Saturday, January 28, 2012


The original target of this SQUINTS was a normative perspective of the data gathering, experimental research, and technology assessments needed to improve K-12 strategies and classroom learning.


Search was executed, ideas were put on paper, but along the way there was a pretty grim realization – aided and abetted by several posts by resources with deeper K-12 roots than this writer, and Mr. Obama’s Wednesday SOTU address that on education was massively contradictory – that those ideas would have as much impact on a US K-12 system, mostly on rails leading nowhere good, as confetti tossed into a gale or the vitriolic breeze from the current Republican presidential debates.

Without further delay, here are the disruptive items worth reading, inviting reflection, even if you’re on a Bill Gates’ payroll.  Some perspective, they may cause you to pause with wonder, and some disgust, for a now bulldozer of so-called “corporate reform” of US K-12 schools that elicits about the same credibility and integrity as Gingrich’s proposal to colonize the moon.  The technology may be attainable, but some argue we’re still having a little difficulty intelligently colonizing the earth.

The links are here to the referenced publications by recognized educators Anthony CodyMarion BradyEric Shieh and Larry Cuban.

Epilog K-12

Overall byproducts of the search for content for today’s originally proposed SQUINTS were also a bit jarring:  The observation that for the last several decades journal articles and related publications about K-12 classrooms reflect roughly two references to classroom management and discipline for every one reference to the substantive methods of achieving learning; simultaneously, the observation by a long time educator that our schools of education have spent a century teaching teachers how to allegedly teach, but didn’t bother providing knowledge content for those processes; that we know less factually about our K-12 schools and their operations than we know about the next pop artist to hit the charts; and lastly, that in the last two decades the number of solid experimental research efforts to measure and project what really works in the K-12 classroom might fit on a small handful of postcards.

Beyond 12

A half century ago, along with other green university faculty, the writer rejected with contempt an offer by the university’s school of education dean to create a compact teaching methods development seminar for incoming business faculty.  The offer was prompted by observations that our best and brightest were actually classroom disasters.  That arrogance, the opposite of the K-12 case, featured teachers loaded up with newly minted doctorates and knowledge, but clueless how to transfer that learning; it persists in US universities to this day, compounded by the continuing failure of US universities to tackle reform of promotion and tenure.

The week’s collision of ideas by chance also spanned a dialogue with Dr. Roger Jenkins, dean of Miami University’s Farmer School of Business, about the need for improving higher education classroom learning (thereby measurable outcomes and ultimately productivity impacting costs and tuition) before the K-12 alleged reform movement mutates and overtakes our universities.  The early rumblings and outgassing of that volcano are already in the wind.  The challenge of that opportunity goes well beyond the creativity and courage exercised in most of our universities for decades, perhaps ever. 

But the rotating quote that was featured at the time on Roger’s email form was prophetic – by William Butler Yeats:  “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  The jury is out whether Miami, and the Farmer School, though it has demonstrated perspicacity and leadership in featuring undergraduate work, can find some matches that aren’t soggy?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

SQUINTS Preview: 1/30/2012

The next SQUINTS is prompted by the confluence of issues raised in the two prior blogs and a recent opinion piece -- the two priors, needed research on what reliably works in K-12, and the integration of evolving digital technologies into classroom learning functions.

The recent opinion piece also hit the target.  By a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute, its key point is that the present K-12 reform bulldozer doesn't line up with the facts.  The piece is linked here.

From the prior SQUINTS, what stands out is that current reform efforts are targeting the learning product after it has been assembled, with virtually no expressed interest in improving what goes into the process of creating that learning.  The model violates every principle of contemporary quality assurance. An analogy is by fiat scrapping every vehicle on America's roads that doesn't get 50 mpg, to raise fuel efficiency.

The coming SQUINTS will attempt to survey what honest research and development are still needed to actually functionally improve K-12 schools.

Monday, January 23, 2012


The old saying is that bad news comes in threes.  Humility may come in six-packs.


In a prior SQUINTS, it was related how research on K-12 classroom performance had been well on the way and churning out findings even before NCLB was launched, and continued with vitality through Bush’s first term.  This contradicted the SQUINTS’ assumption that research on K-12 processes had not blossomed until the latter part of last decade.  Subsequently, the issue became a bulldozer NCLB that appeared to dampen or actually block both funding and enthusiasm for legitimate research that might contradict any of NCLB’s premises.

Another dose of humility issued when today’s SQUINTS was being researched.  The assumption, that competent work on how to assimilate digital technology into K-12 classrooms was still missing, proved as inapplicable as the above blog faux paux.

