The idea that the market will solve such things as environmental concerns, as our racial divides, as our class distinctions, our problems with educating and incorporating one generation of workers into the economy after the other when that economy is changing; the idea that the market is going to heed all of the human concerns and still maximise profit is juvenile. It’s a juvenile notion and it’s still being argued in my country passionately and we’re going down the tubes. And it terrifies me because I’m astonished at how comfortable we are in absolving ourselves of what is basically a moral choice. Are we all in this together or are we all not?
The last job of capitalism – having won all the battles against labour, having acquired the ultimate authority, almost the ultimate moral authority over what’s a good idea or what’s not, or what’s valued and what’s not – the last journey for capital in my country has been to buy the electoral process, the one venue for reform that remained to Americans. Right now capital has effectively purchased the government, and you witnessed it again with the healthcare debacle in terms of the $450m that was heaved into Congress, the most broken part of my government, in order that the popular will never actually emerged in any of that legislative process.
This last part is what should concern us all, and what should be a focal point in our kids’ educations. Ask kids if they understand the root of the dysfunction in Washington right now and see what they say. Then ask them how they’d fix it. Now that would be an interesting assessment.
And by the way, if you’re waiting for big business owned politicians to amend education policies and move away from standardization and dysfunctional teacher accountability schemes, you’ll be waiting along time. As Simon suggests about capitalism in this piece, it’s all about keeping score, and so we’ll continue to focus on efficiencies and measurables. May not be what’s best for kids, but it’s just easier that way.
Mike McGill, Superintendent of Scarsdale (NY) schools in his “State of the Schools Report" (.pdf) to his board last month:
Today, we’re witnessing a struggle for the soul of America’s public schools. Is education a test score or something more profound and transformative? Are we mainly interested in making schools more efficient or in providing an education that’s more effective? Are we buying a commodity or investing in the future? Is the goal to spend just enough to provide a “good enough” education according to conventional standards or to enable our youth to reach out toward their horizons, invigorate our democracy and improve the world?
More broadly, though, we live at a defining moment for public education in America. Scarsdale may not have asked to be a beacon. Nonetheless, that’s what we’ve been called to be. This community’s choices will define expectations and determine actions elsewhere in our nation and in the world. For those others who seek direction or partnership or reason or hope, we - what we aspire to be and what we do - can make all the difference.
I’ve written about Scarsdale before, but I can’t say how impressed I am with the vision that Mike articulates in this piece. Please read the whole thing. And if you haven’t yet read the overview of all of the innovations currently happening at Scarsdale (.pdf), I’d urge you to do that as well.
This is a high bar, to be sure, but education leaders at local levels need to aspire higher right now. I wonder to what extent these types of questions are being asked by other superintendents around the country. I wonder how many of them aspire to be “beacons” leading a new conversation around schooling. I wonder how many dare to innovate the way Scarsdale has instead of just resting on past “successes” as measured by traditional expectations. I wonder how many have the courage and humility to admit, as Mike does, that now, “nobody can be sure what ‘school’ should look like” and that “schools must adapt if they’re to take advantage of [technology’s] promise.”
The vision that Mike articulates in his message to his board is clear and urgent. Scarsdale has decided to lead rather than follow. My issue isn’t so much which the people in charge of our schools choose to do. My issue is when they choose to do neither.
But a funny thing is going to happen when the machines start taking the jobs of doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, managers and professors. We’re not quite there yet, but the day is coming very soon when many of what had traditionally been considered untouchable jobs will be done just as effectively or better by machines. Diagnostics and radiology will be handled by machine, with basic examination and nursing work the most common medical professions. Humans won’t be needed for legal services beyond the courtroom and mediation room itself, computer programs will pick investments better than any human, employee evaluation and workforce structuring will be better assessed by analytics than by any middle manager, and mass online education programs will render teachers and professors little more than test proctors and homework readers. None of which assumes the actual intelligent robotic AI of science fiction, which is a whole other story and is also likely coming sooner than we think. Some people see this as utopia, some as dystopia. But either way, it’s coming and coming soon.
