Smartphones don’t make us dumb, but …

Smartphones Don’t Make Us Dumb, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham in the New York Times. Digital devices don’t even destroy our attention spans. “We can focus,” he writes. But we may not want to.”

In a 2012 Pew survey, nearly 90 percent of teachers said their students can’t pay attention the way they could a few years ago.

It may be that digital devices have not left us unable to pay attention, but have made us unwilling to do so.

The digital world carries the promise of amusement that is constant, immediate and limitless. If a YouTube video isn’t funny in the first 10 seconds, why watch when I can instantly seek something better on BuzzFeed or Spotify? The Internet hasn’t shortened my attention span, but it has fixed a persistent thought in the back of my mind: Isn’t there’s something better to do than what I’m doing?

. . . People’s performance on basic laboratory tests of attention gets worse if a cellphone is merely visible nearby. In another experiment, people using a driving simulator were more likely to hit a pedestrian when their cellphone rang, even if they had planned in advance not to answer it.

Digital devices encourage “near constant outwardly directed thought” at the expense of time for reflection, Willingham concludes. “A flat cap on time with devices — the restriction we first think of for ourselves and our kids — might help.”

Multi-tasking is a myth, writes Leah Levy on Edudemic.

Kids’ screen time keeps growing

Kids spend hours a day looking at screens, writes Alexandra Ossola in The Atlantic. Doctors fear screen junkies will suffer posture problems, carpal-tunnel pain, neck strain and eye problems, she writes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommends no more than two hours per day of screen time. In a new Australian study, published BMC Public Health, many students exceeded that.

 Close to half—46 percent—of all third-grade boys, on average, use screens for more than two hours per day, and that usage increases to 70 percent of boys on average by the time they reach ninth grade. Fewer third-grade girls—43 percent—use screens compared with their male counterparts, but that rate jumps to surpass boys’ average usage in ninth grade, to more than 90 percent of girls.

“Girls may have been doing more homework than the boys, and the boys may have been doing more sports [away from screens] or playing more video-games on hand-held devices,” says a pediatrician.

Some parents limit children’s screen time.

Why do some ideas take hold?

Dan Willingham’s five mini book reviews include a look at Jack Schneider’s book, From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse. It asks “why do some ideas from academia gain influence among educators whereas others do not?”

Schneider names four key factors. For ideas to be influential, they must be compatible with teachers’ general philosophical orientation regarding childhood, they must seem of potential importance, there must be some hope of realistically acting on them in the classroom, and they must be transportable across contexts.

I think the first one is the key: People believe an idea because they want to believe it and ignore ideas that challenge their world view.

Willingham also likes The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber, which is subtitled “Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money.”

“I’m the parent Lieber targets in this book,” he writes. “I want my kids to have the values my wife and I share when it comes to money, but I don’t know how to impart them.”

Education’s culture clash

The school reform debate reaches its peak of vitriol when it turns to teachers unions and “corporate reformers,” writes Steven Hodas on The Lens. This reflects a culture clash, he argues, citing his experience in New York City.

Urban school systems  — like other municipal departments — “drew employees largely from blue-collar urban ethnic populations seeking entry into the middle class,” he writes. The work culture valued apprenticeship in the craft, “personal relationships gained through immersion and tenure in the workplace, and an acute awareness of chain of command and workplace rules.”

 The techniques of day-to-day practice (on a job site, at a fire, in the classroom) were largely unwritten . . . The centers of gravity and legitimacy were situated with the front-line workers themselves, and only those managers who had risen through the ranks of successive apprenticeship had legitimized authority.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein brought in a “white-collar, managerially focused culture” that sees seniority and experience as suspect. “Personal loyalties and obligations . . . are not assets but liabilities to org chart-style managers.” Klein created new career routes “that explicitly sought to route around the traditional pathways of apprenticeship,” writes Hodas.

For the first time, significant numbers of teachers, principals, and district personnel were recruited from elite institutions, not for lifelong careers but for stints of indeterminate duration. Now, principals need not to have spent long periods in the classroom or serving apprenticeships as assistant principals. Central office administrators increasingly drew from the ranks of those who had (or could have had) lucrative professional careers elsewhere and would never before have considered service within one of the nation’s most notorious bureaucracies.

The two cultures — blue-collar and white-collar — mistrusted and misunderstood each other, writes Hodas. “White-collar managers saw themselves as missionary and insurgent, their nominal authority threatened and undermined at every turn by aboriginal cultures of practice. Where they found strongholds they dismantled them, most significantly in the community school districts and in the central Division of Teaching and Learning (headed at the time by Carmen Farina, now de Blasio’s Chancellor and settling scores). “

Push back on APUSH

The new Advanced Placement U.S. History framework, known as APUSH, doesn’t give students the tools to analyze history, writes Robert L. Paquette, a history professor.

The broad appeal of Howard Zinn’s Marxist baby-talk in AP history classes stems not only from the appeal of  the politics of the his best-selling People’s History of the United States to activist teachers, but its service in easing bored and indifferent students through the past by personalizing and simplifying it through trivialization.  The current emphasis on “identities” often boils down in the classroom to the instructor’s attempt to get the students to empathize with the personal feelings of a favored group of historical actors extracted from the ranks of the oppressed.  While these voices may elicit students’ sympathy, perhaps even guilt, they do little to enhance understanding of the proper yardsticks by which the past must be measured so that it does not become vulgarized.

APUSH treatment of race, class, and gender reflects “presentism,” Paquette writes.

Forms of prejudice like ethnocentrism, which can be seen as universal phenomenon, appear to be a debility that largely afflicted persons of European descent. On one page of a unit dealing with European expansion, for example, the authors assert that Spanish and Portuguese explorers had “little experience dealing with people who were different from themselves.”  Compared to whom?  Kongos?  Aztecs?  Catawbas?

