Archive | June, 2017

San Diego Schools Embrace Untested “Depersonalized” Learning

21 Jun

San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) is spending lavishly on technology despite their budgets being decimated by California’s unaccountable charter school industry. During the 2016-17 school year, SDUSD bought digital badging and 16,000 new Chromebooks.

“The district is struggling with a projected $124 million shortfall to its $1.4 billion budget, and have issued in the neighborhood of 1,500 layoff notices to full and part-time employees” reports the San Diego Union.

This kind of insanity seems to be a national movement. There is almost no evidence supporting these new theories of technology driven education. Yet, the leaders of financially strapped SDUSD are spending to have their students become experimental subjects for learning products produced by technology companies.

A recent article in the NY Times by Natasha Singer describes how DreamBox (a widely distributed math learning program) is popular with children but not for doing the math but for doing things like spending points to customize their avatar. Singer writes,

“So far there is little proof that such technologies significantly improve achievement. Adaptive learning courseware, for instance, generally did not improve college students’ grades or their likelihood of completing a course, according to a 2016 report on some of these programs by the S.R.I. Education research group.”

“Badges, We Don’t Need No Stinking Badges”

My friend, Tim, graduated for University City High School this year and invited me to attend his ceremony. I went to the school’s website for parking instructions, where I saw this:

Digital Badge

The badge image contained a hotlink to the SDUSD website which notifies the reader:

“Starting winter 2016, San Diego Unified will begin awarding achievement by issuing digital badges. Digital badges are virtual tokens issued as recognition of a skill, or behavior demonstrated, or an achievement a student has earned.”

Much of this informational page is little more than a corporate advertisement with a video claiming how wonderful and popular digital badging is. The instructions for getting started say SDUSD offers ninety-five high school badges and 20 elementary and middle school badges. Students and parents are informed:

“Students will be notified of badges through their Gmail email account accessible through their Google apps for education.”

Elementary and Middle School Badges

SDUSD also informs us that they won’t just be Cub Scout style merit badges. Soon, students will receive “micro-credentials” that will be recorded in their records kept by University of California San Diego extension.

This all looks harmless enough but it is not! Behind the digital badging scheme is a toxic combination of corporate greed and hubris. As digital badging grows, classical teacher led education will be undermined in all but exclusive high end private schools. It is yet another path to education on-the-cheap driven by profit motives instead of pedagogic expertise.

Additionally, badging is a data mining corporations dream come true. Students will lose all semblance of privacy.

Behavior badging in China is explained in this video about gamifying good citizenship. It gives me the creeps; however, behavior modification is already part of digital badging.

Emily Talmage teaches public school in Maine, where badging started a couple years ago. She describes what she’s learned:

‘“By collecting skill-based badges, the record of achievement begun in secondary school becomes the foundation upon which workers build their capabilities and tell their stories to employers,’ explains the infamous testing-behemoth, Pearson Education.

Knowledgeworks recently described the new learning system as an ‘ecosystem,’ in which the role of the traditional teacher will soon be obsolete.

“With major investments from Wall Street, leaders in the online learning, ed-tech, and student loan industries, and even celebrity billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix, the transformation has recently been picking up speed. Meanwhile, political groups on both the left and right are moving the system forward by lobbying for ‘personalized,’ competency-based policies and ‘innovative’ assessment systems.” [Note: Reed Hastings of Netflix is also owner of DreamBox Learning, Founder of Rocketship charter schools and a board member of California Charter Schools Association.]

“Personalized learning” is the Orwellian name given to computer delivered education. It is isolating and devoid of human interaction. There is nothing personal about it. It truthfully should be labeled de-personalized learning.

Adults Engaged with Students are Key to Intellectual Growth

America’s public education system was wildly successful right up to the advent of modern education reform. There were problems but the creativity of America’s students led to cultural, scientific and economic leadership in the world. No other country comes close to matching the US in either Nobel Prizes awarded or new industries created. The non-coercive (no high stakes testing) learning environment of our public schools allowed students to create wonderful respectful relationships with many adults and develop according to their own personality.

Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of the Soka Schools, discusses the importance of teachers in his book Soka Education, “Recognizing each student as a unique personality and transmitting something through contacts between that personality and the personality of the instructor is more than a way of implanting knowledge: it is the essence of education.” Ikeda also mentions that Socrates likened this to being “kindled by a leaping spark” between teacher and student.

