Education Reformers Don’t Really Listen

Rick Hess with American Enterprise Institute made an observation in an op/ed in Education Next. Education reformers don’t really listen. Parents who have attended public feedback sessions on education matters can confirm this. Rarely does our feedback even register with those who implement reforms, it’s just something they check off on their PR to-do list so they can say they offered a public forum.

He writes:

The education space has been gripped by a newfound love of listening. The same advocates and funders who, a few years back, were exhorting us to embrace a pretty specific slate of Big “R” Reforms (like test-heavy teacher evaluation and the Common Core) are now eager to listen and are busy exhorting others to join them. Meanwhile, those who felt ignored, slighted, and locked-out when Big “R” Reform was flying high are snidely pooh-poohing all this ostentatious listening as a dollar short and a day late.

I find this “we’re ready to listen” meme a decidedly mixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s healthy. I mean, over the past decade or more, education policy did become increasingly disconnected from—or even hostile to—the concerns of many families and educators. And far too many advocates, funders, and policymakers have seemed deaf to the resulting complaints.

On the other hand, this enthusiasm is more than a little discomfiting. After all, many who insist that they’re eager to listen have proffered little evidence that they’re actually listening. Indeed, having already moved on from yesterday’s agenda (and pivoted to personalization, social and emotional learning, career and technical education, research-practice partnerships, early education, et al.) the complaints they’re hearing feel like old news. More tellingly, when it comes to critical feedback on today’s agenda, the listening—especially to criticism—is markedly less receptive.

If educrats really want to prove they are listening then they need to positively respond to criticism: jettison social-emotional learning, return to classical education instead of the hyperfocus on STEM, address data privacy concerns with real solutions.

They lost trust when they responded to calls to repeal Common Core by providing a rebrand and, in some states, just changed the name. Real listening will result in real changes and revisions to their agenda not just a pat on the head.

Read the rest.

Is Federalism In Education “Misguided”?

Henry A.J. Ramos and Eric C. Abrams wrote an op/ed for EdSource entitled, “Public education must promote participation in democratic process.” Ramos is the author of the forthcoming book Democracy & The Next American Economy: Where Prosperity Meets Justice. Abrams is the chief inclusion officer at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. 

They write something that is truly mind boggling. Do they really think federalism applied to K-12 education is “misguided”?

Recent adoption of the Common Core by most states has achieved mixed results through a higher degree of standardization in teaching and testing content. In most places, this has led to incremental improvements but few major breakthroughs, especially in lower and middle income communities. This, in turn, has led to growing calls for less regulated and more varied approaches.

The notion, however, that further privatizing and decentralizing school policy and practice is a better long-range plan for American culture is deeply misguided. The idea of each state having its own educational approach and standards seems appealing on its face: “Let a thousand flowers bloom” say those who oppose stronger national standards for public schools.

But in today’s context of globalization and rapid technological transformation—forces that should be compelling us to harmonize as a nation—the absence of a more unified, strategic and egalitarian education approach actually works in the opposite direction. Indeed, it is working against us.

Where are these modest gains? What I’ve seen under Common Core is a growing achievement gap though. Scores have been stagnant. What data are they looking at? 

In fact, what evidence do they cite? Nothing. Where has centralization gotten us? Nowhere. The beautiful thing about federalism, especially as it applies to K-12 education, is that we have the ability to see what works and what fails without subjecting the entire nation to some grand experiment. 

This way state policymakers and local school boards have the ability to emulate success by applying what works if they want. 

Those who pushed Common Core ignored that benefit of having 50 systems of K-12 education rather than one national system. They could have modeled Common Core on the most successful states, but they didn’t.

Now we have spent countless hours and dollars on an education reform that has produced nothing.

Also, top-down policymaking and centralized education do the exact opposite of what the title of their article suggests. If you want participation in public education then policymaking needs to be done at the most local level, otherwise, citizens and parents will be ignored. 

Not to mention decentralization is what the founders intended and is the Constitutional model. The centralization of K-12 education has occurred over decades, and we have nothing to show for it. It’s time to embrace federalism and localization of education.

Homeschooling: Education’s Armageddon

Homeschoolers … you’re next.

The feds have captured the public schools …  and now they wanna make sure you can never escape.

Orwell yourself and come to terms with what awaits your children on the horizon of government controlled education.