Have I mentioned that I own two teenagers, kids who are going to come of age at a moment when all bets are off when it comes to jobs and work and careers and…
I’m seriously interested in hearing from anyone out there that has changed their approach in terms of preparing kids for…for…for goodness knows what. I have this vague sense that cramming curriculum and demanding compliance isn’t the best way to help kids develop the mindsets and dispositions they need to think and create their way through what’s coming at us. Color me stressed, but if you think doing better on the Common Core and PISA is gonna make everything ok, think again.
Yong Zhao on the latest PISA results:
The East Asian education systems may have a lot to offer to those who want a compliant and homogenous test takers. For those who are looking for true high quality education, Finland would still be a better place. But for an education that can truly cultivate creative, entrepreneurial and globally competent citizens needed in the 21st century, you will have to invent it. Global benchmarking can only give you the best of the past. For the best of the future, you will have do the invention yourself.
Unfortunately, the reactions to our middlin’ at best PISA results here in the U.S. is all about getting “better” instead of thinking differently. Not saying there aren’t some valuable things that PISA measures. But, a) those things don’t necessarily have to be measured by a test that then ranks everyone in the world and makes education a contact sport, and b) PISA doesn’t measure a whole boatload of stuff that might be more important than what’s on the test.
So it’s not just about inventing it. It’s about rethinking it, recontextualizing it, and then designing a different path. A messier path. A path that few of us will feel comfortable with at first, but one that will serve our kids better than the one they’re sticking to in Florida:
Joe Follick, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education, responded by focusing on the benefits of taking such snapshots of student achievement. “By continuing to measure our performance, our students will meet the challenges necessary to succeed in college and career,” he said.
Alice Marwick, in an excerpt from the new book Status Update:
While social media helps people stay in touch with loved ones, find emotional support, and get up-to-the-minute information, it can also create problems. In social contexts where virtually everyone lifestreams, social media brings its own set of anxieties and difficulties, which emerge without clear methods of handling them. While the use of Twitter or Instagram should be a matter of personal choice, people often feel pressure to participate in networked public life; they fear being left out, or even that their career may be compromised without visibility. We live in a world where, for the first time, everyday people can commandeer the huge audiences once available only to politicians and celebrities. Celebrating social technologies uncritically, or condemning them piecemeal, does us a disservice. Instead, we must recognize both the great opportunities and new challenges brought forth by these new tools.
That fear of being left out is particularly acute for kids. The sooner we parents and educators start figuring out the “clear methods” for dealing with the new pressures that social online media brings the better.
From the “Quotes That Could Easily Be About Education Department,” Marc Andressen:
So this has been—the media industry is a microcosm of the changes that are happening, and it’s been fascinating to watch. People are always going to love music, movies, TV, and news—it’s evergreen; people are always going to get value out of media. So it’s not a question of whether people want media or not. And in fact, global consumption of media is rising very fast. It’s a huge growth market.
The challenge I think is that in newspapers, magazines, and television, in particular, and books to a certain extent, you had businesses that looked like they were content businesses but were actually distribution businesses. They had controlled distribution rights on the newsstand, on your front porch, on the cable or broadcast dial.
The problem is, you remove the distribution constraint, all of a sudden you get a massive oversupply of content in each of those categories, and then of course prices come crashing down. And then the adjustment process for an incumbent that’s used to being a monopoly and has a high cost structure, then has a big problem relative to all the new entrants that have tiny cost structures or, you know, user-generated content, like YouTube, with no cost structure.
Not too much of a stretch to see the parallels. If we see the value of schools as delivering content mastery and simple skills, we have a “big problem” on our doorstep.
One of the insights that we’ve come to is that the premise of how work is done fundamentally needs to change. We imagine these corporate environments (often very large companies) and we try to visualize how they might improve their infrastructure and communication patterns. The real revolution isn’t inside the company — it’s that the company itself is increasingly irrelevant.
