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MIT Media Lab Joi Ito’s Imaginative Idea: Replace the Factory Model with the Four P’s of Lifelong Kindergarten

September 10, 2018 Leave a comment

The Eduction Tyranny of the Neurotypicals“, an article from Wired magazine by MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito, describes the adverse effects of the factory school model on “neuroatypicals” on the autism spectrum and suggests and alternative paradigm for schooling that might benefit ALL students: Lifelong Kindergarten. What is a “neurotypical”?

“Neurotypical” is a term used by the autism community to describe what society refers to as “normal.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 59 children, and one in 34 boys, are on the autism spectrum—in other words, neuroatypical. That’s 3 percent of the male population. If you add ADHD—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—and dyslexia, roughly one out of four people are not “neurotypicals.”

Ito suggests that the factory model in place in public education since the 1920s favors the “neurotypicals” and works against any child who is “neuroatypical”, an observation that is difficult to refute. Worse, the factory model in place is outmoded and failing to prepare the kinds of learners our current culture and economy require:

Our schools in particular have failed… neurodiverse students, in part because they’ve been designed to prepare our children for typical jobs in a mass-production-based white- and blue-collar environment created by the Industrial Revolution. Students acquire a standardized skillset and an obedient, organized, and reliable nature that served society well in the past—but not so much today. I suspect that the quarter of the population who are diagnosed as somehow non-neurotypical struggle with the structure and the method of modern education, and many others probably do as well.

I often say that education is what others do to you and learning is what you do for yourself. But I think that even the broad notion of education may be outdated, and we need a completely new approach to empower learning: We need to revamp our notion of “education” and shake loose the ordered and linear metrics of the society of the past, when we were focused on scale and the mass production of stuff.Accepting and respecting neurodiversity is the key to surviving the transformation driven by the internet and AI, which is shattering the Newtonian predictability of the past and replacing it with a Heisenbergian world of complexity and uncertainty.

Ito describes several examples of how children on the autistic spectrum overcame their atypical learning patterns to achieve success, and transitions to a solution with this paragraph:

Unfortunately, most schools struggle to integrate atypical learners, even though it’s increasingly clear that interest-driven learning, project-based learning, and undirected learning seem better suited for the greater diversity of neural types we now know exist.

Ito offers “unschooling” as one alternative that would benefit ALL students, but accurately sees it as being perceived by many as  “…much too unstructured and (verging) on irresponsibility”. He offers instead a form of formal schooling that blends technology with loosely guided instruction that offers some structure without impinging on the freedom to learn that the factory model imposes on children or sorting and selecting students based on their neurotypical thinking:

In addition to equipping kids for basic literacy and civic engagement, industrial age schools were primarily focused on preparing kids to work in factories or perform repetitive white-collar jobs. It may have made sense to try to convert kids into (smart) robotlike individuals who could solve problems on standardized tests alone with no smartphone or the internet and just a No. 2 pencil. Sifting out non-neurotypical types or trying to remediate them with drugs or institutionalization may have seemed important for our industrial competitiveness. Also, the tools for instruction were also limited by the technology of the times. In a world where real robots are taking over many of those tasks, perhaps we need to embrace neurodiversity and encourage collaborative learning through passion, play, and projects, in other words, to start teaching kids to learn in ways that machines can’t.We can also use modern technology for connected learning that supports diverse interests and abilities and is integrated into our lives and communities of interest.

Ito concludes with a description of Lifelong Kindergarten that sounds very appealing to me, someone who admittedly learned more from scanning encyclopedias on Saturday mornings and roaming in the woods than I learned in elementary school classrooms:

At the Media Lab, we have a research group called Lifelong Kindergarten, and the head of the group, Mitchel Resnick, recently wrote a book by the same name. The book is about the group’s research on creative learning and the four Ps—Passion, Peers, Projects, and Play. The group believes, as I do, that we learn best when we are pursuing our passion and working with others in a project-based environment with a playful approach.My memory of school was “no cheating,” “do your own work,” “focus on the textbook, not on your hobbies or your projects,” and “there’s time to play at recess, be serious and study or you’ll be shamed”—exactly the opposite of the four Ps.

