Posts tagged education
Posts tagged education
I was in line at the local Walmart and the checker was an elderly White man. When it was my turn he said to me, “can you believe Obama wants to mint a platinum coin?” I said I didn’t think the President was the one to come up with the idea. He then asked, “do you think Obama will try to run for a third term?” I told him the Constitution forbids it and he responded, “well, that didn’t stop Roosevelt.” I explained that the 22nd Amendment was passed after FDR’s presidency in order to prevent another President from running for more than two terms. He then asked why Presidents before Roosevelt didn’t run for more terms and I told him it was a tradition they all had honored.
My wife and I left and she felt he had no business talking opinionated politics with customers. I felt it was sad that he was so ill-informed about the news and the Constitution. I’ve thought a lot about it in the day since it happened. What are the lessons here?
Since I retired a year-and-a-half ago I’ve become more and more interested in the skills necessary to effectively live in a 21st century democracy. Based on my conversation with the elderly checker the first skill is to vet your sources of information, be it radio, TV, newspaper, or the internet. Who and what is the source? What bias is evident? Why would they say what they do? Are the words used chosen to push an agenda?
As for the 22nd Amendment. It appears the checker did not know his history. To be honest, he was old enough to have been of high school age in 1951 when the Amendment was ratified. Again, however, we need to educate students to question statements, especially those which sound fishy.
Educators, your work is cut out for you. With the proliferation of easy communication it is equally easy for misinformation to be mixed in with the facts. Critical thinking skills need to be at the forefront of a 21st century education.
I recently read a letter to the editor in my local paper from someone who claimed to be an ex-college counselor. The letter said that anyone who chose a college major which was not tied to the STEM areas had been steered in the wrong direction by their high school teachers and counselors and their college counselors. The lettor went on to disparage the humanities with comments such as, “a degree in poetry is a dead end in the job market.”
As an undergraduate history major I was a bit upset and angry with the tone of this letter. After all, with a bit of further education, I had become a high school social studies teacher, a career from which I retired after 35 rewarding years. My friends who had non-STEM degrees had also had rewarding careers in law, journalism, business, and sales. Yet, there is more than career when talking about the value of the humanities.
The best prose is uplifting and necessary for the human spirit. If not a poet or writer, who will produce it? While science explains a lot, knowledge of history helps us to understand who we are, why we are that way, and perhaps to predict future action. I could go on and on about the emportance of the humanities and social sciences for the human condition, but I think my point has been made.
The emphasis on STEM education is, in part, political. So many polls point out the supposed failure of American education in science and math, yet why does the USA seem to lead the world in scientific and technology development? We have always attracted the best an brightest to our universities, which often leads to these well-educated people remaining permanently and becoming citizens. Why is it we have made it much harder for capable foreigners to come to the USA to study, and in many cases next to impossible for them to stay here? Is there really a crisis in the production of science, technology and math students or is this all part of the political move to end public education?
I just read a Twitter post that made me reflect a bit about the upcoming election, the candidates, and education. It is a bit scary.
The third presidential debate was supposed to be about foreign policy, but Romney had little to say other than he agreed with Obama’s policies, and Obama simply went on to explain his policies and patronize Romney for his ignorance. Thereafter, both candidates inserted education into the debate.
Romney professed to love teachers, then state we don’t need more of them. He also said he would reduce the federal government’s role in education and return decision-making (and funding?) to the states and local levels. Let’s face it - Romney wants to privatize education.
Obama mentioned his support of education, yet didn’t mention Race To The Top this time, as he did several times during the first debate. Each time RTTT (RTTT) was mentioned, Twitter erupted with howls of derision from educators who know RTTT for what it is - a sham attempt to show educational progress through high stakes testing and tying teacher evaluation to the results.
Neither candidate understands education to a level to talk about it in more than abstract terms. Both lay claim to educational achievement (Romney in claiming Mass. schools were number one in the nation under his governorship, and Obama with RTTT) which professional educators would vigorously dispute.
We go to the polls in a few short days. Neither candidate is a strong education candidate, but the privatization of schools would be a blow to democracy in the United States. Please vote wisely!
I recently read John Tierney’s article, “AP Classes Are A Scam,” in The Atlantic and, while agreeing with all that Mr. Tierney said, I’m just not sure…
In 1955, The College Board instituted the Advanced Placement (AP) program to allow capable high school students to take an accelerated course that was to be comparable to an introductory college class in a subject, pass a standardized test at the end of the year and receive college credit. It was a good idea in 1955 and the question is whether it is a a good idea for 2012.
