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Posts Tagged ‘On-line learning’

Educational Choice vs. School Choice vs. the Implicit Mission of Public Schools

May 22, 2017 Leave a comment

Christensen Institute’s article on last week’s blog by Michael Horn made a distinction between educational choice and school choice, noting that while school choice is getting a lot of publicity (and notoriety), the real change in the format of public education might be emerging in educational choice. And what is educational choice? It is a method parents can use to access some aspects of schooling in traditional public schools while accessing other aspects on line or in other venues. Here’s Michael Horn’s description:

…rather than have the school control the educational experiences, as occurs in course access, a subset of parents, particularly at the elementary school level—both public and home-school—are opting to manage their children’s education and customize a mix of public brick-and-mortar school, online school, home school, and even some private school (such as private music lessons) experiences. In other words, a student might take her core academics online at home, come in to the local elementary school for arts and physical education, and then enroll in a music academy for private piano lessons. Or the core classes could be at the public school and extracurricular activities could be delivered online. All of this is possible in Florida because of FLVS’s Flex program, which allows students to attend part-time.

After describing the technological change process in detail, Mr. Horn posits that what is happening in Florida with an increasing number of parents opting for this “customized mix” of educational models is also emerging as a trend nationwide:

Outside of Florida, the emergence of a wide variety of micro-schools points to a similar phenomenon. The families who send their children to micro-schools often want an option other than home schooling that will personalize learning for their child’s needs. And they are often thrilled if it’s a stripped-down, small school that students attend a couple days a week where they can customize their children’s experience around the edges, in areas like music, science, engineering, sports, and so forth. In other words, it’s perfectly fine that the school itself offers something limited in an area because the parents will find another way to provide students with that experience. This is actually something parents of home-schooled children have done for years, but increasingly some seem to be saying that they would like some of the benefits of the local public school, for which they are paying with their tax dollars, as they do so.

Having just spent the week-end at an Air BnB site that is located in the home of two individuals who operate a small private school that fits the description of the micro-school described above, I can see one problem with this trend. If parents are allowed to access public funds to attend a school that effectively reinforces the values of the parents, it could lead to a further Balkanization of our country. The school in question reinforces that value I would like to see in all public schools. It espouses harmony with the environment; collaboration, and cooperation among students; independent thinking and learning by individual students; and and ethic of multiculturalism. But around the corner from this school, it is conceivable that another school with a militaristic, survivalist curriculum could be created. In effect you would be fragmenting the population into micro-value systems where one school would be wearing tie-dyes and another wearing camouflage and neither group would be exposed to the other. One of the implicit purposes of public education is to reinforce the notion that our country is a melting pot. That is, we are united as a nation despite our differences of religious and secular beliefs and that unity is an overarching value we share. While the housing patterns and district borders might work against this notion and might even lead cynics to declare that unity is a myth as opposed to an aspiration, I fear that encouraging the dissolution of public schools through this kind of educational choice will lead to even more Balkanization than we already have in place.

In the end, I find that Mr. Horn’s justification for moving in this direction is even more disturbing: it could save taxpayers money!

The net impact on public financing… was actually positive to the tune of roughly $400 to $500 saving per student, not insignificant in a state where total per pupil funding hovers around $8,500 in any given year.

In his closing paragraph Mr. Horn DOES acknowledge that the ultimate consequences of implementing widespread educational choice are indeterminate:

If programs like this expanded, could those savings be redirected to students most in need? And how do the students of families who avail themselves of this choice do academically, socially and from an extracurricular perspective? Many questions to be asked and answered, but this development is an intriguing wrinkle that takes us well beyond the national theme of school choice.

I like the idea of micro-schools, but only if there is some assurance that they do not isolate children from others who hold different values and beliefs. We need to maintain (or perhaps restore or even impose) economic, racial, ethnic, and religious diversity in public schools if we hope to change the national trend of corrosive divisiveness. If we hope to make that change in the future, we need to make it happen in public schools today.

