Last Sunday the NYTimes op ed writer David Kirp’s essay detailed the positive impact of “community schools”, a reform initiative advocated by NYC Mayor de Blasio instead of the market-based “reform” movement advocated by his predecessor, Mike Bloomberg. What is a community school? Kirp offers this description:
A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships with local organizations intended to deliver health, social and recreational supports for students and their families. The idea of a school that serves as a neighborhood hub holds widespread appeal, and 150 school districts, including Chicago, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Albuquerque, Tulsa, Okla., and Lincoln, Neb., have bought into the idea.
While a “community school” costs roughly $800 annually, an analysis by the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education at Columbia indicates that every dollar spent to provide community schools “…generates a return of at least $3”. Their analysis indicates that:
“Providing the program to 100 students over six years would cost society $457,000 but yield $1,385,000 in social benefits” — higher incomes, lower incarceration rates, better health and less reliance on welfare.
Kira’s article is titled “To Teach a Child to Read, First Give Him Glasses”, and he notes early in the article that poverty stricken parents often cannot afford glasses but schools educating a vision impaired student are nevertheless held accountable for that child’s progress. Kirp offers this anecdote as an example:
“You wouldn’t think it’s acceptable to send a child to school without having glasses or without dental care, but it’s O.K. for that child to take a reading or math test,” Mark Gaither, the principal of Wolfe Street Academy, a justly renowned community school in Baltimore, told Maryland lawmakers. “But that’s the situation poor parents face.”
As Mr. Kirp notes, community schools are designed “…to deliver the emotional support that battle-scarred children badly need — recruiting a squadron of social workers, training teachers to counsel students and teaching older students how to mentor their younger classmates.” And when schools have the wherewithal to provide social and emotional support, students can thrive. He writes: “After-school and summer programs not only keep poor kids off the streets, but they also give them the academic leg up and the array of opportunities that better-off families can afford to buy.”
There is one big problem with community schools: achieving the kinds of test score improvements used as a metric for success often takes time and persistence.
Results-hungry policy makers expect test scores to rise overnight, but getting students engaged in their own education must come first. A recent evaluation of Baltimore’s community schools concluded that the schools whose students did best academically were those in the program longest.
As noted in an earlier blog post, Mayor de Blasio ultimately needs to satisfy those “results hungry policy makers” who never got the results they anticipated when they used the test-and-punish methods for over a decade but somehow believe the mayor’s approach should be deemed a failure after only two years in place. Chirps’ concluding paragraph indicates that he “gets it”:
New York’s experiment is drawing attention among educators nationwide. If the venture succeeds, other cities may follow suit, but if fails, the community schools movement will take a hit. The impressive evaluations will recede in significance, and critics will dismiss the strategy as just another failed fad. Fingers crossed, then, that the city gives the experiment enough time before rushing to judgment.
From my perspective, I’m keeping fingers crossed that the public recognizes that a return to the test-and-punish model is bankrupt…
Big Data and Little Children: A Potent Combination for Learning… or Marketing… or Controlling – Part One
Thanks to two links to posts by Robert X. Cringely provided by Naked Capitalist blogger Lambert Strether I now have a better understanding of the history of and potential of Big Data as it applies to public education. The posts are lengthy and detailed, but not so technical I felt overwhelmed… and clearly written enough that I could see some promising… and frightening… links between Big Data and public education and see how my own experiences in public schools linked to the evolution of Big Data.
Part One of Cringely’s synopsis of Big Data provided a history of data collection from the beginning of mankind to 1996. Outlined below are some excerpts from that first post that I found pertinent. The first one describes where we stand today in terms of data being collected about us as citizens… and why that data is being collected:
Wherever you are in the world, computers are watching you and recording data about your activities, primarily noting what you watch, read, look at, or buy. If you hit the street in almost any city, surveillance video can be added to that: where are you, what are you doing, who or what is nearby? Your communications are monitored to some extent and occasionally even recorded. Anything you do on the Internet — from comments to tweets to simple browsing — never goes away. Some of this has to do with national security but most of this technology is simply to get you and me to buy more stuff — to be more efficient consumers. The technology that makes all this gathering and analysis possible was mainly invented in Silicon Valley by many technology startup companies.
Cringely’s post also includes the most concise definition of Moore’s Law I’ve read:
Moore’s Law. As computers were applied to processing data their speed made it possible to delve deeper into those data, discovering more meaning. The high cost of computing at first limited its use to high-value applications like selling airline seats. But the advent of solid state computers in the 1960s began a steady increase in computing power and decrease in computing cost that continues to this day — Moore’s Law. So what cost American Airlines $10 to calculate in 1955 was down to a dime by 1965, to a tenth of a penny by 1975, and to one billionth of a cent today.
This effect of Moore’s Law and — most importantly — the ability to reliably predict where computing cost and capability would be a decade or more in advance, made it possible to apply computing power to cheaper and cheaper activities. This is what turned data processing into Big Data.
