Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Play Unlocks The World

I will beat this drum until my knuckles crack and collapse-- small children do not need academic acceleration, they do not need test prep, they do not need soul-sucking worksheets. They need to play. The folks at Defending the Early Years have another excellent video that drives the point home.

Kisha Reid speaks for just a couple of minutes here, but there are a couple of lines that really jump out for me:

When children don't play, they don't understand their own capabilities.

Repeated experience with materials, repeated experience with other people, are not only teaching them about the world around them but teaching them about themselves.

Yes. If education is about helping students become more fully themselves, figuring out how to be fully human in the world (and I'm pretty certain it is) then play is the single most important thing. The Board of Directors here at the Institute are now 21 months, and though I've been down this road before, I am amazed all over again at all the things they have to figure out, all the things they have to learn, and all the times they'll spend, given the chance, to figure these things out. I might argue that the single biggest thing that education policy arguments forget is that babies come into the world knowing nothing. Yes, that seems obvious-- but every argument that pre-school should become the new third grade and kindergarten should become the new freshman year of college assumes that there's a whole bunch of learning we can skip over because tiny humans just know all that stuff automatically. They do not. They need play. Parents these days are being scared into worrying that their child won't be ready for first grade or third grade or college or life unless she is hunched over a bunch of worksheets at age 3. That's backwards. Play, as Reid points out, is the best way to be ready for all that lies ahead. I hope the Board of Directors gets a teacher who understands these things as well as Reid does.

Watch this.

Monday, March 18, 2019

DeVos Voucher Tour Hits Iowa

Secretary of Education Betsy "The Federal Government Shouldn't Meddle In State Education Affairs But I Have This Policy I Really Really-- Oh What The Heck I Can Make Peace With Federal Overreach When It's In The Service Of Something I Want" DeVos has decided to get out there and stump for her Education Freedom Scholarships.

For those of you late to this party-- EFS are one more shade of lipstick to be slathered onto the undead pig that is school vouchers. They exist in several states and, in fact, are sometimes quite profitable for the fauxlanthropists who donate to the funds-- plus, what they're "donating" is actually some of the tax dollars they owe to Uncle Sam. It's a clever dodge on several levels, but at root, it accomplishes what all voucher programs do-- it uses public tax dollars to help finance a private school education for a few select students. The private school in question is usually a religious one.

Most folks seem to think that this measure, like much of the Trumpian budget, has little chance of becoming real. But DeVos actually ventured out into the world to try to pump it up anyway, and last week that meant trekking out to Iowa.

She went to meet with Governor Kim Reynolds, who just a month or so ago was cheerfully proclaiming a Happy School Choice Week to Iowans. State Senator Bard Zaun (formerly a mayor and hardware store owner), stood with DeVos after the meeting; Zaun is a gun-toting, planned parenthood defunding, education privatizing Republican, and he has taken some heat for many of his proposed bills, with some critics seeing a connection between Zaun and ALEC. Sourcewatch finds that ALEC is pretty busy in Iowa, and reports that ALKEC members have contributed almost $20 million to Zaun since he first successfully ran for the Senate in 2004; those friends include the Kochs, Wal-mart, and the NRA.

Zaun and DeVos sort of answered a couple of questions afterwards. The point that keeps getting made is that this voucher program will not take money from public schools, though when DeVos and her friends are making that point, they never say where the money will come from. We're talking about a total of $5 billion dollars in taxes that folks won't have to pay, $5 billion dollars that the federal government will never collect. That has to come from somewhere. And that's before we get to what ever companion law the involved states come up with to let people skip out on state taxes.

I wish I could report more details on how exactly DeVos made her pitch, but, well...

DeVos met with Reynolds, state legislators, education leaders, and lobbyists for faith-based and taxpayer organizations for a roundtable discussion not open to the public or media.

And also...

Rep. RasTafari Smith, the top Democrat on the Iowa House Education Committee says he's disappointed public education supporters were not invited to the closed-door invitation only discussion arranged by DeVos' office.

The plucky folks at Progress Iowa planted themselves outside the meeting and recorded video of the attendees and turned that into a list of the privileged ticket holders:

Drew Klein, Americans for Prosperity Iowa (That would be the Koch lobbying group)
Eric Goranson, Iowa Association of Christian Schools
Tom Chapman, Iowa Catholic Conference
Ryan Wise, Director, Iowa Department of Education
Georgia Van Gundy, Executive Director, Iowa Business Council
Amy Sinclair, Republican State Senator
Brad Zaun, Republican State Senator
Dan Ryan, President, Dowling Catholic High School

So only the cool kids got to be involved, because this is not about democracy or inclusiveness or functioning transparently as a high-level employee of the American people-- this is about using power and clout and connections to make sure that only the voices that you value carry the day. DeVos is nothing if not consistent-- she doesn't want to see or hear from supporters of public education, she doesn't want to explain herself to anyone not already on her side, and she really, really wants to give public tax dollars to private schools.