The first cut of research for sources on technology in K-12 classrooms churned up over 50+ solid journal or blog works, and dozens of texts targeting our K-12 educators.  Just for perspective, 20 percent of those 50+ references had already issued prior to the year 2000.  One-half issued in the following decade.   The remaining 30 percent are of recent origin.

Dry as dust numbers, but the implications are not so benign; juxtapose the solid examples of integration of technology with other learning rubrics in place in a fraction of excellent K-12 schools, versus a likely majority of K-12 systems either faking technology assimilation or lacking the insights to adopt the tools.  Egregiously, there are no solid numbers, compared for example to the outpouring of simplistic data about standardized test results.  (Parenthetically, a prior SQUINTS burst Ohio’s bubble by showing that its standardized testing is allegedly a poor predictor of genuine district learning outcomes.)

Based on looking at numerous references to public K-12 technology programs scattered across the US, an admittedly rough guess is that fewer than 10 percent of public K-12 programs reflect excellence in such applications, and fewer than a quarter of America’s K-12 systems are currently equipped to adopt and integrate digital technologies.

The Technology Muddle

An enduring mystery is why incorporating digital technologies into K-12 learning strategies and tactics is still denigrated by many commentators.  The attacks span the arguments that last century’s methods are good enough, through the technology solutions just sit on top of valid teaching, to the technologies are too costly to be applied to K-12.  This is akin to insanity given the trajectory of virtually all contemporary economic and infrastructure functions, US and world, plus that many of the desirable software offerings for K-12 are cost free.

On the one hand, our society is regaled with the admonition that education and STEM competence is the currency of future economic performance.  On the other hand, the hypocritical reality is that dollars are being poured into beating K-12 education into some irrational submission with reductionist testing, while being diverted from the research and creative work needed to improve genuine classroom learning outcomes.

Disconcerting, there is also a flaw in the reasoning that the US critically must educate to produce a technologically literate work force, but those charged with creating and executing educational content are frequently technologically illiterate.  Does anyone sense a wee problem?
Lastly, the message has been test till they conform. Then the message became test, teach, and test again, putting the teacher on the bubble to figure out how to improve present test performances or be terminated.  Pejoratively, the aggressive and well funded advocates of present standardized testing, and so-called value-added assessment, have invested little to move beyond now obsolete test designs to research and create testing protocols that can assess critical thinking, problem solving, and acquisition of the skills to produce creative outputs. 

Nor have these resources demonstrated the wisdom to at least invest in parallel in research that will either better characterize the learning models in operation, or provide more valid assessment of the teacher’s role versus other learning stimuli, or demonstrate how technology is integrated into mainstream classroom learning.  The depth of this crater in US pedagogy is demonstrated by the incredible, rhetorical garbage dump represented by USDOE’s alleged “National Educational Technology Plan,” an avalanche of wordiness without a hint of genuine technology norms, opportunities or needs of US K-12.

Is There a Role?

Given the above, the question is, what role can be performed by the very best technology integration in K-12, or is the contribution frozen until core concepts of 21st century classrooms and learning are fleshed out and adopted, and testing mania subsides?  Reading current education news, an answer seems to be, the mission will be very trying at minimum.

Another argument, the genre needs to resolve that role quickly, because its students, daily, enter their K-12 classrooms with technology in their pockets frequently a level of magnitude beyond the mastery of many if not a majority of America’s public K-12 administrators and teachers.  In parallel, much evolving technology will enhance social and inter-student learning paradigms, exacerbated by formal K-12’s failure to adopt technology.  More and more of effective learning will be diverted from the traditional classroom.  For example, banning rather than exploiting evolving communications technologies and collaborative learning opportunities simply further diminishes the school’s total learning role.

The original premise of this version of SQUINTS was presentation of some concordance between the learning forms expressed by Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning in its most current dress, and the various digital technologies now accessible to K-12 schools. Multiple educational thinkers have already attempted and left a useful trail of ideas for integrating digital technologies into classroom learning objectives and processes.  Some of the more interesting (linked here) are a sophisticated “wiki” and open source educational community based in San Francisco, a blog by Forehand at the University of Georgia, and a blog by Kahrbach.

Any reader can follow the trails being forged above; the key point is that the thinking to inject technologies into classroom pedagogy is out there, as are the technologies.  In many cases both are being practiced in creative learning situations, and the challenge is to incent more K-12 educators to follow the leads and do their own adaptations to serve their own learning environments. 

