Posts Tagged ‘Self-awareness’

Abandoning Norm Referenced Tests Means Abandoning it’s By-Products

September 18, 2018 Leave a comment

I just finished reading Diane Ravitch’s post titled “The Obsolete and Costly American Faith in Testing“. The post draws from an Education Week article by Alyson Klein which calls for a more holistic approach to testing… but her article falls short of what is really needed, which is a total and complete abandonment of any effort to use tests and data to rank and rate individual students and schools.

As I noted in a comment I left on Ms Ravitch’s post, the faith in norm-referenced testing is rooted in our need to compare. As parents, if we worried less about how our child was doing compared to our neighbor’s child we wouldn’t be testing for anything: we would, instead, be celebrating our child’s growth and their unique talents and skills. Instead too many parents obsess over how their child is doing compared to other children and “the norm” and norm referenced tests that yield a bell curve are perfect for doing that. Norm referenced tests were introduced in the 1920s as a means of sorting and selecting children for placement into tracks… and they took hold because we love to compare. If we really believe and expect ALL children to learn, we should abandon norm-referenced tests as a metric… and while we’re at it we should abandon everything associated with norm-referenced tests: tracking; determining “valedictorians”; identifying “gifted and talented” students; and separating out “special education” students. All of these are by-products of norm referencing.



Hurricane Florence COULD Be a Teachable Moment for Those Wishing to Drown Government in a Bathtub

September 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a heartfelt post yesterday to friends in the Carolinas that appears below in its entirety:

Dear Friends,

We are watching the ordeal of your region with concern.

The whole nation is watching.

We send you warm wishes for your safety.

At a time like this, we are reminded about why people need to work together, help one another, and count on their neighbors and communities. In times of crisis, everyone stands together, without regard to race or religion or economic status. It should be like that without a crisis.

We look forward to the day when your beautiful part of the world is rebuilt, restored, and revived.

Meanwhile, stay safe.

One of the commenters noted that “…only 3% of the people in North Carolina carry flood insurance, and 8% in South Carolina. With climate change and crazy storms the new normal, homeowners should rethink the value of flood insurance for their properties. That $400 hundred dollars that you think is unnecessary could wind up costing you many thousands or even your home.”

As I noted in a comment I made on the post, WE are insuring them with our tax dollars… and that’s not a bad thing from my perspective. The Koch brothers and the GOP want us to forget that one of the reasons we pay taxes is to create a pool of funds that people can draw on when they find themselves temporarily in need of food, clothing, and shelter. By demonizing the so-called “takers” the anti-tax crowd has convinced the public that they will never need to avail themselves of the government services they are starving by avoiding taxes. MAYBE a silver lining from this will be a realization that government IS the solution to large and complicated problems like a hurricane that floods communities…. But, alas, it is also possible that the cuts to FEMA and the redirection of FEMA funds to ICE will result in long waits in line or unanswered phone calls or emails that will be blamed on “incompetence” when the real culprit is the GOP’s desire to drown government in a bathtub.

Perversely, it takes a disaster like Florence to drive home the point that government is NOT the problem and COULD be a solution IF it was funded adequately and rationally. Will that lesson be learned? If so, who will teach it?

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

September 10, 2018 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Back to the Future in NYC Where Police Will “Wander the Halls”

September 8, 2018 Leave a comment

This week was the first week of school for children in NYC, and, as reported by Eliza Shapiro in the NYTimes, children in many schools in the Bronx experienced a new approach to school safety:

School districts across the country have added new layers of security to their buildings, and the federal government has signaled a willingness to arm teachers in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., massacre. But on the first day of school, New York tacked in a different direction.

Starting this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday, the city would begin a pilot program at a group of Bronx schools to turn school safety agents into the equivalent of beat cops. The city was asking 63 of the agents who work in 30 high schools to walk the hallways in search of wandering students, meet with principals to discuss brewing conflicts between children, and wish every child a good morning before first period.

That will be a new job for many of the agents who currently spend their entire days at a school’s front desk,sometimes curtly asking for identification from visitors. And it will require parents, and especially students, to look at their safety agents in a new light. To highlight their new role, the agents, who work for the Police Department and are not armed, will be known as school coordination agents.

