Education Evolutions #41

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

Last week was a bit of a milestone. I have now sent 40 editions of this little newsletter in nearly a school year and a half. Having taken the summer off, that is not too bad a run. Hopefully, it has been worth it to those that take the time to give it a look.

A couple of these are much longer pieces. They are pieces I considered including over the last couple of weeks but didn’t quite fit for one reason or another. I add them this week because they are informative for anyone inclined to pay attention to the issues faced by the teaching profession in a wider context. While we might think, “These things do not apply to me,” they herald tendencies that creep wider than ever, unfortunately.

If you read only one article, take a look at the last one, Has D.C. Teacher Reform Been Successful? It may be the longest of the bunch but the read time might be a bit generous. Even scanning that article can be informative about most of the flashpoints regarding current edreform efforts. The last decade in Washington DC schools casts a very long shadow over the rest of the nation, like it or not.

Seems almost unfair to include longer reads when we lose a collective hour but they are all still good reads for a Sunday afternoon.

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

How Betsy DeVos Became The Most Hated Cabinet Secretary – The Huffington Post – Amanda Terkel (21-minute read)

As Betsy DeVos systematically and insidiously continues her efforts to undermine public education in favor of privatized, profit-generating enterprises, she is gaining never-before-seen notoriety. This piece goes into some deep detail about her history so far, which is already quite remarkable. After a comically disastrous confirmation hearing, she assumed the position on a tie-break vote from crony vice-president Mike Pence and has not stopped earning opposition.

Even Republicans, the party that she bankrolls with obscene amounts of money have started to line up against her. Yet it doesn’t seem to matter. If anything it seems to embolden. Even the current House tax reform bill has buried in it a provision that would parents to use tax-free 529 savings plans for private school expenses. The agenda she represents spreads far beyond the Department of Education.

If you are unfamiliar with here history this is a must-read redux of her reign so far. More than that it highlights why De Vos has been such a lightning-rod public official, not to mention a need to maintain a watchful eye.

Google’s Profits Are Exploding Because the Web Is Massive – The Atlantic – Derek Thompson (6-minute read)

This is a relatively short but important article about the actual scale of Google’s dominance as a corporate entity. Early on, Google morphed from a search company to an advertising one, among their other business interests. No one makes more money on web advertising, in particular, and the consequences of that reverberate throughout the web.

There is more than one thing unquestionably remarkable and innovative about Google’s rise. This piece highlights the one that may have made the most difference – the discovery platform. The intersection between search and advertising, it may be the company’s ultimate secret sauce for success. However, as clever as that innovation and understanding of the web may be, it is their singular dominance that is alarming. This article helps explain.

We have already begun to see power Google can wield in life on the web and beyond. As Thompson correctly explains, “When a company becomes this dominant, its gravest threat is political, not economic.” European regulators have already begun to take notice, but here in the US there has been little action and the current climate still seems unlikely to inspire any.

Has D.C. Teacher Reform Been Successful? – Washington Monthly –  John Merrow and Mary Levy, with a reply by Tom Toch (29-minute read)

This is a long a detailed look at the reform begun in the nation’s capital by one of the most well-known edreformers, Michelle Rhee. Another enormously controversial figure that I would argue helped pave the way for someone like Betsy De Vos’ rise to public office.

Rhee, if you do not recall, was a Teach for America product that spent three years as a classroom teacher, who through political connections found herself essentially czar of Washington DC schools. She would become a staple of publication covers across America while in charge.

John Merrow is a retired journalist, most notably the education reporter for PBS’ Newshour as well as the author of the recently published Addicted to Reform. He has been a highly critical of Rhee, which is almost always raised in her defense and highlights the politicization of education on a wider scale. Yet, it is hard to argue with the facts that Merrow presents the history of Rhee and subsequent successor Kaya Henderson.

On one level, this is a pretty stark take-down of an article by Thomas Toch, who also responds. On another level, this piece showcases exactly the kind of unsubstantiated mythmaking that has seeped into policymaking decisions about education. Washington DC served as a Petri dish for the edreform activism of the last decade. Its ramifications are still being felt with little weakening to date. It serves as a major milestone in a national debate that is shaping the future of public education. If for no other reason, it is a topic worthy of understanding.

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