Tag Archives: Readings & Reactions

Returning, Briefly, with a Response to Ripley

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Dave C

Note: It has been a few weeks since I fell off the blog, which was as much unanticipated as it is missed. I made a fairly major change in my teaching career, that was both unexpected and quite sudden. It is nothing tragic or anything, an opportunity arose and I changed my entire slate of courses for the second semester with a week’s preparation. I am sure I will write more on this later, because at the moment the new courses have completely taken over both my time and head-space.

Nevertheless, I still read about our profession along similar lines as I have been, a bit less than I was used to doing, however. So, when inspired I suspect I will still post on occasion. I just can’t keep up with the pace I had been setting for myself with the new challenge.

In Annie Murphy Paul’s recent blogpost, “Author Amanda Ripley On ‘Rigor’ In American Schools,” the writer presented The Smartest Kids in the World author with the question from a previous post on her blog, “Are American kids working hard enough?” It is an interesting read and prompted me to write the response below. I posted it, but am unsure whether it will get approved or not. So here it is with some minor adjustments.

While I am admittedly not a Ripley fan, believing it perpetuates an overly simplified myth that American schools are failing, as well as implying that we are doing something wrong because American students don’t score as highly on a standardized test that is even more dubious than those with a vested interest would ever admit. Still, there is something quite compelling in her response. Her suggestion, “if [parents and students] understand why it matters, and they find enough meaning, small victories and intrigue to make along the way to make the hard days worthwhile,” is perhaps the greatest insight I have read in her writing.

I would submit that this is where we continually get everything wrong in education. Culturally, we have perverted the reason why education matters to equate with material success and status, indoctrinating students into tragically believing all of their efforts should be about a grade, which leads to admission in a better brand name university, which leads to better employment, which leads to greater wealth and success in life. Yet why would they think that is not true when nearly every message they hear advances a similar or same agenda.

Additionally, we are now embarking on a ridiculous double-down accountability path that celebrates student failures as some kind of getting tough on academics strategy that is farcical and anything but helping students identify “small victories.” One need only read Emmaline Alvardo’s insightful testimony in the comments section for evidence. Worse still, think about it from a student’s perspective. When students score too well on tests, most often the two most obvious adult reactions are that they cheated or the test was too easy. Forget small victories, sometimes they can’t get any victories, and the students that intuitively recognize this tend to quit trying too hard.

Finally, think about it from a student’s perspective for a little while. Where is the “intrigue” in being essentially powerless and stripped of your developing agency when you walk through the doors of a school, where you will be told exactly what you are to “learn,” generally punished when you don’t, definitely punished when you exercise too much independence and resist adults prescriptions for your behavior and body of knowledge?

Standards dictate what you will learn. Teachers dictate how you will learn it (if you are even lucky). Tests will enforce to what degree you learned it. None of these factors, in most cases, present you the option to make decisions that are not about doing what someone has told you to do. Really, how often do students truly get to be in the driver seat of their own learning? Nearly all instances that can be suggested are more the exception than the rule. In fact, we typically even label those experiences as “alternative” in all flavored of the word. Wait, we also call them private schools, where the mandates of politicians and lobbyists have far less sway, because the ability to pay affords some autonomy.

Perhaps what is most profoundly ironic is that many of those that are so quick to quote someone like Ripley, advancing even more deeply flawed edreforms like, greater standardization, accountability, and testing, fail to see how they are antithetical to recognizing value, understanding meaning, capitalizing on small victories, and creating intrigue. I’m not even sure Ripley truly recognizes that. It kind of undermines one of the premises of her book.

Reading & Reacting: Did Comcast partner with Khan Academy just to get new, low-income customers — and then drop the ball? (Perhaps.)

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by jon mannion

By Ted Bauer @ The Context of Things blog

This recent blogpost highlights some of the many potentially problematic aspects of for-profit corporate interests pairing with educational efforts. It is definitely worth reading with quality source links and embedded videos. The players are Khan Academy and Comcast. While Khan Academy is also a company and not a school, albeit a non-profit, their primary aim is an educational one. Comcast is a communication delivery and content company, among other core businesses.

Yet, here is an example of a corporation that exists to generate profit, partnering with an educational effort, ultimately to expand its pool of customers. If people, again more appropriately labeled customers rather than learners, benefit great, but the basic game is that Comcast increases their customer base, as well as extending their dominance in the marketplace, while possibly gaining some positive PR along the way. In some ways, it is a marketing play for both enterprises.

Here’s the basics: Comcast is using the program to promote a program of its own called Internet Essentials, which basically offers high-speed broadband to low-income families for $9.95/month, along with vouchers for discounted computers. OK. The important thing to know there, though, is that this program isn’t something Comcast did out of the goodness of their heart — rather, the FCC forces cable giants to provide low-cost options to underserved communities. It’s a regulatory requirement. The Internet Essentials program, then, has critics – who speak frequently to the idea that the supposed “high-speed” broadband isn’t high-speed at all. It’s actually about 5 Mbps, which is slower than the most basic package Comcast offers in a lot of U.S. cities. And the other program? You can only get Internet Essentials at the $9.95 rate if your child is in the National School Lunch program (often just referred to as “free or reduced lunch”). If your child drops out of that program for any reason, your Internet bill would shoot up to what anyone pays — probably $50-$70 a month if you didn’t add cable.

In sum, this may be a customer acquisition program in disguise — Comcast gets a new base of customers, then bait-and-switches them into higher prices down the road. Problem for Comcast is, millions of people are theoretically eligible for this program and yet … only about 250K have signed up.

Whether or not Comcast is looking to run a bait-and-switch may or may not come to pass. However, there is no question that higher prices will be in the future of all those customers caught up in their nets. Higher prices over time is a given. Anyone that pays Comcast for services can undoubtedly express with great exasperation how their bill has slowly escalated with increased services and features that are added without request or recourse, other than canceling the services.

