Archives for the month of: December, 2019

I just opened my email and discovered this brilliant post by Audrey Watters, whose critical voice on EdTech is indispensable.

Watters lists the 100 biggest EdTech debacles of the past decade, and seeing them all in one place is astonishing.

What strikes me is the combination of unadulterated arrogance (i.e., chutzpah), coupled with repeated failures.

What is also impressive are the number of entries that were hailed by the media or by assorted journalists, then slipped quietly down the drain, without impairing the reputation of the huckster who took the money and ran.

Again and again, we encounter EdTech start-ups and innovations that are greeted with wild acclaim and hype, but whose collapse is ignored as the parade moves on to the next overpromised miracle technology.

Whatever happened to the promise that half of all courses in school would be taught online by this year (false) or that most colleges and universities would die because of the rise of the MOOC (false)? Why do virtual charter schools make money even though they have horrible outcomes for students (lies, lies, lies)?

This post is stuffed with flash-in-the-pan technological disruptions that planned to “revolutionize” education, from K-12 through higher education but then tanked.

Please read it. Share it with your friends and colleagues.

Lessons: Learn humility. Believe in the power of human beings, not machines designed to replace them. Don’t let them sell you stuff designed to control the brains, emotions, and social development of students. Be wary. Be skeptical. Protect your privacy and the privacy of children.

Protect your intellectual freedom.

Read Audrey Watters.

 

 

 

 

I recently subscribed to Garrison Keillor’s daily “Writer’s Almanac.” He sends poems and interesting stories. Here is one from today’s missive:

 

Today is New Year’s Eve, in which the old year is ushered out, and the new one welcomed in, with parties, socializing, and alcohol — often champagne. In the United States, we have a tradition of dropping, or raising, a large object exactly at midnight. The custom of dropping a ball arose out of the time signals given to ships at harbor starting in 1859. A large ball was dropped exactly at one p.m. every day (noon in the United States), so sailors could check their ship chronometers.

The Times Square celebration dates back to 1904, when The New York Times opened its headquarters on Longacre Square. The newspaper convinced the city to rename the area “Times Square,” and they hosted a big party, complete with fireworks, on New Year’s Eve. Two hundred thousand people attended, but the paper’s owner, Adolph Ochs, wanted the next celebration to be even splashier. In 1907, the paper’s head electrician constructed a giant lighted ball that was lowered from the building’s flagpole. The first Times Square Ball was made of wood and iron, weighed 700 pounds, and was lit by a hundred 25-watt bulbs. Now, it’s made of Waterford crystal, weighs almost six tons, and is lit by more than 32,000 LED lights. The party in Times Square is attended by up to a million people every year.

Other cities have developed their own ball-dropping traditions. Atlanta, Georgia, drops a giant peach. Eastport, Maine, drops a sardine. Ocean City, Maryland, drops a beach ball, and Mobile, Alabama, drops a 600-pound electric Moon Pie. In Tempe, Arizona, a giant tortilla chip descends into a massive bowl of salsa. Brasstown, North Carolina, drops a Plexiglas pyramid containing a live possum; and Key West, Florida, drops an enormous ruby slipper with a drag queen inside it.

In Scotland, New Year’s Eve marks the first day of Hogmanay, a name derived from an Old French word for a gift given at the New Year. There’s a tradition at Hogmanay known as “first-footing”: If the first person to cross your threshold after midnight is a dark-haired man, you will have good luck in the coming year. Other customs vary by region within Scotland, but most involve singing and whiskey. Craig Ferguson said Hogmanay “is a time when people who can inspire awe in the Irish for the amount of alcohol that they drink decide to ramp it up a notch.”

Bob Shepherd writes, tongue in cheek:

New Years Resolutions, 2020: A Report from Trumplandia

Peace derives, of course, from within—from detachment of the kind I seek in my daily mindfulness meditation practice. But it’s not about me, never about me. For this reason I shall continue to engage in worldly affairs despite my instinctive, bookish reticence. Nothing’s really changed in my priorities for the new year: we need to meet the needs of the poor. To extend generosity and compassion to immigrants fleeing starvation and violence. To avoid petty infighting among political factions. To strengthen relations with our allies. To protect our environment from pollution and the ravages of climate change. To build more windmills. To correct racial and economic disparities. To make sure the rich pay their fair share. To stand against autocratic despotism around the globe. To protect the rights of our gay, lesbian, and transgender brothers and sisters from narrow-minded, fundamentalist extremism. To take a calm, informed, scholarly, heedful, respectful, and compassionate approach to such issues, which I try to model, of course, for the sake of our children.