This May, Fredrik DeBoer posted results from a January study by Jens Dietrichson, Martin Bøg and Trine Filges. In his post, DeBoer explains the science behind the study and praises its methodology. He also shares some of the results that are behind a pay wall. The abstract for the report called “Academic Interventions for Elementary and Middle School Students With Low Socioeconomic Status.” states,

“This systematic review and meta-analysis seeks to identify effective academic interventions for elementary and middle school students with low socioeconomic status. Included studies have used a treatment-control group design, were performed in OECD and EU countries, and measured achievement by standardized tests in mathematics or reading. The analysis included 101 studies performed during 2000 to 2014, 76% of which were randomized controlled trials.

Weighted Average Effect Size

This graphic from DeBoer’s post is a comparative graph of the weighted average effect size. The impact of each intervention component is shown in terms of standard deviations on the horizontal axis. The five most effective interventions all require human interaction. If we are led by evidence, then we must admit that the human component in education is crucial.

There are Reasons Education Technology is More Popular than Effective

In 2013, SDUSD created the i21now committee and gave it ninety days to prepare a report on education technology going forward. The committee made up of 104 individuals included Cindy Martin SDUSD Superintendent, several other district executives, seven classroom teachers and thirty-five representatives of corporations and foundations promoting digital learning.

Corporations/Foundations Count
Apex Learning 2
Apple 3
At&t 4
Cisco 2
Cox 3
Dell 1
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 1
iEngage Mobility 1
Intel Foundation 1
Lenovo 2
Microsoft 3
Partnership for Children 1
Project Tomorrow 1
Promethean 1
Qualcomm 3
Reality Changers 1
SENTRE Partners 1
Time=Warner 2
ViaSat 1
XO 1
Total 35

In general, the teachers and IT professionals who volunteer to be on a technology committees are themselves technophiles likely to be biased. Of course, the representatives of the network, software and hardware corporations who comprise an outsized share of the committee membership are there to promote their products.

Project Tomorrow has a representative on the i21now committee. I have written previously about the influence Project Tomorrow had on the school district where I worked (Sweetwater Union High School District). One of the teacher members of our technology committee sent us all data and brochures from Speak Up praising computer based education and de-personalized learning. Project Tomorrow and Speak Up are both part of tomorrow.org.

More than 90 corporations and non-profits are referenced as financial supporters of tomorrow.org. Included amongst the contributors are both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.

It is not surprising that the i21now committee mapped a technology path forward that is nearly identical to the positions promoted by large technology corporations and tomorrow.org. The executive summary of their report has 21 bullet point. Here are a few that caught my eye.

“Pursue new funding sources and repurposing current funding by moving expenditures away from textbooks and structured classrooms toward virtual learning, digital content and personalized learning.”

“Provide students with mobile access to broadband connectivity anytime/anyplace, while leveraging resources and partnerships to drive down costs.”

“Ensure sustainable funding to provide access at home and beyond for all students.”

“Support upgraded wireless, wired, and 1:1 environments, plus building systems and VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), while ensuring accessibility with digital dashboards and portals.”

“Incorporate reputable online resources and real-time data to differentiate instruction and engage students with real-world content.”

“Implement competency-based learning and problem-solving-based assessment, aligned with Common Core standards.”

The last bullet point calls for competency-based learning. This is not a new idea and it has failed miserably in both the 1970’s and the 1990’s. The theory is that education can be chunked down into discrete learning standards or competencies.

In the 1970’s this theory was called mastery learning. Soon educators were derisively calling it “sheets and seats.” It failed so miserably as a pedagogical practice that it was renamed. In the 1990’s it was called outcome based education. The new name did not help because the theory was still bogus.

Badging and competency-based learning are yet another incarnation of this behaviorist theory of education. Just because it is being done on a computer does not mitigate the fact that it is based on a bad theory of human behavior.

I do not say that education technology and learning programs have no value, but I have never seen an exemplary learning program. At their core, they all eventually become computer based drill and skill. Teachers have known for a long time that this is a bad pedagogical method widely denigrated as “drill and kill.”

The implementation of technology in the classroom will never reach its potential until that implementation and design is led by educators. Some of my friends believe that the badging and competency-based education are an existential threat to public education. I don’t. It is a bad product and parents do not want their children sitting at computer terminals. They expect them to be in authentic learning environments with competent experienced teachers.

Rich people will never accept this enervated method of education for their children.

Credit Recovery Farce Generates Spectacular Graduation Rates

8 Jun

A miracle has occurred. America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. Astoundingly, even with increased graduation requirements rates have shot up.

Many school districts in California now require all students to meet course requirements for entering the University of California system to graduate from high School. That is a dramatic increase in academic rigor. Yet, in 2016, over 83% of California’s freshman cohort graduated on time. In 2012, 81% of the freshman cohort in America graduated on time. These record setting numbers are the result of knuckleheaded political policy, cheating and credit recovery.

