Education Evolutions #112


Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by Japanexperterna.se shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

This may find you a little later than normal but I have been taking advantage of the holiday weekend. Plus, I spent a little longer basking in the latest victory of my favorite team Liverpool FC, as they continue to chase their first Premier League title and first top-flight league title in 30 years.

This week’s options are a shorter mix of readings that cover a lot of varied topics. The variety is pretty common but the brevity of the selections is not always true. In this issue, it is a feature.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is a tough choice. The second one is a positive and refreshing read and I even included a video version of the message as well. The last one is also definitely worth a click and the book that provides the focus for the post, Winners Take All, is also something that might interest many readers of this newsletter.

Enjoy the long weekend.


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

Why it’s Time to Give Up Grades – Starr Sackstein’s blog – Starr Sackstein (2-minute read)

I have been thinking a lot about grades again recently and how much I dislike them. The first few paragraphs of this post I could easily have written myself. I too have long given up on the notion that tests are terribly informative beyond the most superficial of findings. I too feel the idea of putting a number or letter on the work of students is frustrating and more arbitrary than many teachers would like to admit.

Given a recent experience with students, I am even more convinced that it only contributes to more problems for the students. Some of the benefits Sackstein submits are agreeable. The power of feedback is inarguable. That power is almost entirely removed when a grade is included. Grades definitely can adversely affect the relationship between teacher and student, which undermines the essential goal of learning. And who could blame students for always feeling judged by teachers? As much as some might want to argue grades are feedback, they certainly seem a whole lot more like evaluation to the students.

This is an extremely short piece and there is plenty of material out there about ungrading or going gradeless, whatever phrasing might be used. PL Thomas, among many others, has written in much greater detail about this topic, In fact, he covers the difficulty that many students have with breaking away from traditional grading practice. As he explains, “A culture of grading allows both students and teachers to be lazy about the things we claim to care about the most.” Still, Sackstein asks the most important question, what is the first step to giving up grades?

A three-point plan for sleepless, screen-obsessed kids: play, play and more play – The Sydney Morning Herald – Pasi Sahlberg (3-minute read)

The internationally renown Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg has become the deputy director of the Gonski Institute for Education at the University of New South Wales. In this op-ed piece in Sydney’s main daily newspaper, he presents one of the simplest prescriptions for addressing problems facing young people and smart devices – play.

Sahlberg is a fierce advocate against what he calls GERM (Global Education Reform Movement), which has infected most of the Western World, including a particularly virulent strain in the US. He has traveled the globe sharing what the Finns discovered and how they overhauled their schooling to benefit children and families, making them one of the most celebrated education systems in the world.

I like a lot of what Sahlberg has to say, having read a lot of his work over the last few years. He applies a wisdom to many problems that seems simple but can be remarkably subtle and addresses issues with keen insight. What I particularly like about this piece is that he recognizes that the device is not so much the problem as much as the behavior. Now, the behaviors may well be induced by the device but that is not automatically a given. The reality is that a lot of adults do a pretty awful job of modeling healthy behaviors for the young. I cannot count the number o times I have watched parents ignoring their children in public, while they stare and swipe at their phones. Yet, citing overwhelming evidence from pediatricians, making time for more outdoor play in school and at home might be at least part of the answer. Even stronger he advocates making it a policy mandate. Here is a video version of the same message.

Coming To Terms With ‘Winners Take All’ – Sherri Spelic on Medium – Sherri Spelic (7-minute read)

Another educator that I like reading a lot is Sherri Spelic. Based in Europe, the American ex-pat presents not only presents an interesting point of view from afar, she is a remarkably intuitive and open writer. In this piece she focuses on her personal reaction to reading the book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas.

The book is a remarkable read on its own and one I recommend to just about anyone. What I appreciate about Spelic’s reflection about her reading of it is the unvarnished honesty. She not only appreciates Giridharadas’ work but breaks down many of the most compelling bits as well. Her particular focus on the Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, who makes an extensive appearance in Winners Take All, seems to have sparked something within her even more profound.

What I appreciate most, however, is how Spelic both recognizes Giridharadas’ acknowledgment of being part of the problem he writes about and, as the post title suggests, attempts to come to terms with her own place within the context of the problems that are at the core of the book. That awareness and willingness to look at herself and the privilege she enjoys is an excellent model and a great place to start after the reading.

Education Evolutions #111


Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by Japanexperterna.se shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

By the way, November has arrived. It seems to have snuck up on me as I tried to establish a quality rhythm with all my classes. Not sure that I have been completely successful yet, but that has not stopped the calendar from turning pages. Plus, the recent gale-force winds in New England have nearly blown all the color from the trees almost as quickly as the chance to enjoy it.