As I read the article about the “new” program, I had a flashback to 1970-72 when I worked as a math teacher at Shaw Junior High School in Philadelphia. Because of gang violence in the neighborhood (that in some instances spilled into the school), Shaw Junior High School had its own policeman, Officer Black, and a cadre of Non-Teaching Assistants, or NTAs, who effectively teamed with Officer Black and the Vice Principals in the school to maintain order in the school while the teachers were in the classroom. Officer Black not only worked in the school, but he also was assigned to the beat outside the school during the daylight hours, which meant students and parents had an out-of-school connection with him. I also recall that the students in the school knew most of the NTAs, who tended to be drawn from the neighborhoods or at least from similar city neighborhoods. I also recall that some of the NTAs and, in some cases Officer Black, spent time engaged in informal conversations with some of the biggest troublemakers in the school, conversations that some teachers felt undercut their ability to maintain order. As an idealistic neophyte teacher— and now as an idealistic progressive— I saw the conversations as a way for the “enforcers” to build relationships that would afford them a means of preventing violence in the school and MAYBE connect the trouble-makers to some people in the community who might be a positive influence on them.

When I read about the role of the “school coordination agents” I saw them fulfilling the same role in a more formal fashion. Instead of relying on the kinds of informal networks  and relationships Officer Black and the NTAs cultivated, NYC intends the “school coordination agents” to link troubled and struggling students with existing agencies:

During a recent training session at the Police Department’s hangar-like facility in Flushing, Queens, …agents with years of experience said they often did not know how to bring issues they observe in their schools to the right person.

Two Education Department officials at the front of a brightly lit classroom ticked off the alphabet soup of acronyms that represents the city’s various resources for parents, principals and teachers. The several dozen agents were encouraged to attend meetings and build relationships with groups they didn’t know existed.

“We were like, ‘We don’t even know what the hell you’re talking about,’” Maximino Acosta, an agent with 14 years of experience in Bronx schools, said of the session.

In reading the article it was evident that there were two big differences between NYC in 2017 and Philadelphia in the 1970s. First, there was no “...alphabet soup of acronyms that represents the city’s various resources”. Schools had to rely on their own resources, and in the 1970s they were woefully understaffed in terms of psychologists and services for children with emotional and mental health issues. Indeed, 94-142 had not been passed at the Federal level which meant that children waited months to be screened for services and schools were not mandated to provide them. Secondly, the NTAs were school district employees and Officer Black clearly took his orders for his work in the school from the administrators. At a time when Frank Rizzo led the force this was a blessing for the students. But even with a more progressive chief of police in NYC, the fact that the “school coordination agents” are agents of law enforcement poses a problem:

Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said she does not believe neighborhood policing in schools is the solution she has been waiting for. While Ms. Lieberman praised the school safety division for its focus on driving down unnecessary suspensions, she said there were still “pathetically low” numbers of guidance counselors and social workers in schools.

“What would have been welcome news as we open a school year would have been an announcement that the Department of Education has identified and hired educators to be walking the hallways,” Ms. Lieberman said.

It will be helpful to see how the introduction of “school coordination agents” works in the high schools. My belief is that money spent on linking students with pre-existing services will yield far more positive results than using law enforcement tactics. Based on my experience as a teacher and school disciplinarian “troublemakers” are almost always troubled in some way, and dealing with their troubles is far more effective than punishing them because of their troubles.

Has Bill Gates Seen The Light on School Improvement? His “Squishy Idea” Might Be a Sign He HAS….

September 6, 2018 Leave a comment

I just finished reading a post from Diane Ravitch that takes Bill Gates to task for his latest effort at reforming public education. Diane Ravitch and many of the bloggers she draws from and many of her commenters have a deep antipathy for Bill Gates, who they (perhaps rightfully) view as the paradigmatic “clueless reformer”. Mr. Gates, like his antecedents in the Gilded Age, sees himself as one who can cut through the complicated problems of the world. He holds this view because he believes he is necessarily wise because he has made a fortune for himself thanks to his acumen.

Here’s a quote from The Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie I read recently:
“The man of wealth should consider himself the mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, brining to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer”.

As anyone who’s read Callahan’s Education and the Cult of Efficiency realizes, the factory school model in place today is the result of the “superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer” Mr. Carnegie brought to public schools… a model Gates previously used as the basis for his “reforms”. The problem with THAT model is that it led to the conclusion that “fixing schools” was a COMPLICATED problem that could be achieved by applying engineering skills.

I am heartened that Mr. Gates is now advocating a “very squishy” means of improving schools… it might be an indication that he realizes “fixing schools” is a COMPLEX problem that will require the engagement of human beings and may elude the simplistic metrics that are the basis for the factory school model. Standardized tests are anything but squishy… but they are also anything but helpful in determining “success”. Caring teachers, nurturing parents, and a sense of well being on the part of all students are all “squishy”… but they are far more important than high test scores.

