Archives for category: Technology

Tom Ultican worked in technology before he became a teacher of advanced mathematics and physics in a California high school. He is now retired. Like many other people, he thought that the social isolation of the pandemic and the mental health problems it generated among young people would have dimmed the allure of EdTech.

But the Educational Testing Service and the Carnegie Corporation have latched onto EdTech as the future of education. And Ultican says they are promoting a zombie idea, that is, a policy that has failed and failed yet never dies.

He writes:

Educational Testing Service (ETS) and Carnegie Foundation are partnering to create assessments for competency-based education, claiming it will revive the zombie education policy tainted by a five decade record of failure. The joint announcement was made at the April 2023 ASU+GSV conference in San Diego with Bill Gates as the keynote speaker. Ultimately, it was to make the Orwellian-named “personalized learning”viable for issuing digitally earned certifications.

ASU is Arizona State University and GSV is the private equity firm, Gold Standard Ventures. GSV advertisesThe sector’s preeminent collection of talent & experience—uniquely qualified to partner with, and to elevate, EdTech’s most important companies.” It profits from the corporate education ideology that holds job training as the purpose of public education….

The 1970’s “mastery learning” was detested and renamed “outcome based education” in the 1990s. It is now called “competency based education” (CBE). The name changes were due to a five-decade long record of failure. CBE is a move to use “mastery learning” techniques to create individualized certification paths. However it is still the same mind-numbing approach that the 1970s teachers began calling “seats and sheets….”

Unfortunately the potential for large profits is huge and serially failed education policies are zombies that will not die….

Renewed neoliberal effort to revive CBE now has new players seeking to be big contributors while old hands are filling leadership roles. For example, at the best-known new group called Mastery Transcript Consortium, board member, Tom Vander Ark, the former education director at the Gates Foundation 1999-2006 remains engaged in pushing edtech.

There is very little real change. CBE continues to put kids at computers learning scripted chunks of information and testing for mastery, promising to increase edtech profits and reduce education costs especially teacher salaries. It is awful education and the children hate it.

Just because “children hate it” is not a good reason to axe a zombie idea.

Ultican writes that machine learning can never be authentic education. Students want to interact with teachers and other students.

To me, the biggest problem is that “mastery learning” is proven lousy pedagogy that is unaligned with how learning happens.

In his book Soka Education, Daisaku Ikeda writes,

“Recognizing each student as a unique personality and transmitting something through contacts between that personality and the personality of the instructor is more than a way of implanting knowledge: it is the essence of education.”

Socrates likened this education process to being“kindled by a leaping spark” between teacher and student. CBE, “mastery learning,” “outcome based education” or whatever name is given to teaching students in isolation is bad pedagogy, bordering on child abuse.

Open the link and keep reading for the latest venture into the bold old world of EdTech.

Dr. Geoffrey Hinton, widely credited as the “godfather of artificial intelligence,” quit his job at Google and let the world know that he regrets what he launched. where once he thought that AI had great potential to improve our lives, he now worries that it might be a grave danger to human civilization.

The New York Times reports:

Geoffrey Hinton was an artificial intelligence pioneer. In 2012, Dr. Hinton and two of his graduate students at the University of Toronto created technologythat became the intellectual foundation for the A.I. systems that the tech industry’s biggest companies believe is a key to their future.

On Monday, however, he officially joined a growing chorus of critics who say those companies are racing toward danger with their aggressive campaign to create products based on generative artificial intelligence, the technology that powers popular chatbots like ChatGPT.

Dr. Hinton said he has quit his job at Google, where he has worked for more than a decade and became one of the most respected voices in the field, so he can freely speak out about the risks of A.I. A part of him, he said, now regrets his life’s work…

Dr. Hinton’s journey from A.I. groundbreaker to doomsayer marks a remarkable moment for the technology industry at perhaps its most important inflection point in decades. Industry leaders believe the new A.I. systems could be as important as the introduction of the web browser in the early 1990s and could lead to breakthroughs in areas ranging from drug research to education.

But gnawing at many industry insiders is a fear that they are releasing something dangerous into the wild. Generative A.I. can already be a tool for misinformation. Soon, it could be a risk to jobs. Somewhere down the line, tech’s biggest worriers say, it could be a risk to humanity…

After the San Francisco start-up OpenAI released a new version of ChatGPT in March, more than 1,000 technology leaders and researchers signed an open lettercalling for a six-month moratorium on the development of new systems because A.I. technologies pose “profound risks to society and humanity.”

Several days later, 19 current and former leaders of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, a 40-year-old academic society, released their own letter warning of the risks of A.I. That group included Eric Horvitz, chief scientific officer at Microsoft, which has deployed OpenAI’s technology across a wide range of products, including its Bing search engine.

Bill Gates, as is well known, is an expert on everything. The media breathlessly reports his thoughts on every subject, assuming that he must be as smart as he is rich. And he is very, very rich.