Google Making Inroads in Inequity, Innovation, and Instruction… AND Making Profits…

May 14, 2017 Leave a comment

I remember the first time I came in contact with Google. I was working as Superintendent in the late 1990s in an Upstate NY district and had recently hired a Director of Technology to a position I created in order to coordinate our efforts to move ahead in that area. The newly minted administrator came into my office and asked me to enter one word next to the cursor that was blinking on the screen of my terminal… a word he spelled out for me: “G-O-O-G-L-E”. A message box appeared on my screen. He then asked me to type in a question or a phrase. Because we were both Red Sox fans in Yankee territory I typed in the words “Boston Red Sox”… and a series of links to articles about the Boston Red Sox appeared on the screen. We both spent the next half-hour using Google to help us find all kinds of arcane information from journals and periodicals on the web… and since both of us had earned doctoral degrees in the mid 1970s we could immediately see that the world of research was going to change and began forecasting how this kind of rapid access to information could transform schooling.

It’s taken nearly two decades to have some the ideas we came up with come into being… but based on Natasha Singer’s article in today’s NYTimes it appears that Google IS transforming public education and teachers and administrators are making that transformation happen… and the transformation is making it conceivable that despite the lack of an equitable technology infrastructure (roughly 20% of students do not have access to high speed internet in their homes) and despite concerns about data privacy and despite budget challenges, Google is finding a way to meaningfully integrate technology into the classroom.

The article describes how Google circumvented administrative and political roadblocks by working directly with tech savvy teachers and technology directors, providing them with free apps and tools for their schools and classrooms. Those teachers, in turn, recruited colleagues and administrators to use Google applications instead of those clunkier and costlier ones made by Microsoft.

The real breakthrough for Google occurred only five years ago: the Chromebook.

By then, Google had developed a simplified, low-cost laptop called the Chromebook. It ran on Google’s Chrome operating system and revolved largely around web apps, making it cheaper and often faster to boot up than traditional laptops loaded with locally stored software.

Although Google had a business audience in mind for Chromebooks, reviewers complained that the devices were of limited use without internet access.

But there was one interested audience: public schools. In the fall of 2011, Google invited school administrators to its Chicago office to meet (Google’s “evangelist”) Jamie Casap, hoping to interest them in Chromebooks.

Mr. Casap didn’t talk tech specs. Instead, he held the audience spellbound as he described the challenges he had faced as a Latino student growing up on welfare in a tough Manhattan neighborhood.

His message: Education is the great equalizer, and technology breaks down barriers between rich and poor students.

Some critics, me included, would caution against technology as a means of providing the equalizing effect because of disparities in internet access… but Google was aware of that reality and had an answer:

Google was already working on offline capabilities, Mr. Casap said, and ultimately modified its education apps so that students could take their work home on Chromebooks, then upload homework the next day using school Wi-Fi.

Indeed, based on Ms. Singer’s account, one of Google’s greatest attributes was its willingness to listen to concerns of educators and adapt accordingly. Based on her account, Google’s “build-it-first-and-tweak-it-later culture” has adapted to the “bureaucratic school districts with student-protection rules to uphold” and has now understood that before launching a major change it needs to be mindful of the way democratic organizations like school districts function.

The marked increase in the use of technology is remarkable… Now comes the tough change: can the gurus who developed the software making it possible to individualize instruction unlock the age-based grade levels that prevent educators from meeting the unique needs of each child because they must ensure that age cohorts progress in lockstep? Stated differently, can they break the stranglehold of standardized testing that grips the mindsets of politicians from school board members to the USDOE? Here’s hoping they can help launch a grassroots effort among parents in the same way they did among teachers.

On-line Preschool Looks Like a Convenient Way to Save Money… and Save Face… But NOT Save Children

March 15, 2017 Leave a comment

Having worked as a consultant for several school districts in Vermont, I know that one of the challenges district in that state face is how to implement a recent legislative mandate to provide a quality preschool  for all children. In trying to provide Universal Preschool, school districts face physical and political problems— geographically remote students, undersized and outmoded schools, and pre-existing “Nursery School” programs operated out of private homes— and fiscal problems— the price tag for teachers, aides, and other support staff can be daunting.

A recent article by Thomas Arnett in ESchool News has a possible solution to these thorny issues: online pre-school. Mr. Arnett reports that Utah instituted such a program called Upstart over six years ago and the result are promising:

In the six years since it launched, Upstart’s results have shown students in the program to demonstrate strong gains in early literacy that significantly exceed those of students in matched control groups.