Cringely’s history of data collection showed how an alliance between American Airlines and IBM in the 1950s led to the development of main frame computing and that, in turn, evolved into increasingly faster and cheaper means of collecting and processing data, leading to the development of “business intelligence” by software pioneer Oracle:
Oracle… enabled… not just more flexible business applications, but whole new classes of applications including human resources, customer relationship management, and — most especially — something called business intelligence. Business intelligence is looking inside what you know to figure out what you know that’s useful. Business intelligence is one of the key applications of Big Data.
(Amazon founder Jeff) Bezos — a former Wall Street IT guy who was familiar with all the Business Intelligence tools of the time, wanted a system where the next time you logged-in the server would ask “are you still looking for long underwear?” It might even have sitting in your shopping cart the underwear you had considered the last time but decided not to buy. This simple expedient of keeping track of the recent past was the true beginning of Big Data.
This was 1996… where Part One of Cringely’s analysis ends… where public education is just now…. but more on this in Part 3 of these posts….
David Brooks Celebrates Human Nature’s Natural Compassion, Overlooking Conservatism’s Natural Darwinism
David Brooks, an orthodox old-school conservative, seems incapable of connecting his humanity with his political thinking. In today’s column, “The Power of Altruism”, he offers several examples of research that demonstrates the fundamental compassion that humans possess and then laments that selfishness is viewed as the primary motivation for human behavior. He writes:
When we build academic disciplines and social institutions upon suppositions of selfishness we’re missing the motivations that drive people much of the time.
Worse, if you expect people to be selfish, you can actually crush their tendency to be good…
To be a good citizen, to be a good worker, you often have to make an altruistic commitment to some group or ideal, which will see you through those times when your job of citizenship is hard and frustrating. Whether you are a teacher serving students or a soldier serving your country or a clerk who likes your office mates, the moral motivation is much more powerful than the financial motivations. Arrangements that arouse the financial lens alone are just messing everything up.
Given the research cited in this column and this compelling paragraph, how can conservatives like Mr. Brooks possibly believe merit pay for teachers is a good idea? CAn’t they see that by encouraging teachers to earn more money by virtue of increasing test scores they are making an altruistic profession into a utilitarian one. They are, in Mr. Brooks’ words, “manipulating an institution that arouses the moral lens” and converting into one that is based solely on bloodless test scores. As a result, neoliberal and conservative “reformers” are creating a school culture that is “less cooperative, less trusting, less effective and less lovely.”
As a result of the “reform” movement we are taking children who are naturally caring and converting them into young social Darwinists who want to build their resumes so they can get into good colleges and earn lots of money. When will we collectively realize the damage we are doing to children as a result of this ‘reform” and cultivate the caring nature of children instead of feeding their competitive fire? Given the recent passage of ESSA and the desire to measure the effectiveness of post-secondary education based on earnings I don’t expect to see a change any time soon unless opinion writers like Mr. Brooks come to their senses and begin advocating a more humanitarian approach to education.
While I find Bill Maher more crude and cruel with his humor than Jon Stewart, I often find him to be every bit as insightful… and with a moderate degree of trepidation I share this Youtube of his monologue on “Labs of Democracy”, which DOES include some crude language and one reference to drugs. If you want to avoid the vulgarity, cover your ears at the 2:45 and 3:25 mark and assume that Bill Maher really DOES love to grow archives in his basement:
As political junkies know, the Conservatives in the Republican party have used the “Labs of Democracy” concept to encourage the transfer of key decisions regarding the treatment of immigrants, the provision of funding for basic services, and the creation and enforcement of regulations to States. One state, California, has demonstrated the failure of “tickle down” economics and the demonization of immigrants. At least two other states, LA and KS, have reinforced the failure of cutting taxes in the name of “opening their sites for business”… but WI, MI, IL, OH, PA, NJ could easily be added to that list and only MN can show that the opposite approach— rating taxes and expanding voting rights— boosts the state coffers and well being.
As readers of this blog know, I fear that the “Labs of Democracy” argument is being used to promote ESSA’s “trickle down” theory for public schools… and the neoliberal wing of he Democratic party is happy to support that notion in the name of “bi-partisanship” (or, more cynically, in the name of increasing their donor base among the hedge funders who want to privatize “failing” public school districts that serve urban children). And though the test-and-punish method of accountability has a failure rate that mirrors that of trickle-down economics, it goes hand-in-hand with the tax cutting ideals of the conservatives because privatized schools operate “more efficiently” than public schools and thus reduce the tax burden on the private sector.
And as Bill Maher explains in his crude but direct way, we’ve run experiments on “trickle down” economics and “democracy” and the results are in: taxing the rich works; opening our doors to immigrants works; and regulating energy works. He could have run the same vignette on public education and illustrated that accountability based on standardized testing DOESN’T work… Maybe it will take another decade of ESSA to make this point. But in the meantime, another generation of children will be subjected to more teaching to the tests because adults are unfamiliar with the scientific method.