This week’s selections are a mix but feel a little more on the darker side of things. There is a regular blend of reading lengths and topics. I guess there is just a spectre of suspicion in all of them that presents a darker hue. As usual, all are interesting in different ways, although they may not all appeal to everyone.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. I usually place the longest read as the last piece and also mark it as important, which makes this one no different. This article was published a week or so ago and touched off a bit of frenzy of commentary by a number of academics that I follow and deeply respect. It took me a little longer to get through it and add it to the newsletter. It is kind of horrifying actually, all the more reason for designating as the most critical read. In fact, this passage might be the most horrifying comment in the whole article, where there are plenty to choose from:

“Take an adult in the workforce. You can’t type anything you want in your work email: it’s being looked at,” Bill McCullough, a Gaggle spokesperson, said. “We’re preparing kids to become successful adults.”

It is not enough that some forces want to reduce all K-12 schooling into little more than vocational training, subject to corporate whims. Now we can prepare youth for a life of almost constant surveillance and monitoring with a sense of pride in preparation. No thanks.

Stay strong. Even more holidays will be upon us in no time.


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

Google is buying Fitbit: now what? – The Verge – Dieter Bohn (7-minute read)

Google’s purchase of Fitbit right at the end of this week setting off some alarms in the process. While the deal has to obviously be approved. In the current climate, it is hard to see how regulators will prevent the acquisition. There will likely be more bluster and concerns, then after some time passes it will quietly go through without much remark.

This piece addresses a range of aspects to the potential deal, which no doubt will impact current Fitbit customers. It is almost too soon before anyone fully realizes what happens next, obviously, but even the speculators are probably pretty well off the mark. It is a clear effort by Google to primarily compete with Apple, amongst others. However, as this article explores, Google has not always been able to manage all the companies that keep hoovering up, creating some doubts about how this acquisition.

Although it is referenced more than addressed in this piece, there are and will continue to be some genuine concerns about privacy, data security, and tracking. There is a little more information on that front in this article from Wired magazine. Of course, both companies already have press releases claiming all the “right” things in an effort to calm any nerves. Yet, all terms and services agreements are subject to change. This will be a story worth following if you are someone into wearable technology. I stay strictly analog on the watch front and not much of the other options interest me a whole lot.

The One And Only Lesson To Be Learned From NAEP Scores – Forbes – Peter Greene (4-minute read)

Also in education news, this week is the release of NAEP scores, foolishly referred to as the “nations report card.” The bi-annual release of test scores also includes every kind of policymaker and expert using the scores as justification for whatever agenda they are peddling. Given how little changes, the actual results rarely seem to make much difference to anyone looking for more “evidence” of why they have the best solution.

What Greene points out with clarity is just how often NAEP is misread, leading to all kinds of wild claims with even less understanding of the test or the results. He also points out a lot of the debate that surrounds the nature of the test itself with links for more detail. What NAEP scores offer more than anything is another cudgel to beat teachers with and declare the public school system as failing, as Education Secretary Besty DeVos wasted no time in declaring.

Possibly the best aspect of this article is the end, where Green cuts through a lot of the noise and explains “the dream of data-informed, data-driven decision making as a cure for everything that ails us is just a dream.” Data always requires interpretation to make it into usable information, which is why so many charlatans can continue to use NAEP scores and others to justify all kinds of ridiculous edreform efforts. The reality is that the NAEP scores are not all that helpful. If anything, they show the weakness in standardized testing as a valuable metric, especially given how profoundly diverse the student population of the United States is.

Under digital surveillance: how American schools spy on millions of kids – The Guardian – Lois Beckett (14-minute read)

There has been a rash of articles recently about how much students are increasingly under surveillance in this country. This one from the UK’s The Guardian is an in-depth look at the depth and breadth of the growing phenomenon. To think that $3 billion is being spent on this kind of stuff. There is no shortage of significantly better ways to use that money. Doing so would also seriously dampen the fear perpetuated by nearly all efforts to advance this kind of technology.

What makes me most frustrated with surveillance efforts is that they actually make the problems they are meant to solve worse. In fact, it is very likely that they contribute to perpetuating schools as unhealthy environments for students to learn and grow. The volume of assessment already has many students feeling overwhelmed and anxious, adding constant surveillance even when outside of the school itself is not exactly going to ease those feelings.