As we rate schools based on standardized test scores we are clearly NOT rating them based on their ability to “learn in ways that machines can’t“. And as schools focus on children doing their own work and focussing on textbooks and worksheets that prepare them to do well on standardized achievement tests we are denying them the opportunity to direct their own learning and discover for themselves that there is a joy in learning.

Moreover, the notion of Lifelong Kindergarten appeals to me because it is evident that the ideas put forth by Robert Fulghum in his best selling book from the 1980s never took hold. In All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten Mr. Fulgham offered a short list of lessons he learned as a five year old that are worth repeating in today’s toxic world: 

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put thngs back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first workd you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

I might add one more item to Mr. Fulghum’s list based on my experience:

16a. Remember what your father taught you: LISTEN to everyone. They all have something to teach you.

Instead of grading schools based on standardized tests as we’ve done for the past 17 years we might have a better world if we graded them based on the lessons Mr. Fulghum suggested.

 

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What If We Heeded Arthur Camins’ Article in 2010? Would “Reformers” Have a Leg to Stand On?

August 26, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch wrote a cross-post from a blogger who writes as “Rage Against the Testocracy” on the limitations of standardized testing. Among the comments was one from high school teacher and blogger Arthur Camins that included a link to an article he originally authored in 2010 for the Gheens Institute for Innovation, Institute Insights, an article that was more insightful than the cross post. Mr. Camins’ article advocates the use of formative assessments instead of summative assessments, advocates the need for clearer and more precise learning objectives, and advocates the need for collaboration among teachers in the same way that physicians collaborate to advance medicine and develop sound diagnoses. The article begins with these questions:

What if we shifted the balance of our assessment attention from the summative to the formative—assessment that can be used every day to support learning?

What if we could more precisely identify where each student was along the pathway to learning?

What if we could be more accurate at sorting out the nuances in his or her gaps in understanding?

What if we focused most of our assessment attention on becoming better at interpreting daily data from regular class work and used that evidence to help students move their own learning forward?

I think we would become better at seeing the whole student and responding to his or her individual needs. Assessment would be a support instead of a threat. In the end, students would perform better on the summative tests.

Unfortunately no one paid attention to Mr. Camins in 2010 when the article was written nor did it get appropriate attention in 2014 when Valerie Strauss reprinted it as part of her Answer Sheet in the Washington Post.

I hope it isn’t too late to consider his points in 2018… for if they had been heeded in 2010 we might have moved away from placing so much weight on standardized test results and used the energy and money wasted on that enterprise to help make teaching more professional and personal and less robotic and algorithmic.

Can Economists and Reformers Ever Be Friends? Based on John Lancaster’s New Yorker Article, Absolutely YES!

August 13, 2018 Comments off

I just finished reading John Lancaster’s New Yorker article titled “Can Economists and Humanists Ever Be Friends” and was struck by the similarities between the thought patterns of the economists described in the article and the “reformers” who seek to improve public education. The article, which appeared under the “Critic at Large” heading, was essentially Mr. Lancaster’s reaction to several books written by economists who attempt to quantify and codify “laws” of human behavior and use these codes to determine the economic efficacy of various decisions. In the process of doing so, however, these economists tend to overlook the humanistic consequences that flow from their decision making models. The hard core economists who use these decision models assert that once human interaction is reduced to a mathematical algorithm based on the assumption that the economic concept of “utility” is the ultimate “good”, the humanistic consequences are immaterial. The problem from Mr. Lancaster’s perspective is that “utility” is an amoral metric.

Here’s the case of a study conducted by the World Bank’s economists that Mr. Lancaster describes how “utility” ignores a major benefit to a group of human beings suffering from a crippling disease:

In the nineteen-eighties, Schapiro—who today is the president of Northwestern University, as well as a professor of economics—was part of a team that put together publications for the World Bank. One of their books had a chapter on onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness. It is a parasitic disease that has cost millions of people their eyesight, and is endemic in large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. In 1974, seven West African nations got together, contacted donors, and set out to create the Onchocerciasis Control Program, overseen by the World Health Organization. The program was a huge success, in that it prevented hundreds of thousands of people from going blind, but there was a problem: the economists involved couldn’t show that the venture was worth it. A cost-benefit analysis was “inconclusive”: the people who were being helped were so poor that the benefit of saving their eyesight didn’t have much monetary impact.“There are humanitarian benefits associated with reducing the blindness and suffering caused by onchocerciasis,” the World Bank report allowed. But “these benefits are inherently unmeasurable, and we will not account for them here.” In other words, the very thing that made the project so admirable—that it was improving the lives of the poorest people in the world—also made it, from an economic point of view, not really worth doing.

