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Posts Tagged ‘Efficiency is the Enemy’

Ministry’s Gift Relieving Lunch Debt Double Edged Sword

January 24, 2020 Leave a comment

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The Alabama Ministry group who offered to pay off the lunch debt in the “relatively affluent” school district described in this article is a clear benefit to the local taxpayers and an even clearer benefit to the children who could not afford to pay for their meals. But there is a shadow side to this gesture. It can lead voters to the conclusion that charity can fill the void in providing meals for every child when the government’s tax revenues fall short. Instead of using moral suasion to help a targeted group of children it would be far more helpful to far more students if the Ministry groups helped their congregations see that by supporting more government spending on schools and social safety nets they could do even greater good.

Cost Cutting Conservative Canadian Leaders Reveal True Purpose of E-Learning: Saving Money!

January 16, 2020 Leave a comment

The Toronto Star uncovered documents indicating that Ontario’s Conservative Premier Doug Ford’s vision for the expansion of e-learning had nothing to do with improving opportunities for students and everything to do with saving money. As reported in Press Progress the Star wrote:

“A ‘confidential’ government document obtained by the Star shows Premier Doug Ford’s government considered keeping online learning optional until 2024 and planned to slash school board funding while creating courses to sell to other jurisdictions at a profit …

Marked “not for distribution,” the six-page document also envisioned allowing students to get high school diplomas “entirely online” starting in September 2024 …”

The Star report offered more details, indicating an intent to cut funding to school boards by by $34.8 million starting September 2020, $55.8 million in 2021, $56.7 million in 2022 and $57.4 million in 2023-2024 with that level of savings continuing in perpetuity while offering “…a full catalogue of online ‘gold standard’ courses,” an oxymoron to be sure.

The memo also called for school boards to gradually increase their on-line offerings and go into the business of marketing their courses to other districts outside of the province in order to generate revenue.

The Ministry of Education did not dispute the existence of the document, but they did contend that the notion of replacing teachers with computers was not part of the overall plan and that privatization was not part of their long term agenda. i doubt that many teachers or school boards are trusting those words after hearing for months that e-learning was all about students.

 

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.

 

 

Charles Blow’s Assessment of the 2010 Decade Misses One Point: We No Longer Have PUBLIC Schools

January 3, 2020 Comments off

As the 2010 decade concluded, manny NYTimes columnists, including Charles Blow, wrote op ed essays assessing the changes that took place. Mr. Blow’s essay, titled “The Decade We Changed Our Minds“, highlighted some positive changes that occurred over the past decade, focussing especially on our country’s changed attitudes toward sexual orientation and drug use. In the column, Mr. Blow offers survey data substantiating this change in thinking while noting that the pushback against these trends continues despite the sentiment supporting a wider acceptance.

But as I noted in a comment I posted, there is one other area where America changed its mind: we no longer think of the institutions that educate our children as PUBLIC schools; we think of them as GOVERNMENT schools. Worse, both the Democrats and GOP think that marketplace competition is needed in order to improve the schools because we have long ago accepted that BUSINESS organizations are for more effective and efficient than GOVERNMENT. We believe this so much that as the decade concluded we elected a “shrewd businessman” to run our country.

I hope that the 2020s we find our faith in government restored, for in a democracy government is overseen by elected officials who are accountable to the voters who put them in office. In a privately held business the owner is beholden to no one and in a publicly held enterprise the CEO is beholden to stockholders who, in most cases, want to see increased profits despite the impact that results to the well being of employees and the public. In my idealistic view, I would hope that we change our minds in two ways in the coming decade: we have our faith in government restored and we abandon shareholder primacy in favor of a model that places a higher value on the well-being of humanity than the well-being of shareholders.

Great Analysis of Democratic Candidates by John Merrow— Watch Out for Buttigieg

December 20, 2019 Comments off

John Merrow recently attended a debate in Pittsburgh among seven of the candidates for President,  a debate that occurred at a gathering of teachers in that region. At the debate he took notes on each candidate, notes that provided a relatively comprehensive overview of the candidate’s views on education and resulted in a VERY insightful blog post.

In reading the post I got a clear distinction between “the other moderate Democrats” Klobucher and Buttigieg and learned that he supports Value Added metrics, which immediately eliminated him from my list of prospective candidates. I have been very open to his candidacy given his reasoned and even-tempered approach but was suspicious of him for a couple of reasons: his experience as a McKinsey consultant and his general lack of experience in a major leadership role. His desire to use mathematical models to “measure” teacher performance based on standardized test meshes well with the use of such models to cut spending and raise profits— a McKinsey standard practice

After reading Mr. Merrow’s insightful analysis, I only wish one of the reporters or someone in the audience challenged Joe Biden on the question of whether he supports RTTT and the appointment of a Secretary of Education in the mold of Arne Duncan. That question needs to be posed to each “moderate” or “centrist” Democratic candidate if we ever hope to get out of the test-driven ditch NCLB and RTTT drove us into. Otherwise, the only hope is that either Warren (who has a TFA staffer— a potential flaw given their thinking about RTTT and similar programs) or ESPECIALLY Sanders gets the Democratic party nod.

