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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.

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“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.

 

 

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!

China Moving Ahead with “Social Credit” Rating System

November 24, 2018 Comments off

We need to get a handle on how to address this problem ASAP. If the private sector “solves” it by censorship we could end up with news silos even worse than we have now and if the government intervenes we could all be receiving only Breitbart News feeds and being sorted into “good” and “bad” categories depending on which party is in power.

via China Moving Ahead with “Social Credit” Rating System

Those Opposing Personalization Based on Data Collection Fail to See Technology’s Insidious Trade-off

November 17, 2018 Comments off

Earlier this week I read a post by Diane Ravitch about a group of Brooklyn HS students who are protesting “Mark Zuckerberg’s Summit platform” used to personalize education in their school. Their protest was based on the following: some students played games on their computers; cheating was easy; teachers’ over-used computers; there were all kinds of technical difficulties, and the platform “… is collecting a huge amount of personal data from thousands of students without their knowledge or consent or that of their parents.”

Here’s a few reality check based on my experience in high school in the early 1960s:

  • My friends and I used graph paper we secured from the math classroom to play five-in-a-row tic-tac-toe throughout classes, engaging in tournaments we developed in homeroom
  • Some of my friends (not me, I swear!), devised ways to cheat on quizzes and tests… but almost everyone I knew (including me) used “flexible grading” for the “individualized” SRA reading programs that one progressed through by passing self-graded tests that were periodically audited by teachers.
  • Some teachers, especially social studies teachers, overused films to “teach” us about the wars that constituted their course of study

The equipment glitches that plague “Zuckerberg’s Summit platform” didn’t exist, but there were some days where we had more than one substitute teacher which meant we could play tic-tac-toe openly.

What we DIDN’T have was the privacy issue… but then we didn’t have the conveniences that come with the technology that students, parents, and teachers rely on today. And here’s the irony about those who complain about invasions of privacy: while they complain about “Zuckerberg’s Summit Platform” they are probably walking around with their cell phones inter pockets, purses or backpacks and, in doing so, providing all kinds of data. And if they are making any on-line purchases with any company, or streaming any videos or music of any kind, or using any social media of any kind, students and parents are providing a treasure trove of information to potential sellers.

This just in privacy advocates: We have evidently unwittingly made a trade-off: we get all the goodies technology offers us in exchange for information that can be used to market stuff to us.

My thought: We need to develop a new curriculum that teaches children how to ignore the propaganda that is the basis for advertising and the noxious politics in our country…. Maybe the tech billionaires can develop it, we personalize it, and develop a standardized test to see how well the children are learning it. Or maybe teachers can do that without the standardized testing part.

Maybe Dewey Will Prevail Over Thorndike After All!

November 10, 2018 Comments off

The Flaw of Averages“, a compelling essay by John McDermott that I read in Medium earlier this week, describes the research of Harvard Professor Todd Rose that is serving as the basis for the personalization movement in Silicon Valley. Dr. Rose, the director of the Mind, Brain and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, contends that our current education system is wrongheadedly based on the average student:

His research is in the field known as “the science of the individual”. He argues that the myth of an “average” person, around which today’s educational systems are built, stunts people’s intellectual growth and damages their lives. A class of pupils has an average height and an average score in a test but when you look closer at individuals, the elements are “all over the place”. Very few pupils are average across most dimensions: they learn in different ways, at different speeds and along different paths.He expounded his ideas in “The End of Average” in 2016.

As Mr. McDermott notes in his essay, this obvious observation often results in a “so what” response. But Dr. Rose sees the reliance on averages to measure progress as problematic:

“Average-arian” thinking gives rise to another problem, says Rose. Edward Thorndike, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, thought that, “the quick learners…are the good retainers.” To this day exams are time-limited; pupils are placed in age-specific grades; timetables feature specific times for each subject. All of which reflect the belief that there is a straightforward relationship between learning ability and learning speed. But it turns out that whether you can master a subject is not related to how long it takes to do so, says Rose.

To repeat an aphorism I often cite: in schools time is a constant and performance is the variable… and clearly it should be the other way around. But the age-specific batching of students IS efficient, especially if the purpose of schooling is to sort and select s opposed to achieving the optimal achievement by all students. And Mr. McDermott describes how technology could make it possible for schools to embrace a new model, one based on John Dewey’s ideas about education:

Though newly fashionable, these ideas have a long history… In 1916, John Dewey, a philosopher and psychologist, published “Democracy and Education”, arguing that the pupil, not a government-mandated curriculum, should be at the centre of a school.In ordinary schools, he said, the child is not allowed to “follow the law of his nature”, and is therefore “thrown into a passive, receptive or absorbing attitude”.

Technology has given these ideas a new momentum. Providing children with bespoke attention typically means hiring a tutor or raising the teacher-pupil ratio — too expensive for most parents or schools. But while a blackboard can show only one set of sums, new software claims to display whatever sums are appropriate to a child’s level and should free up teachers’ time to spend less time marking and preparing lessons, and more with individual pupils. In theory, then, such technology should put personalised education within the reach of every school.

Mr. McDermott describes Summit, a school in the Bay Area that is implementing these ideas, but he counterbalances this success story with some caveats:

Cognitive scientists such as Daniel Willingham of the University of Virginia worry that autonomy can be taken too far. If children can opt out of learning important facts, he says, they will find it harder to understand more complex ideas at a later stage.

