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Tag: society (Page 2 of 5)

What Doesn’t Work In Education Reporting

School House1

Rather than asking what works in education, NPR asked “education researcher John Hattie” about ideas that don’t work. His answers are not based on his own work but on a review of “more than 1,000 ‘meta-analyses’”, whatever that is.

Anyway, I wish the writer had started by asking Mr. Hattie what he means by “works”. Of course, I know the answer. Works means improving scores on standardized tests, even though his number two non-working solution is standardized testing.

High-performing schools, and countries, don’t necessarily give more standardized tests than low performers. They often give fewer.

The alternative: testing that emphasizes giving teachers immediate, actionable feedback to improve teaching.

Having said that, his final item, in which he says the US spends too much money on public education, is based on the fact that other countries spend much less while their students score higher than American kids on an international standardized test (the PISA).

He also says that smaller class sizes don’t work because countries like Japan and Korea have relatively large classes and are “high performing”, again on those standardized tests.

It’s too bad NPR just transcribed the executive summary of Hattie’s paper, instead doing some research of their own and asking some informed questions.

The worst part about stories like this is the failure to recognize that there are major differences between American society and our approach to education with those of other countries. Start with the fact that, instead of national education goals, we have 51 educational policies, plus around 31,000 local school boards.

Then review the level of public support for public education in the US compared to Finland, Japan, and the rest. How many of their government leaders are working hard to demonize teachers and privatize schools?

Finally, look at the societal support systems for children in each country, especially rankings of child poverty rates (anywhere from 20% to 33% of all children, depending on the definition of “poverty”). I’ll bet “making America great again” has nothing to do with improving those dismal statistics.

And anyone who says poverty has nothing to do with learning, has never tried to teach math to a class of hungry middle school students.

Can Education Keep Up With Tech World?

In an opinion piece for CNN, a “security technologist” asks “Can laws keep up with tech world?’. If you accept Betteridge’s law of headlines, the answer of course is no. But the relationship between the legal and technical is certainly far more complex than a binary response anyway.

Traditionally, new technologies were adopted slowly over decades. There was time for people to figure them out, and for their social repercussions to percolate through society. Legislatures and courts had time to figure out rules for these technologies and how they should integrate into the existing legal structures.

That’s just not true anymore. A new technology can go from zero to a hundred million users in a year or less. That’s just too fast for the political or legal process. By the time they’re asked to make rules, these technologies are well-entrenched in society.

Much of what he’s saying, including the original question, could very well apply to technology in education. In their time movies, radio, television, video tape, even computers were new technologies that had some impact on the classroom. But these technologies worked their way into society over years and decades, giving schools plenty of time to figure out how each innovation fit into their instructional model.

As with the legal structures, that’s just not true anymore in education.

In less than a decade, we find large numbers of students (if not a majority of them) coming to school with powerful communications devices in their pockets, devices can connect them to most of the world’s knowledge, both the good and bad. Those new technologies that rapidly go from “zero to a hundred million users” are often through the classroom door before teachers have even heard of them.

As much as school administrators would like, the solution is not to slow down the entry of technology into the learning process so we can carefully design new research, craft new policies, and edit curriculum. Educators do not have that kind of control anymore. It’s also far too late to try banning the tech from the learning process.

Even if we did have the time, there’s really no way force these new technologies to fit into our traditional instructional model, not even with special “walled garden”, “EDU” versions. That teacher-controlled delivery of information, paired with curriculum-approved context doesn’t work anymore, no matter how hard we work to graft technology into it. Our traditional system is not one that will prepare students for a world “moving too fast for the political and legal process”.

So, regardless of Betteridge’s law, the answer to the title question of this post is certainly no. Which means we need reconsider what part schools play in that current tech world, and how we can help students learn to successfully adapt in the world of whatever comes next.

Fix It! (But Don’t Expect Me To Pay)

Today is election day here in what my friend Kathy calls the Republic of North Virginia. That implies we live in a liberal region but that is very relative and only accurate when compared to the rest of the state.

Anyway, we have no national races on the ballot, which means turnout will be very low. But that doesn’t mean the vote isn’t important, as brilliantly explained here by John Oliver.

With few particular controversies to campaign on this year, all the candidates alternate between describing how evil their opponents are, and how much they support a wonderful life: better schools, better transportation, better health care, more jobs. The stuff that sounds good in 30 second ads, but is very complicated to accomplish in real life.

The problem, however, also lies with us voters. Just about everyone who will bother to vote today will tell you they want the government to improve life in our area, in some way.

They just don’t want to pay for it. No one ever gets elected to office in our little Republic (or anywhere else in the country, I suspect) if they even hint at asking people to pay the bills.