Philanthropy is Undermining Public Education – Part One: “Independent” Foundations Set Policy Priorities

September 1, 2018 Comments off

For the next three days I will be making the case that philanthropic giving is having an adverse impact on public education. The case is drawn primarily from Gospels of Giving, a New Yorker article by Elizabeth Kolbert that, in turn, draws from several books that have recently been published describing how philanthropic giving is distorting the inequities that exist in our economy. The case against philanthropy is based on three premises:

First: by allowing philanthropists to fund research and initiatives it undercuts the creation of policy priorities through independent research and political discourse by elected officials.

Second: by allowing 501(c)(3) groups to be deemed as charities it provides a means for mega-donors to advance anti-democratic ideas that can be amplified even more when combined with relatively small political donations.

Third: by allowing affluent school districts to create foundations small-bore philanthropists undercut the tax structure that could provide a means of equalizing education funding.

Ms. Kolbert opens her article with a brief history of philanthropy, using Andrew Carnegie as an exemplar…. and based on her description of his stated ideals and actions it seems that Mr. Carnegie would be very much at home with today’s philanthropists. Here is Ms. Kolbert’s overview of an essay Mr. Mr. Carnegie wrote at the height of his career immodestly titled The Gospel of Wealth:

The “Gospel” opened with a discussion of inequity. This was the Gilded Age, and, even as most Americans were struggling to get by, the one-per-centers were putting up “cottages” in Newport. The disparity was, in Carnegie’s view, unavoidable.It was the price of progress, and progress, ultimately, benefitted everyone.“The ‘good old times’ were not good old times,” he observed. “Neither master nor servant was as well situated then as today.”

Having dealt with accumulation of wealth, Carnegie then turned to his real concern: what to do with it. Passing on riches to one’s children was a mistake, he argued, for inheritances “often work more for the injury than for the good of the recipients.” Handing out money to the poor was similarly ill-advised, since “neither the individual nor the race is improved by almsgiving.” Rather, the best way to dispose of a fortune was to endow institutions that would aid “those who desire to rise.” Universities were a good cause; so, too, were public libraries, music halls, and swimming baths. The “man of wealth,” Carnegie advised, should consider himself “the mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer.”

Translation: I am a wealthy businessman therefore I have greater wisdom than any of my “poorer brethren”. In the case of public education, that would mean that I can conceive of a superior way to operate public services– far superior to those that might be devised by my “poorer brethren” who toil in classrooms or spend hours at meetings poring over budgets and policy manuals. What public education needs is advice from a foundation! I can assemble a team of experts who share my perspective on the way public enterprise should function and thereby bring their “superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer” to the service of “my poorer brethren“. As described in Raymond Callahan’s outstanding book Education and the Cult of Efficiency, this is precisely what happened in the 1920s as a result of reports issued by foundations underwritten by wealthy scions. Schools were modeled after the factories and mills that made Robber Barons wealthy… and our age-based cohorts and use of standardization persists to this day.

Ms. Kolbert goes on to describe how Mr. Carnegie’s business practices exacerbated the economic divide:

Carnegie made his money from railroads and steel. Three years after he wrote “The Gospel of Wealth,” he decided to break the union—the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers—at one of his company’s largest plants, the Homestead steelworks, outside Pittsburgh. Employees were presented with a new contract with pay cuts up to thirty-five per cent. When they rejected it, they were locked out. Carnegie Steel brought in Pinkerton agents to guard the plant, and in the resulting melee at least sixteen people were killed. In the end, the union collapsed.

To critics, the Homestead strike made explicit the inconsistency of Carnegie’s position. How could a person ruthlessly exploit his employees and, at the same time, claim to be a benefactor of the toiling masses? The Saturday Globe, a Utica-based weekly, published a cartoon showing two Carnegies, conjoined at the hip. One, smiling, handed out a library and a check; the other held out a notice telling workers that their pay had been slashed. “As the tight-fisted employer he reduces wages that he may play philanthropist,” the caption read.

But what of today’s philanthropists? Like Mr. Carnegie they seem unperturbed by the inequities in our society. Like Mr. Carnegie they seem to believe that they are wiser than their poorer brethren and possess an expertise that eludes all but those who toil on their behalf in foundations they create to dispense their wealth and advise public servants on the best means of helping citizens. And, alas, like Mr. Carnegie they seem to overlook the incongruence of the low wages and poor working conditions that their employees experience so that their bottom line can increase thereby increasing their ability to make donations.