As these cohorts of Upstart students progress through their first few years of school, they continue to outperform their peers on state exams. Most noteworthy is the fact that special education students, low-income students and English learners have the largest gains relative to their comparable peer groups.

Given that Upstart costs just $725 per student, it is a more-than-sensible solution in states where universal preschool does not exist.

A variation of the caveat phrase, “in states where universal preschool does not exist” appears again at the end of the article, with another caveat on top of it regarding affordability:

But for parents who cannot afford private preschool and who do not live in a region with state-funded preschool options, these programs offer valuable access to early learning opportunities.

As many states rush to provide universal preschool education, I would not be at all surprised to see this model expand rapidly. Why? Because politicians realize that getting parents used to the idea of delivering instruction through computers as opposed to having live human beings provide instruction will save millions of dollars over time… and the fact that it can be done for a fraction of the current cost will enable them to keep their promise to expand programs without having to raise taxes, hire hundreds of new teachers, or worry about transportation logistics or facility limitations. A restatement of the last paragraph with a slightly different slant will indicate why these online preschools are likely to spread:

But for politicians who are unwilling to raise taxes to cover the costs of public preschools that are the equivalent to private preschool and who govern a region with NO state-funded preschool options, these programs offer valuable way to claim they are offering access to early learning opportunities.

You can call something a “preschool”… but if it consists of “…15 minutes per day, five days per week, (where) students log into the curriculum to engage in adaptive lessons, digital books, songs, and activities designed to develop their knowledge and skills in reading, mathematics and science.” it doesn’t warrant the name— especially when it is overseen by an untrained parent. Watch, though: in the next five years I am willing to wager that at least ten states will launch online preschools based on “The Utah Model”— unless they use their $725 voucher to help underwrite the cost of a bona fide preschool or a sectarian preschool that offers Bible instruction.

Pikes Peak Early College Model COULD be a Template for the Future

March 13, 2017 Leave a comment

I get daily feeds from ESchool News, a daily blog that features articles that are often written by technology entrepreneurs or, as in the case of the one featured in this blog post, leaders of non-traditional on-line educational institutions. David Knoche, the Executive Principal of Pikes Peak Early College (PPEC) in Peyton, Colorado, posted an immodestly article titled “Groundbreaking School Blends High School and College Together”. While I am suspicious of articles touting success of institution that are in their infancy, I DID find the model for PPEC to be compelling. As described by Mr. Knoche, PPEC offers a highly personalized approach to high school and post-secondary programs that offers asynchronous on-line coursework augmented by regular interaction with classroom instructors and supplemented with external learning opportunities. Here’s how Mr. Knoche describes the “typical” schedule for a PPEC student:

Days in school consist of teachers leading project-based learning to complement what students are learning online, as well as helping students master the concepts they are learning in the online courses. Students spend the other two days of the week completing online courses at home, participating in internships or shadowing opportunities, or attending classes on community college campuses.

PPEC also offers counseling services, flexible schedules, and monetary support to students in an effort to meet the uniques needs of difference kinds students, which Mr. Knoche characterizes as “high-achieving or elite students to students who aren’t as high-achieving, but are highly driven; first-generation college students; and students from populations that are under-represented in post-secondary institutions.”

As one who finds the traditional high school model designed nearly a century ago to be outmoded and irrelevant to most students, it appears that PPEC has a model that would connect with disengaged students. My only suspicion is that the program appears to have begun a year ago, making it’s claims that students can seamlessly transition from high school to college somewhat incredulous. The PPEC concept, though, IS appealing and could hold promise for States like Vermont and New Hampshire where high school students can attain credits for experiential learning and can cross-enroll in state post-secondary institutions while they are enrolled in high school. Stay tuned to see if PPEC is in existence a decade from now and if, at that time, it is delivering on the promises described in Mr. Knoche’s article.