–Donald Trump

I think I’ll continue to build on all the goodwill I’ve generated over the past couple years.

–Ghislaine Maxwell

Well, since countries with Medicare for All have HALF the per capita healthcare cost we do and BETTER health outcomes, I’ll continue to fight to make sure that it never becomes law here in America so that the racketeers who run our “healthcare” system can afford to send campaign contributions to me and Pete and to buy their hunting lodges with heliports in Montana while the teeth of older Americans rot out of their mouths and people who have paid into their employer-provided insurance all their lives have their polices cancelled or premiums increased to a zillion dollars a month when they get sick. It’s the American way.

–Status Quo Joe Biden

I’ll have the curly fries. No, the Super Jumbo Ragin’ Cajun Tater Tots.

–Marc Loofaman, Cedar Rapids

I’m committing, this year, to making sure that we do fresh, original, thought-provoking, and culturally important programming. For instance, I’ve got this great idea for a new movie about a group of teenagers who rent a cabin in the woods, only, you see, there is SOMETHING OUT THERE, and then they start disappearing, one by one.

–Reed Hastings, CEO, Netflix

Not sure yet. Awaiting instructions from my handler in Moscow.

–Mitch McConnell

Write “Mr. Shepherd is some kinda pinko libtard snowflake” on a stall wall in the downstairs boyz bathrum. Make fun of the anime drawings by that nerdy girl in English III. Spit down the four stairwells when the hall monitors aren’t looking.

–Kyle Moronis

Post lots and lots and lots of pictures of ME in yoga pants on Instagram and Tik Tok because I’m fabulous that way.

–Rep. Jim Jordan

Sending a fleet to seed the earth with intelligent life for the first time in its history.

–The Zorg, Alpha Draconis System

Send out my annual enormous contribution to the Network for Public Education because kids matter.

–Bill Gates

I don’t know. Flood’s out. Maybe a gamma-ray burst or a plague of Republicans.

–G*D

Thomas Ultican recommends Kochland as far and away the best book of 2019.

He begins:

This may be the finest book thus far in the twenty-first century. Kochland; The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America is the second book by former agribusiness reporter for the Associated Press, Christopher Leonard. His first book, The Meat Racket; The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business received rave reviews; however, Kochland is uniquely special. It is an economic history of America since 1967 that shows the deep changes in our economy that have given rise to a new kind of capitalism. Kochland is told through the lens of Koch Industries whose “annual revenue is larger than that of Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and US Steel combined.”

Leonard weaves an epic tale of brilliance, philosophical intransigence, greed and ruthlessness. Over almost 600 pages, this enjoyable read clearly elucidates many of the troubling outcomes from the last 50 years like the rolling blackouts in California and the destruction of the labor movement.

Fred Koch, the family patriarch, graduated in Chemical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1922. In 1927, he won a patent for an improved petroleum refining process. Do to legal issues surrounding his patent, Fred ended up working in Stalin’s Russia between 1929 and 1932. This experience informed his extreme anti-communist views. He later joined with Robert Welch and a group of businessmen to establish the virulently anti-communist John Birch Society. In 1960, he published the pamphlet “A Businessman Looks at Communism” in which he claimed that the National Education Association was a communist front organization and that public school books were filled with pro-communist propaganda.

In 1961 Fred convinced his son Charles to leave his new job at Arthur D. Little, Inc. and come back to Wichita to work for the family business. Charles went to work there after an impressive career at MIT earning a BS in general engineering 1957, an MS in nuclear engineering 1958 and an MS in Chemical Engineering 1960.

Kochland is also the story of Charles Koch. In 1966, after five years working for his father, he became the CEO of the company then known as Rock Island Oil & Refining Company. After his father Fred died in 1967, Charles took a disparate set of assets – a cattle ranch, a minority share in an oil refinery and a gas gathering business – and stitched them together into the company the family renamed Koch Industries as a tribute to their father. Today it is the second largest privately held corporation in the world. Largest.org lists Cargill, the corporation headquartered in Minnesota and founded in 1865, as the world’s largest privately held company with revenue of $114.7 billion. Koch Industries revenue for the same year came in at $110 billion.

