in public education. Liberal columnists contend change is thwarted by a lack of funding. Progressives look with dismay at the standardized testing that drives decision making and reinforces the status quo and see that as an impediment to change.

But a recent decision by the Montgomery County (MD) School Board illustrates the biggest obstacle to change: parents who want to retain the system as it is. Five years ago, the Montgomery County School Board made a decision to institute a new system of reporting student progress to students. As reported by Washington Post writer Linh Bui at that time, the system would replace the traditional A-F grades on elementary report cards with ones indicating how each student was progressing.

The Montgomery County public school system is joining other districts across the country in abandoning traditional letter grades for some students and instead matching student evaluations with specific curriculum standards.

Instead of seeing A’s, B’s, C’s or D’s on report cards this November, for the first time, parents of Montgomery students in third grade will see ES, P, I or N. Those new letters will also apply to students in first through second grade, who used to get O’s, S’s or N’s.

Teachers also will mark students separately on learning skills such as “effort,” “intellectual risk taking” and “originality” with separate codes of DEM (demonstrating), PRG (progressing) or N (not yet evident).

This kind of grading system is the natural outgrowth of switching to a standards-based curriculum whereby all students are expected to master a series of standards no matter how much time takes for the each student to do so. It is an important and necessary step to any teacher, school, or district attempting to move toward mastery learning that assumes time is a variable and learning is constant instead of the other way around.

In well funded and equitable Montgomery County the teachers and the teachers union supported the change. From all appearances, a sea change was underway… but from the outset one set of parents never understood what was going on and another set of parents and the conservative media rejected the move to “standards-based” grades because the new grades were based on (gasp) the Common Core. As Ms. Bai reported five years ago, the A-F paradigm seemed to be unshakeable to parents… as did the inherent competitiveness and false sense of exactness and certitude built into the A-F system. Some parents made fallacious crosswalks between the new grading system and the old one, some saw the system as “squishy” since it didn’t have numbers associated with it, and some never saw the link between the curriculum standards and the progress reports.

The terminology itself is crucial: the quarterly issuance of letter grades is called a “Report Card”. The terminology used when districts move toward a standards-based grading is a “Progress Report”. They convey a different intent and a different purpose.

As one who sees technology as potentially assisting in the shift away from the competitive bell curve mentality inherent in standardized test driven grading, I know is now possible to completely eliminate report cards altogether. With parent portals into the student information systems used in virtually every school in the nation it is no longer necessary to issue periodic “Report Cards” or “Progress Reports”. Instead, parents can periodically check on their child’s progress through the outcomes defined for each course and schools can monitor the parent’s assiduousness in doing to to make certain it is appropriate for the age of the child. Technology makes such a change possible… and, as we witnessed in Montgomery County, it is supported by teachers, affordable, and equitably applied. The problem with instituting this necessary change? Parents who want schools to stay just the way they were when they attended.


Chan Zuckerberg, Lorene Jobs, and Joel Barker’s Rule About Paradigms

September 18, 2017 Leave a comment

As readers of this blog realize, I am no fan of billionaire plutocrats who attempt to make a profit from public services… which makes this blog offering a qualified defense of Priscilla Chan and Lorene Jobs something of an outlier. And given that this defense is in the context of an article opposing the two billionaire’s efforts to “reform” Philadelphia public schools, (see several posts lamenting the sorry state of public schools in my former hometown) it’s even more of an outlier!

The post was prompted by an op ed piece by Lisa Haver, a retired Philadelphia teacher and co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools lamenting the impact of two billionaires on public education policy in Philadelphia. Ms. Haver provides a brief background on each of the women and a brief description of the ideas they want to “impose” on teachers, with her commentary on their limited qualifications edited out:

Priscilla Chan is a physcian and wife of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, now the world’s fifth wealthiest person. Laurene Jobs is the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and the world’s fourth wealthiest woman. Neither has a degree in education or any experience teaching in public schools, but both have embarked on massive projects to impose their ideological visions of education on schoolchildren across the country.

The recently established Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is funding the development and distribution of software that would create an online profile of each student’s “strengths, needs, motivations, and progress” and may, according to a June Education Week article, “help teachers better recognize and respond to each student’s academic needs while also supporting a holistic approach to nurturing children’s social, emotional and physical development.”

…Meanwhile, CZI is investing in lobbying for legislation that would enable the imposition of this unproven program in schools and districts across the country in the same way the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation successfully lobbied for the use of Common Core standards in all 50 states before they had been tested in a pilot program.

