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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.

One to One Initiative Threatens Public Education

27 Mar

One to one classroom agendas have a dark side that includes the destruction of public schools as we know them; where teachers and students interact. It’s a dystopian ideology that posits students earning education badges while working in isolation at a digital screen.

This month, the entire staff at my high school received an email from a colleague who recently volunteered to be on our district’s technology committee. The message said in Part:

“In doing research for next year’s Technology Plan I came across some interesting data collected by the Speak Up 2015 Research Project.

“Although this particular data is from 2015 it still makes a lot of great points! Click on the links below, I promise it is a quick read.  Enjoy!”

The email message included three links to infographics provided by tomorrow.org.

What do Parents Really Think about Digital Learning

Looking Inside Today’s Digital Classroom

10 Things Everyone Should Know About K12 Students’ Digital Learning

These infographics claim that to be the result of authentic unfiltered data from respectively; 38,613 K-12 parents nationwide, 38,157 K-12 educators nationwide and 505,676 K-12 students, parents and educators nationwide. Ever since my Viet Nam war experience, I have been less trusting. I seek verification for all claims. I want to know the research methodology and who is paying.

Project tomorrow’s research is based on volunteers who engage with their web site answering survey questions. The web site is mostly an advertisement for implementing digital learning and a guide for how to lobby local schools to implement it. It has an agenda and a profound bias.

There are more than 90 corporations and non-profits listed as supporters of tomorrow.org, which is the cyber-space marketing location for this group. There are many such groups like this which are lavishly financed by corporations to promote competency based education CBE. Another one is Future Ready. In addition to the eighteen largest contributors pictured below, both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are contributors to tomorrow.org.

Corporations Sponsoring Project Tommorrow

This time, the Sweetwater Union High School District’s technology committee is being influenced by the corporate sponsors of tomorrow.org. Last time the district technology plan was updated, in 2014, the technology committee was influenced by Project Red. Project Red is supported by many of the same corporations as Project Tomorrow and Future Ready. All three organizations promote one-to-one education at a computer screen. I agree with a fellow teacher who said, “The last thing 21st century students need is to be put in front of another screen.”

Last year when writing about this same issue, I wrote:

“When congress passed the new education law (ESSA), the United States Department of Education (USED) became the nation’s leading education technology sales force. Secretary of Education John King has effectively become a shill for a group of corporations and their ‘non-profit’ foundations working to sell ‘blended learning’; ‘competency based education’; ‘personalized learning’; ‘linked learning’; etc. These initiatives have at least four things in common; they all profit technology companies; they all are unproven; they all promote unhealthy education practices; and they overturn a student’s right to privacy.”

Competency Based Education (CBE) Updates a Failed Strategy from the 1990’s

Obama’s Education Department was an unabashed supporter of CBE and the new federal education law ESSA provides money to encourage CBE. On the Department of Education web-site, it defines CBE:

“Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.”

“By enabling students to master skills at their own pace, competency-based learning systems help to save both time and money. Depending on the strategy pursued, competency-based systems also create multiple pathways to graduation, make better use of technology, support new staffing patterns that utilize teacher skills and interests differently, take advantage of learning opportunities outside of school hours and walls, and help identify opportunities to target interventions to meet the specific learning needs of students.”

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”). Outcome based education failed miserably around the world. The big advantage for CBE is that giant profits are possible for corporate providers, especially technology companies.

I never expected to quote Phyllis Schlafly but she wrote a prescient report in 1993, “What’s Wrong With Outcome-Based Education?” She said:

“Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famous Russian author and former political prisoner in Soviet Gulags, said in a speech in the mid-1970s:

‘Coexistence on this tightly knit earth should be viewed as an existence not only without wars . . . but also without [government] telling us how to live, what to say, what to think, what to know, and what not to know.’

“Unfortunately, that’s what Outcome-Based Education is — a process for government telling our children how to live, what to say, what to think, what to know, and what not to know. What the children say, think and know must conform to the liberal Politically Correct ideology, attitudes and behaviour. What they do not know will be everything else. And because they won’t know the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, they won’t be able to find out. OBE is converting the three R’s to the three D’s: Deliberately Dumbed Down.”

Maybe you dismiss Phyllis Schlafly as a paranoid right wing cook, but this video about how the Chinese are gamifying good citizenship should give you the creeps.

Emily Talmage teaches public school in Maine, where CBE is being piloted. 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.]

The educator known by his wonderful blog, Curmudgucation, Peter Greene, recently wrote:

“Personalized learning, whether we’re talking about a tailored-for-you learning program on your computer screen or a choose the school you’d like to go to with your voucher, is not about actual personalization. It’s about another path for marketing, a way of personalizing the marketing of the product, the edu-commodity that someone is already trying to make money from.”

There is presently a Tennessee court case asking the provocative question, “does a student have a right to a teacher or is a computer enough?”

What is the Proper Place for Digital Education?

The one-to-one initiative being marketed as personalized learning makes little sense. Having tax payers provide a tablet or laptop computer to every student is crazy. It is obviously not personalized learning any more than correspondence school was personalized learning in the middle 20th century. Some student with unique situations may succeed with cheap on-line learning but as a strategy for most students, there is no reason to think it will work.

Our spending for public education needs to be submitted to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. As much fun as it may be to give every child a digital learning device, the quality of learning would likely be more improved if the school district used that money to reduce class sizes by one or two students. The one to one digital initiative is an unproven theory for improved education but class size reduction is a proven theory.