The other message is there is zero excuse for shorting America’s K-12 students the best technology the nation can muster, and that the faults are in the training, support, desire to innovate, and lack of leadership by those who hold that responsibility in our schools.

Beyond Technology

The last point touches an issue that foots so much of the present debates surrounding improving especially public K-12 and that goes way beyond technology; that is, why has that establishment been so resistant to self-reform, to change of any form including aggressive adoption of relevant technology, when there is a massing albeit largely ignorant army of activism and extremism trying to bury US public education? 

Is it the human resources that have cumulated in the present public educational establishments?  Is it how both K-12 teachers and administrators have been trained, therefore, what’s deficient or distorted in most present schools of education? Is it in certification standards, or in post-employment human resource development? Is it less benign; human failings that have fostered arrogance, defensiveness, fear, and an unwillingness to either collaborate with other education stakeholders or provide transparency of practices?  Is it the self-evident failure of many K-12 administrators to possess or practice contemporary organizational design or management knowledge? Did the teachers’ unions simply strategically leave their heads jammed into the sand a decade or more too long?

On another front, is it the frequent failure of poorly selected local school boards that almost universally misunderstand their responsibilities, or are constituted to represent special interests rather than, first, a community’s children, then, those who elected them and fund the schools.  That is the enormous hidden cost of so-called local control so emotionally sought, but little understood by most parents and community residents?

In the end the issue of adopting and integrating modern digital technologies into our K-12 learning is no different than the place US K-12 schools must generically go to meet the nation’s increasingly urgent need to upgrade education of its youth – changing a culture that has been resistant to change, and the challenge of seeking excellence rather than just a comfortable and unimpeachable safe harbor for its educational practitioners.

Michael Fullan, long-time educator and educational author extraordinaire, is currently Special Advisor to the Canadian Premier and Minister of Education.  Much of his recent work details the positive actions that are central to achieving change in education.  A quote from his 2001 book, Leading in a Culture of Change, rings true:
“Leading in a culture of change means creating a culture (not just a structure) of change.  It does not mean adopting innovations, one after another; it does mean producing the capacity to seek, critically assess, and selectively incorporate new ideas and practices – all the time, inside the organization as well as outside it.”
Perhaps the tragedy of much of the present angst surrounding K-12’s alleged reform is that Fullan’s words might have to be interpreted then drilled to even register with too many of public K-12’s present leadership and oversight.

Appendix:  K-12 Technology and the 21st Century Classroom

Amazon offers at least a couple dozen texts by recognized educators addressing incorporation of technology into teaching and classrooms.  A search on “technology in education,” or “learning technologies,” or “21st century classroom” will bring up many viable books that should be on every K-12 administrator’s and teacher’s bookshelf; better yet, a target of intense professional adult education.

A start is Leading 21st Century Schools:  Harnessing Technology for Engagement and Achievement, by Lynne Schrum and Barbara Levin (ISBN 978-1-4129-7294-9 or -6).

Below (all linked) is a roster of online resources that cover the spectrum of fitting digital technologies into this century’s classrooms and mission definitions.  In a later SQUINTS, the most provocative of the harvest below will be categorized and reviewed, along with review of key texts:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

SQUINTS 1/15/2012: AMERICA's K-12 QDD

AMERICA'S K-12 QDD = our schools’ “question deficit disorder.”

Today’s SQUINTS is an interim opinion piece, a consequence of the scope of the next post; an attempt to link a learning taxonomy to the intrinsic functions of the technologies being dropped onto US K-12.  Still, the issues raised below enter into the upcoming product.

Likely before puberty of some readers, and after the bedtime of others, there was a classic gig by the master of late-night comedy, Johnny Carson.  His sidekick would cite a seemingly commonplace fact or answer, and Johnny would by osmosis from a sealed envelope divine the unexpected question.  Always good for a laugh, but being played out in real time, in the real and earnest world of US K-12 education, there is a perverted version of the game.

Call the performances answers without, first, the needed positioning questions; those questions are in turn the currency of meaningful hypotheses necessary for critical thought and problem solving in our schools.  The failings of process have impacted all areas of K-12 education, even provoking the present assaults on public K-12 by that bizarre consortium of the White House, the USDOE, the Gates, the Tea Party, and sundry ultra-conservatives who normally can’t collectively agree what day of the week it is.


