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Tag: wired magazine

Coding For All is a Distraction

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Remember when we were told that every student needed to learn coding? That programming skills would be essential for them to get good jobs in the future? And leaders told us that all those newly trained coders would be a big boost for the overall economy?

Except that, as an article in Wired explains, the ability to code is fast becoming unnecessary for entrepreneurs to build applications. New tools mean “you don’t need to know any programming to launch a company.”

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It Won’t Just Go Away

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Come September, the COVID-19 virus is likely to still be a public health problem, which, as I discussed in an earlier post, will make opening school for the new year a challenge.

According to Wired, at least one K12 district in Ohio believes they can address some virus-related issues using surveillance technology to continually track of where students are and who they come in contact with during the day.

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Pearson Conquers the World

If you work in public education in this country, it’s very hard to escape Pearson.

They write the tests used by most states to assess learning under the Common Core curriculum, as well as test for non-CC states like Virginia (where we build our own standardized testing swamp). Plus they provide scoring services for those tests, sell textbooks aligned to those tests, and offer professional development to help teachers prep their students to take the tests.

But, according to a very interesting article in the current Wired Magazine, the US and UK are just the beginning. Pearson is working hard to Cover the Planet in Company-Run Schools.

The writer uses the schools Pearson is opening in the Philippines to explain the fundamentals of their process.

They locate in cheaply rented spaces, hire younger, less-experienced teachers, and train and pay them less than instructors at government-run schools. The company argues that by using a curriculum reflecting its expertise, plus digital technology–computers, tablets, software–it can deliver a more standardized, higher-quality education at a lower cost per student. All Pearson-backed schools agree to test students frequently and use software and analytics to track outcomes.

Sounds very much like charter schools in the US. And, although the Pearson schools profiled are in areas of high poverty with dismal public education options, the students they are serving are often comparably better off, from families that place a higher value on learning.

However, other analyses have pointed out that the students at fee-charging schools tend to come from families with a little more money, which generally correlates with higher test scores. There’s an X factor too, harder to quantify: It could be that for-profit schools attract more parents like Nellie, who place more of an emphasis on education and whose children would therefore do better in any setting. Critics of charter schools in the US make a parallel argument, accusing them of “creaming off” the most engaged families.

Pearson’s global privatization efforts, which increasingly involve syphoning off scarce public education funds through vouchers, have received a great deal of criticism from organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank, who would rather see money spent on improving opportunities for all children.

But Michael Barber, their chief education adviser, says the issue is not about fixing public education anyway: “The question is, how do we get every child a good education?”. And, of course, build his company into a hugely profitable conglomerate.

In the end, however, there are better questions to ask about the issue of privatizing public schools. Do you believe education is a “basic human service” that should be provided at high levels to every child? Or a commodity to be marketed at differing levels of quality based on the economic fortunes of the family?

The Wired article (worth your time to read) makes it clear where Pearson stands.

Is Good Enough Really Good Enough?

The September issue of Wired Magazine (one of the few analog publications I still get), has an interesting look at what they call the Good Enough Revolution.

Think the Flip and other pocket-sized cameras that do “good enough” video. Hulu – good enough TV. Netbooks – good enough computers.

The Flip’s success stunned the industry, but it shouldn’t have. It’s just the latest triumph of what might be called Good Enough tech. Cheap, fast, simple tools are suddenly everywhere. We get our breaking news from blogs, we make spotty long-distance calls on Skype, we watch video on small computer screens rather than TVs, and more and more of us are carrying around dinky, low-power netbook computers that are just good enough to meet our surfing and emailing needs. The low end has never been riding higher.

All of these, and more, are examples of the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule.


You can think of it this way: 20 percent of the effort, features, or investment often delivers 80 percent of the value to consumers. That means you can drastically simplify a product or service in order to make it more accessible and still keep 80 percent of what users want–making it Good Enough.

Another example of the good enough trend is the increasing number of beta programs/web tools that are available.

It used to be that beta software, applications in the final phase of testing before release, was restricted to a small group of users and you actually had to know something (or somebody) to be included.

Now many companies consider betas good enough to distribute to the general public and sometimes even to sell, possibly even at a discount.

And, of course, the rapidly growing open source movement (which is now more than software) is all about content that is in a constant state of development.

So, how does this fast-moving “good enough revolution” supposedly going on in the real world relate to how things operate in our overly-large school district?

We spend a lot of money around here on running a large, professional Outlook/Exchange installation. Would the recently-released-from-beta Gmail be good enough?

Instead of paying millions annually for the use of Microsoft’s Office, is it possible 80% of our staff and students could do everything they need to do with Open Office or Google Docs?

Could Wikispaces or Moodle replace our multi-million dollar Blackboard installation?

Going beyond the IT issues, is the “good enough” concept something that could be applied to the way we write curriculum and create instructional materials?

This fall we are entering our second or third year of a project to build a massive database of content and test questions for teachers to use, a slow, methodical process requiring every word to be reviewed, re-reviewed, and approved.

Could we get a “good enough” resource much faster by allowing anyone (even those not in a central office job!? <gasp>) add their ideas and then letting the larger community decide what to keep and what to discard?

Ok, so maybe letting everyone in the system do their own thing, both in terms of IT and instruction, is not the best idea.

However, there must be a better way than the glacial, confusing, overly-complicated processes we have now.

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