Archives for category: Technology, Computers

We have been told that buying a laptop or a tablet for every student is a civil rights issue. Vendors of new technology might find it awkward to make such a claim for their products, but “reformers” do not.

Lest the inevitable technology boosters complain that I am spreading doubt, let me iterate and reiterate that I love technology. Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge its drawbacks.

An article in Scientific American warns, “Don’t Take Notes with a laptop.”

Why? Students using a laptop tend to transcribe the teacher or professor’s remarks verbatim.

“Obviously it is advantageous to draft more complete notes that precisely capture the course content and allow for a verbatim review of the material at a later date. Only it isn’t. New research by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer demonstrates that students who write out their notes on paper actually learn more. Across three experiments, Mueller and Oppenheimer had students take notes in a classroom setting and then tested students on their memory for factual detail, their conceptual understanding of the material, and their ability to synthesize and generalize the information. Half of the students were instructed to take notes with a laptop, and the other half were instructed to write the notes out by hand. As in other studies, students who used laptops took more notes. In each study, however, those who wrote out their notes by hand had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who used took notes with their laptops.”

Why the difference?

“Writing by hand is slower and more cumbersome than typing, and students cannot possibly write down every word in a lecture. Instead, they listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information. Thus, taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy “mental lifting,” and these efforts foster comprehension and retention. By contrast, when typing students can easily produce a written record of the lecture without processing its meaning, as faster typing speeds allow students to transcribe a lecture word for word without devoting much thought to the content.”

A few years ago, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, David Coleman, and a merry band of policy wonks had a grand plan. The non-governmental groups like Achieve, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Coleman’s own Student Achievement Partners would write the Common Core standards (paid for by the Gates Foundation); Duncan would require states to agree to adopt them as a condition of eligibility for a share of the billions of Race to the Top funds at a time when states were broke; the Feds would spend $370 million to develop tests for the standards; and within a few short years the U.S. would have a seamless system of standards and assessments that could be used to evaluate students, teachers, and schools.

The reason that the Gates Foundation had to pay for the standards is that federal law prohibits the government from controlling, directing, or supervising curriculum or instruction. Of course, it is ludicrous to imagine that the federally-funded tests do not have any direct influence on curriculum or instruction. Many years ago, I interviewed a professor at MIT about his role in the new science programs of the 1960s, and he said something I never forgot: “Let me write a nation’s tests, and I care not who writes its songs or poetry.”

So how fares the seamless system? Not so well. Critics of the standards and tests seem to gathering strength and growing bolder. The lack of any democratic process for writing, reviewing, and revising the standards is coming back to bite the architects and generals who assumed they could engineer a swift and silent coup. The claim, often made by Duncan, that the U.S. needs a way to compare the performance of students in different states ignores the fact that the Federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) already exists to do precisely that. In addition, critics like Carol Burris and John Murphy have pointed out that the Common Core tests agreed upon a cut score (passing mark) that is designed to fail most students.

As politico.com reports, support for the federally-funded tests is crumbling as states discover the costs, the amount of time required, and their loss of sovereignty over a basic state function. The federal government pays about 10% of the cost of education, while states and localities pay the other 90%. Why should the federal government determine what happens in the nation’s schools? What happened to the long-established tradition that states are “laboratories of democracy”? Why shouldn’t the federal government stick to its mandate to fund poor schools and to defend the civil rights of students, instead of trying to standardize curriculum, instruction, and testing?

So far, at least 17 states have backed away from using the federal tests this spring, and some are determined not to use them ever. Another half-dozen may drop out. In many, legislators are appalled at the costs of adopting a federal test. Both the NEA and the AFT, which have supported the standards, have balked at the tests because teachers are not ready, nor is curriculum, teaching resources, and professional development.

Time and costs are big issues for the federal exams:

“PARCC estimates its exams will take eight hours for an average third-grader and nearly 10 hours for high school students — not counting optional midyear assessments to make sure students and teachers are on track.

“PARCC also plans to develop tests for kindergarten, first- and second- graders, instead of starting with third grade as is typical now. And it aims to test older students in 9th, 10th and 11th grades instead of just once during high school.

“Cost is also an issue. Many states need to spend heavily on computers and broadband so schools can deliver the exams online as planned. And the tests themselves cost more than many states currently spend — an estimated $19 to $24 per student if they’re administered online and up to $33 per student for paper-and-pencil versions.

