Sunday, November 24, 2013

Santa's Holiday Gift List for Public K-12

Over three years and 92 Edunation posts, there have been episodes of pessimism as too many of our public K-12 schools have been observed simply plodding down a century-old education version of "The Calf Path."  

But most discouraging, endemic among our public schools' leadership and classrooms, has been seeing a major venue, charged with providing our nation's learning, be virtually impervious to and in denial of its own needed learning and reinvention.

These are not normally welcome thoughts, with the Holidays and a spirit of renewal timely. 

Counterpoint, following are some tongue-in-cheek proposed Holiday gifts for our K-12 public education establishment.  On reflection, however, they are perhaps not so off-the-wall in terms of relevance as one might initially conclude.  But simultaneously, they may represent as challenged potential for delivery as the imaginary contents of Santa's bag?  Invoking James Kelly's Scottish Proverbs (circa 1721), "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."  

Santa’s Public K-12 Gift Bag

Hot, and needed: A super-sized magnifying glass for Arne Duncan; and jewelers' loupes for our public K-12 administrators who fed from the trough, required to see the recently Federally-reported learning gains from 5.1 billion taxpayer dollars of alleged reform and bureaucratic trivia sent our public schools.

Another hot item, the I2S2C decoder cellphone game/app, offering a chance of identifying some of the anonymous people who created the math/language arts so-called common core, or the equally anonymous splinter group of NGA governors appointing them.  

A package deal, featured with the above by some upscale resellers, the amazing new miniature proximity fMRI and app, that can discern neural intentions. Featured, sensing, that when close up registering statements by, for example, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, can discriminate whether the diatribe is dissembling, ignorance, or just the Duncan gaffe-of-the-week.

Several tankers of Lysol to flush out the U.S. Department of Education, plus a budget, to reestablish prior thinking human resources and K-12 education research, and to fund, at least once, intelligent baseline “big data” for all of America’s K-12 schools so there is at last some intelligent understanding of what private K-12 and 100,000 public K-12 schools are actually doing. 

A summit meeting of America’s major universities, pledging a decade’s project to disassemble present collegiate schools of education, reassembling them based on contemporary principles of learning (see brain research below) and some subject matter expertise, while changing collegiate recruiting of future teachers and administrators to feature our best and brightest rather than the traditional south end of the talent barrel.

A public education subscription to the newsletter of the European Community’s massive, well-organized and funded next decade brain research program; and if it is ever made coherent and funded, to comparable reports from Mr. Obama’s U.S. BRAIN initiative.

A new product, the K-12 version of Coursera and edX and other MOOC originators, designed specifically to supply nationally, and with legitimate expertise, the at-home component of K-12 instruction in the flipped-classroom model (parenthetically, also usefully killing the so-called common core pseudo-knowledge model, while in process replacing it with legitimate universal critical knowledge).

An epiphany, that decades of taxing and spending to build facility monuments to public K-12 education were never about learning at all, but to feed the egos of communities suffering public school delusions and diverting parental awareness of K-12 learning failures with sports, entertainment, and how fine its retro buildings show.

Eric Schmidt’s gift to public K-12; a version of educational Google designed to allow public K-12 to escape technological obsolescence by enabling the universal software to allow “bring your own device” to be public K-12’s technology.

Gift certificates for existing public K-12 administrators and teachers to take at least two Coursera or edX courses a year, to achieve some intellectual currency.

An education GE (genetically engineered) creation, that dissolves and erases from memory NCLB, RTTT, Arne Duncan, to the extent possible The Business Roundtable, and a cabal of corporate testing companies; plus a fund for severance, counseling, and retirement payments for a small army of pyschometricians, who may have little chance of alternative employment in ethical organizations (perhaps alternate employment with HHS/ACA, or the RNC, or the NGA, or ALEC, or CCSSI, or the NSA?).

The following link to Digital Spark Marketing, because it was perceptive enough to recognize and quote material on K-12 from nationally known educator/writer Marion Brady.

A Break for Clearing the Wrapping Detritus

A short break, another dozen gifts to go, to try to avoid whiplash from flying ribbons, but with an input for reflection.  Sunday's New York Times featured a column by Frank Bruni on whether our kids have been too coddled.  The column managed to repeat the propaganda (and display Mr. Bruni's lack of homework) extolling the virtue of the alleged "common core" (versus a legitimate national knowledge set that should drive public K-12 learning). The most revealing part of the piece, however, was the outpouring of readers' articulate comments before the sun was fully up, worth reading.

Back to opening the public K-12 gifts:

A magic key (perhaps expressed as a wearable charm noting the willingness to vote yes on the next school levy) that unlocks the doors, and erects bridges over the moats around our public school buildings, making them after hours open and hospitable for community use and adult education.

The superintendent's gift set -- the 25 best management books of all time -- for the vast majority of public K-12 superintendents, who perceiving entitlement, believe their management chores are conceptually different than any other human resource leadership role (they are not) and who have yet to open any texts in the set.

A year’s supply of Guy Fawkes masks, for some exceptional K-12 public school administrators, allowing that cognoscenti with integrity to publicly speak out while protecting their identity when they perceive the ludicrous properties of present public K-12 corporate reform.

Gift to every public school of a giant LED display, that informs the public when and where BOE meetings are being held; in parallel, a sensor applied to BOE members that wirelessly lights up and flashes every LED on that board when a BOE sneaks into illegal and secret sessions.