This conclusion immediately brought to mind the consequences of using standardized tests as the sole metric for “quality” in schools, a metric beloved of the economic quants who advocate their use for rating schools and teachers. Another metric the Obama administration advocated for measuring the value of post-secondary education, earnings, is equally useless. Both test scores and earnings are “utility” metrics that, like the World Bank’s metric, overlook benefits accrued by schooling that “don’t have much monetary impact”. They also overlook the fact that most of the benefits children get from public education and undergraduates get from college are inherently unmeasurable… but “reformers”, like economists, would contend that since they are “unmeasurable” there is no need to account for them… and the legislators and general public at this point seem to agree that anything that can’t be measured isn’t work considering when determining the efficacy of schooling.

As long as the public agrees that the only things worth teaching in public schools is content that can be measured in norm-referenced standardized tests and the only reason to attend post-secondary school is to earn more money than, say, a truck driver or construction worker, we will be stuck in the rut we are living in today.

Mr. Lancaster concludes his article with this observation:

The project of reducing behavior to laws and the project of attending to human beings in all their complexity and specifics are diametrically opposed.

To paraphrase this to public education, I conclude that

“The project of reducing the measurement of the worth of public education to tests and earnings and the need  of attending to the humanity of students in all their complexity and specifics are diametrically opposed.”

Anything schools can do to improve the emotional and psychological well-being of students is a huge benefit, even if it is inherently unmeasurable.

Eliminating Age-Based Grade Levels Face Three BiG Obstacles: Federal Standardized Test Mandates; State Laws;…and Parents

August 7, 2018 Comments off

A recent Hechinger Report monograph written by Chris Berdik describes the challenges a rural North Dakota district faced when teachers in the school decided to eliminate grade levels, and they boil down to three obstacles at three different levels… all driven by one overarching issue: mandated tests. This short paragraph from the report summarizes the problem:

Of course, no matter what individual states and districts allow, federal law still mandates grade-level-pegged testing. Education departments use those scores to evaluate schools. Quite often, so do parents.

These two sentences encapsulate the daunting challenge teachers and administrators face when they propose radical but necessary changes needed to truly individualize instruction. The age-based cohorts that we call “grade levels” are the basis for comparisons of all kinds, comparisons that are the basis for competition between students and, of late, competition among schools. And one troublesome issue for many parents is this: if grade levels disappear how will I know how well my child is doing compared to his or her peers? As Mr. Berdik article implies, when that question disappears, teachers are left to focus on the interests and aptitudes each child possesses and focus less on how a child compares with their age peers. I, for one, see this as a positive benefit of abandoning age-based cohorts.

If readers do not believe it is possible to transform schools, Mr. Berdik’s article offers a crude roadmap for making the transition. It isn’t easy, but the benefits far outweigh the pain of change.

While Alabama Adds Security Guards, San Diego Embraces “Trauma Informed School” Model… And Gets Results

August 5, 2018 Comments off

Two articles on school safety in today’s Google feed on Public Education caught my eye: one describing the efforts to “harden” schools in Alabama; and one on the creation of partnerships to implement restorative justice in San Diego public schools. Guess which is getting the best results?

The article from Alabama.com’s Trisha Powell Crain reported that one out of four Alabama schools lacked a security guard, which the State legislature and, presumably, parents and teachers see as a deficiency. Indeed, the legislature saw it as such a deficiency that the they a law called “the Alabama Sentry Program”, “…which allows administrators to keep a firearm in a secured safe on campus for use during an active shooter incident.” The Governor of the State sees the hiring of SROs as preferable, but believe arming administrators as allowed by the Sentry Program “…will provide a way for administrators to keep schools safe.”