 

 

Can a Mental Health App Replace Face-to-Face Therapy? No… BUT It IS Far Better than Nothing

March 11, 2017 Leave a comment

The Christiansen Institute offers thought provoking weekly articles on the potential for disruptive technology to help public education meet the demands placed on it. This week’s e-issue of their newsletter included an article by Thomas Arnett describing the potential for newly developed apps that rely on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to provide psychological and psychiatric support to schools. Mr. Arnett provides an overview on the use of these new apps as follows:

Untreated mental illness silently plagues a large portion of the United States population. Roughly one in five adults in America suffer from some form of mental illness in a given year, and approximately 60 percent of those cases go untreated. These statistics are similar for teenagers; and educators report that depression, anxiety, and social phobias among youth seem to be on the rise.

Fortunately, a new menu of online mental health resources start to address these unmet needs; and some pioneering options have efficacy results comparable to face-to-face therapy. Programs such as MoodGYMMyCompass, and Beating the Blues teach principles and techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help people suffering from anxiety and depression. Other online solutions designed for teens, such as Bite Back and Base Education, teach students how to focus, reduce stress, handle difficult emotions, and improve social relationships.

Will online alternatives disrupt traditional face-to-face therapy in the not-too-distant future? To answer that question, consider how they measure up to the disruptive innovation litmus tests.

The “litmus test” poses six questions developed by Clayton Christiansen to determine if a new technology has the potential to be “disruptive”— that is if a new technology can result in a paradigmatic change in the way a business is operated or a service is provided:

1. Does it target nonconsumers or people who are over-served by an incumbent’s existing offering in a market? 

2. Is the offering not as good as an incumbent’s existing offering as judged by historical measures of performance? 

3. Is the innovation simpler to use, more convenient, or more affordable than the incumbent’s existing offering? 

4. Does the offering have a technology enabler that can carry its value proposition around simplicity, convenience, or affordability upmarket and allow it to improve?  

5. Is the technology paired with a business model innovation that allows it to be sustainable with its new value proposition? 

6. Are existing providers motivated to ignore the new innovation and not threatened at the outset? 

In assessing the potential for these CBT apps Mr. Arnett acknowledges that the apps fall short on the second question posed in the “litmus test”. They clearly and unarguably fall short when compared to face-to-face therapy:

Online alternatives to therapy fall short on many fronts when compared to visits with professional psychologists. Current online software cannot read and interpret patient’s verbal and nonverbal cues to diagnose mental illnesses with professional accuracy, nor can it identify patients’ needs, preferences, and life circumstances to develop custom-tailored advice. Software also cannot form relationships with patients to motivate them and hold them accountable.

But even with that clear and unequivocal deficiency, the on-line apps are clearly superior to nothing, which is what troubled teens are getting now. Moreover, with some degree of hybridization is might be possible to use apps to help the limited number of trained school personnel address mental health issues. Mr. Arnett concludes with this:

Although professional psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors may scoff at the limitations and risks of online mental health support, online options will not threaten professionals’ livelihood any time soon. Online options may be effective for helping people with moderate and untreated anxiety, depression, and addiction, but they have a long way to go before they can match high-quality professional treatment for more debilitating conditions such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

If online mental health solutions have the potential to disrupt the traditional model of mental health care, the unfolding of this disruption cannot come soon enough for K–12 education. School psychologists, nurses, and social workers are in short supply, and many students do not receive needed mental health treatment. Meanwhile, many teachers find themselves shouldering students’ mental health needs on their own. Unfortunately, when mental illnesses go untreated, students pay the price in lower academic achievement and overall well being.

As my colleagues Julia Freeland Fisher and Michael Horn have written, schools that aim to address student achievement challenges need to integrate across factors beyond academics that affect students’ ability to learn. Mental health is definitely one such factor, and convenient, low-cost, disruptive alternatives to traditional mental health care may prove critical for unlocking schools’ capacity to bring high-quality mental health care under their roofs.

I read Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn’s book, roughly ten years ago and was and still am convinced that their book was full of ideas with great potential for public education. They used the transistor radio as a metaphor to describe how technology might enhance education. Like the transistor radio, technology could deliver instruction (or in this case therapy) in a rapid, low fidelity but inexpensive fashion to a wider audience. The teachers’ (or in this case therapists’) role would change from being the deliverer of low fidelity content to being the “refiner” of the content: they could offer periodic assessments of whether the student was mastering the content— or in this case whether the content was having the intended impact on the student’s well being. 

