9.09.2006

Transgenetic Education

I was just reading an article at The American School Board Journal site by Victor Rivero called The Future is Flat. It's a bit long and quotes from several sources. Some of which are influential and others perhaps shouldn't be quite so much so.

Anyway, the original premise is that globalizatin is making it necessary to alter education outcomes. My point is that globalization is making it necessary to alter the education beast. To make it trans-genetic by doing some of the things Tom Friedman and Paul Ormerod talk about when they examine how globalization has forced companies to adapt in order to survive.

I then go off topic and follow the original article around a bit, finally arriving at the starting point. The Internet enables global commerce, global communications, and global social networking on a scale that few people appreciate. It can help change the face of education if it will only let go and let it happen.

Here is what I wrote to Mr. Rivero:

I thought your comments about Friedman were interesting since I haven't seen any comments from the NCLB debates that talk about globalization. I keep trying to get people to recognize another point from the book that I think is very important as well.

I recently read Paul Ormerod's "Why Things Fail and connected it to Tom Friedman's explanation of how the surviving major corporations became agile to survive. It occurred to me that competitive pressures don't exist when it comes to governments and their institutions (except armies.) So NCLB is the school system's competitor. Unfortunately, shaping communication and the ability to measure and change quickly practices isn't on the agenda.

If people think that a particular quantity of scientists is what we are after, it's a little difficult to produce that quantity of genius students when China has more honors students than we have students. My school's honors students comprise about ten percent of the school population. Obviously post secondary admission is the goal we should be using instead of tenth grade competency. If turning the communications structure and authority structure upside down is what Bob Hughes means, then by all means! If he means there is a progressive model to follow, it won't work.

Students have always left school unprepared for the workplace. Asking employers who have always had to incur expenses related to that if they think students should be better prepared is somewhat pointless.

When you say that the keys to change aren't complicated, it bothers me. If you can accept Ormerod's premise on complexity, a simple model can't be true. Of course if you improve metrics on ALL input methods, then the model will improve. Unfortunately, there are parts that are important to the model that have been judged to be irrelevant like how much money per pupil goes into a good school. Top drawer private day schools run from fifteen to twenty two thousand dollars. The church subsidized schools run as low as six thousand dollars a year. The average is eight thousand - which is around twice what the average public school budgets. Again, top drawer private schools have a faculty that runs in excess of fifty percent masters and doctorate level education in specialties. What is more, they don't move out of their specialty to teach other courses.

The Gates Foundation school has a budget of ten thousand dollars a student. The facility cost fifteen million dollars and there are only one thousand students. I honestly think anybody could do a credible job running it using any mediocre management model. They wouldn't get over eighty percent of the students into anything better than state universities, but what the hell.

Improving public school funding by 100% will only bring funding up to the level of loony bin conservative schools and doing remedial teacher training simply pales in comparison. It may be depressing, but you can't make the National League perform the same as the Yankees and Red Sox without giving them similar resources.

Julie Evans statement about "digital natives" couldn't be more odd. Maybe she means they are like the dummies in the WorldComm commercial skating around the office and not working. I teach in an emergent technology magnet school. The ability to flip a light switch didn't make their parents electrical engineers. Computers are tools that are being used for limited purposes rather than the full range of use that would be appropriate. She is right that students realize they are losing out compared to their wealthy contemporaries. The skills are being created in the home however, not schools. My most advanced students come to school with better computer skills than the majority have after completing the school's computer training courses.

Finally I think the 21st Century Skills group is trying to frame the debate in an incorrect semantic arena. They should keep it simple and just call it education. I had a conversation with the head of the Philosophy Department at FSU this summer about teaching Boolean Logic. He told me the freshmen don't know it anymore. So I asked our math coach at school and she told me they dropped it because it was not in the tests. You are presumably familiar with the calculus debate regarding proofs which has the effect of universities not accepting AP calculus credit.