Charles Koch is today worth more than $60 billion, as is his brother’s widow, Julia Flesher Koch.

Couldn’t they just enjoy their riches and leave our institutions and our lives alone?

Why crush democratic institutions like public schools, on which the vast majority of children and families depend?

 

 

 

 

John Merrow writes here about the Governor’s Inaugural Address. It could be delivered in any state. It should be delivered in every state.

It is about the importance of education to creating the future we all hope for.

Read the entire address and email it to your governor. Perhaps he or she will crib a few lines.

Let’s remind ourselves that public education serves an important public purpose.  Yes, of course there is an undeniable private benefit to getting education: children who finish high school and college will earn significantly more over their lifetimes than high school dropouts.  Parents know that, which is why they seek out communities reputed to have ‘the best schools.’

However, in addition to the individual’s private gain, education provides significant public benefits.  Investing in one child’s education helps all of us.

Think about it: Educated citizens have better jobs, pay more taxes, are more likely to vote, get involved in civic life, and work cooperatively with their neighbors.  Educated citizens are less likely to be on welfare, live in homeless shelters, or require public benefits.

It’s a win-win when people are educated.  That’s why we–government–cannot stand by and leave it to parents to see their children get educated. We need to enable, and we need to provide.  And we need to pay the bills!

Let me remind you that, until fairly recently, America understood that. The GI Billpaid for the college education of millions of returning World War II veterans, creating the middle class and the greatest economic boom in history.  In the mid-1960’s generous Pell Grants opened the door to college opportunity for millions of low income young people, creating another economic surge.

But during the Reagan years government walked away from a public commitment to education. Pell Grants were cut.  States cut their commitments to their public colleges and universities. Government began making students borrow for college, rather than using public dollars to help them.  Basically, we swapped grants for loans, and now student debt is over $1.5 trillion!

There have been other harmful changes.  For the past 20 or more years, those controlling public education have emphasized test scores to the detriment of just about everything else.  Adding to those bad policies, two major economic downturns did serious damage to school budgets, harm that most of our communities have not yet recovered from.  School spending here in _______ is down from 2008, just as it is in 31 other states.  And because too much money is being spent on testing and too much time on test-preparation, our young people are not enjoying art, music, drama, physical education, field trips, and other extra curricular activities–all the good stuff that (at least for me) made school enjoyable.

Schools need less testing and more money.  Making that happen will require the courage cited in the ‘Serenity Prayer,’ because we also must change how we pay for schools here in _______.  Back in 1973, the US Supreme Court ruled that education is not a federal constitutional right; it’s the job of individual states to educate its citizens.  As in most states, here in ______ we have passed down the job to cities and towns and let them figure out how to pay for it.

 

I have engaged in a heated exchange off line with people who are upset about taxing billionaires. They feel sure that taxing the 1% or the .00025% is a slippery slope, and soon enough we will all pay taxes so high that we will have to give up our homes.

This is a good time, I think, to revisit Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union Address. FDR came from the landed gentry but he somehow developed an acute social conscience.

Here is an excerpt from that speech, in which he described the “second Bill of Rights,” what he called “an economic bill of rights.”

He said, as he looked forward to the day when the World War came to an end:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

I ask the Congress to explore the means for implementing this economic bill of rights- for it is definitely the responsibility of the Congress so to do. Many of these problems are already before committees of the Congress in the form of proposed legislation. I shall from time to time communicate with the Congress with respect to these and further proposals. In the event that no adequate program of progress is evolved, I am certain that the Nation will be conscious of the fact.

Our fighting men abroad- and their families at home- expect such a program and have the right to insist upon it. It is to their demands that this Government should pay heed rather than to the whining demands of selfish pressure groups who seek to feather their nests while young Americans are dying.

Today, in 2019, how many of those goals have been achieved? 

On a flight yesterday, I watched a documentary that was a biography of Roy Cohn. It is called “Where Is My Roy Cohn?,” a phrase uttered by Trump when he was disgusted by his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who apparently had some scruples about destroying the Justice Department on behalf of the man who appointed him.