He predicts that in eighteen months, artificial intelligence will be sufficiently developed to teach reading and writing more effectively and at less cost than a human. this far, none of his educational predictions and initiatives have succeeded, so we will see how this works out.

Soon, artificial intelligence could help teach your kids and improve their grades.

That’s according to billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who says AI chatbots are on track to help children learn to read and hone their writing skills in 18 months time.

“The AI’s will get to that ability, to be as good a tutor as any human ever could,” Gates saidin a keynote talk on Tuesday at the ASU+GSV Summit in San Diego.

AI chatbots, like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, have developed rapidly over the past several months, and can now compete with human-level intelligence on certain standardized tests. That growth has sparked both excitement over the technology’s potential and debate over the possible negative consequences.

Count Gates in the camp of people who are impressed. Today’s chatbots have “incredible fluency at being able to read and write,” which will soon help them teach students to improve their own reading and writing in ways that technology never could before, he said.

“At first, we’ll be most stunned by how it helps with reading — being a reading research assistant — and giving you feedback on writing,” said Gates….

It may take some time, but Gates is confident the technology will improve, likely within two years, he said. Then, it could help make private tutoring available to a wide swath of students who might otherwise be unable to afford it.

That’s not to say it’ll be free, though. ChatGPT and Bing both have limited free versions now, but the former rolled out a $20-per-month subscription plan called ChatGPT Plus in February.

Still, Gates said it’ll at least be more affordable and accessible than one-on-one tutoring with a human instructor.

“This should be a leveler,” he said. “Because having access to a tutor is too expensive for most students — especially having that tutor adapt and remember everything that you’ve done and look across your entire body of work.”

Someone will make money, that’s for sure.

Tom Ultican left a STEM career to teach high school physics and advanced mathematics in California. Since his retirement, he has become a crack investigator of scams in education.

His latest deep-dive into dirty deals, unsurprisingly is in Texas, where state officials are quietly steering major contracts to a Laurene Powell Jobs company called Amplify.

Amplify is a tech company that delivers instruction online. It was created by a tech company in Brooklyn to meet the needs of the New York City public schools when Michael Bloomberg was mayor and non-educator Joel Klein was chancellor of the schools. When Klein resigned, he persuaded Rupert Murdoch to buy Amplify for $500 million, and he became CEO.

Amplify developed software for its curriculum, and it sold both its own tablets and software. Launched with a bang, it soon imploded due to problems (the tablets sometimes spontaneously combusted), and sales never took off. Murdoch decided to sell it and write off a loss of $371 million.

Now we know that billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs owns Amplify, and the company is very cozy with the Texas Education Agency. Amplify is back with its plans to digitize and standardize instruction.

Tom Ultican begins:

In March, the Texas house of representative’s education committee introduced House Bill 1605. Chairman Brad Buckley from Killeen was lead sponsor and 25 other members are listed as co-sponsors including one Democrat. The actual author of the bill and who if anyone paid for it to be written is not known. The legislation creates two major changes. It transfers purchasing power from the state education board to State Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and it opens the door for Laurene Powell Jobs’ Amplify to control instructional materials for the Foundation School Program.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) explains,

The primary source of state funding for Texas school districts is the Foundation School Program (FSP). This program ensures that all school districts, regardless of property wealth, receive ‘substantially equal access to similar revenue per student at similar tax effort.’”

Foundation curriculum includes the list of the big four subjects mapped out by the TEA curriculum division.

English Language Arts and Reading
Social Studies

The material is to be delivered using open education resources (OER). This means the content deliverance via interactive electronic screens. Districts will have the right not to use the curriculum however the structure of HB 1605 bribes them to employ it.

Under this new legislation, the state of Texas is contracting with Amplify to write the curriculum according to TEA guidelines. Amplify will also provide daily lesson plans for all teachers. The idea is to educate all Texas children using digital devices and scripted lesson plans while teachers are tasked with monitoring student progress.

Senate bill 2565 is the companion legislation. The language of neither HB 1605 nor SB 2565 mention Amplify. However, during the senate education committee public comments period on SB 2565 it was revealed that TEA had already given Amplify a $50,000,000 pandemic contract. When witnesses referenced Amplify as the purported contractor, senators did not push back and the only company the Senators spoke about themselves was Amplify. So it is clear that it will be Amplify and some people in the know believe Commissioner Morath has already made a deal with the company.

Please open the link and read on. Amplify is not only risen from the ashes, but it’s on the road to profiting by the creation of a teacher-proof curriculum.

One of my personal heroes is Yong Zhao, a Chinese-American scholar from whom I have learned much about education. I first met him through his writings, which are informative and provocative. Over the years, I met Yong at conferences, and we became friends. Not long after Anthony Cody and I created the Network for Public Education, we invited Yong to be the keynote speaker at our annual meeting in Chicago. He was a sensation. He had no prepared speech, but he did have a computer loaded with images. As he flashed from one image to another, he told a coherent story that was both based in scholarship, personal, and uproariously funny. When I created a lecture series at Wellesley College, I invited him to speak, and he again gave an informal talk that was illuminating, authoritative, and delivered with grace and humor.