Trimmed of all the rhetoric, NCLB literally evoked all answers without first posing any of the right questions, ideologically brushing off the reality that socioeconomic attributes of the nation’s children have a significant impact on their opportunity to learn in the classroom.  In present search of the literature surrounding the passage of NCLB, actually a rewrite of a program that couldn’t make it through an earlier Congress in the ‘90s, there is no indication that responsible parties truly called US public education, its alleged schools of education, and its unions to the table, and candidly asked the needed questions about public education’s failures to achieve needed change.  NCLB simply emerged with ideological zeal to stick it to public K-12 by flogging it with standardized tests, that by the way, became a revenue growth and profit center for some of the Bush Administration’s favorite political lobbyists and corporations.

To public education’s discredit, a disproportionate share of public school administrators have become sycophants to testing demands, or have demonstrated cowardice in defending real learning, or are simply in denial of what the testing genre has displaced, reducing needed US K-12 learning to reductionist drills; the testing tail wagging the learning dog.  Learning that should be in place, installing critical thinking, understanding how facts and context are linked, teaching problem solving, and stimulating creative expression have been reduced to strategically meaningless bubble tests.

Digital Technology

There may well be extenuating circumstances in this area, because there was no way to control the developmental sequences that produced both digital hardware and models/software potentially applicable to US classrooms and K-12 learning to synch with timing of those needs.  However, from the emergence of those technologies and up to the present, the game has been played by dropping those technologies on US classrooms typically without the benefit of the first question about how they integrate with the detailed processes of learning.  Not unexpectedly, schools, administrators, and teachers lacking technology backgrounds simply bought off on the “stuff,” but were clueless how it could be most productively used.

Pejoratively, many systems mirror the pattern of a local system; technology plans were faked, hardware was bought for display without a clue how it would impact either learning or system management, and in doing so it deepened the fraud that was already thick around NCLB compliance and the organizational thrust to block transparency of how educational processes and funds were being deployed.  

With the economic effects imposed on K-12 systems by lingering recession, even more constraints have blocked or at least deterred getting contemporary technologies into the classroom, and better, integrated into the active learning process.  That has also brought out those proclaiming that digital technology isn't necessary, or doesn't enhance learning, or is too costly, the modern Luddites.  But lurking behind that froth is a major reality; virtually every aspect of both present and future economic and social structure is now dependent on being technologically current.  The recent CES, or consumer electronics show, the showcase of virtually all consumer technology destined to reach our markets, was marked by a citation from a major corporate player; that literally every product on display at the CES would disappear without the Internet.

A more complete position assessment of the need for US K-12 educational technology to get back on track is reflected in a presentation to the AAAS, or American Association for the Advancement of Science, also publishers of the major US journal Science.  This presentation is linked here.


Perhaps the most onerous and potentially destructive spin-offs of NCLB are the attempts being made to assess teachers using year-to-year change in standardized test scores, euphemistically called "value-added." This is an answer without a glimmer of a question about what the teacher brings to a classroom beyond the capacity, and forced or perverted values to drill students to pass tests on reductionist bits of memorized material.  For anyone who has actually logged time in a real classroom, committed to learning as a complex process that installs a range of human values and virtues as well as real understanding, the deliberately titled "value-added" is a hallmark of hypocrisy.

How teaching and teachers are viewed and valued in places that are eclipsing US K-12 is instructive; one of the best recent posts elaborating that is linked here.

Three questions, that likely never preceded the adoption of the value-added calculation to be used to penalize or fire teachers, stick a fork in the balloon: Rationally, what are the variables and stimuli that can be present in the dyadic relationship between student and teacher, in interactions among students, trailed into a classroom from past learning, from learning beyond the specific classroom, from home, and from all other environments that impact present learning; what is the definition of value in "value-added" based on bubble testing; and why has a national "value-added" war been declared on America's teachers, potentially doing great harm, with literally no serious scientific assessment in advance of its assaults, to properly theorize about its relevance or pre-test its validity and reliability?

Perhaps there is a fourth question, though it challenges the perspicacity or motives of those advocating the value-added model; when did a simplistic, production-derived model of performance and mechanistic measurement become an intelligent expression of the complex human relationships embodied in fostering learning?  Neurons aren't widgets?


A question may have been asked before this movement was cranked into high gear, but one with little moral virtue.  It likely went like this:  “How can we create a device that will cripple the silly alleged liberality of US public education, tap the public purse of school tax revenues, and kill those rotten teachers’ unions that get in our face at every turn.  Voila, let’s call them charters (or in Ohio, “community schools”).   The question that was not asked was, just how will those schools differ in meaningful substance from a public school except for allegedly being an escape from the warped perception of dreaded “socialism” of public education and its unions?

