A look back at the future of education

The History of the Future of Education - Medium - via ChalkbeatNY

Transformative tech starts with the book

One learning technology — the book — has “transformed teaching and learning,” writes Rick Hess.

First, it gave students access to experts from around the world; children were no longer dependent solely on their teachers for learning. Second, no longer reliant on teachers to tell them everything, students could learn at home or on their own. This “flipped” the classroom, allowing teachers to spend less time lecturing and more time explaining, mentoring, and facilitating.

Educators were dubious about printed books, writes Hess. “Schools were predominantly church-run affairs, and religious leaders worried about the lack of moral and interpretive guidance for learners left to their own devices.”

But books won out, launching an “information revolution.”

With books, students could master content and concepts outside of school, learning even when a teacher wasn’t there to tell them things. (Think of Abraham Lincoln working his way through Shakespeare and the Greeks alone on the Illinois prairie.)

But books have limits, Hess writes. They don’t speak. They can’t adapt to readers’ interests and reading levels, be updated quickly or embed “exercises that let students apply new concepts and get immediate feedback.”

Intelligent, computer-assisted tutoring systems are about 90 percent as effective as in-person tutors, Hess writes. But we need to do three things right:

First, new tools should inspire a rethinking of what teachers, students, and schools do, and how they do it. If teaching remains static, sprinkling hardware into schools won’t much matter.

Second, technology can’t be something that’s done to educators. Educators need to be helping to identify the problems to be solved and the ways technology can help, and up to their elbows in making it work.

Third, it’s not the tools but what’s done with them. When they discuss what’s working, the leaders of high-tech charter school systems like Carpe Diem and Rocketship Education, or heralded school districts like that of Mooresville, N.C., brush past the technology in order to focus relentlessly on learning, people, and problem-solving.

Like the book, technology won’t work miracles, Hess writes. And, like the book, it won’t replace teachers.

When computers pick lessons

A blended learning classroom at David Boody Jr. High School in New York City.
A Teach to One math classroom at a New York City middle school.

A computer system decides which students need which math lessons at Boody Intermediate School in Brooklyn, writes Nichole Dobo on the Hechinger Report.

In a corner of a very large room, John Garuccio wrote a multiplication problem on a digital whiteboard. A computer system had identified which 20 students — out of 150 sixth graders in the room — need this lesson, based on yesterday’s quiz.

“Where does the decimal point go in the product?” asked Garuccio. When a boy provided the right answer, he added, “Tell me why. It’s good to have the right answer, but you need to know why.”

Teach to One: Math combines small group lessons, one-on-one learning with a teacher, learning directly from software and online tutoring.

Math class spans two 35-minute sessions, with students and teachers rotating to new stations after the first session. . . . On a recent day in December, the classroom was staffed with one math director, five teachers, two teaching assistants and a technology aide.

. . . The software used by the Teach to One system pulls lessons from a database created and curated by the program’s academic team.

A recent study found above-average learning gains at most Teach to One schools. In the study’s second year, Teach to One students performed 47 percent better than the national average, notes NPR.
Teach to One co-founder, Joel Rose, “credits that to the algorithm’s ability to improve itself, but also to second-year schools becoming more acclimated with the program and learning how to train teachers to better use the software.”

Here’s Justin Reich’s analysis of the research and the response by New Classrooms.

LA gives up on ‘computers for all’

Los Angeles Unified won’t try to give every student a computer, said Superintendent Ramon Cortines on Friday. It’s too expensive, he said. Besides, he told reporters, “education shouldn’t become the gimmick of the year.”

FBI seizes LAUSD records related to troubled iPad program

John Deasy, his predecessor, was forced out after his $1.3-billion iPads-for-all plan crashed on rollout, notes the Los Angeles Times. 

Cortines requested a federal review, which found “lack of resources and inadequate planning for how the devices would be used in classrooms and, later, how they would be evaluated, reports the Times.

Good students dominate ed debate

Most people debating how to improve education were good students, writes Andrew Rotherham in U.S. News. “The blind spots this creates are enormous.” They have trouble understanding what school is like for those who aren’t good at it.

Diane Ravitch, the school critic turned school defender, has a policy agenda for improving schools that boils down to making classrooms like the ones she liked most as a student. She’s hardly alone in idealizing a system that in practice worked only for a few. As one colleague remarked recently, “everybody likes the race they won.”

For successful students, education is a linear process, he writes. “But most Americans zig and zag.” For example, a majority of college students are part-timers, yet nearly everyone in the education debate attended full-time.

Most fundamentally, this mindset means almost everyone in education is focused on how to make an institution that is not enjoyable for many kids work marginally better. That’s basically what the top-performing public schools, be they charter or traditional schools, do now. . . .

(Among the abundant ironies is that reform critics deride today’s student testing policies as “one size fits all” while fighting against reforming a system that is itself one size fits all).