There is a darkness to efforts like this. We seem to be collectively incapable of even recognizing the kinds of horrors presented in classics like 1984 or Brave New World. It reminds me of a line from “Doublethink Is Stronger Than Orwell Imagined,” an article in issue 102, “We have met Big Brother and he is us.” Rather than address the core issues that might be contributing to epidemic social problems, we continue to market snake oil that just makes everything worse.

Education Evolutions #110


Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by Japanexperterna.se shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

As October comes to a close, New England remains in the full fall bloom. The colors continue to be bright and the air is getting sharp. However, this week the rains are supposed to arrive and will likely knock most of the color to the ground just in time for November.

This week’s selections include a more common trio with an extra thrown in the mix. There are the typical couple of short reads and a long one. All are interesting and worth a look. One is more about challenges to teaching, the other about the realities of being a teacher, and the third about technology use in higher education.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. It is the longest one but probably the most startling and informative one. I suspect that there are very few people knew that this kind of data tracking thing was going on. Like so many things, it has all the hallmarks of only exacerbating the gaps between haves and have-nots, particularly in an area where politicians continually claim as a solution to economic inequality.

Have a good week.


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

How Not to Get a Standing Ovation at a Teachers’ Conference – Alfie Kohn’s blog – Alfie Kohn (5-minute read)

I hope I get the chance to hear Alfie Kohn speak at some point in future. I always say the longer I teach the more I find myself agreeing with him. Similarly here, he kind of nails both the paradigm and paradox of working with teachers. I think what I like most about what he has to say in this post is that just because edrefrom is pox, generally, that does not mean that there is not plenty of room for improvement. Many of the uncomfortable truths he shares here remain in fact true.

I especially like how he challenges teachers to consider students both as co-creators of curriculum but also in shaping the environment of the classroom. The sentence, “teachers need to decide whether they’re going to treat their students essentially the same way they’re being treated by politicians — as opposed to the way they wish they were being treated,” might be the most powerful one in the whole piece for me. It is a great reminder to us all.

It is so easy to default to I’m-the-adult-in-the-room kind of thinking without remaining completely conscious of it, especially when feeling the pressure to cover content. The more the demands of pre-packaged content reign, either purchased for teachers or developed by teachers, the more challenging it is to create rich learning environments that are high quality for all students. Also, while applause does not usually accompany a lesson, the spirit of this sentence, “Applause is a reasonable metric of whether a presentation was entertaining, not whether it did any good,” could also be applied to classroom teaching too.

Chicago teacher strike enters second week, with patience wearing thin – The Washington Post – Susan Berger (4-minute read)

This story from The Washington Post summarizes the Chicago Teachers Union strike, which at last check Sunday afternoon continues. What is interesting about this particular strike is that the media coverage has been decent. There is less of the typical teacher-blaming going on despite the school being halted.

What is getting more coverage is the effort by the teachers union to secure more personnel and services for their students. There is even a bit more positive news, as rapper Chance wore a CTU shirt in solidarity during his appearance on Saturday Night Live, as mentioned here in the local coverage. Also included in that piece is just how far apart the city and union remain.

What I find fascinating is that both articles reference the frustration about student athletics being interrupted. As sympathetic as that issue might be, it is not even relevant. It is precisely the kind of spin used to paint teachers in a bad light. As important as state playoffs might be for individual athletes and teams, reasons like that are not even the primary point of schooling. Interestingly, when Dedham teachers also decided to strike after two years of failed negotiations, despite the legal prohibition, administrators also invoked student athletics as a way to curry public sympathy.

Student tracking, secret scores: How college admissions offices rank prospects before they apply – The Washington Post – Douglas MacMillan (13-minute read)

This article is yet another harrowing tale of how user data is being collected and used in with increasingly questionable ethics. The internet has ushered in an if-it-can-be-tracked-it-will-be reality that raised all kinds of questions about privacy, profiling, and principles. The fact that some colleges and universities do not even disclose the tracking should cause even greater concern, especially as they attempt an end-run around the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Aside from being extraordinarily shifty, this is the least of what can be expected without any real regulation. The whole predictive analysis is already running amock in other areas, so why not in higher education where big data has been racing in a digital land grab. As funding has fallen and tuition has soared, schools are now looking to leverage this kind of tracking to pursue out of state students, who pay more, as well as preemptively get a jump on whether or not students and their families can foot the bill.

All the claims that these tools simply provide ways for admissions offices to better help applicants or potential students. These are the same kind of claims companies say about helping customers, as they hoover up as much data as they can with next to no privacy restrictions. The idea that even more algorithms are potentially in play for students hoping to gain admissions to their desired school, based on their exploration of a school’s website, couldn’t possibly produce flawed conclusions either. It is not like that kind of thing happens anywhere or anything.