Amazon gift certificates:  For thousands of school boards, including the site of this blog; one certificate for Diane Ravitch’s, The Death and Birth of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education; one for Daniel Koretz's, Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us; one for John Taylor Gatto's, The Underground History of American Education; one for a how-to-find-educational-intelligence manual for Google; one for Chris Argyris', Organizational Traps:  Leadership, Culture, Organizational Design; one for Peter M. Senge's, The Fifth Discipline:  The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization; one for Pasi Sahlberg's, Finnish Lessons:  What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?; one for Charles Murray's, Real Education:  Four simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality; and one for Dan Gookin’s, PCs for Dummies.

A national application of fairy dust, deploying a benign fungus dissolving every mediocre, copycat, mile wide-inch deep K-12 textbook in our K-12 public systems, and in the inventories of the oligopoly of publishers lobbying every aspect of public K-12 learning materials to their detriment, along with all contracts that embed those publishers.  As a bonus, the magic dust also dissolves Texas' ideologically and politically driven state K-12 textbook selection board, and in early testing bleached out instances of both creationism and climate change denial.

One of those magic Holiday moments of clarity, provoking a crisis of conscience in Ohio's Department of Education, causing it to recall its own research, quickly suppressed, indicating that its standardized test score-based public school grades were essentially crap, showing little correlation with better nationally recognized measures of overall school performance. The instance of "conscience" was itself a wondrous and rare thing.

Free download of the "2014 Public K-12 Organizational and Operating Manual" for public K-12 school administrators, to replace last century's version in use.

A smoke and mirrors sensor, freely available to all American voters, that registers the sincerity and knowledge base of all candidates for public school board election, and signals when they are phonies.  As BOE candidates rarely are challenged to display their credentials, or defend their views prior to elections, a needed aid for BOE voting.  Early adoption risks are that the U.S. BOE supply falls drastically below statutory need pending states creating rational requirements for public schools' oversight.

Some design help for Bill Gates, who having spent hundreds of millions of dollars superimposing his views on public K-12 schools, has been confronted with the assertion that "Bill Gates Can't Build a Toilet."  That does seem counterintuitive, his largesse having created the metaphorical K-12 equivalent, with superimposed standardized testing and VAM?

A five-years’ supply of genetically engineered “creativity pills,” prescribed once a day for every human resource tethered to public K-12.  A parallel "knowledge prescription" is appended for that large component of public K-12 education to dispel chronic Dunning-Kruger effect.

Lastly, a Holiday Eve and Dickensian epiphany for thousands of public K-12 superintendents, principals, and sundry bureaucrats, prompted by some ghosts of education past, magically creating self-awareness that it has been largely their own ignorance, self-centricity, dogmatism, and inattention to a school's primary mission -- versus housekeeping, bureaucracy tending, and levy peddling -- over decades, that spawned NCLB and the corporate reform movement.  That reform mantra's contribution to compromised genuine learning, and states' politically inspired prosecution of testing qua ersatz school grading, allowed spread to their own public schools. Unfortunately, unlike Scrooge, the genre has consistently been too unobservant to even recognize that traditional rattle of chains.

After-Holiday Bills?

Whew, would this gift bag bankrupt America after the first of the New Year when the bills come in?  The doubters, like the climate change venue, would of course claim that result.  Another perspective, the real currency for our public schools' change isn't another RTTT, or more school property or income tax, or more bricks and mortar, but primarily public K-12 vaccine injections of critical thought, creativity and courage, properties dollars won't buy. 

In the end, both Santa's bag and the latter virtues likely remain, wistfully and respectively, mythical and Scottish Proverbs' "wishes."  But, maybe, some New Year's resolutions...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Why the Core Isn’t As Tasty As a S’more

A Rotten Apple?

The alleged “common core,” its first subjects language arts and math, was not given much currency in Part 5 of this series, for cause.  However, it is becoming the next cause célèbre as there is increasing states’ and school systems’ resistance to more standardized testing encroachment.

One cause is the origin of the core’s standards; that is, the NGA (the currently right wing-dominated National Governors Association, CCSSI’s originator), and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) the more extreme right wing entity lobbying, and in most cases actually writing states’ conservative legislation.

A second cause is the provenance – based on secrecy surrounding the creators of the language arts and math specifics — of the so-called knowledge standards, and their legitimacy, much of the first two sets interleaved with obsolete or error-laced education methods assertions of last century.

The third argument is the primary purpose of this brief assessment, but first, some positioning.

Media treatment of the “common core” has frequently been framed by resources who typically know nothing of the origin of the core, and even less about its contents.  The basis of praise has been rooted in the use of two admittedly emotionally effective descriptors:  “Common” denoting uniform or applicable to all; and “Core," denoting the central elements of needed knowledge to function in our society.

A Common Knowledge Kernel Versus the “Common Core”

Because you can’t make a case that basic knowledge in Texas, is different than basic knowledge in Indiana, than basic knowledge in Massachusetts, there is a strong position in arguing for a common national curriculum in K-12.  In fact, because the interaction of institutions in higher education that is essentially national, coupled with the professional bodies also national, plus the accessibility of those learning materials without state boundaries, there is essentially a common knowledge core in the U.S.  It has just been perverted and distorted in public K-12 by our states as education middlemen, and the infusion of ideology and politics into its processes.

Resistance to national knowledge standards has also been driven by the ignorance associated with the entrenched American value, “local control.”  Could any position be more absurd than the concept that the laws of physics, or DNA processes, or math laws, are different in New Bremen, OH, than New York City, than New Delhi, India?  Or that a local school system’s achieved learning need not be applicable on the other side of the continent, or in our hyper-connected world across an ocean?

