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A Speech I Gave Repeatedly in the Early 1990s is Newsworthy Today– But Moving Away from Age-Based Cohorts in More Difficult than Ever

January 15, 2020 Leave a comment

A title of a Deseret News article by Marjorie Cortez caught my eye:

If every kid is different and learns differently, why does cookie-cutter approach to K-12 education persist?

And as I read the article, which reported on a presentation given at Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s Education Summit by Scott Palmer, managing partner and co-founder of EducationCounsel, “a mission-based education consulting firm dedicated to significantly improving the U.S. education system“, I got a deep feeling of de ja vu. The topic of Mr. Palmer’s speech was captured in this statement:

Palmer… noted that “variability is the norm when it comes to human development. And yet we have schools and systems that are too often based on age-based cohorts.”

Which Mr. Palmer reinforced with this anecdote:

Utah parents, raise your hand if you have more than one child.

“How many of you noticed that they tend to differ from each other? In some profound ways, right? And these are your own children”

This observation by Mr. Palmer was no more original in 2020 than mine was when I made it in 1991 as part of an effort to launch something we called “Teaching for Mastery”… an idea that instead of covering the course material and having students “pass” with a “D” (a 60!) we would require them to “master” the coursework by attaining an 80— or better yet by moving through the material at a rate that matched their readiness.

The obstacles we faced in introducing this idea of self-paced mastery learning were much higher operationally than they would be today. We had no data-banks of questions to draw on and no means of readily tracking student progress using computers. The obstacles I faced– and the ones Mr. Palmer will face– in in introducing the idea of self-paced mastery are even higher though when it comes to paradigmatic change. Parents and voters, especially those who were successful under the existing model of schooling that is based on age-based cohorts, cannot fathom why a change is necessary. After all, the existing system sorted them into the “winners” group– a standing they “earned” our to “merit”. Anything that changes the existing system might diminish their accomplishments or, even worse, make it more difficult for their children to replicate those accomplishments and remain in the “winners” group. This results in a self-perpetuating cycle where “winners” can buy homes in schools that are populated with other “winners” all of whom believe they “earned” their placement based on “merit”. The “winners” see no reason to change the existing paradigm of schooling nor do they see reason to change the paradigms used to fund schools.

There is one more factor that makes a shift to mastery learning more daunting now than it was in 1991: the use of norm-referenced standardized tests as the primary metric for student success. Norm-referenced standardized tests do not measure individual student progress against pre-determined benchmarks. Instead they measure a student’s progress as compared to his or her age-based cohort. In this way, standardized testing and age-based cohorts are inextricably linked.

Unfortunately, Mr. Palmer does not get into this issue at all, focussing instead on how teachers who draw on the science of learning are more likely to be successful at personalizing and building trust with students. That may be true. But until the organizational structure of schools reflects the science of learning the age-based grouping paradigm will persist.

 

 

‘Champion for Educators and Working Class’: Largest Teachers Union in Nevada Endorses Bernie Sanders

January 15, 2020 Leave a comment

Despite what the headline says and the article reports, Bernie Sanders is interested in more than union support. Bernie Sanders wants to restore the profession of teaching as opposed to reinforcing our current model of teaching-to-the-test. Bernie is the only candidate who has spoken out against standardized tests as the primary metric for public schools. If we have another four years of DeVos or DeVos-lite (i.e. Arne Duncan) at the helm of the Department of Education it will keep standardized tests at the forefront, reinforce the age-based grouping of students, and increase the probability that the privatization agenda put in place since NCLB will prevail. Until we replace testing as the primary means of measuring “success” we will continue to teach-to-the-test instead of teaching children. I sense that MAYBE Elizabeth Warren is on the same page as Bernie on this issue, but the three B’s— Biden Bloomberg, and Buddigieg– are all in on “reform” and “choice”. They are in the same camp as Betsy DeVos but are not taking the voucher steroids.

Source: ‘Champion for Educators and Working Class’: Largest Teachers Union in Nevada Endorses Bernie Sanders

Categories: Uncategorized

Alabama Legislature, State Department of Education Are Poster Children for Poorly Crafted and Executed Charter Laws

January 14, 2020 Leave a comment

I just finished reading guest columnist Larry Lee’s op ed in the Alabama Political Reporter and came away bewildered by what transpired in that state and even more confused about what was supposed to happen. Mr. Lee, a former local school board member, opens the article with this paragraph:

It is nigh impossible to figure out what is going on with charter schools in Montgomery.  Whether it is by design, deception or a bushel of inaptitude, the situation is clearly defying sections of the charter law and thumbs its nose at what is legal and what is not.

Mr. Lee appears to be a good writer, a clear thinker, and a board member committed to improving public education. But, despite his craftsmanship as a writer and cogency, it required two readings to figure out how Alabama’s charter law was supposed to work… but only one reading to see how easy it was to muddy things up given the convoluted governance model built into the legislation. To make a long story short, it seems that despite the teeth that appear to be in the law, if anyone wants to launch a charter school the door is wide open and the regulatory agencies are toothless…. and they are made worse by the reality that the law is poorly designed, intentionally opaque and confusing, and overseen by a State department that displays a bushel of ineptitude. The losers in all of this are the children whose district decided to get on the charter train, for they are likely being served by schools that are populated with unqualified teachers, avaricious administrators, and poorly written curricula. But the taxpayers are probably happen as are the lobbyists who undoubtedly helped the legislature write the bills that made this possible.