The atomization of the corporation is very real and has been discussed at length. What’s discussed less is how increasingly critical our out[side] of work networks are to our ability to get work done. Millennials are more likely than any other previous generations to daily access their outside-of-work networks to get work done. The forces of micro-entrepreneurship are increasing making each of us our own “corporation”, reliant on our outside networks to make things happen. Finally, as our previous work experience becomes increasingly irrelevant to our future work problems, our real asset to bring to any endeavor becomes our network. FB and even Linked In are not capable of meeting these demands. We’ll see the rise of modern, personal networks for work, to allow these worker tribes to thrive and flourish.
I think for most of us, our PLNs are “sharing networks” in that the main currency in our connections are links and or ideas that, in theory at least, amplify our own learning about whatever it is we’re interested in. But seeing our networks as “critical to getting our work done” is a step up for most (not all.) That requires a willingness and a literacy in collaboration and transparency that I’m thinking most eductors (and others) still aren’t comfortable with.
The point here, however, is once again about our kids. If Srivastava is correct that “the company itself is increasingly irrelevant,” that’s a huge shift in the way we think about preparing our students. It’s not now just a personal learning network. It’s a “personal get stuff done with other people network.” We have a hard enough time with students getting real, important stuff done with other kids in the classroom much less online. All of which is why making and inquiry and PBL leading to authentic, shared knowledge creation and done in the context of outside-of-classroom networks should be a central focus of classrooms and schooling in general.
How we doin’ with that?
The big takeaway is: Snapchat is onto something, and it’s much bigger than sexting. The service is a reaction to the saturation of social networking and the the dominant interaction modes on Facebook and Twitter. It’s an immune response, nurtured in the tweaky rebelliousness of teenagedom, to the forces of Big Data, behavioral targeting, and the need to record every stupid little thing in the world. Snapchat might be the defining product of our technophilic, technoanxious age.
I’m wondering how many adults fully understand the need to find tools that aren’t transparent to balance those that are. (I know…depends on how you define “transparent.”) But in talking to my own kids, it’s not that they’ve stopped Instagramming or Tweeting to the world (though they have pretty much stopped Facebooking.) It’s just that they like the relative “privacy” of Snapchat. I’m not sure many grown-ups get “levels of privacy.”
As a parent, it’s one tool that I really can’t monitor very well. My kids have never sent me a snap…:0(. We’ve had enough discussions, however, about the sexting-ish behavior stuff (even in the context of Snapchat) to feel as good as we can about their social media use in general. But I can imagine it must stress some folks out to no end…
In any case, over time the importance of credentials and certificates will decline. What MOOCs offer is a place and a mechanism whereby individual students can participate in activities and events related to a discipline, work through challenges posed by the course with other members of the community in an online environment accessible worldwide (much like the way open source software works today). These activities leave digital traces, and future employers will not look so much at credentials as they will depend on intelligent software which harvests these traces and constructs a digital profile of prospective employees.
This changes the debate regarding participation and completion rates and even motivation and academic skills. Instead of being requirements imposed by providers on students (usually as a means of assessment for credentials) they will become optional, something students can use to advance their own profile, but not in any way essential aspects of a course. Again, consider the case of open source software (OSS) - a person can contribute as much or as little as they wish, and there’s no sense to be made of OSS ‘completion rates’ or any such thing.
When we view MOOCs as a means of obtaining an education, and establishing a track record, rather than as courses leading to credentials, our original hesitation about the perceived weaknesses of MOOCs can be overcome. The democratization of learning will lead to large and small online courses provided by a range or providers - from major universities to governments to oil companies - but it will be students themselves who decide whether to participate, and whether these courses are worth their time.
I find this line of thinking really interesting and supportive of the idea that we need to move our focus to helping kids become self-organized learners. As access to learning opportunities grow, it will be the kids who can make most sense of those opportunities that will flourish. They will decide relevance and depth of “coursework” based on their own strengths, weaknesses, and needs at any given moment in their lives. And their ability to organize those learnings and experiences transparently will be what bring them to potential employers or businesses. This last part is already becoming more and more of a requirement. (LinkedIn anyone?)
