Modern Learners, a weekly email newsletter, offers many links to insightful and thought provoking blog posts ad articles. Yesterday’s “issue” of the on-line newsletter was no exception, featuring a link to Harold Jarche’s blog post titled “The Future of Human Work”. In the post Marche, who is a management consultant based in Canada, opens with this paragraph:
People can never be better at computing than computers. We cannot become more efficient than machines. All we can do is be more curious, more creative, more empathetic. The fact that automation is taking away jobs once designed for people means that it is time we focus on what is really important: our humanity. Service delivery will gradually improve as machines take it over. Accidents will diminish with self-driving cars. Errors will be reduced with robotic surgeries. Many human jobs will fade away.
While Jarche doesn’t say so in the post, many futurists believe the jobs that remain will fall into two broad categories: low-level service work and high-level intellectual work. In neither instance, though, will mastery of the common core be important since those skills measured by tests designed to measure learning of common core skills are unimportant to any of the work that will be available. Jarche elaborates:
We are on the cusp of being a digitally networked and computer-driven society and it seems we are throwing away the only thing that will enable people to have a valued role in it. Common core education standards are useless for this world of work. So are standard academic disciplines, as well as standard job competencies. These are all for machines, not humans. The future of human work is complex, creative, and unique.
So instead of preparing students to pass tests that measure skills that prepare students for tasks a computer can do more effectively and efficiently— work that is “routine, procedural, and standardized”, we should be preparing students for work that is complex, creative, and unique.
Jarche is not concerned with how public education might address this change in the workplace. Indeed, the balance of his post describes workshops he offers to adults who already have a slot in today’s work force. But it is impossible to envision schooling that prepares students for a complex, creative and unique future that remains stuck in age-based grade-level cohorts where students are homogeneously batched by “ability levels” to facilitate the routine and procedural learning that takes place to prepare students for standardized tests that measure whether or not the students have mastered the Common Core. Mr. Jarche’s workshops feature peer-to-peer learning and focus on collaboration as opposed to competition. Maybe schools need to look at where the workplace is headed instead of where the workplace is today…
The NYTimes was among many news outlets that published articles covering a recent report issued by the National Center for Science Education, who surveyed 1,500 teachers from high schools and middle schools in all 50 states on the way they approach the teaching of climate change… and the news was distressing. According to the study, as John Schwartz reported in his lead paragraph:
Most science teachers in the United States spend some time on climate change in their courses, but their insufficient grasp of the science as well as political factors “may hinder effective teaching,” according to a nationwide survey of the profession.
When those conducting the survey probed to determine the “political factors” that might “hinder effective teaching” here’s what they found:
Close to a third of the teachers also reported conveying messages that are contradictory, emphasizing the scientific consensus on human causation and the idea that many scientists believe the changes have natural causes.
The authors of the paper suggested that those teachers “may wish to teach ‘both sides’ to accommodate values and perspectives that students bring to the classroom.” The survey also found, however, that only 4.4 percent of teachers said that they had faced overt pressure from parents, school administrators or the community to teach about climate change.
While it is heartening to see that less than 5% of those surveyed “faced overt pressure” to teach about climate change, it is distressing to read that one third of the teachers essentially fail to report that climate change is settled science. There are not “two sides” to climate change any more than there are “two sides” to evolution or Einstein’s Laws of Relativity. But the most disheartening piece of information about the instruction of climate science was this paragraph:
Climate change is still not often part of a formal curriculum, so the instruction in one year rarely can add to the previous year’s work, Professor Plutzer added. And teachers feel pressured to focus more intensely on topics that appear on “high-stakes tests” that define much of today’s educational process, he said.
Clearly our priorities are skewed when we need to push climate change out of the classroom so that test scores can climb… along with the temperatures…
Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an op ed piece by Christopher J. Philips titled “The Politics of Math Education”. The premise of the article was that even a subject like how to teach mathematics, a subject that appears to be based on unequivocal facts, can be politicized. He explains how in this section:
This is because debates about learning mathematics are debates about how educated citizens should think generally. Whether it is taught as a collection of facts, as a set of problem-solving heuristics or as a model of logical deduction, learning math counts as learning to reason. That is, in effect, a political matter, and therefore inherently contestable. Reasonable people can and will disagree about it.
Philips uses the balance of the article to describe the recent history of mathematics instruction, from the Sputnik era where it was handed off to mathematicians through NCLB where it was highly charged politically.
In the comment I left, I noted that the “new mathematics” designed by real mathematicians emphasizes the fact that mathematics is a mental construct and, as such, one needs to look carefully at the premises to determine if there is a clear “right answer”. A quick example: in non-Euclidean geometry two points define a curve and not a line. By changing that one premise, all of the premises of the Euclidean geometry we learned in HS become worthless. One’s faith in the order of the world can be challenged when you realize that the “rules of geometry” can be rendered useless… and that lack of faith might compel one to question the fundamental premises of a political system.
My comment concluded with this unequivocally political comment:
Those who think it is plausible that a Democratic Socialist could become President, like the new math. Those who want to reinforce the dominant paradigm are more comfortable with Euclid.
I generally support the notion that decisions are best made closest to the action and, therefore, generally support the idea that State and Local school boards should be delegated as much latitude as possible in setting policy and determining the program of studies for their schools.
I generally oppose the imposition of academic standards based on the desires of businesspersons because they tend to focus on workplace skills and diminish the value of the humanities.
