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The Hazards of Unfettered Data Sharing and Poorly Crafted Red Flag Legislation

March 4, 2019 Comments off

Over fifteen years ago I wrote an article for Education titled “A Homeland Security Bill for Public Education“, an article that advocated the sharing of pertinent information among social service case managers, medical professionals, school districts, and police. I reasoned that the various staff member’s confidentiality pledges precluded them from sharing important information with the other agencies in a timely fashion, citing several cases from my work experience where such sharing would have benefitted the clients they were striving to help.

Of late, similar recommendations have come forth in the form of “red flag” legislation that would allow police or family members to take weapons away from individuals with documented mental health problems, individuals who might pose a harm to themselves or others. These “red flag” laws seem to be eminently reasonable. Indeed, some NRA officials and politicians who reflexively oppose any effort to limit anyone’s access to any weapons whatsoever are seemingly open to considering “gun violence restraining orders“.

After reading a recent Motherboard article about the use of data collected by social service agencies, schools, and police in Canada and in several US cities, though, I am having second thoughts about my recommendations and about the efficacy of “red flag” legislation. The Motherboard article underscores the importance of carefully crafting any legislation and/or regulations that deal with data access, for once an individual receives a “red flag” it is difficult to reverse that designation. The article opens with these paragraphs:

Police, social services, and health workers in Canada are using shared databases to track the behaviour of vulnerable people—including minors and people experiencing homelessness—with little oversight and often without consent.

Documents obtained by Motherboard from Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) through an access to information request show that at least two provinces—Ontario and Saskatchewan—maintain a “Risk-driven Tracking Database” that is used to amass highly sensitive information about people’s lives. Information in the database includes whether a person uses drugs, has been the victim of an assault, or lives in a “negative neighborhood.”

The Risk-driven Tracking Database (RTD) is part of a collaborative approach to policing called the Hub model that partners cops, school staff, social workers, health care workers, and the provincial government.

As you can see, the description of the “Hub model” is eerily similar to what I recommended in my 2003 Education Week article. But when I wrote that article, I did not foresee the advent of facial recognition technology… or the widespread use of data warehousing by schools, the medical profession, social service agencies, and law enforcement… or the  avalanche of data that would be collected by social media sites. With all of these technology tools in play, it would appear that some kind of failsafe algorithm might come into play, a means of identifying an at risk individual with laser like accuracy. Such pin-pointing would presumably target those individuals likely to engage in mass shootings or crimes. But it begs the problem of how and when to engage law enforcement officials and how and when to compel an individual to seek treatment for mental illness. As Valerie Steeves, a University of Ottawa criminologist, noted in a VICE article on the use of the Hub model: “As soon as you’re identified [as at-risk], it changes how people interact with you. At that point, you become the problem: ‘we need to watch you, all the time, so we can fix you.’” As one who worked for six years as a high school disciplinarian, I can recall how difficult it was for a youngster who misbehaved as a freshman to shed his or her image as a “troublemaker”… and, as we’ve seen in recent years, Google never forgets. Ill advised posts on social media can limit one’s opportunities as much as poor report cards or low SAT scores.

If we hope to use the massive amounts of data we are collecting on individuals to screen them for “risky behavior” or “mental fitness” we need to enact legislation that sets clear guidelines for the collection and use of that data. We now have surveillance cameras gathering data in schools, shopping areas, at intersections, and, in some cases, on our phones and on our home computers. Who owns that data? Who decides how it can be used? Social media records our “likes” and “loves”, the things that make us laugh, the things that make us cry, and the things that make us angry. Who can buy that data? Who has access to it? Virtually all of our purchases and media consumption results in the collection of data, making it possible for some agency to determine the books we read, the movies we watch, the foods we purchase, the places we are planning to take our vacations, and the major purchases like houses and cars we are examining on-line. Who has access to this data? How is it being used.

15 years ago, I thought that the notion of data sharing was straightforward. The school district’s guidance counselor assigned to a student, the social worker assigned to that student, the probation officer working with that student, and the mental health counselor working with that student, and the physician(s) working with the should all feel free to share information with each other. Each clearly had the student’s well-being at heart and they would each benefit from sharing whatever they knew without completing reams of paperwork or getting clearance through their chains-of-command. Now, I’m not so sure, particularly when the data platforms like those used in the “Hub model” are privately operated and owned and there are no clear parameters on how and when the data are purged.