School is a bad fit for a lot of people, Rotherham concludes.

Homeschooling has freed some kids from traditional classrooms. What would help others? Technology? Career technical education?

Disrupt and personalize

Online learning can personalize instruction — and make it less boring — says Michael Horn in a Reason TV interview. Horn is co-author of the new book, Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools.

Tech won’t close achievement gap

Technology won’t close the achievement gap, writes psychologist Susan Pinker in the New York Times. “Showering students, especially those from struggling families, with networked devices” could widen the class divide, she warns.  

In the early 2000s, nearly one million disadvantaged middle-school students were given networked computers. There was “a persistent decline in reading and math scores,” concluded a multi-year study by Duke economists. “What’s worse, the weaker students (boys, African-Americans) were more adversely affected than the rest,” writes Pinker. “When their computers arrived, their reading scores fell off a cliff.”

It’s likely many kids weren’t using the devices to do school work, she speculates. Most people prefer to play games and surf social media sites.

Babies born to low-income parents spend at least 40 percent of their waking hours in front of a screen — more than twice the time spent by middle-class babies. They also get far less cuddling and bantering over family meals than do more privileged children. The give-and-take of these interactions is what predicts robust vocabularies and school success. Apps and videos don’t.

One Laptop Per Child gives low-cost laptops to poor children so they can “go online and educate themselves — no school or teacher required,” writes Pinker. It hasn’t worked out that way. Children spent more time on games and chat rooms and less time on their homework than before, researchers reported.

In the classroom, “technology can work only when it is deployed as a tool by a terrific, highly trained teacher,” writes Pinker.

The Tech Timeout Academic Challenge asks students to shut down their digital devices for a few days and then discuss or write about their experiences.

Law tells parents to limit kids’ tech use

Taiwanese parents are required by law to limit their children’s use of technology to “reasonable” levels, reports Kabir Chibber on Quartz. What’s reasonable? The law doesn’t say. But it threatens to fine parents whose children become “physically or mentally” ill due to overuse of digital devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends a maximum of two hours a day of screen time for kids, found in a recent study that 8-year-olds in the U.S. spend an average of eight hours a day with some form of media—and many child-development psychologists urge more unstructured play time.

South Korea now regulates “online games and e-sports as if they were addictive substances,” writes Chibber.

Worried about addiction to online role-playing games, China limits online gamers to three hours of play at a time, reports BBC News. Games are set up to limit a game character’s ability if the player exceeds the three-hour limit.

Progressives say ‘grit’ is racist

The Knowledge is Power Program – better known as KIPP – has reason to celebrate. In 20 years KIPP has ...
At KIPP charter schools, students are encouraged to develop “grit.” 

“Grit” is racist, according to some progressive educators, reports Ed WeekEduCon 2.7, a conference for “progressive” educators interested in digital learning, included a discussion titled “Grit, Galton, Eugenics, Racism, Calvinism.”

“We keep [hearing] this narrative that the only way children in poverty are going to succeed is by working harder than their peers who are middle class,” said Pamela Moran, the superintendent of the 13,000-student Albemarle County public schools, in Virginia.

To avoid the “terribly racist” consequences of “the grit narrative,” schools and districts should create abundant supports for disadvantaged students, said Ira Socol, Moran’s assistant director for educational technology and innovation, who co-led the discussion.

For example, Albemarle County schools provide a computer for each student with apps and digital tools such as “text-to-speech and voice-dictation software to help struggling students with reading and writing assignments,” reports Ed Week.

Instead of “no excuses,” students are given “flexibility and forgiveness. . . . when it comes to things like homework and class attendance.”

“The attitude is that if a child feels [he or she] can’t be in class, it’s probably for a reason, and we can help them, rather than say, ‘The kid has to be miserable and get through it,'” Socol said. “Wealthy people take ‘mental-health days’ all the time.”

Enabling disadvantaged students to get through school without learning reading, writing or a work ethic strikes me as pretty darned racist. There’s a phrase for that: “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Angela Duckworth’s research shows that certain traits — persistence in pursuit of goals, resilience in the face of obstacles — raise students’ odds of school and college success. Grit may be more important for kids who face more obstacles, but Duckworth never suggested it’s only for the poor– or that it’s the only thing they need.

The idea that “grit” is “racist” is “the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen,” writes Harry Wong in comments. “Hard work” works, he writes. It always has.

Immigrant families who come to America, from Haiti, Bosnia, and Ethiopia . . .  come steeped in the importance of family, respect for others, and the value of hard work. Their accomplishments make our schools look good. They understand that there are no short cuts to success. They come from cultures that stretch back for centuries that value ambition, dedication, diligence, commitment, integrity, determination, fortitude, constancy, responsibility, steadfastness, drive, and perseverance.

I think he’s the Harry Wong.

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. Beware of information overload, writes Daniel J. Levitin in the Guardian.