I reviewed one of his books—demystifying the myth of Chinese super-schools—in the New York Review of Books.

I recently learned that Yong Zhao collaborated with Bill McDiarmid of the University of North Carolina to tell the story of Yong’s life. I remember his telling jokes about his impoverished childhood in a rural village and the unlikely trajectory of his life. He explained with a smile that he was too small and scrawny to plow the fields with a water Buffalo, so he was allowed to go to school instead. If you read the excerpt from the new book, you will see that this was no joke.

This is a column in Valerie Strauss’s blog, The Answer Sheet, at the Washington Post. She excerpted a part of a new book about Yong’s life.

Valerie Strauss wrote:

This is an excerpt of a new book, “Improbable Probabilities,” about and co-written by Yong Zhao, whose unlikely story starts in a village in China during the disastrous 1966-76 Cultural Revolution and takes him to a renowned career in academia. An internationally known scholar, author and speaker, Yong’s research and work has focused on how globalization and technology affect education. He has also been a prominent critic of school reform efforts in the United States that rely on high-stakes standardized tests and look to China — whose students excel on these tests — as a model. He has written for The Answer Sheet over the past decade on this and other topics.

In telling Yong’s story and why he consistently challenges conventional wisdom in education, Yong and co-author G. Williamson McDiarmid look at what factors are needed for success and how “forces outside human control play an essential role in the unfolding of human life.” I am publishing this because I think it offers valuable insights into what leads to success in school and in life.

Yong has written some 30 books, which education historian Diane Ravitch once said were “saturated with remarkable scholarship and learning,” and he has done extensive work in creating schools that promote global competence and language-learning computer games. He is now professor of education at the University of Kansas, as well as professor of educational leadership at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education in Australia.

Yong has taught at other schools, including the University of Oregon, where he was presidential chair and director of the Institute for Global and Online Education in the College of Education, and a professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy, and Leadership. He was previously university distinguished professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University, where he was founding director of the Office of Teaching and Technology and the U.S.-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence, and executive director of the Confucius Institute. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Education and elected fellow of the International Academy for Education.

McDiarmid is dean and alumni distinguished professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and distinguished chair of education at East China Normal University in Shanghai.

This is part of the introduction of the book:

Too often, the lives of people who have climbed out of dire circumstances and subsequently left their mark on the world are portrayed as miracles of the human spirit or valorized as the main character of a rags-to-riches tale. Such narratives perpetuate the idea that only extraordinary individuals succeed against overwhelming odds; they focus on the individual qualities that led to a person’s success while downplaying the circumstances that contributed to their success. Even less often is chance or luck assigned a major role in these success stories.

In 2018, scholars Alessandro Pluchino, Alessio Emanuele Biondo, and Andrea Rapisarda set out to investigate the “largely dominant meritocratic paradigm of highly competitive Western cultures [that] is rooted on the belief that success is due mainly, if not exclusively, to personal qualities such as talent, intelligence, skills, smartness, efforts, willfulness, hard work or risk taking.”[i] They conclude that, while talent contributes to a person’s success, it’s not the most talented people who are most successful; mediocre people who get lucky often surpass talented people.[ii]

So, what’s really going on? Evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin suggests that forces outside human control play an essential role in the unfolding of human life; if we wish to understand living things, we must see that genes, organisms, and environments (Lewontin’s triple helix) are not separate entities.[iii]. Observers may attribute individuals’ successes to their genes or to their environment – or the interactions of these factors. Lewontin argues that a critical third strand must be included if we are to understand how people’s lives unfold: chance.[iv] The American myth of rugged individualism (the belief that humans succeed against heavy odds solely through their individual talent, determination, and intelligence) obscures the role that the interaction of genes, environment, and chance play in shaping a person’s path to success or failure.

In what follows in this chapter, we examine the roles that these three factors played in determining Yong’s improbable path. We start with the role that chance events play in all aspects of our daily lives. We then describe some of the chance occurrences that helped shape Yong’s life. We consider how Yong’s unfavorable environment offered him, paradoxically, opportunities to develop his interests and abilities. We also examine the role that Yong’s personality traits may have played in his taking advantage of those opportunities. We conclude with an overview of the book.

