Tag Archives: schooling

The core of education needs to take into account the people that are in it

Sir Ken Robinson said:

[The standards movement is] well intentioned to raise standards, but the mistake it makes is that it fails to recognize that education is not a mechanical impersonal process that can improved by tweaking standards and regularly testing. . . . It’s a human process. It’s real people going through the system and whether the system takes into account who they are, what engages them, isn’t incidental. It is the core of what education is.

By the time [kids] are educated I want them to come out knowing what they are personally good at and interested in, what their strengths are and where they might like to go after school. I want them to feel confident that they can face the challenges that life will throw at them and they can begin to make their way to become productive members of the community.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/21/sir-ken-robinson-has-a-lot-to-say-about-u-s-school-reform-it-isnt-good

Notes from the UNI Education Summit

Notes from the UNI Education Summit in Cedar Falls, Iowa a couple of weeks ago…

Jonathan Kozol

Jonathan Kozol (wow, was he wonderful to listen to…)

  • I try to be bipartisan but former Iowa U.S. Senator Tom Harkin has talked with me for years about the damage that testing is doing to children.
  • I’m glad there are so many educators here; I always feel safer in a room of teachers!
  • Teachers have been taking quite a beating lately. In many states they’ve become a scapegoat for all of the evils and injustices of society. But teachers are my heroes.
  • Teachers, particularly those who teach in our most disadvantaged communities, need to be protected.
  • I said to an African-American Boston minister after the Philadelphia disappearances, “How can I be of use?” He said, “You’ve had a wonderful education. I’d like you to put it to use for our children.”
  • The city department of education sent me out as a substitute. My first day was in kindergarten. I was absolutely terrified! Ultimately I survived. I’ve been working with low-income children, mostly Black and Hispanic, ever since. I’m currently working with children, families, and schools in the South Bronx in New York City.
  • I’ve written several books about those children. The sum of it all is that, almost everywhere I go, those funding inequalities are still with us. It’s sad that there is such thing as a ‘poor school’ in America, the wealthiest nation on Earth.
  • The rich districts can go way above foundational funding. In wealthy neighborhoods in cities, parents are holding fundraisers that earn as much as $1 million in a single night to add to their school’s budget.
  • Poverty is poverty, whether in cities or rural areas. The traumatic effects apply to children everywhere. But for minority children in concentrated neighborhoods of poverty, it goes to new levels. 
  • We see hyper-segregation of Black and Hispanic children in every city, large or small. Textbooks sugar coat realities a bit. The media does this too. They indicate that racial isolation is primarily a thing of the past. In reality the very opposite is true. These children are more isolated intellectually and separated physically than any time since 1968.
  • Every year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, white politicians who have never lifted a finger to solve inequity and segregation visit some urban school and give their version of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. I still believe that Brown v. Bd. of Education was essentially correct. Isolation sends terrible messages to our youth.
  • Langston Hughes’ poem, What happens to a dream deferred? I was in Baltimore 8 days ago. 
  • There’s another kind of inequality: rich preschool education. I ask kindergarten teachers in impoverished neighborhoods how many of their children have had real, developmental pre-K for a couple of years beforehand (the kind that wealthy or middle class kids get). They say maybe 40%. The most exclusive pre-Ks in New York City cost $35,000 per child. They’re known as the ‘Baby Ivys.’ There’s not even a pretense at meritocracy.
  • When test scores come out, guess who does well and guess who gets blamed?
  • Could we take the billions of dollars that are going to testing companies and put it into rich, developmental pre-K? This should be a rich entitlement of childhood here in America, along with necessary wrap-around services. Instead of castigating poor parents, help them get the skills they need.