The issue then is, who gets to call out that common set of knowledge by subject matter?  Arguably, the better answer is, the academic human resources that have created and are keepers of contemporary knowledge.  Almost by definition and past failure, that rules out most of the public education bureaucracy, and most of America’s collegiate schools of education, that decades ago eschewed rigorous subject matter content in favor of a deductively self-constructed methods mantra. The self-centric reasons, one might speculate, were to try to differentiate its offerings, professional ego, an attempt to create some product monopoly, and to claim a discipline; legitimate reasons, now being assuaged, are that there was no fMRI, no neural research, no now accumulating knowledge about how learning actually occurs.

CCSSI: A False Flag?

Currently, the soft underbelly of the CCSSI effort was demonstrated by how the “new generation science standards” were evolved.  That is, originally by legitimate scientists, under the auspices of the NSF and the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science, and publisher of the journal Science).  Those standards in the first round emphasized learning progression and in depth understanding of a finite group of basic concepts.  However, when handed off to the common core directorate, they were perverted into fragmented bits of science knowledge, allegedly to support more standardized testing.  Not speculation, this bastardization of the standards was twice publicly protested in lead editorials in Science.  

There is adequate basis for questioning both the standards, and the agenda and ideologies of CCSSI, including inadequate testing of proposals before being mandated by some states, unsurprisingly following the same path taken by testing corporations' early standardized tests.  There is even more risk in the offing if a similar effort is made to manipulate the comparable social science standards, because those standards are “soft,” inviting embedded ideology as opposed to genuine scholarship.


The December 2013 issue of Discover featured an article on STEM, specifically engineering learning applicable to K-12.  It revealed both the potential of good technology learning systems applied in our schools, and the downsides of increasingly discredited fragmented knowledge drill and use of standardized tests to assess.  The model is Christine Cunningham, an education researcher and vice president at the Museum of Science in Boston.   In her words, a forceful argument why present reform and an alleged common core are flawed:

“’The more I watch young children interact with the world around them, the more I am convinced that they are natural engineers,’ she says.”
“But schools are failing to nurture these natural design inclinations. Worse, rigid math- and language-arts-centric curricula can actually educate these engineering tendencies right out of children. The ubiquitous worksheet model asks kids to memorize and regurgitate facts instead of creatively applying those facts to solve problems.”

“'Problem-solving skills should be considered a basic literacy.  Everybody, regardless of whether or not they go on to college or go on to become engineers, needs to know something about how the human-made world that they live in comes to be.  STEM fields are increasingly important to our fast-paced and fast-changing society, but remain underrepresented in schools,’ Cunningham says.”

“Engineering is Elementary provides curricula that teachers can use to work toward the goals set by the Next Generation Science Standards. She and her colleagues have composed interactive lessons that empower kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers to introduce topics that may go beyond their areas of expertise or familiarity.”

“So far, Cunningham’s program has reached 4 million children by introducing engineering concepts through familiar avenues like storybooks.”

Still another straw in the wind is linked here, suggesting that a too frequently somnolent public K-12 establishment, as the saying goes, “needs to get out more,” less a follower, more a leader.

Take Away

A conclusion, that is increasingly hard to refute, as standardized testing advocates (and now “common core” advocacy) reveal both ignorance of our national K-12 learning needs, and dogmatism that seems to trace to more ideological values than intellectual awareness, is that education is in the thrall of the same genre of partisanship that has taken over Congress. 

A timely local example, Ohio’s alleged state board of education, dominated by appointive members, is consumed with advocacy of charter schools versus intelligent assessment and support of Ohio’s public schools.  Reported today, forum confrontations between New York State’s Education Commissioner and New York teachers, that official in effect stating the dogmatic belief that its current course based on standardized testing and the alleged “common core” are appropriate essentially because they had been in place for three years.

With that kind of sophisticated awareness of how K-12 learning happens, and how discovery processes work, K-12 public education doesn’t need more enemies in top-down leadership.  Perhaps the sharpest point, from corporate reform now tumbling down a slippery slope into middle-America’s traditional culturally retro public K-12 systems, is that it may be time to update looking and reading outside the bubbles, and thinking outside the box.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Mile Deep, Part 5: Public K-12 2025

The Model, the Reality

For events and populations that are reasonably stable, and not always in play as a function of multiple societal systems, the standard model for forecasting frequently works to a point.  Define your externalities, concept the mechanisms that link those changes to your subject for prediction, factor in how longitudinal change operates for your target, extrapolate the external factors, and crank out some predictions, along with tolerances.  

Surprisingly, extrapolating what America’s public schools might be able to access in a dozen years is not complex; for most of the technology or structural change that could be in place is either gestational or already in motion. But as it turns out, our public schools prove a dysfunctional target for any standard model.  William Shakespeare eloquently stated our difficulty:  It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.

As the blog transmittal asserted, the zemblanity missile hit home with something of a vengeance, puncturing some better-angels' assumptions.  

The event was an exchange this week with an otherwise apparently intelligent school board member of a large public system in an otherwise education-driven Midwest city, about a defensive, manipulative System-sponsored community conversation on charters. The expectation might be that the properties of present public K-12 reform, on the table and visible for at least most of this century, are recognized and factored into public school board thinking.  The correspondent articulated the following question:  “…what [xyz system] could do to close the gap (perceived or otherwise), and eliminate the need for charters.”  That the question was even asked by a board member of a major system suggests naiveté, or denial, or dissembling that is breathtaking in 2013 and post a dozen years of NCLB.  