Chance Encounters

Rags-to-riches and rugged individualism narratives ignore the fact that contingencies play a determinative role in individual success. Challenging these myths, Historian John Fea writes about the role contingency plays in events and people’s lives:

Contingency is . . . at odds with other potential ways of explaining human behavior in the past. Fatalism, determinism, and providentialism are philosophical or religious systems that teach that human behavior is controlled by forces—fate, the order of the universe, God—that are outside the control of humans. . .. [I]t is undeniable that we are all products of the macrolevel cultural or structural contexts that have shaped the world into which we have been born. Karl Marx suggested that human action is always held in check by “the circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past.” It is unlikely that any proponent of contingency would deny that human behavior is shaped by larger cultural forces, but in the end, historians are in the business of explaining why people—as active human agents—have behaved in the past in the way that they did.[v]

Fea uses the example of the Union army’s victory at the Battle of Antietam during the U.S. Civil War that turned the conflict in favor of the Union (at the cost of 6,200 casualties).[vi] Prior to the battle, a copy of General Robert E. Lee’s battle plans fell into the hands of the Union command purely by chance. Fea quotes fellow historian James McPherson, who wrote that the “odds against the occurrence of such a chain of events must have been a million to one . . . yet it happened.”[vii]

Many of us are uncomfortable with the idea that chance occurrences have significantly shaped the world in which we live. We prefer to believe that there is a grand plan, that “everything happens for a reason.” The idea that success is not simply a function of our hard work and talent and that chance plays a significant role in how our lives unfold challenges both culturally imbedded beliefs as well as our sense of control over our destinies. Sociologist Duncan J. Watts points out that:People observe unusually successful outcomes and consider them as the necessary product of hard work and talent, while they mainly emerge from a complex and interwoven sequence of steps, each depending on precedent ones: if any of them had been different, an entire career or life trajectory would almost surely differ too.[viii]

Let’s examine some of the chance events that, had they turned out differently, would have changed the course of Yong’s life. Of particular interest are random circumstances, events, or encounters that could have been debilitating yet, somehow , moved Yong down the path to success.

• Historical moment:

Yong was born between two events that killed millions of Chinese—the Great Leap Forward and the Great Cultural Revolution (see the Preface). Social chaos, political uncertainty, internecine conflict, and continuing depravations characterized this period. A boy born in an obscure village to the lowest class of peasants, Yong was in a vulnerable position. If he had been born earlier, he might have died of starvation, malnutrition, or disease. If he had been born later, he might not have had the opportunities that opened to him as a member of the lowest peasant class under the reforms of Chinese communist leader Deng Xiaoping (page XX).

• Family:

Yong had the good fortune to be born into a family that placed no expectations on him, loved him, and allowed him to pursue his own path. Although illiterate, the family saw the value of schooling for Yong, especially as his poor health and corporal weakness made him ill-suited for manual labor. They supported him in whatever way they could as he worked his way up the educational system and allowed Yong to decide for himself how to live his life. If he had been born into another family, Yong might have faced familial expectations for what he should do and what he should become, which was common among his peers. He might also have been subjected to the physical and verbal abuse that undoubtedly left many children with physical and emotional scars.

• Schooling: Despite woeful conditions, Yong managed to succeed in school when no one else from his village did. He benefitted from a few teachers who recognized his potential and found ways to help him. He also benefitted from Mao’s educational reforms, which opened more opportunities for learning and brought experienced teachers to rural China (page XX). If he had not had the teachers that he had, gained access to Mao’s reformed school system, and learned English instead of Russian (the required second language until the early 1960s), his path might have been very different.

• Higher education: Because his university career was delayed for a year due to his small stature, Yong qualified for a newly created English teacher-training program at the Sichuan Foreign Language Institute (SFLI), the flagship university for foreign language education and information in southwest China. The program covered student tuition and fees and offered access to a much wider world, including a bookstore that sold English-language books, journals, and magazines. Yong’s success in computer and pedagogy courses earned him a spot on a research team, where he taught himself coding and statistics and wrote a program to analyze the survey data. If Yong had not been malnourished, he might have entered higher education the year before the English-teacher training program was created. If he had not been able to take and succeed in courses in computing and pedagogy, he might not have come to the attention of his professors or earned a spot on the research team.

This is, of course, a highly condensed account of a few of the chance events and contingencies Yong experienced in the first 25 years of his life. Each of us could chronicle our life in a similar way, identifying myriad random events, occurrences, encounters, and people that nudged us this way and that.Along the way, chance events shape our environment to create unforeseen opportunities. Do we recognize opportunities? Do we take advantage of them? Let’s examine some of the factors in Yong’s environment that influenced his ability to capitalize on opportunities and embark on a path to success.

Environmental Factors

Yong’s life illustrates how random events create unique and unforeseen paths. Changes in our environment present us with opportunities. Changes cause disequilibria that people, if they are ready, can exploit. What factors in Yong’s environment shaped him throughout his life?

• Yong’s father’s influence: Yong’s father was the most influential person in his early life. He was loving and caring toward Yong, allowed him the freedom to explore his interests and passions, and modeled an entrepreneurial approach to embracing opportunities rather than settling for the status quo.

• Village life: Life in Yong’s village was almost exclusively focused on survival. As members of the peasant class, villagers were fully occupied with feeding, clothing, and sheltering themselves just as their ancestors had done for thousands of years. Given this survivalist mentality, villagers did not judge how Yong spent his time, his chosen career path, or his adherence to social norms.

