Saturday, May 26, 2012


This is Part Four of the series, trying for the “hat trick;” making some sense of the trajectory of a convoluted public K-12 alleged reform movement, its impact linking K-12 to digital technology evolution, all mediated by trends in both hardware and software innovation.

The above are intertwined via the current obsession (and corporate market/profit gaming) with naïve accountability and testing, imposing on sophisticated use of digital tools the lowest common denominator of classroom achievement – enough drill and student memorization, teaching to the test and just plain cheating, and test-taking coaching and gaming – to survive burgeoning standardized testing. 

When prospecting for this conclusion of the series, and seeking to envision our full spectrum of public K-12 systems a decade or more in the future, there was innate hope for some wedge of optimism; that what education historian Diane Ravitch characterized as “…living in a period of national insanity,” might abate.  As this conclusion unfolds, unless there is the quintessential positive “black swan,” no optimism survived.  Technology penetration and thematic K-12 by 2022 are, in turn, highly interdependent; if public K-12 can't crawl out of its learning crater, no technological advantage can root and prevail.

Americans have long been averse to bad news, playing the Pollyanna card, or simply hunkering down in sullen denial.   If that shoe fits, quit reading; because the sum of all forces at work, plus the nation’s capacity for overshoot, translates into nascent public K-12 education apocalypse. 

Positioning the Players & Factors

Metaphorically, what is being imposed on U.S. public K-12 is roughly the level-of-thinking equivalent of some of this nation’s recent international adventures.  There are literally no heroes or heroines, nor corporate personhood nobility, nor national leaders not regularly spewing hypocrisy or demagoguery, nor public school systems that aren’t frequently administratively self-righteous and resistant to change, nor many charters that haven’t demonstrated that markets and basic education are an invitation to corrupt actions, nor state departments of education that manifest some intellectualism and aren’t political shills, nor local school boards that aren’t frequently witless or worse.  The most nobility in sheer numbers still resides in the nation’s teachers, under attack by a legion of RINOs (in this case, “reformers in name only”).   Given a free ride are too many poorly selected or trained school administrators who have forgotten their role is service, and most of America’s parents, wallowing in school sports, trivia and paranoid hovering, but failing to carry the ball in accountability for the education of their own children.

Some of these factors are generational, not likely to be nudged in even a decade.  If there is any hope for greater sanity in public K-12 it will need to come from organizational participants who are close to the mechanisms that actually leverage school behavior.  In turn, digital technologies will persist and continue a logistic growth course whether K-12 recognizes them or not; the issue may be whether divergent trajectories between technology being created, versus what K-12 public education adopts, simply produce a chasm that American public education finally can’t traverse?

For the next decade the players/factors setting the scene, and the next decade’s trajectories for this current milieu of frequently despotic players are projected below.

Will K-12 Be Privatized?

A basic truth about the K-12 core rather than fringes the media report came out of the mouth of a major contributor to the present testing insanity, Bill Gates.  In an interview, Mr. Gates acknowledged reality; that charters and vouchers would probably not dominate U.S. K-12.  Worth a kudo, because the media focus on the exceptional and outliers.  Facts:  the USDOE projects public K-12 to still account for 89 percent of all K-12 students by 2019, and the most likely forecast is that by 2022 that number will still be in the mid-80 percent range.   Good news?

Not so much.  Charters are increasingly proving to be invitations for poor academic performance and the opportunity to raid public tax dollars for personal or corporate gain.  The heart of public K-12 – in spite of schools at the margin that will be creative and promote higher order thinking skills – will still project soft strategies and mediocrity, self-righteousness and naïveté.  Public K-12, and its unions, over decades brought down its own house by dogmatic commitment to deduced methods rather than knowledge creation, and building castles with endless taxpayer levies.  Even individually saintly teachers in those environments become cynical and compliant to overreaching or simply overwhelmed administration, or as currently demonstrated simply leave the profession.  Expect the rate of defections to increase in the face of more invasive testing and use of VAM appraisals.  

