Just the Cool Stuff, Please

Warning: early morning, barely edited, snark ahead.

Mixed in with all the other lists from the previous year, we find EdSurge’s Top Ten S’Cool Tools of 2016. Top ten cool tools for school, get it?

Anyway, the people at EdSurge1 don’t explain why these web services are the best of the year or by what measure they declare them to be the most popular of the more than 300 or so “showcased” in their weekly newsletter last year. But all that doesn’t matter, it’s a list. Let’s just get to it.

Number 10, a Jeopardy game. But this is a website so you don’t need one of the many freely available templates that have been around starting two days after PowerPoint was released.

Three of these top tools allow students to search census data, Wikipedia (for maps), and Creative Commons licensed photos. One question. Why aren’t we teaching students to responsibly search for this material on their own? Never mind, I’ve probably heard all the reasons – no time, students getting “off track”, they might find something INAPPROPRIATE!!, etc.

Two of the sites listed – one a “library of open educational resources with curated curriculum collections” and “a crowdsourced map and calendar of education events” – are really for teachers, not students. 161 education events in just the next 8 months? Really?

The only resource on the list that even sounds interesting is an app that uses the sensors built into most modern smartphones – accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer – to perform physics experiments. But haven’t we seen that before?

However, considering all this coolness is free, don’t get too attached. Free is a crappy business model for the long term health of something you rely on, in the classroom or otherwise.

Yelling at the Podcast

I had a four hour drive home from our state technology conference today and what better way to pass the time than an audio program that gets me into a one-sided shouting match with the speakers in my car.

That was provided by a debate from Intellegence Square, and organization that stages “Oxford-style” debates on various subjects. Having listened to many of them, I can tell you that these debates are nothing like the jokes staged by our cable news networks.

Anyway, this particular debate, recorded in London, began with the resolution “Let’s end the tyranny of the test. Relentless school testing demeans education”.

The pair arguing in favor of that statement made some excellent, rational points about how the apparently heavy regime of standardized testing in the UK is harmful to children and trivializes learning.

The pair on the other side, one of which is “chief executive” of a UK “free school” company (equivalent to a charter school company in the US), basically rattled off a long series of statements that testing, “relentless testing” was actually good for kids.

For example, while discussing the achievement gap between children in poverty and those from better off homes that “chief executive” makes the statement “… that regime of yes, relentless testing, is the best way make sure that all children leave primary school able to read and write, including the most disadvantaged.”

He also tried to make the case that “free schools” and “academies” (UK variations on charter schools) would be the solution to his country’s “dismal” showing on international tests, citing as an example children in Wales, where they have no free schools, and do poorly on those exams. The actual factors of children living in poverty, of course, are “irrelevant factors” when in come to learning.

His partner, head of education research for a charity in the UK and author of something called the Seven Myths About Education, declared in her opening statement: “I will explain how tests provide the most accurate information about how a pupil has has done at the end of their time in school.” She continued by stating categorically, “First of all, tests are accurate. They’re reliable. They’re fair. They are free from bias… If we look at the evidence, the evidence shows that tests are really good predictors of things that really matter in life.”

And my favorite, her declarative statement on the topic of using projects to teach (one of the seven “myths” in her book: “In actual fact, projects sound very seductive, projects sound very exciting when in actual fact, they overwhelm working memory, they make it hard for people to learn, they’re often very confusing and don’t have all the benefits their proponents say they do.”

There’s a whole lot more to the crap they had to say. Take an hour and listen to the whole thing. See if you don’t find yourself yelling at your headphones as well.

A Better Manifesto Critique

I did a pretty lame job of commenting on the Sunday Post’s even more lame “manifesto” in which a large cast of school superintendents offered their proposals for fixing American education.

Or rather in which they recycle the same old laundry list promoted Education Nation as well as the previous and current administrations.

However, Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado Bouder, holds nothing back in his criticism, starting with this very appropriate recommendation “In fact, we should start by removing the irresponsible signers of this manifesto from any position of power over “the future of our children.”

He then goes on to remind everyone of just how invalid their proposals really are.

As a researcher and a parent, I yearn for an end to the over-the-top propaganda, the slick think tank reports, the educational leaders more interested in blaming than in solving, the wasteful sinking of taxpayer money (and educators’ time) into reforms that have been shown not to work, and the stirring films that suggest that the heartbreaking denial of educational opportunities to innocent children can be miraculously solved by the latest fad.

Move money from neighborhood schools to charter schools!

Make children take more tests!

Move money from classrooms to online learning!

Blame teachers and their unions — make them easier to fire!

Tie teacher jobs and salaries to student test scores!

None — literally NONE — of these gimmicks is evidence-based.

Read the whole thing.

So, why isn’t Welner’s rebuttal in the high circulation print version of the paper, and on the Post’s main site, instead of being relegated to the much less read online-only blogs section?

Probably because none of this fits with the Post’s view of American education policy.

Manifesto For The Previous Century

Yesterday on the front page of the Sunday Post opinion section, a group of superintendents from various large school districts offered their manifesto on How To Fix Our Schools.

So what big, new, innovative ideas did this brain trust advocate?

Merit pay.

Eliminate teacher seniority.

Increasing student achievement (aka test scores).

More charter schools.

Online classes.

Rather than wasting newsprint on this crap, the editors would have put the space to much better use by reprinting the entries Scott McLeod collected from seven school administrators when he asked What Do Administrators Need From Teachers?.

Not to mention the responses he got from asking What Do Teachers Need From Administrators?.