Posts Tagged ‘Self-awareness’

What is the Employers Role in Skill Development? What is Government’s? What is the Individuals?

January 18, 2019 Leave a comment

I just finished scanning a Politico report titled The Future of Prosperity: Ladders to Success before closely reading the conclusion. Developed by a “working group” of 17 educators, business leaders, and futurists from think tanks, this report examined statistics on post-secondary education and employment and concluded that there is a mismatch between the skills being taught in post secondary education, desired by businesses, and sought by students. Here’s the overarching conclusion of the “working group”:

To meet the needs of a changing economy, the system will need to educate more Americans, in more subjects, at different stages in life, than it has in the past. POLITICO’s working group concluded that to meet that challenge, the current system needs significant disruption—and employers, higher- education institutions and governments will all need to pay a part.

In the minds of the working group, employers need to “…rethink what degrees and credentials they require of applicants and why, improve communication about what skills and jobs are needed, and provide more on-the-job training, including apprenticeships. They also need to come up with ways to certify skills that workers acquire on the job, and participate in efforts to develop new systems to upgrade workers’ skills and retrain displaced workers.”

The working group also urged colleges and universities to provide continuum of programs for those already employed and lacking degrees, focussing on “…stackable and modular courses and credentials that can combine skills and knowledge learned
in a variety of institutions.” They particularly emphasized the need for public institutions to “…move students’ job-training goals closer to the center of their mission.”

They also believe the federal government has a role to play. They need to help develop a “…new and more flexible approach to financial support (that) could open doors for people at more points in their lives“, and “...also incentivize new types of institutions, such as online education providers, built around training and “upskilling.” Finally, thy thought the government could serve as “…trusted repository of information“, effectively serving as the permanent record system tracking the education credentials collected by individuals as they wend their way through life-long education.

Implicit in all of this thinking are the following notions:

  • Employers have some responsibility for developing the talent they require
  • Post-secondary programs can operate independent of the workplaces but need to focus more on job-skills and less on learning-how-to-learn
  • The federal government should keep track of each individual’s work arc and skill development
  • Individuals can make informed choices about their career paths and change their minds as they progress and are ultimately responsible for developing the skills employers need

To be clear, the report makes no mention of the final bullet… of what is expected of individuals— i.e. students and employees. From the working team’s perspective, the employee/student is a cog in their machinery who should be molded based on changing specifications of the workplace.

The current system IS flawed for several reasons… but the major problem with the thinking behind this report from this liberal arts graduates perspective is that it assumes the primary purpose of schooling is the development of work skills. I think schools should build on the inherent love of learning that I witness in my grandchildren as they develop speaking skills, motor skills, and listen to me red them stories…. and that sense of wonder should be built into post secondary work and, as much as possible, even into the work one does to earn a living. And should that wonder be impossible to find in one’s life work, it should be inculcated into their lives outside of work. When employees and students lose that wonder for the world around them, they can quickly lose the joy of life itself.





In Privatization Debate, it’s the Walton’s Billions vs the NAACP’s Principles

December 26, 2018 Comments off

A recent AP article in that appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press described the ongoing debate that is raging in the black community between the NAACP and (presumably) grassroots organizations consisting of parents whose children are enrolled in deregulated for profit charter schools. The lines of the debate have been delineated in several posts in this blog, but here’s how they are outlined in the AP report:

The Walton family, as one of the leading supporters of America’s charter school movement, is spreading its financial support to prominent and like-minded black leaders, from grassroots groups focused on education to mainstream national organizations such as the United Negro College Fund and Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, according to an Associated Press analysis of tax filings and nonprofit grants data….

While some black leaders see charters as a safer, better alternative in their communities, a deep rift of opinion was exposed by a 2016 call for a moratorium on charters by the NAACP, a longtime skeptic that expressed concerns about school privatization, transparency and accountability issues. The Black Lives Matter movement is also among those that have demanded charter school growth be curbed.

One of the big problems in determining who is on which side and who is on the right side is the source of funding for these various groups. As noted in the first paragraph, the Walton family, whose primary motivation appears to be profit, is underwriting what are described as “grassroots groups” along with “mainstream national organizations” making it difficult to know the extent to which these groups are truly speaking their own minds as opposed to the minds of their financial backers.

Another major complication from my perspective is that the engaged parents, those who want and expect the best from their public schools, will do whatever they can to get the best education for their children. And, if their neighborhood school falls short of their standards and a charter school seems better for their child, it is difficult for me to stand in the way of them doing what they believe is best for their child. As a by-stander or as a school superintendent I think it would be problematic to tell them that they should sacrifice the well-being of their child based and instead join with those who are seeking funding reforms so that all of the children in their “short-of-the-standard” neighborhood school can benefit.

