I am an an advocate for using technology to individualize and personalize instruction, but I fond myself getting a know in my stomach as I read Laura Ascione’s eSchool article titled “If You Give a Kindergartener a Chromebook”. The article described the experience Jamie Morgan, a Kindergarten teacher in Wichita Falls TX, has using Chromebooks in her classroom of children, many of whom had special needs. This paragraph gave me my first knot:
Because her class from the previous year was high-achieving, no one expected this new class to achieve the same test scores. And although Morgan’s new class entered with “scary” test scores, by the end of the year, their test scores surpassed the high scores of her previous class. Much of that achievement is due to the Chromebooks, Morgan said.
My reaction to this paragraph: TEST SCORES to determine “achievement” for Kindergarten students??!!! Have we lost our collective minds?
As I read on I learned that the students in Ms. Morgans class spend hours on end in front of a computer mastering the use of various Google applications. I have five grandchildren whose ages range from 4 to 11 and I cannot imagine wanting the to spend classroom time on a computer. They enjoy engaging with each other, playing pretend games, writing “plays” to present to us, and engaging in physical activities. My children do everything possible to keep the children off screens.
After reading the article I was more convinced than ever that the last thing Kindergartners need is a course based on Chromebooks. Far better for them to use their open minds to learn another language or, better yet, learn how to ride bikes, hit a tennis ball or baseball, or enjoy walking in the woods.
Having worked as a consultant for several school districts in Vermont, I know that one of the challenges district in that state face is how to implement a recent legislative mandate to provide a quality preschool for all children. In trying to provide Universal Preschool, school districts face physical and political problems— geographically remote students, undersized and outmoded schools, and pre-existing “Nursery School” programs operated out of private homes— and fiscal problems— the price tag for teachers, aides, and other support staff can be daunting.
A recent article by Thomas Arnett in ESchool News has a possible solution to these thorny issues: online pre-school. Mr. Arnett reports that Utah instituted such a program called Upstart over six years ago and the result are promising:
In the six years since it launched, Upstart’s results have shown students in the program to demonstrate strong gains in early literacy that significantly exceed those of students in matched control groups.
As these cohorts of Upstart students progress through their first few years of school, they continue to outperform their peers on state exams. Most noteworthy is the fact that special education students, low-income students and English learners have the largest gains relative to their comparable peer groups.
Given that Upstart costs just $725 per student, it is a more-than-sensible solution in states where universal preschool does not exist.
A variation of the caveat phrase, “in states where universal preschool does not exist” appears again at the end of the article, with another caveat on top of it regarding affordability:
But for parents who cannot afford private preschool and who do not live in a region with state-funded preschool options, these programs offer valuable access to early learning opportunities.
As many states rush to provide universal preschool education, I would not be at all surprised to see this model expand rapidly. Why? Because politicians realize that getting parents used to the idea of delivering instruction through computers as opposed to having live human beings provide instruction will save millions of dollars over time… and the fact that it can be done for a fraction of the current cost will enable them to keep their promise to expand programs without having to raise taxes, hire hundreds of new teachers, or worry about transportation logistics or facility limitations. A restatement of the last paragraph with a slightly different slant will indicate why these online preschools are likely to spread:
But for politicians who are unwilling to raise taxes to cover the costs of public preschools that are the equivalent to private preschool and who govern a region with NO state-funded preschool options, these programs offer valuable way to claim they are offering access to early learning opportunities.
You can call something a “preschool”… but if it consists of “…15 minutes per day, five days per week, (where) students log into the curriculum to engage in adaptive lessons, digital books, songs, and activities designed to develop their knowledge and skills in reading, mathematics and science.” it doesn’t warrant the name— especially when it is overseen by an untrained parent. Watch, though: in the next five years I am willing to wager that at least ten states will launch online preschools based on “The Utah Model”— unless they use their $725 voucher to help underwrite the cost of a bona fide preschool or a sectarian preschool that offers Bible instruction.
I get daily feeds from ESchool News, a daily blog that features articles that are often written by technology entrepreneurs or, as in the case of the one featured in this blog post, leaders of non-traditional on-line educational institutions. David Knoche, the Executive Principal of Pikes Peak Early College (PPEC) in Peyton, Colorado, posted an immodestly article titled “Groundbreaking School Blends High School and College Together”. While I am suspicious of articles touting success of institution that are in their infancy, I DID find the model for PPEC to be compelling. As described by Mr. Knoche, PPEC offers a highly personalized approach to high school and post-secondary programs that offers asynchronous on-line coursework augmented by regular interaction with classroom instructors and supplemented with external learning opportunities. Here’s how Mr. Knoche describes the “typical” schedule for a PPEC student:
Days in school consist of teachers leading project-based learning to complement what students are learning online, as well as helping students master the concepts they are learning in the online courses. Students spend the other two days of the week completing online courses at home, participating in internships or shadowing opportunities, or attending classes on community college campuses.