One can project a school bus load of meaningful changes in technologies and ways of thinking about U.S. K-12 learning needs and strategies, but all hinge on perceptivity and objectivity of local boards, and public school administrators and teachers in the trenches being able and willing to come to the party.  Self-awareness and objectivity, and our public educational establishment, may have become an oxymoron; in turn, media refusal to address K-12 public education's reality swamp may be as causal as its own shortcomings in inflating the present corporate reform debacles.

Event two was more benign, serendipity, coming upon video of a recent New York Times’ interview with Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, referencing his (and co-author Jared Cohen’s) most recent book, The New Digital Age.  As Google may be its most influential producer and driver, words to heed.  The take-away from the interview – broadly reinforced by virtually every contemporary assessment of technology change by those with that expertise – is that the capacities for agile communication will mushroom over the next decade, applicable to learning, bringing along an unprecedented degree of connectedness.

Invention Versus Retrenchment

A proposition, the sum of what U.S. public schools will reap within the forecast horizon of Part 5’s mission, is that the mass of public K-12 will, by virtue of an assumption of entitlement from near monopoly, and from misreads of learning needs, be subjected to stresses and even challenges to continued dominance of pre post-secondary U.S. education delivery.

While that may provoke indignant protests, it is worth noting that a similar even more radical forecast is being floated for U.S. higher education; that by 2025 25-50 percent of American higher education establishments will be in bankruptcy.  The basis for public K-12 prognostication is that the same core factors will eventually be in play for public schools.

For public K-12, what are the properties that may shape the 2025 future?

Learning, how it happens.  Neural science and research are upsetting most of the deductive modeling of learning that produced pedestrian to just plain wrong educational methods dominating our schools of education.  Not only has public K-12 eschewed these findings, a reactionary component of public education is trying to reassert the approaches, also embedded in the so-called “common core.”

Organization of K-12?  The present model has dominated our schools for a century, even while there have been revolutions in how work is organized.  What is the prospect of sudden realization that current K-12 organization and roles are obsolete?  History suggests probabilities lower than the Tea Party’s sudden endorsement of ACA.

That the socioeconomic and cultural environments that inject a disproportionate share of K-12 learning challenges for children will suddenly reverse and prosper?  All intelligent political and economic assessments suggest that within that horizon, the problem will likely worsen.

Magical transformation of public school teachers?  In spite of some clusters of good to great teachers and competent teaching, unless collegiate schools of education totally retool and dramatically change recruiting, the vision of “Teach for America” may be increasingly expected to dominate K-12 human resource replacement in classrooms that persist as presently configured.

Oversight of our public schools will suddenly become perceptive, visionary, and project critical thinking, as our states massively upgrade how school boards are selected and equipped for their roles?  Roughly on a par with IU’s or Purdue’s 2013 football team winning the BCS.

Technology?  Our education reactionaries scoff, pejoratively viewing ill-informed versions of “computing” as the basis for assessment.  In the meantime, virtually all technologies changing the game in communication and learning are on amazing trajectories, reshaping social exchange of every form, and will continue that course whether public education likes it or not, because quite simply, it doesn’t have a vote.  Complicating the technology variables, public K-12 by virtue of myopia and bureaucratic decision processes, will for that dozen years always be behind the power curve and increasingly obsolete.

An interim view, there appears substantial reason why the mass of present public K-12 education is on a slow-motion collision course with things and processes that are central to accomplishment and sustainability of its normative mission -- while U.S. public education as a class is mired in a bureaucratic dance being conducted on a field of soggy clay.

But a prompt disclaimer, all public systems are not created equal.  Self-evident, but an easy error in judgment when viewing the mass of public K-12 education, is discounting outliers and marginals in a population of 100,000 schools, both the exemplars and the losers; there will be leaders who rise above their indoctrination and push both creativity and rigorous, state-of-art learning, as well as education’s players a couple of sigmas down the quality continuum lacking the needed value systems and ethics to serve.

Forces for Change

Juxtaposed with public education’s change inhibiters are the inventions and developments that will effect K-12 learning into 2025:

Computing:  Because it is high profile, “computing” has to be targeted as critical on the force list.  Noted earlier, computing in our schools generates heated exchanges about its real learning effects.  There is, however, a quixotic quality to the cynics:

A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner, might have been the first to raise the alarm about the effects of information overload. In a landmark book, he described how the modern world overwhelmed people with data and that this overabundance was both "confusing and harmful" to the mind. The media now echo his concerns with reports on the unprecedented risks of living in an "always on" digital environment. It's worth noting that Gessner, for his part, never once used e-mail and was completely ignorant about computers. That's not because he was a technophobe but because he died in 1565. His warnings referred to the seemingly unmanageable flood of information unleashed by the printing press.”

Beyond the ever-present human capacity for skepticism and tunnel vision, the notion of computer (and contrasted with computing) is barely understood in many circles, even or especially in public K-12 education.  Assisting purely neurally-driven human processing of numerical language has some precedents:  The Roman abacus, c. 1400 BC; the Greek Antikythera, c. 150-100 BC; Napier’s demonstration that multiplication and division could be executed with addition and subtraction, 1617; Pascal’s mechanical calculator, 1642; Babbage’s calculator, 1822; ENIAC, an analog computer, 1945; and on. Computing is neither a new addition to human learning, nor one to be easily dismissed as just a “computer.”