Huxley yourself into the world of tomorrow when they will be pluggedinto lifetime situations based not on their passions … but on some algorithmic prescription burped out by some electronic ouija-motherboard.

 Pushing Parents Around  is a time-honored tradition among America’s snob class.

Meet Horace Mann.

He was America’s first authoritarian educrat to view public schools as social engineering centers … where the ills of the masses could be made … um … less disgusting.

He was a social-snot … with a special loathing for the Irish. Irish Catholics, to be precise.

Listen in …

“Those now pouring in upon us, in masses of thousands upon thousands, are wholly of another kind in morals and intellect …”

He said it … not me.

So other Massachusetts’ highbrows put him in charge … saw him as the society-saving antidote to “perverse moral education provided to children by their corrupt parents.”

Why do all these school folks hate parents anyway?

Horace Mann also hated homeschooling … even though the Massachusetts literacy rate in 1850 was 97 percent. That’s better than right now!

It wasn’t that parents were doing a lousy job … they were doing too good of a job!  And that had to stop! 

They were raising free thinkers. Independent sorts. With ethics preferred by mom and dad.

Mann thought youngsters should be sufficiently educated … but not too sufficiently educated. Just enough to fill the more menial and obedient roles that were important to Mr. Mann’s comfort. Sniff! Sniff!

Fast forward a century and a half … and parents face nearly identical threats from today’s government magistrates … and from the teachers they pay.

Remember Arne Duncan? The Obama reform czar? He went full Horace Mann on suburban mothers. Said they were deluded about their children … and their education.

“All of a sudden, their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought … “

And he said government would rescue these kids … because you ladies are just like those 19th century Irish yucks.

So it’s deja vu all over again …  

Your children must be saved … from you.  Even if you’re not Irish. And that’s what they’ve been doing for the last decade. Except they’ve made a mess of things.

They’ve imposed the weird and wild on your kids. New theories about math and reading  and testing. New attitudes about play and rigor. New codes of speech. New mores. New tolerances. New traditions. Even new histories.

And they never bother with your approval …

just your total compliance.

The National Education Association … the nation’s largest teachers’ union … is threatened by homeschoolers. Afraid they might create a popular alternative to government schools. Fearful they might embarrass public education.

The union desperately claims that “parental choice  [to homeschool] cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience …”

Yet “homeschooled students typically score 15 to 30 percentile points higher than public school students on standardized academic achievement tests.”  

They also “earn higher GPAs in college and graduate at higher rates than their public school peers.”

Unions want homeschooled kids banned from public school sports and other activities …  even though their parents pay public school taxes. They make up stuff … say that homeschooled kids lack proper socialization … but there’s no proof at all.

Homeschoolers threaten the government monopoly on education … and that boils their wrath. That’s why they want them back … under their thumb.

So it’s gauntlet time.

Another David and Goliath moment.

They want your children and your schools stuffed into that-one-size-fits-all box. And no child gets out … because parents cannot be trusted to do right by their own children.

Time to walk right up to this fight. 

CLICK HERE to LISTEN “Mad World” – Gary Jules


NHERI Research Facts On Homeschooling

NEA RESOLUTIONS – Opposition to Private & Homeschooling 

NEA Global Education Initiative


Common Core, Workforce Development, and Assigning Blame

Photo Credit: Alpha Stock Images by Nick Youngson (CC-By-SA 3.0)

I read an article by David Cantor in The 74, about whether schools adequately prepare students for the “age of the automation.” I understand the concern about a  shift in our economy that is coming, and it will be disruptive. Those who beat this drum overlook the fundamental question – is preparing students for the workforce the role of K-12 education?

I submit no, workforce development is not the goal of education, a well-rounded education in math, literacy, science, civics, and the arts is the goal.

Kids are not human capital. 

That’s not to say I am against certification programs within K-12 schools. My daughter had the opportunity to become a certified nurse’s aide through our local school district. I also think to offer dual high school-college credit is a great idea and helps students avoid accumulating massive student debt. I support vocational education.

I am not opposed to those things if that is what the student and the family want. That isn’t what is going on. Kids are not receiving a well-rounded education as a result of this push for workforce development. They are being shortchanged.

Those of who are concerned about this get the blame apparently because the savior of workforce development, the Common Core State Standards, have been a failure. Why? Because we opposed them and so they were adopted unevenly. Also, the NAEP assessment questions may not line up to the standards (the ACT either).