Groups representing minorities have also expressed scepticism. They point out that it took African-Americans until 1954 to earn the legal right to be taught in the same school as white people, and almost another half-century before a president vowed to ensure that “no child [be] left behind”. The average-arian school may not be perfect — but at least it has minimum standards, for which they have fought long and hard…

Worries about such heavy reliance on technology do not relate only to its impact on the nature of education. Platforms like Summit’s generate vast quantities of data about the intellectual and social skills of the children using them. Pupils may benefit from this — but they may not be the only beneficiaries. Data are a resource, so these deep, detailed profiles could become exceedingly valuable to the companies that are supplying the technology. That’s why some critics suspect that the tech barons who are promoting personalised education may not be doing so purely out of altruism.

Dr. Rose acknowledges that this is all true, and also admits that these changes will not turn out well. But…. he also notes that continuing what we are doing now is unlikely to yield different or more improved results:

America is in the very early stages of a big pedagogical experiment based on old ideas given new life by digital technology and the techies’ money. There isn’t enough evidence yet to conclude that this blend of technology and personalised learning serves pupils better than the status quo, but the revolution is gathering pace.

It could, Rose acknowledges, “go horribly, horribly wrong”. If it does, a lot of children’s lives will have been damaged; but then it is hardly as though the existing system is releasing the full potential of America’s young people.For Rose, giving children more control over what they learn and how they learn it is central to achieving that. Ultimately, he says, “you should have a right to know who you are.”

Is the opportunity for every child to learn at their own pace worth the risk of some students taking longer to complete school? The risk of more data being shared and sold to advertisers? Mr. Rose thinks so… and if it is done slowly and deliberately by elected school boards I agree.

 

Philanthrocapitalist Reed Hastings’ View of Public Schooling Will Widen Divides

November 9, 2018 Comments off

Reed Hastings, libertarian founder of Netflix and leading funder of the charter school movement in California, has a warped view of public education, one that if brought to scale would undercut public education’s role as a force for equity.

“Reed Hastings: Netflix CEO Goes Nuclear on Public Schools” a lengthy profile of Mr. Hastings by Joel Warner that appeared earlier this month in Capital & Main, describes Mr. Hastings desire to completely destroy the existing governance structure of public schools by replacing elected boards of education with corporate boards who oversee schools that consist largely of internet streaming sites that operate something like Netflix, the corporate he knows best and sees as the best way forward in all operations. In the article Mr. Warner describes how Reed Hastings earned his first millions and decided to use his new found wealth to invest in charter schools:

After the success of his first start-up, the debugging program maker Pure Software, made him a multimillionaire in 1995, Hastings decided to use some of his wealth to tackle the problems he saw in the nation’s schools. “I started… trying to figure out why our education is lagging when our technology is increasing at great rates and there’s great innovation in so many other areas—health care, biotech, information technology, moviemaking,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “Why not education?”

Mr. Warner describes how his decision to tackle education combined with his libertarian beliefs led to his determination to overthrow the governance model for public schools. That, in turn, led him to donate huge sums to the charter school movement and, as a by product, to political campaigns of like-minded politicians in California. ultimately, Governor Grey Davis, who benefitted from Mr. Hasting’s contributions and agreed with the need to privatize public education, appointed Mr. Hastings to the Chairmanship of the State Board of Education in 2000, where Mr. Hastings had a short-lived opportunity to put some of his ideas about public education into policy… and some politicians found his ideas abhorrent:

While president of the board, he aggressively pushed for English-language instruction for immigrant students, adopting a policy that limited federal funding for elementary schools that weren’t teaching at least two-and-a-half hours in English every day. That rule, later overturned, was part of what education observers say was a lengthy dismantling of California’s bilingual education programs. Hasting’s stance on the matter caused Democratic legislators to block his reappointment in 2004, despite the fact that he was a key Democratic donor. “Just because [Hastings] and right-wing Republicans thought it was a good idea to force immigrant children to speak only English in school, he gets to derail bilingual education for a decade?” says Karen Wolfe, a California parent and founder of PSconnect, a community group that advocates for traditional public schools. “That’s not disruption. That’s destruction.”

Mr. Warner describes how Mr. Hastings vision for dismantling the existing governance structure of public education will have an adverse impact on economically disadvantaged families. Quoting Derecka Mehrens, co-founder of Silicon Valley Rising, a campaign to raise pay and create affordable housing for low-wage workers in the tech industry, he writes:

“We see profound consequences, both political and economic, when technology industry leaders take action from a position of privilege and isolation from the very communities they desire to help,” she says. “When tech industry leaders like Reed Hastings call for an elimination of school boards or for more privatization of public schools, they block low-income people from using the one instrument that the powerful can’t ignore – their vote.”

After recounting several examples of charter school failures and several studies that underscore the limitations of technology when it comes to solving the kinds of problems students bring with them to school, Mr. Warner concludes with this:

Undeterred (by these evident shortcomings), Hastings and other school reform-minded tech billionaires want to inject the start-up mentality into the country’s schools, using high-tech solutions to replace human labor and disrupting longtime management and oversight approaches in the name of efficiency.But to Brett Bymaster in San Jose, that’s not the right approach. After all, roughly half of all start-ups fail. What happens to the children who get caught in those failures, like the students left without a school when California Charter Academy folded?

“I have been through several successful Silicon Valley start-ups. I am as techy as they come,” says Bymaster. “But ultimately the problems in our schools are people problems. Technology doesn’t solve people problems. People solve people problems.”

And that phrase… people solve people problems… captures the limitations of technology when it comes to addressing the inequities in our society and restoring public schools to their rightful place as a means of overcoming adversity. Increasing the screen times of children raised in poverty to match that of children raised in affluence will NOT address inequity. Public schools will improve only when they are given the means of addressing “people problems”.