However, having sufficient computer resources available for students to use makes sense. It might be a good idea to make classes like keyboarding (typing) available and highly encouraged. My students are amazed when they see me typing without looking at the keyboard. That is a skill that has served me well and I think our students should have that opportunity.

Even cyber-course work could be valuable, if it is not mainly about maximizing profits. In his book, Teaching Minds, the cognitive scientist and pioneer in online learning, Roger Schank, makes the point that good online education costs as much as good classroom education. Class size still matters and the learning project designs must be well thought-out and relative to the particular class of students. However, today’s K-12 cyber-schools are really cyber-frauds.

The bottom line with technology spending and use in the classroom is that very aggressive well financed corporate sales teams see schools as a huge market. In addition, federal dollars are getting earmarked by corporate friendly politicians for technology spending. Therefore, it is prudent to look at how valuable this technology really is and not be swayed by the hype.

It is unlikely that good use of technology in education is going to come from the Bill Gates funded Kahn Academy or Tom Vander Ark. It is much more likely that most of the excellent thinking on use of technology in education will come from America’s classroom teachers. Let’s not be bamboozled or intimidated. It is classroom teachers that know what is valuable for learning.

Education Reform Musing

14 Feb

I have done a lot of whining about “corporate education reform” and the “test and punish” theory of education reform and “standards based” top down education. I am in full agreement with the conclusion Kristina Rizga reached after her four years’ study of Mission High in San Francisco, “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.”

However, I am tired of being Debbie Downer. So, I will share my thoughts on a positive path of improvement for education in America.

Democracy and Local Control

Never let foreigners decide how and what should be taught in your kid’s school. By foreigners, I mean anyone that has never been in the school and lives more than 50 miles away.

Reed Hastings of Netflix was such a heartfelt liberal that he even joined the Peace Corps. He taught mathematics in Africa. Yet, in 2000, this once liberal crusader used his vast wealth to lift the cap on charter schools in California. Today he may be even more infamous for telling the California Charter Schools Association that elected school boards are anachronisms and should be replaced by non-profits running charter schools.

This is the problem with the uber-wealthy and their political assets controlling education. As statistics expert Gene Glass wrote “success in business has proven to them that their circle of competence knows no bounds.” It is my firm belief that the wisdom of the masses expressed through democratic processes is far superior to the dictates of any one of us including political titans and the billionaires.

In 1891, at the NEA gathering in Toronto Canada, Francis W. Parker of Chicago representing the Cook County Normal School declared:

“The soul seeking peace and comfort under the dominance and permanence of fixed ideals shrinks with dismay from the inevitable blunders, stupidity, ignorance and calamities that invariably accompany all democratic growth. The short road of centralization seems to reach in a day that which takes years to accomplish under the patient waiting for that slow dawning of intelligence which leads to right action on the part of democratic communities.

“Our foreign critics mistake variety and honest individual striving for chaos. That which has its birth in the desires and intelligence of the people, and is applied by the will of the people, becomes an organic, permanent factor in the progress of civilization of that people. It is rooted and grounded upon the people-“Vox POTTI. Vox dei.” But that which is imposed upon a people by any authority below heaven breaks into atoms when the intelligence and power of a people can reach and control it.

Centralized power may be a necessity for infancy, but manhood sheds it off for the strong wings of freedom.

In 1916, John Dewey wrote in his book Education and Democracy,

“An aim must, then, be flexible; it must be capable of alteration to meet circumstances. An end established externally to the process of action is always rigid. Being inserted or imposed from without, it is not supposed to have a working relationship to the concrete conditions of the situation.”

It is not just writers from Mother Jones or 19th and early 20th century American educators who warn of the deleterious effects associated with centralized power and ridged standards. The famed Japanese Buddhist philosopher and educator, Daisaku Ikeda writes in his book Soka Education:

“I have in the past called for the principle of the separation of powers to be expanded to give education a status and independence equal to that accorded the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Because education is a profound endeavor that shapes the individuals of future generations, it should be completely independent of political interference.”

Throughout his long illustrious career Mr. Ikeda has developed friendships and established what Peter Greene calls “thinky tanks.” In the book mentioned above, Ikeda quotes Columbia University’s Professor Robert Thurman’s answer to a question he received at the Ikeda founded Boston Research Center for the 21st Century. He was asked how he views the role of education in society. Thurman replied, “I think the question should rather be; what is the role of society in education? Because in my view education is the purpose of human life?”

The former Rector of the National University of Cordoba, Argentina, Francisco J. Delich is a friend who Ikeda wrote about in his book, Unforgettable Friends. Ikeda imparted:

“Having been driven from the lectern by the government in the past [1976-1983], Dr. Delich is very deeply and personally aware of the evil of allowing government to control education. He wants to build a society in which political leaders respect educators. Education, he believes, is the very foundation of the nation.”

Rizga, Parker, Dewey, Ikeda, Thurman and Delich contravene the thinking of the billionaire class who believe schools should be centrally commanded like the monopolistic enterprises by which they were enriched. People of great moral purpose believe in democratic processes. They understand it is impossible for capitals of power to satisfactorily meet the educational needs of any community by imposition. Democratic processes based locally is the true foundation for developing education. In America, the heart of that development is the board managed public school.

Democratize Schools

 At the school, the power of principals should be reduced and the power teacher department leaders increased. Instead of running schools like a factory with a central figure in charge, schools should be run by committees made up of educators, students, community members and administrators. Many schools in California already have a faculty advisory committees made up of teachers and administrators. They also have school site councils consisting of students, parents and teachers. These groups should run the school.