Cantor writes:

Political resistance and bureaucratic obstacles resulted in uneven adoption of the standards among states. Researcher Tom Loveless at the Brookings Institution found small gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in states that more fully implemented the standards. He has also reported on the larger pattern of stagnation on the national exam.

Several factors, including questions of how well NAEP items lined up with the standards, made it impossible to conclude that they had a causal effect on outcomes, however.

In Arizona, where the state education chief led a successful effort to repeal the standards, local industry played a countervailing role, said Lisa Graham Keegan, chief executive of the state’s Chamber of Commerce foundation and a former state superintendent.

“The biggest contribution business makes is to encourage the jump” to better standards and tests, she said. “They’re saying, ‘We need to employ kids with these sets of skills, and you’re not helping them get them.’”

They can’t possibly admit there was no data that backed these standards up; they did not emulate success in states and countries doing well in math and literacy (to this day I’m still not sure what countries Common Core used as a benchmark). 

They can’t possibly look in the mirror and admit that their grand experiment, and that is what this was, an experiment, went bust and they are the ones to blame. 

Top down reforms never work. 

Yet Another Billionaire Philanthropist To The Rescue!

T. Denny Sanford

Last week, Long Island Business News reported that yet another billionaire philanthropist will be throwing more money at what ails K-12 education, this time focusing on social-emotional learning.

Adina Genn reporting for the publication wrote:

Billionaire T. Denny Sanford visited a Rockville Centre elementary school Wednesday to announce that he is donating $100 million to promote social emotional learning in schools across the country.

The South Dakota entrepreneur and philanthropist is giving the money to the National University System, a nonprofit that focuses on education and philanthropy initiatives. Through this funding, Sanford is expanding the Sanford Harmony social emotional learning program, which enables children nationwide to embrace diversity, inclusion, empathy and critical thinking, communication, problem-solving and peer relationships.

The program is already in its fourth year at William S. Covert Elementary School, where Sanford was a special guest in Meryl Goodman’s second-grade class. There, students shared ideas about collaboration, respect and acceptance through storytelling, song and discussion.

Thanking the students, Sanford told them that they were “wonderful, wonderful kids.”

Sanford told LIBN that the morning was a “culmination of all of everyone’s efforts – not just me, but all the teachers and school district to make this work.”

Sanford based the program on a need he saw to develop strong social and emotional skills in children that they can incorporate in and outside of school as well as into adulthood.

Oh goody. Please stop. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise as we recently learned that it will be impossible to educate our kids without social-emotional learning.

As a reminder here’s a running list of concerns that we have with SEL that J.R. Wilson provided back in February. This trend is not worth throwing money it and it is just another dataless reform.

  • Social emotional learning (SEL) standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs, and assessments address subjective non-cognitive factors.
  • Subjective non-cognitive factors addressed in SEL programs may include attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, beliefs, feelings, emotions, mindsets, metacognitive learning skills, motivation, grit, self-regulation, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, and intrapersonal resources even though programs may use different terminology.
  • The federal government does not have the constitutional authority to promote or develop social emotional standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs or assessments.
  • Promoting and implementing formal SEL program standards, benchmarks, learning indicators and assessments will depersonalize the informal education good teachers have always provided.
  • Teachers implementing SEL standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs, and assessments may end up taking on the role of mental health therapists for which they are not professionally trained. SEL programs should require the onsite supervision of adequately trained professional psychologists/psychotherapists.
  • Social and emotional learning programs take time away from academic knowledge and fundamental skills instruction.
  • SEL programs may promote and establish thoughts, values, beliefs, and attitudes not reflective of those held by parents and infringe upon parental rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children.
  • Informed active written parental consent should be required prior to any student participating in any social-emotional learning program or assessment through the school system.
  • Sensitive personally identifiable non-cognitive data will be collected on individuals through SEL programs.
  • The collection and use of subjective non-cognitive individual student SEL data may result in improper labeling of students. This data will follow individuals throughout their lifetime with the potential for unintended use resulting in negative consequences.
  • Concerns have been expressed that SEL programs and collected data may potentially be misused with a captive and vulnerable audience for indoctrination, social and emotional engineering, to influence compliance, and to predict future behavior.

Mr. Sanford would be better off investing his money in education methods that work instead of foisting his version of education reform onto the rest of us.

