Welcome back to the fray of the school year. Hope you enjoyed the holiday respite. Here is a bumper selection after a week off the regular schedule. Enjoy.
Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age
Happy New Year, here are four curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.
How Massachusetts Built a World-Class School System – Top Performers blog @ EdWeek – Marc Tucker (9 minute read) This blogpost is a nice reminder of just how well Massachusetts has been able to perform amidst all the edreforms of the last 20+ years. Sadly, the metric used to make the case is always about testing, in particular, PISA which is a significantly more dubious measure than is generally recognized. Yet, if there have to be standardized tests, Massachusetts certainly has been able to develop and administer ones that are clearly better than about any other state in the union, something worthy of consideration since Education Commissioner Mitch Chester has opted for MCAS 2.0. The commissioner, however, was the initial PARCC chair but seemingly no longer occupies that position, despite no official statement ever being released. While the commonwealth has been able to reach remarkable heights in these international league tables, the real item worthy of replication are the attempts to support the youngest and most disadvantaged students in a statewide, systematic way. Of course, there is still room to improve but it is good to recognize some of the success too.
No Test Left Behind: How Pearson Made a Killing on the US Testing Craze – Talking Points Memo Features – Owen Davis (16 minute read) This is a long form piece that sheds some bright light on just how shady K12 education policy has become over the last 15 years. The impact of A Nation at Risk is stunning, despite having been thoroughly debunked and dismantled. So much of the free-market-style reform movement is predicated on the falsehoods presented in that Reagan era document. What remains even more remarkable is just how much facts and evidence have no purchase with the political and economic machine that wants and needs an “education market” to exist. Sadly, “Pearson and its similarly sized rivals aren’t going away” is far truer than is healthy or beneficial for anyone other than those seeking to profit from the public coffers. By the way, guess who makes the PARCC test?
This may be the best way to train teachers – and yes, we can afford it – The Hechinger Report – Marisa Bier and Sara Morris (5 minute read) This opinion piece presents a case for a residency-based model for teacher training. There are a lot of compelling reasons to give this idea some consideration. The argument here is “we can’t afford not to train teachers this way.” That may be the case but it is difficult to see a model like this succeeding anywhere but in larger, urban districts. It is no surprise that this is working in a city the size of Seattle. There are not many contexts that can hope to shoulder the upfront, capital costs of instituting such a program without some kind of government subsidy. However, think of how much funding could be made available if less money was spent on the kind of standardized testing profiled in the previous piece. The price of admission into the teaching profession is often financially quite high, without a lot of mobility, which is a factor worthy of considering in the rush to fire “bad” teachers. Yet, it is something that accountability hawks seem to summarily dismiss.
How Comedy Became Education’s Best Critique – The Atlantic – Alia Wong (6 minute read) This is a fascinating installment from a series examining intersections between education and entertainment that The Atlantic is conducting. This particular article is worth a look if for no other reason than it includes the embedded video segments it references. Anyone that has not seen John Oliver’s monologues on the School Segregation and Charter Schools should click this link immediately. Oliver has an impressive knack for making exceedingly complex issues understandable while being ridiculously funny. He amplifies absurdity and hammers home a point better than anyone. The subtext of this piece highlights just how much education has been politicized in recent years. Were it not, what is the likelihood that late-night comedy would have even taken an interest.
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Seeing as there will be no newsletter next week, I packed this one fuller than most. I hope you find some of these items interesting. Enjoy the festive season and may you steal some moments to relax and recuperate.
Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age
For the festive season, here are five curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.
Year in Search 2016 – Google Trends (2 minute video & a wormhole) Outside of Apple, Google might be the cleverest company at marketing themselves there is. No matter what you think about them, they are awfully good at creating things that seem cool. The page that they have developed to document The Year in Search is clever in how the information is presented as much as the information itself. The two-minute video is exceptionally well-made and will no doubt make anyone think, “Oh, yeah. I already forgot that happened this year.” It is a remarkable visual narrative of the biggest stories of the year which in turn would have sparked searches which are displayed in enough ways to suck you into a timeless vortex of clicking, something that Google is also very good at doing. I especially love how the color coding of the Breakout Searches work.
Education Research Highlights From 2016 – Edutopia – Youki Terada (7 minute read) This collection is for the wonkier types who actually like education research, as Edutopia has collected their top 15 studies from the year. Some of these look more interesting than others. I read number two, the one about Kindergartners when it was released. It was sadly sobering. Numbers six and seven, on stress levels among teachers and students, look like potentially interesting takes on the subject. I am certain I will read number eight about the benefits of racially diverse schools and number 15 about one-to-one programs. To think, Google funded a study on “84 percent of parents believe computer science is just as important as math, science, and English.” No self-interest involved there.
