My Education Blog

I started this blog on a different service, so I’m moving a lot of old posts here. These take up a number of topics related to education and education reform.

Here are a few education-related links I like:

9 Responses to My Education Blog

  1. Bob says:

    FRIDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2011

    Holiday reflection

    Comment seen on a news blog: “Progressives seem to think that entitlements should come with no strings attached.” (Well, they are called “entitlements” after all…)

    I know a few folks receiving various kinds of government benefits (“entitlements”) and none of them are driving new cars. But, being entitled to something means that you get it with no strings attached. Otherwise it may be a benefit but it’s not an entitlement. Withholding life-supporting resources from drug addicts sounds great when politicians are trying to out-hardass each other, but what if the drug addict is a Vietnam vet who hasn’t been able to get VA treatment for PTSD? What if there is untreated schizophrenia in the picture? And on and on… It’s easy to put people in boxes (jail or conceptual) and then say that they are unworthy of our care or concern.

    At this time of year, especially, no matter how you feel about religion or your own faith tradition (or even if you have none), it is worth reflecting on Matthew 25:34-40. ( I think that the “members of my family” referred to here includes all people. However, some of my Christian friends assert that this refers only to believers. Regardless of which point of view is correct, who is to say who is or is not? As one friend said, “That’s way above my paygrade!”):

    Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

  2. Bob says:

    MONDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2011

    Education reformers: put up or shut up!
    In the blog post I’ve linked to here, John Kuhn, superintendent of a small school district in Texas, proposes that the same framework used to reward and punish schools’ efforts to equalize educational outcomes be used to reward and punish efforts of state governments to equalize economic outcomes for their citizens.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/a-superintendent-calls-school-reformers-bluff/2011/12/11/gIQABKBXoO_blog.html?wprss=answer-sheet

    I admire the “put up or shut up” point of Superintendent Kuhn’s proposal. It reveals the fundamental flaw in current education reform efforts, if the point is to improve the life prospects of all children. But the “big excuse” of which conservatives have always accused public educators has been the “excuse” that poverty affects educational outcomes. Educators have been caught in a Catch 22 of our own devising–the promise that public education will pull people out of poverty. Unfortunately, NCLB can be seen as the conservative “put up or shut up” response to that assertion.

    Kuhn’s proposal implicitly acknowledges the systemic aspects of this issue–although there are plenty of examples of individuals who start from modest means and overcome early adversity (and countless examples of the converse as well), the chance that the achievements of extraordinary individuals can be a successful model for all is vanishingly small. A good education may be a necessary condition of social mobility, but it is not a guarantee. And in a society where income is increasingly bifurcated into high and low income groups with little in the middle, education as a route to a comfortable and stable life becomes an even riskier proposition.

    Fortunately, the national discussion of income inequality has recently become more focused. It is important for education advocates to provide this context for claims about the benefits of public education, as I think Kuhn has done very well.

  3. Bob says:

    SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011

    Do “Miracle Schools” counteract the effects of poverty?
    Diane Ravitch has studied schools that have been touted as “miracle schools,” which have purportedly achieved extraordinary results by restructuring, firing teachers, and so forth. She finds there’s less there than meets the eye.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/ravitch-miracle-schools-not-so-miraculous-after-all/2011/12/07/gIQAP565fO_blog.html?wprss=answer-sheet

    Ravitch is a researcher and historian with great integrity and credibility. When she speaks or writes, I pay attention, even when I disagree.

    Only in America would the idea be controversial, I think, that poverty affects students’ learning outcomes. Does it NECESSARILY affect them? Obviously not–there are plenty of counter-examples, individuals who pulled themselves up against the odds. Do those counter-examples let us off the hook of addressing the fact of the general effects of poverty? To some, perhaps it does. But, until we are willing to acknowledge these effects and recognize that only comprehensive approaches will work, we will be unsuccessful in truly addressing the needs of students from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

    In the meantime, the heroic teachers who keep at it day in and day out have my deepest admiration and appreciation–especially when they have to contend with the latest magic bullet that some drive-by “reformer” has come up with to make their job more difficult. It is truly remarkable that there are any teachers left when many of the reform efforts since the “Nation at Risk” have started from the premise that the teachers are the problem.

