Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Welcome to the Plutocracy: the 8 Richest People Have More Wealth than the Bottom Half

January 17, 2017 1 comment

The headline and pictures in the NYTimes article tell you a lot about the world economic condition. Here’s the headline:

World’s 8 Richest Have as Much Wealth as Bottom Half, Oxfam Says

And if you click on the link above you’ll see the picture of eight white men, and here’s a summary of how they gained their wealth:

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, led the list with a net worth of $75 billion. He is scheduled to speak at the forum in Davos this year.

Amancio Ortega Gaona, the Spanish founder of the fashion company Inditex, best known for its oldest and biggest brand, Zara, has a net worth of $67 billion.

Warren E. Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, $60.8 billion.

Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecommunications magnate, $50 billion.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, $45.2 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s creator, $44.6 billion.

Lawrence J. Ellison, the founder of Oracle, $43.6 billion.

Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and founder of the media and financial-data giant Bloomberg L.L.P., $40 billion.

Technology, finance, and communications dominate the list… and looking at their net worth I have only one question: how much is enough?

We CAN have Both Our Humanity and Technological Advancement

January 16, 2017 3 comments

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by Claire Cain Miller titled “A Darker Theme in Obama’s Farewell: Automation Can Divide Us”. In the essay, Ms. Miller outlines the ways technology is being used to automate jobs in a fashion that displaces low-skilled workers. What the essay fails to emphasize is that this displacement is done to enrich shareholders without regard for the “collateral damage” being done in the name of creative destruction of the marketplace. After reading the essay, I left this comment:

One set of tasks cannot be automated: those requiring a caring, compassionate, and empathetic service provider. These kinds of service providers are valued by retailers— the ideal waitstaff at the restaurant or fast food emporium, the ideal Walmart “associate”, and the ideal help desk worker at the other end of the line when you call to make inquiries about your credit card are all expected to show they care and expected to provide you with the best “customer service” possible, albeit for minimum wage.

In an ideal world— where profit and efficiency are not valued over humanity— health care providers would also be caring, compassion and empathetic. But in our effort to provide efficient and cost-effective health care our insurance companies force health care providers to see as many patients as possible without regard for the way service is provided.

In an ideal world we would find a way to fully fund the jobs that explicitly require caring, compassion and empathy: teachers, social workers, and those who aid the helpless. But, alas, those are all “government jobs” and we wouldn’t want to raise our taxes to fund “government jobs”.

In an ideal world we could realize the benefits of technology without losing our humanity. We could achieve this if we used technology to reduce the workloads of everyone instead of using it to increase the profits of the .01%.

In an ideal world, everyone would work four days, schools would be fully staffed, social service agencies would have larger staffs, and— yes— wealth would be more evenly distributed. We COULD make this happen by design… or we could continue along our current path and achieve the dystopia envisioned by many science fiction writers and, arguably, George Orwell. While we have a choice we should make it.


Harvard, MIT MOOC Study Illustrates Conundrum Faced by Public Schools

January 15, 2017 Leave a comment

I just scanned a report from HarvardX and MITx, the joint venture of those two renowned institutions into the world of MOOCs and it brought to mind a conundrum public education faces in dealing with on-line courses. Here’s an overview of the dilemma:

  • Teachers organizations and state school board regulations are generally opposed to awarding credits to students who earn credits through on-line courses or through any means other than “seat time” …. BUT
    • Teachers need to complete coursework for re-certification.
    • Teacher pay scales are typically designed to offer an advancement in compensation by accumulating graduate courses at an accredited college and, in some cases through the accumulation of “course equivalency units” set by the school district.
    • Teachers are ALL pressed for time and teachers in rural areas are often a great distance away from a site where courses are offered…. SO
  • Colleges, universities, professional organizations, and “edu-preneurs” have developed on-line methods for teachers to complete necessary course work to remain certified AND on-line methods for teachers to earn graduate credits AND courses that students in small rural schools can complete on line… AND
  • Those same colleges, universities, professional organizations, and “edu-preneurs” developed on-line methods for other professionals (e.g. lawyers, medical professionals, any profession requiring a license) to complete necessary course work to remain certified

During my last years as Superintendent this confluence of events posed some difficult questions for us.