What is Credit Recovery and Where did it Come from?

In the 1990’s politicians like Bill Clinton and Jeb Bush were pushing for standards in education and accountability measures. Jeb Bush’s infamous school grading system called for 25% of a high school’s grade to be based on graduation rates. Bill Clinton wrote in 1998,

“We have worked to raise academic standards, promote accountability, and provide greater competition and choice within the public schools, including support for a dramatic increase in charter schools.”

“We know that all students can learn to high standards, and that every school can succeed if it has clear instructional goals and high expectations for all of its students; ….”

Donald T. Campbell’s 1976 paper presented a theory about social change that is now widely revered as Campbell’s Law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Exactly as the Social Scientist, Campbell, postulated, this national push to increase the standards of school rigor and to use social indicators (graduation rates and high stakes testing) to evaluate schools has introduced distortion and corruption.

How were school leaders going to protect their institutions and their own jobs from the ravages of horribly shortsighted and uninformed education policy? The solution was obvious; teach to the test and find a way to raise graduation rates.

To the rescue, came both the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with many other lesser contributors. They perceived it was time for advancing the privatization of public education and accelerating the adoption of technology in education. Credit recovery was a perfect vehicle.

A mouthpiece for these foundations, the Education Commission of the States, explains:

“Credit recovery is an alternative to course repetition for students who have previously failed a course needed for high school graduation. Programs may be offered via computer software, online instruction (including through a state’s virtual high school or a local virtual school) or teacher-guided instruction (small group or one-on-one), and are typically targeted at the standards in which students were deficient, rather than all standards in the original course.

“Programs should be self-paced and competency-based ….”

Another organization significantly financed by Walton and Gates iNACOL (International Association for k-12 Online Learning) promotes a virulent form of computer based education known as CBE. I discussed CBE in a previous post: “CBE is basically outcome based education moved to digital space. Outcome based education was the new 1990’s name given to a previously failed strategy known as mastery education (AKA ‘seats and sheets’).” The fundamental theory of CBE is that education can be reduced to discrete pieces of knowledge. It’s bad theory.

iNACOL also weighed in on credit recovery:

“Our country has been trying to address the graduation crisis in many ways.”

“Today, one of the root issues is the older students who are missing a significant number of credits do not have the time to sit in class again, thus competency-based programs are a better option.”

Echoing the unsubstantiated “Nation at Risk” iNACOL does not see foolish policy or growing poverty leading to stagnate or falling graduation rates. It sees a CRISIS!

With credit recovery students are able to gain graduation credits in as short a time as a day. According to several teacher friends who have taught teacher led credit recovery, there is no real instruction, just filling in packets (“seats and sheets”). I have heard many students say, “I don’t care if I fail, I’ll do credit recovery.” Why not? It’s easier.

How Fraudulent is Online Credit Recovery?

At the high school where I taught this year, I overheard a pair of administrators speaking in hushed tones about the fraud going on in the learning center. In our district, there are twelve learning centers which are technically separate schools. They provide online credit recovery for students who have not earned enough credits. The discussion was about seeing students using smartphones to answer the test questions provided by Apex Learning. The fact that this behavior was being tolerated was what galled them.

As is made clear in a recent series of eight article about credit recovery published by Slate Magazine, cheating on credit recovery is not unique at all.

Zoë Kirsch wrote in her Slate article, The New Diploma Mills:

“Almost 90 percent of school districts use some form of credit recovery, according to a 2011 report from the National Center for Education Statistics (the center doesn’t distinguish between online and other forms). And data cited by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a trade group, shows that at least 75 percent of districts use some form of online learning. So, we can say this about online credit recovery: It’s pretty big.”

Kirch’s article also reports that in Nashville, graduation rates increased from 70 percent in 2007 to 81.6 percent in 2015 following the introduction of online credit recovery. Even more stunning, in Los Angeles the graduation rate grew from 54 percent to 75 percent in a single year when credit recovery was introduced in 2015.

A supervisor of credit recovery at East Gadsden High in Florida was informed that some students there were paying one another to do online coursework. When she reported it to the district, an administrator there told her to “leave it alone.” “There’s some things you can’t fix.”

The article “Fast. Isolating. Superficial.” by Stephen Smiley shares,

“She [Elizabeth Bieze, the guidance counselor who oversees the virtual lab at Sullivan High School Chicago] adds that it’s not atypical for students to recover credits for yearlong classes in under a week. ‘They do really well in the pretest, they get to skip a bunch of stuff, and they just take the final exam,’ she says. ‘It has helped our graduation rate immensely.’”

