Education Evolutions #51

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

A bit later in the delivery than I would have liked but I got a bit carried away this week. Definitely a bit of a darker tone to this issue. Must be the dark days of midwinter taking more of a grip. I don’t know.

This week the readings are another eclectic mix. I tried to provide different lengths, specifically. So there is a short, medium, and long piece with some extras along the way. Problems with school funding are increasingly on my radar of late. With the shifting political climate, I cannot help feeling like we are acutely arriving at a precipice where we may possibly irrevocably break our nation’s public school system.

I am not sure there is an “If you read only one article…” this week. The last piece, ” The GOP’s Biggest Charter School Experiment Just Imploded” is an important story but it is plenty long and might not be for everyone. Yet, everyone should learn a little more about the problems associated with charter schools and online schools. A number of states have already passed legislation requiring online coursework for high school graduation, which is a kind backdoor means for allowing private companies access to public school money since there are very few public schools or systems, if any, capable of providing that kind of service on their own. There may very well be a place for online offerings, especially to serve niche student populations, but they should be as accountable as any public school, if not more so.

Hope you have a good week, as we close out January and head into the shortest month.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Teaching children with iPads means they struggle to concentrate without technology, study finds – The Telegraph –  Camilla Turner (2-minute read)

I am not sure whether this should notion should inspire fear or faith, to be honest. It is research that almost goes in the you-don’t-say category. As I dug a bit deeper, this is not exactly the most current research but the mathematics and computer science professor quoted, Dr. Davies, has been spending a few years on it. This article happens to coincide with her chapter in a newly published collection, Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology.

Unfortunately, I could not find any more details than this slim article offers and I did some digging. The book is too newly published and there was little to be found from the conference presentation which provided the foundation. While she looks to be generally an advocate of edtech the journalist knows how to end with a kicker. Turner quotes Davies, “While lauded for their educational potential, iPads can unsettle a school’s capacity to control pupils’ actions and behaviours. They also introduce a new set of practices that potentially require regulation.” While a seeming statement of fact, a lot of schools have not quite come to grips with this reality.

Stateside, I would argue that the rise in teacher accountability and evaluation requirements has been almost directly opposed to quality technology integration and a deeper understanding of the true impact of digital devices in the classroom. Over the last few years, teachers have essentially been told, “You will be under even greater accountability measures but, by the way, we want you to use this device that will completely unsettle your ability to manage your students. Good luck.” Now there is evidence that if when a teacher chooses not to use devices, students are unable to concentrate too. We live in interesting times.

What School-Funding Debates Ignore – The Atlantic – Jack Schneider (10-minute read)

For anyone that feels like they do not understand much about school funding on the macro level, this is an important read. Schneider takes a far more nuanced look at how public schools are funded and the legacy of how demographic information gets twisted or ignored completely to justify policy. He uses an excellent example to highlight the inherent inequity that our system often makes worse, not better.

Schneider expands on Gloria Ladson-Billings’ concept of “education debt.” I have referenced scholar Ladson-Billings in other issues. While controversial, she makes an awfully compelling argument that grows harder to ignore and maintain any ethical footing. Interestingly, he also cites conflicting research on the issue. However, I am not sure why the Heritage Foundation gets name billing but the Albert Shanker Institute does not, despite links to both bodies of research.

Massachusetts gets some recognition for at least making an effort to offset the inequities based on need, which no doubt aids the state’s recognition as a national educational leader. Of course, that is still primarily determined by test scores, which is an obviously flawed and dubious scheme that nonetheless endures. As income disparity continues to widen beyond any previous any point in the nation’s history, school funding problems are likely to only get worse before they get better. Of course worse performance, determined by defective measures, can be used as further evidence to blow up the whole funding process too. Wait, that’s already happening.

The GOP’s Biggest Charter School Experiment Just Imploded – Mother Jones – James Pogue (30-minute read)

This read is a bit heavy on the melodramatic stage setting but still narrates a cautionary tale of a charter school collapse, deep corruption, and the consequences. Ohio has long been dealing with public school funding problems. An old court case declared the state’s means for funding schools unconstitutional is even referenced in the piece. My interest was piqued about the fix never being completely implemented too, as I remember the ruling.

What should be most alarming about this story may not be the fact that the founder of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) essentially absconded with millions of dollars of public money or that the school folded up shop, as absolutely horrifying as those facts are. It should be that a system was politically bought and paid for to enable that kind of heist and it was all basically legal. There may be some legal fallout to come but that will never balance the nearly twenty years toll on Ohio’s public school system. Were this not wrapped up in the department of education and public money, it might look an awful lot like racketeering and money laundering.