The biography is short. The story is compelling. It portrays a man who had absolutely no scruples, no ethical core, no moral values. He was willing to lie, cheat, steal, twist words, anything to win. Winning was everything. He was a closeted homosexual who gleefully collaborated with his mentor Senator Joseph McCarthy to find and expose other homosexuals. He died of AIDS, but never admitted that he had the disease (he preferred to call it “cancer of the liver”).

The loathsome Cohn was Trump’s attorney and his mentor. He defended the Trump Organization against federal charges that the Trumps excluded blacks from their federally-financed housing projects. He helped to prosecute the Rosenbergs and assure that they got the death penalty. He was the chief lawyer for the Mafia and helped many of its leaders avoid long prison sentences. He was disbarred for stealing from his clients.

It is contemporary history. If you can find it online, watch it. It explains a lot about the world we live in now.

Mike Rose opined a few years back about “grit” and its limitations.

This is one of those articles that is never dated.

Rose, one of my favorite authors, writes:

 

In a nutshell, I worry about the limited success of past attempts at character education and the danger in our pendulum-swing society that we will shift our attention from improving subject matter instruction. I also question the easy distinctions made between “cognitive” and “non-cognitive” skills. And I fear that we will sacrifice policies aimed at reducing poverty for interventions to change the way poor people see the world.

In this post, I would like to further explore these concerns—and a few new ones—by focusing on “grit,” for it has so captured the fancy of our policy makers, administrators, and opinion-makers….

Let me repeat here what I’ve written in every other commentary on grit. Of course, perseverance is an important characteristic. I cherish it in my friends and my students.

But at certain ages and certain times in our lives, exploration and testing new waters can also contribute to one’s development and achievement. Knowing when something is not working is important as well. Perseverance and determination as represented in the grit questionnaires could suggest a lack of flexibility, tunnel vision, an inability to learn from mistakes.

Again, my point is not to dismiss perseverance but to suggest that perseverance, or grit, or any quality works in tandem with other qualities in the well-functioning and ethical person. By focusing so heavily on grit, character education in some settings has been virtually reduced to a single quality, and probably not the best quality in the content of character. The items in the grit instruments could describe the brilliant surgeon who is a distant and absent parent, or, for that fact, the smart, ambitious, amoral people who triggered the Great Recession. (Macbeth with his “vaulting ambition” would score quite high on grit.) Education in America has to be about more than producing driven super-achievers. For that fact, a discussion of what we mean by “achievement” is long overdue.

But, of course, a good deal of the discussion of grit doesn’t really involve all students. Regardless of disclaimers, the primary audience for our era’s character education is poor kids. As I and a host of others have written, a focus on individual characteristics of low-income children can take our attention away from the structural inequalities they face. Some proponents of character education have pretty much said that an infusion of grit will achieve what social and economic interventions cannot.

Can I make a recommendation? Along with the grit survey, let us give another survey and see what the relationship is between the scores. I’m not sure what to call this new survey, but it would provide a measure of adversity, of impediments to persistence, concentration, and the like. It, too, would use a five-point response scale: “very much like me” to “not much like me.” Its items would include:

  • I always have bus fare to get to school.
  • I hear my parents talking about not having enough money for the rent.
  • Whenever I get sick, I am able to go to a doctor.
  • We always have enough food in our home.
  • I worry about getting to school safely.
  • There are times when I have to stay home to care for younger brothers or sisters.
  • My school has honors and Advanced Placement classes.
  • I have at least one teacher who cares about me.

My guess is that higher impediment scores would be linked to lower scores on the grit survey. I realize that what grit advocates want is to help young people better cope with such hardship. Anyone who has worked seriously with kids in tough circumstances spends a lot of time providing support and advice, and if grit interventions can provide an additional resource, great. But if as a society we are not also working to improve the educational and economic realities these young people face, then we are engaging in a cruel hoax, building aspiration and determination for a world that will not fulfill either…

Rose notes that the people Angela Duckworth studied were highly successful.

The foundational grit research primarily involved populations of elite high achievers—Ivy League students, West Point cadets, National Spelling Bee contestants—and people responding to a Positive Psychology website based at the University of Pennsylvania. It is from the latter population that the researchers got a wider range of ages and data on employment history…

It is hard to finish what you begin when food and housing are unstable, or when you have three or four teachers in a given year, or when there are few people around who are able to guide and direct you. It is equally hard to pursue a career with consistency when the jobs available to you are low-wage, short-term and vulnerable, and have few if any benefits or protections. This certainly doesn’t mean that people who are poor lack determination and resolve. Some of the poor people I knew growing up or work with today possess off-the-charts determination to survive, put food on the table, care for their kids. But they wouldn’t necessarily score high on the grit scale.

