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?

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.

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.

Do kids want tech? Do teachers fear it?

School Sleuth is asking What Do Kids Want? when it comes to classroom technology.

And What Are Teachers Afraid Of? 

Comes the revolution . . . not yet

Whenever I eat strawberries, I hear my father’s voice saying, “Comes the revolution, we’ll all have strawberries and cream.” Then, since he had an MBA from the University of Chicago, he’d explain why communism doesn’t work. (Even under capitalism, we never had cream. Just milk.)

As a historian of school reform, Larry Cuban has written frequently on the “rose-colored, feverish, high-tech dreams” of transforming teaching and learning. He recommends Derek Muller’s short video, This Will Revolutionize Education.

Technology can’t replace ‘human connection’

Technology can’t replace “human connections,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, at a NationSwell Council event.

 Microsoft’s technology-rich “School of the Future” in Philadelphia underperforms the city’s public schools, which is “quite a feat,” said Kopp. On a visit last year, she noticed that “every single kid in the room was IMing their friends, or trying to fix the computer, or surfing the Internet, while a teacher talked very loudly in the front.”

“If we try to stick technology in there to solve this problem without those foundations [of human connection in the classroom], we’re going to see things go in the wrong direction,” she said.

Virtual ed works in Florida

“Virtual education” is working for Florida high school students, concludes a Program on Education Policy and Governance working paper.

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) students taking Algebra or English I earn do as well or better on state math and reading tests as those in traditional courses, report Matt Chingos of Brookings and Guido Schwerdt of the University of Konstanz.

FLVS has expanded access to Advanced Placement and other courses, the study found.

Technology can support at-risk students’ learning concludes a report by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE). “Well-designed interactive programs allow students to see and explore concepts from different angles using a variety of representations.”

LA teachers don’t use iPad curriculum

“In the first formal evaluation of the troubled iPads-for-all project in Los Angeles schools, only one teacher out of 245 classrooms visited was using the costly online curriculum,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

District staff focused on distributing devices, rather than helping teachers figure out how to use them effectively, the analysis concluded.

Teachers used technology to display documents, replacing an overhead projector or whiteboard.  In a few cases, researchers saw students using the iPads to do Internet research, take notes or create PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.

However, teachers said it was difficult to log in to the curriculum and no high school math curriculum was provided. Four out of five high schools reported that they rarely used the tablets.

Carnival of Homeschooling

The new Carnival of Homeschooling at HomeSchoolBuzz looks at how homeschoolers use technology.