  4. Bob says:

    MONDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2011

    Should an NYU professor be fired for encouraging students not to pay their student loans?
    Interesting item in today’s Chronicle of Higher Ed blogs. Diane Auer Jones calls for a professor at NYU to be fired for suggesting that students default on their student loans.

    Here’s the link: http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/academic-freedom-or-educational-malpractice/41815?sid=cr&utm_source=cr&utm_medium=en

    I think that Jones (who works for a for-profit higher education company) mistakes academic freedom for first amendment rights, but the discussion following the post is interesting.

    First: Let me be clear that I would not encourage students to break their contracts relative to student debt, largely because one simply does not break promises and expect not to experience consequences. Breaking a promise to the US government has especially dire potential for long-term negative consequences that may not be easy for a young person to grasp. (A large proportion of the radicals who engaged in serious law-breaking during the protests of the ’60s have paid a heavy price for the rest of their lives, however justified they felt they were.)

    Having said that, one must acknowledge that the baby boom generation has been defunding the higher education sector for years now (ever since they finished their own degrees), forcing children and their parents to pay ever larger shares of the education necessary to get or keep them in the middle class. They had a choice in the same way that the Pullman employees had a choice about shopping at the company store. All I can say is, don’t expect recent college graduates to gratefully contribute to the project of keeping the elderly out of poverty while they struggle to pay for the education that their parents got at bargain prices. I think we baby boomers have created the world we feared and the irony is, it didn’t have to be that way.

  5. Bob says:

    TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2011

    Texas elementary school taught only English and Math, reported made-up grades in other subjects
    Here’s another article from Valerie Strauss’s blog at the Washington Post.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/exemplary-texas-school-taught-only-two-subjects/2011/11/21/gIQAXqyqjN_blog.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzheads

    What do you think of that!?

    We can argue and point political fingers all we like, but it is undeniable that the children are being shortchanged. As long as we would rather shout at one another and stay in our smug, self-righteous positions we will never get our arms around the problems, and our children will be the poorer for it.

    I would not try to justify cheating, especially by school officials and teachers. On the other hand, I can understand the frustration felt by public school folks who know that they are faced with an impossible set of conflicting demands and no way to meet the mandated progress requirements. Just do the math–I don’t mean it’s “really hard, but worth doing”. I mean, “mathematically impossible.”

    Talk about perverse incentives!

  6. Bob says:

    SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2011

    Charter School Problems
    Here’s another post relating to one of Valerie Strauss’s blog posts at the Washington Post, this one about problems with charter schools.

    Read her piece here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/reports-on-charter-schools-expose-new-problems/2011/10/31/gIQAcMye3M_blog.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzheads

    My thoughts:

    It seems intuitively right that providing a funding platform for educational laboratories to test educational ideas on a small scale, and giving visionary educators the opportunity to implement dynamic, vibrant learning communities outside the constraints of education bureaucracies, would yield at least a few models that would be worth emulating. That was the vision of early supporters of charter schools. Sadly, few of these projects have yielded the kind of results that could be exported and scaled up in any practical way. Meanwhile, some entrepreneurs saw opportunities to belly up to the public funding trough with little oversight or accountability, at least in the short run. So, it seems some organizations opted to take the money and run, leaving their students and communities the poorer for it.

    Some researchers have found that what many parents actually want is the opportunity to see their beliefs and values reflected in their children’s schools, and they are much less concerned about the academic learning aspect, particularly in primary grades. Charters were seen by some as a way to accomplish this without making middle-class families pay private school tuition on top of property-tax based school taxes. I would guess that much of the support for charters would disappear if private and sectarian schools could obtain access to public funding.