To showcase the trajectory of digital technology, the writer’s introduction to hard-wired programmable computing actually occurred with an IBM 407 accounting machine, using punched cards, in 1957.    Between 1958’s IBM 650, with a 2,000 10-digit computer-word drum employing vacuum tubes, and a low end PC or Mac in 2013 with gigabit CPUs, a terabyte of RAM, and as many as eight MP cores operating simultaneously on the same real estate, computing represents a new level of human calculating understanding, driving logical thinking and problem solving, through artificial intelligence, that has changed learning as well as math, science, and all related fields.

Rapidly developing, the combination of miniaturization and mobility has now basically changed communication, therefore by definition, even the way learning occurs.  For now the subject of puns, Google Glass and its likely successors will fundamentally change the way learning can be created and supported.

The flipped classroom.  In a few short years the concept of the flipped classroom – “a form of blended learning in which students learn new content online by watching video lectures, usually at home, and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class with teacher offering more personalized guidance and interaction with students, instead of lecturing” – has taken off in K-12, and demonstrated learning improvements over the traditional “sage on the stage.”  A version of that learning approach, termed “mastery flipped classroom,” goes further, relaxing the arbitrary rigidity of traditional grade band performance limitations, moving students along a learning continuum based on mastery of antecedents of the next level of learning.

The rise of MOOC.  MOOC, or massive open online courses, have created and mastered a major learning curve in opening some of the best of course construction and knowledge dissemination to national audiences, in many cases unencumbered by the bureaucracy and artificial constraints of traditional institutions.  Far from the off-the-grid early sources of mail and distance education, MOOC are being created by America’s best universities, including MIT, Harvard, Stanford, et al.  Still being absorbed by educators reactionary to creative destruction, and even simply change, MOOC are pragmatically reshaping higher education, and beginning to trickle into 9-12 education.  By 2025, the MOOC may have so penetrated the genre that public K-12 will, possibly against its will, be seriously modified.

An attendant development, less heralded than the MOOC, and more esoteric but with great portent, has been the progress in making AI, or artificial intelligence a basis of practical mechanisms for assessment, for example formative assessment.  A link, between online learning and AI, has been quietly developing.  “Big data,” a euphemism for our capability to collect massive amounts of data, literally from the keystrokes of those using online learning, when combined with algorithms that can analyze from the online activity the patterns of learning or difficulties in achieving mastery, can enable guidance mechanisms for improving learning.

It has become axiomatic that public K-12 has been incapable of staying even within contact of these developing methodologies.  Prototypically, public schools’ technologies are obsolete before most are fully installed, and certainly before the costs have been rationally amortized.  Part of this is because IT in most public schools is either obsolete or was never competent.  Part may be no fault, simply that public schools are so wrapped in bureaucratic rules and regulations that they cannot be responsive to either the pace of technology development or the rate at which those learning can assume more of the responsibility for their own knowledge performances.  An argument is that adoption of BYOD, or bring your own device, along with common protocols for software assignment, might be necessary to bring public K-12 up to anything resembling technology currency.

Project- or problem-based learning is not a new learning modality, but has begun to be heard again from the markets for our K-12 graduates.  This pedagogical approach spiked a few years ago, managing installation in public systems that at least had the right instincts for enhancing learning.  However, in parallel there developed a commercialized, for profit version of PBL, both naive and perhaps a case where the cure is worse than the disease.  Systems that lacked the insight to discriminate real constructivism from these near scams installed the curricula, now difficult to shed without the ego-busting exercise of admitting poor decision-making.   A local system is an egregious example of the intellectual faux pas.  The [xyz] system earlier referenced may be an even more flagrant example of 9-12 education fraud.  Flunking execution of the legitimate "New Tech" curriculum model, the system to save face is proffering questionable application-based programs at a high school level that defy higher education competence, shorting its students both an education and awareness of reality in high level practice.

An interesting testimonial to the generic model, however, is linked here.  The source, an effort titled “The Future of Work,” has both academic and private sector credentials.  As those who have peddled the “corporate reform” testing approach to changing public schools begin to realize that its products don’t equip our students as hoped, there may well be a resurgence of interest in reincorporating in curricula legitimate PBL programs and resources capable of executing the approach.  A challenge, and critical issue, a public school’s traditional teaching force is generally incapable of executing the model with validity much less excellence.  Constructivism use implies reinventing some of the traditional approaches to acquiring classroom leadership, an area where both the education establishment and its unions have been too timid or paranoid to go.

Assessment?  Lastly, it is slowly emerging that narrow and stylized standardized multiple choice testing represents the bottom (true-false could be the literal bottom) of the intellectual barrel in assessing learning K-12, all in spite of attempts to dress the model in mathematical and statistical rigor.  GIGO, or garbage in, garbage out, a last century computer anthem is still applicable.  What is slowly emerging is a resurgence of prior work on alternative assessment models that recognize both Gardner’s “multiple intelligence” concepts, and that better reflect genuine understanding and performances along with their application to new situations.  Unlinking some learning from public schools, and pushing for development of alternative assessment models, fit the technology environment Google's Eric Schmidt foresees with some credibility.

The Bottom Line: 2025

There is good reason for questioning Part 5’s target of 2025 for a forecast; that is, that a massive public K-12 system of 100,000 schools and 15,000 boards, in fifty dissimilar states, created and entitled over a century, exhibiting entropy, is not going to be an agile performer.  Perhaps 2025 is the half-life of any change in the venue, but let's go with the original proposition. 

The original question:  What will U.S. public K-12 look like in 2025?