At the moment, Reynolds and other Iowans have more serious problems to deal with. In the meantime, we'll have to see if DeVos has any more stops planned on her Federal Overreach To Privatize Education tour.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Huge Problem With Personalized Learning In One Sentence

You know there's going to be trouble when you see the headline of the article on eSchoolNews-- "Taking personalized learning to scale." But then, this is a business that regularly uses the oxymoron "mass customization" without irony.

But two paragraphs in, Dr. Monica Burns, curriculum and educational technology consultant and founder of ClassTechTips.com,, is quoted from a webinar:

When it comes to student engagement, Burns said, “We want to make sure that we are capturing student attention by having students’ eyes where we want them to be or their hands where we want them to explore.”


Dr. Burns does has some respectable credentials, including six years teaching in South Harlem and actual degrees in education. But she loves a lot of tech programs; she's also an Apple Distinguished Educator.  Maybe the quote isn't an accurate representation of her ideas-- but it's the quote eSchoolNow chose to use, even as they position her ideas as similar to iNACOL, the big Personalized [sic] Learning pushers. The article itself is filled with lots of edu-babble, such as:

Enjoy our new personalized seating.
Through curriculum mapping, school-wide goals, and thematic exploration, school districts can establish norms and clear standards connections for personalized student experiences. Resources should be curated and differentiated and ready for individual students

There is a lot of technocratic baloney going on here, along with this tell about how we really want to scale up:

Resources can be distributed to individual students using digital tools so that students experience content that is relevant to their goals and interests.

So there's the picture. Personalized [sic] education delivered by computer, padded in bureaucratic blather, and-- well, somehow the individual student will follow her own educational muse through instruction geared to here by the computer algorithm, so that she can enjoy a personalized learning experience as long as she has her eyes and her hands exactly where we want them.

If you find personalized [sic] learning kind of creep and unappealing, this may be what you're reacting to-- the notion that we deliver instruction geared to an individual student not because that will allow that student to grow and learn and develop into her own best self in her own best way, but because by delivering a "personalized" lesson, we can better get the student to do exactly what we want her to. The Personalized [sic] Learning that we're being pitched isn't about reconfiguring the whole educational experience to be centered around the individual student, but another tool to get students to behave like good little widgets in a technocratic edu-system. This is not personalization aimed at better serving the student; it's personalization as a tool to get the student to better serve the system. "If we customize the seats and the restraints, then maybe the monkeys won't fight back so much when we strap them into the capsule and send them into orbit."

An Open Letter To TFA Re: Strikes

We appear to be between teacher strikes at the moment, so this might be a good time to draw attention to Seth Kahn's open letter to Teach for America.

When the Oakland teachers walked out, there was some question about what TFAers should or should not do. A previous open letter from TFA alumni suggested that guidance from TFA leadership was that honoring a strike would cost the TFA members. TFA was quick to say, "No, they should totally follow their conscience, and that the striking penalty is part of Americorps policy. It's worth noting that as quoted by the Associated Press, the TFA leadership did not say, "There will absolutely not be a penalty for striking." It's pretty clear that TFAers would lose a chunk money.

TFA members are stuck in a spot when strikes occur.

Kahn is a professor at West Chester University of PA. He has written an open letter to the TFA CEO, asking that the organization both help to supplement the financial losses of any TFA members that strike, as well as work with Americorps to change the rules.

As Kahn notes, it might be easier to sympathize with TFA if it did not have such a long history of supplanting career teachers while undermining unions and disrupting the profession, not to mention promoting a narrative of inadequate and failing public school teachers as a menace from which TFA must rescue students. But while many TFAers are transient edutourists on a resume-building gap year, there are also many who mean well, and even a few who go on to become dedicated and committed teachers.

I walked into a strike in my very first year on my very first job-- it's a rough way to get started.

So go take a look at Kahn's letter and consider adding your name. TFA still has a chance to pursue some policy changes before the next batch of teachers walks out. Here's his conclusion:

As long as striking is legal, and as long as TFA members can join unions, it is unethical for TFA to discourage participation in strikes, and more so while pretending not to be doing it. Furthermore, although many supporters of teacher unions and public education are troubled by TFA in principle, your organization could earn kudos by doing the right thing here.

ICYMI: Ignoring St. Patrick's Day Edition

The Irish contribution to civilization is huge and their history in America is instructive, but don't get me started on the wearing of the green. At any rate, I have your weekly reading list handy. Remember to share!