AP courses were seen as excellent preparation for students who were heading to college in the 1950s. The subject which I taught, history, was primarily a lecture class when I attanded college in the 1970s. Acquisition of content was the goal and this was evaluated through regurgitation of this content on essay exams. An AP history class which emphasized content and a year-end standardized test of that content made sense. With today’s emphasis on the development of critical thinking skills, coupled with technology’s increasing access to content for anyone, knowledge acquisition seems to have been reduced in importance. To be fair, the College Board has recognized this and has made attempts to instill critical thinking to its history courses. For example, the Document Based Question (DBQ) has been redesigned to require students to examine the points of view of the authors of the various documents and use this information in crafting their essay response to the question prompt. I personally have welcomed this change in the structure of the DBQ, and it encouraged me to adapt my teaching to include more critical thinking elements in my lessons.
Another criticism made by Mr. Tierney and others is that open enrollment in AP courses dumbs them down. I have mixed feelings about this. I was always an advocate of allowing students to challenge themselves. I found students self-selected themselves into AP courses and most knew when they were over their head and moved to a more appropriate course offering. However, I certainly understand the frustration a teacher of an AP course might have if many of their students struggle with the material. I taught in a school with open AP enrollment and it worked well. When administrators mandate students take an AP course as a high school graduation requirement, then there is a problem.
A challenge for the AP program is that more colleges are not accepting AP credit. Whether this is due to courses being watered down and not meeting the rigor of an introductory college course or perhaps colleges wanting the revenue which comes with requiring students to take introductory courses, it remains that a core reason for offering AP courses is being questioned
Finally, Mr. Tierney noted that AP courses are not as rigorous as college courses, to this I partly agree. I know students who took our AP History courses and returned to say they were some of the best courses they ever had, high school or college. I also know there are many courses called AP that are merely enhanced high school courses. This became such a problem that the College Board instituted course audits to ensure proper rigor.
Will the AP program be around in ten years - probably. Will schools strive to offer it for its prestige value - probably. Will it continue to change away from an emphasis on content to include a stress on critical thinking - yes.
President Obama needs to quit mentioning Race to the top as if it is something of which to be to be proud. Teachers, myself included, have been critical of the President and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan over their support for Race To The Top. Every time Race To The Top was mentioned by the President at the debate, Twitter exploded with educator criticism of Obama and this program.
It is galling to teachers to be criticised for having a union to support their wants and needs, as well as to lobby for what teachers feel is in the best interests of themselves and their students. Tenure is another item over which teachers are unfairly attacked. It is NOT job security for life. Tenured teachers can be, and are, removed when they have been proven to be incompetent. Tenure is a guarantee of due process, so that a teacher cannot be removed on a whim, or because a student’s parent is politically influential, etc. The true purpose of tenure has been smeared by those who wish to end public education and replace it with for-profit charter schools where teachers would be without job security.
If the President wishes to have the support of educators, he needs to understand their frustrations with some of his policies, and start to include the voices of those in the classrooms when he, and his Secretary of Education attempt to make education policy.
Watching (actually having no choice) the political ads on TV, along with reading all the articles in the newspaper covering the campaign, got me thinking about a question which voters will answer at the polls - how will education look in a few years?
It seems public education has several purposes which serve to strengthen our nation: to create informed citizens, to produce workers for business and industry, and to keep the United States competitive among the nation-states of the world. If we are to be a democracy, then citizens who hold the power of electing officials need to have the tools to give them a basic understanding of issues on which they will be voting. This is the most important reason to have publicly-funded (and hopefully non-partisan) education. For the past hundred years, schools have been organized along a “factory” model to produce workers. Again, this made sense with the United States being the leading industrial country in the world. This purpose feeds into the third purpose of public education, to keep the United States competitive among the nation-states of the world. As we have moved into a post-industrial economy, education has come under some fire for not adapting to this change.
