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Posts Tagged ‘Efficiency is the Enemy’

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

December 6, 2019 Leave a comment

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.

In China CAI Disrupts Schools. Displaced Human Interaction

December 1, 2019 Leave a comment

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China is ripe for disruption through CAI because of their test-based admissions to higher education, their many remote and overcrowded schools, and the desire of parents to help their children get into high paying jobs in the future. The question is, what kind of education are children getting when they have limited interaction with other children and teachers. An algorithmic based education designed to prepare students for a single test might be delivered more efficiently by a computer… but it is soulless and devoid of humanity.

Fanfare Over Business Roundtable’s Commitment to Responsible Leadership Undercut by Investors

September 29, 2019 Comments off

This morning’s NYTimes features an article by business writer David Gelles titled “The Week CEOs Got Smacked“, a recounting of the decision of boards of directors to fire some of the leaders from the Business Roundtable who advocated corporate responsibility. I read this article on the heels of watching the Netflix Documentary “American Factory“, a clear-eyed look at the trade-offs necessary if our country hopes to re-enter the manufacturing marketplace given the current political and corporate governance structure. That governance structure is controlled by a small group of plutocrats who explicitly set government policy in China and Russia and have an increasingly large voice in setting government policy in our country. I have long believed that both economic systems are regressing toward a mean where a small group of shareholders of borderless corporations and autocratic governments control the remainder of the global workforce. This perspective makes me want to strengthen democracy in hopes that our elected officials will create a government that will develop regulations that assure corporate responsibility.

China’s de facto form of economic control is best described by the term “command capitalism”, which is defined in a 1998 book by J. L. Porket here,  The current US economy is best described as “state capitalism”, which is defined by Wikipedia here. Neither of these systems has a place for corporate responsibility and neither has a place for democracy.

Porket’s description of “command capitalism, as noted above, was written in 1998— before the advent of Big Data and before China emerged as the economic powerhouse that it is today. One section of Porket’s analysis of the inherent flaws of command capitalism should be re-examined. He suggests that the government cannot exert full control over the economy because “...at least some information received by it is insufficient, incomplete, unreliable, inaccurate and distorted.” With todays trove of data and the ability to synthesize that data to identify consumer tastes and trends, the government may be able to exert near full control over the economy. Moreover, as the American Factory movie illustrated, the lack of opportunities for unskilled labor in the US is compelling our country to accept the wages, hours, and working conditions that exist in China in the name of “efficiency” and profit.

At the same time, our country is increasingly beholden to a faceless group of “shareholders” whose insatiable demand for profits drives corporate and government policy. This section of the Wikipedia definition of “state capitalism” describes my perception of where the US economy stands:

Noam Chomsky, a supporter of libertarian socialism, applies the term ‘state capitalism’ to economies such as that of the United States, where large enterprises that are deemed “too big to fail” receive publicly funded government bailouts that mitigate the firms’ assumption of risk and undermine market laws and where private production is largely funded by the state at public expense but private owners reap the profits.[11][12][13] This practice is in contrast with the ideals of both socialism and laissez-faire capitalism.[14]

Chomsky’s description of the economy is captured in the aphorism that in our economic system today “corporate leaders pocket profits while taxpayers cover the costs of risk”. In the movie, Fuyao Glass received $10,000,000 from the taxpayers in Dayton Ohio to bring 800 jobs to the area, which sounds like a large number until that is compared to the 2000 jobs that GM provided… and sounds even worse when views learn that the new jobs pay $14/hour, roughly half of what GM workers received.

American Factory describes the course we are on… one where the need to reward shareholders exceeds the need to retain a civil democracy where the pursuit of happiness is differentiated from the pursuit of money or, as is increasingly the case, the pursuit of survival.

How can we change direction?

On the governance level, we need corporate leaders to stay the course of the direction of the Business Roundtable and, ideally, advocate that all corporations adopt the B-Corp principles that place employee well being in the forefront of their mission.