• Positive teacher relationships: Yong had teachers who noticed his unique academic gifts and sought to encourage and mentor him, opening doors for him into higher education.• Chinese education: Historically, the Chinese have seen education as a means toa career (preferably as a government official), prizing obedience to authority and rote memorization over all else. Student autonomy and critical thinking were typically punished. thus perpetuating a culture of student apathy, acquiescence to authority, and conformity. As a result, Yong’s penchant for creative thinking, risk-taking, innovation, and love of learning for its own sake made him an outlier who was unusually attuned to opportunities that others missed.

• Global perspective: As an adult, Yong traveled widely, developing friendships and collaborations with people from many different countries, As a result, he recognizes that no single culture or ethnicity can claim to be the bearers of “the truth” and that contributions to solving global problems can come from anyone.

Every person, even siblings in the same family, encounters a different set of environmental factors shape who they are and offer various opportunities. This is an experience common to everyone. The difference is that some people recognize opportunities while others don’t. Some people jump at the chance to walk through an open door while others hold back or turn away. Why was Yong able to recognize and take advantage of opportunities when many around him did not? Part of the answer to this may lie with his personality traits.

Influence of Personality

Research on the recognition of opportunities has focused almost entirely on entrepreneurial opportunities and the characteristics of those who seize on what appear to be promising opportunities. Most of the factors that researchers have identified and explored, such as social capital and prior knowledge of a given business sector, seem unhelpful in understanding Yong’s ability to recognize opportunities.[ix]

However, one vein of research—focused on the psychological and cognitive factors that help explain the phenomenon—may help us understand Yong’s eye for opportunity. Researchers have found that personality traits play a vital role in a person’s ability to recognize and capitalize on opportunities.[x], [xi], [xii]

Researcher Scott Shane and colleagues conclude: “Genetic factors account for a large part of the variance in opportunity recognition by influencing the probability that people will be open to experiences.”[xiii] This research speaks to Lewontin’s formulation, supporting the idea that genes interact with both the environment and chance. Is it possible that certain personality traits could tip the scales, could increase the probability that some people are more likely than others to encounter promising opportunities?

Researcher Richard Wiseman became curious about this very question. Why do some people seem to be luckier than others?[xiv] Speculating that luck might not be totally random, he conducted several studies to learn more about what lucky people have in common and why they differ from those less lucky. When he studied the underlying dimensions of personality that psychologists had identified as universal, he found that luckier people shared four of the “Big 5” personality traits: extroversion, neuroticism, optimism, and openness.[xv] How did these traits seem to play out in Yong’s life?

• Extroversion: Evidence of Yong’s extroversion includes his wide circle of friends across the globe and the numerous (over 100 annually) invitations he receives to speak to business, educational, and governmental audiences. This speaks not only to the value others find in his ideas but also to his inherent likeability and the genuine pleasure he takes in meeting and talking with others, especially those whose backgrounds differ from his own.

• Optimism: Despite the harsh conditions of his upbringing, Yong consistently expects good fortune.[xvi] He has an unflagging belief that if a door closes or an opportunity doesn’t pan out, something else will emerge.

• Neuroticism: Wiseman notes that lucky people have “a relaxed attitude toward life.”[xvii] The less anxious we are, the less absorbed we are in worrying about what others think of us, the more attention we can focus on our environment and, therefore, the more likely we are to see opportunities. Despite his full schedule, Yong seems relaxed whatever the situation. This is rooted, in part, in his wealth of experiences. Across his life, he has faced many adversities, and yet, he has not only survived but thrived.

• Openness: Being open to new experiences or embracing a sense of adventure means that when opportunities do arise, lucky people tend to seize them. Research suggests that openness is moderately associated with intelligence and creativity.[xviii] Because Yong remains open to new and novel experiences, he embraces and thrives on an unconventional life of adventure and innovation.

The story of our lives is a complex fabric of many factors. As Lewontin observes, not only do our genes and environment intertwine, but chance plays a major part in how that fabric is woven.[xix][MB1] This is clear in Yong’s life in the unique environmental factors that shaped his experiences, the chance encounters and events that opened unforeseen opportunities, and the inherent qualities and predispositions that allowed him to capitalize on them.

Book Overview

In this book, we strive to understand Yong’s success by exploring the complex interplay of genes, environment, and chance. Each chapter examines a phase of Yong’s life through this lens, containing a brief vignette from that time, relevant historical factors, an account of events that characterized that period of his life, and reflections on the implications for education.

In chapter 1, readers meet the boy from Sichuan Province: five-year-old Yong tagging along behind his father, the primary influence in his early life. Adults in Yong’s rural village are concerned with feeding, clothing, and sheltering their families, which leaves Yong free of social expectations. As Yong uses his free time to devise entrepreneurial ventures around the village, he capitalizes on unlikely assets—his curiosity, penchant for rule-breaking, and rebellious nature—to follow his instincts toward what would become a scholarly life.