Southwest Key Schools, Charters and Immigrants

How to make money from the misery of children, and how charters tie to the detention of immigrants. A charter operation makes millions, but students eat in the gym.

Portfolio Model Explainer

Matt Barnum puts together a pretty decent explainer of the whole portfolio system. I'd correct a few points, but if you're trying yo figure out what it's all about, this is a good primer.

Education Reformers Keep Pushing the Same Stuff

Nancy Flanagan pulls apart a Mike Petrilli piece and finds the same old same old hiding inside.

The Chicago Charter CEO Gets A Raise-- But Not A Big One 

One more example of charters operating like a business-- a bad one. This charter is just struggling to meet minimum standards. Must be time to give the CEO a raise.

Remember All Those Anti-Tenure Lawsuits? One Just Died In Minnesota

Sarah Lahm follows another of those Campbell Brown-spawned lawsuits designed to strip teachers of job security. It hasn't gone well for reformsters.

State Leaders Rip Takeover Law 

Ohio legislators are waking up to how big a mess their state takeover law (proposed and passed in just one day) is making, just as it is poised to gut some of the state's major districts.

Who Pays for the Education Writers Association

Laura Chapman takes a look at who exactly foots the bill for the EWA. It's not a list to inspire confidence (and I'm not just bitter because bloggers can't join).

The Cost of Ignoring Developmentally Appropriate Practice    

It can't be said too much-- pushing the littles in the hopes that they can somehow be made smarter faster sooner is not just dumb, but is actually destructive.

And for a non-education policy moment of beauty, check out the=is Van Gogh painting rendered into a 1.2 acre field of plants and landscaping.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

OK: The Four Day Week

Oklahoma has been a great demonstration of what happens when state leaders decide that they just don't want to spend money on education. Oklahoma has led the nation in education spending cuts, and schools and teachers have paid the price.

But Oklahoma performed an interesting little experiment, one that is apparently about to end. The path was cleared by a rule that measures the school year in hours rather than days. And so, Oklahoma became the home of the four day school week.

The reasoning was that a four-day week would save school district's money, particularly in very rural districts where hundreds of expensive miles have to be traveled by school bus each day. Maybe, the reasoning went, this will save money.

It mostly didn't. But something else happened instead-- it helped with one of Oklahoma's other self-inflicted problems. 91 of the over-500 districts went to the four day week and discovered they were suddenly attracting teachers to fill openings. And older, more seasoned veterans at that. In a state that has lost 30,000 teachers in the last six years, these districts were getting to pick and choose from among dozens of applicants.

Why? Some cited the three day weekends for family time. That may be, though it only skims the surface. The four days are longer, leaving less time for family and errands, but that wouldn't matter. Teachers generally work six or seven days a week, more than eight hours a day, but those long hours come in two groups-- Group A hours are at school, professionally dressed, and with your location and duties assigned down to the minute. Group B hours are in the place of your own choosing, organized as you think best (e.g. grading term papers at the kitchen table with a pot of coffee, a stack of donuts,  dressed in your bathrobe. B hours usually have to be scheduled around A hours and Living a Life With Your Actual Family hours (and, in Oklahoma, Working Your Second Job hours). To be able to gather a pile of B hours in one day would be a pleasant luxury. I would bet you dollars to donuts that this was part of the appeal.

It turned out that, contrary to expectations, plenty of students and families liked it, too. But it also turns out that there's a group that doesn't like the four day week-- Republican legislators. Their five-day week bill just passed the Senate.

So what do they have against the four day week?

Yet four-day school weeks reportedly hinder business recruitment. When announcing that five-day weeks would be a Senate Republican priority this year, Majority Floor Leader Kim David of Porter said, “The four-day school weeks, as we all know, have hurt Oklahoma on a national stage.”

“We've had difficulty bringing in businesses,” she said. “It's hurt our workforce.”

Maybe. But there were already reports of trouble bringing in businesses because apparently people don't get excited about moving their families to the state that leads the nation in cuts to education! But the Oklahoma legislature has been consistent in its belief that no matter how badly they slashed education spending (including teacher pay), they could just count on teachers and schools to somehow keep things at least looking okay. This, I'll wager, is the big sin of the four day week-- it makes Oklahoma's disinvestment in public education obvious and visible. It marks Oklahoma as the state where education is so poorly funded that they have four day weeks. It's just an extra bitter irony that the four day week doesn't even really help, but turns out to be attractive for other reasons. Never mind any of that-- it just makes the state look bad.

And so, the legislature is poised to kill the four day week (with special exceptions if your district is really saving money and your test scores are up). It may not be a popular move, but at least it's way cheaper than actually fully funding education in the state.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Micro-Credentials 101: Do We Need Badges?