This points up examples of the effect of high stakes testing. High stakes testing shouldn't affect a school that has a full and correct curriculum with good teachers. It does though. If we were to compare it to a manufacturing process, then producing a product that should cost fifty thousand dollars for twelve thousand would mean trading off in just about every important component.

Finally, implementing one to one computing on a campus won't do anything unless the faculty is ready to use the tool. We have had computing in schools for twenty years and still haven't implemented decent administrative integration. Education is such a cash cow for software companies it isn't any wonder. However, the open source community has offered solutions to the problem when it comes to helping students that are awesome.

My lessons on globalization both scare and energize my students. They should be scared because the people in charge of their lives have no idea of how the networked society will function. Schools all have a network, but they don't have a Network. I am lucky in that I have been allowed to create a good electronic delivery system that uses web services and open source products and information so that I can rapidly alter things to suit the needs of my students depending on the composition of any class. The funny thing is that I have used it for five years and I know that people like it but don't really know what is going on in it. They know my students talk about critical thinking and the history of science and how the Internet allows the globalization of information resources, but I'm not sure anybody thinks it is important.

9.07.2006

Why is a child's education like a car?

Why is a child's education like a car?
And
What's No Child Left Behind Worth to You?

Let's say that school vouchers are given for $4,000.00 which is about what public school education districts cost per student per year. Let's say school privatization is going great guns and you're going to send your child to one of them instead of the local public school that is just average.

Are you going to believe that a private school is a private school, is a private school? A rose by any other name? Perhaps it would be a good idea to use your critical thinking skills first. What do you think that 4,000 dollars is going to buy?

The Federal Department of Education recently (Summer 2006) reported that although private schools had better scores on recent evaluations, after adjusting for several factors a substantial number of the private schools did not do as good a job as public schools. This is a copy of a USA Today article by Greg Toppo. Does that mean ALL public schools? Of course not. It's like buying a car. No, really. An actual car every year.

Everybody is talking about Bill and Melinda Gates and their designs on education. The Gates Foundation has a high performing school that spends $10,000 per student per year and is supposed to get good results. The facility cost 15 million. But in terms of private schools that are high performers, that isn't really high. Here are some examples from the Florida Council of Independent Schools:

High Ranked Private Schools:
16,000 American Heritage
17,810 Miami Country Day
21,450 Vanguard
16,750 Benjamin School
18,400 St Andrew's - top of the heap
16,900 Pine Crest - top of the heap
19,100 Ransom/Everglades
22,000 Guliver
13,500 University School Nova University
161,919 total /9= 17,991 or about 18,000 The national average cost per student is a little over 16,434 (NAIS 05-06)

Christian Schools:
8,000 Catholic Schools (supported by church revenues)
6,900 Bayshore Christian
11,550 Academy of the Palm Beaches
9,350 Arthur Meyer Jewish Academy
6,182 Bethany Christian - 36% Higher than public
7,660 Boca Raton Christian - 64% Higher than public
49,642 total /6=8,273 or about 8,000 which is twice the cost of public school. Many private schools have sources of revenue that make their tuitions artificially low.

Public Schools:
4,000 dollars per student per year.

Here are some private school statistics:
NAIS scholarship students percentage under 20%
The Median class size is 15
85% attend selective universities.
NAIS graduates were almost twice as likely to have “asked a teacher for advice after class” (46 percent for NAIS students, 25 percent for all students) or to have “been a guest in a teacher’s home” (52 percent for NAIS students, 28 percent for all students)

The scholarship percentage means that no more than 20% of the student body is from a high poverty environment. Presumably this is an indicator of attitude toward school and reading. For instance, over seventy percent of these students read for pleasure. Peer pressure directed against sound learning practice such as doing homework may be lessened as a result.

Now, there's no proof that you have to spend lots of money to get a good education. So what I have shown you should be viewed with skepticism. The teacher's pay is not disclosed, so I can't tell what it is. However one of the schools I looked at claims that 62% of its instructional staff has either a Masters or Doctorate education. This means that these teachers are not teaching in the public school system. They may be teaching where they do because they are paid more or because they have classes of only 15 students.