These questions are complicated and thorny. Presumably we would want to know that someone who is planning a mass shooting has acquired a stockpile of weapons. We would also want to be able to confiscate weapons from someone who is a potential terrorist and know who is communicating with on-line ISIS recruiters. But is everyone who is stockpiling weapons a threat to us? Is everyone who is researching Arabic and Muslim websites a potential terrorist? Is a website purporting to be an ISIS recruitment site a bona fide site?

It would be helpful to have these issues brought to the forefront now, before the data being collected are made available to whomever is willing to pay for it for whatever purposes they wish. I just googled myself. I have 36,000+ that came forth in .42 seconds. The 8th item on the list from MyLife.com indicates that I once lived in Portland, OR. That is demonstrably false…. but there it is for all to see and draw their own conclusions. I’m leaving it there because their is no way I can keep track of all the misinformation that is accumulating. But if I were identified as someone “we need to watch…, all the time, so we can fix you” I might not sleep too soundly as the misinformation accumulates.

 

 

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Goodwill MOOCs Surpass All Others for Enrollment. Why? They Provide What THEIR Customers Need: Job Training

March 2, 2019 Comments off

Many education writers and bloggers, including yours truly, have predicted that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) would someday replace the traditional post-secondary offerings, But like many others, I was completely surprised to read that Goodwill— yes, THAT Goodwill that sells used clothing— has the second most robust MOOC program in the world! Why? Because while start-ups like Udacity, edX and Coursera all fought over the traditional post secondary market, Goodwill seized the larger and more urgent market: those seeking fundamental job skills. As Brandon Busteed of Forbes writes:

…there’s good reason to believe it could quickly surpass all MOOCs in total users.  Why?  It’s simple.  Goodwill got the premise right.  And that premise is all about jobs.  It’s providing the education and skills that help move people from unemployed to employed, from a low-paying job to a higher-paying one, from a bad or average job to a good job.

And in our country, unemployed and under-employed workers all agree that getting a job that pays well and offers benefits is the way to get off the treadmill of pointless and low-paying work… and that getting job skills is essential to securing a better job! And the good news from my perspective as one who sees the world through the lens of social justice, Goodwill, unlike its competitors, is not interested in profit:

Goodwill’s entire focus, though, is a market of people who arguably have both the highest degree of motivation and the least means of accomplishing their goals.  Their model may be the ultimate application of the MOOC educational model – free courses for those who desperately want jobs and can’t afford to pay for education or training.  If Goodwill and its donors and partners can find ways to sustain offering their courses for free to those who need them most around the world, they will most certainly become the world’s biggest MOOC.

I wish them well, and hope that the Federal government, who seems to feel free to bail out and /or support profiteering private post-secondary schools, might find a way to support Goodwill’s MOOCs.

Christiansen’s Clarification: Technology Will Not Disrupt Public SCHOOLS… it WILL Disrupt School SYSTEMS

February 3, 2019 Comments off

In a recent Christensen Institute blog post, Thomas Arnett asserts that the Clay Christensen and Michael Horn’s book, Disrupting Class, never claimed that public education would be disrupted in the sense that that term is applied in business. Here’s his reasoning (with the bold emphases applied by Mr. Arnett and the red italics applied by me):

First, charter schools are not disruptive innovations relative to traditional schools.Disruptive innovations always start out serving people who lack access to mainstream options. But in the United States today, all students have access to some form of public education. This means that charter schools cannot be disruptive because they compete head-to-head with district schools for enrollment.

Second, full-time virtual schools and other purely online options are not disrupting traditional public schools either. Disruptive innovations need a technology that can improve over time until customers see it as comparable to traditional options. But when it comes to schooling, technology cannot substitute for everything parents value in a traditional school. In addition to academic learning, most families value the caretaking role that schools offer for working parents. This important benefit of brick-and-mortar schools has no technological substitute, which means only a small segment of the population will ever be interested in full-time virtual schooling.

Charter schools and virtual schools certainly compete with district schools, but their differences relative to district schools do not make them disruptive.

Mr. Arnett DOES contend that disruption has a place in public education, and that place is at the SYSTEMS level… and because it is taking place at that level it is requiring much more time!

As Disrupting Class points out, online learning enables disruptive innovation in K–12 education. But online learning is not disrupting the K–12 education system. Rather, it fuels disruption within the markets that provide resources to K–12 schools….