Today, the only path for advancement available to educators is to leave the classroom and become an administrator. Instead of losing our best teachers to management, pay department heads more and utilize their expertise to improve teaching.

It is unrealistic to expect any one individual (the principal) to be an expert in all disciplines. Make the department chairs the curriculum experts. Add requirements to their position like a master’s degree and ten years of experience. The selection of the department head should remain the purview of the department staff.

Administrators should run school functions like facilities, registration, discipline enforcement, etc. The policies that they administer would be developed by the faculty advisory committee and the school site council.

In other words, let’s democratize our schools and respect all voices including students. District managers should be just that. They should be there to take care of budgets and personnel matters. Schools should not be subservient to districts. Quite the opposite; the district is there to serve the school. We need to get rid of the American ideology that posits a fabled superstar leader. Rather we need to embrace democratic action.

Curriculum

The concept of standards based education was motivated by the undeniable fact that good curriculum is a requirement for outstanding education. Unfortunately, this is the path to authoritarian top down control with its associated negative outcomes. I have written about some of these negative outcomes here.

Today, many states have adopted two sets of terrible education standards which I wrote about here, here, here and here. In a nutshell, standards do not really fit the needs of any schools and they are enforced by authoritarian means based on pseudo-science.

Standards based testing is totally useless for measuring anything other than the economic health of the community being tested. Standards based test cannot evaluate schools, teaching or student learning. As soon as high stakes are tied to them, they become a complete fraud.

We have the best trained teaching force in the history of America. Our teachers are fully capable of designing the curriculum for their schools. Strong department teacher leaders working collaboratively will produce much better curriculum tailored to that community for less money. Because the teachers who developed the curriculum believe in it and are personally invested in its success, they will do a better job of delivering it.

Reality Versus Marketing

Betsy DeVos who is completely unqualified by experience or training has just been confirmed as Secretary of Education. However, this is nothing new. Arne Duncan was also confirmed as Secretary of Education and he was completely unqualified by experience or training. Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walmart heirs wield great influence over our present increasingly autocratic education system and none of them have the kind of experience or training that their level of influence requires. This is our present reality.

Bill Gates has made silly claims like experience, advanced degrees and class size are not that important to teaching and learning. Just yesterday, I read this post, “The Rise of Crony Appointees and the Inexpert Ruling Class” by Professor Paul Thomas of Furman University, Greenville SC. He observed that “Education and education policy have been a playground for Innovators! who have no historical context or real experience in day-to-day teaching and learning.”

Public education is not a business. It’s an environment in which human beings grow intellectually, physically and socially. There is no product and it’s not really a service. Education is unique and trying to fit it into a business box may have seemed like a reasonable idea, but it didn’t work. Business leaders make poor education leaders because they do not have education expertise.

The truth is that expertise based on training and experience are crucial for any endeavor. A deep problem in some charter school chains is they were founded by people who rejected education expertise, scholarship and training. I give details about these schools in this post. There are many possible motives for our current odd propensity as a society to reject professionalism in education and pursue fool’s gold, but whatever the excuse we are harming America.

Yes there are failing schools in America. The cause for that failure are racial segregation, poverty, misguided political policies, racism and graft especially by politicians. The schools in Oklahoma City that John Thompson described fell into their miserable state because of top down mandates and lack of funding. Schools in Newark were the victim of decades of graft.

The failure of all of these schools would have been avoided if professional educators and parents were the dominant voices in the operation of schools.

The cost of testing and technology has drained enormous (unknowable?) amounts of money out of America’s classrooms. In his massive study of the rise and fall of civilizations, the great historian Arnold Toynbee observed in his A Study of History, “The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the waters than a shoal of sharks arises from the depths and devours the children’s bread under the educator’s very eyes.”

We are spending enough money to have splendid houses of learning from coast to coast but education monies are being squandered by politicians and business elites. Squandered on impractical or even harmful ideas like “personalized learning” (a kid at a screen running a program provided by Reed Hastings) or “blended learning” (fraudulent schools in the strip mall giving graduation credits for spending time at a computer) and endless testing. The last thing kids in the 21st century need is more screen time.

To create truly great schools, democratize them, limit technology and use teacher generated assessments.  Stop the money drain and use those resources and good sense to:

  1. Reduce class sizes
  2. Increase teacher pay and teacher education requirements
  3. Value experience
  4. Respect and unleash the vast amount of talent on the staff of every school in America.
  5. Believe in democracy.

“Say it Ain’t So” NEA and AFT

6 Jan

In 1919, the biggest baseball star in Chicago and possibly all of America was “Shoeless Joe” Jackson. After “Shoeless Joe” and seven other members of the Chicago White Sox were convicted of fixing the 1919 World Series, the Chicago Daily News headline – “Say it ain’t so, Joe” – was the anguished plea from fans and especially hero-worshipping boys. Today, when I look at America’s teachers’ unions, I feel similar emotions to the ones those disappointed boys must have felt.

The leadership of both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) are not protecting educators and public schools. They campaigned for and support the new education law ESSA. They lend their name to advance Competency Based Education (CBE). They promote Social Emotional Learning (SEL). In the last election, both unions immediately endorsed a candidate with a greater than two-decade record of promoting policies undermining professional educators and privatizing public schools.

The California Teachers Association (affiliate of NEA) publishes, California Educator. There are two main thrusts in the December 2016 issue; implementation of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and promotion of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) education.