  • If other professions grant re-certification through on-line courses why shouldn’t teachers earn their re-certification courses the same way?
  • If  colleges, universities, professional organizations, and “edu-preneurs” have developed on-line methods for teachers to earn graduate credits why should we require them to drive 100 miles round trip to complete graduate courses at the closest State college offering courses— especially when those same institutions were offering courses on-line?
  • If we are willing to offer teachers the opportunity to earn graduate credits for on-line courses, credits that would advance their pay, why should we offer students the same opportunity to earn credit for high school courses that would enable them to graduate earlier? or enable them to expand their part-time work hours? or to devote more time to athletics? or to devote more time to playing on-line games?

As you can see, the advent of MOOCs posed some perplexing questions about the potential for technology to disrupt the usual and customary methods for schooling. The answers to these questions will define the direction of public schooling in the future… as well as the role of school boards, government regulations, and teachers in the future.

Debates About Governance and Privatization Are Beside the Point When AI is about to Displace Millions of Jobs

January 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch linked one of her blog posts to an Education Week article by Marc Tucker that discussed whether the US should follow the UK’s lead in re-instituting a model of schooling that sorts and selects based on aptitude as measured by standardized tests.

Having just reviewed Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy by the Executive Office of the President, I find myself thinking that the debates on how schools should function and whether they should be privatized to be immaterial and a diversion from the reality that is staring our country in the face and the consequences of that reality on our education system from Pre-K through grade 12. The section the report that is particularly astonishing is “AI and the Labor Market: The Near Term”, which predicts driving jobs are particularly vulnerable to elimination based on “…the current trajectory of AI technology”. Friends who work in investments are forecasting the advent of driver-less trucks and cars within a decade, an advent that would eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs. Moreover, analyses cited in the report forecast that “…83% of the jobs making less than $20 per hour would come under pressure from automation as compared to 31% of the jobs making between $20 and $40 dollars per hour and 4% of jobs making above $40 per hour”.

If 2,000,000 current jobs that do not require high-level skills are going to disappear forever, what kinds of jobs will take their place and, more importantly, what kinds of skills will the new jobs require? the report foresees four categories of work:

  • Engagement: This refers to engagement between humans and AI technologies. The report foresees AI technology serving as “Augmented Intelligence” in the same way computers augment the work of clerks and managers. This should increase the productivity but will not necessarily expand the workforce.
  • Development: Someone will need to design the AI technologies and write and maintain the software that runs on them. These new jobs will clearly require an advanced skill set. The report suggests that “…development may include those specializing in the liberal arts and social sciences… who can give input as the new technologies grapple with more social complexities and moral dilemmas”. This, of course, assumes that “social complexities and moral dilemmas” will need to be dealt with, an assumption that also assumes that some government oversight of the implementation of technology is both feasible ad desirable.
  • Supervision: The report envisions an increase in jobs related to the “…monitoring, licensing, and repair of AI”. Like the development jobs, these will require a higher level of education than the jobs they are displacing.
  • Response to paradigm shifts: This catch-all category assumes that the advent of driverless cars, for example, will necessitate regulatory and engineering changes as well as changes in urban planning. The report also sees increases in jobs like cybersecurity.

While the report is rosy in its forecasts regarding the advancement of technology, it also includes some sobering notions about what the future may hold. For example, one school of thought (see Brynjolfsson and McAfee) notes that the current economic trends indicate that “superstars” may benefit from technological advancement while most workers will experience a decline in their wages. The report notes that this would “…exacerbate the current trend in the rising fraction of total income going to the top .01%”. 

The report offers some ideas for how publicly funded schooling should respond to this change in the workplace.

  • Prepare all children with college- and career- ready skills in math reading, computer science and critical thinking
  • Address the “…low levels of proficiency in basic math and reading for millions of Americans”, specifically the performance gap between low income children and those raised in affluence.
  • Increase the enrollment in high quality pre-schools, where our country ranks 28th out of the 38 developed economies. This section also emphasized the importance of intervening early with those children raised in poverty since they fall behind early and never catch up.
  • Provide all workers and children with access to affordable post-secondary education.
  • Dramatically expand access to training and re-training. The report cites data indicating that our nation spends .1 percent of its GDP on the training and retraining of active employees other nations spend .6 of their GDP…. and we are currently spending less than half of what we did 30 years ago.

