December 17, 2014

This will be my final blog of 2014.  So, with the two week holiday season upon us, I want to re-share some of the “interesting to read” items I’ve encountered over the past few years.  They have expanded my awareness on issues facing American education.  I think you’ll find one, or more, of them worth your reading time — whether one agrees or disagrees.

On the subject of Standardized Tests, Marion Bradys article, “Why Common Core isn’t the Answer,” in The Washington Post is both logical and erudite:

“I’ll start by affirming what I believe most thoughtful educators take for granted: The main aim of schooling is to model or explain reality better. As you read, don’t lose sight of that. The aim of schooling isn’t to teach math, science, language arts, and other school subjects better, but to expand our understanding of reality.  .  .  .

Before today’s education “reformers”—in a spectacular fit of hubris—took over America’s schools, progress in modeling reality more simply and accurately was being made based on General Systems Theory as it had developed during World War II. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top kissed that progress goodbye. Policymakers assume there’s nothing wrong with the core curriculum adopted in 1893, so shut up and study, kids.

We can work our way out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves, but it can’t be done by following orders handed down by authorities in Washington and state capitols, orders that ignore the nature of knowledge, the history of education, the wisdom of hard-earned expertise, the conclusions of research, the nature of human nature, simple management principles, and common sense.  .  .  . ”

The New York Times article, “Online Learning, Personalized” by Somini Sengupta gives us a peek into what may become a “classroom of the future”:

“Jesse Roe, a ninth-grade math teacher at a charter school here (San Jose) called Summit, has a peephole into the brains of each of his 38 students.   He can see that a girl sitting against the wall is zipping through geometry exercises; that a boy with long curls over his eyes is stuck on a lesson on long equations; and that another boy in the front row is getting a handle on probability.  Each student’s math journey shows up instantly on the laptop Mr. Roe carries as he wanders the room.  He stops at each desk, cajoles, offers tips, reassures.  For an hour, this crowded, dimly lighted classroom in the hardscrabble shadow of Silicon Valley hums with the sound of fingers clicking on keyboards, pencils scratching on paper and an occasional whoop when a student scores a streak of right answers.  . . . ”

Another stimulating article appeared in The New York Times, “Why School Choice Fails” by Natalie Hopkinson:

“IF you want to see the direction that education reform is taking the country, pay a visit to my leafy, majority-black neighborhood in Washington.  While we have lived in the same house since our 11-year-old son was born, he’s been assigned to three different elementary schools as one after the other has been shuttered.  Now it’s time for middle school, and there’s been no neighborhood option available.

Meanwhile, across Rock Creek Park in a wealthy, majority-white community, there is a sparkling new neighborhood middle school, with rugby, fencing, an international baccalaureate curriculum and all the other amenities that make people pay top dollar to live there.

Such inequities are the perverse result of a “reform” process intended to bring choice and accountability to the school system. Instead, it has destroyed community-based education for working-class families, even as it has funneled resources toward a few better-off, exclusive, institutions.  . . . “

The final article comes from The New York Times, “Class Matters.  Why Won’t We Admit It?” by Helen F. Ladd and Edward B. Fiske:   

“No one seriously disputes the fact that students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school, on average, than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds. But rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control.

No Child Left Behind,’ President George W. Bush’s signature education law, did this by setting unrealistically high — and ultimately self-defeating — expectations for all schools. President Obama’s policies have concentrated on trying to make schools more “efficient” through means like judging teachers by their students’ test scores or encouraging competition by promoting the creation of charter schools. The proverbial story of the drunk looking for his keys under the lamppost comes to mind.  . . .

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores and 46 percent of the variation in average math scores across states is associated with variation in child poverty rates.  . . . “

That’s it!  Hope you find the time to read at least one.  Enjoy your holidays and I’ll have more on Monday, January 5, 2015 – – –


       -— Bill Walton, co-Founder, ITC Learning

  (Mondays & Wednesdays)