Add to this picture, the continued refusal of states to put some rigor into the requirements to serve on local school boards, or create better systems of oversight, and the 2022 projection is that the same local board oversight of the past decades will persist for the next, representing the same incapacities for critical thought and creative direction.


Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney; it makes zero difference.  This issue is central to the degradation of our current public K-12 education system.  Both players, even from apparently divergent philosophical positions, are pushing the same mechanical and punitive approaches to alleged reform, even using the same words, presaging four more years of the utter stupidity of present stilted testing.  Will 2016 change that?  The more likely 2016 presidential candidates, both ends of the political spectrum, have already indicated by action a propensity to continue the farce.  For 2020 and beyond, the path is murky, but after 12 years and two presidents’ dysfunctional forays into K-12 education, and a tracked Duncan’s USDOE tenure, any intelligence left in the USDOE will have shipped off to more lucid and honest assignments.

The “Greed Is Good” Cabal

A cabal of today’s corporations, lacking vestiges of social responsibility – and dare we say it, in the absence of any accountability – won’t go away.  The publishing companies that now have a potential stranglehold on American K-12 education arrived there by decades of lobbying mediocre textbooks, by lobbying to take over the development of standardized tests and their scoring, and now are pushing into accreditation of teachers.  Is a realistic expectation that any ethics driven Congress will cut this corporate enclave off at the pass?  By 2022 expect this invasive species to be even more fully entrenched in Congressional pockets and in state education administrations.  The year 2022 may not see “public K-12” become “Pearson K-12,” but the projection may be a close call.

The Acronym Curses

ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council, has for nearly 40 years, and until recently largely under the radar, been creating ultra-conservative legislation for our states, running that language into state laws by state legislators who can’t master writing their own legislation.  The latest acronym to surface, NCTQ, stands for the National Council on Teacher Quality.  That sounds attractive; who can argue with teacher quality?  Its gambits are making schools of education, by intimidation if necessary, “data driven,” and installing the teacher education that will serve to support standardized test performance, or as NCTQ puts it, turn out teachers who will “…prepare students for assessment responsibilities.”  Huh, say again? Its leadership is layered with testing advocates and residue from the Gates’ funding adventures.  Lastly, CCSSI, or the Common Core State Standards Initiative – representing conservative states, right-wing interests, and equivalent personnel and administration – is primarily warmed over educational methods mantra reviewed by the “who’s not” in contemporary education, not the robust knowledge common standards U.S. K-12 desperately needs for competitive parity with the rest of the world.  The grasp on K-12 by the composite of these special interest efforts will by 2022 be massive and further depress rational K-12 HOTS learning.


TFA, Teach for America, with silent dismissal of schools of education, is now funded generously by both the USDOE and Gates, and extracts a TFA fee for every teacher placed for every year they remain in place.  Simultaneously, even under the most aggressive assumptions, TFA will barely dent the need for K-12 teachers at the present rate of defections from the profession even while it is still a profession.  TFA in principle is a valid expression of a half-century challenge, to educate K-12 teachers to possess subject matter excellence versus the methods garbage and touchy-feely dogma so long dispensed by U.S. schools of education.   It also appears barely disguised self-promotion of Wendy Kopp and teacher placements defined by opportunities for photo ops and political grandstanding versus serving the mass of public K-12 allegedly at risk.  The politically incorrect message of TFA is, however, never uttered; if a TFA teacher only needs five weeks of classroom training, than why are we still funding and suffering the ineptitude of collegiate schools of education, and offering four-year and masters’ degrees in education?

