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Posts Tagged ‘Efficiency is the Enemy’

Reappropriating Personalization by Defining it Precisely

May 23, 2020 Leave a comment

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Forbes columnist Peter Greene has a great suggestion for how to achieve personalized instruction: define it with precision. In the linked article above Mr. Greene explains how the term was expropriated by the tech industry who defined it based on the use of individualizing based on algorithms. Mr. Greene has a clearer and better and simple definition: you need to involve a person in order to achieve “personalized” instruction. Of course, as Mr. Greene notes in the closing paragraph, there IS a problem with using this definition:

Covid-19 or not, we’ve always known what’s required for truly personalized education. Instead, we’ve focused on how to keep costs low, how to make schooling “efficient.” Truly personalized education is costly. We should not be fooled by people who attempt to slap that label on a cheap alternative.

College Board’s Preposterous Solution to Online AP Testing Equity

May 18, 2020 Comments off

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A NYC charter school teacher describes the predicament facing one of her hardworking AP English students that is a proxy for a host of problems students like her face repeatedly throughout their lives. It seems that this star pupil’s free 60 day internet service is going to come to an end before the administration of the AP tests she has worked all year to prepare for. Seeing this problem, the teacher called the College Board to see if they would help find away to help. Their solution? Go to a McDonalds parking lot to take the test!

The teacher bemoaned the College Board’s intractability on this issue… but this is just another example of how intractable rules have impacted immigrant students like the one the teacher profiled, including the possibility that DACA, the one HELPFUL rule that would open the door to citizenship for this hardworking and academically talented student, might be thrown out by the SCOTUS.

Peter Greene on Why Bill Gates is a Very Bad Choice to Help NYS Schools

May 9, 2020 Comments off

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Education writer and public school teacher Peter Greene offers a clear eyed and objective analysis of Bill Gates’ failures as a school reformer. He cites several major flops, all of which have been detailed in this blog over the years: the small schools initiative: a VAM initiative in FL; several tech-based initiatives; and the Common Core. But Mr. Greene rightfully identifies Bill Gates’ biggest failure in this single sentence near the end of the article:

It’s not quite correct to say that Gates has always failed in his educational projects; he has managed to infect much of the education establishment with his belief in a narrow definition of success and a thirst for “data.”

Bill Gates’ Foundation has done good work on many fronts, particularly in the field of international public health. But after reading Peter Greene’s analysis one wonders why Governor Cuomo is making him the face of his Redesign Team… that is unless the team intends to use some form of standardized testing to determine the success of students on a structured curriculum that avoids the inclusion of any content that cannot readily yield data.

More Medical Realities on Reopening… and More Evidence that More Medical Spending AND More Staff Will Be Needed

May 6, 2020 Comments off

Earlier this morning I posted an article from my newsfeed from an ABC local TV station describing the conditions required to reopen schools. In reading today’s NYTimes, I read a more detailed description of ongoing research on the issue of the infectiousness of children that concluded with, well, no clear conclusion. New Studies Add to Evidence that Children May Transmit the Coronavirus  by Apoorva Mandavilli describes the new studies, each of which is rigorous in its design and none of which offer conclusive evidence that opening schools is a wise medical decision. After elaborating on several of the studies, the article concludes with these paragraphs:

The experts all agreed on one thing: that governments should hold active discussions on what reopening schools looks like. Students could be scheduled to come to school on different days to reduce the number of people in the building at one time, for example; desks could be placed six feet apart; and schools could avoid having students gather in large groups.

Teachers with underlying health conditions or of advanced age should be allowed to opt out and given alternative jobs outside the classroom, if possible, Dr. Nuzzo said, and children with underlying conditions should continue to learn from home.

The leaders of the two new studies, Dr. Drosten and Dr. Ajelli, were both more circumspect, saying their role is merely to provide the data that governments can use to make policies.

I’m somehow the bringer of the bad news but I can’t change the news,” Dr. Drosten said. “It’s in the data.

It is a statement of fact and not a political judgment to declare that our President and many politicians are averse to data based decision making. Here’s a series of questions for State lawmakers and the governing agencies that will decide on the opening of public schools:

  • Will decisions to re-open be based on data or political pressure?
  • To what extent will decisions on what schooling looks like be based on medical recommendations?
  • How will the costs for added medical and technological services be covered?

I have ideas on what schools could look like, the changes in the existing paradigm that are required to transform schools, and the sacrifices that will be required to make it possible. I have no idea how to get from where we are to where we need to be given the current lack of leadership from either political party… and I despair at what kinds of slapdash programs will be cobbled together in the name of efficiency. We seem to be willing to view a higher death rate as “collateral damage” to return the economy to normal. Are we willing to accept a higher transmission rate of Covid 19 AND increased inequality as “collateral damage” in order to reopen schools without spending more money?

