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We need schools to be different

iPad magic

As Clay Shirky has noted, we currently are living through ‘the largest expansion in expressive capability in human history.’ We no longer live in a world where we passively receive information that is broadcast out to us by large, centralized entities. Instead, we now live within multidirectional conversation spaces in which 12-year-olds can reach audiences at scales that previously were reserved for major media companies, large corporations, and governments. We all now can have a voice. We all now can be publishers. We all now can find each other’s thoughts and ideas and can share, cooperate, collaborate, and take collective action. Time and geography are no longer barriers to communicating and working together. 

In this new information landscape, formerly-dominant institutions are being forced to rethink all previously-held assumptions. For example, music companies are struggling to survive in a market where the model of wholesale album purchases and top-down advertising and dissemination is replaced by a granular system of individual song sales and peer-to-peer marketing and distribution. Similarly, the emergence of digital, multimedia, hyperlinked texts – and accompanying e-readers, tablet computers, and smartphones – is challenging our very definition of what constitutes ‘a book’ and is destroying traditional publishers’ and distributors’ revenue streams. Television, radio, magazine, newspaper, and movie/video companies are seeing their market share erode year after year as we increasingly turn to online – and often user-generated – information channels to learn and be entertained. Our entire information landscape – which is what schools are purportedly teaching students to master – has been changed irrevocably.  

We also are witnessing the early adolescence of a vastly different global economy. For instance, the rapid growth of the Internet and other communication technologies has accelerated the offshoring of jobs from the developed world. Complex corporate global supply chains locate manufacturing work wherever costs are lowest, expertise is highest, or necessary talent resides. Geographic or product niche monopolies disappear in the face of Internet search engines. Micro-, small-batch, and on-demand manufacturing techniques facilitate personalized and custom-order production. Whatever manufacturing work remains in developed countries is high skill, is high tech, and, more often than not, requires greater education than a secondary diploma. The low-skill industrial system that was the backbone of the developed world’s economies in the previous century is increasingly a bygone memory.

Like manual work that is non-location-dependent, knowledge work also is frequently done cheaper elsewhere. Service jobs are increasingly fungible, able to be located anywhere in the world that has an Internet connection. Ongoing workflow and final products are exchanged at the speed of light via e-mail, instant messaging, and other corporate networking tools. The same technologies that facilitate our personal social conversations also facilitate interconnected global commerce. As was done in previous decades for manufacturing work, the next two decades will see many complex service jobs broken up into component parts. Once these tasks are disaggregated, they will be done by lower-skilled workers who can do these discrete components of the overall work, facilitated by software. In other words, many high-paying service jobs will turn into globalized piece work. Since the service professions represent over three-fifths of America’s economy, the impacts of this are going to be quite significant.

We’re also realizing that work that previously required humans now regularly can be done by software. If the Industrial Revolution was about replacing humans’ physical labor with machines, the Information Revolution often is about replacing humans’ cognitive labor with computers. A large number of workers are discovering that their work, their skills, and their jobs are not as indispensable as they thought in a technological, hyperconnected, hypercompetitive global economy. Radical transformations are everywhere we turn.

Of course these changes also have resulted in dramatic impacts on learning. Students and educators now have access to all of the information in their textbooks – and an incredible wealth of primary documents – for free. They have access to robust, low cost or no-cost, and often multimedia and interactive learning resources (texts, images, audio, video, games, simulations) that can supplement, extend, or even replace what is being taught in their classrooms. Via collaborative Internet-based tools such as blogs, wikis, videoconferencing, and social networks, they can learn from and with students and teachers in other states or countries. They also can quickly and easily connect with authors, artists, business professionals, entrepreneurs, physicians, craftsmen, professors, and other experts.

Students and teachers now can more authentically replicate (and actually do) real-world work through the use of the same tools and resources used by engineers, designers, scientists, accountants, and a multitude of other professionals and artisans. They can share their own knowledge, skills, and expertise with people all over the world. They can find or form communities of interest around topics for which they are passionate and they can be active (and valued) contributors to the world’s information commons, both individually and collaboratively with others.

Essentially, we now have the ability to learn about whatever we want, from whomever we want, whenever and wherever we want, and we also can contribute to this learning environment for the benefit of others. The possibilities for learning and teaching in this information space are both amazing and nearly limitless, but right now this learning often is disconnected from our formal education institutions.

