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Posts Tagged ‘On-line learning’

Clay Christensen and Michael Horn Nudge Public Schools to Re-Think Their Delivery

October 9, 2018 Leave a comment

I am a begrudging fan of Michael Horn and Clay Christensen who, unlike the privatizers, are advocates of disruption of delivery of public education, NOT the displacement of public schools by technology centered on-line learning.

A recent post by Michael Horn in the Clayton Christensen Institute’s weekly on-line newsletter led me to this conclusion. The post begins with a description of how WeWork is moving in the same direction as some former on-line businesses in developing a different model for public education. Noting that on-line retailers like Amazon, Warby Parker, and Bonobos are opening brick and mortar stores that have virtually no inventory but lots of computer terminals, WeWork’s development team has surmised that a similar model might work for education… and they are field testing with their latest partnership with, 2U, which Mr. Horn immodestly describes as “…the standout online program management company.”  And what is WeWork-2U up to?

the partnership allows 2U students to use WeWork’s office space as study halls, and the two companies will build a learning center together in 2019.

The place-based aspect of the partnership is what is so interesting, as it points to what will happen next with the disruptive innovation of online learning, namely how it will improve.

The future of online learning in higher education is in bricks, not just clicks. But these bricks won’t look like the gorgeous and overgrown college campuses we have today….

After a lengthy description of how on-line learning, like Amazon, is finding the middle ground in disruption, he concludes his article with this description of the WeWork-U2 partnership model:

WeWork offers 2U students a place to learn and a community with whom to learn and interact more broadly. Although many of 2U’s students were independently finding and connecting offline with others in their area before, 2U has now embedded that option as a feature, not an inconvenient arrangement that students had to construct on their own.

Importantly, WeWork and 2U are not recreating the sprawling campus environment of college with its traditional classrooms, dorms, grassy green quads, and recreational facilities. But they are offering an in-person environment in an experiment that could dramatically bolster engagement—and herald the future of online learning as it continues its disruptive march.

It isn’t difficult to foresee how arrangements like 2U could migrate into public education. Our local museum’s, galleries, and music studios are already doing something like 2U by bringing homeschooling students together to learn about science, the arts and humanities, to work on art projects and music performances together. When those kinds of options become more clearly known to parents it is not hard to foresee how more parents might opt out of their local public schools, especially if those schools are focussed exclusively on increasing test scores.

From my reading of Mr. Christensen’s book and his newsletter, it is not evident that he wants to undercut public schools. Indeed, when their book Disrupting Class was published when I was still working as a Superintendent, Mr. Christensen and Mr. Horn gave a presentation at our annual conference and Mr. Horn followed up with several visits to the state. Their ideas, unfortunately, did not gain traction in large measure because the risk of changing was too great: if a district went all in on disruption and the test scores did not go up the Superintendent and school board that advocated the change might not be around for long. But a careful reading of Mr. Horn and Mr. Christensen’s concepts leads me to the conclusion that they are inherently opposed to the factory model that standardized testing reinforces. Instead of believing that all children learn at the same rate, Mr. Horn and Mr. Christensen believe that all children learn when they are engaged in studying information they are interested in with groups of similarly engaged and interested cohorts. ASSUMING that is the case, it might be helpful for Mr. Christensen and Mr. Horn to advocate a total and complete disruption of schooling by advocating the elimination of age-based cohorts and replacing it with interest-based cohorts.

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Exercise + Sleep – Screen Time = Increased Brain Power…. the OPPOSITE of What Schools (AND Parents) Are Doing

September 29, 2018 Comments off

The NYTimes featured a short article by Nicholas Baker describing a recent study reported in Lancet that determined that:

At least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, nine to 11 hours of sleep a night, and no more than two hours a day of recreational screen time were tied to higher mental test scores.

In the meantime, to boost test scores schools are eliminating recess, lengthening the school day, introducing more screen-based technology into the school day, and increasing homework. Taken together, these have the opposite impact on children. Moreover, when this is combined with the desire of middle class parents to engage children in structured activities and tutoring AFTER school to improve their academic performance, with the fear factor that compels some parents to prevent their children from engaging in free play outdoors, and the desire of some parents to fully book their children’s weekends with structured athletic competitions instead of pick-up sports, you have a toxic mix that works against the findings described above. For children in poverty, the situation is no better because poor communities lack sufficient playgrounds, green spaces, and other venues where children are encouraged to engage in physical activities.

