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.