Since the non-engaged parents are those most likely to be trapped in single-parent roles, trapped in low wage employment, and incapable of having the time rescources needed to advocate for their children and their children’s neighborhood schools, it is incumbent on principled groups like the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and hopefully  mainstream national organizations who are not compromised by the lavish funds showered on them by the likes of the Waltons, to advocate for the social justice issue of equitable school funding.

Connecting the Dots: Meritocracy in Children’s Athletics and the Disappearance of Childhood

December 25, 2018 Comments off

Several posts on this blog made reference to Neil Postman’s 1980s book The Disappearance of Childhood, which describes how well-intentioned adults of my generation ended the existence of childhood by imposing tight schedules on their children instead of the freedom children of my generation experienced, highly organized sports activities instead of the pick-up games children of my generation threw together in an ad hoc fashion, and lots of lessons instead of the trial-and-error method of learning children in my generation experienced.

American Meritocracy is Killing Youth Sports, a recent Atlantic magazine article by Derek Thompson, underscores the damage done to childhood by our generation and illustrates how the next generation is diminishing it even more. In the article, Mr. Thompson omits the legacy of pick-up games but does describe how sports went from the town and school sponsored leagues that accepted all comers in all sports to the “elite” teams that sort and select only the best athletes who are increasingly “specializing” in only one sport. This means that amateurs like me, who had lots of chances to play lots of sports with lots of kids of varying abilities are left on the sidelines… and it means that lots of kids who played multiple sports in multiple leagues — like my sons in laws– are finding it necessary to resist the pull their children feel to specialize in one sport or one area.

From my increasingly curmudgeonly and nostalgic perspective, I wish that kids could be free to explore in the woods, play two-or-three man baseball games, pick-up basketball on outdoor courts, and touch football in open fields instead of being compelled to play in fancy uniforms in highly structured leagues….


Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

PRESUMABLY Well-Intentioned Philanthropists are Killing Democracy

December 18, 2018 1 comment

Danielle Holly’s recent Non Profit Quarterly Article never answers the question she poses in the title: “Billionaires Focus Their Philanthropy on Education, But Will Children Benefit?“… but it does illustrate how their philanthropy undercuts the democratic governance structure of our country and how philanthropists undercut public funding by diverting tax dollars into their foundations. And it also illustrates how these billionaires, like the industrialists that preceded them, will impose their “business methods” onto public education. Ms. Holley opens her essay with a quote from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos who intends to use some of his boundless billions to underwrite pre-schools:

“We’ll use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon,” Bezos said as he made the announcement. “Most important among those will be genuine, intense customer obsession. The child will be the customer.

One can easily imagine the kinds of schools that would open if 4-year old customers got to make the choice… and they are unlikely to be the kind of rigorous schools the “reformers” are envisioning.

Ms. Holley then identifies two overarching issues regarding philanthropic investments in public operations:

Two philosophical challenges have arisen with the nature of these investments. The first, which NPQ has discussed at length, is that it limits democratic control over the nation’s public education system. In effect, education philanthropy puts education program design in a few hands who are, by definition, outsiders, and often less expert and less informed than those who are doing the work…

Philanthropy is the least democratic institution on earth,” says Professor David Nasaw, a historian who has researched Carnegie’s philanthropic focus on education. “It’s rich men deciding what to do.”

The second challenge, behind which Anand Giridharadas’s 2018 book Winner Takes All: The Elite Charade of Changing the Worldhas ignited new fervor, is that the country’s wealthiest donors and most charitable companies have made their money by perpetuating the broken system they purport to fix. 

I am about to launch an adult education course based on Mr. Giridharadas’ book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to gain an in depth understanding of the corrosive effects philanthropy and— ultimately— unregulated capitalism— has on democracy. It is an unsettling and yet hopeful read. Unsettling because of what we are now witnessing… but hopeful because our country has been through this cycle before and come out stronger on the other side. And it DOES seem that the public is becoming wise to the ways the supposedly well-intentioned and magnanimous philanthropists make their money and use it to buy influence and control.

Chicago: A Happy Ending to the Charter Teachers Strike

December 14, 2018 Comments off

Because I doubt that the reporting on this strike will focus on the humanitarian efforts of the union, I am glad that Diane Ravitch flagged Harold Meyerson’s coverage of this provision:

“As a conclusion of their five-day strike—the nation’s first at charter schools—the teachers not only secured raises for themselves but also a groundbreaking provision to protect their students, whom the union’s attorney described as “overwhelmingly low-income Latino,” from the agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (aka ICE).

via Chicago: A Happy Ending to the Charter Teachers Strike

There IS One Way to Dispel Asian Parents’ Anger: Upgrade ALL NYC High Schools

December 6, 2018 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYPost featured an article by Selim Algar describing a meeting NYC DOE officials held in Manhattan and the anger expressed by a group of Asian parents upset over the recent proposal that the SHSAT serve as the sole admissions criteria to elite high schools. Ms. Selim described the essence of the BOE’s proposal presented by Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack as “...a plan that aims to increase black and Latino enrollment at the primarily Asian and white schools by scrapping a single-test-score admission system.” At the gathering attended by 350 people, Mr. Wallack described the current admissions process, which is based on the scores on a single test given early in 8th grade, as “…a needless educational barricade,” saying that the DOE is trying “to find a way that is objective and transparent that gives us more information about a way a student has performed that we believe is better and fairer.”