  • Virtually every sector of the population has to take standardized exams. Like in other states, here in Iowa high stakes exams start in 3rd grade. In wealthy neighborhoods in New York, there are strong parent movements to opt out their kids from the exams. The wealthy parents aren’t scared, but the poor people are.
  • In affluent communities, standardized testing takes a lesser toll. The kids easily score fairly well. Parents aren’t frightened of the test. Their concern is whether their children get into their first choice of college.
  • Principals of poor schools are the ones that are running scared. Teachers are obliged to write on the board the specific skill (and number) that they’re teaching. In New York City, it’s very prescriptive. Poor schools are told not to wander too far from the standards, there’s little time for student questions and critical thinking. “Curiosity is nice, but it’s not going to be tested.” Neither will delighted learning, which may indeed be a distraction. Delight and curiosity can get you way off track from the standards.
  • Endless, run-on sentences full of ‘ands’ and ‘buts’ – second graders are almost as good as William Faulkner – at the end, there’s usually hidden treasure and good teachers know how to unlock that. Test-driven teachers usually cut them off and they never reach the hidden treasure.
  • Once we lock a child's spirit into sileng stone, he may never dare again to speak with authenticity - Jonathan KozolOnce we lock a child’s spirit into silent stone, he may never dare again to speak with authenticity.
  • Teachers in these schools are usually told they have to teach reading from standardized materials. Not all of these books are bad. I’m not a fanatic hippie type who thinks that phonics are a form of oppression. Neither are phonics the cure to all of the ills of society (e.g., the lady I met that I now call the Phonics Fanatic of Phoenix!). I hate the emphasis that many urban teachers have to place on decoding, not on the content of what they’re reading (e.g., scripted teaching methods). What happens to many of these children is that they lose the beauty of reading real books, books that are a joy to read. The only reason to read is for the joy it gives you, not to get a number plastered on your forehead. I majored in Elizabethan poetry. Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse is right up there with Hamlet!
  • Learning for its own sake, immersing oneself into the joy and beauty of learning… in many inner-city and/or test-driven schools, this is being lost. There’s no time for orchestra or school plays (but there is in suburban schools). For poor kids who have less aesthetic beauty in their physical neighborhood, we owe it to them to have art and music in school.
  • Many teachers in poor schools are warriors for justice. They represent the best of America.
  • If you do teach in those neighborhoods, don’t assume that children are empty vessels waiting to be filled. Bring out the beauty that’s in their souls. Let their dreams and longings be the starting point for lesson plans, not something that’s cordoned off or relegated to 20-minute enrichment.
  • There’s usually a reason that parents can’t come to school, they’re dealing with their own chaos. Instead of demonizing them, find a way to reach them.
  • Children need beauty in their lives. Other than their family, the teacher is the only adult in their lives that’s around regularly. If you don’t give them happiness, who will?
  • “Mr. Kozol, the whole schools is talking about how quietly your children file down the hallways.” – our way of subverting the system so they would leave us alone and we could have fun without being bothered
  • Teachers often are afraid in poor neighborhoods. In 25 years, I’ve never been touched. I think it’s more psychological than physical. I think it’s the fear of those communities’ suffering and the challenge to their conscience.
  • Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) may have been the biggest hero that kids have ever had. He was a wonderful listener to children. He went with me to the South Bronx. On the #6 train in NYC, it’s only about seven stops from the richest to the poorest neighborhood in the city. Sanitation workers embraced him. Children said ‘welcome to my neighborhood, Mr. Rogers.’
  • The dreams and innocence of children will outlive us all. Life goes fast, my friends, use it well.
How do you measure 'richness' in education? Not with bubbles...