 

Another Possible By-Product of Covid-19: We MIGHT Be Disabused of the Notion that Government Should be Run Like a Business

March 23, 2020 Comments off

A few days ago, Al Jazeera reporter Andrew Mitroveca wrote and scathing article about President Trump titled “Trump Proves Yet Again that Businessmen Should Not be President“. The article could just as easily been titled “Trump Proves Yet Again that Government Cannot be Run Like a Business“, a premise that is explicitly raised in the opening paragraphs of the article:

Nations should be governed as if they are companies.

Nations should be governed by men or women who have owned a company – preferably a big company.

For generations, this has been the neo-liberal mantra about how nations are organised, who is best qualified to lead and how citizens are expected to play a deferential role at the behest of owners turned presidents or prime ministers.

Donald Trump is the personification of the idea that chief executive officers can slip into the Oval Office from the corner office with ease and acuity, despite the murky means by which they may have achieved their corporate “success”.

The corollary to this CEO to POTUS trajectory is that, once in place, the former businessman will expertly swing a machete to slash the waste, bureaucracy, regulations and duplication that exists in “bloated” governments.

For several years as a public school Superintendent I fell prey to the notions advanced by David Osbourne and Ted Gaebler in their seminal book “Reinventing Government”, a book that both Bill Clinton and Al Gore used to guide them doing their terms of office from 1992-2000. And Osbourne and Gaebler were not the only gurus promoting the idea that business principles could be used to govern democratic institutions like school districts and city governments. Tom Peters lionized the business ethos William Donald Schaefer brought to the management of Baltimore city in his book In Search of Excellence and many periodicals for school administrators picked up on that line of thinking. Indeed, several urban districts, including NYC and Seattle, appointed Superintendents with no background whatsoever in public education on the theory that managing a school district was no different from managing a large complicated bureaucracy like a business or a military operation.

Donald Trump embodies everything that is wrong about the notion that a top-down CEO can solve the complicated problems that face a government… and his character flaws only magnify the inherent flaws of “running government like a business”. Mr. Mitroveca mercilessly illustrates the flaws of electing a business-minded individual to President, especially a seamless self-promoter like Donald Trump:

….No one should be surprised that a businessman who lied habitually would lie habitually as president. No one should be surprised that a floundering businessman would flounder as president. Nor should anyone be surprised by the profound, even fatal, human consequences of Trump’s lies and incompetence.

Clearly, Donald Trump is not the first president to have leveraged the vaunted neo-liberal title of “businessman” into president.

Armed with a Harvard Business degree, a stint as an oil executive and coownership of the Texas Rangers baseball club, former Republican President George W Bush, rode first into the Governor’s mansion in Austin, Texas and then into the White House.

Bush’s tenure as president is defined by one calamity after another. Each one was a repudiation of the sophomoric notion that running a business is remotely akin to running a government with complex, nuanced duties and responsibilities at home and abroad.

A cursory glance at his record confirms this. Bush assured himself, Americans and the world that the post 9/11 invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan would be quick, easy, cheap and effective. He was wrong on every count. The exclamation point of his disastrous geopolitical folly was declaring memorably: “Mission accomplished.”

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana, breaching levees, obliterating countless communities and killing thousands. Bush, America’s then CEO president, grudgingly returned to Washington from his 29-day vacation on a Texas ranch. Detached and aloof, Bush hovered above the carnage in a helicopter and boasted, with Trump-like, reality-defying bravado, that a top relief official was “doing a heck of a job”. 

And, finally, in 2008, a stunned Bush was reduced toa talking mannequin as the US economy collapsed and teetered towards depression after the sub-prime scam suddenly unravelled.

Mr. Mitroveca concludes his article with this blunt assessment of why it is a bad idea to run our nation like a business:

So, taken together, Trump and Bush have established:

Nations are not companies.

Nations should not be governed as if they are companies.

Nations should be not governed by men or women who have devoted their private lives to making money.

This same idea can be universally applied to anyone who sees the profit motive as the best means of achieving efficiency in any level of government.

Our Emerging National Experiment on On-Line Learning

March 13, 2020 Comments off

If we had a functional United States Department of Education, they would be working feverishly to devise some kind of means of measuring the impact of a national experiment we are about to embark on. As most readers of this blog undoubtedly realize, as of today four states have cancelled classes and scores of colleges– including some the “brand name” universities— are cancelling their spring semesters. All of these educational institutions, from Harvard to rural schools in Michigan, are offering on-line instruction in lieu of the traditional on-campus model. The billion dollar question for schools and colleges is this: will having students take course on-line make any difference in what they learn? The answer is that given our crude means of measuring “what students learn” we will never know.

Because our primary metric for measuring learning is the standardized test, and since on-line instruction can be targeted to the kinds of content that is readily measured on those tests, it is entirely possible that children learning on screens at home will do at least as well on these tests as children who were taught at school. Should that be the result, I can imagine advocates of virtual learning will use it as evidence that on-line learning is as good as traditional learning and advocates of efficiency will see it as evidence that we are spending needlessly.