Disruptive entrants in the K–12 marketplace offer schools fresh opportunities to better support their students. But using technology to make learning more student-centered will be neither automatic or intuitive. In an EdSurge article, my colleague Julia Freeland Fisher explains that many of the most innovative online-learning technologies have slow adoption curves because they are not plug-compatible with traditional schools. Similarly, some of my recent research points out that schools trying to personalize learning might want to rethink traditional school staffing models; but redefining educator roles and responsibilities is no easy task. Even with all the new opportunities that online learning has to offer, transforming schools still comes down to the hard work of change management.

Disruptive innovation is happening in K–12 education. But it isn’t going to replace traditional schools. Rather, it will change the menu of instructional resources that schools can use to serve their students. To take advantage of these resources, school leaders first need to carefully consider how new tools impact educators capacity. Then they need to implement new tools, programs, and approaches in ways that actually motivate teachers to change how they teach.

As one who attended two presentations to Superintendents where Clay Christensen’s co-author, Michael Horn, talked about the concepts in his the book Disrupting Class, I don’t recall this emphasis on this need for systems changeRather, Mr. Horn was promoting the idea among our group that online learning was going to transform public education the same way the transistor radio changed music and cell phones were transforming communication and media transmission, which meant that delivery of education in brick and mortar schools would go the way of plug-in radios and landlines. Systems change is far more marketable to parents than change that completely uproots the care taking role parents expect from schools and the human interaction that only a teacher can provide.

I think public education needs to change the same way that book stores and public libraries are changing. The old model for book stores and libraries, where there were large endless shelves of books, is being replaced by smaller gathering places where customers can linger on their devices, sip coffee, and seek the advice of the bookseller or librarian on books that are on the market that might be of interest to them. They might even have meeting rooms where like-minded individuals can gather to share insights on a book or do an activity together. Instead of being a single minded store or institution that deals only with printed text, book stores and libraries are becoming gathering places where there is a menu of options for their clientele.

But unlike book stores and libraries, public schools play an important care-giving role. They need to embrace the idea that “…most families value the caretaking role that schools offer for working parents.” and that “this important benefit of brick-and-mortar schools has no technological substitute”.  To that end, when public schools develop their menu of options for parents they might also include space for after school activities like music instruction, medical services, unstructured play with their classmates, and a safe space to hang out. 

This expansion of the school’s menu from offering only academics to providing care-giving would clearly cost more… but I believe a case can be made that it would also save more in the long run. Working parents would not have to fret about whether their children arrive home safely and what activities they are engaged in, the endless shuttling to-and-from after-school activities would cease, and children would have more opportunities to play with each other with light adult supervision. If that is “disruption”, I say bring it on!

The Conversation We SHOULD Have About Schools vs. the Conversation We ARE Having

December 28, 2018 Comments off

Medium contributor Arthur Chiaravalli’s recent article, “We’re Having the Wrong Conversation about the Future of Schools” crosswalks many of the points made by Anand Giridharadas in Winners Take All into public education. Like Giridharadas, Mr. Chiaravalli notes the subtle ways the tech plutocrats and testing industry have changed the conversations we are having about public policy in a way that undercuts the structural problems of our economy that are the result of the status quo.

And like Mr. Giridharadas, Mr. Chiaravalli sees the so-called “agents of change” as champions of the status quo, a status quo that rewards “entrepreneurs” and marginalizes or penalizes those who raise questions about the status quo.

After laying out his case that we are having the wrong conversation about public education, Mr. Chiaravalli concludes his post with this:

…reformers peddle the so-called empty doctrines of individualism, personalization, objectivity, entrepreneurialism, and meritocracy—all while exacerbating inequities and deprofessionalizing teachers.

….The primary effect is always to atomize: content into itemized bits, classrooms into individualized projects and timelines, and each of us into solitary individuals pursuing personalized pathways.

Among the many omissions implicit in (the reformer’s) vision is the notion that each student has equal access to a pathway of choice. Once that false premise is established, you are truly on your own.Pull yourself up by the bootstraps, find your own personal road less traveled, dive headfirst into the entrepreneurial shark tank. Unfortunately, far too many smaller-scale reform movements espouse a similar ethos, often flooding Twitter with a toxic positivity that ignores intransigent inequities and injustices.

The reformers who want to isolate us from each other, who promote the idea that since one individual overcomes poverty thanks to grit means that every individual born into poverty can do so, who see the purpose of education as improving the economic growth of our country are leading us down the wrong path and causing us to engage in the wrong conversation about the future. In fact, they are envisioning a future that is based on the premise that what worked for them in the past is what should work for everyone else going forward. That is not reform… it is reinforcement.

