Education Evolutions #129

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This week is a mix of articles that lean a little more into the teacher’s perspective, although there is plenty of wider perspective here too. There is an undercurrent of the profound inequities that exist across our nation’s educational landscape, but I am not sure that it would qualify as a full-fledged theme for the issue.

I have reached back a bit with some of the articles included here. I never feel entirely bound by sticking with the latest published material. Limiting this newsletter to three pieces means that a lot of really good items might not make the cut immediately after I read them. Also, I may encounter something a little later than when it first appeared or simply wait to see how it ages. Mainly, I am hoping that the selection is high-quality for anyone reading. 

This week’s “If you read only one article…” as usual is the last one. The last article in the list often is the longest read, which remains true this week, meaning it is also the most in-depth. This exposé on the College Board and the dubious force it has been able to impose on students and education across the country. It is difficult to learn almost anything about the College Board as an organization and not leave a little repulsed.

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

Why Landing On The ‘Best Schools’ List Is Not Something To Celebrate – WBUR’s Cognoscenti blog – Neema Avashia (3-minute read)

I have to admit straight-away that I abhor all league table efforts regarding schools. Any endeavor to rank and sort schools is not only a woefully misguided but I would argue destructive and damaging to kids and their communities. In this piece, a veteran Boston Public Schools teacher takes aim at Boston Magazine‘s annual list.

While Avashia undermines this particular publication’s claims of measuring academic quality with the reality of “measuring other factors: segregation and inequality. Opportunity hoarding and exclusion,” she could be commenting on almost any publications impulse to publish these kinds of complete fabrications. What is compellingly effective in this takedown is how she does a side-by-side comparison between her own school, Madison Park Technical Vocational, with current number one Acton-Boxborough High School. To compare the two at all exposes the hypocrisy of the entire effort to compare them at all. Aside from the fact that both institutions are schools and serve students, there is not a whole lot in common between the institutions.

For decades, if not the entire history of American education, the “good schools” always seem to be found in the wealthiest zip codes. What is more disheartening is just how much stock people of means put into perpetuating a system that profoundly enables them to continue to benefit at the expense of other people’s children. I share the call for new lists that celebrate a different set of values, like equity and inclusion.

Virtual engagement strategies that don’t require webcams – Dismantling Mathematics – Xi Yu (12-minute read)

There are so many problematic issues with schools demanding that students have webcams on during live, remote class sessions that I could probably spend an entire newsletter issue devoted to the topic. However, this is a great reading list for anyone interested in exploring. Having taught an all-online course for ten years and never once using a video-conference, there is no shortage of means to operate without webcams that seem to have been ignored in favor of policing students. This list offers some strategies most relevant for those using Zoom, specifically breakout rooms.

While the blog is a math specific one, these strategies are pretty discipline agnostic. The favoring of Google’s Jamboard as a tool makes a lot of sense in a math sense because it makes digital hand-drawing quick and simple, which often makes performing mathematics a whole lot easier in a digital context. The pen tool alone makes it a nice way to capture input from just about anyone regardless of technical skill. In general, Jamboard, a whiteboard application, does make for easy group interactivity, works on a variety of devices, and being a Google product works well in their ecosystem.

Using other shared, synchronous tools like the Google Suite allows as much, if not more, live student interaction that does not require video-conferencing at all, let alone a webcam. While the writer clearly likes Jamboard, other tools in the suite offer slightly different or specific options. Shared slides, in particular, offer a range of multimedia possibilities in this area that can exceed the narrower range of options in a document, and this post offers some interesting ideas. Even something as simple as enabling screen sharing for students allows them to take a more active role in a real-time video-conference without the need to be on camera.

How The SAT Failed America – Forbes – Susan Adams (18-minute read)

I am admittedly no fan of the College Board, so this article immediately caught my attention. Plus, Forbes magazine has upped its education coverage considerably in recent years. The headline suggests that the SAT only recently failed America while I would maintain that it has been perpetually failing America for decades. Despite any of the positives it may have generated, and even I would admit there are a few, the College Board is a con operation preying on the fears and desires of both students and parents alike.

There is a lot of known information woven into this piece, yet it does reveal more about the College Board’s business practices, especially under David Coleman, than may have been widely known previously. It’s safe to say the College Board is a cash cow masquerading as a non-profit enterprise, hoovering up money from the desperate and affluent as fast as it can while dangling empty promises of university entry and long-term life success for children. All the while, Coleman widely believed to be an arrogant elitist with plenty of evidence to support that claim, operates like any ruthless chief executive, keenly aware that the College Board’s economic success relies on not only maintaining but perpetuating profound systemic inequalities. He does this all for the humble compensation of nearly $2 million a year, selling “opportunity” to children.

When Coleman moved to the College Board after architecting one of the other major educational millstones of our times, the Common Core, I was amazed there was so little controversy about the decision. It turns out to have been an absolute boon for the College Board, as their growth accelerated even more than I realized, as he orchestrated a massive market grab, fostering the surging colonization of classrooms through the Advanced Placement program and its accompanying “fee bonanza.” So, as much as the SAT may seemingly be on the ropes, reading this piece suggests it might not quite trigger the deepest existential crisis for this lucrative leviathan. Like all corporate efforts, management may be its ultimate undoing. In fact, the best line in the whole piece is the last, comparing Coleman to an “arsonist complaining about an out-of-control fire.”

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