“That adds up to big money for testing companies. Pearson, which won the right to deliver PARCC tests, could earn more than $1 billion over the next eight years if enough states sign on.”

One of the two federally-funded testing consortia, PARCC, is now entangled in a legal battle in New Mexico, which was sued by AIR for failing to take competitive bids for the lucrative testing contract. This could lead to copycat suits in other states whose laws require competitive bidding but ignored the law to award the contract to Pearson.

Frankly, the idea of subjecting third graders to an eight-hour exam is repugnant, as is the prospect of a 10-hour exam for high school students, as is the absurd idea of testing children in kindergarten, first, and second grades. All of these tests will be accompanied by test prep and interim exams and periodic exams. This is testing run amok, and the biggest beneficiary will be the testing industry, certainly not students.

Students don’t become smarter or wiser or more creative because of testing. Instead, all this testing will deduct as much as a month of instruction for testing and preparation for testing. In addition, states will spend tens of millions, hundreds of millions, or even more, to buy the technology and bandwidth necessary for the Common Core testing (Los Angeles–just one district–plans to spend a cool $1 billion to buy the technology for the Common Core tests). The money spent for Common Core testing means there will be less money to reduce class sizes, to hire arts teachers, to repair crumbling buildings, to hire school nurses, to keep libraries open and staffed, and to meet other basic needs). States are cutting the budget for schools at the same time that the Common Core is diverting huge sums for new technology, new textbooks, new professional development, and other requirements to prepare for the Common Core.

Common Core testing will turn out to be the money pit that consumed American education. The sooner it dies, the sooner schools and teachers will be freed of the Giant Federal Accountability Plan hatched in secret and foisted upon our nation’s schools. And when it does die, teachers will have more time to do their job and to use their professional judgment to do what is best for each student..

Rocketship charter chain had an audacious plan to enroll one million students nationwide, drawing students from poor and immigrant communities, putting them in front of a computer in large classes, and relying on low-wage (mainly Teach for America) “teachers.” The chain got high scores and began opening charters outside San Jose, California, where it originated, but then something happened that was unexpected. The scores fell.

But now Rocketship hopes to enroll 13,000 students in the next three years.

“We didn’t deliver,” said CEO and co-founder Preston Smith, about disappointing results that led Rocketship to slow its growth. “That’s in response to our own expectations.”

“Primary among its difficulties, Smith concedes, is the failure of an audacious plan to knock down walls and create 100-student classrooms, which Rocketship is abandoning. Rocketship also suffered through a leadership transition after the exit last year of co-founder John Danner, who began a firm to supply software to schools.

“Yet, Smith maintains, “We have really great schools.” He also points to Rocketship’s loyal parents, long waiting lists for its eight Bay Area schools, all in San Jose, and proficiency scores that outshine schools with similar students. Rocketship still envisions tripling in size to 13,000 students in three years.

“Rocketship, Smith said, has been targeted partly because it challenges the status quo.

“Not so, said the network’s leading nemesis. Brett Bymaster, of San Jose, whose successful lawsuit led Rocketship to abandon plans for an already-approved school in Tamien, southwest of downtown. He said he’s most concerned about governance.

“What happens when you have a relatively secretive organization that has an unelected board and has large growth plans?” asked Bymaster, who organized his Tamien neighborhood to oppose a proposed Rocketship school there, filed a successful land-use lawsuit that has slowed the charter network and now runs a “Stop Rocketship” website that has attracted a local and national following.

“He noted that Rocketship reneged on a promise to maintain local school boards and instead consolidated them with the national board. “How do we as a community hold them accountable?”

“Rocketship maintains that its recipe works. Hiring enthusiastic recent grads from top colleges and employing online learning, the brash nonprofit won awards and attracted investment by getting the hardest-to-educate children to score as high as their wealthier peers. Placing children on computers and with non-credentialed tutors for more than an hour a day has saved on teacher salaries.

“The school day, even for young children, is eight hours. Teacher raises depend on test scores.

“Staffers’ long hours, however, are both a key to success and a source of burnout. Current and former Rocketship teachers characterized their workday as 11 to 16 hours, with just five weeks for summer vacation.”

The teacher burnout rate is high. Many find the workload and hours unsustainable. Certainly it is not compatible with a family life. Rocketship depends on a steady supply of low-wage college graduates willing to devote their life to the school until they can’t anymore.

Les Perelman, who was in charge of MIT’sWriting Across the Curriculum program, wrote this opinion piece for the Boston Globe.