NGSS like its sibling CCSS codifies terrible education theory that arose at the behest of a corporate leader, Louis Gerstner (RJR-Nabisco CEO). (To be fair Gerstner did not just sell cigarettes; he also worked at IBM.)

Selling Social Emotional Learning

I have positive opinions of Buddhist philosophy, however, western fads like mindfulness, where the psychological underpinnings of the Buddhist principles are not well understood, annoy me. Here is a quote from the December California Educator:

“The gentle sound of chimes is followed by the teacher’s voice asking students to focus on being in the here and now at Pioneer Elementary School in Union City.

“Neena Barreto is helping transitional kindergartners regulate their own nervous systems through practicing the art of mindfulness.”

In another short piece about Michelle Cauley, we are told:

“Cauley, one of six SEL facilitators with Los Angeles Unified School District, teaches children how to deal with their emotions by using calming techniques such as deep breathing and counting to 10. She provides professional development to educators in the Second Step SEL program, which offers K-8 lesson plans training.”

The Second Step SEL program is a product of the Committee for Children. They describe themselves:

“Committee for Children is a global nonprofit dedicated to fostering the safety and well-being of children through social-emotional learning and development. We are the world’s largest provider of research-based education programs that have helped over 9 million children in 26,000 schools develop vital social-emotional skills to avoid violence, bullying, and sexual abuse. From Iowa to Iraq, Chile to Chicago, we are helping children around the globe stay safe, respect themselves and others, succeed in school today, and build a better world tomorrow.”

Califronia Educator quotes Cauley,

“Kids should be getting these skills at home, but they’re not. Now students are teaching these skills to their families.”

All of this may seem positive, warm and fuzzy, but this last quote is problematic. Is there a darker side of SEL which includes inappropriate intrusion of government into family life and child rearing? A wise old saying alerts us that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Joy Pullman, managing editor of The Federalist, comments on SEL Boosters:

“The federal government has pushed states to create initiatives like this by demanding in the new federal law that replaces No Child Left Behind, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, that states include “non-academic measures” in school ratings. Despite this, all the leading researchers in this nascent field say the sorts of quasi-psychological measures are not at all reliable enough to be used to rate schools, states, or individual children. That’s not stopping boosters, however (it rarely does).”

One of those boosters is the California Office to Reform Education or CORE. I have written about this faux government agency. It is financed by – the usual we know better than any professional educators “non-profits.” CORE districts has made social emotional learning 40% of school evaluation. The following graphic is taken from their pilot SEL document sent to participants.

core-districts-sel

Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project in Washington, DC.  Writing in Townhall She states:

“According to the monolithic progressive-education establishment in this country, SEL is the next big thing to fix the problems with public education. The same was true of outcome-based education, and Common Core, and fads infinitum. But this fad isn’t just ineffective, it’s dangerous. Parents should demand a halt to pseudo-psychology – and a restoration of their autonomy in raising their children.”

The big Kahuna in the SEL movement is CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning). In 2010 CASEL asked Joseph Durlak, PhD, Professor emeritus of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago, to conduct of study of SEL. His investigation was the first large scale study of SEL and it showed impressive results. The main funding for the study came from William T. Grant Foundation and the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. The summary of claims:

“This article presents findings from a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning (SEL) programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.”

This study was a meta-analysis of data collected between 1955 and 2007. There are three main bias problems with meta-analysis studies. Number one is the obvious problem of a researcher shading the data, the second common problem is a good meta-analysis of badly designed studies will still result in bad statistics. The third – and I suspect most relevant here – is the file drawer problem characterized by negative or non-significant results being tucked away in a cabinet.

In September 2011, Berkley’s Julie Suttie reported about Durlak’s paper in the journal Greater Good. Professor Suttie wrote:

“While these results are encouraging to SEL researchers and practitioners, not all large-scale studies have provided such hearty endorsements of SEL lately. Last fall, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, released a report that evaluated seven different SEL programs, including Positive Action, and the results were underwhelming.

“In the study, for each SEL program, a research team compared a group of five to seven schools running that program with other schools in the same district not employing the program. When the researchers looked at their results, they saw no significant differences in social and emotional literacy between the schools that received SEL training and those that didn’t, and no increases in academic achievement or decreases in problematic behavior. In other words, the SEL programs appeared to be duds.”

The December California Educator makes the NEA commitment to SEL obvious and the AFT provides free lesson plans for teaching SEL. The teachers’ unions are backing another Bill Gates promoted set of top down standards to be forced on public schools. To quote the Turko Files, “It’s just not right!”

STEM is and Always was a Fraud

In the 1990’s, I was working in Silicon Valley. The papers were full of reports about the shortage of American trained engineers. Our Democratic congresswomen, Zoe Lofgren promised to work with Democratic President, Bill Clinton to open the doors to foreign talent – to expand the H1B visa program.

In 1993, just the year before Zoe began her congressional campaign to save Silicon Valley, every company interviewing engineering graduates at San Diego State University cancelled the interviews. By 1995, in the San Jose area, engineers were rapidly changing jobs as companies tried to steal each other’s secrets and talent. One of the main motives for promoting the fraudulent H1B visa program was not as much driving salaries down as it was the fact that engineers working on those visas could not change companies.

The biggest justification for the H1B visa program was that we were not training enough math, science and engineering professionals. The reality I saw was people who could have easily applied their skill set in a different area that had a need – were laid off. New hires from India or China were given those open positions.

