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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.

Change and Prepare

Following up on my previous rant about the fear of smartphones in the hands of students, Jim Knight, a British education blogger and former UK minister of state for schools, takes pretty much the opposite view to that being promoted by Jay Mathews.

Knight observes that we teach kids “using the tools that are part of everyday life. Some tools can be dangerous and adults learn to teach children about how to use the tools safely.”

Today we call computers and smartphones “technology” and most people use them as indespensible, everyday tools. So, “[i]t seems logical that we should teach children how to use the tools of technology and how to use them safely.”

It’s hard to argue with his logic, although a recent international study on the use of devices in schools seems to do just that.

However, Knight goes on to make several great points about why that study, not to mention Mathews’ anecdotal-based opposition to student devices, are considering the wrong factors in this discussion.

The long-standing research says that technology can significantly improve education outcomes if pedagogy is changed so that the tools are used effectively. Teachers need training in new technology, and its strategic implementation needs to be well led at a school level.

Having discovered that the OECD report simply confirmed what we already knew — that just putting new technology in classrooms is useless without good CPD [continuing professional development] and good leadership — I could relax and enjoy my breakfast. [emphasis is mine]

Exactly. We need to change classroom practice, do a better job with teacher training, and find better school leadership if any of this technology is going to make a different. I would add that our classic curriculum also needs some major revisions.

Anyway, his final statement wonderfully summarizes what should be our approach to using technology in schools:

We shouldn’t be scared of the future. We must change and prepare our children for it.

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