Speaking of Those Schools of Education

Before Diane Ravitch had an epiphany, and became a critic of present K-12 standardized testing, she was on the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a self-identified conservative, and "...did not like teacher training institutions. We thought they were too touchy-feely, too concerned about self-esteem and social justice and not concerned with basic skills and academics." What has changed?  As history records, Fordham per Ravitch established the NCTQ " a new entity to promote alternative certification and to break the power of the hated ed schools."  The history gives new meaning to the old adage, be careful what you wish for, you might get it.  The issue is that no power was ultimately challenged, no reforms occurred, and the education school bastion simply pulled its head into the higher education shell and kept on churning out the same marginally prepared teachers turned out for a half century or more.  

Change them?  Catch 22; schools of education, unless you lift them out of present oversight, are subject to the willingness of our institutions of higher education to change their acquisitive values and strategies, and even with nascent rumblings of applying standardized testing to their products, it will take far more than a decade to experience any real higher education reform.  Parenthetically, if schools of education could find the handle on their own reform, a TFA and its aggrandizement would blow away, and the real middle majority of overall K-12 public education would benefit.  The chances of the latter happening by 2022, to go out on a limb, but not very far, you have better odds in Las Vegas.

The Shadow Meltdown

Except for the ignorance and distorted values being manifested by the funding and power positions associated with the testing and accountability tableaus, there would be tactical value in forcing public K-12 to work on basic skills even with the bogus testing being fashioned and imposed.  Over decades nothing else appears to have captured the attention of public K-12 school administrators and related bureaucracy.  What is the downside?

The answer, massive:  Public K-12 was poorly educating prior to NCLB because of the core beliefs installed in most public school educators by their training.  So far so good; testing demands are sharply focusing attention on the classroom and the highly specific actions of their teachers.  To the extent that some of the standardized test contents serve as a platform for subsequent learning there is merit.  The major issue, virtually all of the accomplishment of the testing focus serves LOTS (low order thinking skills), little if any supports HOTS (high order thinking skills), and may even be both major distraction and a functional barrier to the latter learning needs.  It is unarguably an instruction motivational barrier.

Projecting a decade of increasingly narrow focus on naïve methods and fragments of learning massively and punitively enforced, finally churning out in 2022 a full school generation of resources who believe professional function equals dismissible short term memory of miscellaneous facts and knowing how to game a multiple choice test, what will those resources mean in a marketplace being driven by advancing technology and a need for both critical thought and creativity.  Think unemployable at a new and tragic level as the U.S. sinks deeper into a structural unemployment crater.

Occasionally there is, an accident of chance, the timely discovery of written thoughts that so crystallize an argument that for the at least curious some truth seems to have landed; thus was the case with stumbling upon two essays and the guide who pointed the way.  The topic is the very heartbeat of alleged K-12 reform, math education.  The guide, a credible resource: Mathematician Keith Devlin is the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University and The Math Guy on NPR's Weekend Edition.  The two essays are “Lockhart’s Lament,” and Matthew Brenner’s “The Four Pillars Upon Which the Failure of Math Education Rests.” 

Both with precision relate why the present testing debacle, that projecting the next decade will not be slowed or stopped, is false and destructive of K-12 learning, and by analogy likely brands the approach for every other discipline of consequence.  Both items are linked, Lockhart here, and Brenner here.  The shameful irony is that Brenner’s piece was written based on his experience as a computer scientist, teaching 9th grade algebra, in a school called Sidwell Friends in Washington, DC; some may recognize the school as the educational home base of Mr. Obama’s children.

Data, Data Everywhere, But Not a Drop That Informs

This last issue, short of the closing thoughts on the trajectory of digital technologies and related hardware, is likely already beyond future resolution.  Even more basic than math, the ignorant and careless use of “data” by our RINOs is like the sound of fingernails on that old-time blackboard.  Those using the term appear clueless what data are when subjected to disaggregation and inspection for roots.  All data are not created equal, yet the term is now blithely tossed out as a universal mantra, and the basis for teaching teachers as well as subjecting them to review or even terminating them. 