On the political level, we have to place a higher value on the “pursuit of happiness” and a lower value on the pursuit of material well being. In the framework described by Arthur Brooks at a recent lecture at Dartmouth College, we need to emphasize endogenous goals and deemphasize exogenous goals.

But the ultimate transformation that is necessary to change our thinking is one of spirit. We need to spend more time and energy helping each other and less time trying to “beat out” the competition.

And last, we might want to examine our compulsion to be as efficient as possible. Throughout the movie there was a relentless focus on efficiency— a focus that was in place in the factory where I worked in Work Standards in Dearborn Michigan in 1966. In the concluding scene of the movie, a Chinese engineer was proudly demonstrating how he would improve efficiency in the Fubayo glass factory: he had designed robots to replace the humans. The ultimate standard for efficiency IS a robot: it will do a job with repeated and uncomplaining precision for hours on end without any interference from life outside the factory. Humans cannot compete with robots if efficiency is the standard.

 

 

 

 

The Downside of Adult Supervised Athletics: The Kids Want to Play, the Adults Want to Win

September 26, 2019 Comments off

In the early 1980s I read The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman, a book that described how parents’ smothering attention was eliminating “childhood” as those in my generation experienced it. One of the sections of the book described how the emerging trend of adult managed athletic leagues displacing playground sports was eroding one of the important skills children learned on the playground: the art of arbitration. You see when we played pick-up baseball or football and playground basketball there were no officials to monitor us and no adults to tell us how to interpret the rules. We had no umpires or referees. We called our own balls-and-strikes in baseball, made decisions about pass interference on our own in football, and determined if contact in basketball was a charging violation or not in basketball. This meant that in some cases physical brawls broke out among 10-12 year olds, but by the time we reached middle school age the kids I played with all figured out that it was far better to resolve debates by setting our own rules.

A childhood friend who became a work colleague where I worked in Western Maryland for a decade posted an article from the Martinsburg WV Journal announcing that the remainder of the youth football league’s season would be cancelled. Why?

The following statement was released to The Journal in announcing the shutdown: “Attention to all parents/coaches/players in the TCYFL: Unfortunately, it has come to the point that because of the abuse, negativity and utter disrespect shown to our officials from parents, coaches and most recently from our players, the Eastern Panhandle Officials Association (EPOA) President stated today that the association will no longer schedule officials for our league games at any field.

“This means effective immediately all remaining games are canceled. This situation is troubling because of our 20-plus-year relationship with the association, but to be honest, this season has been really bad.

“The TCYFL board has reached out to the EPOA for a meeting hoping to establish severe universal field rules for parents/coaches and players to get us back on the field.”

In response to his post I wrote the following:

I’m sure you remember the pick-up games in Roslyn. Maybe it would be a blessing if we took adults out youth athletics and let the kids figure things out on their own. I fear we lost a lot when adults insisted on “organizing” leagues and taking over the fields where kids played pick-up sports. Kids liked the uniforms, the stadiums, and the attention they got. But I think you share my fond memories of playing football and baseball on the vacant lot across the street from the old football stadium in West Chester where we learned about sportsmanship and learned how to regulate ourselves…. We didn’t have spectators, uniforms, or paid officials. But we DID have a lot of fun!

Sadly, fun is the last thing children have when they play sports under the watchful gaze of parents who are invested in seeing their child succeed it puts undue pressure on them when they could be creating their own versions of football with friends or making up their own hybrid games like tennis-baseball or soccer-football. Playing little league baseball with full baseball regalia under the lights with an umpire dressed in a professional-like uniform gives the game a luster. But playing wiffle ball with three other kids in the backyard where a hit in the rosebush is an automatic double is better.

This Just In: Recess Helps… A LOT! It Allows Children to Be Children and Not Data Points

August 16, 2019 Comments off

In yet another study that proves the sun will rise every day, researchers gathered data that proves the value of recess. “Becky” who writes for Your Modern Family reports:

…research is actually showing how schools with more recess have happier, smarter, and more focused students.   In fact, recess even helps students to be more friendly and social.