In her article, Ms. Kolbert cites books, essay, and talks given by Anand Giridharadas, a journalist who, in 2011, was named a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute, which illustrates the conundrum cold-blooded-businessmen-turned-philanthropists face. At one of the talks— as it turned out the final talk he gave, Mr. Giridharadas spoke of the what he called “the Aspen Consensus.”

“The Aspen Consensus, in a nutshell, is this,” he said. “The winners of our age must be challenged to do more good. But never, ever tell them to do less harm.”

As readers of this blog realize, few philanthropists have heeded this message in their funding decisions. The foundations underwritten by “reformers” all have a penchant for recommending test-driven decision making and the privatization of public schools. Their drive to rely on standardized testing has unwittingly reinforced the century old structure of public education and their drive to privatize public schools has undercut governance by elected school boards and replaced it with governance by corporate profiteers. Both of these trends have done harm to communities and to children enrolled in public schools, especially public schools serving underprivileged children and public schools in property poor towns.

My thought: unless the current crop of Gilded Age philanthropists develop some self awareness and accept that in today’s world there are MANY “poorer brethren” who possess more wisdom and insight about public governance than they do we will find ourselves in a world where fewer and fewer of the “poorer brethren” are engaged in governance… and democracy will wither as a result…. and THAT will bring about considerable harm.



Loyalty Versus Discernment: We Need a Blend of Both

August 28, 2018 Comments off

Like most voters who follow politics, I am deeply troubled by the dysfunction at both the State and national levels of government, a dysfunction that I believe is the result of a difference in core values between both parties. The press has emphasized some key distinctions between the GOP and Democrats on several political positions. In general the GOP is in favor of restricting abortion, immigration, and spending on social programs while the Democratic party if more expansive on each of the issues. The GOP favors fewer government regulations and, therefore, more individual rights while the Democratic party supports regulatory oversight by the government.

But where the parties increasingly differ is in their perspectives on the world.

The GOP values loyalty above all else: loyalty to party positions; loyalty to fellow party members, and  loyalty to whatever hierarchical order is in place. Their thinking is that if an individual applies themselves they can and will succeed. There is no need for government intervention in any area, especially in the marketplace which naturally identifies winners and losers. Their core conviction is that deregulated capitalism is superior to deliberative democracy.

The Democratic party values discernment: a willingness to examine all issues– even social ones— scientifically and analytically and, through a process of trial and error, develop laws that will help everyone achieve a state of well-being. Government intervention, can and should level the playing field for all of its citizens and businesses, especially those who are disadvantaged for whatever reason. Their core conviction is that deliberative democracy requires an informed electorate who will vote based on objective facts.

Over time, the GOP’s loyalty has devolved into a suspicion of everything the government does– including data collection and scientific research, and blind faith in the marketplace. At the same time, the Democratic party has tied itself in knots trying to find the least objectionable and most evidence-based course for the government to take: a middle way between the increasingly libertarian and faith-based thinking of the GOP and the voters who want something else, be a more humanitarian approach to helping those in need or the application of rigorous analysis.

Over the past several years it is evident that voters value loyalty over discernment. The GOP loyalists are completely unwilling to move from whatever position they hold even when evidence demonstrates that the position they hold is wrong and damaging to the well-being of voters. The GOP position on climate change is exhibit A and it appears that their positions on health care, environmental regulations, and public education may result in subsequent evidence of ill-conceived policies that ultimately damage the well-being of voters.

In the meantime, opponents to deregulated capitalism and supporters of government intervention– which I believe should be the defining principle of the Democratic party– keep presenting data that undercuts the premise that the marketplace will fairly identify winners and losers and the premise that government regulations are unnecessary. The Democratic party, instead of seeking loyalty to the principle that good government and good governance are needed, relentlessly seeks a middle ground that they hope will persuade a majority of voters to support them and question their loyalty to “the marketplace”.

As the title of this post indicates, in order to advance as a democracy, we need a blend of both loyalty and discernment. GOP voters should be open to accepting evidence that some regulation and government intervention is necessary. Democratic voters should be open to the fact that some GOP voters and legislators will not be persuaded to change their minds under any circumstances making it impossible to find a “middle ground” unless they compromise their principles. With this fact in mind, they need to clearly oppose deregulated capitalism and support good government and good governance and generate the same degree of loyalty for THAT position as the GOP has generated for deregulated capitalism and opposition to the government.

Instead of fighting over hot-button issues like racism, abortion, LGBTQ rights, and gun control, the parties should move their arguments to a higher level and debate what role they want the government to play in the lives of individuals and what government action needs to be taken to regulate the effects of the marketplace.