If it is difficult to overstate the technological disruptions that are occurring around us, it is equally difficult to understate the lack of progress that most schools have made in response to these overarching societal transformations. The reluctance of school systems to significantly alter existing pedagogical and organizational practices has long been catalogued. Unfortunately, these trends continue today. For instance, while students increasingly are self-directed learners and active technology users outside of school, their learning work inside of school – particularly for independent, technology-suffused, higher-level cognitive activities – has not changed much. As the Consortium for School Networking has noted, “educational mindsets and school cultures do not yet align learning to the realities of the 21st century.

This is true even in our numerous 1:1 computing environments that now exist. Although we have pockets of success here and there, for the most part we still are implementing a 20th (and sometimes 19th) century model of education despite the demands of our 21st century society. If you look at the basic learning and teaching work that occurs in most of our classrooms, it is still primarily transmissive: students passively receive information from the teacher or textbook or Internet or software and then regurgitate it back to show that they have ‘learned’ (and the teacher has ‘covered’) the required low-level facts or procedures. While this may have been fine for an industrial society, this model of schooling is woefully inadequate to prepare graduates for the more complex demands of our new information and economic landscapes. If every other societal sector is finding that transformative reinvention is necessary in our current climate, schools shouldn’t expect that they somehow will be immune from these changes. We shouldn’t pretend that these revolutions aren’t going to affect us too, in compelling and often as yet unknown ways. And, yet, if you look at what is happening in most classrooms on most days, the learning and teaching work that is occurring looks incredibly similar to that done many decades ago.

All of this has been a long run up to basically say that – if we truly care about preparing kids for life and work success – we need schools to be different. If economic success increasingly means moving away from routine cognitive work, schools need to also move in that direction. If our analog, ink-on-paper information landscapes outside of school have been superseded by environments that are digital and online and hyperconnected and mobile, our information landscapes inside of school also should reflect those shifts. If our students’ extracurricular learning opportunities often are richer and deeper than what they experience in their formal educational settings, it is time for us to catch up. In other words, schools’ knowledge work and workforce preparation should match the needs and demands of our time.

As you can imagine, these changes are incredibly complex and the challenges that face us today as school leaders are tremendous. Somehow we have to reinvent learning and teaching and schooling, often in direct opposition to parent and community mindsets about what school should look like (hint: like it did when they were kids). Somehow we have to shift our schools’ overwhelming emphasis on low-level knowledge work into something that better meets our graduates’ needs to navigate vastly different information and economic spaces. Somehow we have to balance creating schools of the future with policymakers’ attempts to further reify schools of the past. And the toughest part of all of this is that we don’t even know what many of the answers should be. But we at least should be having the right conversations and asking the right questions. 

There are a lot of different things going on in schools and they’re all important. But remedying the relevance disconnect between school and society is the most important educational and equity work of all. We have a moral imperative as school leaders and policymakers to face these challenges head-on and try and create new futures and possibilities for the children and adolescents that we serve.

Image credit: iPad magic, Aikawa Ke

Questions for student retention advocates

question mark cuff links

Here are a few questions that we can ask folks who advocate for student retention…

  • In John Hattie’s highly-influential research compilation, Visible Learning, retention is one of the few factors – along with summer learning loss, student mobility, and excessive TV watching – that actually negatively impacts student learning. Why should we implement a practice that we know sends students’ learning in the wrong direction?
  • Why should a very small handful of reports from ideologically-biased think tanks outweigh the hundreds of peer-reviewed scholarly studies over 4+ decades that unanimously show how detrimental the effects of student retention are?
  • Do the reports that are cited in favor of student retention show actual long-term impacts (thus rebutting the 4+ decades of scholarly research) or just expected shorter-term achievement bumps that, as in previous studies, likely will wash out in the upper grades?
  • Do you believe that children learn at different rates?
  • Would hiring a private tutor for the next year cost less than paying for a retained student’s additional year of schooling?
  • Why should 8-year-old children bear the academic and life burden of others’ desires to hold their teachers or parents ‘accountable?’
  • Retention advocates mention all of the supports that will be put into place to help kids learn to read. Those are fantastic ideas and are much-needed. Couldn’t we do all of those without also implementing the harmful practice of retention?

What would you add to this list?