Unfortunately, our emphasis these days is still solely on the credential and how we (the institution) organizes that path to the credential. We do our kids a disservice when we fail to give them the type of agency they will ultimately inherit in this new modern world of MOOCish learning.
I’m not concerned that kids can’t learn to write English on an iPad, I’m concerned they can’t learn to write Python. If you believe that learning to code is a vital skill for young people, then the iPad is not the device for you. The block programming languages basically don’t work. There is no Terminal or Putty or iPython Notebook. To teach kids to code, they need a real computer. (If someone has a robust counter-argument to that assertion, I’m all ears.) We should be very, very clear that if we are putting all of our financial eggs in the iPad basket, there are real opportunities that we are foreclosing.
Justin has a very balanced approach to thinking about the iPad which he clearly articulates in the full post. Unfortunately, few people who I’ve talked to who have made large scale purchases/implementations of tablets into classrooms are able to have such a nuanced discussion of their merits and weaknesses. For most, the iPad ROI is about earning style points with parents, about lightening up backpacks, or about “increasing student engagement.” (I always love that one. Engagement problems are curriculum/pedagogy problems, not technology problems.)
The really frustrating thing is that most decision makers are unable or unwilling to invest the time to dive deeply into the technologies that they expect their students to use, which, of course, sets a low bar for that use in the first place. Meanwhile, the potentials for computers and computing to “amplify student learning” are lost, to quote my friend Gary Stager.
danah boyd and Eszter Hargiatti
Overall, our findings suggest that parental concerns don’t seem to match up with their lived experiences when it comes to meeting a stranger and exposure to violent content. They are especially worried about the possibility that a stranger will hurt their child, reflecting the pervasive anxiety about online sexual predators. Yet while such encounters are extraordinarily rare, the potential consequences of such an encounter are unthinkable. Still, the salience of parental fear about strangers in our data raises significant questions. Are parents especially afraid of strangers because this risk is particularly horrific? Or does their fear stem from the pervasive stranger-danger moral panics that have targeted social media as culprits, leading to the false impression that they are more common than they are?
How parents incorporate concerns into their parenting practices affects their children’s activities and behavior, drives technological development in the online safety arena, and shapes public discourse and policy. When parents are afraid, they may restrict access to technologies in an effort to protect their children from perceived dangers. Yet the efficacy of such restrictions is unclear. If fear-driven protective measures do little to curtail actual risk, then these actions are doing a huge disservice to children, and by extension society as a whole. The internet is a part of contemporary public life. Engagement with technology is key to helping youth understand the world around them.
The rest of the findings in this summary are worth the read as well, but I find this part fascinating and important. Given the amazing upside of connecting with strangers online, it’s crucial that parents have a valid lens to see those interactions through. Again, much of this is due to the moment; most parents still don’t have a personal context for connecting with non-family members or friends online. This will change…slowly. But as the authors suggest, the Internet has quickly become a fundamental piece of the way connected kids make sense of the world.
What role do schools play in building that lens?
Policymakers have largely ignored the teacher-child relationship–arguing that they are more concerned with tangible outcomes not how teachers teach or children learn. As for researchers, they have been of little help since they have a hard time identifying metrics that capture the quality of that child-teacher relationship and its links to socializing children and subsequent academic and non-academic effects on adult behavior. Without quantitative measures to capture the impact of the teacher-child relationship, policymakers skip over it and grab at what can be reduced to numbers; that all-important relationship is missing-in-action when policymakers make decisions. And that is unfortunate.
In the current climate of test-driven standards and coercive accountability, policymakers and researchers depend far too much upon test scores and not whether what is measured captures the cognitive and social-psychological habits young children acquire and the all-important relationship they have with their teachers. If there are no measures, then these important outcomes do not exist.
That last line says it all.
Quote of the Week, from Michael Wesch:
We live in an age of almost infinite information and learning opportunity and so the key here is we have to inspire people to have a sense of wonder and curiosity and if we do that, they have what is essentially the world’s largest knowledge machine at their fingertips. If we fail at that they have the world’s largest distraction device.
