Posts Tagged ‘network school’

Open mindedness Essential for Democracy and Capitalism but Under-emphasized in test-driven schools

June 30, 2018 1 comment


Technology and Surveillance: A Chilling Combination That COULD Be Undone

June 27, 2018 Comments off

Will Richardson who writes the Modern Learners blog, had a thought provoking post a few days ago titled “EdTech is Driving Me Crazy, Too“. In the post, Mr. Richardson described the ways that education technology could be used to transform the way instruction is delivered to schools, but lamented the ways that education technology is actually being used in schools. He is especially concerned with the use of technology as a surveillance tool:

More often than not, ed tech is something done to the student rather than done in service of the student. And there’s no better example of this than a new tool called “Emote” that preys on our current fears around the socio-emotional state of our students and sets a whole new bar for “helicopter educating” (which, I’m sorry to say, is not the first time that phrase has been uttered.) John Warner in Inside Higher Ed does a great job of teasing out the insidiousness of Emote, an app which makes it easier for the adults to record any time a particular student looks depressed or sad or anxious. As Warner notes:

When a child arrives in school, if they are observed to be angry or upset by a staff member, this is logged into the app. Later, a teacher may see additional evidence, creating another alert. The goal, according to Emote CEO Juilan Golder, is to prevent “escalation.” Student behavior can also be tracked longitudinally. Maybe a student is grumpy or sleepy every Monday, suggesting something is amiss at home. The app will know.

No one will be shocked, either, to hear that the CEO says “There’s more interest than we can handle at this point.”

This example of what technology can do leads to the inevitable question about technology in general: is there a limit to what we want technology to do? Just because technology makes it possible to track a student 24/7 doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Don’t children today deserve a chance to be free from adult supervision? Just because technology makes it possible to track a students attentiveness in completing work doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Don’t children today deserve a chance to daydream? Mr. Richardson posits that education technology devoted to surveillance of all kinds is currently make things worse for students, and when that technology is combined with the narrowed test-driven curriculum it makes public schools toxic. Quoting John Warner again, Mr. Richardson writes:

There is mounting evidence that school is demonstrably bad for students’ mental health. The incidence of anxiety and depression are increasing. Each year, more students report being “actively disengaged” from schools.

Mr. Richardson suggests that instead of developing more apps that track how poorly students are doing relative to our definition of “success” based on test scores, we might provide students with an app to tell us how we’re doing in addressing their needs:

But how many therapists or prescriptions or apps could we get away without if we attacked the mental health issues our kids are experiencing through a different lens, one that starts with the premise that we’re the ones that are broken, not the kids? What if we rewrote the script and put mental health above “achievement” or “success” as measured by grade point averages, the number of AP classes we offer, college acceptances, and other “narrow path” measures?

And if you really want to get crazy, why don’t we create an app for students so they can track every time our “narrow path” narrative makes them anxious or stressed, or every time we deny them the agency to pursue learning that matters to them, or hint at their value as humans by the test scores or GPAs they get, or whenever we deny them fundamental democratic rights, or refuse to act in ways that suggest that we are the problem and not them? We could call it “Ed-mote” or some other silly Silicon Valley play on words, and the software would send DMs to superintendents and principals when an intervention is required, like an immediate two-hour play period for everyone in the school. (We could also, by the way, encourage them to track the many positives about their school experience as well.)

Too bad Mr. Richardson isn’t interested in making a lot of money. I think his idea for such an app would be very helpful in transforming our schools into Summerhill-like institutions instead of the imprisoning institutions they are devolving into thanks to technology.

Given the Choice Between Home Depot and the Local Hardware Store… or KIPP and the Local Public School

June 20, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch posted a heartwarming story yesterday about how two predominantly African American public schools in San Francisco are outdoing their privatized counterpart, KIPP, the national chain that touts its high test scores and tough discipline. The 5th graders at one of the schools, Malcolm X, outscored the 5th graders at KIPP on the standardized tests used for accountability purposes. The other school, Carver, a partnership with Umoja, a group that works with African American young boys at recess and after school, has resulted in a marked decline in discipline issues and an increase in math scores. What do Carver and Malcolm X have in common? Parent engagement, community partnerships, the provision of an array of social services under the roof of the school, and robust co- and extra-curricular offerings. Given the “choice” between a cookie-cutter factory school and a customized academic environment that is networked with the community, it is unsurprising where parents want to see their children go.