A first proposition is, from high altitude, not very different on the surface than present public K-12.  In a dozen years one can only turn over roughly a third of the human resources that drive a public system, and the vast middle majority of public system mediocrity will still either be just surfacing from denial or still resistant to change.  U.S. public schools will remain:  A fragmented system; suffering the downsides of local control; subject to the differential politicized points of view of our states; lacking a common intellectual model for learning; operating with obsolete organization; and still prone to reclusiveness that evades accountability and censors calls for change.

Second, as forecast by the education cynics on technology, there won’t be a technological renaissance in K-12, but not for the reasons usually advanced.  It will happen because most present public K-12 systems are incapable of both understanding and applying emerging technologies, as well as institutionally because they are computer junkyards rather than the crèche for new applications.

Third, not all of those 100,000 public schools fit the above generally pejorative assessments of K-12 trajectories of human resource management and classroom competence.  There will be a segment of creative systems and leadership with a commitment to change that performs even if it is disruptive.  The serious effect of the contrast between systems that reinvent, and those that won’t, is that over even a dozen years the gap between the performers and the laggards will enlarge.  Present reform efforts may succeed in shoring up some of the floor, but they are counterproductive in raising the ceiling, and offer little chance of reducing public K-12 performance variance.

Four, there appears little optimism that our misdirected schools of education will find their bootstraps even in a dozen years, embedded in higher education enclaves already highly resistant to critique and change.

Five, the rate of change in technology will not abate, may even accelerate with material negative effects on public education, and increasingly bitter debate with its markets and clients who quickly possess and employ far more technology than a public K-12 system can manage.  The bases for this are well defined in the technical literature, highlighting substitutes for silicon that can maintain Moore's Law, while wireless capacities will soar.

Six, the sum of the set pieces, with inertia the primary attribute of the middle majority of our public K-12 schools, the results of the above forces will be:  A slow motion, but pervasive pattern of learning movements simply bypassing public education.  No dramatic changes, but technology becoming fully mobile, MOOC, parental disillusionment, charter nibbling of both enrollments and dollars, teacher sourcing out of traditional channels, all producing even more performance variance across the nation's schools. There will be belated recognition that corporate reform should have begun with school administration/oversight, and ultimately the discovery that double–digit billions of dollars have only nudged school achievement vis-à-vis our international competitors.  With national resistance building to more standardized testing, public education will increasingly be less attacked than written off.  That, in turn, will simply drive  further erosion of confidence in our middle majority public schools, making funding even more contentious, with systems responding by resorting to even more deceptive appeals.

There is by definition no way to anticipate the “black swans” the above muddle invites.  All political forecasts for the U.S. posit continued destructive hyper-partisanship, with its attendant roadblocks to virtually any coherent national initiatives.  A recent study of America’s regions, based on cultures, suggests that we are not the hoped for “great American melting pot,” but eleven near nation-states with highly divergent views on almost every aspect of national policy.  That includes education, hence, an expectation is even more variance geographically in learning performances over that dozen years between politically progressive versus reactionary regions, further embedding partisanship of thinking.

Within some tolerance of the target horizon, the U.S. promises to become a far more do-it-yourself education culture; more learning bypassing school systems, while their roles become more focused and less our nation’s baby sitters.  What appears to be clear, is that public schools as they were constituted in the last century will not return; nor will there be based on entrenched public school attitudes and awareness, anything constituting a K-12 renaissance in learning. 

Reaching for some hope for a U.S. learning future, though a long shot, perhaps the learning modalities exploding with potentials for adult education will assuage public ignorance irrationally demanding local control but simultaneously better and more uniform standards of performance, and contribute to creating better oversight of public schools that has failed worse than the schools?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Mile Wide, A Mile Deep - Part 4: Public K-12 Self-Reform?


The goal of Part 4 is to speculate why our own public K-12 systems have been inhibited in exercising strategic local control of learning, specifically, initiating self-reform that could satisfy various external calls for change.  Offering singular advantage, the capacity to self-reform, replicated enough times in our states, might have circumvented the current corporate reform movement based only on accountability and standardized testing.  As public school history reveals, our schools have been subjected to stubborn roadblocks to internal change.

The Local Decision Environment

If a public school administrator, trained and vetted in line with last century’s K-12 education values and tools, surveys their domain, it looks pretty formidable.  Paper pushing and bureaucracy attributable to both the Federal government (e.g., RTTT) and states’ frequently compromised education departments, may seem overwhelming. 

Add:  The need to achieve on standardized tests to survive states’ grades; perpetually gearing up for the next levy attempt; tolerating boards exhibiting the same “effect” cited earlier; bureaucratic and usually superficial emphasis on the safety of a school's charges over their learning; while simultaneously peddling sports and feel-good programs to assuage parents. The composite may suck up any energy left to think about the mission of education.  Faced with these demands, it is explicable if not noble that performances veer from competent and ethical practice.

It also doesn’t help that in administrators’ training our alleged schools of education are about a half-century or more behind any semblance of professional managerial theory and practice, of contemporary technology awareness, and few administrators have ever acquired real management practice at a high level.  Even basic IT awareness and skills may be missing.  To ice the cake, the vast majority of today’s teachers, as committed as they may be to education and their critical roles in effecting youth performance, wasn’t trained any better than the above administrators, lacking the skills to research and originate classroom learning change.