Chapter 2 describes how Yong teaches himself to read and enters school amid the upheaval of China’s Cultural Revolution. Educational reforms after the establishment of the People’s Republican of China (PRC) in 1949 allow Yong unprecedented access to school in rural China, as well as teachers who recognize his intellectual interests and gifts. Believing education to be the means to a career only, the Chinese have long valued diligent and compliant students. Relentlessly curious, questioning, and innovative, Yong is an outlier. This doesn’t prevent him for mastering the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in school and pass the extremely stringent university entrance exam — not once but twice. His facility with languages earns him entry into the Sichuan Foreign Language Institute (SFLI) at a time when English-language teachers were in high demand.

Chapter 3 follows Yong during his time at SFLI where he indulges his wide range of academic interests in the library and at a local bookstore. He also cultivates friendships with foreign faculty, opening opportunities to improve his English and learn more about the world beyond China. His success in his classes impresses his professors who ask him to accompany a visiting scholar from Beijing to SFLI in Chongqing. From the visiting scholar, Yong learns about the potential of desktop computers to run data analysis software. Asked to join an international team conducting research on English-language learners, Yong sees an opportunity to develop a program to analyze the survey data. He teaches himself statistics and programming to create the first data analysis program for PCs in China.

In chapter 4, Yong joins a team of faculty who have volunteered to teach English in a remote Sichuan Province. Designated as the deputy team leader, Yong learns valuable leadership lessons and tests his capacity for managing a group. One of his fellow volunteers, Xi, catches his eye, and they begin dating. During a visit back to SFLI, Yong’s roommate convinces him to travel to the newly created Special Economic Zone on Hainan Island. There, Yong and a partner create a successful translation business. Despite his success in Hainan, Yong finds himself missing the scholarly life and returns to SFLI to resume teaching and publishing.

Chapter 5 chronicles how Communist Leader Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms open China to Western culture and, in the late 1980s, spark debate on college campuses around the country. Eager to join the conversation, Yong opens his apartment as “ salon” for faculty and students to gather and discuss the future of the country. As the tragic events of June 4, 1989, unfold in Tiananmen Square, the momentum Yong and others had felt building dies abruptly, leaving him despondent and aware that he needs to seek opportunities elsewhere. A visit from a U.S. professor to SFLI results in a friendship that, in turn, leads to an invitation to spend time at Linfield College in Oregon.

In chapter 6, Yong embarks on his first trip to the United States, an experience that expands his view of the world, education, and emerging technologies. During his time at Linfield, Yong teaches, makes friends, explores the world of the just emerging World Wide Web, and realizes that becoming a college professor will allow him to pursue the life he wants for himself and his family, which now includes a son, Yechen in addition to Xi, his wife. Yong decides to pursue a graduate degree and gains admittance to the doctoral program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Yong completes his master’s in one year, welcomes his young family to the U.S., and leaves an unsatisfactory job at Willamette University on Oregon for a more promising opportunity.

Chapter 7 begins with Yong, Xi, and Yechen making a home at Hamilton College in New York, where Yong is part of a collaborative project between Hamilton and Colgate to enable students to take courses offered by both institutions. His successes earns him a tenure-line position at Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan, where he works on a project to increase student engagement via online learning. He also creates an online submission platform for the America Educational Research Association annual meeting. Success in these projects as well as his outstanding publications record and award-winning teaching earns him the title of University Distinguished Professor. Although thought by some as only an educational technology specialist, his interests and scholarship have expanded to include pedagogy, assessment, policy, globalization, and other issues.

In chapter 8, we attempt to explain the central ideas and themes that run through Yong’s prolific scholarly output. Over his career, he has engaged several of the seminal questions in education such as: What kind of educational model best serves students? What are the consequences of schooling as a mechanism of state control? What are the pernicious effects of high-stakes assessment? How does personalized education benefit students? How can technology best serve education? How can promoting global thinking help us solve the world’s most pressing problems?

The epilogue provides a brief review of Bill’s life and how he came to collaborate with Yong on this book. He describes the events that have shaped a worldview that is remarkable similar to Yong’s.