California Educator does not question the assumptions about needing to inspire more students into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) it just asserts “STEM education is taking off.” The union organ then regales us with real-life examples of STEM teaching heroes and heroines.

We read, “For Camie Walker’s elementary students, engineering makes math and science relevant.” Camie is quoted as saying “To me, engineering is the path-way between math and science and language arts, so students can make connections to what they are learning in ways they never could before.”

We are also assured that “Her STEM program incorporates Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core.”

Another piece in California Educator starts, “This year, Jason Diodati’s upper-level engineering students are building battling drones.” The article continues, ‘“They’ll have to rebuild the ones that get destroyed,’ says Diodati, who teaches physics and engineering at Templeton High School in Templeton, near San Luis Obispo.”

Neither Walker or Diodati are teaching engineering. They are teaching project based science. Engineering is a branch of applied physics that people cannot study until they develop advanced mathematics and science skills. Generally, people do not study engineering until their second year at a university and not in real depth until their third year.

I like the concept of teaching project based math and science, but mislabeling it engineering to placate businessmen in engineering companies has doomed the NGSS science standards. These standards have kindergarten engineering standards that are somehow supposed to be unique from kindergarten science standards. Standards based mechanized education is horrible education theory and horrible unnecessarily and confusing science standards are a disaster.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers magazine, Spectrum proclaimed “The STEM Crisis Is a Myth.” They counselled “Forget the dire predictions of a looming shortfall of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.

Writing for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, Jay Schalin observed,

“Everybody knows that the best way to get ahead today is to get a college degree.  Even better is to major in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects, where the bulk of the jobs of the present and future lie. Politicians, business leaders, and academics all herald the high demand for scientists and engineers.

“But they are, for the most part, wrong. The real facts suggest that, in many STEM specialties, there is a labor glut, not a shortage.”

“The apparent misinformation continues to this day. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been particularly vocal about supposed shortages of skilled labor in the computer industry.”

Walter Hickey writing at the Business Insider reputed,

“We clearly don’t have a STEM shortage. If we did, rudimentary economics would kick in and show either low unemployment for new majors or a rising price of computer science labor. People wouldn’t say they’re out of the industry because of no jobs.”

Michael S. Teitelbaum wrote a powerful piece on this issue for Atlantic magazine titled “The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage.” He reported:

“A compelling body of research is now available, from many leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute. No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more.”

If the NEA and the AFT are going to be our public voice, they have got to stop promoting corporate education reform. Stop promoting SEL standards, Common Core State Standards, NGSS science standards, STEM education fraud, Competency Based Education and the federal education law ESSA that benefits everyone but students, teachers and taxpayers. Teachers unions must fight these corporate inspired raids on education funding and their effort to de-professionalize teaching.

Education Discernments for 2017

28 Dec

The education journalist Kristina Rizga spent four years embedded at Mission High School in San Francisco and apprehended this key insight concerning modern education reform: “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.” (Mission High page ix)

California Adopts Reckless Corporate Education Standards

Standards based education is bad education theory. Bad standards are a disaster. I wrote a 2015 post about the NGSS science standards concluding:

 “Like the CCSS the NGSS is an untested new theory of education being foisted on communities throughout America by un-American means. These were not great ideas that attained ‘an agreement through conviction.’ There is nothing about this heavy handed corporate intrusion into the life of American communities that promises greater good. It is harmful, disruptive and expensive.”

 Louis Gerstner (RJR Nabisco and IBM – CEO) instigated the NGSS standards. They are so poorly written that California adopted them and then started a rewrite.

A group of billionaires influence California’s education policy; Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Reed (school boards suck) Hastings, Carrie Walton Penner, Doris Fisher and others. At their insistence, the state adopted both the nationally-flailing common core state standards (CCSS), and the unworkable next generation science standards (NGSS).

These two sets of standards are examples of bad top down education policies imposed on schools by the super-rich and associated politicos.

‘Profitization’ Movement is Destroying Good Public Education

In a brilliant article, psychometrics expert, Gene V Glass stated, “A democratically run public education system in America is under siege. It is being attacked by greedy, union-hating corporations and billionaire boys whose success in business has proven to them that their circle of competence knows no bounds.”

Up until recently, there has been a relentless effort to evaluate schools and teachers based upon standardized test scores. George Bush’s No Child Left Behind act made the testing of math and English almost the sole evaluative measure for schools. This misguided ideology was used to demonize and destroy many wonderful schools in poor communities.

I wrote about Ciedie Aech’s wonderfully sarcastic book, Why You Always Got to be Trippin? The following quote from Ciedie illuminates the unjust treatment schools in the wrong zip-code faced when judged by testing incapable of measuring school quality or student growth.

“Why was it, the question kept rising up over the years. Well, why was it that those schools most quickly and aggressively labeled as ‘drop-out factories’ – schools slated for closure or an endless chain of reforms, schools forced through the fatal destabilization of restructure and redesign, schools branded publicly as being underused failures, schools negatively marked with the highly publicized letter grade of an F – well, why was it that such a large percent of these schools (shoot, pretty much all of them) had traditionally served as a home to non-dominant-culture, non-privileged-class, minority students?”

 “Personalized Learning” Leads to Big Bucks

This year it became clear that the big profits in education were no longer in standardized testing. The real money ‘reformsters’ were lusting after was in charter schools especially cyber charters; charter school real-estate deals; and competency based education (CBE). Fortunately for profiteering entrepreneurs, the United States Congress passed a rewrite of the federal education law calling it Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

I wrote to my congressman saying, ESSA is worse than NCLB. It provides money to accelerate privatizing public education, incentivizes CBE and even continues the baseless standardized testing mandates. And it has provisions for financial companies to get into taxpayer pockets via social impact bonds. ESSA takes care of everyone but students and taxpayers.