Transportation is a good example of this “I want it all for free” attitude.

Most everyone around here will tell you traffic stinks. The DC area regularly lands at or near the top of the list of most congested cities in the US. Too many cars trying to get to the same place at the same time, even during non “rush” periods.

But the only solutions that interest our local politicians involve building pay-to-drive car pool lanes along major highways – what are called HOT (high occupancy toll) corridors. Roads that require either three people in the car or payments that can be over $10 for five or so miles of relatively congestion free driving. Projects that suck down lots of money while doing very little to address the larger problem.

Public transportation systems that don’t involve cars? Don’t be silly. Most of our “leaders” (including the Congress critters who live in the area most of the year) don’t ride Metro, much less want to pay for it. Buses are for poor people. Walkable, bike friendly cities are for socialist countries.

So, a few of us are choosing many of our local leaders today. The Board of Supervisors, School Board, members of the state Assembly and Senate, various other offices. But they won’t fix any of the problems mentioned (very) briefly in their ads and speeches.

Because we say we want government to provide good public infrastructure. We just don’t want to pay for it. And they know it.

Reflective Rebels

In a new essay, Alfie Kohn, one of the sharpest and most rational voices in the ed reform discussion, says he wants students to become “reflective rebels”.

His starting point is the “tangle of deeply conservative beliefs” which says that parents are too permissive and as a result, kids are spoiled and narcissistic. Kohn points out that there’s no evidence for this contention and that adults have had a similar view of young people for “approximately forever”.

However, let’s assume the grumblers are correct. What should we do differently so that children are less self-centered and will look beyond themselves?

The answer, I think, is to help them become people who are not only empathic and compassionate but skeptical and courageous. It’s one thing to offer a kind word or a dollar to an individual in distress; it’s something else to address the systemic causes of that distress. The latter requires a willingness to question authority and challenge unjust features of the status quo – to stand up to power. In short, the real alternative to egocentricity is what might be called reflective rebelliousness.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that the same people doing the complaining really don’t like the idea of “rebellious” kids, reflective or otherwise. Society, especially the formal education part of it, is not at all receptive to rebelliousness.

Whether or not it’s stated explicitly, compliance remains the central goal of most classroom management programs, character education initiatives, and parenting resources. Sure, we stress the virtues of independent thinking and assertiveness, but mostly in the context of getting kids to resist peer pressure. If a child has the temerity to resist unreasonable rules and demands imposed by adults, well, then, bring on the “consequences” (read: punishments) to “hold them accountable for their behavior.”

We certainly do talk a lot about wanting our students to learn to be creative, innovative, independent thinkers. But when it comes to their relationship the process of school and the educational system that’s been laid out for them, it’s pretty much all talk. We really don’t know what to do with truly creative kids.

In the end, Kohn says that if we really want kids to develop into “reflective rebels”, to think for themselves, “we ourselves must be rebels” and push back “against the dominant tendency to focus on producing children who do whatever they’re told.”

The Lessons of History

The classic saying about history is “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, attributed to philosopher George Santayana. Unfortunately, too many people interpret it to mean that a careful reading of the historical record will produce a recipe box for dealing with current problems.

However, a staff writer for the New Yorker makes a better case for understanding the past.

But the best argument for reading history is not that it will show us the right thing to do in one case or the other, but rather that it will show us why even doing the right thing rarely works out. The advantage of having a historical sense is not that it will lead you to some quarry of instructions, the way that Superman can regularly return to the Fortress of Solitude to get instructions from his dad, but that it will teach you that no such crystal cave exists. What history generally “teaches” is how hard it is for anyone to control it, including the people who think they’re making it.

Unfortunately, we currently have a large chorus of “experts” who push the idea that events in the Middle East, Ukraine, and elsewhere are the worst challenges the world has ever faced and require US military force.

The real sin that the absence of a historical sense encourages is presentism, in the sense of exaggerating our present problems out of all proportion to those that have previously existed. It lies in believing that things are much worse than they have ever been–and, thus, than they really are–or are uniquely threatening rather than familiarly difficult.

I’m no historian, but even a cursory review of the many world crises, threats, and wars that have been part of just my lifetime clearly shows US responses usually caused many more problems than they solved. Those are some lessons from history missed (or ignored) by too many of our current trigger-happy leaders.

I could continue, but my occasional rants on political topics in this space are usually incoherent at best. So I’ll end with just one more very appropriate pull quote about history and war from the article.

What history actually shows is that nothing works out as planned, and that everything has unintentional consequences. History doesn’t show that we should never go to war–sometimes there’s no better alternative. But it does show that the results are entirely uncontrollable, and that we are far more likely to be made by history than to make it. History is past, and singular, and the same year never comes round twice.

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