If no NCLB, then what?

So What!I have decided to elevate my response to Benjamin Meyers’ recent comment to a blog post.  He mostly agreed with my sentiments over the demise of No Child Left Behind, with his personal experience of test-prepping high school students for the ACT.  It was his first teaching job and it was what he was hired to do.

I certainly found incredible resistance and boredom from the students. It seemed like the harder I tried to teach the test to my students, the more they hated the subject of science. Indeed, high stakes’ testing has a nasty way of creating negative feelings toward school in students.

Indeed, it seems that the more we seem to care about our children knowing the answers, the less they seem to care about the questions.

But then, Meyers put forth a relevant challenge,

NCLB was created for a reason. Our schools seem to be lagging behind in performance compared to the rest of the world. This in spite of the amount of money that we spend on education and the number of hours that our students spend in the school building. If we are not going to improve education through legislation such as NCLB, then what is the best policy adjustment that our country can make that will actually make a difference?

But were our schools lagging behind?  The scientific research that we never saw was the proof that a generation who could pass tests could, as a result, prosper in a world and time of rapid change.

Were the the countries that were out performing us on tests, also out performing us in the real world?

Of the 32 countries who topped us in the Science PISA test, in 2012, only 7 ranked above the U.S. in the “World Happiness Report,” compiled regularly by an international team of economists, neuroscientists and statisticians.  They were Finland, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Denmark.1

I’m not saying that our schools were good enough in 1999.  They weren’t, and they left many, many children behind.  But to improve education in the U.S., we need to rethink what it is to be educated.  Being an educated person is no long based on what you know, as much as it is what you can resourcefully learn and what you can inventively do with what you can learn.  The job of the science teacher is to help students learn to think like scientists and to care about science – and even want to become scientists.  The same for other disciplines.

Once we understand what we need to be doing for our children, as a society, then we need to pay for the very best ways of accomplishing it.  Personally, I don’t think we’re paying enough to our teachers and for the infrastructure required to prepare our children for their future.  I also do not believe that our children need to spend as much time in classrooms as they do.  Learning is not as place-based as it use to be.

Four hours in school a day and redefine homework.

1 Brodwin, E. (2015, April 23). The happiest countries in the world, according to neuroscientists, statisticians and economists. Business Insider. Retrieved December 18, 2015, from http://www.businessinsider.com/new-world-happiness-report-2015-2015-4

RIP NCLB

No Child Left Behind Act  1
GW Bush Signs NCLB into Law

On January 8, 2002, George W. Bush signed into law, the No Child Left Behind Act. For 5,084 days, the United States has engaged in despicable acts of child labor, forcing its children to slog through physically and emotionally harmful toil and stresses, for reasons that have nothing to do with what was best for them.

We have speculated about the intent of No Child Left Behind, a title that exemplifies political PR’s employment of the english language to “..make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.”1 Our speculations have varied into the realms of conspiracy, going so far as to suspect an all out effort to kill public education in America. We have delighted in our own retitling of the law, my favorite being, “No Child Left able to Think for Him Self.”

Sometime today, President Barrack Obama will sign into law, Every Student Succeeds, overhauling the flawed NCLB, which has corrupted the institution of public education for 14 years. Just like the Bush-era law, Every Student Succeeds emanates from political machinations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel calling it a victory for “conservative reform.”2

Of course, returning education to the hands of parents, teachers, states and school boards is not a solution. It is an opportunity for courageous and inventive educators to seise. So here are some suggestions from one in a minority of educators, who actually remember classrooms unconstrained by policy compliance and political accountability.

R Throw the scripts away and Resourcefully invent practices that work here and now or our tomorrow.
I Return scientifically proven research to its proper function and Innovate. Bring back the art of teaching.
P Reject the practices of beating our children over their heads with test-prep. Instead, inflect them with Passion. Become passionate again about teaching and what it is that you teach, and make it glow with that passion.
     
N Take the “No” out of education. For 5,000 days, education has been defined by it limits.  Education today must be defined by its lack of limits.
C Don’t teach students to collaborate, to be communicators, to be creative. Instead, create learning experiences that utilize Collaboration, Communication and Creativity to energize students’ accomplishment of things bigger than they are.
L Reinvent Literacy. Free yourself and your students from 19th century notions of the three-Rs.  Look for the literacies that instill in us all, a learning lifestyle.
B Be Bold. Courageously teach, what has not been taught before and craft learning experiences that are new and exciting. You students will love you for it, and their communities will fund your educational programs.

 

 

1 Orwell, G. (1946). Politics and the English Language. Penguin.

2 Barrett, T. (2015, December 9). Obama to sign ‘No Child Left Behind’ Overhaul. CNN. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/09/politics/education-bill-no-child-left-behind-senate-obama/index.html?eref=rss_topstories

 

 

Half the Teachers

A few days ago, I posted an article explaining “Why You Won’t See Me at ISTE ’14.”  In it I wrote,

I blame and accept the fact that experience that spans from TRS-80 to IOS has become a little less important compared to the creative energy of much younger educators…

This sentiment prompted an email exchange with an old friend, an educator whose years of experience span pretty much the same range of technological advancement as mine, “TRS-80 to iOS.”