Many parents, particularly Asian parents, do not find the admissions criteria to be unfair or ineffective. Ms. Selim writes:

Several Asian speakers highlighted the outsized toll the new plan would exact on their community.

Asian kids — including Chinese, Korean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani students — make up roughly 60 percent of the population at the city’s eight specialized high schools.

At the most prestigious campuses such as Stuyvesant HS and Bronx Science, their numbers are higher.

“This proposal is nothing about education and all about division,” said objector Wai Wah Chin. “We are going to look at your race and say, ‘Oh, your parents cook the food, deliver it, they wash your clothes, but you can’t get in. Because we don’t like your race or national background.’ ”

For reasons that are complicated and not completely clear, Asian students tend to score better on standardized tests than American students, and students raised in poverty tend to score worse than children raised in affluence. From a cold analytic perspective, this difference would matter less if the tests had any predictive value in terms of a students ability to perform well in class. The SHSAT, like it’s kin the SAT, provides a nebulous “achievement” score that has no ability to determine whether a student scoring in the 95th percentile will succeed in class any more than a student who scores in, say, the 90th percentile. Indeed, on the SAT it is conceivable that missing one question might result in that kind of disparity in results. So, when a single test is the sole basis for admission many children who are arguably qualified to enter an “elite” program are left out.

The answer to this is to either expand the admission criteria to include things like GPA, teacher feedback, and unique student talents or to expand the number of “elite” high schools. As NYC is finding, altering the admissions criteria creates a zero-sum game that divides winners and losers. The second alternative, though, is costly and could result in those seeking to be identified as “elite” feeling that their status is eroded by expanding the number of students who qualify.

It is inevitable that individuals will sort themselves out over time and define themselves  based on comparisons with others. As much as possible, though, that sorting should occur organically and ideally without anyone being identified as a “loser”. The sorting in NYC is analogous to the sorting that happens in high school sports where 50 teams vie for a state championship and all but one team is defined as a loser. No matter how it is presented to an 8th grader, if they took the SHSAT and did not get into an “elite” school, they feel like the runner-up to the State Championship… and they are likely to see themselves as “losers”. The reality is that many of those “losers” will bounce back and be successful despite their relatively low test scores. But if any of those students see their failure to score high on a test as a defining moment, it is a loss to our society. No single test should define winners and losers… and every school system should be designed to offer an opportunity for students to find out where they can shine.

The Perils of Predicting the Future of Education

December 2, 2018 Comments off

The on-line magazine Quartz offered a series of articles earlier this week on The Future of College, one of which by Natasha Frost, “Experts predicting the future of education would have got an F“, offered some intriguing examples of ideas that were either almost right or completely off base. The predictions included this picture from 1910 by artist Jean-Marc Côte depicting the school of the future:

The article also included predictions that radio, “sound movies and mechanical tabulating machines”, personal computers, “practical use of direct electronic communication with and stimulation of the brain”, and flying classrooms would transform education at all levels and that universities would die off because “Colleges had become such hotbeds of Marxism, feminism, and affirmative action” that they would be inhospitable to most attendees.

As one whose entire blog is based on the premise that schooling in the future will incorporate the coordinated provision of medical and social services, the robust use of technology, and increased training in relationship building, I found the predictions both humorous and unsettling. The humor is evident in looking at the picture above… but the unsettling part is that each of the predictions have a dark side that one could see unfolding in our current schools.

There is a capability to avoid schooling altogether based on parental distaste for the culture that is implicitly taught in public schools and, with the advocacy for vouchers, it is conceivable that funds earmarked for “government schools” will be increasingly siphoned off for de facto madrases that inculcate religious values in children.

There is also the capability to avoid schooling altogether by engaging in on-line learning and passing a test that certifies one’s “mastery” of “career readiness” without experiencing the give-and-take of a classroom or a school. In this way a child could be shielded from contact with peers and become single-mindedly dedicated to, say, coding or micro-biology.

And there is also the capability (or in some cases proclivity) of schools to administer drugs to children to help control their behavior and thereby increase their ability to perform well in the classroom. The most unsettling quote from Ms. Frost’s article offers evidence of this: “A 2008 poll of Nature readers found that 20% of them “used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration, or memory” … and I assume those drugs are stronger than the large cup of coffee I am sipping to help me arouse from slumber and focus my thoughts as I type this post.

Despite the possible adverse directions education could take, I remain optimistic that reasonable minds will see the value of improving human relationships and the importance of having equity in our economy and opportunities. Assuming that is the case, Martin Luther King Junior’s prediction will prevail: “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Let us hope that is true.