Lastly, most U.S. school boards are barely aware of the full learning mission at best, many self-centric and self-important with little understanding of the board role, or having chosen that vehicle for public service for reasons that do not reflect public K-12 oversight needs.  In some systems, democratic process has been so suborned that election is a farce, boards manipulating the nomination processes to perpetuate a particular point of view or value set.  Hence, representation of school taxpayers can be in sharp violation of Constitutional spirit.

But altitude improves perspective of the reform gestalt.  Adopt a systems perspective to view top-down present reform strategies and tactics, and the picture is equally flawed but at this point not overly complicated.  At base, the business interests, the testing companies, a Federal function allowed to turn rancid, and Republican-dominated states slavishly pushing extreme reactive buttons are gathered around a simple reform theme – that punishing public education, and hammering the classroom for quantifiable performance and their version of accountability is the only available strategy.  The perverse tactical set that results makes testing the mechanism to improve “learning,” and illogically in an intelligent world of explanation, the same testing becomes the measure of success and accountability. 

Further souring the barrel of rotten reform events, the process since NCLB launched attracted every ideologue with both biases and outsized personal wealth, and/or was an attractor to a small army of operators who saw the reform model as a major opportunity to acquire a fatter pocketbook or some vector of power with its psychic rewards.

Connections:  The Gordian Knot

While present reform is narrowly conceived, even simplistic, and heavy handed, how public schools evolved over 100 years is not so simple.  Public education history has the ambiance of a Russian matryoshka doll, open one and the next item looms, and on.  That evolution reflects complex layers of influences and influencers, many external to the bulk of public education’s principal members, and with diverse motivations.  What does become apparent is that most of public education’s administrators and teachers have been rendered pretty much passive players at the structural level in their own venues by cabals of outside players and government layers.

There have been major, diverse groups and personalities pushing and yanking public education for a century.  Indeed, the forces are so complex, frequently intertwined, that a few paragraphs can’t begin to scope that landscape for local control.  The best available tactic is to identify the broad eras of influence, and invite the reader to explore the supplied links to more history*.  What is clear is that without reading that complex history it is very difficult to explain how public K-12 has unfolded, and why internal change is challenging.

Recognizing that even this simplification leaves complexity, the eras have been designated as:  Empires, late 19th century to WWII; public education’s search for another model, 1950 – 1980; governors and corporations, 1980 – NCLB; post-NCLB, the testing hammer, VAM and CCSSI.

The early public education influence wave forms around 1895 with Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford, and Morgan investing in higher education, then in education for teaching (“to define what teaching should be”), subsequently in a plethora of programs designed to influence public school education.  Ultimately, the Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie Foundations both shielded fortunes from taxation and became the dominant influences on schools via a network of grants that influenced what was studied.  Two other motivations are attributed to this period:  That the combined foundations where at a philosophical level committed to building America’s hegemony in the world, including engineering and managing the social sciences via control of education; and allegedly the motivation was to create industrial workers who could read, write, do simple math, take orders, and buy the resultant products.  A link to America’s K-12 futures was Carnegie Corporation’s funding in 1946 of the Educational Testing Service, subsequently controlling most required tests of U.S. educational performance. 

From 1950 to 1980 as public schools expanded, three themes emerged:  "Do-gooders…sought to expand the role of public education in all aspects of what was once family life, such as instilling moral values, providing health and nutrition, fighting delinquency and crime, and protecting children from physical and psychological abuse;” business groups increased presence, for example, in the wake of Sputnik advocating new math and science learning thrusts; and a third cluster of advocates “…looked to public schools as a key means to accomplishing…political or social objectives, such as racial integration, social tolerance, democratic participation, or environmental awareness."  Toward the end of this period, behavioralism, whole-language reading, mastery learning, and spread of standardized testing blossomed.

It is interesting, perhaps prescient, that only briefly did building a smarter nation show up in the narratives for U.S. public education change.

The 1980s saw commissioning and publication of “A Nation at Risk,” declaring that our public schools were failing: And “Another measure of the failure of public education is that almost all institutions of higher education now provide remedial instruction to some of their students.”  Following ANAR states ramped up teacher and testing programs, curriculum changes, and higher performance standards.  Even President Reagan, who had threatened to eliminate the U.S. Department of education, helped increase new Federal money to public education, especially for needy and minority students.

Notably, the states took on the initiatives, devoting the entire 1986 National Governors Association meeting to education.  Their charge to professional educators:  “We will give up regulating inputs and give you more flexibility and control over resources, in return for your commitment to be held more accountable for results.”

This period prior to NCLB produced three models that at least briefly held some sway:  The business standards-driven model; the educators’ accountability model (advocating “…standards and assessments that would support a thinking curriculum…”); and a political accountability model.  The latter model advocated standards, but paid little heed to the specific character of either the standards or assessments; paramount was being able to use the standards to hold educators accountable.  It is easy to now recognize, even before NCLB and the subsequent decade of test- and VAM-driven assessment, this approach’s trajectory.  Similarly, the NGA’s quest for common standards subsequently resulted in the CCSSI and alleged “common core,” but its provenance and flaws have created strong resistance.  In the end both the first two models either failed or partially failed.  A last thrust in the 1990s is attributable to Lou Gerstner then CEO of IBM.  Dominating a number of state education summits, Gerstner further drove the standards-based movement. 

A writer for The New Yorker summed up the action of the two decades:  “I think it’s wrong to say it’s only coming out of business.  But it is right to say that the most important wholesale reform movement of the last generation in American public education has been imposed on educators from without, rather than having been suggested by them.”