Our discussion, however, had almost nothing to do with technology, but concerned the era in which we began teaching.

For me, it was a full 25 years before No Child Left Behind  standards-based teaching and punitive high-stakes tests stained the “art of teaching.”  Things were quite different in terms of the autonomy that teachers exercised in determining what and how their children learned – and some mediocre teachers, admittedly, took advantage of the freedom.  However, most, whom I came in contact with, used their academic freedom as a seedbed to create dynamic and effective learning experiences for their students.

For years I have felt that this-too-will-pass, that the arrogant belief that we can know and teach everything our children will need to know to be prepared for their future simply makes no sense, and that we would come to our senses.

Half of Teachers

But it occurred to me, during that email exchange, that more and more of the teachers in our classrooms today were trained to test-prep and have been indoctrinated to an education system based, more than ever before, on an industrial production model.

So I did some research and tinkering with a spreadsheet, and found that about half of the teachers in U.S. classrooms today have never worked in a school culture free from high-stakes testing.

To illustrate this, I made an infographic  that shows the decline in teachers who have experienced academic freedom and the rise in teachers who have always worked under the constraints of government/corporate standards.

To be sure, this does not mean that there aren’t young educators, today, who are courageously and creatively going beyond the regimentation that is the character of test-prep classes, nor that there aren’t older teachers who are happy to model their classrooms on mass production.  

But it does suggest a dramatic shift in the culture of our schools,

And perhaps,

An approaching point of no return.

About the Data:
I used a document from the National Center for Education Statistics  a part of the U.S. Department of Education (see below).  It featured demographic data about U.S. teachers, starting in 1987.  The table included gender, ethnicity, age, education, years of experience, and teaching levels and subjects.  I fairly easily imported the table into an OpenOffice spreadsheet and cropped it down to just the data on years of experience, starting with 1999.

To complicate things, the table included only data for every 4th year, 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011, which was not enough to plot the level of accuracy that I wanted.  In addition, the years experience were grouped, i.e. less than 3 years, 3 to 9 years, etc.  I searched further, but could not find any more complete data at the national level.  If you know of such a document, please comment below.

To fill in the blank years, I worked my OO spreadsheet so that it calculated trends from the 4 years and the experience ranges, and filled in the blanks, across and down, based on those trends.  Not a perfect solution, but the point of my infographic was to illustrate a trend, not precisely measure a phenomena.

Having such a seemingly rich data set enticed me to plot for other trends and anomalies, such as specific rises or declines in teacher numbers, indicating times of sudden influx of new teachers, or increased retirements or, and I hate to suggest the possibility, mass resignations.  Alas, it would take more completely accurate information to do such a thing, not just calculated trends.

Number and percentage distribution of teachers in public and private elementary and secondary schools, by selected teacher characteristics: Selected years, 1987-88 through 2011-12. (n.d.). Digest of Education Statistics. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_209.10.asp 

 

 

 

Long-Term Yardsticks

I was reading an article yesterday morning from USAToday about the MicroSoft School of the Future in Philadelphia. The article plotted the school’s struggle with students who were not accustomed to using laptops to “…keep notes, do homework, and take tests.” Now this blatantly schooly description of how students are being asked to use their laptops is certainly worthy of comment, regardless of whether it was the journalist’s (Kathy Matheson, The Associated Press) wording of that of her source. ((Matheson, Kathy. “Microsoft ‘School of the Future’ in Philly finally in a groove?.” USAToday. 19 Jun 2010. 20 Jun 2010. ))

But that’s not what triggered the ding in my head.

The Microsoft liaison, Mary Cullinane, when responding to the “dismal” (7.5% of 11th graders scored proficient or higher in math; 23.4% scored proficient or higher in reading) test scores last year, said,

..test scores don’t tell the whole story. It is a long-term journey and we have to get away from short-term yardsticks.

Several of us edubloggers have written our personal and sometimes moving blog entries, where we confessed to not having been exemplary students when we were young. I do not remember if I’ve written mine, which is almost certainly part of my problem. I’ll just say here that I was not a successful student. I did not become a successful student until graduate school, where I knocked the roof off with my grades — and didn’t learn nearly as much as in undergraduate school, I might add.

I visited my parents last week to help them celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, and my Mom told me about running into my third grade teacher, Mrs. Newton. When Mom told her about what I was doing with computers, she said that Mrs. Newton smiled and said something to the affect of,

Remember when David was in my room, and I told you not to worry about him, that he’s a bright kid, and one day he’s going to find something that’s going to capture his interest, and he’s going to take off?

Now I’m certain that my Mom would have remained concerned if she’d known it wouldn’t happen until I was 35.  But I have to wonder if any teachers today are saying, “Don’t worry your son.”  Dismissing the below grade level test scores, and saying, “He’s bright. He’s going to take off when he finds his passion.”

NO WAY!