“Reform” and “Personalization” Now Code Words for Privatization

December 23, 2018 Comments off

Several years ago I read Shopping Mall High School, the second book in a series overseen by Ted Sizer, who in the mid-1980s was called a “school reformer”. To jog my memory, I entered the term “shopping mall high school” into google and found this overview in Wikipedia:

The concept of a shopping mall high school was first introduced in the best-selling 1985 book, The Shopping Mall High School : Winners and Losers in the Educational Marketplace by authors Arthur G. Powell, Eleanor Farrar, and David K. Cohen. The book is the second report from “A Study of High Schools,” and is the successor volume to education reform leader Theodore Sizer‘s Horace’s Compromise. Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers, called The Shopping Mall High School “a sobering analysis of current conditions in our secondary schools and how they got that way.” In The Shopping Mall High School, the authors argue that high schools have come to resemble shopping malls in terms of variety, choice and neutrality.The book, often required reading for education majors in the 1980s and 1990s, exposed the realities of the comprehensive high school and set off a debate that would later incorporate themes about school vouchers and the marketplace.[2]

I was ten years out of graduate school when the book came out, but I made it required reading for the high school administrators in the district I led at that time and used a punchy alliterative phrase from that book to frame the ways I hoped to see high schools change. That phrase was “purpose, push, and personalization“.

In the estimate of the authors, and in my own personal experience as a high school administrator, I found that students who gained the most from high school entered with a purpose in mind. In some cases the purpose was clear: to be valedictorian, or make first chair in the band or orchestra, or make the variety team, or join the FFA to prepare to follow in a parent’s footsteps. In other cases it was more nebulous: to get into college or to work part-time to earn enough money for a car. When I conferred with entering freshmen to schedule their classes and develop their four year plans, I observed that students who knew what they wanted to get out of high school invariably performed better than those who had no idea what they intended to do for the coming four years. Without a clear “purpose”, the authors believed students found themselves drifting through high school the way aimless teens wandered shopping malls in the 1980s.

Once students were in high school, though, they often found the work to be more challenging than they imagined and— no surprise— found themselves districted from their purpose by socializing and the many temptations that present themselves in adolescence in America. To stay on course, then, students needed a push from a caring adult. Depending on the student’s life circumstances or motivation the push might be a nudge or might require more intense intervention… but there are very few students who can stay focussed on their purpose without requiring some kind of support from an adult.

The last point, “personalization”, meant that students needed to have someone in the school know them, connect with them in a deep way so that they could help aimless students find their purpose, provide the appropriate push to keep them focused on their ultimate goals, and serve as a mentor for them.

As one who hoped to transform secondary schools by injecting purpose, push, and personalization, I advocated for more counseling at the elementary level, interdisciplinary team organization at the middle school level, and the development and continual review of four year plans for all students at the high school– which required the creation of mentoring systems or the expansion of counselors. Each of these initiatives, though, required more funding… and in many years “new money” was not available. Each of these initiatives required varying degrees of “buy in” by the administrators and teachers in the district as well as some school board members… but most people found it difficult to argue against additional counseling, more “face time” between students and teachers, and more coordination among staff members.

The “shopping mall” model for high schools has not changed since the 1980s. What HAS changed is the taxpayer’s appetite for more spending, especially spending on “failing government schools”. This has set the stage for technology to “come to the rescue”. If Amazon Prime can figure out what movies you like and products you “need” and Spotify can develop play lists based on the songs you’ve liked, and Google can feed you articles you want to read, and FaceBook can provide you with social contacts… why not apply these algorithms to school… especially if the application of these new technologies does not require the hiring of new staff members who require benefits, leave time, and ever increasing wages.

“Now what are we going to call this idea”, ask the profiteers? “Well, we expropriated the term “reform”, let’s expropriate the term “personalization”… after all, several states have adopted the idea of “personalization” but they haven’t had the time or money to roll out the programming to support the concept. The door is now open for US to flesh out the idea and we can offer a fast, cheap, and cost-effective means to do so!”

My hunch is that somewhere in Silicon Valley a bunch of guys sitting around a table had a conversation like this and they’ve used their foundations and connections to promote the idea. This is not what states like Vermont meant when they adopted personalization… but the “reform” that swept the country is not what REAL reformers wanted either.