Meanwhile, the State Superintendent views the school shootings across the nation as analogous to a national emergency, and as such, as invested thousands of dollars from discretionary funds to help address the problem. How was that money spent? It was used to implement low cost statewide initiatives recommended by a task force created by the Governor: the Securing Alabama’s Facilities of Education, or SAFE, Council. Among the recommendations funded using discretionary funds were the Alabama Fusion Center, “…a command post for law enforcement statewide, to follow threats to school safety, improving the timeliness of reporting serious discipline problems to the Fusion Center, ensuring schools follow through with required training and drills for students in the event of a school shooting, and creating seven regional school safety and compliance teams to support schools statewide.

But the major recommendations of the SAFE Council could not be implemented in most districts because they lack sufficient funds. Those recommendation recommendations include funding for SROs, mental health supports for students, and improved building security measures. They have not been implemented in “…in rural areas or are in schools with large numbers of students in poverty” because they “...require legislative approval and cannot be fully implemented unless funding can be obtained.” Allowing administrators to carry guns, though, did not require legislation.

If Alabama wants to know how to address school violence on a shoe string, they might look to San Diego schools, who adopted a “trauma-informed” discipline model that draws on the expertise and services offered by community non-profits in the city to assist in addressing the trauma’s that children experience outside of school, trauma’s that manifest themselves in the misbehavior and acting out of children in the school. What is a “trauma-informed school”?

…a place where everyone from the principal to the school custodian seeks to understand and heal the difficult experiences that cause kids to act out. It’s an approach that calls for revised disciplinary practices, social-emotional instruction, school-wide training about trauma, strong parental engagement, and intensive individual support where needed, as well as partnerships with community organizations to support these efforts.

The entire approach, as reported in a Non-Profit Quarterly article by Suzann Bohan, is captured in this simple change in phraseology the advocated by Godwin Higa, the former Cherokee Point elementary principal who devised this approach realizing that children who face trauma at home often act out at school:

When a student at Cherokee Point acts out, punishment is not the first response. An administrator or teacher will likely ask, “What happened to you?”—not “What’s wrong with you?” As Higa explains, “When you ask, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ it’s totally negative right away, versus ‘What’s happening to you, you don’t seem right.’ As soon as we say that, the kids look at you like ‘How did you know that I’m feeling down today?’” When they’re done talking, usually the child feels better and returns to class, the disruptive behavior occurs less often and generally fades away after a few more talks, and a trusting bond is formed, he said.

In reading about the profile of school shooters, it is evident that almost all of them were disengaged and, in many cases, their actions were not a surprise to students and teachers. Could an extension of this program to include reaching out to disengaged students prevent school shootings? From my perspective that is an immaterial question, for any initiative that addresses the whole child, and initiative that makes any child feel better about themselves, is one that should be embraced by schools.

And for those who want to harden schools, do ANY efforts to harden schools make any child feel better about themselves? Do any efforts to harden schools address the needs of the whole child? If not, why are we wasting millions on SROs, entry “systems”, and school shooter training… all dollars that are reinforcing fear and isolation from the community?

Larry Cuban Explains Why Efficiency is the Enemy in Measuring Learning

August 1, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday with a link to a post written by Larry Cuban describing the new “Cult of Efficiency” that reformers embrace when they measure school performance. Both posts implicitly decry the potential for technology and testing to enhance classroom teaching and student learning, a denunciation that is ultimately based on the premise that the ultimate metric for teaching effectiveness will be norm-referenced state tests. Mr. Cuban, for example, writes:

What exists now is a re-emergence of the efficiency-minded “administrative progressives” from a century ago who now, as modern-day entrepreneurs and practical reformers, using the vocabulary of pedagogical Progressives want public schools to be more market-like where supply and demand reign, and more realistic in preparing students for a competitive workplace.

These reformers are of two types. Some want individual students to master the content and skills found in district and state curriculum standards in less time than usual while spending the least amount of money to achieve mastery. Examples would be current versions of competency-based learning aligned to, say, Common Core standards or programs such as Teach To One.

Other entrepreneurs and technology advocates see schools as places to create whole  human beings capable of entering and succeeding in a world far different than their parents faced. To these reformers, efficient ways that reduce waste while integrating student interests and passions into daily activities with the help of teachers. Students make decisions about what to learn and take as long as they can to demonstrate mastery while meeting curriculum standards and posting high scores on state tests.