Even more concerning is that this is just one of many cases, albeit one of the biggest to date, of charter schools being a cover for seriously dubious activities. The online charters seem most tempting for malfeasance (Here is just one other prolific example.). Of course, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was an investor in a major provider of online education through charter mechanisms K12 Incorporated. She also despises “burdens created by federal regulations” too. So, we can look forward to more cases like this in the future. If we are not careful, America could look a lot more like Sweden with private equity firms running public education with the occasional bankruptcy.

Education Evolutions #50

Celebration flickr photo by xdegarmox shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Well, it is a kind of anniversary of sorts – Issue 50 of this newsletter that started out as a kind of experiment and has developed into a bit more than that. Given that I took the summer off, as well as some school vacations here and there, that means it clocks in at a little over a year-and-a-half but a nice looking number of installments.

This week is a bit of an eclectic mix of readings. It is too tricky to always identify a cool leitmotif for each issue, although I certainly like the challenge. Still, as long as I keep with the wider mission of curating articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching I feel pretty good. When beginning, I tried to find a focus that was neither too wide nor too narrow. As a result, this is week is a mix of new and old material that I have read and reflected on recently.

I am sort of torn about the idea of “If you read only one article…” this week. The first piece, “How Mindfulness Meditation Can Save America” deserves a serious shout, even if you are not taken with the whole mindfulness thing. It is long but is a fascinating intersection of psychology, politics, and of course mindfulness. Yet the second piece on personalized learning might be more immediately informative as states and districts line up to see all the new shiny buttons. Actually, read them all. it is worth it.

Enjoy the best weekend of American football, if you are so inclined. Semi-finals always surpass the final game, in my opinion anyway.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

How Mindfulness Meditation Can Save America – Wired –  Robert Wright (15-minute read)

For last couple of years, I have been doing a pretty deep dive into mindfulness. My interest goes back decades but I would never have called myself a practitioner until more recently. In truth, I had probably been in an extended phase of preparation for a whole lot longer than that. Of course, now mindfulness is now riding probably the largest wave since the 1970s. It definitely has been making inroads into education, and for good reason. So, a headline like this was bound to find me as well as a whole lot of others.

Despite the headline’s grandiosity, Wright is definitely on to something. First, he provides one of the simplest and most elegant explanations of mindfulness I have encountered, “examining your feelings and deciding whether to buy into them, whether to let them carry you away.” That is pretty sound. Second, but perhaps more important, Wright unpacks a whole bunch of psychological errors and biases that we all make and then explains how mindfulness could provide a viable means for overcoming them, at least in part.

Lately, a lot has been made of the detrimental consequences of social media and the rise of legitimately fake news. Even I have been including articles that take a more critical view of how we humans, not technology, can often be the biggest problem (See this item from issue 39).  As Wright highlights, “We think what it feels good to think. And it feels good to think that our tribe makes sense and the other tribe doesn’t.”While I am not entirely sure that I believe what Wright posits is possible or even all that likely, I certainly appreciate his attempts to project hope.

Why I Left Silicon Valley, EdTech, and “Personalized” Learning – Inspired – Paul Emerich’s blog –  Paul Emerich (9-minute read)

Personalized learning is undoubtedly the next long-lasting trend that the edtech industry will be pushing for the foreseeable future. The idea of personalized is far from new, of course. However, the co-opted version that has been adopted by Silicon Valley, as well as the largest education publishers, is of a more recent vintage. It also should serve as a kind of archetypal lesson of just how fast commercial forces can pivot and reposition essentially the same mission, generating profit in the name of educating children. Pearson, Facebook, and more are all angling to back the trucks up at the superintendent’s and technology director’s door.

If you interested in what the edtech’s notion of personalized learning looks like, this sentence is the best place to start “it isolates children, it breeds competition, it assumes that children can learn entirely on their own, and it dehumanizes the learning environment, reducing the human experience of learning down to a mechanistic process, one where children become the objects of learning as opposed to the subjects of their own educational narrative”.

I have been saying for some time now that the biggest problem with edtech’s approach to personalized learning is that it is distinctly lacking in the persons. This testimonial makes the case even better than I could, as it comes from an insider. Emerich nails it with his comment about the personalized learning system, “it was disembodied and disconnected, with a computer constantly being a mediator between my students and me.” On some level, it is amazing to me that this has not been recognized more widely from the outset.

What’s more, I suspect there are a whole lot of teachers that would echo this sentiment more widely, particularly when feeling pressure to use technology just to use it or justify the cost of having it, even if those same teachers might not be able to articulate it. Plus, it is far easier to simply call those more cautious or critical Luddites or some derivation. Yet, here is a voice that is anything but sharpening the focus on the growing movement.