 

 

Christiansen Institute Examines Student Social Networks and Finds Yet Another Gap for the Disadvantaged

December 22, 2018 Comments off

As the year comes to an end, the Christensen Institute blog offered one of those end-of-the-year-ten-best-lists that identified their ten best blog posts. In looking them over quickly, one caught my eye: Julia Freedland Fisher’s post titled The other gap that schools aren’t talking about. The post, which originally appeared in The 74Million, a blog that features articles that rationalize “choice” and vouchers as the solution to the inequality that plagues public education, posits the theory that researchers have overlooked a “new” gap that is more insidious than parent’s income and education, one Ms. Fisher calls the “social” gap:

A well-resourced childhood introduces a whole new set of inequities between rich and poor students, and those whose parents have or have not earned college degrees: social gaps.

Gaps in students’ networks matter immensely in both immediate and longer-term measures. Research groups like the Search Institute have shown that developmental relationships drive everything from higher grades to persistence in school. Down the line, an estimated 50 percent of jobs come through personal relationships.

In elaborating on this new gap, Ms. Fisher cites “Slim but troubling data collected by a host of scholars (that) illuminate the uneven terrain shaping young people’s social assets.” 

First, over the past three decades, the amount of time that college-educated parents spend with their children has dramatically increased, relative to that of their less educated peers.Second, these more educated parents offer their children an additional social asset besides time: a disproportionately professionalized social network of their own. More educated parents know more people working in the knowledge economy; in fact, according to Robert Putnam’s analysis in his book Our Kids, college-educated parents on average have social networks that include at least twice as many politicians, CEOs, and professors than those who received only a high school education or less.

Third, as income inequality has grown, children from wealthy families are enjoying a boon in enrichment spending relative to their low-income peers.This investment gap helps explain startling disparities in access to informal mentors (a fancy term for adults like coaches, teachers, and parents’ friends gained through a student’s everyday life). Low-income young people report significantly fewer informal mentors — particularly beyond their family and neighborhood — than their wealthier peers. Putnam found that young people from the top socioeconomic quartile report nearly double the rate of adults from outside their family in their lives.

This “slim but troubling data” is hardly news. Rather it is a manifestation of the underlying cause that no one in the reform community wants to address: income inequality brought about by the inherent flaws in the deregulated capitalist economy that results in the “troubling” findings.

What does Ms. Fisher offer the readers of The 74Million as a means of solving this problem? As a devotee of technology, Ms. Fisher’s “solution” is no surprise!

One small but mighty group of innovators is setting out to shore up students’ networks along a variety of dimensions. Some are increasing students’ access to caring relationships by triangulating services among families, schools, and community-based agencies. Others are diversifying students’ weaker-tie connections — acquaintances beyond close relatives and friends who could offer new channels to the knowledge economy — by leveraging communications technologies that bring more relationships within reach. Although online connections may sound woefully shallow, they have a competitive advantage in overcoming geographic isolation or cost constraints that can limit students’ access to networks.

I believe what this means is that while children of well educated and affluent parents get to meet “politicians, CEOs, and professors ” in their living rooms, over dinner tables, or at poolside gatherings at their local country club, the less advantaged children will get to interact with them on-line… and these “on-line connections” will mitigate the absence of their parents who are working two jobs, the scruffy playgrounds available to them, and the too often detrimental “social networks” that exist in poor neighborhoods.

What this clearly DOESN’T mean is that the parents of poor children need higher wages and more full time jobs are needed so they can have the same amount of time to interact with their children. And it DOESN’T mean that more money is needed to facilitate the kind of coordination among services the Ms. Fisher advocates. And it DOESN’T mean that taxes will need to be increased on the parents of the affluent in any way shape or form. Indeed, those in the upper income tiers will not have to interact with classrooms of students face-to-face: they can do so by FaceTime from their offices.

 

Students at Wilder High School in Idaho: Learning on iPads is a Hoax!

November 30, 2018 Comments off

Though the Wilder ID students are doing poorly on standardized tests, they are doing VERY well in Democracy 101. And… SURPRISE… the Trump administration did not pay attention to details, like these facts that are included at the end of this post:

the State Department of Education identified Wilder Middle School as one of the lowest-performing schools in Idaho. At Wilder Elementary, where Trump and Cook checked in Tuesday, just 26.7 percent of students scored “proficient” on math Idaho Standards Achievement Test in 2017-18. At Wilder High School, the go-on rate in 2017 was 25 percent, well below the state average of 45 percent, according to Idaho EdTrends.

via Students at Wilder High School in Idaho: Learning on iPads is a Hoax!