“Recess is the only place in school, maybe the only place in their social life, where kids have the opportunity to develop social skills with their peers,” says Murry, former chairman of the AAP’s Council on School Health.

And why was recess ever considered unworthy? If you guessed that it ate into time needed to prepare for standardized tests you’ve been a careful and diligent reader of this blog for the past eight years. And guess what country assures recess at all costs AND consistently outscores the US in international tests? FINLAND!

Strong research in Finland shows that children who engage in more physical activity and play do better academically than children who are sedentary.  From kindergarten through eighth grade, students in Finland spend 15 minutes of every hour in recess, enjoying unstructured outdoor play. During that time, they love to make up games, expanding their imaginations and creativity.”

15 minutes per HOUR… as opposed to our country that often tacks 15 minutes of recess onto the end of lunch period. For those who scoff that it would never work in our country, Becky has some news for you. A program called the LiiNK Project provided more recess for students and, voila, test scores went up!

A school in Texas took part in the LiiNK Project, where students in K-1 had four 15-minute recess breaks a day.   “Adopting LiiNK requires eliminating one hour of instructional time each day. That is a high risk for educators who believe more instruction leads to higher test scores. But research shows vast benefits to providing kids recess.”

“In districts that have adopted LiiNK, the teachers, administrators, and parents raved about its effects on students. The additional recess, they said, helped their kids focus better, misbehave less, and even lose weight. There were benefits for teachers, too. Sandra Hill, a third-grade teacher at Chavez with 18 years experience, said better-behaved kids improved her morale. She described the difference between teaching LiiNK kids and the kids at her previous schools as “night and day.”   “This year was hands down, the easiest year I’ve had with behavior.”

Cindy Griggs, a kindergarten teacher at Eagle Mountain Elementary, a LiiNK school in Fort Worth, described a similar change. Recalling her students’ behavior before LiiNK was implemented four years ago, she said, “They were always antsy, messing with the name tags on their desks, poking each other, rolling around on the floor.”

But now with the extra recess: “They’re able to get all that energy out. Coming in, they’ll just be sitting on the carpet zoned in and engaged for 45 minutes.”

A Texas college professor and elementary school Principal were given the last words on this topic, which included lots of links to lots of reports substantiating the value of recess and unstructured play:

Professor and associate dean at Texas Christian University, Debbie Rhea, launched the recess initiative, reminding her of her childhood.   “We have forgotten what childhood should be.   And if we remember back to before testing—which would be back in the ’60s, ’70s, early ’80s—if we remember back to that, children were allowed to be children.”

“Test scores don’t tell you everything you need to know about a child,” she said. “I hope people can understand that. In this age of accountability and testing, I think we’ve forgotten that we’re dealing with these little kids with their little hearts,and they need to be nurtured too.” – Principal Elizabeth Miller, Chavez Elementary School.

And here’s what is saddening to this retired veteran school superintendent: anyone who entered the teaching profession after NCLB has NEVER known of a time when “children were allowed to be children”.We now have a generation of teachers who know of nothing except accountability based on standardized testing… teachers who themselves were subjected to passing fill-in-the-bubble tests to prove they had the ability to deal with little kids with their little hearts. The sooner we move away from this “meritocracy” based on tests the better!

Vermont Story on Delayed Test Results Illustrates Everything Wrong with Testing

July 29, 2019 Comments off

Our local paper, the Valley News, reprinted an article by Lola Duffort titled “School Test Score Data Nine Months Overdue“. This is unsurprising given the ambitious scope of the State’s new Annual Snapshot “dashboard” and the fact that the current State Department of Education is woefully understaffed. And this problem of ambitious analytics combined with understaffed state departments is not limited to Vermont. This toxic combination is a systemic problem brought about by federal legislators allowing and encouraging states to include more and more data on their “report cards” on the heels of states deciding to cut back staffs following the 2008 economic collapse, often making those cuts on data collection departments where much of the work was outsourced.

