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May 01, 2013

Are Education Innovators Channeling B.F. Skinner?

So what is wrong with these machines and this mechanical "personalization"? The modern versions of the teaching machines are certainly more sophisticated than these dinosaurs of the 1950s. But they have more in common than just the promises made on their behalf. If we look over the shoulders of children in computer labs today, most of the programs are variations of those described by Dr. Skinner. Students are given a short text or math problem and must provide the correct answer. Often there is a game or snazzy cartoon characters who dress up the process and make it more fun, but the essence has not changed much. Students follow a course of study with bits of learning sprinkled along a pathway, and then take periodic tests to show they have mastered that mouthful.

April 27, 2013

Jack Whelan: Can Humanism Prevail Over the Technocracy?

I have come to look at schools as a critical focal point in the fight for the soul of the nation. Our schools are foundational for our cultural life, and so much depends on our having a flourishing, humanizing public-education system. The battle over the schools is a microcosm of the battle that is going on everywhere else, but which most people feel too powerless to fight. Maintaining local control of our public schools system is essential for enabling even the possibility of such a fight.

April 26, 2013

Paul Horton: Of Common Core, Conspiracies and Coups d'Etat

When it comes to education, however, Obama asserts a policy that has nothing to do with progressive ideas about education. While progressive ideas of education emphasize children as individuals who must be given opportunities to stretch their innate capacities within an organic context for learning, the President and Mr. Duncan have embraced the data-driven high-stakes-testing-model retooled from President Bush's No Child left behind days.

April 05, 2013

Accountability for Mr. Gates: The Billionaire Philanthropist Evaluation

But let's imagine we could turn the tables on Mr. Gates and evaluate his performance as a philanthropist. Might we establish some goals to which we could hold our billionaires accountable? We do not have any measurable indicators such as test scores to use, but since I do not find these to be of great value in any case, I will offer a more qualitative metric, based on my knowledge of the subject's work. Since he has spoken glowingly of the salutary effect of feedback on teachers, surely he will welcome this feedback, even though it is unsolicited.

March 01, 2013

Who Will the Los Angeles School Board Represent?

This campaign is going to be fascinating to watch, because it shows the raw power of the wealthy supporters of corporate education reform, and their ability to bring that power to bear on a local school board race. The issues at stake are central to the direction of education reform. Will charter schools continue to expand at the expense of traditional public schools? Will teacher evaluations give more weight to test scores? Will seniority and due process protections be eliminated? The big question hanging over all of this is who will a locally elected school board represent? The interests of its constituents - or the billionaires who paid for their campaigns?

February 28, 2013

John Thompson: The Head vs the Heart: Which Should Rule in Our Schools?

The contemporary "reform" movement is based on the principle, however, that educators cannot be granted the autonomy of deciding whether they commit to building trusting relationships with students or whether "In Data We Trust." The immense body of social science that describes the emotional dynamics of schooling that was to be flushed down the toilet. Test-driven "reformers" demanded that we teach primarily to the narrow part of "the Head" that processes Big Data.

February 24, 2013

Yes, Virginia, There Really IS a Billionaire Boys Club

One does not need to be a "conspiracy theorist" to connect the dots here. We have a local school board race that has become the focus of a coordinated effort on the part of the wealthy advocates of corporate reform. This is no conspiracy. It is neither secret, nor is it illegal, thanks to rulings like Citizen's United. It is perfectly legal for billionaires to, in effect, buy up local school board races. And it is perfectly legal for them to hire "journalists" to write stories largely sympathetic to their point of view. Fortunately, it is also still legal for skeptics to point out all of the above, and suggest the voters of Los Angeles might want to think twice before they vote.

February 08, 2013

An Open Letter to Bill Gates: Why Not Measure This?

I will accept that the Gates Foundation may not be able to address all of these problems directly. But according to Bill Gates' annual letter, the sheer act of measuring things and setting goals around them has tremendous power. I believe his school reform project is failing in large part because of the error he identified. It has been measuring the wrong things. If the Gates Foundation is unwilling to tackle the scourge of poverty directly, could it at least begin to actively measure and set goals for some of the things identified here?

February 07, 2013

Bill Gates and the Cult of Measurement: Efficiency Without Excellence

We could choose to measure other things, of course. The idea of measurement is not useless. The trouble is that some of the things we truly value are harder to measure, and so we devolve back to the simplest metrics - test scores. This is defined as the "outcome" that we desire. But this is only one of a host of outcomes that we actually want for our students. Nothing makes this clearer than the personal decisions made by people with the MOST control over their own children's education. The schools attended by the very wealthy are not chosen for their test scores - in fact many of them do not give standardized tests at all. Neither do they use student test scores to evaluate their teachers.

February 04, 2013

Opposition to Common Core Grows Across the Political Spectrum

The drive towards Common Core State Standards and standardized assessments to enforce them has been described as an unstoppable train, and teachers are warned that we had better get on board with the process, or risk being run over. But opposition to this juggernaut is emerging from some surprising places, which creates the possibility of some unusual alliances.

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