Laurene Jobs… and her XQ Institute bought an hour on the four major TV networks to simulcast a star-studded (but not educator-studded) extravanganza  to hawk her plan to “reimagine” the country’s high schools — mostly by using more technology… (and) When you run a technology company, not surprisingly, the answer to everything, including the things you know nothing about, is more technology.

I share Ms. Haver’s concern about CZI’s investments in legislation without any evidence that the programs CZI is advocating work, and I share her dismay that these programs are not emerging from qualified classroom teachers. But I also realize that in many cases the best ideas about how to change the dominant paradigm come from those outside of the system. The notion that paradigms are changed most often by outsiders is one of the cardinal principles of paradigm change that Joel Barker discovered in his groundbreaking work in the 1980s and 1990s.

I am willing to accept the possibility that neither Ms. Chan nor Ms. Jobs are seeking profits with their efforts to improve education and I DO believe that advances in technology, algorithms and brain science that are being exploited by market researchers should be applied to public education. Finally, I would prefer that such exploitation be introduced by non-profit foundations and NOT by private corporations seeking to exploit children in the name of profits. The fact that the source of funding for these foundations is from the spouses of billionaires instead of government funded researchers or publicly funded colleges and universities is unfortunate… but the fact that the funds are being invested in public education and not for-profit charter schools is a step in the right direction.

My bottom line: I hope that those who oppose change driven by those “unqualified to teach” based on certification standards might be open to ideas provided by “outsiders” whose hearts are in the right place no matter their source of revenue. In this era, we need billionaires who support the principles of public education more than ever.


NYC Free Lunch Frees Up Family Funds for More and Better Food, Helps End Food Insecurity

September 17, 2017 Leave a comment

A short post in Wear Your Voice provided an insight I had missed when I first read about NYC’s decision to provide two free meals a day to ALL NYC students:

This program will directly benefit an additional 200,000 students who weren’t eligible for free lunch before the announcement and will save families around $300 per year.

The $300/year is, in all probability, a low ball figure in direct savings… the hassle working parents face in preparing meals, planning for them, and making certain their children remember to take their lunches each and every day can take a toll when both parents work.

And the 200,000 figure is probably a low ball figure in terms of students who benefit because in some cases parents are reluctant to admit that their children qualify for the free lunch and so do not complete the necessary paperwork.

And here’s one other fact that has been underreported: by avoiding the paperwork at the Central Office level the NYC school district should be able to save in administrative costs at the district and school building levels.



Interesting Reporting on Gallup Poll from Right Side of Aisle

September 17, 2017 Leave a comment

While I try diligently to keep politics out of my blog, it is increasingly difficult to do so given the slant various news outlets show in their reporting on cold facts. The CNS News report on the recent Gallup poll is a classic case in point. The article by Michael W. Chapman published by that conservative news outlet has this headline:

Poll: Only 36% of Americans Confident in U.S. Public Schools

The article does note, however, that this “… is a six-percentage-point increase from 2016 and marks the highest confidence rating in eight years”. The headline was surprising, though, given that the Gallup organization played into a narrative a conservative organization might like!

“The boost in public school confidence this year is part of an uptick in the average confidence rating (35%) across all institutions that Gallup measures,” reported the polling company.  “Public school confidence ranked second in positive year-over-year change among 15 institutions tested in the June survey.”

“Eleven institutions received a confidence boost from 2016, largely attributable to rising confidence among Republicans, which might be ascribed to the election of President Donald Trump,” said Gallup.

It is distressing to think that simply replacing President Obama with President Trump made that much difference among Republicans… but is IS a sign that politics and public education are hopelessly intertwined!

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The Businessman’s Priorities in Government: Cut Spending in the Name of Efficiency

September 16, 2017 Leave a comment

Over the last couple of days the NYTimes reported on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s quest to impose efficiencies on the State Department in the name of saving money. His approach in hacking at the State Department bureaucracy is reminiscent of the tactics used by non-educators recruited to lead schools on the theory that “running schools like a business” will result in greater efficiency and savings to the taxpayers. But, as often noted in this blog, the metrics in schools— and the State Department— are softer than those of business. As Times writer Gardiner Harris reports, Mr. Tillerson’s obsession with efficiency is not only alienating people in his Department, it is bringing rebukes from former GOP State Department officials and current GOP legislators:

The changes are part of a wholesale rethinking by Mr. Tillerson of how the State Departments conducts diplomacy. That rethinking has led Mr. Tillerson, a former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, to leave many jobs unfilled and preside over a restructuring scheduled to begin next year that will shrink the department’s work force and recast its duties.

For the State Department’s diplomats — already deeply skeptical of Mr. Tillerson’s lack of foreign policy experience, his inability to make timely decisions, put a leadership team in place or express a global strategy — the cuts are further evidence of his lack of understanding of what the department does. 