Skeptics abound when it comes to using technology in education, a skepticism driven, in part, by the fear that on-line education will ultimately replace teachers (or in this case therapists) completely. But teachers— like the therapists– should not feel threatened by technology, for just as “Online options may be effective for helping people with moderate and untreated anxiety, depression, and addiction” the online options for instruction can only be effective for helping students who are self-actualized and motivated learners. Just as on-line apps for mental health will never be able to “match high-quality professional treatment for more debilitating conditions such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia”, on-line instruction will never be able to motivate a student to learn and never be able to fully understand the unique needs of each student. That is where the art of teaching comes into play… an art that is being lost as we increasingly teach-to-tests at the expense of addressing each student’s potential.

Two News Stories from Parallel Universes Illustrate the Challenge of Getting a Unified Front on Connectivity

February 9, 2017 Leave a comment

Over the past few days I’ve read two articles on the e-divide that seem to have been written in parallel universes. eSchool News, which tends to be a reliable (if boosterish) site for developments in on-line learning published an article by Laura Ascione with a title that posed the question “Why are rural schools still struggling with high speed internet access?”

Had Ms. Ascione read Walter Eineckel’s Daily Kos article from last Friday, she’d have an answer in the form of its title: “New FCC Chairman Reverses Course and Prevents Nine Companies from Providing Low-Income People Internet”. Mr. Eineckel’s article describes the decision of the newly appointed Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai to abandon the Lifeline program instituted last year by the Obama administration. While the Lifeline Program was not specifically set up for rural outposts, it WAS designed to provide a healthy subsidy for those who have economic challenges… and given that schools in rural areas typically have 50% of the students qualifying for free and reduced lunch it is clear that they would have benefitted at least indirectly from this program.

As readers of this blog know, I was among those who were frustrated with former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s dithering on the decision to make internet access a utility. His delay deferred action on the rules needed to implement this program and made it possible for it to be undone quickly. Had Mr. Wheeler and President Obama made a decision on the status of internet access earlier, as Mr. Obama did with the ACA, undoing the Lifeline Program would have been as difficult as undoing the ACA. This foot-dragging on the widespread provision of internet services has widened the digital divide and limited the possibility of technology serving as a tool for equity. That will be a sad part of Mr. Obama’s legacy and an even sorrier chapter as Mr. Pai jacks up the cost for consumers no matter what their income is.

Higher Taxes or Robots? Which Do YOU Think We Will Choose?

August 30, 2016 Leave a comment

New York magazine’s Intelligencer blog today featured an article on the decline in spending on public education, a phenomenon writer Eric Levitz characterized as a “disinvestment from our nation’s future”. The diminishment of public education spending described in the article is appalling:

In May 2008, U.S. school departments employed 8.4 million teachers, administrators, and other staff. Today, they employ just 8.2 million, despite the fact that those schools now serve 1 million more students, according to Department of Education estimates. And while those teachers are being asked to serve more students, they’re making less money: According to a new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, weekly wages for public-school teachers have declined 5 percent over the past five years… Between 2008 and 2014 (the last year for which we have full data), state public-education funding declined 6.6 percent. While the stimulus money was still flowing, Uncle Sam was able to ameliorate this austerity somewhat, but still left schools spending 2.4 percent less per student over that period, when adjusting for inflation. And when the stimulus wore off, state and local governments failed to pick up the slack: In 2012, total school funding fell for the first time since 1977. As FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Casselman notes, this cutback wasn’t concentrated on administrative salaries or extravagant construction — instructional spending has fallen at roughly the same rate as overall budgets.

The New York article covered some of the same ground as the NYTimes editorial I blogged about yesterday, emphasizing the impact (and preposterousness) of State-level Reagonomics. Noting that the graying of America will drive up retirement and health care costs and that the reduction in pay for teachers is making the profession less attractive, Eric Levitz concludes with this mind-boggling choice:

In the long run, it will take either a drastic increase in federal investment — and/or the proliferation of low-cost robots — for American schools to truly leave no child behind.

Given the choice between “pro-union Government run schools” and a robot that can teach children at home or in, say, a church basement, what do you think taxpayers will vote for?