Of course it shouldn’t be a waiting game.  We shouldn’t be waiting for children to find “their passion.”  We should be helping them. If we could simply shallow the standards, and provide more time and resources to enabling and empowering students to find, or even invent their passions, we may see the development of deeper and more habitual academic skills — and earlier.

Empowering learning just seems to make a lot more sense to me than just defining and measuring it.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Obama’s Mistake…

BottomLine

Technology should be invisible. It is the pencil and paper of our time. But until every learner and teacher-learner has sufficient and equitable access to appropriate information and communication technologies, we should enthusiastically continue to make the “T” word an explicit and high-volume part of all of our planning.

Washington Post blogger, Valerie Strauss, has invited faculty members of Columbia University Teachers College to guest blog about President Obama’s Blueprint for rewriting the No Child Left Behind law. Yesterday’s contributor was Ellen Meier, professor of computing and education and co-director of the college’s Center for Technology and School Change.

In here piece, Obama’s mistake with technology in ed reform, Dr. Meier opposes the apparent devaluing of technology as a catalyst for change.  She hones in on the document’s relegation of technology to a position of support mechanism and an element of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) theme.  She writes,

The blueprint effectively consigns technology to a subordinate role in reform, rather than recognizing it as a fundamental requirement for new millennium teaching and learning. By consolidating technology funding, it effectively silences the voices of innovative educators interested in using technology to leverage effective, imaginative approaches to schooling.

I agree with Meier’s statements and I get the same impressions from the document, which seems to address tech from a “business as usual” perspective. However, this is all part of an ongoing struggle in the ed-tech community between treating information and communication technologies (ICT) as a separate element in the endeavor of education or infusing it into the framework of teaching and learning — integrating the technology and therefore, making it invisible.

A while back, I wrote about a conversation I was part of in Austin about the prospects of the state’s elimination of a required technology class (What Difference Might One “S” Make?). With the dedicated and state-mandated class, tech gains importance and prestige — not to mention funding. But technology instruction, which carries specific accountability measures, becomes too strictly defined and separated from the rest of the school. Without the technology class, schools become more free to specialize, adapt, innovate, and truly integrate, but they lose the authority and funding to do so.

I do not believe that Dr. Meier is advocating either position to the exclusion of the other. None of us are. We are simply finding the language that describes ICT as a critical component of the education formula in a way that empowers success, provokes innovation, and is relevant to the contexts of teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Meier makes an especially compelling argument about the need for assured technology expertise in our schools and districts, people who are following trends, aware of emerging tech, and qualified to innovate by utilizing appropriate new technologies.  I was especially excited by her statement that the Blueprint’s approach…

..is more likely to result in “technologizing” the status quo —integrating technology into existing practices – rather than using technology to create engaging new learning environments.

A Word Tree
(Click image to enlarge
or click
here to launch the visualization)

Taking a closer and more quantitative look at the document I used IBM’s Many Eyes tool-set to visualize the place the tech plays in the Blueprint. I started, of course, with a word cloud, in which technology just barely shows up out of the top 150 re-occuring words in the document.  But this, in and of itself means almost nothing.  As the Many Eyes site says, “It (the tool) was designed to give pleasure, and not to provide reliable analytic insight.”

However, we get a clearer look by running a Word Tree (see left) revealing that technology is used 14 times in the document.

  • Five times it is listed along with STEM subjects.  Two of the listings are presented in a way that, to me, imply a continuum subjects, placing history, civics, foreign languages, the arts, financial literacy, and “other subjects” at the less important end — or at least separating STEM out from other subjects.
  • Nine times it is listed as a way to improve instruction, address student learning challenges, and accomplish the goals of the grant.

But even its poor showing in the word race shouldn’t, alone, be cause for concern.  After all, “technology should be invisible,” RIGHT? (“technology should be invisible” shows up in 2,700 Google-indexed web pages).

There are three objections that I have to where the blue print is taking us.

  1. The One size fits all approach the our promotion of the STEM subjects seems to ignore completely that even though we do need more youngsters pursuing a science, technology, or mathematics field, not everyone needs to, and we will continue to need smart and creative people pursuing the “other subjects.”  When people are complaining about TV, they are not usually complaining about the picture size or quality.  What they want is better stories.  Engineering is easy.  Telling a better and more compelling story is hard.
  2. In the first paragraph, Ellen Meier describes technology as “a catalyst for all educational reform efforts for the 21st century.”  On my first reading, I thought that this statement was a bit over-reaching.  But now that I think about it, she is right.  Globalization, economic transition, brand new industries and industries in decline… all of these bellwethers of change owe themselves to advances in information and communication technologies.  In addition, because of technology, information has changed in:
    • What it looks like,
    • What we look at to view it,
    • Where we go to find it,
    • How we find it,
    • What we can do with it, and
    • How we communicate it
  3. Because information is now networked, digital, and abundant, what it means to be literate has changed and so too has the meaning and method of lifelong learning.

Technology should be invisible.  It is the pencil and paper of our time.  But until every learner and teacher-learner has sufficient and equitable access to appropriate information and communication technologies, we should enthusiastically continue to make the “T” word an explicit and high-volumn part of all of our planning.