Most of those shouting “more data” and “evidence-based instruction" could likely not get past a bone-head standardized (to be especially irreverent) test of how digital information is derived, validly and reliably, from diverse information that is neither cardinal, ordinal nor interval in its genesis.  Nor has there been “evidence-based” input suggesting that the same casts of characters understand how science creates evidence and explanation, and why those methods assume standards of professional ethical conduct.  There also appears to be general cluelessness about the morphology of longitudinal measurement of complex phenomena, making up the alleged reasoning behind VAM.  Will those pressing present K-12 reform be motivated to discover within a decade enough theory of measurement and explanation, or credit those who have that competency, to do more than destruct?  You would be better off as a probability betting your life savings on Facebook stock, or that Jamie Dimon is a humble and honest banker.

One data event not projected by 2022 may be the most costly education oversight in America's history, the oversight or refusal to advocate and fund the necessary research and development to measure the achievement of HOTS in our schools.  Arguably now enabled by digital technology development and greater neural biological understanding, such testing might use simulation, and/or gaming, and/or AI. That development, properly targeting what real K-12 summative assessment should measure, might justify the use of LOTS standardized testing for some K-12 applications, but targeting formative assessment and use as a tool for tactically creating targeted learning effects and diagnosis.  

This failure underscores the low level of understanding of education by those currently possessing the resources and positions of power to force alleged K-12 reform; irresponsible ignorance applied to fashioning the institutional infrastructure that is supposed to assuage ignorance.  The ultimate irony for one wing of alleged reform – the liberal search for perfect education equality – is allowing American K-12 education to be positioned as a marketable good rather than viewed as indispensible intellectual commons of an advanced society, and peddled for political fantasies and corporate profit.


In perspective, this is far and away the easiest venue to project for the next decade, the reason being that most of the research with a potential of dramatic change in technology applicable to K-12 is roughly that decade away from replicable production readiness and commercialization.  Simultaneously, though manufacturing capabilities can be ramped up quickly because of digitally controlled assembly, and even printing products is a reality, scaling development x manufacturing x organization x distribution still takes years to reach broad market capacities.  The prospects for that nascent capacity are, however, awesome; large increases in integrated circuit capacities, wireless Internet protocols that are more numerous and exotic than viewed in consumer media with the capacity to greatly increase and equalize bandwidth delivery, and the marriage of biology and digital technology that has a direct bearing on understanding, even mediating learning.

For K-12 education, the largest change enablers to emerge in the next decade, were they to be sought or even accepted, are finally universally massive bandwidth, and logic and software based, sophisticated and high order programming of simulation modeling, and the emergence of robust AI or artificial intelligence.  Both have the potential of moving the whole later childhood and secondary education platform from the traditional classroom to a mix of self-instruction and high order professionally managed directed instruction by digital means.  A projection is that in the next decade this long overdue process will take off, in spite of aggressive resistance from public K-12 traditionalists willing to circle the wagons to protect obsolete jobs rather than put learning first.  The opening may be lapse of focus on defense because of the need to operate on the dual front of technology encroachment, and fighting the reform creed to put public K-12 out of existence.  One hand clapping for the reform gang.

The last projection, capping the series, how will technology nest into the classroom by 2022?  I suspect that roughly 10-15 percent of America’s better public K-12 classrooms will be credible and technologically capable by then, mostly consisting of already successful schools with upscale audiences, and that can afford to confine the rote work of test mastery to increasingly shorter and intense drill, then ignore the demagoguery of reformers and their own states’ delusions.  They in a decade will likely evolve that symbiosis of teaching rubrics and digital expression that can leverage real HOTS learning.

That may be the ultimate irony of the current Obama administration’s highly ideological and extreme liberal movement to magically equate K-12 for all – the result will further widen the gap in achieved and actionable learning between the metaphorical one percent and the 99 percent.  In our ranging and still rural heartland, populated by bubbles of retro beliefs, public systems like those in this and related areas will be in 2022 still producing the same corps of undereducated and indoctrinated kids they currently churn out, with smug and dogmatic self-righteousness wrapped around missing comprehension of contemporary learning issues.