One of my favorite (of many) snips so far from David Price’s great new book Open: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn in the Future:
No one can be ‘made’ to learn anything: for knowledge and understanding to stick, we have to have learner intent. The quality of one’s learning is directly related to our desire to learn. This is why progress made in learning socially, voluntarily, is invariably far greater than in the formal, compulsory context…We can’t motivate learners to learn: many teachers believe it’s their job to motivate their students. It’s not. They can only truly motivate themselves. But a great teacher helps learners see the relevance which drives self-motivation – why learning something will make a difference in their lives. [Emphasis mine.]
This echoes Sarason’s “productive learning is learning that engenders wanting to learn more,” and it makes me chuckle at those who spend huge sums on technology to “raise student engagment.” It’s about relevance, silly.
We’ve all forgotten 80% (if not more) of the stuff we learned in high school because we were “made to learn” it. Same is happening to my kids right now, and the bigger problem is that they’re learning nothing about learning except that, at least as the system defines it, they hate it.
And don’t miss the power in that italicized statement above. Social, voluntary learning is more powerful than institutional learning as it’s currently constructed. (We know this in our guts whether we admit it out loud or not. I see it in my kids, too.) And now that our potentials for social, voluntary learning have expanded exponentially thanks to the Web, are we really going to say that it doesn’t count in terms of defining our expertise in our chosen fields? Really?
Once again, it all circles back around to this: How are we helping kids develop into the powerful, self-directed, self-organized, transparent, connected learners they need to be to solve any problem with any one and create meaningful, beautiful, important work that lives in the world and changes the world for the better?
Hint: It ain’t worksheets.
If the recent iPad debacle in Los Angeles teaches us anything it’s that no amount of money and technology will change anything without a modern vision of what teaching and learning looks like when every student and every teacher has access to the Internet. As many of us have been saying for far too long, our strategy to deal with the continuing explosion of technology and connections can’t be to simply layer devices on top of the traditional curriculum and engage in digital delivery. Unfortunately, far too few develop a vision that sees that differently.
Enter the Scarsdale, NY school district which has chosen to lead the conversation around change in a powerful way. This week, the district provided a first-year overview of the work done in the Scarsdale Center for Innovation, the brainchild two years ago of Superintendent Mike McGill. If you’re an educator or a parent who is looking for a real vision for teaching and learning in the future, take the time to read the pdf or download the iBook.
Here’s just a taste of what Scarsdale is doing:
Please note: Technology is integrated throughout these initiatives in ways that serve the vision, not the other way around. This isn’t “let’s give everyone an iPad filled with a lot of textbook and personalized learning apps aimed at improving test scores and then figure out how to manage it.” This is about having important conversations around complex, difficult questions:
Only after that come the decisions of what technology serves the vision best, how to prepare teachers and students to use it, and how to thoughtfully move forward.
And the best part is that the overview documents go into great depth around how each idea was developed, researched, and implemented.
Please, read the whole thing.
But here’s my question, especially to school leaders:
What’s stopping you from doing the same thing, from starting your own Center of Innovation?
I know, I know…Scarsdale is priveleged. Scarsdale has money. Scarsdale teachers are probably among the best paid in the world. Scarsdale has community support. Etc. I get it; there is room there for innovation. But Scarsdale has also chosen to be bold. (Remember, Scarsdale was also among the first schools to junk the AP program and write their own higher level courses. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, other area superintendents wondered aloud if their own districts had “the guts” to follow suit.)
Bold leadership is about ideas first, and ideas cost nothing. But by and large, we seem bereft of big ideas at scale in education, especially considering the blistering changes that are occuring with learning and technology right now. Adding iPads so kids can take more AP courses so schools can move up in the rankings in the (Insert Your State Name Here) Monthly Magazine is not quite what we’re talking about here.
So, kudos to Scarsdale for being a model not just in innovation but in transparency of process.
And I’m serious; what’s stopping you from taking this type of step in your own school, in your own communities?