Dr. Mark Grey, Iowa’s (Rapidly) Changing Populations

  • Anthropology professor at UNI, directs the New Iowans Center
  • The context in Iowa is changing rapidly
  • Global events are having local consequences
  • Issues we used to consider secondary or tertiary (religion, language, ethnicity) have become primary
  • Two fundamental shifts
    • The Latino Boom, 1993-2008 (plus smaller populations of Bosnians and other refugees)
    • Today = Microplurality
      • many smaller, ethnically and linguistically distinct populations
      • e.g., 50 langages at Marshalltown HS, 100+ languages in Des Moines Public Schools
      • 180 estimated languages in Iowa now
  • 1990 = only a few Latinos; in 25-30 years, maybe over 400,000 (~12% of total)
  • One-third of Iowa counties reached their peak population in 1900; another one-third in 1950 or so
  • Iowa overall v. Latino median age difference = 15.4 years
  • Brain drain – we lose about half of our college graduates to other states
  • Birth rates in Iowa are less than 2.0; need 2.1 to replace the existing population
  • Four impacts on population = birth rates, death rates, length of life, migration (we have no idea what this will look like)
  • African-American population (including African refugees)
    • 2020 = 125,000; 2040 = 185,000+
  • Asian / Pacific Islander population
    • 2020 = 75,000; 2040 = 110,000+
  • Native-American population will stay fairly stable (but they’re incredibly diverse; numerous tribal affiliations)
    • 2020 = 11,000; 2040 = 13,000
  • Microplurality
    • Growing non-Latino populations in the Heartland
      • Southeast Asia (Hmong, Vietnamese, Burmese, etc.), East Asia (Chinese), former Soviet Union, ultra-Orthodox Jewish (Israel and East Coast), African (Sudan, Somalia), Central Pacific (Marshall Islands, Paulau), Ukrainian Pentecostals, Bhutanese from Nepali refugee camps, African-Americans from Chicago and Detroit, Iraqi refugees, and many more…
    • Iowans take pride in their acceptance of refugees – we have the only state-level office dedicated to refugee resettlement?
    • Sponsorship of refugees dropped to an absolute trickle after 9/11
    • African refugees are pouring into our state – usually they are secondary migrants (first stop was another U.S. location)
    • This is a legal workforce
    • In many districts, multiple languages but they only have a small handful of children that speak each language
  • We have labor vacuums – most local kids aren’t going to pack meat or eggs
  • University research and policy in an era of advocacy philanthropists and agenda-setting organizations
  • Foundations such as Gates and Lumina are bigger, more influential, more strategic, and directly involved in shaping federal and state education policy (K-16)
    • They spawn dozens of smaller groups, which then unapologetically stake out their spots at the capitol building (e.g., Complete College America)
    • Not a great concern for change supported by research – more concerned with ideology – simple slogans, with recipes for implementation
    • Quick to claim causation, but they ignore competing evidence
  • We have to face up to this brave new world
    • Recognize the role of these philanthropies and organization
    • Embrace methods that advocate and direct
    • Debate and criticize these approaches in public forums
    • Find ways to communicate complex information in simple ways
    • Can’t shy away from work with policymakers, have to co-opt their methods (e.g., social media)
  • See Rick Hess’ public presence list

 David Drew, Reforming STEM Education in America

  • What’s driving the emphasis on STEM? 
    • Shift to high-tech and service economy – what’s required for jobs has changed
    • Our nation doesn’t seem to be doing well on international measures of STEM achievement
  • False myths that undermine education reform
    • Restoring American K-12 education in its previous glory
    • the aptitude excuse (e.g., girls, poor kids, students of color can’t do math & science)
    • curriculum reform – the teacher is more important the curriculum – curriculum is important but it isn’t going to save us
    • finding new teachers – we need to do a better job of preparing AND retaining classroom educators
  • Compared to students in high-achieving countries, American students believe strongly that mathematical talent is innate and believe less strongly that effort makes much difference – Anne C. Lewis

Filling up versus drawing out

Pouring water

Geoffrey Cohen & Sara Goldrick-Rab said:

Many people think that educating a child is akin to filling a cup. Open heads and pour in knowledge, skills, and virtues. This metaphor is seductive because it calls on deeply-held stereotypes that paint poor and minority children as not having enough drive and smarts.

But the original meaning of education is “to draw out,” not to “fill up.” . . . [we] need to create classrooms that draw out what students already have inside them. Often times, current performance underestimates potential.