But offering online courses as an alternative has one major self-evident drawback: high speed internet is not universally available or affordable. I live five miles away from Dartmouth College by car but cannot get broadband and my cell phone gets one bar indoors and two bars in my driveway. I have a dsl connection but need to pay a premium price for it, a price that might not be affordable if I were making even $15/hour. Online learning that consists of more than electronic spreadsheets, then, is not available for all children in same way as traditional brick-and-mortar instruction.

But there is another side to this experiment that cannot be overlooked: public schools do far more than educate children to do well on standardized tests. As Business Insider reports, one result of the closure of schools is that millions of children will no longer have access to the free meals served in public schools. For the 11 million children who come from food insecure homes this will compromise their health as surely as being exposed to classmates with Covid-19. Absent any clear protocols from the federal government, states and/or local school districts are left to fend for themselves in developing a means of providing meals for children who will otherwise go hungry. And schools do more than provide nutritious meals. They provide medical assistance, counseling, and psychological support for children that might otherwise be lacking.

Another practical issue for working parents is that public schools provide childcare. If schools close due to weather cancellations, many working parents scramble to get short-term coverage for their children or take personal leave if it is possible for them. If schools are closed for an extended period of time, how will working parents cope? And if parents are working from home who will get the use of the bandwidth?

And finally, schools an colleges employ thousands. If schools close and on-line instruction is offered, some contest teachers will presumably oversee the online instruction in some fashion. But will ALL the teachers be needed? And what will happen to bus drivers? Cafeteria workers? The custodial and maintenance staff? Will their fate be determined on a district-by-district basis or will state or federal guidelines be developed?

We are embarking on a massive experiment in the way we educate children and we are flying blind as we do so. But we may learn some valuable lessons as a result of this experiment. We may begin to appreciate that standardized tests fail to measure what is important about public schools. We may begin to appreciate the expanded mission of public schools. We may begin to appreciate the social benefits children get from interacting with their peers. And we may appreciate the key role public education plays in the local and national economy. And finally, we may appreciate the need to provide for those children who would not receive three meals a day, a warm room, or encouragement if it were not for their local schools.

 

Ontario E-Learning Mandate is Step Backwards for High Schools, Not a Path to Modernity

March 10, 2020 Comments off

This morning as I scrolled through the Education newsfeed on my I-Phone I came across an article in The Conversation by Windsor College education professor Lana Parker describing Ontario’s mandatory e-learning courses for high school students and a bell went off in head. It seems that I accurately recalled that Ontario’s Premier was Doug Ford, a populist conservative who, like our POTUS, is no fan of government and, after reading Ms. Parker’s article that made no mention of Mr. Ford, came upon another Conversation article from October 2019 by Beyhan Farhadi that not only named him but called him out for the plan.

Ms. Fahradi’s article described the idea behind the plan offered by their equivalent of the Commissioner of Education:

Questioned in the legislature about the plan, Lisa Thompson, then the minister of education, asked:

What is wrong with making sure that our students, at minimum, once a year, embrace technology for good?

The fantasy of progress reflected in this statement — that technology can determine educational outcomes — suggests that technology offers simple solutions to complex problems.

In her article, Ms. Fahradi offers research-based rebuttal to the efficacy of on-line instruction as a means of offering equitable opportunities, noting that the students who succeeded in e-learning before the mandate were predominantly high-achieving white students.

Ms. Farrell’s article, though, presents the real reasoning behind mandatory e-courses… and… surprise: it’s not about modernization of education… it’s about money!

E-learning isn’t about modernization. E-learning may instead be a trojan horse for cost-cutting and privatization. Teacher and staff wages make up the bulk of the education budget and the government likely recognises that costs can be cut if fewer teachers are employed to teach students. Ontario has been seeking to do this in two ways.

The first is to increase class sizes. The second is related to the first: it’s to introduce mandatory e-learning as a way of potentially grouping larger cohorts of students in a virtual classroom, centralizing course preparations and reducing the scope of personalized learning. This contradicts the OECD’s recommendation for 21st century learning that curriculum should be shifting from “predetermined and static” to “adaptable and dynamic.”

In addition to cost-cutting, the move to centralized e-learning also reveals that the government may be planning to develop private revenue streams. Canadian courses and curriculum are already being sold internationally. It’s quite possible that the government hopes that there will be a future market for an online curriculum.

Mandatory e-learning will not mean more choice for students and parents. In Ontario, fewer teachers and increased class sizes have already resulted in less course choice. The loss of face-to-face togetherness in a student’s formative years should not be the benchmark for what modernization looks like in schools today.

Five states in our country and two provinces in Canada have mandated at least one course in the name of “modernization” or, in some cases”, equity. E-learning in and of itself does not afford either. As both writers assert e-learning DOES have a place IN the classroom… but it should not BE the classroom. In the end, there is only one reason e-learning is politically popular: it is a cheap, fast and easy solution to a whole series of complicated problems that cost money and take a long time to solve.