Perelman said that student essays written for the PARCC test, created by Pearson, would be scored by computers. Unfortunately, the computer scorers are unable to detect the meaning of language. Instead, they rely on length, grammar, and other measurable elements.

So, he says, the computer would give a high score to this gibberish:

““According to professor of theory of knowledge Leon Trotsky, privacy is the most fundamental report of humankind. Radiation on advocates to an orator transmits gamma rays of parsimony to implode.’’

A human scorer would recognize this as incoherent babble but the computer would be impressed.

He concludes:

“Education, like medicine, is too important a public resource to allow corporate secrecy. If PARCC does not insist that Pearson allow researchers access to its robo-grader and release all raw numerical data on the scoring, then Massachusetts should withdraw from the consortium. No pharmaceutical company is allowed to conduct medical tests in secret or deny legitimate investigators access. The FDA and independent investigators are always involved. Indeed, even toasters have more oversight than high stakes educational tests.

“Our children deserve better than having their writing evaluated by machines whose workings are both flawed and hidden from public scrutiny. Whatever benefit current computer technology can provide emerging writers is already embodied in imperfect but useful word processors. Conversations with colleagues at MIT who know much more than I do about artificial intelligence has led me to Perelman’s Conjecture: People’s belief in the current adequacy of Automated Essay Scoring is proportional to the square of their intellectual distance from people who actually know what they are talking about.”

Columnist Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times explains why the school board did not reappoint Stuart Magruder to the “independent” Bond Oversight Committee: He asked too many questions about why Superintendent Deasy was tapping the school bond fund to buy iPads instead of spending the money as voters intended, for construction and repairs.

Magruder “just had to speak up. The arrogance, the temerity, the insolence. How dare he challenge the leadership of the Los Angeles Unified School District?”

What did he ask that got him bounced?

“There’s not enough space here to itemize all the issues raised at various times by Magruder and other committee members, along with members of the media.

But to name several:

Why iPads versus other, possibly less expensive tablets or laptops?

Why did the need for detached keyboards, at a cost of millions, seem to be such an afterthought?

Why did the district buy software sight unseen and only partially developed?

Why had there been so little teacher training and preparation?

Why so little consideration of who would be responsible for lost and damaged tablets?

And how useful could the tablets be if, by one legal interpretation, students wouldn’t be allowed to take them home each night?

“I’m invested in this,” said Magruder, who has two kids in L.A. Unified and got a first-hand look at the problems when his daughter’s school was included in an early phase of the iPad rollout.

Magruder didn’t find the programming engaging, compelling or linked to a larger curriculum strategy in a way that had been explained to teachers, parents or students.

“Technology doesn’t solve problems unless humans and teachers use it well,” said Magruder, who noted that the software company did manage to neatly promote itself to students with a logo on its programs.

“Not an ‘M’ for math or an ‘E’ for English, but a big ‘P’ for Pearson,” he said.”

The board will reconsider his ouster at its meeting on Tuesday. Here is hoping they restore this watchdog to his role as watchdog.

Please sign this petition calling on the LAUSD school board to re-appoint Stuart Magruder.

Back in 2011, the Florida legislature decreed that every student must pass an online course as a graduation requirement. Was this decision based on research about the value of online learning? No. It was justified as a means of readying all students for an online workplace but there is as yet no solid evidence that students learn better online. Perhaps it was sheer coincidence that the legislature’s mandate coincided with former Governor Jeb Bush’s determination that digital learning was the wave of the future; Jeb launched a national campaign, well funded by the technology industry, to promote digital learning, including a high school graduation requirement to take at least one or two courses online or no diploma. Six states have since adopted Jeb’s propsal and require students to take at least one course online as a graduation requirement. That sold a lot of new hardware and software but there is still no evidence of its necessity or value.

The Orlando Sentinel found that many seniors are familiar with digital technology but they have not met their graduation requirement:

“More than 11,000 Central Florida 11th-graders — about 43 percent of the region’s juniors — have not yet passed an online course, even though they must do that to earn a diploma next year. The class of 2015 is the first to fall under the online-learning requirements the state adopted four years ago.

“Spencer Thompson, 16, met the requirement at his parents’ insistence, but he isn’t surprised many classmates have not.

“I think it’s forcing a lot of kids to do something they don’t want to do,” said the junior at Hagerty High School in Seminole County.