Ms. Ravitch analogized KIPP to Walmart, describing it as “…the Walmart of charter schools, opening in communities where they are not wanted and destroying local public schools where parents are heard.” I think that a better analogy is Home Depot, who, like Walmart, is willing to crush small local businesses. But Walmart often provides remote communities with comprehensive purchasing options in small communities that are otherwise absent altogether making it impossible for small niche stores to compete because local people find the allure of one-stop shopping too strong. If Walmart took over schooling they might incorporate social services, dental and medical services, and mental health providers under one roof. A case could be made that Carver and Malcolm X are using a variant of the Walmart model in their approach to incorporating a wide range of services under one roof… an approach that I contend more public schools should take. Home Depot, on the other hand, would just obliterate the small local hardware stores and local construction supply companies and replace them with a big box store that requires contractors and homeowners to drive a few miles further to get crappy service and less customization.

Both Walmart and Home Depot and stores of their ilk are ultimately evil because they undercut the local economy and the local identity of communities. When the ownership is remote and the shareholders are more interested in profits than community building one can expect small towns and cities to trade empty storefronts for low prices… and the result is the kind of alienation we are encountering today.

Here’s the bottom line: If you want to keep the small stores afloat and your community strong… but local and support your local public schools.

What Public Schools SHOULD Be Focused On

June 15, 2018 Comments off

The solution to our seemingly intractable problems is found in this thought provoking article.

NYC’s New Chancellor Questions HS Admissions Tests… WOW!

May 24, 2018 Comments off

NYC’s new Chancellor, Richard Carranza, is making waves! Here are some remarks he made at a press conference with Mayor de Blasio reported by Selim Algar in yesterday’s NYPost:

Department of Education chief Richard Carranza’s expanding campaign against city admissions policies isn’t limited to specialized high schools.

Carranza denounced the screening of school applicants at all grade levels Wednesday, arguing that the process was inappropriate for a diverse public school system.

“Why are we screening children?” he asked at a Bronx press conference alongside Mayor Bill de Blasio. “I don’t get that. We’re a public school system in one of the most diverse cities not in America – but in the world.”

From all reports, the mayor did not wince when his new appointee offered this observation. Nor did he flinch when the Chancellor made these remarks:

“I think test scores shouldn’t be the single determiner of a student’s ability to have educational opportunities,” Carranza said. “There are multiple ways of identifying student talent…When we talk about choice do you really have choice if parents are spending thousands of dollars tutoring their children for one test?… Is that really equity in a city as diverse as New York City?”

And Ms. Algar didn’t note any discomfort on the Mayor’s part when Mr. Carranza questioned the zoning of schools and his intention to move quickly to address these issues:

“There are also some systemic issues that we should really think about,” Carranza said. “How are schools zoned? Where are they zoned? Where are the programs put?”

The new schools boss also suggested that he intends to convert press conference rhetoric into results – soon.

“At the appropriate time I think you will see some actions that come out of City Hall and the Department of Education that will be very, very much on this particular subject,” he said, adding that he was working closely with assorted school stakeholders.

I applaud Mr. Carranza’s efforts to work closely with “…assorted school stakeholders”… and hope that his idealism does not run into a buzz saw when the political stakeholders that his efforts to convert press conference rhetoric into results. A change in the status quo COULD happen when a determined Mayor and Chancellor with conviction team up… but it could also happen that Mr. Carranza, like many of his other idealistic predecessors, loses his job and lands in a think tank.

Closing Chicago Neighborhood Schools an Academic Disaster… and City Offers NO Evidence it Saved $$$

May 24, 2018 Comments off

It’s been five years since Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel announced his abrupt decision to close 50 neighborhood schools to save money, and a a team of researchers at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research just released a comprehensive study of the impact of this decision on students at the schools that closed and the schools that absorbed them. Unsurprisingly to anyone who values the idea of children attending the public school closest to their home, as Kalyn Belsha of the Chicago Reporter notes the academic results were negative and the promises made by the district to augment technology and social workers in the receiving schools were not kept. And the savings?

While officials said the main reason they closed schools in 2013 was to save money, the district has never reported if it did.

One of the reasons, I am certain, is that when parents expressed righteous indignation at the way decisions were made, the administration attempted to ameliorate them by providing iPads and social workers to the schools where students would be assigned. And how did that work out?

While schools appreciated the iPads and extra money CPS gave them during the first year, staff said they received little training on how to use the new technology and when the one-time infusion of cash ran out after a year or so, supports like extra social workers disappeared.

Staff at the welcoming schools reported starting in the fall of 2013 without important supplies — some of which the district lost permanently. Educators interpreted this “as a sign that the district did not respect staff or care about the students in these schools.”