The question was never seriously considered even in retrospect.   The subsequent answer appears to be that they really don’t materially differ, except for operating beyond the checks and balances that help control public systems.  They could stimulate innovation in creating learning, more easily innovating without union interventions and other constraints public systems face.  They could also prove ineffective and cavalier about learning values, primarily benefitting their varied sponsors’ political or profit missions, and related consultants’ returns without much fear of assessment.  Only now is some legitimate research being conducted on the performance of US charters (upcoming issue of SCIENCE), and it is acknowledged to be incomplete.

The 21st Century Classroom

This entry in the ask-no-questions sweepstakes is still in early times, but the negatives of the failure mode are already on display.   One fault is immediately viewing the answer as real estate, rather than an expression of the larger question of what functions occur in what space configurations, and how the space should conform to function rather than the obverse.

The second fault; instead of the logical series of questions about how learning processes will evolve – over the life span, for example, of a multi-decade and double-digit million dollar investment in school bricks and mortar (along with more tax levies) – inappropriate or retro school design and construction answers are being put in place, that may obstruct change needed that might have to engage those physical facilities.

The failure mode here is in many ways more serious than the errors manifested even in poor choices of teachers or administrators.   The latter are major, and involving human resources should vault to the top of the list in importance, but mistakes in building facilities outmoded before they are even dedicated debilitates local capacities to innovate; the building cart is positioned ahead of the educational horsepower.


The last joker in the current K-12 card deck is described eloquently by Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, in an article in The Nation.  "Redlining" in this venue refers to drawing a line around the "so-called bottom five percent" of America's K-12 schools -- the most vulnerable, segregated, low income, and with limited resources -- and imposing punitive sanctions up to and including "transforming" them, code for closing them, firing their human resources, turning them into charters, in sum, further destabilizing the neediest communities in our country.  (Parenthetically, it may have slipped by the authors of this strategy that some of the worst performing K-12 schools in the US are turning out to be, go figure, charters.)

Darling-Hammond is low key and not pejorative in her assessment, linked here, but that reticence may be a function of greater tolerance than merited.

Apparently the rational strategy of asking the right questions, likely evoking improving those same communities with jobs programs, or assistance that would raise socioeconomic standards, or providing them the best rather than worst paid teachers, or anything else proactive, is either too slow for the liberal agenda, or too complex for the USDOE rocket scientists, or too proximate to humanism and thinking -- therefore not sufficiently reflective of social Darwinism -- to not be promptly blocked by extreme conservative enclaves.

The sum, over months, of trying to assess why Obama and the USDOE have metaphorically linked arms with US public education's avowed enemies, to in effect flog US K-12 public schools with unproven methodology for learning improvement, provokes another hypothesis.  It is cynical, but reflects the facts of how NCLB and RTTT have been administered by the current administration.  The hypothesis is that Obama and Duncan are executing a classic liberal venue as extreme as the opposite Tea Party, to try to mandate educational equality and install it within two assumed presidential terms, but doing so both cynically and with little intellectual capital applied to the evaluation of how genuine learning will have to be supported in US schools to achieve lasting gains.

Reflecting a statement by education professor and historian Diane Ravitch, the US appears to be in the midst of either an educational national nightmare, or moment of national insanity, or the viruses accruing world headlines have morphed into another genetic form, "stupiditis duncanitis," and settled in our nation's capitol.


Cutting to the chase, the question ahead of a need for an answer is, how did American society, and its educational institutions work into the binds expressed above?  The beginnings of a multipart answer are applicable to other questions troubling the last and this decade, ranging from how did the US economy and jobs come unglued, through how did the US manage to engage in multiple wars that have had devastating human, economic, and social effects, to why can’t an alleged representative US Congress find ways of communicating and fashioning solutions without engaging in ugly verbal and counterproductive warfare?

The list of current human foibles that form answers is pretty noxious; readers can do their own thesaurus work, but the comments of newspaper readers in anticipation of MLK Day suggest anything penned here might appear wimpy.