PPEC also offers counseling services, flexible schedules, and monetary support to students in an effort to meet the uniques needs of difference kinds students, which Mr. Knoche characterizes as “high-achieving or elite students to students who aren’t as high-achieving, but are highly driven; first-generation college students; and students from populations that are under-represented in post-secondary institutions.”
As one who finds the traditional high school model designed nearly a century ago to be outmoded and irrelevant to most students, it appears that PPEC has a model that would connect with disengaged students. My only suspicion is that the program appears to have begun a year ago, making it’s claims that students can seamlessly transition from high school to college somewhat incredulous. The PPEC concept, though, IS appealing and could hold promise for States like Vermont and New Hampshire where high school students can attain credits for experiential learning and can cross-enroll in state post-secondary institutions while they are enrolled in high school. Stay tuned to see if PPEC is in existence a decade from now and if, at that time, it is delivering on the promises described in Mr. Knoche’s article.
The Christiansen Institute offers thought provoking weekly articles on the potential for disruptive technology to help public education meet the demands placed on it. This week’s e-issue of their newsletter included an article by Thomas Arnett describing the potential for newly developed apps that rely on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to provide psychological and psychiatric support to schools. Mr. Arnett provides an overview on the use of these new apps as follows:
Untreated mental illness silently plagues a large portion of the United States population. Roughly one in five adults in America suffer from some form of mental illness in a given year, and approximately 60 percent of those cases go untreated. These statistics are similar for teenagers; and educators report that depression, anxiety, and social phobias among youth seem to be on the rise.
Fortunately, a new menu of online mental health resources start to address these unmet needs; and some pioneering options have efficacy results comparable to face-to-face therapy. Programs such as MoodGYM, MyCompass, and Beating the Blues teach principles and techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help people suffering from anxiety and depression. Other online solutions designed for teens, such as Bite Back and Base Education, teach students how to focus, reduce stress, handle difficult emotions, and improve social relationships.
Will online alternatives disrupt traditional face-to-face therapy in the not-too-distant future? To answer that question, consider how they measure up to the disruptive innovation litmus tests.
The “litmus test” poses six questions developed by Clayton Christiansen to determine if a new technology has the potential to be “disruptive”— that is if a new technology can result in a paradigmatic change in the way a business is operated or a service is provided:
1. Does it target nonconsumers or people who are over-served by an incumbent’s existing offering in a market?
2. Is the offering not as good as an incumbent’s existing offering as judged by historical measures of performance?
3. Is the innovation simpler to use, more convenient, or more affordable than the incumbent’s existing offering?
4. Does the offering have a technology enabler that can carry its value proposition around simplicity, convenience, or affordability upmarket and allow it to improve?
5. Is the technology paired with a business model innovation that allows it to be sustainable with its new value proposition?
6. Are existing providers motivated to ignore the new innovation and not threatened at the outset?
In assessing the potential for these CBT apps Mr. Arnett acknowledges that the apps fall short on the second question posed in the “litmus test”. They clearly and unarguably fall short when compared to face-to-face therapy:
Online alternatives to therapy fall short on many fronts when compared to visits with professional psychologists. Current online software cannot read and interpret patient’s verbal and nonverbal cues to diagnose mental illnesses with professional accuracy, nor can it identify patients’ needs, preferences, and life circumstances to develop custom-tailored advice. Software also cannot form relationships with patients to motivate them and hold them accountable.
But even with that clear and unequivocal deficiency, the on-line apps are clearly superior to nothing, which is what troubled teens are getting now. Moreover, with some degree of hybridization is might be possible to use apps to help the limited number of trained school personnel address mental health issues. Mr. Arnett concludes with this:
Although professional psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors may scoff at the limitations and risks of online mental health support, online options will not threaten professionals’ livelihood any time soon. Online options may be effective for helping people with moderate and untreated anxiety, depression, and addiction, but they have a long way to go before they can match high-quality professional treatment for more debilitating conditions such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
If online mental health solutions have the potential to disrupt the traditional model of mental health care, the unfolding of this disruption cannot come soon enough for K–12 education. School psychologists, nurses, and social workers are in short supply, and many students do not receive needed mental health treatment. Meanwhile, many teachers find themselves shouldering students’ mental health needs on their own. Unfortunately, when mental illnesses go untreated, students pay the price in lower academic achievement and overall well being.
As my colleagues Julia Freeland Fisher and Michael Horn have written, schools that aim to address student achievement challenges need to integrate across factors beyond academics that affect students’ ability to learn. Mental health is definitely one such factor, and convenient, low-cost, disruptive alternatives to traditional mental health care may prove critical for unlocking schools’ capacity to bring high-quality mental health care under their roofs.
