Education Evolutions #102

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

With the crush of the end of the school year, I completely failed to get the newsletter out last week. It was actually a confluence of factors but it, unfortunately, stymied any efforts on my part. Still, as I wrap up the final week of exams, this could be the final installment as I typically have taken the summers off. We’ll see if that remains, I may put together some summer issues.

Consequently, that meant there was no shortage of stories in the education world from which I could choose. It often gets difficult to select the three main articles. I always feel like I am leaving good material out. I may need to change the format a little in future. That is one of the things that I will be considering over the summer.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the first one. It is the shortest but it is also the most universally recognizable and potentially applicable one for educators. Alfie Kohn produces a lot of insightful commentary about schools and this New York Times Opinion piece kind of hits a few nails squarely on the head with force and precision.

Here is to a great summer. Teachers enjoy the holiday and time to relax, rejuvenate, and restart in the fall.

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

Why Can’t Everyone Get A’s? – The New York Times – Alfie Kohn (4-minute read)

I write it every time I include something from Alfie Kohn. The longer I am in education the smarter that guy looks and the more I like what he has to say. This piece is no different. He is incredibly adept at blowing up some simple assumptions that are made pervasively across the educational field.

In this recent opinion piece, Kohn does not share anything new as much as he shares it well with a razor-sharp insight. Excellence need not be a zero-sum game. In fact, I would argue that we are far too quick to don goggles that reinforce beliefs of scarcity where there may not be much. It may just be one more consequence of being “Indoctrinated by Econ 101,” which manages to hold a devastating grip on the imagination of many.

So many things Kohn argues here are proven repeatedly to anyone watching closely. If students do too well, it is because things are too easy. He also includes rampant cries of grade inflation but left out another lie in education that most pernicious teacher’s claim of holding the line of “standards” while everyone else is letting them slip.

All of this continues feeding the nonsense about school rankings, like league tables, too. Yet, we can’t seem to stop the sick comparisons, despite professing that we don’t necessarily put a lot of stock in the results. They become a stick when the rankings are bad and prod when they are good. There is never a carrot.

Doublethink Is Stronger Than Orwell Imagined – The Atlantic – George Packer (10-minute read)

This one goes out to all my English colleagues that read 1984 with students. The tenth graders at my school wrapped a unit that featured this novel just weeks ago, culminating in a simulation that is always fascinating. The anniversary of the book and the current state of political affairs has brought a wealth of writing about the work. This article is an interesting ride on that wave.

Part book review, part personal reflection, and part social commentary, Packer manages to cover a lot of ground in this piece. The book review portion of this is actually quite compelling and makes The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984 sound like a fascinating read. On that front, it is also an interesting twist on a book review.

Where things take an even more interesting turn is in Packer’s criticism of the political moment, taking relatively equal aim at both the right and the left. Neither the right nor the left seems to have a strong hold on the truth, at least if the American party system is any indication. The final handful of paragraphs are best of all, pointing out how we have a profound tendency to be our own worst enemies.

Here’s how an alleged charter school conspiracy netted $50 million – The San Diego Union Tribune – Morgan Cook (10-minute read)

It seems like there is no end to the mendacity and malfeasance opportunities with charter schools in this country. This in-depth article outlines a fairly elaborate scheme to rob millions of dollars from the state of California, as well as students and families from a decent education. The amount of litigation involving charter schools around things like fraud, embezzlement, and other kinds of grift is actually quite stunning.

While charter schools desperately hold on to the claim that they are public schools, they are not bound by the same oversight or requirements. Somehow this is celebrated as a good and needed thing. It is the kind of innovation required to change a broken system. However, the defendants in this case and so many others merely identify the brokenness as a growth opportunity for their bank accounts. It also seems that online charter schools seem to be the most tainted of the lot.

Not all charter schools are rackets and schemes. Still, the truth is that oversight of charter schools is most often woeful. Add the fact that there is little incentive to shut a charter school down because that would negatively impact a whole lot of families, and they become an almost open invitation for long con scenarios. Yet, as many cases gain attention in the media, the efforts to perpetuate them is mind-boggling. It is open season for scams.

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