We're bombarded these days with enthusiastic accounts of "digital learning." The stuff is cool, but the excitement is a little disconcerting given that educational technology always seems be ripe with promise, yet has rarely delivered. Now, some view this checkered history and conclude that technology just can't help that much when it comes to schooling--that Horace Mann's schoolhouse was schooling as God intended. A lot more take a look at schooling, and then blithely figure they've finally cracked the code. I think both schools of thought are wrong. The truth is that today's education technology does hold immense promise, but ...
October 2013 Archives
There are a lot of ed tech providers out there. Some don't impress, but others offer products and services that really do offer new capabilities and opportunities for students, teachers, and parents. Bror and I make note of many of these in the course of Breakthrough Leadership -- and one of those is ClassDojo, which is helping teachers and parents use tech to tackle soft skills. Last week, I had the chance to chat again with co-founder Sam Chaudhary about what's been going on with Class Dojo (you can find a Straight Up interview with him from last fall here).
The furor over New York commissioner John King's decision to cancel (and then reinstate) a series of Common Core town halls boiled up again Wednesday, when New York governor Andrew Cuomo weighed in. ... Now, I think King is a terrific commissioner, has offered New York smart leadership at a challenging time, and that it's nuts to talk of him stepping down. But I also think it's important to recognize that King did seriously misstep here, and in a fashion that illuminates some of the blind spots that have plagued Common Core boosters.
The promise that technology will remake schools has been uttered plenty of times by governors, journalists, and CEOs. At the moment, federal policymakers' attention is focused on E-Rate. E-Rate (an informal name for the Universal Service Fund's Schools and Libraries Program) is a discount on telecommunications services for schools and libraries. Enthusiasm for E-Rate reform is fine, so long as policymakers recognize that improving the program is only a modest step along the road to tapping the power of education technology.
One of the remarkable things about contemporary education reform may be its lack of interest in responsible parenting. In recent years, an intense focus on closing racial and economic achievement gaps has resulted in policies and practices that can sometimes come at the expense of families that work hard and play by the rules.
Stanford's Tom Dee and UVA's Jim Wyckoff have just published an important study on Washington DC's controversial teacher evaluation system. The study, published as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, notes that IMPACT appears to aid students both by "avoiding the career-long retention of the lowest-performing teachers and through broad increases in teacher performance." Unfortunately, in the giddy chest-thumping to which would-be reformers have shown themselves all too susceptible, it can be easy to overlook some of the factors that help qualify the broader significance of the findings.
The Obama administration has used its Race to the Top program and unprecedented, far-reaching conditions for states seeking "waivers" from the No Child Left Behind Act's most destructive requirements as excuses to micromanage what states are doing on teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, and much else. In a new, particularly troubling twist, the administration has announced that states will henceforth have to ensure that "effective" teachers are distributed in a manner Uncle Sam deems equitable.
For much of this year, as I've been bouncing around the country talking Cage-Busting Leadership, more than a few teachers have said, "This is all well and good, Rick, but what about me as a classroom teacher?" They had a helluva good point. These are exciting times for teacher leadership. There are grand opportunities to be seized, though doing so requires both imagination and discipline.
Earlier this week, Politico ran a story on school vouchers headlined "Vouchers Don't Do Much for Students," and that was probably the most pro-voucher line in the piece. When it comes to making sense of an article like this, there are at least four points worth keeping in mind.
Obama held out the promise of a post-racial, post-partisan presidency. He would not reflexively dismiss vouchers or play interest-group politics. Five years on, things have changed. Last month, Obama's Department of Justice filed suit to halt the Louisiana Scholarship Program.
The shutdown is an extreme version of federal politics at play, but it also illuminates how dependence on federal funding inevitably sucks a sector or program into the vortex of national politics and federal politicking. A supersized version of this is playing out in health care, where policy thinkers, advocates, and practitioners (of all stripes) find their ideas caricatured amidst the swirling political currents that surround the Affordable Care Act.
Real change requires much more attention to the second half of the improvement agenda: cultivating and supporting teachers, principals, district leaders, and state officials willing and able to rethink old norms.
Many of the problems reformers are trying to solve are the result less of statutory constraints than of confusion, apathy, ignorance, or excessive caution.