Image credit: Questions, Tim O’Brien

Factory models undermine personalization [SLIDE]

Undermining personalization

The current factory model of schooling – with its time-based, bell-curved grading system – will undermine all of our efforts to personalize education. – Tom Vander Ark (from The Shift From Cohorts to Competency)

Download this file: png pptx key

Image credit: battered conveyor belt, sharyn morrow

See also my other slides, my Pinterest collection, and the Great Quotes About Learning and Change Flickr pool.

A letter to Madysen

The letter reads:

Dear Madysen,

Over the last couple of months I have noticed your dedication to your drawings. You sit at your desk and at every spare moment you grab a drawing tool (pen, pencil, pencil crayon, or felt) and paper. You draw what you feel, and I love it! I need to ask you a favor.

Can you please decorate my desk? My desk needs a personality, and I think it needs yours. Draw whatever is in your heart. There is only one rule, you draw what your heart wants to draw, and not what you think I want to see.

If you agree to my request, please fill out this form and return it to me later today.

Thank you Madysen!

A gift of validation. An emphasis on strength rather than weakness. An unnecessary but memorable kindness.

Put that in a VAM formula…

(and, yes, she agreed)

The results of educational inequity

Michael Roth said:

America has some of the best schools on the planet and one of the worst systems of education in the developed world.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/book-review-building-a-better-teacher-on-secrets-of-good-teaching-by-elizabeth-green/2014/09/05/7a993056-2307-11e4-8593-da634b334390_story.html

Our technology messages are important

Important message

When we take away technology access because of student behavior concerns, we send the message that digital devices and the Internet are optional, ‘nice to have’ components of schooling rather than core elements of modern-day learning and teaching.

When we ban teachers from using social media – but not other forms of interaction – to communicate with students in or out of school, we send the message that we are unable to distinguish between behaviors and the mediums in which they occur.

When we decline to devote adequate time or support for technology-related professional learning and implementation, we send the message that low-level or nonexistent usage is just fine.

When we require educators to go hat in hand to IT personnel to get an educational resource unblocked, we send the message that we distrust them so they must be monitored.

When we wag our fingers at students about inappropriate digital behaviors without concurrently and equally highlighting the benefits of being connected and online, we send the message that we are afraid of or don’t understand the technologies that are transforming everything around us.

When we make blanket technology policies that punish the vast majority for the actions of a few, we send the messages of inconsistency and unfairness.

When we ignore the power of online and social media tools for communication with parents and other stakeholders, we send the message of outdatedness.

When we fail to implement hiring, induction, observation, coaching, and evaluation structures that emphasize meaningful technology integration, we send the message that it really isn’t that important to what we do in our classrooms.

When we treat students as passive recipients of teacher-directed integration rather than tapping into their technology-related interests, knowledge, and skills, we send the message that they don’t have anything to contribute to their own learning experiences. And that control is more important than empowerment.

When we continue to place students in primarily analog learning spaces and ignore that essentially all knowledge work these days is done digitally, we send the message of irrelevance to our students, parents, and communities.

Are these the messages that we intend to send with our technology decision-making (or lack thereof)? Often not, but what counts is the perceptions of the recipients of our decisions. 

What technology messages is your school system sending? (and what would you add to this list?)

Image credit: Important message, Patrick Denker

Serve your detention or lose your textbooks

  1. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your textbooks.
  2. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your pencils and paper.
  3. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your band instrument.
  4. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your gym uniform.
  5. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your novel you’re reading for English class.
  6. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your graphing calculator.
  7. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will take away your planner.

Do any of these make sense to you? Does this one?

  1. Dear student, if you do not serve your detention, we will turn off your school laptop.

Apparently it does to one high school. Note also the public shaming orientation in the message below (“Well, we could email you but we choose instead to announce your name to the entire school…”). This is a ‘Character Counts‘ school district. Evidently the need to be respectful only runs in certain directions?

Note also the framing of the school laptops as a ‘nice resource to have,’ not an essential, core element of schooling. And the framing of social media as frivolous, not integral, powerful tools for learning.

The full message from the high school is below. Ugh. This might be even worse than when schools suspend kids for skipping class (“To teach you not to miss school, you’re going to miss some school…”). But, hey, it works so it must be okay, right?

—–

NEW PROCEDURE FOR ADDRESSING UNEXCUSED ABSENCES

Unexcused absences stand in the way of student success. To more effectively encourage students to attend class regularly, [XYZ] High is taking a new approach to dealing with unexcused absences.