In a recent post, I noted:

“When congress passed the new education law (ESSA), the United States Department of Education was transformed into the nation’s leading education technology sales force. The Secretary of Education became a shill for a group of corporations and their ‘non-profit’ foundations working to sell ‘blended learning’; ‘competency based education’; ‘personalized learning’; ‘linked learning’; etc. These initiatives have at least four things in common; they all profit technology companies; they all are unproven; they all promote unhealthy education practices; and they overturn a student’s right to privacy.”

Competency based education is actually a failed idea from the 1990’s but this time it supposed to work because it is delivered by a computer. One of America’s leading experts on CBE and the destruction it promises for America’s public schools is Emily Talmage. She writes:

“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.”

It is an education policy that only a toxic mix of hubris and greed could spawn.

Real education requires a life to life communion between teacher and student. Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of Soka Schools, touches on this subject 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.” Socrates likened this to being “kindled by a leaping spark” between teacher and student. Low cost on-line learning is spiritless, amoral and dead.

The author and practicing educator, Mercedes Schneider shares, “The current technological challenge for classroom teachers is not teaching students how to use technology. It’s weening kids from phones and other such personalized technology long enough for them to learn to interact with a world that is not accessed by swiping a touch screen or typing with their thumbs.”

Schools are spending huge amounts of money on electronic tablets and laptop computers to institute profit incentivized “personalized” education theories. Conversely, I recommend eliminating all student screen time until high school. In high school, I would only have students use technology for writing reports, science experiments and essays. The last thing 21st century students need is more screen time and they deserve to have their privacy protected and not hoovered up by data mining corporations.

Jack Schneider writing in the Atlantic magazine asked some provocative questions:

“Thus, despite the fact that there is often little evidence in support of utopian schemes like ‘personalized online learning,’ which would use software to create a custom curriculum for each student, or ‘value-added measures’ of teachers, which would determine educator effectiveness by running student test scores through an algorithm, many people are willing to suspend disbelief. Why? Because they have been convinced that the alternative—a status quo in precipitous decline—is worse. But what if the schools aren’t in a downward spiral? What if, instead, things are slowly but steadily improving? In that light, disruption—a buzzword if ever there was one—doesn’t sound like such a great idea.”

He went on in the article to show that public schools have indeed continued to progress.

There Are Failing Schools and They Need Repair

Why did so many parents in poor urban communities embrace charter schools? The fact is some of their schools were horrid and had been that way for as long as they could remember. When someone said, they would spend some money on the schools, parents jumped at the chance to improve their child’s school.

I heard this story at the National Public Education conference in Raleigh North Carolina. A mother from New Orleans gave her personal school experience. She said that before Katrina, the schools in the poorer sections of New Orleans were an abomination. It was normal for middle schools to have 55 children in classes, with no fans or air conditioning.

In her book School Choice, Mercedes Schneider, a product of New Orleans’ education, confirmed “Not only were the schools segregated, but more tragically, the parish refused to construct new schools for the growing black student population. Not just separate schools for whites and blacks but not of equal quality by design.”

John Thompson’s A Teacher’s Tale presents convincing evidence that taking disciplinary control policies away from local administrators and teachers in his Oklahoma high school directly contributed to violence, terrible attendance and safety issues. He describes packs of out of control gang affiliated students roaming hallways instead of attending classes, while site administrators were not allowed by state bureaucracies to take the kind of effective action needed to create a positive and safe learning environment.

On the ridiculous theory that public education needs disruption to improve, John writes, “Inner city schools need more disruption like we need another gang war.”

Failing schools are not failing because of teachers’ unions, tenure laws or bad teachers. They are failing because of bad education policy dictated by politicians and businessmen. They are failing because of racism and prejudice which are the main motivators for school choice. And they are failing because of corruption.

Dale Russakoff’s book The Prize details the epic fail of Mark Zuckerberg’s $100,000,000 gift which was matched by another $100,000,000 from several other philanthropic organizations and individuals. Intended to fix the poorly performing schools of Newark, New Jersey, it failed by every conceivable benchmark. It’s a story of feckless politicians, arrogant reformers and amazing teachers. It tells of the unmitigated degradation of the urban center of a once great American city and the difficulties facing Newark’s educators charged with the impossible task of righting that urban decline in their classrooms.

The real prize in Newark was the public education budget which corrupt politicians used to feather their own nest.

As Detroit so glaringly demonstrates, charter schools although not intrinsically bad schools, are a danger to public education. Peter Greene the educator and commentator explains:

“One of the great lies of the charter-choice movement is that you can run multiple school districts for the price of one.

“A school district of, say, 2,000 students can lose 75 students and with them about $750,000 dollars of revenue, and somehow that district of 1,925 students can operate for three quarter of a million dollars less. And how does the district deal with that loss of revenue? By closing a building – because the more school buildings you operate, the more it costs.”

A study this year in Los Angeles reported that charter schools are draining $600 million a year from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Because of fixed costs, schools must reduce services and increase class sizes to remain fiscally viable. If the privatized system becomes too large too fast, the public system will collapse. And the privatized system needs the board run school system to take the students they don’t want.

We have overwhelming evidence that charter schools are generally not as good as board run schools on almost all measures including the misleading standardized testing results. We know charters increase segregation; we know charter fraud is rampant; we know charters close when business goes bad and we know they drive education costs up. It is time for common sense to prevail.

