Education Evolutions #51

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

A bit later in the delivery than I would have liked but I got a bit carried away this week. Definitely a bit of a darker tone to this issue. Must be the dark days of midwinter taking more of a grip. I don’t know.

This week the readings are another eclectic mix. I tried to provide different lengths, specifically. So there is a short, medium, and long piece with some extras along the way. Problems with school funding are increasingly on my radar of late. With the shifting political climate, I cannot help feeling like we are acutely arriving at a precipice where we may possibly irrevocably break our nation’s public school system.

I am not sure there is an “If you read only one article…” this week. The last piece, ” The GOP’s Biggest Charter School Experiment Just Imploded” is an important story but it is plenty long and might not be for everyone. Yet, everyone should learn a little more about the problems associated with charter schools and online schools. A number of states have already passed legislation requiring online coursework for high school graduation, which is a kind backdoor means for allowing private companies access to public school money since there are very few public schools or systems, if any, capable of providing that kind of service on their own. There may very well be a place for online offerings, especially to serve niche student populations, but they should be as accountable as any public school, if not more so.

Hope you have a good week, as we close out January and head into the shortest month.

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

Teaching children with iPads means they struggle to concentrate without technology, study finds – The Telegraph –  Camilla Turner (2-minute read)

I am not sure whether this should notion should inspire fear or faith, to be honest. It is research that almost goes in the you-don’t-say category. As I dug a bit deeper, this is not exactly the most current research but the mathematics and computer science professor quoted, Dr. Davies, has been spending a few years on it. This article happens to coincide with her chapter in a newly published collection, Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology.

Unfortunately, I could not find any more details than this slim article offers and I did some digging. The book is too newly published and there was little to be found from the conference presentation which provided the foundation. While she looks to be generally an advocate of edtech the journalist knows how to end with a kicker. Turner quotes Davies, “While lauded for their educational potential, iPads can unsettle a school’s capacity to control pupils’ actions and behaviours. They also introduce a new set of practices that potentially require regulation.” While a seeming statement of fact, a lot of schools have not quite come to grips with this reality.

Stateside, I would argue that the rise in teacher accountability and evaluation requirements has been almost directly opposed to quality technology integration and a deeper understanding of the true impact of digital devices in the classroom. Over the last few years, teachers have essentially been told, “You will be under even greater accountability measures but, by the way, we want you to use this device that will completely unsettle your ability to manage your students. Good luck.” Now there is evidence that if when a teacher chooses not to use devices, students are unable to concentrate too. We live in interesting times.

What School-Funding Debates Ignore – The Atlantic – Jack Schneider (10-minute read)

For anyone that feels like they do not understand much about school funding on the macro level, this is an important read. Schneider takes a far more nuanced look at how public schools are funded and the legacy of how demographic information gets twisted or ignored completely to justify policy. He uses an excellent example to highlight the inherent inequity that our system often makes worse, not better.

Schneider expands on Gloria Ladson-Billings’ concept of “education debt.” I have referenced scholar Ladson-Billings in other issues. While controversial, she makes an awfully compelling argument that grows harder to ignore and maintain any ethical footing. Interestingly, he also cites conflicting research on the issue. However, I am not sure why the Heritage Foundation gets name billing but the Albert Shanker Institute does not, despite links to both bodies of research.

Massachusetts gets some recognition for at least making an effort to offset the inequities based on need, which no doubt aids the state’s recognition as a national educational leader. Of course, that is still primarily determined by test scores, which is an obviously flawed and dubious scheme that nonetheless endures. As income disparity continues to widen beyond any previous any point in the nation’s history, school funding problems are likely to only get worse before they get better. Of course worse performance, determined by defective measures, can be used as further evidence to blow up the whole funding process too. Wait, that’s already happening.

The GOP’s Biggest Charter School Experiment Just Imploded – Mother Jones – James Pogue (30-minute read)

This read is a bit heavy on the melodramatic stage setting but still narrates a cautionary tale of a charter school collapse, deep corruption, and the consequences. Ohio has long been dealing with public school funding problems. An old court case declared the state’s means for funding schools unconstitutional is even referenced in the piece. My interest was piqued about the fix never being completely implemented too, as I remember the ruling.

What should be most alarming about this story may not be the fact that the founder of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) essentially absconded with millions of dollars of public money or that the school folded up shop, as absolutely horrifying as those facts are. It should be that a system was politically bought and paid for to enable that kind of heist and it was all basically legal. There may be some legal fallout to come but that will never balance the nearly twenty years toll on Ohio’s public school system. Were this not wrapped up in the department of education and public money, it might look an awful lot like racketeering and money laundering.

Even more concerning is that this is just one of many cases, albeit one of the biggest to date, of charter schools being a cover for seriously dubious activities. The online charters seem most tempting for malfeasance (Here is just one other prolific example.). Of course, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was an investor in a major provider of online education through charter mechanisms K12 Incorporated. She also despises “burdens created by federal regulations” too. So, we can look forward to more cases like this in the future. If we are not careful, America could look a lot more like Sweden with private equity firms running public education with the occasional bankruptcy.

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