One approach that intrigues Duckworth: keeping tabs on students’ moment-by-moment habits when doing schoolwork online. Some students are easily distracted by ads, games or other diversions, she notes. Others can power through their work without interruption.
After blogging yesterday about the appointment of Candace Jackson– an inexperienced anti-feminist and anti-affirmative action attorney– as de facto head of OCR, I read with interest K.Burnell Evans’ article that appeared in yesterday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. Titled “US Department of Education Launches Investigation into Richmond Public Schools”, Evans’ article opens with these paragraphs:
The U.S. Department of Education has launched a civil rights investigation of Richmond Public Schools at the request of advocacy groups that say the district’s disciplinary policies discriminate against black students and students with disabilities.
The decision was announced Monday by the Legal Aid Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which received word last week that the federal agency’s Office for Civil Rights would investigate concerns the organizations submitted in August.
Among them: Black students with disabilities were nearly 13 times more likely than white students without disabilities to receive short-term suspensions, Virginia Department of Education data from the 2014-15 academic year show.
The article details the basis for the complaint, noting that “…at least 1 in 4 students were suspended from eight Richmond Public Schools in the 2014-15 school year, including at two elementary schools”. The article also noted that State had taken action in two other counties with lower suspension rates. But reading on, it seemed less clear that the State would take any action in Richmond’s case.
Although the Virginia Department of Education does collect self-reported student discipline data from school districts, it was unclear Monday whether Richmond Public Schools had been cited for issues of discipline inequity in recent years.
Public school systems for Chesterfield and Henrico counties have.
State Education Department spokeswoman Julie Grimes said the agency does not conduct investigations based on the data. The information is reported to the federal government for funding purposes.
If the State is not using data to take action, why does it bother to collect the data at all? And if it is “…reported to the federal government for funding purposes” are there any consequences at that level if there are marked disparities in suspension rates?
Based on the closing paragraphs, I think I know the answer:
The federal Education Department did not immediately provide information Monday about the percentage of complaints the Office for Civil Rights agrees to investigate. It was unclear when the probe might conclude.
With Candace Jackson at the helm, I doubt that OCR will display much zeal in their investigation… and frankly doubt that any meaningful investigation will take place. Indeed, given the review of rules taking place, I would not be surprised to read that disaggregated data on suspensions will cease in the name of “efficiency”…
President Trump’s Decision to Create “Office of Government Innovation” Echoes Earlier Presidential Initiatives to Run-Government-Like-A-Business
Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday included one on the topic of President Trump’s decision to create a new Office Of American Innovation (OAI) and name his son-in-law Jared Kushner to head the organization. Here’s a quote from Mr. Trump’s announcement:
“As a former leader in the private sector, I am proud to officially announce the White House Office of American Innovation, which will develop innovative solutions to many problems our country faces,” President Trump said. “One of the primary reasons I ran for President was the need for new thinking and real change, and I know the Office and its team will help us meet those challenges.”
The fact that this announcement came on the heels of many articles decrying his decision to leave many key science and technology positions unfilled is ironic. But the biggest irony from my perspective is that it echoed the pledge of a previous President, who pledged to
…”reinvent government” (declaring that) “Our goal is to make the entire federal government less expensive and more efficient, and to change the culture of our national bureaucracy away from complacency and entitlement toward initiative and empowerment.”
To accomplish this end he appointed his Vice President to lead a National Performance Review modeled on the kind of consulting done in the business world that had the lofty goal of streamlining the government in the name of business-like efficiency. The NPR report offered a series of recommendations in six months time:
The National Performance Review (NPR), which was later renamed the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (report) contained 384 recommendations for improving bureaucracy’s performance across the entire federal government The report was the product of months’ worth of consultation of various government departments and meetings within (the President’s) bureaucracy, which narrowed down 2,000 pages of proposals to the final report.
NPR promised to save the federal government about $108 billion: $40.4 billion from a ‘smaller bureaucracy,’ $36.4 billion from program changes and $22.5 billion from streamlining contracting processes Each of the recommendations would fall into three categories: whether it required legislative action, presidential action, or internal bureaucratic reform. Major branches of bureaucracy that were targeted were the US Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, the Agency for International Development (AID), Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor, and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The first-year status report of the NPR claimed that, pending Congressional action, likely savings would amount to about $12.2 billion in (the first year).