2017

With the coming of Trump and Betsy Devos, everything I read leads me to believe that the federal government will continue and accelerate the failed Bush/Obama education policies. However, it will be out in the open because there are no fake progressives in this group to hide behind. Americans of all stripes do not want their public education system parceled out and sold. Most conservative like most liberals believe in public education. They do not want their schools taken over by faceless corporations and distant bureaucracies.

A national consensus on the need to protect America’s truly great public education system is probable.

Education profiteers will over-reach in 2017 and we will make significant strides toward winning back local control of our schools.

San Diego Schools Awash in Technology Malpractice

5 Nov

Every year, school districts in San Diego County are wasting $10’s of millions on technology. This spending binge harms education and is difficult for school boards to oppose. Worst of all children and good pedagogy are being harmed.

ESSA Promotes Technology over Good Pedagogy

When congress passed the new education law (ESSA), the United States Department of Education (USED) was transformed into the nation’s leading education technology sales force. Secretary of Education John King has effectively become a shill for a group of corporations and their “non-profit” foundations working to sell “blended learning”; “competency based education”; “personalized learning”; “linked learning”; etc. These initiatives have at least four things in common; they all profit technology companies; they all are unproven; they all promote unhealthy education practices; and they overturn a student’s right to privacy.

The former governor of West Virginia, Bob Wise, has been leading the Alliance for Excellence in Education since 2005. On their web presence the Alliance lists this group of supporters: Anonymous, AT&T Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, GE Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Kern Family Foundation, National Public Education Support Fund, Nellie Mae Education Foundation, State Farm, Stuart Foundation, and William & Flora Hewlett Foundation. For unknown reasons, the biggest dollars appear to come from anonymous. This foundation is just one example, there are hundreds of non-profits like this supported by many of these same groups. They sound well-intentioned but their main motive is monetizing and controlling education in a way that supports corporate desires.

Bob Wise’s organization sponsors Future Ready which says, “The Alliance for Excellent Education leads Future Ready in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education and a vast coalition of both national and regional organizations.” Pictured below are 3 of the 12 rows of sponsors advertised on their web site. It is disturbing that the two major teachers’ unions, American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are there along with the national PTA.

future-ready

Future Ready asks every superintendent of schools in the United States to take its pledge in exchange for some sort of support. Here is the opening statement for the Future Ready pledge:

future-ready-pledge

Signing up for this pledge is a bit arduous, however, almost every school superintendent in San Diego County has signed it; including Sweetwater’s Karen Janney and San Diego Unified’s Cindy Marten.

Practically speaking, the pledge means giving every child a device capable of providing both their lessons and their assessments. The Future Ready vision is for lessons delivered by software packages from various vendors including Microsoft, Pearson and Google. Students will then be awarded digital badges recorded in their profile in the cloud. The vision is to eliminate school as we know it (except for high end private schools).

Another of the ubiquitous non-profits working to monetize schools, ACT Foundation, teamed with the Institute for the Future to produce a video called “Learning is Earning”. It imagines a dystopian future for all Americans provided by technology companies.

A recent Texas study found that “there was no evidence linking technology immersion with student self-directed learning or their general satisfaction with schoolwork.” And the New York Times reported recently on classroom use of technology in Arizona, where “The digital push aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom.” As the Times reported, “schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.”

A blogger who goes by the name Wrenchinthegears has created a series of posts about the digital education being promulgated by Silicon Valley billionaires, politicians and federal bureaucrats: From Neighborhood Schools to Learning Eco-Systems, A Dangerous Trade and Questions We Should be asking about “Future Ready” Schools plus Wrenchinthegears has provide an amazing slide show analyzing the threat we face. He/she concludes in Trade You a Backpack of Badges for a Caring Teacher & Well-resourced School:

“In this brave new world, education will no longer be defined as an organic, interdisciplinary process where children and educators collaborate in real-time, face-to-face, as a community of learners. Instead, 21st century education is about unbundling and tagging discrete skill sets that will be accumulated NOT with the goal of becoming a thoughtful, curious member of society, but rather for attaining a productive economic niche with as little time “wasted” on “extraneous” knowledge as possible. The problem, of course, is that we know our children’s futures will depend on flexibility, a broad base of knowledge, the ability to work with others, and creative, interdisciplinary thinking, none of which are rewarded in this new ‘personalized pathway/badging’ approach to education.”

A school teacher in Maine named Emily Talmage was one of the first educators to realize the seriousness of this current attack on public education. While the rest of us were focused on limiting the damage from standardized testing, she saw that the monetizing groups had moved on to “Ed Reform 2.0” and were actually leveraging opposition to testing to advance their agenda. In her most recent post, she writes:

“Lately, the MacArthur Foundation has been everywhere that Ed Reform 2.0 (personalized, competency-based, digital learning) has been – sponsoring conferences at the U.S. Department of Education on the merits of Social Impact Bonds, awarding grants to promote digital learning efforts, and even gaining recognition for their work with Mozilla and HASTAC in advancing the competency-based “digital badging” agenda from the Clinton Global Initiative. (Yeah – the Clinton’s are involved in this too, in a big way.)”

In this same post Ms. Talmage reports on the use of digital education in China:

“Under the auspices of corporate giants Tencent and Alibaba, Chinese citizens will be required by 2020 to earn a character credit score based on their actions on social media. If you post government-approved articles, for example, you’ll earn points that you can then show off to your friends.  [It gets even creepier than that, watch this video she linked into her post.]