I would argue that there is a third kind of efficiency-minded “administrative progressive”: one who values the use of business practices in overseeing the business functions of school districts while rejecting the notion that those practices can be used in the classroom, particularly if state tests are the only metric used to determine “success”.

Any school leader who rejects the need for efficiency in non-instructional areas like transportation, maintenance, purchasing, and food services is squandering resources that could be used for instruction.

On the other hand, any school leader who embraces the use of state standardized tests as the sole and ultimate metric for student learning is simultaneously embracing the notion the all students of a certain age learn at the same rate, a notion that is preposterous. State tests are normative and, as such, assume that learning time is a constant and individual student learning is variable.

Efficiency is the enemy to improvement of schools when it is based on normative test scores that are linked to age-based cohorts. But efficiency-mindedness has the possibility of improving instruction when it is driven by formative test scores that are untethered to the construct of “grade levels” and driven by a wider array of metrics that attempt to capture elusive but important aspects of schooling like “student well-being”. A district that values only test scores will relentlessly drill students on test preparation and deny opportunities for physical and arts education. A district that seeks to improve the well-being of students will form partnerships with social services, health care providers, and care-givers before and after school and offer an expansive array of programs outside of content that can be readily measured by standardized tests.

 

Universal Broadband Required to Improve and Equalize Opportunity in Vermont

July 23, 2018 Comments off

The following is testimony I provided to a meeting convened by the Green Mountain Economic Development Commission that involved ISP providers, Governor Scott, and government officials from the State of Vermont who are interested in workforce preparation.  

In December 2013, the Vermont State Board of Education unanimously approved the Education Quality Standards, an updated set of rules designed to ensure that “…all Vermont children will be afforded educational opportunities that are substantially equal in quality…”.

Four years later, in November 2017, the State Board unanimously adopted the International Standards for Technology Education (ISTE), which outline “…what all Vermont students should know and be able to do with respect to information technology.”Upon their adoption, State Board of Education Chair Krista Huling said: “These standards also strengthen Vermont’s commitment to citizenship in the digital age at a time when civic engagement at all levels are key to strengthening our democracy.”

As one who has consulted in school districts in eastern Vermont ranging from Canaan to Halifax, I applaud the high-minded ideals set forth in both the Education Quality Standards and the ISTE standards. Based on my experience working with rural districts in Essex, Orleans, Orange, and Windham Counties, achieving those goals will require a marked increase in the availability of high speed internet in schools. Moreover, knowing the financial challenges placed on Vermont school districts, such an increase can only happen with a targeted increase in technology funding from sources outside of district budgets. The FCC’s bandwidth goals for 2017-18 is to have at least I Mbps per student in every school in our country. This speed is required to ensure a media rich environment for students in the schools, an environment that will enable them to do browsing, on-line testing, video collaboration, and streaming of remote instruction like Khan Academy.

In order for technology to fulfill its ultimate promise, these FCC goals for schoolsshould also apply to allresidents. If we expect students to complete homework that involves internet research, to receive asynchronous remote instruction at home, or to work on projects with classmates when they are outside of school, they need to have high speed internet access at home. If we expect teachers to be capable of using all of the technology tools available today outside of school, they need to have high speed internet at home. Most importantly, if we expect that “…all Vermont children will be afforded educational opportunities that are substantially equal in quality” we cannot continue to limit high speed internet access to many of our students. As a map prepared by Broadbandnow illustrates (see https://broadbandnow.com/Vermont), a substantial minority of residents in Vermont do not have access to the kind of internet services needed in order to experience the “media rich” environment the FCC hopes to achieve in this current school year. These marked disparities in high speed internet services available to students will widen the achievement gap between students who reside in communities with broadband and those students residing in communities where no high speed internet is available.

Today, I expect that you will hear direct testimony on how disparities in internet access affect students, teachers, and parents across Vermont. I also expect that you will hear ideas from ISP providers on the steps the State can take to help accelerate the provision of high speed internet access across the state. For the sake of rural and low-income students across the state, I urge you to take the actions recommended in this session.