There is, however, a fourth less-publicized purpose of public education - to promote a political, social, or cultural viewpoint - and this is where things get sticky. Whose viewpoint should public schools take as their focus. The attempts to address this purpose have led to turmoil within the education community. Over the course of my thirty-five year career I was subjected to “A Nation At Risk,” “Back to the Basics,” “No Child Left Behind,” and “Race to the Top.” All of these were attempts to push public education toward a goal considered worthy by whichever political party held sway. Educators who resisted or questioned any of these policies were demonized and their unions labeled obstructionist. The anti-science movement of the past decade has led to laws and policies which try to inject religious beliefs into public education. This, contrasts with the push for STEM education from other quarters. The latest affront has been the takeover of the charter school idea by for-profit businesses and their efforts to privatize education.
Looking ahead, I foresee a bleak education landscape for public schools. On-line courses will fall victim to for-profit businesses and public schools will become less relevant. The wealthy will send their children to private schools, which will follow a curriculum selected by a private board, leaving the poor to fend for themselves in impoverished public schools. A bleak future indeed.
Participating in the excellent Twitter #edchat discussion at noon today I was reminded, no matter what the pundits say, how many intelligent, caring teachers there are. The discussion was lively and, as always, made me think.
Today’s discussion centered on the question, “What is your opinion on the number one reason education reform is being blocked? As always, participants looked at the question from different perspectives, yet several threads emerged that troubled me.
Teachers are afraid to be publically vocal with their opinions on the direction (or lack thereof) of education reform. There was concern that teachers publically critical of current reform efforts might find themselves facing disciplinary actions from their school boards or administration. What a shame.
There was discussion asking why those with the least knowledge about education - politicians and lobbyists in particular, have so much clout while educators seem to have so little. It was pointed out that teachers’ unions are strong enough to lobby and supply an educational viewpoint, yet some teachers participating on #edchat parrot the falsehood that unions protect incompetent teachers. Why do these teachers believe this? Unions exist to protect and advocate for the teaching profession. Tenure simply provides teachers with due process rights. When I was president of our local association, I made sure all evaluation procedures were being followed and the few teachers who were let go had well-documented deficiencies.
The third area that concerned me was the number of teachers who looked at the question as it affected them, in their classrooms. A question such as was the focus of discussion today screamed for a look at the big picture. Those who complain about standardized testing really should look at legislation, such as No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top. Ultimately, educators need to realize how and what they teach is a function of politics and culture. Currently, politics is divided and there is a major culture war going on within American society. Teachers have a very unique perspective working with children, and teachers need to advocate for what they feel best serves the needs of children regardless of politics.
I retired in June of 2011 and yesterday I returned to the high school where I had taught social studies for 35 years. The district is one of the wealthiest in Ohio. Many of the residents are well-paid professionals. Our alumni include numerous lawyers (one of whom argued in front of the US Supreme Court a year or so ago), doctors, executives, a current member of the Saturday Night Live cast, and a current newsperson on a national network. Every year, we would send students to Ivy League schools. In short, it is a district of high-powered residents who demand a quality education for their children. If they felt the public schools did not suit their needs, there were five excellent private schools nearby from which they could choose.
It was great seeing my friends and colleagues, and seeing former students was wonderful. However, after sitting down and talking with several members of the social studies department and a friend from the Foreign Language Department, I came to see all is not well in my former place of employ. It is time for contract negotiations which always worries people, especially in unsteady economic times. The Board has come in with a tough position, wanting little, or no movement with salary increases, raising health care premiums, and cutting back on severance pay.
On top of this, Ohio funds its own State Teachers Retirement System. By law, this system has to show it is fully funded 30 years into the future. First the dot com crash, then the Great Recession have hit STRS hard. Changes are going to have to be made. STRS used to fund health care for retirees and spouses, now only retirees are funded - an just partially. Teachers are able to retire after 30 years at any age, with a bonus if they stayed for 35 years. It appears they will now have to teach to age 60 and have at least 35 years of teaching (no bonus) before retirement, and pay a greater percentage of their salaries (currently 10%) into STRS while teaching. These changes have not taken effect yet, but they are looming over teachers in the near future.
Then there is the residue of a nasty fight with Ohio governor John Kasich, who last year had the state legislature eliminate collective bargaining for public employees and their unions. The unions organized and obtained enough signatures to force a referendum on the issue, which was then overturned. Nevertheless, Kasich and his supporters are expected to try again to weaken public employees’ unions in Ohio.
Throw in the educationally unsound practices of high stakes testing, value-added teacher evaluations, and the constant attacks on teachers by politicians and pundits of both political parties and it is no wonder teachers, even in high-performing districts like where I used to teach, are demoralized. It makes me angry, and it makes me want to do something to help my friends and former colleagues.