I can tell you they invite students into their homes. I can tell you their students regularly speak to them out of class.

Private schools do not use exit exams. Private schools do not use any measurement for success other than college admission and alumni financial support. Yet the high performers have college entrance numbers of 85%.

It may be that as tuition goes down, college admissions go down too. It may be that as tuition goes down, SAT scores go down. It may be that as tuition goes down, teacher's salaries go down. And it may be that as tuition goes down, so does the amount of time students dedicate to homework. In fact it may be that although there is no direct link between a school's budget and the quality of education, the fact is that the most expensive schools are consistently more successful than less expensive schools.

9.04.2006

What's Wrong With Standards

May I suggest a way we have gone astray?

Corporations were dying at an increasing rate from the seventies onward, the pace of change was picking up, and human knowledge was expanding exponentially. Everybody saw this long ago and understood that our system of public education appeared to be falling behind other nations in key areas.

Unfortunately, the changes made in the last twenty years have not been modeled on how the corporate survivors adapted. While it may not be entirely true to say that, it is true that successfully re-born corporations have been few and vastly different from one another.

Agility, or the ability to adapt rapidly to change in the environment is one characteristic of their success. A second is valuing knowledge as a core asset at levels other than management.

I think our quest should be examining the public management of education on the part of government.

My observation leads me to think that the style of management is what needs to change. There are plenty of works on the new corporation and how it works. There are not too many books on failure. The assumption is that when things become unstable, a business has the option to collapse and die. A public school, on the other hand, will continue to live in a state of turmoil.

As far as I can tell, all attempts to reform the public sector of K12 education are managed in a way that ensures failure. As standards are imposed, they cause greater rigidity. I believe this is one subject of Ken Bernstein's concern.

The other subject of concern is clarifying the goals of K12 education itself. I believe that NCLB is a de facto clarifying statement. The act is telling us that the Nation's fathers want a manufacturing paradigm to continue to produce "workers" of some undefined sort. In order that this be effective and that crime should be reduced, it is imperative that high school graduation rates be raised. In fact the Act can be viewed as a national dropout prevention program. But because the definition of worker is not clear, standards will merely cement a basic and self-limiting curriculum in place.

Private schools that have traditionally had the purpose of grooming the privileged experience no disorientation. In fact the disorientation period for them ran from the mid-seventies through the late eighties. Their goal is clear and inexpensive to gauge because it is understood by the student body and the parents to be higher education. (Aren't you glad I didn't say stakeholder and buy-in or *shudder* "own the process"?) Admission to an appropriate university and involvement in alumni activities is almost a spectator sport at those schools. It can be a desperate and bloody competition, but let me stress that it is a well defined goal.

John Adams' third generation is safe in their hands. But what of the children of the increasingly marginalized non-wealthy classes? NCLB seems to be designed to limit their horizons. Proponents will say that nothing could be further from the truth. However an unfunded NCLB guarantees it.

Who is surprised that the Gates' schools prosper with a budget of ten thousand dollars per pupil? Who is surprised that a private school is successful with a budget of over twenty thousand dollars per pupil? Finally who is surprised that high poverty schools fail with a budget of less than five thousand dollars per pupil?

So I leave you with two things. Agility and funding.

Funding is obvious except that the legislative bodies insist that an unsuccessful system that funds at a rate one fifth that of the most successful institutions is in fact adequately funded.

Agility is what comes from rapid, effective communication and rapid deployment of systems in such a way that explicit goals are achieved in a dynamic system. As evidenced by the rapid die-off of corporations, this is difficult to achieve. We will not achieve it by creating a system of activities that stipulate the level of professional behavior teachers must exhibit. It is not because this would be bad. It is because this is just a small part of a complex part of life.


Analysts are proposing that we fix piece here, and a piece there. The nation is asking that we gather up all these scraps and create a whole and healthy student.


Frankly I do not see that the civic will exists for such a venture.