A larger functional hypothesis is that our society, systems, technologies, histories, resource needs, connectedness, information expansion, diversity, tastes, needs and wants, expectations, range of ethical dilemmas, societal attention deficits, media prevalence, income disparity, class distinctions, and the bureaucracies developed for governance at every level have simply multiplied more rapidly than the choice mechanisms available or invented, or the civic and leadership awareness and motivation to deal with those issues and create effective societal decisions. American public education not unexpectedly appears immersed in this same stream.
If this seems too hypothetical, consider a tiny sample of "street" examples:  Count the pages, and their expansion, in the US Tax Code; or take a year off to read a week’s output of verbiage in the US Congressional Record; or try to get on a commercial airplane out of Las Vegas carrying an iced cupcake; or try contemporarily to prevent a highly successful, parent-managed/funded, elementary school chess club in Bloomington, IN, from being shut down by a seemingly control-freak public school principal; or reflect that there are now some uncounted number of computer hackers around the planet with the "noble" goal of breaking into digital enclaves, to steal information as fun, or for extortion.

In the present venue, you likely wouldn’t have to look far in your own neck of the woods to find scaled replicates of bureaucracy and misdirection of school priorities and tactics expanding faster than insightful questions, followed by the hard work of developing pertinent answers.

A shorter generic assessment, our nation has experienced evolution and expansion of all of its infrastructure and needs for mediation of its functions faster than learning and wisdom have matured to control those forces.

So there is a massive paradox in where our nation is poised.  Short of a super-intelligent visitor from another star system dropping in and offering packaged magic addressing those conundrums, one answer to the question of how the US gets better is by better education, creating far more effective learning for those destined to ultimately inherit the challenges, and likely the urgent need for solutions as a matter of future survival.  The applicable expression of the paradox appears under many labels, but one that resonates here is, “K-12 = Catch 22."

Friday, January 6, 2012


A January 3, 2012 article in the New York Times is entitled "Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools."  In only partial jest, this will resonate with many of our citizens who believe our ascension as a nation depends on retreating to the 19th or 20th century, using social Darwinism to resolve national vectors, and replicating the destructive feats and dogmatism of England's 19th century Luddites.

Rather than brand the resistance of Idaho's public K-12 teachers as unfortunate, they have a point, indeed, many points.   One of the key points in 2012 is that technology is being pushed into Idaho's public schools by private sector lobbying and corporate piecemeal technology marketing, with little to no attention to how it needs to be integrated into classrooms' learning models and rubrics.

But the story of integrating technology into America’s schools goes a lot deeper than the thrust of the above article.

A Nation Blind-Sided

This SQUINTS post started in good faith as an attempt to survey the recent research, both original and subsequent meta-studies of existing research on the effects of upgrading K-12 classroom technology.  A tacit assumption was that most of that research must be of relatively recent origin, because of both the recency of neural research on learning, and many digital developments, including the US finally beginning to catch up with some of the rest-of-the-world in Internet coverage and bandwidth.

Churned up in a fourth or fifth pass at "Googling" phrases conveying the question was a post by “PBS Teachers,” entitled “Technology Integration,” linked here.  The find, then subsequently working through the online sources referenced, was mind-boggling.

Rather than the expected finding that the US has been a day late and a dollar short in seeking answers to how to use technology to improve learning, canvassing the PBS sources suggests miscalculation or malfeasance in the actions of both the latter Bush and Obama administrations, of the US Department of Education, and in the politics of corporate reform via standardized testing.

Even discounting alleged suppression of studies by the USDOE, and likely other sources under duress from that agency, the search found a large array of studies of technology for the classroom.  But most date to the period of the first Bush Administration, 2001-2005, dwindling beyond that point, presumably sidetracked by the aggression of NCLB’s steamroller of high stakes standardized testing.  The Internet is littered with original studies in that period, most, and their subsequent meta analyses inferring that digital technologies can improve classroom learning if they are properly integrated into school administration and teaching.

One discovery was that the archives of USDOE, which have faithfully preserved every utterance of its then Secretary, have been magically purged of a number of important studies including those required under NCLB.  Indeed, that mandate within NCLB, to assess technology for improving K-12, virtually disappeared from the game in the second Bush term, and in Obama’s acquiescence or even advocacy of the “corporate reform” mentality installed in USDOE under Arne Duncan.  Providentially, the Internet with open source values and wisdom, preserved in some form virtually all of these prior studies, suggesting that America can still be highly resistant to attempted demagoguery and despotism.

The bottom line is that our national educational leadership, ignorantly, or by intent, with marginal ethical values to downright dysfunction for America’s children, hijacked legitimate K-12 reform and technology adoption with the present standardized test scams and overkill.  Digging even a little deeper, there is the dark underbelly to NCLB, both pre-Obama and since, suggesting that its purpose was only incidentally to improve learning, but was primarily to stress, manipulate, up to crudely bulldozing public K-12 schools into a minority position in US education, as well disabling its unions, via creating rationalizations for charters and vouchers.