Technology Should Replace Basic Teaching Tasks, a New Paper Says – Teaching Now blog @ EdWeek – Madeline Will (11 minute read) This is a piece highlighting a new white paper published by the Clayton Christensen Institute at Harvard University. These findings remind me a whole lot of when there was a groundswell of thinking that schools would be able to use television for basic instruction. That hype did not exactly live up to the promise. Again and again, phrases like “adaptive learning software” and “personalized learning” are co-opted by forces that advance this notion that education is to be done to students. Learning is not simply about accumulating content knowledge or a set of skills. The most ominous line in the article is the last, “Fortunately, innovations that commoditize some elements of teacher expertise also supply the tools to raise the effectiveness of both non-experts and expert teachers to new heights.” Keywords “commoditize” and “non-experts” in connection with “expert teachers” this Thomas Arnett says is fortunate.
PARCC Undertakes a Major Restructuring (Again) – Curriculum Matters blog @ EdWeek – Catherine Gewertz (11 minute read) There are a whole lot of questions about PARCC, Common Core, NCLB’s replacement Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and the new federal administration. While there may not be nearly as many answers about all of these things one thing can be certain, the virulence of entities like PARCC and the efforts to which they will go to remain alive. Also, watch just how much copyright will be used as a big stick to hammer things into a desired shape in future. That will be telling. This is particular interest to Massachusetts, considering their plan to produce MCAS 2.0 and what that is likely to look like.
Crash Course: College Board faces rocky path after CEO pushes new vision for SAT – Reuters Investigates – Renee Dudley (23 minute read) As someone who has followed David Coleman’s rise from co-architect of the Common Core to the CEO of the College Board with keen interest and a number of ethical questions, this is a fascinating read. I have always thought that there was an inherent conflict of interests in one of the principal designers of the Common Core taking over the College Board. Even if it is not an actual legal issue, it always just seemed very seedy. Plus, this article also highlights just how healthy their bottom line is for a not-for-profit. I’m not sure that students and their families benefit nearly as much from Advanced Placement as does the College Board. By the way, none of the problems raised in this article are terribly surprising, knowing more about Coleman’s record, and they should be a clarion call for putting too many eggs in any one basket.
It was a little harder to find decidedly more positive pieces for this week, as some of that is a bit in the beholder. Hopefully, this selection does not require a dark soundtrack, perhaps a bit more like jazz.
Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age
Here are four curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.
When Finnish Teachers Work in America’s Public Schools – The Atlantic – Timothy D. Walker (11 minute read) Walker is a Massachusetts native living and working in Finland as a teacher. In this piece, he characterizes three teachers from Finland now working in American schools and documents their experiences. Considering how Finland is widely considered the best school system in the international scoring tables, it is interesting to see their first-hand difficulties with the way our American system is structured. Also interesting is the inclusion of long-time standards advocate Marc Tucker who writes a regular column for EdWeek. While he is considered an expert in education policies and practices from abroad, Tucker’s warning at the end of the article seems rather alarmingly dramatic.
Why Identity and Emotion are Central To Motivating the Teen Brain – KQED’s MindShift – Emmeline Zhao (7 minute read) While there might not be anything truly revolutionary in this article, it does a nice job of consolidating a lot of emerging understanding about the adolescent brain. Perhaps its primary value is in a kind of reframing that enables to see certain kinds of challenges as genuine opportunities. It certainly provides soft support for the notion of students driving a lot of their own learning through setting their own goals involving their own interests, something many high schools have a difficult time embracing institutionally. There is increasingly little doubt that it is a profoundly romantic period in life, in the purest sense.
This Is Not An Essay – Modern Learners – Lee Skallerup Bessette (11 minute read) I have a hunch that I read this once upon a time, since it was written in 2014, although it resurfaced recently as it might as well be required reading. I wish I had written this piece myself for so many reasons. Skallerup Bessette gets right to the heart of a dark disservice that we do to students far too often. Rigid, narrow demands and negative reinforcement are just part of a constellation of associations with writing for students and yet more than ever before they are “writing.” It might not be what teachers want or like but, as Skallerup Bessette observes, “They learn, they teach, they offer their own feedback, they fail, and they try again. And we often actively work in schools to devalue, undermine, and even try to get students to unlearn these skills.” We can meet students where they are or force them to meet us where we are. I know which one I would choose.
It Turns Out Spending More Probably Does Improve Education – The New York Times – Kevin Carey and Elizabeth A. Harris (8 minute read) There is an element of this article that strikes a kind of cynicism, a well-who-doesn’t-know that kind of response. Yet the research profiled in this piece provides the kind of substantive data as evidence for the claim. Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, there has been a lot less hard evidence in support of this than we might realize. Of course, the researchers are still using tests as a metric because schools are all about testing, right? Still, what research like this does is support the eye-test, what we see all around us, which can at times be the best kind of research and use of data. Not surprisingly, the requisite charter supporter questions the findings and seems almost dismissive. It frustrates me to no end how often journalists, in an attempt to be “balanced” include just anyone with an opposing view regardless of whether they have any warrants for their views or not.