Maybe most interesting of all is Bauer’s assertion about potential solutions, although I am not convinced that what he is proposing will happen.

We can fix these problems if the people benefiting the most from the problems directed some — not all by any means — of their resources back to the problems, and did so without an ulterior motive. That’s what it seems like Comcast did here. They have money and could have put some of it towards promoting and marketing the package and locking in the package at $9.95 regardless of the lunch criteria. Instead, no.

First, Comcast benefits from the problem. Of course, they want to expand their customer base. However, they are less interested in making infrastructure investments in areas where the customers are less able to pay their desired prices. It is not good for their bottom line to spend more money than they have to especially where there is less likely to be significant returns, as in poor families.

Second, as bad as it sounds, bait-and-switch strategies are the kinds of near-term tactics that can boost quarterly accounting results, further contributing to ever more economic nearsightedness. Students, in this case Kahn’s learners, are not the primary concern and may very well be afterthoughts, in fact. Moreover, for-profit imperatives seek scale and efficiency, which do not necessarily correlate with how anyone learns. Yet these are the the forces that many would like to invite into public education.

It should be no surprise that any company would be interested in solving any problems from which they benefit. In fact, there is every reason to believe that they will perpetuate them as long as possible.

Image: iPad

posted via haaslearning.tumblr.com
and flipped to Teaching Today

Reading & Reacting: Why America’s Prep Schools Aren’t Following Arne Duncan’s Public School Education Reforms

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by WFIU Public Radio

By Shaun Johnson @ Good

There is a compelling argument that is being made with greater frequency of late regarding the edreform movement, focusing specifically on the divide between public and private schools. What’s more, a significant number of politicians and policymakers send their children, including our President, send their children to elite private schools but have no problem setting the rules for everyone else.

In this commentary, Shaun Johnson make it clear, in stark terms, that there is a reason why there no elite private schools are not rushing to implement Common Core or any of the other nonsensical edreforms.

Prevailing education reform movement in the United States, premised upon market-based solutions, economics, disruption, and similar sounding corporate buzzwords, seeks to standardize curriculum, teaching, and assessment as a method of control.

It is increasingly hard to argue against this claim. When everything is made to be the same, it is always much easier to administer and control. Sameness scales. Johnson goes on to make a bolder claim, one that is also hard to dismiss.

Let me be clear: We are in a battle for public education and we are struggling against those who wish it to be extinct. There is no room for negotiation. If current trends continue, our education system will become entirely vocationalized—perpetuating both class-based and racial apartheid, and teachers will eventually become short-term, at-will employees without the protections available to intellectual professions.

Based on a handful of unfolding situations, namely Wisconsin, New York, and North Carolina, to name only a few it is pretty hard to discount or discredit Johnson’s contention.

Not so long ago, in 2011, the nation witnessed Governor Scot Walker’s attempts in Wisconsin to break essentially break the teacher’s union by removing collective bargaining over pensions, health care, and pay raises. Any thoughts to the contrary need only note how other public unions, like police and fire were exempt. Protests were launched and eventually a recall election had to be held. That attempt should have been the first alarm for the teachers to recognize that their livelihoods were under threat.

Then during last year’s New York state testing debacle the likes of Mayor Bloomberg and others tried to sell the notion that less than 30% of students passing state exams was a good thing, while Governor Cuomo, a proponent of edreformy teacher evaluations,  advocated the “death penalty” for failing schools. The results were even more grim when factored for poor students and students of color. These same politicians took plenty of credit and touted high test scores only a few years before, but the new lower scores are finally about getting tough and becoming accountable. It is hard to reconcile how rejoicing in the failing of children and simultaneously threatening to close schools benefits students in any authentic way.

Most recently, North Carolina passed state laws that eliminated tenure, graduate degree compensation, removed of class size limits, and implemented a voucher program. Not only does this strip away protections it tilts the table against teachers. Plus, teacher turnover in the state has already started spiking. It is hard to believe that that turnover will not continue to rise. Teachers new and lacking tenure are a lot more easy to manipulate and control, not to mention the complexity of a job requiring a fair amount of experience to do truly well.

Still, teachers as a mobilized voice of solidarity have yet to make a major stand and are routinely painted as something akin to greedy villains in media, as the myth of America’s failing schools is perpetuated.

The problem is the public is force-fed these ideas of standardized curriculum, teaching, and assessment as the best tactics education science has to offer. They tell us that this is how we must educate our children. Wait, whose children are we talking about? Not the kids at Trinity School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—41 percent are in that Ivy/MIT/Stanford pipeline—or Philips Exeter in New Hampshire, which educated Mark Zuckerberg.

Again, standardization of standards and curriculum is about efficiency, cost, and control. Efforts to control, like power, tend to be a little more surreptitious. Yet, anyone need only read about the creation of the Common Core to see words like efficiency and cost being bandied about by the proponents and creators, something Johnson adroitly suggests making more when talking about automobiles and not children.

On some fundamental level, do we want standardized children? That very suggestion seems so un-American, considering how much we celebrate a culture of the individual?

The best of the private schools recognize the individual child in ways that most public schools are simply not allowed to do. They do not need to scale. In fact, that smaller community and class size is one of their primary offerings, think Harkness table. Why is it that what is good enough for the students in Exeter, New Hampshire is not good enough for the students in El Paso, Texas, of anywhere else for that matter?

What I often wonder is why don’t more teachers, parents, and others demand the same opportunities, benefits, and personal interest taken in a student’s education offered by the elite private schools like Exeter or even Sidwell Friends, where the Obama want their children going to school?

Image: iPad

posted via haaslearning.tumblr.com
and flipped to Teaching Today