But I also strongly support the notion that we need a common set of facts to draw from if we want to have an informed electorate: we need to have a common understanding of history and accept the rarity that scientific facts change and when they change whole theories change with them.
As I’ve written previously in tho blog, the Common Core is a good idea that was poorly executed… and idea that should be– indeed MUST be– recast. In a post where I proposed an education platform for the 2016 presidential campaign I offered this recommendation for the Common Core:
- Revise the Common Core: Recent actions by state legislatures (g. Texas) and local school boards (e.g. Jefferson County, CO) underscore the need for a common set of standards for education. The Common Core, underwritten by extraordinarily wealthy businessmen, was developed in response to this legitimate need. Unfortunately, the Common Core was developed without any meaningful input from classroom teachers and, to make matters worse, once it was issued the authors of the Common Core were not responsive to the revisions recommended by teachers, academics, and child psychologists. We should not scrap the Common Core because we need to make certain that students across the country learn the facts about health, science, and history. But instead of unilaterally imposing these standards from Washington, we should use the Common Core as the basis for the development of a standard curriculum for each state. If elected I will require each state to create Standards Teams to use the Common Core as the basis for the creation of a rigorous but realistic set of State standards. The Standards Teams will include curriculum content experts from state universities, representative classroom teachers, and developmental psychologists.
Stories like this one about the Texas school board from the Christian Science Monitor reinforce the need for a national set of standards. The headline and subheading say it all:
Texas rejects allowing academics to fact-check public school textbooks
Texas’ education officials rejected allowing university experts fact-check textbooks approved for the state’s 5.2 million public-school students.
And why might some fact checking be needed? This anecdote explains:
The Board of Education approves textbooks in the nation’s second-largest state and stood by its vetting process — despite a Houston-area mother recently complaining that a world geography book used by her son’s ninth grade class referred to African slaves as “workers.”
This is the same group who do not allow teaching on climate change, evolution and other myriad scientific facts that are contrary to their cultural norms. It is important in this day and age that we face inconvenient truths and weigh evidence carefully. But when children are being taught that African slaves were “workers” it is difficult to see how they will understand the root causes of the civil rights movement and why Black Lives Matter.
The reauthorization legislation before Congress effectively hands all curriculum decisions back to states. I am dismayed that children in some parts of this country will graduate from high school with gaps in their scientific knowledge and warped perspectives on history.
Diane Ravitch had several posts yesterday on the deficiencies of Outcome Based Education, posts that yielded several strong dissents based on B.F. Skinner’s theories, computer-based individualized instruction, and early attempts at outcome based and self-paced education that relied heavily on handouts. I remain convinced that until we abandon our current mental model of education as one based on lockstep progression based on age based cohorts we will remain stuck in the same arguments I’ve witnessed for the four decades I’ve worked in public school administration.
We’ve used OBE based on common standards for decades in one area that requires students to demonstrate mastery with both academic and performance assessments… and a brief history of the delivery of this content in this discipline might shed some light on this issue and also on the direction public education could be headed.
Everyone in our country who possesses a drivers license passed both an academic assessment (typically a multiple choice test) and a performance assessment (typically an over-the-road review with a police officer). The standards a student must master in order to obtain a driver’s license are universal. The time required to master the academic and performance skills varies widely. Students who fail the assessments can re-take them as many times as is needed, but once an individual masters the skills as measured by the written and performance tests they receive a license that is no different from anyone else’s. Students who received the training in a structured program offered by a certified instructor received an additional benefit: insurers rewarded the completion of such a program with a reduced rate because their data showed that such students experienced a lower accident rate.
Students used to receive training for these OBE assessments in public schools but in most states the responsibility for learning these skills has shifted out of school and into the private sector. The rationale for this shift was two-fold: the cost for providing the equipment needed for training was high and the insurance benefits that resulted from the attainment of certificate would enable parents to fund the program out-of-pocket instead of having the program funded by taxpayers.
When public schools dropped Drivers Education, private drivers education schools proliferated. Some of the schools were staffed by former certified teachers whose compensation ad benefits were lower than those offered by public schools and others were staffed by instructors with credentials determined by insurance companies. Oh… and some of the students who might have experienced the financial benefits of taking a publicly funded course lost the opportunity to do so because their parents could not afford the out-of-pocket costs associated with enrolling in a privately operated school operated by an accredited teacher. Most of them DID get their drivers license but paid an insurance premium for several years thereafter.
I trust that readers of this blog can see how this brief history of drivers education might apply to the trends in public education we are witnessing today… and might highlight the consequence of our obsession with having everyone learn at the same pace. Because we accept the current model of schooling we fail to ask some basic questions:
=>Why do we group students in grade levels based on their age?
=>Why do we group students within a particular grade level based on their rate of learning?
=>Why do we group students at all?
=>Why does school take place in a limited time frame?
=>Why do we believe there is “one best way” to educate ALL children?
All of these practices are in place because they result in “efficiency” in the factory school… and until we change our minds about how schools are organized, until we replace our conception of schools as a factory with a new mental model, we will continue measuring “quality” by giving standardized tests to students grouped in “grade levels” and recycling “new ideas” and “reforms” based on ways to run the factory more efficiently.
Several years ago public schools decided to outsource the attainment of the drivers license “badge”. The “badges” being developed by private sector enterprises (e.g. IT certifications) are superseding the “diplomas” on the back end of the factory. How long before the same phenomenon occurs in public schools?