For the past several years I’ve been reading about the “crisis” in education. Teachers have been blamed and labeled incompetent. There has been a concerted push by conservatives to privatize education, an attack on our democracy with severe consequences which liberals, including the Obama administration, seem unaware. The entire underpinnings of education in the twenty-first century are being tossed aside, yet no one has come forth with a unified system to replace it - why?
Computers, cars, and books can serve to show that we deal with change best when it is incremental. Perhaps the best example of keeping things familiar in a new setting is the desktop metaphor which opened computing to the masses. Command line entry appealed to only a few, yet a visual display called a “desktop,” with folders and icons brought understanding to just about everyone. The same applies to computer storage. Keeping files on a floppy disk which could be taken with you was comforting, like taking you notes in a notebook. As comfort with computing devices grew, so did the move to hard drives, CDs, and finally documents in the cloud.
Automobile bodies first reflected carriages. As they evolved, these bodies came to enclose occupants and their design became based solely on the needs of the automobile itself.
Books also, have remained relatively unchanged until recently. The rise of electronic media and personal electronic devices have seen books move more and more to these displays. To bring people to these devices, electronic books have to look like paper books, with pages that turn like paper pages. As people adjust, electronic books will evolve, using hyperlinks and embedding of visual media, which will lead to further evolution. Books in fifty years could be as different to books of today as automobiles of the early 1900s are to today’s cars.
How does all of this apply to education? Education is moving forward slowly, in fits and starts. There is no clear path for it to take. A jump too far or too fast will not be popular to most people. What is understandable and comfortable will need to be built upon. There are a few trends that are being built upon and, perhaps, need to be extended.
Knowledge is now much more accessible to everyone. As an old colleague was fond of saying, “teachers have moved from being the sage on the stage to the guide on the side.” All educators should keep this close to their hearts. The day of 45 minutes or more of lecture are over. Students need to be involved in their learning.
Distance learning will become more prevalent. Classes will become a mixture of face-to-face and online interaction. Classes will not cease when the bell rings. Students will no longer be passive learners, a boon for effective evaluation.
The end of high-stakes testing will occur in the (hopefully) near future. High-states testing is a political tool with limited educational value. Evaluation should be ongoing and demonstrable through real-world application. Currently, project-based learning appears to have the inside track toward this sort of evaluation.
So, what is a teacher who is trying to survive these tumultuous times to do? Get on Twitter and find a group of people to follow. Start following blogs of people who you like and who can provide you with the information it takes to survive teaching in the 21st century. What you are really doing is developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN). Learn what the trends in education are. Be innovative in class. Share with and influence your colleagues. Become a lifelong learner.
The Horizon Report is issued yearly by the New Media Consortium, an organization whose purpose is to spur discussion and innovation of edtech in schools, universities, and museums. Each year, the group releases a report for each of the three constituencies, titled the Horizon Report. The 2012 Horizon Report for Higher Education has just been released. The reports for secondary education and museums will follow.
The basic outline of all three reports will be the same, just the specifics will be tailored to each constituency. I have downloaded the 2012 report for higher education and worked my way through most of it. There is an executive summary for a quick overview, then three main parts.
The first part is a look at look at technologies whose time to adoption is seen as one year or less. The two areas of focus this year are Mobile Apps and Tablet Computing. After a discussion of each area, there are links to examples of the area in practice and then links for further reading. In the past I have found these links valuable in generating ideas I could integrate into my own teaching.
The next section of the report focuses on technologies with a time to adoption of two to three years. This year’s focus is on Game-Based Learning and Learning Analytics. I started teaching before the computer game craze took root, but the idea of game-based learning is very intriguing to me. Learning analytics seems to be the logical progression of the data-driven decision-making movement of the last ten years.
The final part of the Horizon Report examines technologies which might have an impact on education with a time to adoption of four to five years. The two areas mentioned are Gesture-Based Computing and the Internet of Things. Gesture-based computing reminds me of a TED talk, by Patty Maes, as well as playing Wii games with my daughter’s family. I am excited to see how this technology can be integrated into education. The Nest thermostat reminds me of the beginning of what the internet of things could become, and it is very exciting. I’ll leave it to better minds than mine to figure out how to integrate it into education.
Take the time to download and look at the Horizon Report 2012. Join the New Media Consortium, and add it to your list of edtech resources.