[i] Pluchino, A., Biondo, A. E., & Rapisarda, A. (2018). Talent versus luck: the role of randomness in success and failure. Advances in Complex Systems, 21(3.4). Plucjinco et al. (2018).[iii] Lewontin, R. (2001). The triple helix: Gene, organism, and environment. Harvard University Press, p. 38.[iv] Lewontin, R. (2001). 38.[v] Fea, J. (2020). What is historical contingency? Fea, J. (2020).[vii] Fea, J. (2020).[viii] Watts, D. J. (2011). Everything is obvious: once you know the answer. Crown Business. 8.][ix] George, N., Parida, V. Lahti, T., & Wincent, J. (2014). A systematic literature review of entrepreneurial opportunity recognition: insights on influencing factors. International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, 12(2). 309–350. DOI 10.1007/s11365-014-0347-y.[x] Baron, R. (2006). Opportunity recognition as pattern recognition: how entrepreneurs “connect the dots” to identify new business opportunities. Academy of Management Perspectives, 20(1), 104–119.[xi] Heinonen, J., Hytti, U. & Stenholm, P. (2011). The role of creativity in opportunity search and business idea creation. Education + Training (53: 8/9), pp. 659-672. DOI 10.1108/00400911111185008[xii] Shane, S., Nicolaou, N., Cherkas, L., & Spector, T. D. (2010). Do openness to experience and recognizing opportunities have the same genetic source? Human Resource Management, 49(2), 291–303.[xiii] Shane et al. (2010)), 299.[xiv] Wiseman, R. (2003). The luck factor. Arrow Books.[xv] Soto, C. J. (2018). Big five personality traits. In M. H. Bornstein, M. E. Arterberry, K. L. Fingerman, & J. E. Lansford (Eds.), The SAGE encyclopedia of lifespan human development (pp. 240-241). Sage.[xvi] Wiseman, R. (2003). The luck factor. Arrow Books, 96.[xvii] Wiseman, R. (2003), 48.[xviii] Jauk, E., Benedek, M., Dunst, B., & Neubauer, A. C. (2013). The relationship between intelligence and creativity: New support for the threshold hypothesis by means of empirical breakpoint detection. Intelligence, 41(4), 212–221. Lewontin, R. (2001), 38.[MB1]I added a citation for Lewontin. Is this sufficient?

After I posted about a computer program that can apparently write student essays better than most students, teacher Mamie Krupczak Allegretti posted the following response:

Writing is more than just setting words down on paper in a “good” essay. If we just want a well worded essay from a student by any means possible, then, sure, let the students use a computer to do it for them. But writing teaches one to sort out thoughts, expand ideas, analyze facts and ideas. Isn’t this what we want students to learn? Writing is also a vehicle for the spirit to come through a human being. It is an art. Many of the great writers have said they they do not consciously write, but their spirit or psyche uses them and writing as a vehicle to make itself known. So. If we want to lose a part of our humanity, we will allow computers to take over every function of a human being. And then where will we find our meaning as human beings?

Steve Nelson is a retired educator. He was headmaster of The Calhoun School in New York City. He writes here about the reactions to the decline of NAEP scores since the onset of the pandemic.

He writes:

“The beatings will continue until morale improves” is a rather familiar quip of unknown origin.  Two recent news stories remind of just how apt the saying remains.

The first was an astonishing New York Times report on the reinstitution of paddling as a disciplinary tool in a Missouri school district. Surprisingly, paddling children in school remains legal in 19 states, although the practice is not widespread. Paddling children is barbaric, humiliating and utterly ineffective. Corporal punishment makes children more aggressive and disruptive. The Missouri abusers attempt to mitigate their own cruelty by saying they only whack kids whose parents give permission. It takes little imagination to understand why a child of such parents would have difficulty in school and draw more negative attention.

Few readers will disagree with my condemnation of beating childen. I suspect the rest of this post will be more controversial.

The educational world was aghast at the news this week of the “alarming” results from the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP is the supposed gold standard of measurement, also called the nation’s report card. The 2022 tests of reading and math were conducted to assess pandemic “learning loss” and produced the data that researchers anticipated. Reading scores were down 5 points and math scores down 7 points compared to 2020 levels.

“The beatings will continue until scores improve” is the nearly inevitable consequence as education pundits, economists, policy-makers and most parents, wax apoplectic over the “precipitous” drop.

“I was taken aback by the scope and the magnitude of the decline!”

“No more of the arguments, and the back and forth and the vitriol and the finger pointing. Everybody should be treating this like the crisis that it is.”

Pity the children, especially poor children of color for whom the results were somewhat more statistically “significant.” This is a tempest in a teapot and the solution will be far more damaging than the problem.

It is likely to be a reprise of the reaction to A Nation at Risk, a 1983 report that allegedly showed educational achievement in serious decline. It was not true – a statistical phenomenon led to misinterpretation of the data – but the report drove a frenetic response of testing and accountability that continues until today. And here we go again.

Read on to learn Nelson’s response to the doom-and-gloom prescriptions for the nation’s children: longer days, longer weeks, longer years.

Steve Nelson disagrees.

Maureen Downey of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution posted this essay on her “Get Schooled” blog by Peter Smagorinsky. He is professor emeritus at the University of Georgia.

He writes:

I recently spoke with an Atlanta metro area high school teacher about the start of the new school year. Her school is like a lot of schools nationally. On the Friday before classes began, after a week of orientation, many teachers did not know their assignments or schedules. To manage the business side of teaching, everyone had to learn yet another new system and its technology.

Once students arrived, there were jitters about safety. COVID-19 remains in the air, and monkeypox is up next. Masks remain optional. After so much remote learning, student behavior doesn’t fit classroom expectations, creating management problems that can be threatening.

The Uvalde school shooting has left many unnerved and waiting for the next incident. Teachers appreciate Gov. Brian Kemp’s initiative to raise pay and provide some money for supplies. But these increases, unfortunately, provide more a surface patch than a deep investment in quality education. With teacher absences up and the pool of substitutes down, teachers are often summoned to cover classes when a colleague is out, shrinking time to plan, grade, and fill out forms.