If any of the present tactics observable are deliberately steeped in those intentions, the US has virtually sacked effective K-12 education in this decade, and intelligent integration of mushrooming digital technology for the foreseeable future.  There is a strong a priori case for sacking the perpetrators.

What of the Substance?

Digital technologies, essentially the evolutionary sequela to the foundational ideas that preceded them – binary arithmetic, computing evolution, the Internet's technology, fiber propagation, modern chemistry, most mathematics, probability theory, Einsteinian physics, quantum mechanics, neural and genetic biology, just about every topic that supports present societies and economies – are the necessary intellectual lingua francas and the analytical and methods portals to most of what we have yet to discover about our cosmic pebble, its societies, and the rest of the universe.  

The issue isn't whether digital technologies need to be in our K-12 schools, or whether their students need to be digitally literate, but how to get there.  The perspective still eluding many US schools is that those technologies are not separate from other learning contents, but the additional language and literacy that will dominate future society. Technology needs to be seen as integral to contemporary learning, as natural as mastery of English, essential to mastery of math that works to accomplish things, essential to finding meaning in data doubling every 18 months or more frequently, and the logical companion to scientific method as the mechanism of discovery of natural and social truths.

Public Education Off the Hook?

The diversion of effort from actually improving K-12 learning by the integration of neural research findings, and via proper integration of digital technologies in the classroom, seems antithetical to American ingenuity and values.  Yet, when the cloaking of denial is breached, that is precisely what both the Obama Administration and the “corporate reform” movement out of ignorance and/or ideology have perpetrated.

Does that leave the US public K-12 establishment and its unions off the hook?  Hardly.

In the first decade of this century there have been somewhere in excess of a couple thousand empirical studies of grass roots technology applications in overall education.  No total number is easily visible because there has never been sufficient research funded to do that needed assessment. 

In one sector of educational technology, online learning and blended learning, the USDOE did evaluate 1,100 empirical studies between 1996 and 2008.  Critically, only 46 of those studies had sufficient data to properly estimate effects.  Even more critically, only five of those 1,100 studies involved K-12 students. 

Review of a couple dozen meta analyses of the last decade’s research suggests that other efforts on technology effects for K-12, no matter how well intended, have overwhelmingly lacked necessary randomized treatments and controls to be able to infer anything reliably about technology’s effects in the classroom.  This is directly traceable to the disinterest or inability of the majority our public school systems and their personnel to conduct or facilitate the needed studies.

But Why?

Why has US public K-12 in particular, clung so fiercely to century-old classroom rubrics that are arguably at least half obsolete in light of 21st century neural biological research and exploding digital technologies?

The less egregious answer parallels the old cliché from marketing.  Attributed to the soap-powder magnate Lord Leverhulme, it goes:  Half of all his advertising spending was wasted, he maintained, but he never knew which half that was.   The K-12 parallel, half of what passes as K-12 teaching is likely now obsolete, but the discipline has never figured out which half.  The sequel, of course, is that the public K-12 education establishment has never seriously bothered to research the issue.

Another part of the explanation is both hazy and speculative, because there have been few legitimate studies of why there has been such resistance in our public schools.  But it seems inescapable that our public K-12 educators generally have lacked either the knowledge, or courage, or tools, or training, or – and genuine cause for concern – the intellect and spirit to try to save their own bacon as an institution by reforming public K-12 internally and preemptively, rather than acquiescing to present brute force and simplistic initiatives.  Failure of local school oversight is also a contributor.

Lastly, the US demonstrably harbors some public K-12 school systems -- too many and nestled in places that offer seemingly benign environments -- tuned to an America that has ceased to exist; dug-in, inbred, self-righteous, bereft of intellectually competent administrators and teachers, and oblivious to anything that doesn’t exist within a three-mile radius or has a planning horizon exceeding the next levy.  They are schools on tracks, teaching to the tests, adopting technology for display, and desecrating the concept of genuine learning.  Frequently enabled by school boards that are myopic and believe in magic, the genre will lionize sports, block transparency, and are setting up an area’s children for post-secondary challenges or even failure.  Polar opposites of the US' urban and socioeconomically-challenged schools, they are still the other K-12 structural deficit that is a roadblock to elevating America's K-12 educational achievement.

There are, except for a community epiphany or meltdown, few real fixes for this other US school deficit; such schools are usually surrounded by layers of adults and parents who were indoctrinated by the same systems.  Adult education might be a fix, but the US has generally eschewed that investment.