We want students to be successful, and we can’t help them academically when they have unexcused absences. With only 180 school days we strive to insure all students make maximum academic growth. With that being said we do understand that students will miss school for a variety of reasons, which include being sick, doctor appointments, etc. In each of these cases we expect parents to call in and excuse their son or daughter. With that parental excuse, the student will have 2 days to make up work for credit from the classes missed the day of the absence.

Our big concern is when the student’s absence is not excused. What this tells us is that the parents or the school did not know where the student was. Any day we are not aware of the reason for an absence, an automated call goes home that night alerting parents/guardians that their son or daughter missed a class.

The parent is still able to clear the absence the day after the phone message.

The following process and procedure for addressing unexcused absences was announced to students earlier this week.

Every Monday morning  we will read over the PA the names of students with an unexcused absence the previous week and make them aware they have a 25 minute detention after school either Monday or Tuesday at 3:05 p.m. We also state that if students think they did not have an unexcused absence or they have a conflict, they need to see [YYY YYYYY] or [ZZZ ZZZZZ] during passing time to clear up any error or make other arrangements for serving the detention.

On Tuesday we send out emails to those students who did not serve their detention on Monday reminding the students to serve their 25 minute detention. On Wednesday we read the names one more time as a last reminder.

After Thursday’s opportunity to serve detention and a student has not served the detention or made other arrangements, we turn off the student’s computer until the detention is served.

We completely understand that the school issued computers are a resource to enhance student learning. However, we also know that the computers are a tool for social media that our students are very fond of using and think this approach will lead to desired results.

We implemented this for the first time this week and by the time it was noon on Friday 10 out of the 15 students still owing a detention had made arrangements to get their detention done as soon as possible.

In closing we have tried to put a process in place that will limit interruptions to classrooms, hold students accountable for their actions and have consequences that do not include missing class time (i.e., suspension).

Good luck with that

You want student learning to change but you don't want to change teaching or schooling. Good luck with that.

[FYI, doing even more of what you’ve been doing is not the answer]

The lack of evidence supporting the use of student test scores to rank teachers is staggering

Jason Glass said:

For a policy that practically every public school system in the nation is pursuing, the lack of evidence to support [the] effectiveness [of using student test scores to rank and evaluate teachers] is staggering. The number of high-performing education systems that use such an approach: zero. The number of peer-reviewed scientific studies that support this approach: zero.

via http://www.vaildaily.com/opinion/12964448-113/education-quality-system-systems

The declining economic value of routine cognitive work

Workforce data show that U.S. employees continue to do more non-routine cognitive and interpersonal work. [Note: these data tend to be fairly similar for most developed countries, not just the U.S.]

Fewer and fewer employment opportunities exist in America for both routine cognitive work and manual labor, and the gap is widening over the decades. Unless they’re location-dependent, manual labor jobs often are outsourced to cheaper locations overseas. Unless they’re location-dependent, routine cognitive jobs are increasingly being replaced both by cheaper workers overseas and by software algorithms.

What kind of schoolwork do most American students do most of the time? Routine cognitive work. What kind of work is emphasized in nearly all of our national and state assessment schemes? Routine cognitive work. For what kind of work do traditionalist parents and politicians continue to advocate? Routine cognitive work.

2013AutorPrice

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Some information from Autor & Price (2013) that may be helpful…

  • Routine manual tasks – activities like production and monitoring jobs performed on an assembly line; easily automated and often replaced by machines; picking, sorting, repetitive assembly (p. 2)
  • Non-routine manual tasks – activities that demand situational adaptability, visual and language recognition, and perhaps in-person interaction; require modest amounts of training; activities like driving a truck, cleaning a hotel room, or preparing a meal (pp. 2-3)
  • Routine mental tasks – activities that are sufficiently well-defined that they can be carried out by a less-educated worker in a developing country with minimal discretion; also increasingly replaced by computer software algorithms; activities like bookkeeping, clerical work, information processing and record-keeping (e.g., data entry), and repetitive customer service (pp. 1-2)
  • Non-routine mental tasks – activities that require problem-solving, intuition, persuasion, and creativity; facilitated and complemented by computers, not replaced by them; hypothesis testing, diagnosing, analyzing, writing, persuading, managing people; typical of professional, managerial, technical, and creative professions such as science, engineering, law, medicine, design, and marketing (p. 2)

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