Micro-credentials are one of the hot rising ideas in the education space. To understand the basics, go look at your child's Xbox or PlayStation.
For most of the major games, there is an accompanying set of achievements, or badges. Every time a player achieves a particular task (kill 50 zombies without reloading, drive over every tree in the enchanted forest, smash every Lego fire hydrant, etc.) they get a small digital badge on their big page of achievements.
Micro-credentials take a similar approach to education. The root of the idea is simple--you demonstrate a very specific skill, and a badge certifying that micro-credential becomes part of your personal digital file. Some of the earliest micro-credentialing involved computer programming skills, but it has grown far beyond that. To see just how many types of micro-credentials are out there, take a look at Digital Promise.
Digital Promise was authorized by Congress in 2008 as the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies. It offers micro-credentials of its own, but it also provides a platform for other entities to offer their own sets of micro-credentials. Right now over thirty-five other organizations offer micro-credentials through Digital Promise, including Arizona State University, Teaching Matters, and National Geographic. In 2017, Digital Promise hosted a Symposium on the Currency of Micro-credentials that attracted over 100 people, representing school systems, state departments of education, and the Institute for Personalized Learning. Funders for the organization include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Google, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and Laurene Jobs' XQ Institute. 
Digital Promise is a big player, but certainly not the only one. Bloomboard is another example of a platform offering a variety of micro-credentials. Like many such badge programs, Bloomboard is aimed primarily at teacher training. The dream was that micro-credentials would change the face of professional development for teachers; instead of boring sit-and-listen sessions, teachers would log on to their provider and sign up for a micro-credential that they cared about via a sort of on-line mini-course.
Of course, this method of content delivery can be just as deadly dull as any lecture. Anyone who has had to get an on-line certification for handling blood in the workplace or proper proctoring of exams knows the process--do some work at your desk while the slides play out on your screen, then take a short multiple choice quiz using common sense (and multiple attempts) to get your certification. One of the problems of micro-credentials is coming up with a valid and reliable measure of the competency that someone has supposedly acquired.
Another part of the challenge of micro-credentials is just how micro to make them. At one point, Relay Graduate School of Education offered a micro-credential in "Checking for Understanding Using Gestures," which was literally the competency of teaching students how to raise their hands to signal understanding in class. Relay seems to have backed away from the micro-credentialing business, and now a teacher might pursue a micro-competency in "Planning for Success: Helping Your Students Set Their Goals."
Of course, teacher PD is not the end game for micro-credentials; instead, the dream is for micro-credentials to become an element of the computerized personalized learning K-12 classroom that dovetails with competency based education. Digital Learning has started working on its ideas for a micro-credential classroom, as have many others in this field. There is an additional challenge here--how do you break the many competencies involved in a K-12 class into a series of micro-competencies. And there's the challenge that teachers already face--how do you turn the objective of knowing something into the demonstrated skill of doing something?
The money to be made is not just tied up in the competencies themselves--there must also be a place to store the badges. This brings us to companies like Learning Machine, who promise to anchor the business of digital identities (where else) on blockchain. At this stage, we start to encounter some companies blowing some serious smoke. Here, for instance, is PTB Ventures. What do they do?
PTB Ventures is a thesis driven venture capital firm investing in early-stage companies in the digital identity ecosystem. 
That is some high grade baloney.
Once we get to blockchain, we start talking about the big dreams. Just as bitcoins don't need any central authority to issue and support them, your blockchain-anchored digital identity does not need a special authority to update or oversee it. You could earn new badges anywhere--in particular, from the work you're doing, so that instead of taking courses to earn micro-credentials, you can earn them while making money. As one group's slogan puts it, "Learning is earning."  Schools and colleges? No longer necessary. Resumes or CV? Stored digitally; your digital identity is now a collection of badges, and someone who wants to hire can simply plug in a list of the badges they want and pull out a list of worker bees whose badge list matches.
This, it should be noted, would also include social and emotional traits, as SEL is another hot new item in digitized education. The digital unit about dealing well with conflict that you flubbed when you were eight will follow you for the rest of your life.
The ways in which this brave new future can go wrong are too numerous to count. Educational goals set and measured by computer programmers. The problem of innovation--a system like this can only certify skills that are already known. The flattening and simplification of learning to training in easily-measured job skills. Micro-credentials that may or may not actually be valid and reliable measures of what they claim to measure. The privacy nightmare of having your life reduced to a digital file that is beyond your reach and control. What would an untrustworthy government do with this kind of data? And what, one wonders, happens if the company responsible for storing your digital identity goes out of business?
But every element of this system already exists. We may want to pay attention in the next few years.