A really scary postscript is, for example in a corrupted Ohio K-12 educational environment, that such schools are presently being joined by allegedly state-of-art “charters” that quickly acquire many of the same attributes, and are served up with even less oversight.


The virtual cessation of broadly applicable research on technology integration in America’s K-12 classrooms is a tragedy in the making.  The reasons are hardly obtuse:  The need for a new wave of work and a generation committed to creativity and innovation in both the US economy, in its social infrastructure, and in its governance; the inevitable exponential growth of technology-based products and services as the nation’s future basis for world leadership; and the reality that digital technologies go way beyond present hardware and entertainment applications, becoming de facto a nation’s second language.  As some of the world is already pummeling the US in primary and secondary education, learning the language seems an imperative.

The good news may be that the marginally scientific trial runs of last decade are the necessary precursor to better hypotheses about how to incorporate technology in America’s classrooms, and the object lessons that could prompt next rounds of such research to incorporate more robust and specific questions, and randomized experiments in the real classroom to create digital learning rubrics that work.

There needs to be a new and better orchestrated round of interest in and funding of research on best digital applications and their integration.  There also needs to be a major reform effort at the level of US schools of education to recognize the potential of technology in K-12 education, to research those applications, and to incorporate the best into teachers’ training. 

One survivor and springboard for change comes from one of the best and brightest of US research advocates, NSF (the National Science Foundation).  Last decade it launched a grant program to fund research and ideas about the “21st century classroom.”  What resulted has transcended attempts to shut down technology reform that doesn’t fit the rigid corporate reform and testing mantras.  The offspring of the NSF initiative will be one subject of the next SQUINTS.

The present course of US K-12 education reform isn’t reform at all, but a highly orchestrated and ideologically-driven attempt to force public K-12 by threat of punishment to either change teaching and teachers to increase standardized test scores, or get out of the way for private sector-style US education presently defined as “charter schools” – with few controls, able to discriminate among children, and in many cases operated to maximize profit rather than learning – but fed by public funds.  That constitutes a bizarre and corrupted twist to America’s love affair with education of its children, and you likely won’t like the sequels and their strategic products.


Part two of this adventure will be review of the measured insightful studies of how technology fits into traditional classroom learning, relating the constituents of classroom learning – for example, using Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning as a scaffold – to the functional capacities of the various technologies available and in the wings.  Not about laptops, or whiteboards, or video, or any of the other “stuff” misrepresented to circumscribe technology, the questions to be addressed concern how the language of digital technology becomes integral to K-12 learning and even measuring its outcomes.

For a simple, elegant preview of the thinking out there that needs to find a national foothold, here’s a link to thoughts by Alfie Kohn, former teacher, author of ten books related to education, and a provocative and recognized national critic of the traditional K-12 classroom model.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Prognostications for the New Year are ramping up, while their credibility usually declines with quantity.

But a trenchant set of predictions -- make you want to laugh and cry simultaneously -- appeared in Valerie Strauss' Washington Post blog, "The Answer Sheet."  By professor of education emeritus and author Mark Phillips, some of the best are so close to reality they are scary:
"President Obama will announce a new educational plan to increase achievement, restore teacher morale, and make us competitive with Finland.  Entitled 'Over the Top and Into the 22nd Century' it will be referred to five different congressional committees and become a major source of argument in the 2016 election. 
The 2012 Republican presidential nominee wil make former D.C. schools chancellor Michele Rhee his chief educational advisor and pledge to eliminate all but the top 1% of teachers, raise test scores (while leaving the question of 'which tests?' unanswered), decrease educational costs, and bring all our schools into the 21st [or was that the 20th?] century. 
The phrase '21st century learning skills' will appear in over 300 books and in more than 75 percent of educational columns and articles.  In almost all of these the primary focus will be on raising test scores. 
The primary hirer of the best new teachers graduating from our teacher training programs will be Finland.  This will lead congressional conservatives to call for an embargo on goods from Finland. 
A poll of high school students will list the internet as their primary source of education.  Television will finish second. 
There will be at least three dozen national conferences on technology and education and another two dozen on the latest advances in brain science and their implications for education. Three schools around the country will implement these ideas. 
Almost all the best minds in the field of education will publically criticize the emphasis on standardized testing.  Almost none of the minds in our varied policy making positions will hear them. 
Having realized that much of our educational policy in the United States is akin to a film noir, the newly formed Academy of Educational Arts and Sciences will hold its own academy awards."
A repeat, welcome to K-12 education 2012.