Achieving each these goals for schooling will require more money. Our current paradigm is that displaced workers should fend for themselves. That should either be expected to move where the jobs are or pay for more schooling by borrowing and if they borrow to attend a school or program that is ineffective it is their problem. I would argue that this paradigm is fueled by the notion that “government is the problem” and that, in turn, contributes to the despair that led to the election of Mr. Trump. Those of us who want to see public education succeed need to advocate for publicly funded government sponsored re-training programs and, in so doing, help those displaced workers understand that their support for publicly funded schooling will help them a lot more than railing against the overpaid union teachers and “government schools” that failed to prepare them for the world they are living and working in today.

Anti-Standardized Testing Pushback Against Formative On-line Assessments MAY be Misguided

December 20, 2016 Leave a comment

All computerized testing is not equal… and my suspicion is that some parental pushback against the formative on-line testing may well be misguided. Yesterday, Valerie Strauss turned her Washington Post blog over to Lisa Guisbond, a testing reform analyst at FairTest, who decries the “…new standardized testing craze” that his hitting public schools. FairTest’s “Fact Sheet” on this craze describes formative on-line testing as follows:

Education policymakers and technology providers have joined forces to accelerate a longtime push for “test data-driven” education interventions. Both sectors look to computer-based curricula and data collected with online tests to control classrooms and define educational outcomes.

Though couched in humanistic language about “personalization,” such a transformation is leading to even more frequent standardized testing. This narrows and dumbs down instruction to what low-level tests can measure, depresses student engagement, and produces inaccurate indicators of learning.

As a first year teacher who taught (or attempted to teach) urban 8th grade students basic mathematics skills in the early 1970s, I would have loved having a computerized testing program that allowed students to progress at their own pace without me having to spend hours on end grading quizzes and tests I administered to them. Because the skill level of the students I was assigned was far below the text books I was given, I ended up writing a self-paced “text-book” for one section that consisted of 40+ ditto sheets and handing it out and collecting it daily in class. The “text-book” sprinkled cartoons of me hand-drawn by my artist-wife and little narratives that incorporated lyrics from songs that were popular at the time. I had a packet of worksheets that corresponded to the work in the booklet. The deal was this: if the students worked diligently on the packet during class and did one or two worksheets at home they would get a “B” and if they did more worksheets at home they’d get an A. I used this to good effect in Spring of my first year and hoped to expand on it over the summer… only to learn that I would be assigned to teach a “Computer Course” in my second year because I had taken one computer programming course as an undergraduate.

Here’s what I learned from my 8+ week experience using these worksheets with a group of students who had not learned basic math skills by 8th grade:

  • They had heard for 7 years that they were terrible in math and believed it.
  • Their teachers “covered” the mismatched curriculum for seven years and often failed the students because their skills were “deficient”
  • I spent far more time preparing materials for class and far less time grading quizzes
  • I spent less time on classroom management and far more time working one-to-one with students
  • I could have spent even more time outside of the classroom reviewing each students performance if I had a Khan-academy-like program for the students to progress through

And here’s concerns me as a technologically literate administrator who wants to see more computer-assisted learning: the anti-“standardized testing” obsession might lead to pushback against on-line formative tests that could be more engaging than whole group instruction, free up teachers to do more analysis of each student’s strengths and weaknesses, and provide more insightful data on students than we have traditionally gathered with the kinds of teacher-developed assessments.

I believe more individualization is a good thing. It should free teachers from menial grading of quizzes and provide them with time to meaningfully examine the quiz results, allow students to experience success by moving at their own rate instead of a normed rate (which necessarily means a 50% failure rate), and provide time for intentional group interaction discussing mathematical applications to the real world once students master fundamental skills.

Those who decry the replacement of teacher graded paperwork with computer-graded paperwork are overlooking the reality that a lot of classwork and homework is based on the need for repeated practice of low-level skills, and asking teachers to grade these low-level activities is a waste of their time and talent. Better to have a computer perform that function so that teachers can be freed to interact directly with children who hit a roadblock.

American Thinker’s Thoughtless Insights on Public Education

December 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Occasionally a post from the American Thinker blog comes through my Google feed and compels me to examine public education from a conservative perspective. “Help us with public education, Donald“, this morning’s post by Richard Miniter, offers a conservative’s perspective on what Betsy DeVos should do for public education, but it is generally short of new ideas and long on faith in the marketplace. After analogizing education spending to spending on the military (while conveniently overlooking the fact that roughly 39% of spending on the military is contracted to the private sector), Miniter notes that literacy rates in our nation and Britain have not increased since 1980 though, according to his figures, the US spends $620,000,000 annually on public education. Thus, he is not seeing any “Return on Investment” for all the money being spent. His solution? THE MARKETPLACE!