    Meanwhile, I think that one of the greatest charter school disappointments has been that university colleges of education have not created their own charter schools where innovative curricula and programs could be tested and demonstrated. Unfortunately, university research faculty are typically not rewarded for this kind of work, and it would take truly extraordinary faculty leadership to make this happen. Education departments in smaller liberal arts institutions might be less difficult launchpads for this kind of work, but such institutions probably balk at the financial risk involved.

    Meanwhile, the reports you cite here, along with a very large pile of others, have convincingly debunked the idea that the private for-profit sector has any better capability to produce the results they promised two decades ago than the public schools. At what point do we (to use the language of business) cut our losses and abandon ideas that can’t be shown to work?

  7. Bob says:

    Many current ed reforms are not backed up by research
    Valerie Strauss has an education blog at the Washington Post in which she posts and re-posts pieces by some of the best educational thinkers around. Frankly, if you have time to stay current with only one source of information on this topic, I think that her blog would be a very good choice.

    This link is to an article about an Education Writers Association review of current research relating to the various education reforms that have gained traction over the past 20 years or so. They find that very little of the conventional wisdom on the topic of what works in education is actually supported by the research literature. (My thoughts below.)

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/research-doesnt-back-up-key-ed-reforms/2011/11/12/gIQAPRoWFN_blog.html?wprss=answer-sheet

    One very significant problem with research on teaching effectiveness is that we have only very crude measures to use–typically, student performance gains on standardized test scores. Is the point of teaching to train students to know which circle to bubble in on a Scantron form, responding to prompts intended to demonstrate knowledge recall and certain kinds of procedural reasoning skills? These outcomes seem much too limited to me, but even if this is the intent, such tests, essentially, ask students to answer abstract questions to which they have little personal connection and about which they have little intrinsic interest. Test results may indicate, to a significant degree, the level of interest generated by the test-taking task, along with myriad other factors having nothing to do with the “subject” of the test.

    Using such measures to indicate teaching effectiveness is a little like evaluating the success of a company on the basis of the tidiness of the factory floor. It may be a necessary aspect of an efficient production process, but is only tangentially related to the ultimate success of the enterprise.

  8. Bob says:

    SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2011

    Responding to The Nation: How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools
    This post is in response to an article in The Nation about online learning and public education: http://www.thenation.com/article/164651/how-online-learning-companies-bought-americas-schools

    Many years ago, when personal computers were just beginning to be adopted, I remember reading some futurist saying that schools for the poor would eventually be the ones with lots of computers and few teachers, while those for the wealthy would have live teachers. At the time, that seemed a dystopian vision, but now it seems increasingly likely. But it’s even worse than that, since the vision is that the kids will sit at home, probably unsupervised since Mom has to be at her minimum wage job, in front of a computer, having a “virtual” school experience.

    Computers have tremendous potential to enhance students’ learning experiences. Creative use of computer technology offers the possibility of individualized learning, enhancements to independent study, and opportunities to link learners geographically, to name a few. However, if virtual learning is focused too narrowly on what amounts to test prep, or is designed essentially to supplant teachers, the result will be a further impoverishment of our children’s early education.

    The limiting factor to the for-profit education reforms discussed in this article is the fact that information in the digital age wants to be free. I think what’s needed is a network of educational resources that encourage kids (and their parents and other educators) to explore, create, and learn without corporate hidden curriculum that is embedded in the for-profit, pre-packaged programs. A good example of a possible model for this is Ian Jukes’ 21st Century Fluency Project (http://www.fluency21.com/).

    Meanwhile, those of us who are concerned about the educational impoverishment that is embedded in the current reform movement, should use the opportunities available to create alternatives–model charter schools, for example, that demonstrate the effectiveness of education that is not focused on test prep. Such an approach will ultimately win, because it is based on what’s really needed for kids.

  9. Bob Petrulis says:

    I was on Twitter this morning. Someone had shared a link to the grading criteria for a seminar in international finance at Mary Washington University taught by Dr. Steve Greenhouse.

    http://econ482.umwblogs.org/criteria-for-grades/

    He uses two criteria: “engagement” and “insights.” What I like about this is the very thoughtful way that the professor has developed these criteria to promote deep reflection and learning.

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