“Some teenagers think they learn better with an in-person teacher, Spencer said, and some have found it a hassle to fit an online course into their schedule. Online courses, he added, are a useful option — he’s taking a virtual math class next year — but shouldn’t be required.”

Now districts are scrambling to find ways to help students meet the requirement for virtual coursework. “Orange, Seminole and Volusia schools next school year will enroll any 12th-grader who hasn’t taken an online class in new “blended learning” economics or government courses.

“These courses will be taught during the school day, with a teacher at the helm, but at least 50 percent of their lessons — enough to meet the state’s requirement — will be delivered via computer. Because economics and government both are required for graduation and typically taken senior year, administrators have a captive audience and a way to make sure students meet the online rule.”

Some students don’t have a computer or Internet access at home. Some prefer face-to-face interaction with a teacher. For a time, students took their drivers education courses online, but “the Legislature later decided that would not count for the graduation rule.

“This year, lawmakers reversed themselves, so if Gov. Rick Scott signs the latest bill, starting in July students can again use an online driver’s education class to help earn their diploma.”

Really, it shouldn’t matter what course the student takes as long as the purpose of the mandate is filled: to divert more public money to private vendors.

In Maine, Jeb Bush’s “Digital Learning Now” campaign stalled when a local reporter wrote an award-winning story about the money trail connecting Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence, the tech vendors, and Maine politicians.

The Los Angeles school board failed to reappoint Stuart Magruder, the appointee of the American Institute of Architects, to its 15-member. Bond Oversight Committee. Magruder was an outspoken critic of Superintendent John Deasy’s decision to use funds from a 25-year bond dedicated to construction and repairs to pay for his purchase of iPads for every student and staff member in the district. The failure to reappoint Magruder set off a firestorm, as he was doing his job, overseeing the use of bond funds. The entire membership of the Bond Oversight Committee signed a letter of protest to the board. Here is a description from Scott Folsom’s blog. He is a member of the Bond Oversight Committee.

ALSO ON THURSDAY, at the Beaudry Boardroom there was bit of dissent about that well-run/voter+taxpayer supported program. The expenditure of those bond funds and all the transperant+accountable oversight was being questioned by the very Oversight Committee the Voters of California and Los Angeles placed to watchdog the process in a Constitutional Amendment, state law, five school bond packages and a Memorandum of Understanding between LAUSD, The Board of Ed and the Oversight Committee. As you read here last week the Board of Ed refused to reappoint a very vocal critic of the superintendent’s iPads effort. A critic, mind you, who had not been successful in quashing the program (and the successful effort to slow the program down was not his alone) – but who had only asked questions about it. Stuart Magruder is one vote and one voice in fifteen – and the Board refuses to re-appoint him.

Magruder’s fiercest critic says that that’s not the reason she led the charge against him – she continues to claim that Magruder’s hidden agenda is to employ architects!

I am just as guilty. I represent an association of parents, teachers and students …and I am big on putting them to work!

NONE OF ANY OF THAT “He Said/She Said” MATTERS. What matters is that a three vote minority of Boardmembers wishes to create a more agreeable Bond Oversight Committee …as in “agrees with them”. When an elected body appoints the folks in charge of overseeing their actions we can toss out any concept of Independent Oversight. We become the LAUSD School Construction Bond Citizen’s Lapdog Committee. We become Monica+ Tamar+ Dr. V+C’s poodles. I don’t think so.

►LETTER: May 29, 2014

Los Angeles Unified School District
333 South Beaudry Avenue, 24th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Dear Board Members:

We, the undersigned members of the LAUSD School Construction Bond Citizens’ Oversight Committee (BOC), urge you to reappoint Stuart Magruder as the representative of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA/LA) on the BOC.

Mr. Magruder has been properly nominated by the AIA/LA for reappointment and, under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding (§3.1.8) between the District and the BOC, the Board should reappoint him without hesitation.

Independence of the Bond Oversight Committee is vital to its proper function.

Disagreement with the comments, questions, and votes of a duly appointed member is NOT a valid justification for the Board to refuse to re-appoint that member when they have been properly re-nominated by a designated stakeholder organization. Stated simply, Stuart Magruder should be reappointed as the AIA/LA representative on the BOC as soon as possible.

[This was signed unanimously by the Oversight Committee at Thursday’s meeting.]

Did/will the Wall Street Bankers and Credit Raters note any of this?

What do you think?