Yet, in spite of all these problems, after a few weeks of classes, the teacher I spoke with was remarkably upbeat. A new school rule, she said, has already been a “game-changer.” That rule, she believed, has made her school the envy of every school in the country. The school has decided that students can’t have access to cellphones in class.

Imagine what a teenager with unfettered phone access does all day. If you’re a teacher, you don’t need your imagination. You know that you spend most of your time telling kids to get off social media and focus on the academic work. And then do it again. And again.

But kids shouldn’t be blamed for being kids. Parents are often as addicted to phones as their kids. Recent studies have found kids wish their parents would get off their phones and spend more time with them. Many parents have asserted their need and right to text and call their kids throughout the day to check in on them.

Some concerns make sense to me, such as using phones during emergencies or, heaven forbid, an assault. They might come in handy if cellphone footage would help identify who did what in a conflict. If there’s an emergency at home, a parent might need to talk to a child or teen.

Just checking in, though, is disruptive, and creates the need for the phone to always be available. Because it is viewed as a distraction, girls’ clothing is policed in school. But cellphones, which distract students all day, are viewed as a right.

In this school, the administration has listened to teachers. They have created a policy that makes student cellphones unavailable during class. The change has been difficult for kids and their parents, but it’s been a godsend to teachers tired of spending much of their time and emotional energy trying to get kids’ attention.

They also have a way to respond to a student who says, “But my mom says I have to answer when she calls.” They can say, “Tell her to call you when you’re not in class. You can’t have your phone out here.”

I know of another school in North Georgia where the administration has punted the problem to the faculty. Teachers have three options for cellphone access: no phones, phones sometimes, phones all the time. The teacher I know there started in the middle, went to a full ban. Fighting kids over just how long “sometimes” lasts wasn’t working out.

This approach, she says, has its ups and downs. On the one hand, she can teach phone-free and without the distractions they cause. On the other hand, she finds that teachers who allow unlimited phone access tend to take a sink-or-swim approach to kids. If students want to learn, they can put the phone down and pay attention; if they don’t, then that’s their problem. Teachers appear to have the choice to take a callous approach to students who may need personal relationships.

Beyond ceasing to care about whether kids learn or not, there may be other reasons to allow students to be on their phones in class. I just can’t think of any.

Technology has often been considered the present and future of education. Remote learning during the pandemic suggested that it doesn’t solve all problems and creates a few more from a school standpoint. The typical kid seems more interested in TikTok than Shakespeare or algebra. On a remote computer or on a cellphone in class, the fun option is easy to take. And when mom calls, you’d better answer.

But, in at least one area school, the administration has taken responsibility, and teachers don’t have to compete with phones anymore. It’s put a spring in their step and produced an uptick in their kids’ time-on-task and learning.

And it’s something that any school could do.

A reader called “Retired Teacher” read Peter Greene’s reflections on Amazon as a model of schooling and posted this comment:

Devious DeVos had the nerve to call public schools a factory model of education. It seems to me that rows of zombie students staring at screens and fed content from an algorithm on a screen much more easily qualifies as a “factory model.” Public education is a model whose goal is mostly about being “through and efficient.” It aspires to bring young people access, opportunity and civics preparation in order to become responsible citizens. It is a pubic institution with noble goals, not an Amazon Warehouse.

The so-called “free market” is a scammer’s delight where the strong feed on the weak and the predators hunt for prey. Believing that the free market will solve education’s problems is as naive as it is reckless. Our young people should be valued, protected and taught well to prepare them for the future as they are the future of this country. They must be ready to address our future needs, and they deserve so much more than being considered a monetized line item in some rich person’s portfolio.

A new virtual reality charter school will open in Florida in the fall of 2022. It is called Optima Domi, and it presents itself as the most innovative step forward in homeschooling/virtual learning.

Unlike old-fashioned virtual charter schools, Optima Domi will immerse students in “virtual reality.” Each student and their teacher will dons headgear that immerses them in the sounds and sights of an actual classroom, even though their classmates are avatars, not humans. The curriculum, says the promotional material, will be classical, based on the Great Books.

The Governing Board of Optima Domi is heavy with financial executives and two medical doctors. The Optima Foundation is deep into school choice. Many of the leaders have experience in the charter school sector. Several are graduates of Hillsdale College, a small, ultra-conservative college in Michigan that refuses any form of federal aid for students or for any other purpose. The CEO of the Optima Foundation is a CPA and wife of a very conservative Florida Republican member of Congress, who was endorsed by Trump.

One may safely assume there will be no teaching about “divisive concepts” here. It seems to be the perfect site for programming students, although I can’t imagine many teenagers who would enjoy getting their “schooling” in complete isolation, with a headset turned on for most of the day. Most schools have teachers who come from different backgrounds and bring different perspectives to their work; students too come from different worlds and enrich class discussions by offering their views. In the virtual reality world, the lessons will be carefully designed to enforce the school’s perspective, without the intervention of teachers or students.