Education Evolutions #111

Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by 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.

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