LAUSD is sitting on the potential of selling $7+ billion in bonds in the future. We+the market-makers also know LAUSD has $30 billion in identified infrastructure+repair need. Eventually the District will need to go back to the voters …and the grassroots groundswell seems increasingly opposed. In 2012 this regime didn’t dare place a $255 million parcel tax on the November ballot …not just out of fear of defeat – but out of fear it would taint everything else on the ballot.

Caitlin Emmaof Politico.com paid a visit to Finland and was surprised to discover that teachers are not depending on educational technology. By contrast, American schools are spending billions of dollars on tablets, laptops, and other devices.

She writes:

“Finnish students and teachers didn’t need laptops and iPads to get to the top of international education rankings, said Krista Kiuru, minister of education and science at the Finnish Parliament. And officials say they aren’t interested in using them to stay there.

“That’s in stark contrast to what reformers in the U.S. say. From President Barack Obama on down, they have called education technology critical to improving schools. By shifting around $2 billion in existing funds and soliciting $2 billion in contributions from private companies, the Obama administration is pressing to expand schools’ access to broadband and the devices that thrive on it.

“School districts nationwide have loaded up students with billions of dollars’ worth of tablets, laptops, iPods and more on the theory that, as Obama said last year, preparing American kids to compete with students around the globe will require interactive, individualized learning experiences driven by new technology.”

(Since the research on the benefits of technology is sparse, it is likely that the heavy U.S. investment in technology is driven by something other than research.)

The Finnish secret: recruiting excellent students into the teaching profession, which is respected and prestigious; according the teachers professional autonomy; working closely with the educators’ union to promote better education; no standardized testing until the end of high school; no charters; no vouchers.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/05/finland-school-system-107137.html#ixzz332KBNyYL

When I first learned that Superintendent John Deasy planned to spend as much as $1billion to equip everyone in theLos Angeles school district with iPads for Common Core testing, I was amazed that the district could afford such a large expenditure. Then I learned from reading Howard Blume in the Los Angeles Times that TE district would pay for the iPads from a 25-year construction bond fund approved by the voters who thought they were paying for the construction and repair of public schools. I was shocked. I wondered if anyone cared. The useful life of the iPad was probably 3-4 years. How could the money come from the construction bond, and would there be money to build nd repair schools if it was used for short-term technology purchases.? Would voters support future bonds if their purpose was so easily ignored?

It turns out that one member (perhaps not the only one) did care, and that was Stuart Magruder. He is an architect, and he was a member of the district’s Bond Oversight Committee. he was doing his job. For daring to ask questions and be a critic, the LAUSD board failed to renew his appointment. He was ousted.

For his courage and integrity on behalf of the public interest, he is a hero of American education.

The new frontier of education consists of figuring out a way to cut costs. Or, failing that, figuring out a way to make money for investors while laying off teachers.

That brings us to the subject of computer-graded essays. Think of the savings if a computer can grade essays so teachers can do something else or be laid off!

Anthony Cody learned of a professor at MIT, Les Perelman, who has figured out why computers are really very bad substitutes for human beings.

“As our government agencies and various reform efforts seek to shift high stakes testing away from multiple choice questions, there is growing interest in computer programs that can read and score student essays. But questions persist, given the limitations of the algorithms these programs use.

“So Mr. Perelman has done an experiment. He created something he calls the Basic Automatic BS Essay Language Generator, BABEL for short. During his interview with Carol Off, Perelman fed his machine a topic she suggested, “Fair Elections Act.”

Here is what the BABEL machine provided in response:

Fun fair for adherents and presumably will never be altruistic in the extent to which we purloin the analysis. Fair is the most fundamental postulate of humankind. Whiner to act in the study of semiotics in addition to the search for reality. Act is intrepidly and clandestinely axiomatic by most of the scenarios. As I have learned in my semiotics class, act is the most fundamental exposition of humanity.

“Mr. Perelman then submits this essay for grading. The result, a score of 5.4 out of 6, placing this essay in the 90th percentile.

“Perelman explains his purpose:

“I did this as an experiment to show that what these computers are grading does not have anything to do with human communication. If you think about writing or any kind of human communication as the transfer of thoughts from one mind to another mind, then if the machine takes something that anyone would say is complete incoherent nonsense, and scores it highly, and we know that it’s not, then we know that it’s not grading human communication.”

Students will quickly learn how to game the system instead of learning how to write intelligibly. Use big words and long sentences. Impress the machine. Meaning doesn’t matter.

This is our Brave Néw World, a world of high-scoring gibberish.

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