Worse than the slide in test scores that students from closed schools experienced was the animosity and stereotyping they received in their “welcoming schools”. And the closure process itself resulted in negativity– if not hostility— in the schools that absorbed the students from the schools that closed:

The way the closures played out also hurt the surveyed schools’ internal cultures, researchers found. Before the mergers, schools in the same neighborhoods felt like they were “pitted against” one another in an emotional, months-long battle to keep their schools open. This, coupled with the chaotic transition, “resulted in feelings of anger and resentment across communities,” the report states.

Staff and students in welcoming schools also reported an increase in student fights and bullying, especially the first year after the closures. While that improved with time, the staff’s perceptions of conflict remained higher than before the mergers, and students reported that early stereotypes about them persisted.

In one case, students heard welcoming school staff talking about how kids who came in from the closed school had lower test scores.

“Like on my first day back here, even the teachers would even say, ‘Oh, you’re a [closed school] kid, so you’re lower than the rest of the kids, ‘cause [the welcoming school was] such a high [scoring] school,’” one student told the researchers.

Educators said they needed the district to provide more support and training on merging schools, more emotional support for staff and additional funding and emotional supports for students beyond the first year after a closure.

But if the purpose of closing schools is to save money, providing the necessary supports for students beyond year one will undercut the overarching purpose. Here’s an idea: instead of putting hundreds of children and their families through the turmoil of switching schools why not invest a marginal amount more in their existing schools?



Virtual Learning: Godsend or Scam?

May 19, 2018 Comments off

Yesterday’s Valley News featured an op ed article written by Washington Post contributor David von Drehle praising the virtues of virtual learning. The article profiled recent graduation ceremony of an alternative school in Kansas where:

The bleachers were filled with proud family and friends. But this wasn’t a group that grew up together through ballgames and choir concerts. Alienated from traditional high schools, seeking an alternative, they found the Humboldt Virtual Education Program, one of the largest and best-regarded online high schools in the Sunflower State.After months, even years, of solitary study in internet classrooms, they gathered as a physical community for the first, and probably the last, time.

Mr. von Drehle went on to describe the growth taking place in virtual learning.

Across the United States, online education is booming. Sixth- through 12th-graders enrolled in Florida’s largest full-time virtual high school completed more than 44,000 semesters of classwork last year. In Kansas, virtual school enrollment grew 100-fold between 1999 and 2014, from about 60 students to more than 6,000.

He is particularly impressed with the students who succeeded in the Kansas program, seeing its asynchronous model as helpful for both ends of the spectrum: the student who could not keep up and the student who wanted to complete schooling faster and felt held back. Indeed, Mr. von Drehle’s paeans to virtual learning could be used as selling points by the for-profit fly-by-night operations like ECOT who raked in over a billion of Ohio taxpayers money and graduated a microscopic percentage of the students it enrolled. He writes:

Thankfully, we’ve begun to appreciate that students aren’t stamped from a single mold.

Some do their best learning at their own pace and rhythm. This awakening is surely one reason more Americans are finishing high school: The dropout rate fell from 11 percent to 6 percent between 2000 and 2015, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Well-run virtual education programs are part of that success. Educators with up-close experience of at-risk students understand this — which is why Humboldt’s virtual school includes the daughter of a traditional school principal. And the daughter of a newspaper columnist.

When the nontraditional learner in my family gripped her diploma proudly and gave Siebenmorgen a tearful hug, she became one of more than 400 alumni of a little Kansas town’s very big idea, with hundreds more in the pipeline.

These aren’t students normally celebrated with trophies and scholarships. But I would not bet against them.

In an age of constant change, they’ve seized tools offered by technology and put them to good use.

Instead of dropping out, they stepped up, toward a future that will favor those who see and grab new possibilities. An hour after they marched in, they sailed forth on the stream of lifelong learning, which promises to take them far.

There is one key point about the Humboldt Virtual Education Program that Mr. von Drehe neglected to mention: it is overseen by the local school district in his community, which means that it is a non-profit entity operated by an elected school board whose mission is to provide education for all the children in the region and not a for-profit entity whose mission is to get a high return on investment for its shareholders.

Mr. von Drehe’s oversight on this key governance issue muddles the issue of virtual learning. When virtual learning opportunities are provided by local public schools, as they are in Vermont, New Hampshire, and at least one place in Kansas, they work to educate students who would otherwise drop out of school. When profit is the goal, the ECOTs of this world predominate.