For many high achievers, AP U.S. history will be their last American history course, writes Paquette.

Explaining the American Revolution

On the US History Teachers Blog, Ken Halla recommends this video.

Arizona: Know basic civics to earn a diploma

Arizona students will need to pass a civics test — the same one given to would-be citizens — to earn a high school diploma.

Stephanie Parra, a member of the Phoenix Union High School District governing board, said the requirement will waste time and money, reports NPR. “Having students memorize and regurgitate facts is not going to get to the goal of what we want to accomplish here, which is retaining the importance and value of what American civics education should be,” Parra said.

Translation: Knowledge is useless.

In Model Citizens, Robert Pondiscio calls the requirement “a no-brainer in more ways than one.”

The naturalization test requires very basic knowledge:

What are the first ten amendments to the Constitution called?
Name two rights in the Declaration of Independence.
Why do some states have more representatives than others?
Who is the governor of your state now?
How old do citizens have to be to vote for President?
Who is the President of the United States?

Applicants for citizenship — and now Arizona 12th graders — need only get 60 percent of the questions right.

In 2010, the pass rate among those seeking naturalization was 97.5 percent according to a Xavier University study. Yet more than one in three native-born citizens fail when asked to show even that rock-bottom, basic level of civic knowledge. Raise the bar to seven out of ten for a passing and 50 percent fail.

. . . Serious People in Education cluck at the citizenship test. It’s just trivial pursuit, they say. It’s no substitute for deep engagement in civics and citizenship.

“If you graduate from a U.S. high school without being able to name one of your senators, any war fought in the 1900s, or the name of a single American Indian tribe, something has gone seriously wrong,” responds Pondiscio.

I had to memorize the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution as part of a test on the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions to collect my junior high diploma. (Those who failed were allowed to retake the test multiple times.) I think I could do the Preamble today, nearly 50 years later.  “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity . . . “

No exit, no voice

Common Core State Standards, created behind closed doors, has denied the public a voice in their schools and challenged their loyalty, writes Bill Evers in Education Next. There’s no escape from the Core: Private schools and even home-schooling parents have to teach to the standards if they want students to do well on the Core-aligned SATs. One of Common Core’s chief architects, David Coleman, now heads the College Board, which produces the SAT tests.
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In Albert O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, he discusses how individuals react when services deteriorate. They may “exit” — leave or find a new provider — or use their “voice” to participate in politics.  But the exit option is constrained by their loyalty to institutions.

In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville “found Americans intensely loyal to their local schools,” writes Evers. “Americans saw schools as extensions of their families and neighborhoods.”

Today, Americans remain loyal to their local schools, but resist “an unresponsive bureaucracy carrying out edicts from distant capitals,” writes Evers.

When people see no exit, they turn to political action, he writes. Hence the blowback against Common Core and its tests.

‘Free’ college won’t raise graduation rates

College is too late, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni in response to President Obama’s call for free community college in the State of the Union speech. Subsidizing tuition won’t help if students aren’t ready to do college-level work.

It’s easy to get students to enroll in community college, writes his colleague, David Brooks. Helping students graduate is hard.

Spending $60 billion over 10 years to make community college free won’t change sky-high dropout rates, Brooks writes.

. . . community college is already free for most poor and working-class students who qualify for Pell grants and other aid. In 2012, 38 percent of community-college students had their tuition covered entirely by grant aid and an additional 33 percent had fees of less than $1,000.

The Obama plan would largely be a subsidy for the middle- and upper-middle-class students who are now paying tuition and who could afford to pay it in the years ahead.

To increase graduation rates, spend some of that $60 billion to subsidize books, transportation, child care and housing, Brooks argues. That way students could work fewer hours and spend more time on their studies.

Community colleges also need funding for guidance counselors to help first-generation students develop a study plan and choose courses that get them quickly to their vocational or academic goal.

And they need to fix remediation, writes Brooks.

Actually, community colleges are trying all sort of remedial ed reforms, but it all goes back to Bruni’s point. If K-12 doesn’t work, then college won’t work.

The education of Jeb Bush

In Testing Time, The New Yorker’s Alec MacGillis looks at Jeb Bush’s approach to education reform as governor of Florida.

In 1995, Bush joined the board of the Heritage Foundation, “which was generating papers and proposals to break up what it viewed as the government-run monopoly of the public-school system through free-market competition, with charters and private-school vouchers,” writes MacGillis. He became a fan of school choice.

Bush worked with Willard Fair of the Urban League’s Miami branch to push a state law authorizing charter schools. It passed with bipartisan support in 1996.

Bush and Fair founded Florida’s first charter school in an impoverished, largely African-American section of Miami.

Bush brought his mother in for classroom visits and dropped by unannounced to make sure that things were running smoothly. If he found wastepaper lying around, he’d leave it on the desk of the principal, Katrina Wilson-Davis. The message was clear, she recalls: “Just because kids are poor and at risk doesn’t mean that their environment shouldn’t be clean and orderly.”

When he made a second run for governor, in 1998, he chose Florida’s education commissioner as his running mate and pushed the A+ Plan to hold schools accountable for their students’ performance. He won easily.

(The plan) provided additional funding to schools with good grades and stipulated that students at schools with poor grades would receive taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.

. . . By the end of Bush’s second term, fourth-grade reading scores in the state had improved sharply, though eighth- and tenth-grade scores were more middling.

Bush is a strong supporter of the Common Core, which he’s called a “clear and straightforward” path to “high, lofty standards.” That’s hurting him with conservatives, writes MacGillis.