Former officials are more outspoken — and more willing to be quoted.

These cuts are needlessly stupid,” said Eliot A. Cohen, a top department official during the administration of President George W. Bush. “So much of what diplomacy is about is building and maintaining relationships.”

Congressional critics have sounded much the same theme, and have not reacted positively to Mr. Tillerson’s plans for cuts or restructuring. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who leads the subcommittee that controls the State Department’s budget, issued a spending plan last week that largely rejected Mr. Tillerson’s proposed cuts, saying, “Now is not the time for retreat.”

Mr. Cohen’s remarks are the most telling, because they underscore the major difference between operating a service organization, like the State Department, and a business, like Exxon Mobil. It strikes me that Lindsay Graham might be able to help Mr. Tillerson appreciate the difference by asking hims if Exxon-Mobil cut back on its expenditures for lobbyists when the news broke about his organization’s prior knowledge about the impact of fossil fuels on global warming…. because the lobbying of businesses is analogous to the work of the State Department…. and lobbying, like diplomacy, is about building and maintaining relationships.

Those who are dismayed with Mr. Tillerson’s approach might take heart in reading that the President, too, is dismayed with Mr. Tillerson… not because of his performance as leader of the State Department but because Mr. Tillerson spoke out against Mr. Trump’s inflammatory remarks following the incidents in Charlottesville.

But in the face of this criticism, Mr. Tillerson marches forward in the name of efficiency:

On Thursday, Mr. Tillerson said in remarks to employees that the most important thing he could do during his tenure was to make the State Department more efficient. For him and his top aides, saving tens of thousands of dollars on unnecessary hotel rooms is a sign of good stewardship. For his diplomats, it shows that he fails to understand the importance of routine diplomacy below his level.

If Mr. Tillerson and his other Cabinet colleagues with a business background fail to grasp the differences between rewarding shareholders and serving the nation we are in trouble. Here’s hoping that the voices of former and current GOP leaders who understand that difference are heard.

The Failed Promise of Radio, Television, and the Internet: Today’s Electorate is as Ignorant as Ever

September 16, 2017 Leave a comment

I just finished reading Adrain Chen’s article in the September 4 edition of the New Yorker titled “The Fake News Fallacy” on the heels of reading the latest results of an Annenburg survey  given to Americans measuring their understanding of the US government, and reading the two in succession is discouraging.

One section of Mr. Chen’s article resonated with me. It read:

Early radio pioneers imagined that this unprecedented blurring of public and private space might become a sort of ethereal forum that would uplift the nation, from the urban slum dweller to the remote Montana rancher. John Dewey called radio “the most powerful instrument of social education the world has ever seen.”

Like John Dewey, I see education as an essential tool for informing the electorate and lifting those born into poverty… and like Mr. Dewey, I see the latest mode of technological instruction, the computer with access to a free and open internet, as a “powerful instrument of social education“. But what if access to information on the internet is no better than radio… or television, a “technology” supported in the 1950s by the Ford Foundation?

Alas, the Annenburg Foundation’s survey results indicate widespread access to the internet has done nothing to improve the baseline information American’s possess about their government. Indeed, it may be diminishing public understanding!

  • While little more than a third of respondents (36 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government, just as many (35 percent) could not name a single one.
  • Just over a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto.
  • One in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration.
  • Asked which party has the most members in the House of Representatives, 38 percent said they knew the Republicans are the majority, but 17 percent responded the Democrats, and 44 percent reported that they did not know (up from 27 percent who said they did not know in 2011).
  • Asked which party controls the Senate, 38 percent correctly said the Democrats, 20 percent said the Republicans, and 42 percent said they did not know (also up from 27 percent who said they did not know in 2011).

So in the past six years, where internet access has increased our fundamental understanding about government has diminished!

Unsurprisingly the solution to this problem is… wait for it… a high stakes graduation test! Maybe computers can deliver the test-prep courses.

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This Year’s Poverty Data Look a Lot Different When You Break Them Down by Race

September 15, 2017 Leave a comment

It will be interesting to see how these findings are reported. My hunch: the Tea Party will point to the marked increase in earnings among Black and Hispanic households and ask “What’s the problem?” Progressives will look at the 71 cents on the dollar earned by Blacks and the 66 cents on the dollar and say: “THAT’s a BIG Problem”. And the chart in the article shows, the gap isn’t going to close any time soon unless the minimum wage is increased.  

Source: This Year’s Poverty Data Look a Lot Different When You Break Them Down by Race

Categories: Uncategorized