In short, our test-centric schools, helicopter parenting, and frayed infrastructure make it impossible for children to get the exercise and sleep they need and increase the escape into screens. Maybe we need to give children the time to be children.

ECOT and NM Funding: “All the news just repeats itself Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen…”

July 24, 2018 Comments off

John Prine wrote many great songs, but few match those on his original album and one phrase from a song on that album, “Hello in There” sticks in my mind whenever I read news stories that seem redundant… and nowadays there are more and more of them. The phrase?

And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen

That phrase came to mind when I read a post from Diane Ravitch that offered a capsule summary from yesterday’s news feed from Politico that described the fall out from the ECOT scandal in Ohio and the recent court decision in New Mexico that found that state’s funding formula to be inequitable. Ms. Ravitch and some of her commenters seem to think (or hope) that these issues might sway OH and NM to vote Democrats into office. I wish that would be true, but unfortunately it seems that most voters accept the notion promoted by the GOP that deregulation and low taxes are needed to stimulate economic growth, a belief buttressed by their overarching claim that “Godless government is the problem”. Until the Democrats find a message that contradicts this agreeable fantasy they will remain out of power in statehouses across the country and public education will remain underfunded and in the thrall of shysters like those who operate low cost virtual schools like ECOT.

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.

NC GOP Legislators Drastically Cut Public School Funding. Now They Point to Flight of Students as Proof that Choice is Necessary

July 15, 2018 Comments off

The Charlotte News and Observer Editorial Board wrote a scathing editorial this weekend excoriating the action of the NC legislature toward public education. The editorial opens noting that “Advocates of school choice are heartened by new numbers showing that nearly 1 in 5 North Carolina students are opting out of traditional public schools. Many children are instead attending charter schools or private schools or being educated at home.

These “advocates” of choice believe this shift in enrollment patterns is a positive trend because it is evidence that “…parents are gaining educational options for their children and traditional public schools are being sharpened by the competition.” The editorial board, however, sees through this argument:

But the truth is quite different. What’s happening in North Carolina is that a concerted effort by the Republican-controlled General Assembly is starving public schools of resources and encouraging the expansion of educational options that lack standards and oversight.

…There’s nothing wrong with school choice itself.There’s nothing wrong with school choice itself. Parents have chosen to send their children to private schools and religious schools since schools have existed. But it is wrong to encourage the expansion of school choice by making traditional public schools less effective and less attractive.

The latter is what has happened since Republicans took control after gaining majorities in the state House and Senate in 2011. The 100-school cap on charter schools was lifted and the resulting proliferation of charters in some districts is draining funding.

Meanwhile, despite much talk about raising teacher salaries, the legislature has favored tax cuts over investment in public education. Adjusted for inflation, per-pupil funding is less today than it was 10 years ago.But even as funding shrinks, the legislature is mandating smaller class sizes and putting letter grades on public schools. The grades only advertise the obvious: the greater the poverty, the lower the grade.

Educational options are fine, but the foundation of public education also must be protected. Fortunately public school teachers are taking steps to protect that foundation. The group Red4EDNC plans to form a “Teachers Congress” that will press for more school funding and slow the shift of traditional school funding to charter schools and vouchers.

If North Carolina is going to foster school choice, it should first ensure that choosing a traditional public school anywhere in the state is an excellent choice.

Given the caveat at the beginning of one of the paragraphs, “…there’s nothing wrong with school choice itself”, it’s possible that the editors at one time offered qualified support for offering options to parents. Indeed, given the disingenuous “civil rights” sales pitch offered by “reformers” it is probable that op ed pieces appeared on the pages of the paper promoting the virtues of “choice” by advocating “competition”.

It is heartening to see the editorial board expressing strident opposition to “choice” and to acknowledge that legislators who advocate choice among schools should first ensure that choosing a traditional public school anywhere in the state is an excellent choice. I only wish that editors in states who are beginning to redirect public school funds toward charter schools and choice would read this editorial and understand that any effort to expand charters and choice without expanding funding for schools across the board has the effect of diminishing funds for traditional public schools. If the pool of funds for public education does not expand at the same time as choices for public education expand traditional public education will suffer and privatization and profiteering will advance.

 

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.

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.