[We need to address] the dearth of opportunities for teenage students to feel like [they are] respected and valued in the asylum-like settings of many middle and high schools

[We need to address] curricula that prioritize busy work over reflective thinking that awakens students’ curiosity

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/19/what-psychology-tells-us-about-student-achievement-and-how-it-is-ignored

Image credit: mandykoh

If you run an education system based on standardization and conformity

Sir Ken Robinson said:

Politicians often scratch their heads over [persistent educational] problems. Sometimes, they punish schools for not making the grade. Sometimes, they fund remedial programs to get them back on track. But the problems persist and in many ways they’re getting worse. The reason is that many of these problems are being caused by the system itself.

If you design a system to do something specific, don’t be surprised if it does it. If you run an education system based on standardization and conformity that suppresses individuality, imagination, and creativity, don’t be surprised if that’s what it does.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/21/how-to-really-change-education-excerpt-from-sir-ken-robinsons-new-book

School is broken

Will Richardson said:

I think the fact that only 44% of our kids reporting engagement in high school strongly suggests [that school is] “broken.” I think the difference of educational opportunities for the kids in Camden v. the kids at Lawrenceville Prep is “broken.” I think spending an inordinate amount of time on curriculum that will soon be forgotten, curriculum that most kids don’t care about despite our best efforts to make them care, curriculum that then gets assessed in ways that really don’t show if kids can actually apply it and is used to evaluate teachers in a blatantly unfair way… all of that is “broken.” 

via http://willrichardson.com/post/114524327210/can-we-talk-about-change-without-hurting-feelings

The factory model of schooling undermines teacher nurturing

Don Berg said:

I suspect that most teachers are nurturing, or at least want to be, and that they already make a meaningful difference in the lives of some small proportion of their students despite the nature of the system.

But as wonderful as that is, the system has no mechanism for supporting, let alone encouraging, individual nurturing behaviors. In fact, the system suppresses nurturing behaviors.

In 2009 the peer-reviewed journal Educational Psychologist published a literature review article by Professor Johnmarshall Reeve on why the majority of teachers act in ways that thwart the primary psychological need for autonomy.

He suggests that both the system and the individuals in the situations studied reinforce behaviors that are exactly the opposite of nurturing in a variety of ways, not because of back room conspiracies nor venal depravity, but because of tragic misunderstandings.

The deleterious effects of the system overwhelm the positive effects of nurturing individuals because the system is currently organized in a manner that undermines nurturing, the very foundation upon which education is built.

Ironic, don’t you think?

The system is not all-powerful, so it does not always undermine the foundation completely.

But it does its undermining work relentlessly day after day after day and it does more harm than most people want to acknowledge.

Learn more at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/every-parent-s-dilemma-a-book-project

One of the most destructive ways to raise a child is with ‘conditional regard’

Alfie Kohn said:

Fury over the possibility that kids will get off too easy or feel too good about themselves seems to rest on three underlying values.

The first is deprivation: Kids shouldn’t be spared struggle and sacrifice, regardless of the effects. The second value is scarcity: the belief that excellence, by definition, is something that not everyone can attain. No matter how well a group of students performs, only a few should get A’s. Otherwise we’re sanctioning “grade inflation” and mediocrity. To have high standards, there must always be losers.

But it’s the third conviction that really ties everything together: an endorsement of conditionality. Children ought never to receive something desirable – a sum of money, a trophy, a commendation – unless they’ve done enough to merit it. They shouldn’t even be allowed to feel good about themselves without being able to point to tangible accomplishments. In this view, we have a moral obligation to reward the deserving and, equally important, make sure the undeserving go conspicuously unrewarded. Hence the anger over participation trophies. The losers mustn’t receive something that even looks like a reward.