This is a very thoughtful article. I hope you will read it in full.

The Education Law Center is one of the nation’s pre-eminent civil rights organizations committed to improving equality of educational opportunity. It points out in the following release that the charter schools have never signed the legally required contracts to participate in court-ordered universal pre-school programs in the state’s poorest districts, the “Abbott Districts.”

 

December 9, 2019
ELC CALLS FOR END TO SEPARATE CHARTER SCHOOL PRE-K PROGRAMS IN ABBOTT DISTRICTS
Education Law Center is calling for the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) to immediately end the unauthorized practice of allowing charter schools in poor urban Abbott districts to operate separate preschool programs outside the districts’ universal “Abbott Preschool Program.”
The administration of former Governor Chris Christie allowed 10 charter schools in five Abbott districts to operate their own preschool programs, despite not having a contract from the districts to participate in the districts’ universal program, as required by the landmark Abbott v. Burke rulings. In 2019-20, the 10 charter preschool programs enrolled 630 three- and four-year-olds, funded by over $8 million in state preschool aid.
ELC’s December 2019 letter to the NJDOE emphasizes that, under the NJ Supreme Court’s detailed Abbott preschool mandates, only Abbott districts are authorized to offer high quality preschool to all resident three- and four-year-olds through an NJDOE-approved universal enrollment program. While community providers and Head Start are eligible to operate preschool classrooms in Abbott districts, they can only do so under a contract with the districts. The district contract requires strict adherence to teacher quality, class size, and other Abbott preschool standards, as well as enrollment through the district’s universal outreach and recruitment process.
As the Supreme Court has made clear, these requirements are essential elements of the constitutional obligation imposed on Abbott districts to provide high quality preschool to all eligible three- and four-year old children residing in their communities. The districts are mandated to enroll at least 90 percent of the universe of those children. The requirement for community-based providers to operate only under district contracts ensures that only those providers capable of and willing to deliver high quality preschool through district coordination, support and supervision, can participate in the Abbott program.
The NJDOE’s decision to allow the 10 charter schools to operate separate preschool programs not only violates the Abbott rulings and the agency’s own regulations, but also undermines the cornerstone of the nationally-recognized success of the Abbott Preschool Program: a district-supervised, mixed delivery system of early education unifying community-based providers and district classrooms under a common set of high quality standards, backed by adequate funding. This well-established legal and policy framework does not permit any entity, including charter schools, to provide preschool wholly outside of the district-run, universal Abbott program.
“The NJDOE has no authority to permit a charter school to run a parallel preschool program that competes with the district’s Abbott program for students and funding,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and lead counsel in the Abbott litigation. “Charter schools in Abbott districts cannot operate preschool classrooms unless they enter into a contract with the district, as is required of every community-based provider and Head Start program participating in Abbott preschool.”
In 2019-20, the following charter schools are providing preschool without obtaining the legally required contract to participate in the Abbott district program:
In addition to calling for an end to the unauthorized practice of allowing charter schools to operate their own preschool programs, ELC is also demanding the NJDOE immediately notify the 10 charter schools that to continue to provide preschool in the 2020-21 school year, they must secure a contract with their district to participate in the district-wide Abbott preschool program.
Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, ext. 24

California Sunday Magazine published interviews with teachers about their role in striking, walking out, negotiating, bargaining.

It begins:

On February 22, 2018, some 20,000 teachers in West Virginia — many of them wearing red in solidarity — walked out of their classrooms. That April saw strikes in Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma, as teachers vented their collective frustration in what became known as the #RedforEd movement. In early 2019, educators picketed in Oakland and Los Angeles, in districts across Washington state and Oregon, and again in Colorado. And this fall, educators in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, took to the streets.

After years of system-wide underinvestment, educators are pushing back hard. They have married concerns about pay with their ability to adequately educate students . They have made a few gains — one or two fewer students in their overcrowded classes and significant raises in some cases. But many still see a long way to go, and as another election ramps up, the public will have to decide how much these issues matter. In these pages, we hear from teachers who made the decision to walk the picket lines and others who decided to stay put.