Why Optimism Fades

From many of the same folks who brought us Iraq, how long will it take for essentially the same naïveté to destroy still plausible (with change) public education in the U.S.? What will universal education for America’s children look like in 2022?  Under the present reform trajectory, how many more of 2022’s college inductees will require major remedial learning to compete in a HOTS setting, or does a truly sick national education leadership just dumb-down higher education? What would a K-12 system designed by Bill Gates or Pearson look like?  What does a teacher trained from day one to teach to the tests do for creative expression and self-esteem?

What would a state's education system produce by 2022 with massive LOTS testing, dishonestly hyped as evoking genuine learning to constituents who either can't discriminate or who are in denial of the politically inspired venality?  In today's Ohio, it is not a rhetorical question.  Nor can technology even get a legitimate integrated foothold in most of its K-12 schools.

What would U.S. K-12 education look like if 85 percent of its former public schools were confiscated by state governments and gifted to charters?  How long would it take, and how would the U.S. rebuild a public K-12 education system if privatization failed the nation educationally, or if charter managements further inflated our prison populations?  What would America’s version of knowledge look like if it was fully developed by the same retro gang behind the CCSSI? How long, with present reform intellectualism and perfidy, would it take for the U.S. to devolve into a second-class society; shush, no “we are already” are allowed.

Clearly, the above were left out of the future scenarios, not by lack of beliefs, but by the divisive and chaotic mess that’s been created for K-12, hopelessly entangled with America’s political extremism, and the resultant and depressing incapacity to logically project paths of events that might ameliorate the zoo created.

Some Conclusions

Educational resources in the U.S. – a Diane Ravitch, Florida’s Marion Brady, The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss (“The Answer Sheet”) and her regular and highly accomplished contributors, other hundreds of educated and intellectually competent resources who research and study learning, knowledge creation and its preservation, and those in our professional STEM fields who let science rather than ideology or political themes guide their efforts – have now spoken out about the travesty of present RINO.  Most of America’s media have been too politically correct or clueless to speak truth about present initiatives; in turn, too many of America’s parents, educated mostly in the same public systems that need to intellectually join this century, appear incapable of reading and synthesizing for effect even if facts were promulgated.  As the cadence of professional critique quickens and even becomes more direct, the counterpoint is that our most informed critics wind up still mostly preaching to the choir.

The final projection for 2022, it will take a black swan or some other epiphany to push the present reform hordes onto a different course, an index of a nation that has lost, if not Diane Ravitch’s invocation about its sanity, at least a measure of once present wisdom of the crowd and sensible national leadership.


This is the end of the SQUINTS series on K-12, spanning 50 posts.  After a brief respite, SQUINTS will return to an original mission, the critique of our U.S. system of higher education, where the writer spent a quarter century.  After exiting the higher education game, a related university vice-president once remarked in referencing this writer, sotte voce to his breakfast companion, “watch out for him, he’s been inside, and is dangerous.”  That “dangerous” is highly unlikely, at the time a bit of head shed paranoia, but that inside view of higher education may be worth a few interesting posts.  The world science journal Nature, in a second week of unexpected, but on-time delivery, posted a short story for the year 20xx, suggesting that higher education has a whole raft of nuances, as well as mainframe issues worth exploration.  This one may not be as far out as one might first deduce, based on the daily revelations about genetic research and findings.  The story certainly puts a new spin on strategic planning.

My thanks to all who have visited SQUINTS and read these posts, and whether there was agreement with any positions taken or not.  A proposition is that only by such straightforward presentations of views – never the necessarily right or full answer to any of the issues, nor represented as such – will subsequent awareness, defensible knowledge, and potential solutions, strategies and tactics finally emerge for American K-12 education.

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