Tag Archives: charter schools

Education Evolutions Newsletter #15

sas-ipad flickr photo by zandwacht shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

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.

Education Evolutions:

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 SystemTop 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 CrazeTalking 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 itThe 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 CritiqueThe AtlanticAlia 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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Waiting Wolves with “Innovative” Answers

Reading a couple of white papers recently about blended learning for a course I am taking has driven me to the conclusion that the term “blended learning” is virtually useless. If it can mean so many things to so many people, it really doesn’t mean much at all. Both pieces spend the majority of the effort simply outlining the parameters of their broad definitions of the term. Neither of them is particularly insightful, nor do they offer much more than brief examples they applaud with a profound paucity of details. One of them, however, got me more fired up than usual.

The publication from the Innosight Institute, a think tank spun out of Harvard Business School and the work of Clayton Christensen in Disrupting Class, is entitled The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning. However, a better title might be The Dubious Rise and Increasing Influence of Corporations and Charter Schools in America, so appallingly biased and flawed are its suppositions. Artificially pumped up by its own politically charged rhetoric and veiled contempt for education as a field, this document is little more than propaganda for their funders, the Charter School Growth Fund, as well as the commercial, for-profit content production complex of the “existing education system,” a term that contributors Hernandez, Hassel, and Ableidinger imply in the pejorative.

The “existing education system” is presented as a zero-sum operation in a “factory-like, monolithic structure” that is ripe for their prescriptive, innovative disruption. Interestingly, policy makers, superintendents, and school principals are called to act with urgency in embracing their patent brand of disruption, preventing “the cramming of online learning into the traditional system,” which leaves me utterly bemused. While I have long had my suspicions, I was unaware that policy makers, superintendents, and school principals were actually outside the “existing education system.” If this is, in fact, true, it explains so much. Wait, maybe they are onto something, after all.

While I will admit that I have not read Disrupting Class, although I have read a lot about it. Yet, after reading this white paper, I am a whole lot less likely to bother. Their brand of disruptive innovation seems exceptionally long on disruption and desperately short of innovation. In framing blended learning as the potential inoculation for revolutionizing education, they slog a lot of business-speak, the kind that seems to continually seep into every conversation about education reform. So they hard sell potential in the form of pace, productivity, and efficiency increases, which all sound remarkablly “factory-like” to me.

Even better, they highlight some solutions demanded by educators, which specifically include integrated systems and hundreds of hours of dynamic content.  Of course, this means the best possible hope for all education will undoubtedly need to come from the giant, “factory-like, monolithic structure” of the education publishing industry, read K12 Incorporated, Pearson Education, McGraw-Hill, and others scrambling to get in on the game.

Perhaps most distressing of all is that almost every alternative option proffered is still based essentially on consumption-driven models, the very kind of thing being contested with the bullseye placed on lecture-based instruction. Instead of listening to a teacher, teachers are exceptionally conspicuous in the document by the way, students can watch digital videos and follow pre-fabricated lesson plans aligned to new educational standards. In fact, in many exemplars there is even less need for teachers at all. Paraprofessionals can administer and support the turnkey solutions that will fulfill the promise of this innovative education model. After all, paraprofessionals are significantly cheaper, which undoubtedly will assist overall efficiency. Couple that with the magic solution of harnessing the power of 3x teachers, the greatest, incentivized teaching money can buy, and  all pre-selected, charter school students win, then the rest of the “existing education system.” Right.

Essentially, there is very little true innovation offered at all. Instead it is a little more than shill job for a wing of education reformers that are currently successfully framing the debate and dubiously gaining power and momentum nationally. What bothers me most is how many people are continually taken in by the slick, easy solutions, failing to see the wolves in sheep’s clothing salivating on the sidelines waiting to sink their teeth into even more of the public money funding the “existing education system.”