“And if you’re now thinking: but that’s China! That could never happen here! Consider the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – now a major investor in personalized learning initiatives across the country – is quite fond of Sesame Credit’s sponsor, Jack Ma of Alibaba.

“According to the Wall Street Journal, ‘Mr. Zuckerberg said he was optimistic about China’s future development because the country focused on science and technology education.’”

 San Diego Schools Buy In

 The Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) is a 7th through 12th grade school system serving 40,000 students in south San Diego, Chula Vista, National City and Imperial Beach. SUHSD’s 2014 technology plan says;

“According to Project RED, ‘The daily use of technology in core classes correlates highly to desirable Education Success Measures [and] was one of the top five indicators of better discipline, better attendance, and increased college attendance.’ And yet, many 1:1 schools reported using the technology only weekly or less frequently for many classes. In fact, the researchers concluded that 80 percent of schools under-utilize technologies they have already purchased.”

 The official SUHSD technology plan is highly influenced by the research of Project Red. So, what is Project Red? Is this a well-known education research center led by the most well respected education professionals in America? It is not! It’s a non-profit financed by Intel, HP, Pearson and Smart. In other words, it is a group of ‘vulture philanthropists’ tilling the soil for sales. To paraphrase Peter Greene, it is like Ford’s PR firm reporting that their new Focus is the most advanced car in the world.

SUHSD embraced 1:1 digital learning first by rolling out I-pads for all students beginning with 7th graders in 2012. This year, they have changed course; are retrieving the I-pads and replacing them with Chinese laptops from Lenov running on the Microsoft Windows operating system 10.1. It is widely believed this operating system is harvesting vast amounts of data from users, which means student’s privacy is sundered.

San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) is a k-12 district serving more the 100,000 students. It too has succumbed to the under researched but very profitable 21st century digital learning agenda. In their July 2014 i21 report, the committee charged with mapping SDUSD’s technology future recommended:

  • “Provide equity of access to all students with individual devices and 24/7 connectivity”
  • “Evaluate a blended model of district-supplied and student-owned devices “
  • “Implement competency-based learning and problem-solving-based assessments, aligned with Common Core standards”

On October, 5 2016, a San Diego Union Tribune article announced that SDUSD has agreed to purchase and distribute to students 16,000 Google Chromebooks. It stated, “Google announced a collaboration with the San Diego Unified School District this week, and sent its ‘chief education evangelist’ to tour campuses and meet with teachers and students to see first-hand how the company’s equipment, apps and search engines are used.”

In January 2016, Senator Al Franken wrote a letter to Google expressing his concerns about student privacy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported:

“After we filed our complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about Google’s unauthorized collection of personal information from school children using Chromebooks and the company’s educational apps, we heard from hundreds of parents around the country concerned about K-12 student privacy. This week, an important voice in Washington joined their growing chorus.

“On Wednesday, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) wrote a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking for information about the privacy practices of Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Several of his questions reflect concern over the issues we raised with the FTC. Sen. Franken is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.”

SUHSD and SDUSD are purchasing more than 30,000 laptops this year, which means they must also have the infrastructure to support these devices. In addition, all of the education applications require the school districts to purchase licenses that must be periodically renewed. That is a lot of money to spend on technology.

Both SUHSD and SDUSD have embraced blended learning. To start the school year, the teaching staff at Sweetwater was solicited to apply for the new blended learning specialist position; now there is a blended learning specialist at every school. Blended learning means children working independently at screens with some teacher instruction. It is the preferred method of the infamous mall charter schools which have been revealed as not just producing substandard education but too often are obvious frauds.

The August 31, 2016 issue of Time Magazine carried an article by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras called “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax.” In this article, he argues that putting children in front of digital devices is bad learning strategy which has known deleterious health effects. The paragraph quoted below outlines some of these health problems and provides a powerful and diverse set of linked references supporting his arguments.

“Tech in the classroom not only leads to worse educational outcomes for kids, which I will explain shortly, it can also clinically hurt them. I’ve worked with over a thousand teens in the past 15 years and have observed that students who have been raised on a high-tech diet not only appear to struggle more with attention and focus, but also seem to suffer from an adolescent malaise that appears to be a direct byproduct of their digital immersion. Indeed, over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”

 What is a Better Alternative for Good Education?

I just finished reading Samuel Abrams book Education and the Commercial Mindset (see review here). In his reporting on the ill-fated Edison Project, Abrams discussed their troubled high end private school in New York City, Avenues. For financial reasons, Avenues had to raise class sizes to an average of 18 students, while their competitors in the high-end education market like Dalton maintained class sizes of 14 to 15 (page 145). The wealthy are not putting their children in front of screens and they do value smaller class sizes.

If we truly want 21st century education in America, there are three simple strategies that have been proven to work. They are the strategies implemented by the unambiguously most successful education system in the Western Hemisphere, the public-school system in Finland.

1) Require a master’s degree, thorough pedagogical training, and licensing before allowing a teacher into a classroom. This requires educators to be paid commensurate with other professionals, however, if we truly want the best, we must pay for the best.

2) Reduce average class sizes to less than 20 students. Bill Gates has said class size is not so important, but he sent his children to a high-end private school with class sizes of less than 20.

3) Make trained experienced educators the leading voices in education policy. Bill Gates, Reed Hastings, Louis Gerstner and their ilk are arrogant uninformed amateurs whose vast power due to wealth makes them dangerous.