Stephen also found this:

“‘Anyone wanna do a math credit recovery for me I’ll pay you,’ read one tweet posted by a student in Erie, Pennsylvania, in August. ‘If anyone wants to go online and do my chemistry credit recovery I’d be more than happy to give you my username and password,’ wrote another student in Arkansas. Naturally, online learning companies like Edgenuity and Apex insist that most don’t actually follow through and that the chatter is mostly empty boasting.

“That may be so, but I didn’t have too much trouble finding students online who insisted they had cheated without being caught. One of them, Joseph, who is a 17-year-old senior at a Long Island high school in New York, said his online English class was uninspiring, so he paid a buddy $200 to complete it.”

Stephen also wrote a second article for Slate, “I Am an Online Credit Recovery Dropout.” In it he describes a personal experience of taking a few online courses. Stephen concluded,

“But I also came to appreciate what many students had told me about virtual learning: Compared with regular school, there’s less interaction with teachers, fewer opportunities for creative expression, and little chance to bounce around ideas with classmates. While online learning clearly has some strengths (programs can be tailored to individual needs, for instance), it’s hard to get away from an overarching conclusion: The experience as a whole can be pretty boring and lonely.”

Why is Credit Recovery Flourishing?

Francesca Berardi wrote “Take These Students, Please” about online credit recovery in Chicago. Surprising to me, it turns out that former basketball star Magic Johnson is a significant participant in the industry. Francesca notes,

“During Emanuel’s administration, Magic Johnson has become a major player in Chicago’s education world: Bridgescape operates five programs across the city, serving more than 850 students, and as the Chicago Tribune reported, in March 2015 another of Johnson’s companies, SodexoMAGIC, received an $80 million contract to take over janitorial services for several Chicago Public School buildings. Following the contract, Johnson donated $250,000 to Emanuel’s campaign for re-election.

“Not surprisingly, last September, Emanuel announced that in just five years the high school graduation rate had jumped from roughly 50 percent to 73.5 percent.”

‘’’The district is giving high school diplomas for programs that are nowhere near comparable to regular high schools,’ said Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association and a fierce critic of Emanuel’s administration.”

Zoë Kirsch and Stephen Smiley teamed up to write “Why Bad Online Courses Are Still Taught in Schools.” The article opens with this story from Florida:

“Last year, the Florida Department of Education rejected the company Online Education Ventures, which failed to provide descriptions of its virtual courses in science, social studies, and English (it provided descriptions of the math courses, but they didn’t meet state standards). A year earlier, the state disqualified Mosaica Online because the company didn’t show it could provide timely information about its courses. And it said no to Odysseyware, since it failed to outline student anti-discrimination policies or show how its products could meet the needs of students with disabilities.

“But here’s the rub: Those companies are still allowed to sell their products to schools in Florida. Public school districts can still use public money to educate students with discredited products like Online Education Ventures.’”

“The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council has made expanding online learning—unfettered and in all of its forms—one of its priorities. … ALEC has quietly but effectively helped mostly Republican lawmakers pass the kinds of laws the online learning companies want—laws that, for instance, require all graduating high school students to complete at least one virtual class.”

According to Zoe and Stephen, no states are doing a good job of regulating online learning and credit recovery. “As it happens, one of the most rigorous judges of online credit recovery classes is the NCAA. The NCAA’s standard is higher than what any state government requires for its students.”

Some Conclusions and Recommendations

Credit recovery has introduced a corruption into public education.

Online learning is only better than no other alternative. It is lifeless and dull. Some people claim there are ways to make it better, but I seriously doubt that it will ever match a classroom with a teacher to stimulate supervised dialog as a learning vehicle.

The push for credit recovery is a blatant scheme to impose privatized online learning.

Until this corruption has been eradicated, diplomas that are awarded based on credit recovery should have a reduced status to legitimately earned high school diplomas. That will at least reduce the incentive to “get it in credit recovery.”

Of all the increased academic requirements, the requirement for advanced mathematics to graduate from high schools is the most counterproductive. Most college graduates will never have a reason to make a binomial expansion or mathematically describe a conic section. Roll back these stupid requirements. Every student is not going to Berkeley.

Notes:

The five Slate Magazine articles I cited above are more on point for my article but these three articles cited below are also valuable reads.

Bottom of the Class By Francesca Berardi and Zoë Kirsch highlights some of the worst online companies.

Online Education Doesn’t Have to Be Isolating By Sarah Carr discusses some ways online learning can be done well.

Just Take It Again By Stephen Smiley describes how some of the online design makes it easy but not authentic.