…If the population of the United States requires sixteen million new cars and trucks every year, that’s what the United States produce.  Need a million tons of potatoes?  You got it.  A billion cheeseburgers?  Get the ketchup ready.  And so it follows that absent government education, one might confidently predict that if the nation has a requirement for 95 or 90 or 80% literacy among parents or the labor market, that’s what the free market will hand off.

If the market is free to do so.

Make it homeschooling, small local private schools, expensive snotty private academies, distance learning – whatever.  With whatever that is, parents have the means and the inclination to indulge themselves with.

This preposterous logic overlooks the fact that the marketplace is currently generating a diet that is has a higher rate of obesity than ever and a life expectancy that is diminishing… but no matter…. the magic of the market is already working in “education”. How?

The greatest advance in information distribution since the invention of movable type is the still unfolding computer revolution.  But what we don’t think about is that this revolution is accompanied by the most incredible educational effort ever undertaken in the history of the world as children learn how to use computers, smartphones, and other handheld devices in order to begin texting or talking to one another.  To learn how to connect to the world’s databases, encyclopedias, books, news, and opinion sites.

And every bit of this vital education has occurred outside the government’s K-12 system and at zero cost to any taxpayer.  Without public school teachers, “education presidents,” school boards, state departments of education, without landscaped multi-million-dollar campuses or two-hundred-dollar boring textbooks, and without having most of a $620,000,000,000 annual bill for services vanish into teacher salaries and cushy retirement funds.

So ask yourself this: if the text messages your children compose and send already exceed by a factor of two hundred the word count of the essays they’re required to produce in public school, who and what are actually teaching your child to write?  If your children are accessing the millions of free or very inexpensive books and other information sources online in order to explore and master the subjects that excite them, who and what are teaching your child to read?

If Mr. Miniter is using the word count of tweets, text messages, and social posts as the basis for “literacy” then schools are unnecessary. And if he is unconcerned about the quality and accuracy of the “other information sources online” that students are exploring on line then schools are not required to deliver curricula. And if he believes that having children spend endless hours looking at screens in darkened rooms is preferable to spending time outdoors or in an environment where they come in contact with other future citizens. In the end, Mr. Miniter seems more interested in lowering his taxes and propagating scare stories about the “evil influences” children are exposed to in “government schools”:

(Ask yourself) if the school taxes you’re required to pay on your home run five, ten, or fifteen thousand dollars annually, is having a teacher show your child how to put glitter on his finger-painting worth that?  Is the danger to your child from violent students the school cannot expel worth that?  Or are the long bus rides, endless indoctrination in transgenderism, the really diseased obsession with “diversity,” skewed history classes, dumbed down textbooks, having somebody sell your child drugs in a school bathroom, worth that?

The marketplace won’t solve the problems of violence children experience at home, of dealing with gender issues, of learning how to interact with people of differing backgrounds, of drug abuse. If the marketplace could solve these problems they shouldn’t exist anymore… and if “the government” created them they would only exist here. These are all issues that are a part of the human condition, issues that can’t be measured by the number of words in tweets, text messages, and social posts.


Say Goodbye to ANY Chance that Technology Can Provide an Equitable Learning Opportunity

December 16, 2016 Leave a comment just read today’s NYTimes editorial and was inclined to slam my laptop shut. “Expect a Cozy Trump-Telecom Alliance” includes this disheartening paragraph:

On the chopping block are net neutrality rules adopted by the F.C.C. in 2015 to prohibit companies like Comcast and Verizon from giving preference to some content over others. For example, Comcast is not allowed to engineer its broadband network to download movies and TV shows from its NBC Universal subsidiary faster than movies from Netflix. These rules were upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in June. But the F.C.C. under Mr. Trump is likely to repeal them. Once Mr. Trump appoints a new F.C.C. chairman, probably early next year, Republicans, who have been inveterate opponents of telecom regulation in recent years, will have a 3-to-2 majority on the commission; Democrats have a majority now.

The deregulation will be great for the oligopolist oligarchs… but yet another obstacle to those in rural outposts and urban areas where profits are hard to come by.