Education Evolutions #85

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

Well, I had a feeling that it would happen at some point but I am amazed that it took until issue 85. My apologies for failing to get last week’s newsletter out. Between the end of the semester and a nagging cold, my weekend evaporated before I even realized it. My hopes of sending something out late, unfortunately, went bust too.

Hopefully, this week makes up for it a little bit. It is a bit of a mix as usual. Having taken a few weeks off I still have a lot bookmarked.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. While it is long we have a day off courtesy of Martin Luther King Jr. So have cup of coffee and settle in for a fascinating read. Audrey Watters will not be quite as prolific as she has been for a while. Of course, all three are good. Giving them all a look is always encouraged.

Here is hoping everyone enjoys the football on championship Sunday. It remains the best week in the NFL schedule. Go Patriots.

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

What if schools focused on improving relationships rather than test scores? – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution –  Peter Smagorinsky (5-minute read)

I like Smagorinsky. He is an English educator that jumped from high school to university and written a number of titles that I have found useful. He is also an acolyte of late great English educator and theorist George Hillocks Jr.

In this op-ed piece, Smagorinsky makes a strong case for something that sadly is routinely overlooked in public education. As more and more schools get hoodwinked by futile accountability efforts, both teachers and students get lost in the shuffle. While this article focuses more on a single teacher’s experience of being hamstrung by a prescribed curriculum, it also offers insights into how that is a bad deal for students too.

I have been reminded a lot lately of just how much talk of curriculum is profoundly flawed by its lack of attention to the students in the room. All curriculum is a plan but a classroom rarely ever goes according to plan. Students are at least half of the plan or more, making them a major aspect of the curriculum, but one that cannot be accounted for in advance. Teachers can only teach the students in front of them not some idealized versions of students when writing all those plans and curriculum to meet the demands of administrators.

The McNamara Fallacy and the Problem with Numbers in Education – chronotope – blog – Carl Hendrick (5-minute read)

This is an old blogpost that resurfaced in my online reading but I think it remains beyond relevant. We may already be too far down the path of fetishizing measurement in education but I remain hopeful that there is still a chance that we will see the error of our ways. It is reading posts like this that give me that kind of hope.

While I was familiar with Robert McNamara, I was not as aware of the depth of level of value he placed almost exclusively on empiricism. Moreover, I had never heard of the McNamara Fallacy. Yet, I certainly understand the concept, despite not knowing it had a name. In fact, the notion that everything can even be measured has always struck me as “deeply hubristic arrogance.”

Still, I think that this piece provides some nice balance. As much as Hendrick focuses on the shortcomings of McNamara’s approach, he does not negate the value of measurement entirely. The real trouble is in valuing that which can be easily measured at the expense of that which cannot. Learning is far too complex and far too human to be easily measured or reduced to an algorithm, despite extremely smart and successful individual’s efforts to do so. This post is an excellent reminder of that fact. I just wonder why we keep chasing such a fool’s errand.

Fables of School Reform – The Baffler – Audrey Watters (19-minute read)

Everyone in education should read Audrey Watters from time to time. Her work keeps a critical eye on the edtech world like few others. Unfortunately, as she has recently decided to focus more of her attention on a forthcoming book means that her regular online publishing will seriously diminish for the foreseeable future.

Here she unfolds some of the history and hysteria involved in edtech. There is a lot here, all of it good. For example, I knew Bill Gates has poured money into education to fund all of his latest great ideas and innovations. However, I had no idea that he alone accounted for one-sixth of all funding in the sector. More important than his money however is the ideas that he peddles without much consequence. How soon we forget the failures or damage wrought by his foundation, like his all-in bet on teacher evaluation schemes to name just one.

More than anything, this is an excellent who’s who of edtech elites that network with key policymakers and continue to drive flawed agendas while making repeated trips to the bank. What is more disconcerting than anything is how often these individuals get cozy jobs in government. It also pulls the veil back on all the marketing mumbo-jumbo that keeps creeping into everyday education vernacular, like the complete co-option of the phrase “personalized learning.”

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