The GDP and Standardized Tests

December 16, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed article by David Leonard titled Why You Shouldn’t Believe Those GDP Numbers. In the article Mr. Leonard questioning the validity of the GDP as a metric for the well-being of workers and the quality of our economy. He writes:

Americans are dissatisfied, and have been for years, largely because the economy as most people experience it has not been booming. G.D.P. — or gross domestic product, the economy’s total output — keeps on rising, but it no longer tracks the well-being of most Americans. Instead, an outsize share of economic growth flows to the wealthy. And yet G.D.P. is treated as a totemic measure of the country’s prosperity.

The economy is not the only area that is mis-measured. For years we have decried our “failing public schools” using standardized test scores as the primary metric. Since the advent of “high stakes testing” schools have increased their time and energy to boosting test scores. As a result more and more schools have eliminated the arts in favor of “academics”, which is really test-preparation. The result: public schools whose soulless rote study of “academics” mirrors the menial low wage jobs.

What gets measured gets done… and if the total spending is measured without regard for who is doing the spending, it does more reflect the well-being of all citizens any more than test scores measure the well-being of all students.

Frederick Hess and Chester Finn Defend “True Reform” and Data Driven Instruction Against “Wokeness”

December 6, 2019 Comments off

Frederick Hess and Chester Finn have been vocal supporters of “school reform” for decades so it was no surprise to see them co-authoring an essay in the National Review that views “wokeness” as the enemy of “true reform”. In their laughable opening to the essay, Mr. Hess and Mr. Finn write:

The damage inflicted on our educational institutions by the onrushing tsunami of wokeness is starting to worry even a few prominent progressives. Former president Obama himself recently fretted about young activists who are “as judgmental as possible about other people,” cautioning that they’re “not bringing about change.”

As a hyper-judgmental, hyper-sensitive mindset washes from colleges into our nation’s schools, however, change is indeed being brought about: The wokeness wave is destroying unblemished reputations, driving admirable people from the field, and undermining sorely needed efforts at school improvement.

First, the notion that former President Obama is a “prominent progressive” is absurd We’re talking about the President who had a once in a lifetime opportunity to reverse the emphasis on high stakes testing and the data collection that accompanies it and instead doubled down on it. If Mr. Hess and Mr. Finn cannot accept Mr. Obama as one of their greatest advocates, any conclusions they draw about “true reform” are suspect. Secondly, it is not “wokeness” that is destroying “unblemished reputations” or “driving admirable people from the field” or “undermining sorely needed efforts at school improvement”. It is the very test-centric data-driven movement that Mr. Hess and Mr. Finn advocate!

When tests are the primary metric for measuring “school success”, reputations can be destroyed by cheating on tests or by driving students who do poorly on tests out of schools or by denying access to students based on pre-tests. Cheating scandals destroyed far more reputations than those destroyed by “woke” parents or activists.

And when teaching-to-the-test using pre-scripted lesson plans is the method advocated by data-driven “reformers” it is no surprise that admirable creative and independent thinking teachers are driven from the field.

Finally, nothing undermines efforts at school improvement more than underfunding… and underfunding has occurred for at least a decade in public education.

Mr. Hess’ and Mr. Finn’s gaffes are not limited to the first paragraph. Their essay touts KIPP and TFA as successes and blames the de Blasio administration for creating “a vast, Kafkaesque system” that was actually established by one of the darlings of school reform: former mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Mr. Hess and Mr. Finn conclude their article with a call to arms against a preposterous and imaginary threat to their “reform” movement:

There is now a loud, punitive-minded cohort of “reformers” who honestly believe that data is a tool of white oppression and that leaders who champion academic rigor should be fired as bigots. The many of us who abhor their nihilistic doctrine — and believe that improving our children’s schools is far too serious a cause to be undone by their shenanigans — must stand up and be counted.

Their suggestion linking teaching-to-the-test and gathering meaningless data from the tests to “academic rigor” and moral principal is as absurd as assuming that only those with a “hyper-judgmental, hyper-sensitive mindset” oppose the existing test-an-punish model or “reform”… and as absurd as believing that the Obama administration did not endorse the same model. Sorry gentlemen, school reform has been in play for nearly two decades and the test scores they focus on have not moved an inch. Maybe the “woke” people are onto something even if their logic is questionable.