Looking at Wrong Outcomes, Missing the Lesson – Radical Eyes for Equity – P.L. Thomas’s blog –  P.L. Thomas (9-minute read)

P.L. Thomas is another writer that I have featured previously. I like him a lot. He challenges a lot of ideas about education, especially in the discipline of English. Here he takes on the College Board’s revamp of Advanced Placement, which I believe is ongoing. Like him, I am no fan of the College Board or AP for that matter. Even though this is an older post it remains more relevant than ever. On a side note, I was glad to see the profound conflict of interest posed by Common Core Standards architect David Coleman being President of the College Board. I still cannot fathom how five years have passed without any serious coverage or scrutiny on that one.

This post is definitely on the personal side, as Thomas recounts some of his early teaching experience. Still, some of the best bits are quotations he pulls from a talk educator and activist Brian Jones gave around the time of the post. Jones previews the failure of the Common Core prescience (Even now, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has declared the Common Core dead, but like a zombie it will no doubt continue stumbling forward in some undead fashion for years to come).

Better still, Thomas uses his experience anecdotally, teaching and advancing AP courses, to illustrate how flawed the whole approach is. He is most powerful when pointing out how focusing on test scores and outcomes, the kind of thing that AP programs and the general edreformy movement engender, is beyond misguided. Perhaps the most profound comment, “Test scores hide genuine academic success.” Read that sentence again. It echoes with truth.

Education Evolutions #49

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

A little later than expected but before the holiday, this hopefully finds its way to you. I feel like I am still catching up from the holiday layoff, in a way. So the weekly practice of curation finds me wishing I could work a little quicker.

I still feel like there is no shortage of interesting reading out there worth highlighting. Yet, I also cannot help but be reminded while reading of just how important it is to get my nose out from in front of a screen and spend time with loved ones on the weekend. It is a challenge that I confront as much or more as anyone reading this. In fact, this labor of love is an effort to help people in that regard, serving as a kind of stopgap against the spillover.

As usual, I don’t know if there is an “If you read only one article…” this week. the last piece, “I Used to Be Human” is three-quarters of an excellent article, although extraordinarily long. If you have the time and inclination, it is definitely a piece with ambition, even if I am not sure that it is altogether successful. It is successful on enough fronts to give a go.

Enjoy the week and Martin Luther King Jr Day.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Getting Stuck on Self-Care: Why Community Care is Important for Educators – Teachers Going Gradeless –  Benjamin Doxtdator (6-minute read)

I like the thinking and writing of Benjamin Doxtdator a lot. I have never met him personally but I sense that we might get on quite well. I have featured his work in this newsletter on a number of occasions. This piece is as perceptive as it is provocative. There is no question that educators need to care for themselves. However, there is something even more powerful in the idea of a community exercising some care for itself too.

Schools can offer a ready-made community of care. In fact, I would humbly admit that I have recently given and received greatly from a community care based in a school. In his references to Noam Chomsky’s idea, “attacks on public education are really attacks on an ideal that we care for each other,” Doxtdator reminds us about the stakes. Despite demands on teachers being greater than ever, collectively there are greater possibilities to be potentially realized.

We Really Shouldn’t Let Silicon Valley into Our Schools – AlterNet – Sophie Linden (6-minute read)

This piece reads as a kind of executive summary on many of the challenges that are facing school’s brisk adoption rates of technology and the emerging consequences. There are a lot of links that reference a host of articles on the issues we are confronting. Linden rightly points out that there is conflicting research. For me, that fact only serves to strengthen why edtech should be regularly and rigorously interrogated.

Of course, the financial cost is one major factor, especially for public school systems that are inherently inequitably funded. There are also is the human cost, which we are only just beginning to really understand. Whether it is lost opportunities, attention, or even jobs, the field of education should be a place where ideas are constantly cross-examined. Unfortunately, it can all too often be a place where convenience replaces questioning. This article’s call for patience seems not only reasonable but increasingly required.

I Used to Be Human – New York Magazine – Andrew Sullivan (41-minute read)

As you may have already noticed, this piece is long. It might be the longest read I have ever selected for this newsletter. That being said, I suspect some of you will read it with a knowing resonance. Sullivan chronicles, in significant detail, his fall into the digital chasm of obsessive consumption of information and the virtual world. It is at times harrowing. I do think the piece runs a bit long and drifts from where it is most powerful. Yet, the first two-thirds to three quarters offer a pretty powerful testimony of the costs of “living-in-the-web.”

Even if you don’t finish this piece, it touches on some items that are more than worth considering. There is a kind of desperation being articulated here that should serve as a cautionary tale. As educators in schools, there is a growing sense of inevitability about technology that should be a cause for a serious pause. While it may seem alarmist, reading through Sullivan’s experience, albeit online (irony acknowledged) may serve as just that kind of pause, especially if you push through to the end.