I read Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn’s book, roughly ten years ago and was and still am convinced that their book was full of ideas with great potential for public education. They used the transistor radio as a metaphor to describe how technology might enhance education. Like the transistor radio, technology could deliver instruction (or in this case therapy) in a rapid, low fidelity but inexpensive fashion to a wider audience. The teachers’ (or in this case therapists’) role would change from being the deliverer of low fidelity content to being the “refiner” of the content: they could offer periodic assessments of whether the student was mastering the content— or in this case whether the content was having the intended impact on the student’s well being.
Skeptics abound when it comes to using technology in education, a skepticism driven, in part, by the fear that on-line education will ultimately replace teachers (or in this case therapists) completely. But teachers— like the therapists– should not feel threatened by technology, for just as “Online options may be effective for helping people with moderate and untreated anxiety, depression, and addiction” the online options for instruction can only be effective for helping students who are self-actualized and motivated learners. Just as on-line apps for mental health will never be able to “match high-quality professional treatment for more debilitating conditions such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia”, on-line instruction will never be able to motivate a student to learn and never be able to fully understand the unique needs of each student. That is where the art of teaching comes into play… an art that is being lost as we increasingly teach-to-tests at the expense of addressing each student’s potential.
Here’s a story that SHOULD appear in the Onion but is, alas, true: on Monday, the Arizona House advanced a bill passed by the Senate that requires every Arizona student to take a one-hour class in computer coding sometime between the fourth and 12th grades. As reported by Laurie Roberts of the Arizona Republic, the thinking behind this bill, introduced by State Senator John Kavanaugh goes like this:
“We’re simply trying to show young students what coding is so they understand the concept,” the Fountain Hills Republican told the House Education Committee. “More importantly, they realize it may be something they’re interested in and something that they’re capable of learning.”
And where will the teachers come from? The cloud! Ms. Roberts writes:
And oh yeah, the teacher doesn’t have to actually know anything about coding. According to the bill, they can tap code.org, a Seattle-based non-profit that offers online tutorials on basic coding skills.
This is classic legislation: it’s fast, cheap, and easy. Too bad addressing the root problems of so-called failing school is slow, costly and difficult.
Intercept writer Lee Fang posted an article yesterday describing civil rights organizations’ support for the repeal of the regulations that result in net neutrality. As indicated in earlier posts, the new FCC chair, Ajit Pai, is predictably pushing for repeal of net neutrality by rolling back the declaration that the internet as a utility. And, as Fang reports, he is getting support from unexpected sources:
In a little-noticed joint letter released last week, the NAACP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, OCA (formerly known as the Organization for Chinese Americans), the National Urban League, and other civil rights organizations sharply criticized the “jurisdictional and classification problems that plagued the last FCC” — a reference to the legal mechanism used by the Obama administration to accomplish net neutrality.
Instead of classifying broadband as a public utility, the letter states, open internet rules should be written by statute. What does that mean? It means the Republican-led Congress should take control of the process — the precise approach that is favored by industry.
None of the civil rights groups that signed the joint letter responded to a request for comment.
Why would these groups, who represent minorities that would benefit from net neutrality, lobby to see it end? The answer is obvious: the telecom industry makes substantial contributions to them and is now seeking some written support in return. Fang details that donations each civil rights group has received and describes the role an umbrella lobbying group, the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council (MMTC), played in orchestrating the letters supporting the end of net neutrality:
(T)he Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council (MMTC), a group funded by the telecom industry… has previously encouraged civil rights groups to oppose net neutrality. MMTC in previous years reported receiving about a third of its budget from industry-sponsored events; its annual summit, which was held last week, was made possible by $100,000 sponsorships from Comcast and AT&T, as well as a $75,000 sponsorships from Charter Communications and Verizon.
So the MMTC, “…which acts on the needs of telecom lobbyists” can compose a letter to be signed by the civil rights groups whose organizations receive money from the telecom industry and then actively lobby “on behalf of the civil rights groups who are signatories” on complicated legislation that not only falls outside the mission of the civil rights organizations but also works against those who are supposed to be served by the organization.
Welcome, once again, to the plutocracy.
But, as Fang notes at the end of his article, the MMTC head assures those of us who advocate for net neutrality have nothing to worry about:
Kim Keenan, the president of MMTC, the group that organized the joint letter, has showered Pai with praise. “He is really focused on closing the digital divide. As an advocate, I feel so much pride that that it is a priority for his chairmanship,” Keenan told Multichannel News, a trade outlet.
Mr. Keenan has evidently consumed large quantities of the telecom Kool-aid because nothing in the telecom legislation gives any indication of a desire to close the digital divide and nothing in the Republican platform indicates that desire. The divide will widen and income and education will follow…