In an earlier article Ms. Duffort described the new expanded “dashboard” as follows:

The Vermont Agency of Education has released its first Annual Snapshot, a new online dashboard that will allow anyone to take a look at how each of the state’s public K-12 schools are doing, using a variety of new indicators.

The Snapshot is an intentional pivot away from the standardized-testing focused era of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which was widely criticized by educators — particularly in Vermont — for emphasizing too narrow a measure of school performance. The successor law to NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act, still requires testing, but it also allows states to name several new standards for appraising schools…

…the Snapshot aims to allow the public to see not just traditional measures of school performance – like test scores and graduation rates – but also information about school climate, staffing quality, spending priorities, and personalization.

As one who has written frequently about the inanity of rating schools based solely on test scores, I fully support this new direction by Vermont. But, as one who worked with state departments for 29 years and witnessed their de-staffing over that time period, I also understand that delivering on this promised expansive data will be difficult… and it will be especially so in Vermont where it appears the new commissioner is loathe to add staff:

The agency is “seriously understaffed,” said Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

“It’s resulted in delays and errors and a general inability to do their jobs. I’ve been trying to light a fire under Secretary French and this administration for a year now, to pick up the pace of hiring, but they seem content to continue running the agency well below full strength,” he said.

Staffing capacity at the agency worried House lawmakers enough last session that House Education chair Rep. Kate Webb, D-Shelburne, and Government Operations chair Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Bradford, held a joint hearing on the subject. The agency has lost about a fourth of its staff to budget cuts since the Great Recession.

But Webb said that, as for the test scores, she was “not concerned at this time,” since students, teachers, and districts have access to their individual results.

Sorry, Ms. Webb… but the whole point of providing the Snapshot was to provide MORE information than test results and providing those results nine months after the tests were administered is, to be blunt, ridiculous and useless. If a teacher failed to return a high-stakes test to a student nine months after the test was administered they would be looking for a new career. For the Annual Snapshot to serve ANY valid educational purpose it needs to be in the hands of teachers, administrators, and Board members within weeks— not nine months later. Moreover, between October 2018 and August 2019 it is likely that 1/4 of the school board members and a similar percentage of principals and teachers will change, especially in the small rural schools that constitute much of Vermont. Complicating matters even more, there are several new Boards in place now as a result of Act 46, making the late delivery of data even more problematic.

The solution, as always, is more resources— in this case for State Departments of Education. But finding support to pay for “bureaucrats” whose primary purpose is enforcement of regulations adopted by the legislature and State Board and the delivery of reports on a wide array of issues is not easy. It’s far easier to outsource data gathering, skimp on regulatory enforcement, and complain about the inefficiency of the State Department of Education…. because, well, “government is the problem”.

Merger Mania: The Military-Industrial Complex on Steroids

July 17, 2019 Comments off

I’m posting this article on the reality of and expansion of the military-industrial complex for two reasons, both of which are included in the following paragraph:

President Eisenhower’s proposed counterweight to the power of the military-industrial complex was to be “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.” And there are signs that significant numbers of individuals and organizations are beginning to pay more attention to the machinations of the arms lobby. My own outfit, the Center for International Policy, has launched a Sustainable Defense Task Force composed of former military officers and Pentagon officials, White House and Congressional budget experts, and research staffers from progressive and good-government groups. It has already crafted a plan that would cut $1.2 trillion from the Pentagon budget over the next decade, while improving U.S. security by avoiding unnecessary wars, eliminating waste, and scaling back a Pentagon nuclear-weapons buildup slated to cost $1.5 trillion or more over the next three decades.

First, I fear that public schools are not doing nearly enough to help create the “counterweight” President Eisenhower envisioned. I seriously doubt that a graduating senior understands how the revolving door works for the military let alone how it works in virtually every other industry. This concept is not taught because it is not tested, and it is not tested in large measure because those who devise tests have their own revolving door.

Second, if there is a way to save $1,500,000,000,000 in military spending over the next three decades there IS a source for the funds we need to upgrade every public school in our nation, particularly those serving children raised in poverty.

Source: Merger Mania: The Military-Industrial Complex on Steroids