Fast, Cheap and Relatively Easy Way to Find Talented Employees

January 13, 2020 Leave a comment

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This recent Quartz article offers a fast, cheap, and relatively easy way to find talented workers: teach immigrants English. As the article notes, many of those seeking entry to our country or already here but living in the shadows already possess the skills sought by employers.. but they lack the ability to speak English. By teaching these skilled immigrants how to speak fluent English employers can fill open jobs without displacing US workers and, in the case of states like Vermont and New Hampshire, attract new residents.

NYTimes’ Ross Douthat Laments Demise of Humanities But, Like Most Conservatives, Wants to Use Earnings a Primary Metric

January 12, 2020 Leave a comment

In his column in today’s NY times titled “Academic Apocalypse“, Ross Douthat laments the secularization and decline of English departments at universities and colleges across the country. One of the opening paragraphs concludes with this:

“Jobs are disappearing, subfields are evaporating, enrollment has tanked, and amid the wreckage the custodians of humanism are “befuddled and without purpose.”

Why might this be happening? Could it be that our country’s obsession with earnings might be the cause? If you want to restore humanity to the humanities the first step might be to eliminate the idea that the best metric for determine the “value of a college education” colleges is the earnings of it’s graduates. This obsession about connecting dollars earned to college degrees is, alas, embraced by both political parties, most business leaders, and most editorial boards. The “endgame” in humanities is inextricably linked to our culture’s ultimate metric of success— which is earnings and accumulated wealth. As long as we view education as the means to accumulating more and more money and “success” as accumulating more and more stuff we can expect to see the arts and humanities decline.

Homelessness Caused By Liberals??? What???

January 11, 2020 Leave a comment

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I don’t know which part of this Fox News report is crazier: Betsy DeVos’ notion that offering options will help homeless children or the Fox Friends’ notion that liberal policies contribute to homelessness.

Puerto Rico’s Template for Regulating Athletics Makes Sense… Having Fun is Ultimate Goal

January 11, 2020 Leave a comment

This past weekend I attended a family gathering where I learned that one of my wife’s extremely talented great nephews had decided to quit soccer completely, turning his back on a sport he played since he was a young child. Why? His mom said he wasn’t experiencing any joy in playing.

Yesterday I read a story in the New York Times by Tom Farrey, a journalist, director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, and author of “Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children.” In the article he reported on how Puerto Rico is reining in youth sports… and how the parents are in despair. The reason for the government initiating a limit on participation in sports?

The catalyst was the death of Roberto Quiles Jr., 15, who collapsed during a five-day Junior Olympic basketball tournament sponsored by Jeep. His father, Roberto, said that the cause of the heart failure had not been determined, but that his son had been “exhausted” from year-round play and that medical attention was slow to arrive on site.His death elevated island-wide concerns about pressures placed on children and families by a youth sports system that had been transformed — industrialized — over the past decade or so.

As in the United States, the emphasis on travel teams had taken over. There were expensive basketball and volleyball tournaments at the Puerto Rico Convention Center for hundreds of teams from all over the island, at ever-earlier ages. Teenagers were playing eight games a week between their club and school teams. Children were kept at practice past 10 p.m. on school nights. Family dinners were sacrificed. There were overuse injuries and occasional fights in the stands. Abuse from parents was directed toward referees — or their own children.

In short, the joy of sport had been taken away from children and replaced by the grim fear of failure. Instead of encouraging their children to play among themselves in self-regulated games on playgrounds Puerto Rican parents were pushing their children to compete for slots on travel teams who played in stadiums full of angry adults screaming at referees and children whose every mistake was magnified.

So who would complain about restrictions limiting the number of games per week and the intrusion on family life?

Some private schools have objected. So has the Olympic committee, whose annual funding from the department has been slashed in recent years amid the island’s economic troubles and worries about its ability to train athletes who win medals. “Our federations have autonomy, and that’s not to be negotiated,” said Sara Rosario, the Olympic committee’s president. Basketball has also taken that position…

The argument in favor of sustaining these soul crushing athletic leagues is that some excellent athletes might not have a chance for the Olympics or athletic scholarships. But Mr. Farrey offers a different and healthier perspective:

But the most effective sports systems in the world don’t produce athletic talent as much as prevent it from being ruined before it ripens. It is less about spending money and more about spending time getting the youth model right, committing to build the base and being patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests. In Puerto Rico, it’s just government taking the lead and dragging the sports organizations along.

The phrase that jumped out at me in this paragraph was this:

…being patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests.

Patience with children is clearly NOT a virtue in our culture, and our lack of patience is reflected in the way we measure learning in children, the way we compel them to compete with each other at ever earlier ages, and the way we emphasize unyielding standards based on the assumption that all children mature at the same age. If we organized schools and structured learning based on the premise that we needed to be patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests we would not force them to compete with children in the same age cohort, expect them to learn at the same rate, or track them into courses and schools when they are long adolescents. In our country,  instead of being patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests we seem to be committed to sorting and selecting them based on standardized test scores at ever younger ages, rating the effectiveness of their schooling on their earnings as adults, and training them to accept their position in a “race to the top” based on how quickly they mature intellectually and score high on tests administered to the competition in their age cohort.