The period since NCLB is recent history, and should be known to readers.  But a major finding from all of the above, especially in the period since 1980, there is no evidence that the sovereignty of public education on the street, the public schools you identify with, were ever simply broadly asked to reach for their bootstraps, and exercise the initiatives to reform themselves.

So the argument comes full circle – is such reform possible, what are the barriers, the external ones, and the internal ones?

External Roadblocks

Lead off with the universality of the need for public K-12 reform.  Business recognizes the need for new work force skills and filling competitive needs.  Governments recognize the need for both economic and social reasons.  There is genuine question whether the totality of our public K-12 establishments recognizes the need, or is in denial, or suffers Dunning-Kruger effect?  Beyond the above, a major inhibiter is our citizenry.  Think of it as the “Lake Wobegon” effect; all of our public schools are above average.  When surveyed, Americans regularly call out for improvements in our system of public schools – however, when asked about their local system, it is always above average to great?  But, if sustainable change must happen from the bottom up, this effect immediately impedes reform.

Next is the sheer convoluted mess of players and funding driving present reform.  Because no one wants to overtly violate the Constitution, the back up position is always, it must be subject to local control.  Ceding some change in the present reform tactics will cost some sales and profits, a consequence that in our present society appears likely to provoke intense dissent and lobbying.  In turn, local school boards have proven generally clueless about the reform need, and rarely field members capable of necessary system revision or innovation.  Clarifying top down roles via a series of national summits, if there was some core of leadership, might address the issue.  Getting the present national competitors designating public K-12 reform to agree on a more compact leadership might not be out of the realm of possibility, but only if the political needs and ideologies were not so deeply entrenched.

Reform of our collegiate schools of education could strategically change the game, but that would have lead times of at least a decade even if the ethics and spirit were present to entice those schools to crawl out of their foxholes.

Rigid rules and regulations for schools imposed by our states block the creativity needed for genuine change; a civil service educator mentality blocks change; the de facto monopoly of public schools suppresses the motivation to reform; centralized decisions at the level of state education boards and bureaucracies inhibit; and the political rhetoric appended to any school change both complicates and inhibits reform.

Teachers’ unions, though they currently have been nearly silent, continue to constrain public school changes in how teachers are hired, compensated, managed, assessed, and when necessary, terminated.  In many cases that occurs only because local schools lacking stomach muscles permit the intrusion, or state policy suffers the same affliction.

Internal Roadblocks

No fault, the problem in school reform is no different than changing the game plan in any private sector organization.  The challenge is to change core organizational constructs without losing a beat in business as usual.  Anyone who has managed at a high level in the private sector for any time recognizes the challenge.  An answer is “says easy, does hard;” that is, a combination of creativity, entrepreneurship, organizational support, and a lot of human resource overtime.   The challenge of achieving that in a public K-12 school model is formidable.  Looking beyond the boundaries of what is conventional, there could be a business case for developing turnkey systems that could be installed in schools in shorter periods, but so far that model hasn’t appeared on this blog’s horizon.  However, there is precedent in the private sector among the world’s best consulting firms.

A lot of fault:  The low awareness about reforms needed among a majority of our public systems; too dug in, too self-righteous, too fearful of disruption, too lazy, too ignorant of contemporary education development, too uninformed about emerging technologies that will change the future classroom, too restrained by incompetent boards, or just too overwhelmed to push the right buttons and accept responsibility for making some mistakes? The latter consequence, by the way, is how creative change works in the real world.

Lastly long overdue, is a remodel of the century-old model of public school organization.  There is now sufficient knowledge about human behavior in groups and collaborative arrangements to design organizations to reflect localized need.  The current public school model is both petrified and a Procrustean Bed for evolving learning models.

An Activist Local School Movement

Not politically correct, but present local school designs of a majority of U.S. systems are obsolete.  Local schools are held in at least mild contempt by our alleged reformers – though they are too hypocritical to transparently put the proposition on the table.  Knowledge of learning, based on evolving neural understanding, not simply the deductive models of last century, can drive better delivery systems for students.  The flipped classroom and online offerings promise even near term to modify how instruction is programmed both physically and by teachers.  Though shorted by the standardized multiple-choice testing craze, there are already working assessment models that obsolete the former in function and validity, but need to be made universally applicable.   It is even possible that revolt at a local level, sufficiently widespread, might drive reform of states' collegiate education school programs before they are eaten alive by versions of “Teach for America” that bypass our traditional schools of education.

A perspective to conclude, that movement is possible.  But it will need to be driven at the outset by:  Rethinking school organization; creating some new combinations of players, for example, collaborations of enough local systems to buffer the risks of changing the game; teams that can be risk-takers, that combine private sector resources and thinking with accomplished public school resources and values; and a change in the underlying practice standards that emphasize risk aversion and being held harmless versus reward for jumping some educational crevasses. 

Part Five - Futures

As old as the hills, the first strategic step in any endeavor after defining the mission is spelling out one’s assumptions about the future and the technologies that will be present.  Part Five will eye the crystal ball, but that is actually pretty much showmanship by the performer.  The technologies that will drive the next decade of K-12 education are already embryonic or launched, and already manifest are the rigidities that circumscribe present public K-12 and that need to be dissolved to change national performance.  The question is; will any of the folks who have to change their points of view and neural processing, to nudge our public K-12 systems to another level, have the discipline to do that research and learning? 

*Appendix:  References

There are volumes that dissect public education’s history, some that become pretty bizarre in developing conspiracy theories about the causation for especially its early history.  Appended is a selective sample of seemingly rational linked references that provides more historical detail, but to do justice to the complex history of public education would require far more extensive study.