The quotes above come from a Wikipedia entry describing Bill Clinton’s efforts to “Reinvent Government” when he took office in 1993. Four years after launching this initiative, Vice President Gore issued a progress report on reinvention:
In a September 1996 pamphlet, Gore wrote that the federal government had reduced its workforce by nearly 24,000 as of January 1996, and that thirteen of the fourteen departments had reduced the size of their workforce In addition, thousands of field offices that were considered ‘obsolete’ closed. In September 1997, Gore reported that 2.8 million people left the welfare rolls between 1993 and 1997.
The metrics cited above are telling. They reflect the “Third Way” thinking of the neoliberal movement, a “lite” version of the anti-tax and anti-government movements successfully launched by Reagan-ites in the 1980s. This anti-tax and anti-government mentality was amplified by Newt Gingrich in his Contract for America, served as the basis for the Tea Party movement, and activated the base of Trump voters. In the meantime, the neoliberalism of President Clinton became the basis for the DNC’s platforms, platforms that avoided calling for higher taxes or bigger government. Platforms that were friendly to the “reform” movement in public education, a movement that at its root was pro-business, anti-union, and anti-democratic.
Mr. Trump’s OAI is unlikely to find any innovative solutions. It is more likely to recommend more privatization which will ultimately lead to the demise of “government roads”, “government water”, “government lands”, and… yes… “government schools”. Here’s hoping that the Democratic party recommends a stronger government, one that funds roads, infra-structure, and… yes… schools.
As noted in many previous posts, there is a belief that something called “grit” can help determine which students will succeed in school despite adversity… and IF that is the case then developing a means of measuring would be informative to colleges and universities who are trying to determine who will be able to adapt to the more rigorous environment students will face once they get on campus
A column by George Anders in yesterday’s EdSurge online publication poses the question “Can Grit Be Measured?”, explains what grit is, and then explains how University of Pennsylvania Professor Angela Duckworth is striving to answer that question despite it’s complexity. Anders writes:
Grit is important. Many K-12 educators and researchers all share that starting point. If children try hard, stay on task, and keep pressing through difficulties, good things happen. When school systems want to track the role of grit, or help instill it, however, everything gets trickier.
While I am afraid of the consequences that might result if we developed a “Grit Quotient” of some sort, I do agree with Ms. Duckworth’s assertion that any measurement of “grit” should be done without adding another standardized examination. But after reading Mr. Anders’ article, I’m not at all confident that the embedded metrics or the “bean counting” metrics Ms. Duckworth advocates will be at all helpful or informative in classrooms.
The one embedded metric described in Anders article is particularly appalling:
Also worth tracking, she says, are the ways that students respond after getting two or three online problems wrong in a row. Does their attention drift? Do they give up entirely? Or do they redouble their efforts to learn a difficult lesson?
Both these approaches have the benefit of assessing students without interrupting their normal learning day. As Duckworth observes, the school year already is filled with special-mission tests that interrupt regular course work. The less time commandeered by any grit-specific evaluations, the better, she says, adding: “The goal is something that takes zero extra time.”
Implicit in this approach is the idea that a student’s “normal learning day” includes on-line instruction. Also implicit is the idea that a student who has a singular focus, who “can power through their work without interruption” is somehow superior to a student who might occasionally daydream or “multi-task”. Finally, the idea that a student is deficient because they “give up” on an on-line task assumes that the task itself is not flawed or that the way the task was explained on line was sufficiently clear.
The idea behind what I call “bean counting” is also questionable. Mr. Anders writes:
Another simple measure that’s worth a look, she says, is the degree to which high school students persist with one activity across multiple years, taking on more responsibility in domains such as band, theater or a sports team. Students with an enduring passion for one field could be showing more grit that their peers. Such data is readily available, she notes; it passes her zero-time test.
Implicit in this “grit” measurement is that the “fields” in school reflect the “fields” outside of school, and if someone is passionate about a field, that passion is transferrable to another field. This are both self-evidently wrong. There are students who have passions for things that are not the part of any school curriculum yet are more predictive of success than any “field” currently taught in school. Entrepreneurship, for example, is not a part of any “field” in school… nor are creative thinking, interpersonal skills, intra-personal skills, or many other “soft” areas that are increasingly recognized as crucial to success outside of the classroom.
Ultimately Ms. Duckworth is seeking a measurement that meets the ideal of being cheap and fast, a measurement whose ultimate use seems to be to sort and select as opposed to assisting the student in gaining self-awareness and self-understanding. As long as measurements are used to sort-and-select they are reinforcing the factory model and not the network model that is predicated on each student learning about themselves… learning their strengths and determining what brings them joy and finding a way to parlay those strengths and joyful experiences into a productive career. Grit is not an entity that can be teased out and applied to meet the needs of our economy. It is a by-product of joyful engagement in mastering a skill.