A commitment to conditionality lives at the intersection of economics and theology. It’s where lectures about the law of the marketplace meet sermons about what we must do to earn our way into heaven. Here, almost every human interaction, even among family members, is regarded as a kind of transaction.

Interestingly, no research that I know of has ever shown that unconditionality is harmful in terms of future achievement, psychological health or anything else. In fact, studies generally show exactly the opposite. One of the most destructive ways to raise a child is with “conditional regard.”

via http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/05/04/opinion/sunday/do-our-kids-get-off-too-easy.html

Replication or empowerment?

Let go

We’ve got to decide if our vision for educational technology is around replication or empowerment. And if it’s about empowerment, then guess what? We’ve got to give up the things that we do that feed replication. We can’t hang on to all of those and get to where we’re trying to go.

What are we going to give up? 

Image credit: Let go, Andrew Mitchell

‘Closed’ v. ‘open’ systems of knowing

Teaching As a Subversive Activity

I am rereading Teaching As a Subversive Activity, which is a phenomenal book if you haven’t read it. About halfway through the book, Postman and Weingartner discuss ‘closed’ versus ‘open’ systems of knowledge:

A closed system is one in which the knowables are fixed. Examples of this kind of system would include any in which most of its answers are either yes or no, right or wrong, clearly and without any other possibility. (p. 116)

Open systems may be thought of as situations in which there are degrees of ‘rightness,’ and in which a right answer today may well be a wrong answer tomorrow. (p. 117)

Most of what we do in school falls under the description of a ‘closed’ system. There is typically a right answer, the teacher (or the textbook or the learning software) knows it, and it’s up the student to ‘learn’ it and then spit it back correctly: Describe the water cycle. If 4x2 + 3 = 39, what is x? What is the capital of Delaware? 

In life, however, much of what we do falls under the description of an ‘open’ system. We ask questions and make choices and devise solutions that seem right at the time given the particular context: What major should I choose? Should I look for a new job? Is she the one with whom I want to spend the rest of my life? Which car is best for our family? At another time, in another context, we might decide and act differently. This is true for both individual- and citizen-/policy-level decisions: Should we try to stop Russia from annexing Crimea? Are ethanol subsidies a good way to reduce our nation’s fuel dependence? Should I vote ‘yes’ for the school district referendum? When should we place limits on free speech?

Many argue that fixed knowledge items such as ’the water cycle’ or ‘4x2 + 3 = 39’ or ‘the capital of Delaware’ are the necessary parts that form a foundation for deeper, more cognitively complex thinking. And that’s often true. But it’s a whole nother matter to treat fixed items of knowledge as sacrosanct or to elevate them to the primary desired outcomes of schooling, particularly given the increasing presence of Internet-enabled learning contexts in which such items are easily and quickly accessible. Instead of treating content retention and procedural thinking as foundational floors from which we then build larger, more important edifices of learning, we have made them into almost-impermeable ceilings that drive teaching, curriculum, and assessment.

To fully prepare most students for life – and, arguably, to reengage many of them in the learning, not just social, aspects of their schooling – they need greater immersion in open systems of learning where questions are raised, answers aren’t fixed, and solutions are often contextual. This is true for all grade levels, not just secondary. So far most schools don’t do a great job with this. Instead, what schools usually do

in effect [is] to make closed systems of largely open ones. (p. 117)

We take areas of knowledge like science or government or language or health and we set them in stone – “yes or no, right or wrong, clearly and without any other possibility” – instead of bravely facing them – as they are in real life – as open opportunities for discussion, inquiry, problem-solving, and, yes, divergent learning and knowing.

A tremendous challenge for us as educators and policymakers is to stop reducing learning to convergent, ‘closed’ models of knowing and instead embrace the power and potential of more ‘open’ systems of knowledge and inquiry. This challenge is worth taking on because

very few problems of any great significance can be answered if they are approached from a ‘closed’-system point of view. (p. 117)

And goodness knows we have innumerable problems of great significance that would benefit from some fresh thinking…