Read the rest.

Would Be Governors, Please, Ignore Fordham’s Ed Policy Cheat Sheet

I’ve noted Rick Hess and Sofia Gallo’s piece at Real Clear Policy which pointed out in the 36 gubernatorial contests this year, candidates are not saying a whole lot about education.

Well never fear Mike Petrilli with the Fordham Institute provides a cheat sheet at Real Clear Education.

Would be Governors, please, ignore it.

His first suggestion.

“Build thousands of new seats in high-quality career and technical education (CTE) programs.”

Hess and Gallo pointed out the one thing Governors have talked about is CTE. Workforce development is all the rage, and unfortunately, it has gutted education. It’s an unproven fad; it makes K-12 education subservient to corporate America, and students don’t come out of the pipeline with a well-rounded education. Companies need to pay for their employee training, and now they expect schools to do it.

So please, ignore the education reformer lingo. If you want to do something bold, talk up classical education. Otherwise, you are just parroting the latest jargon.

“Raise the bar for teacher tenure.”

Raise the bar? How about eliminating the bar by getting rid of teacher tenure. Who else does this beyond academia? I’m happy my home state of Iowa does not have tenure for K-12 teachers. It should be considered anathema.

Be bold, work to get rid of it.

“Thread the needle on curriculum reform.”

Petrilli writes:

For states with strong standards, assessments, and accountability systems — and gladly, that’s many more states than in the past — the next step is effective implementation.

Stop, lousy advice; governors should have absolutely NOTHING to say about curriculum. Leave curriculum decisions with locally-elected school boards. Also “effective implementation” of curriculum aligned to subpar standards and assessments is an oxymoron anyway.

Here’s the real cheat sheet.

1. Demand REAL flexibility from the U.S. Department of Education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act continues to expect states to ask the Secretary of Education “mother may I.” Governors need to strive to cut the apron strings. Governors who discuss this on the campaign trail, along with a plan for accomplishing that, are the bold candidates.

2. Quality standards, not subpar, top-down standards.

Would-be governors need to talk about how they will genuinely rid, not rebrand but rid their state of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. States can write their academic standards. Be even more radical and encourage local school districts to adopt their own.

We sent men to the moon with centralized standards, but if a state must have state, rather than local school district, standards then make sure they are quality, evidence-based, actually benchmarked, and field tested unlike what most states currently have.

3. End testing mania

Reduce the amount of assessments students have to take in your state. Support a parent’s right to opt their student out. That would be a fresh idea. That would be bold.

4. Protect student data.

Support and cheerlead legislation that severely reduces the amount of data that schools can collect. Also, leave individual student data with local schools. States should only have access to aggregate student data and even very little of that. Then eliminate any third-party access to student data. Also, mandate parental consent for data collection and protect a parent’s right to opt their student out of data collection beyond what is necessary.

Would-be governors who talk up these ideas I could get excited about.

Blockchain Technology and Education

Sony Corporation and Sony Global Education (SGE) recently announced development of a system to apply blockchain technology to education. Parents who are concerned about the increasing digitalization of their children’s education, about security of their private data, and about the future of education in general should take note.

Blockchain technology is a “distributed database through which digital transactions can be securely made and recorded without approval from a central authority.” The obvious current example is Bitcoin, a digital currency that allows direct online exchanges of money without going through a central institution.

In education, blockchain would enable all student records from any source to be uploaded into the system and shared with authorized users as part of a life-long dossier, or “digital transcript.” The concept fits nicely with the emerging fad of “competency-based education” (CBE) that is being implemented in New Hampshire and other states. As described by the U.S. Department of Education, CBE “allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content” and to compile credentials through “online and blended learning, . . . project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery . . . .” CBE would lead to “digital badging,” which awards an online “micro-credential” when a student has demonstrated a particular skill. The badges would then be included in the blockchain.

Superficially, the concept of CBE and the blockchain has a certain appeal. Wouldn’t it be more effective and efficient for every student to advance in his own way, at his own pace, and track his own credentials online for sharing with authorized parties? But a closer look reveals a dark underside.

One problem that the extreme so-called “digital learning” or “personalized learning” is highly unlikely to engender real education. As we’ve discussed, digital learning allows students both to advance without committing information to long-term memory, and to slide by with the bare minimum of effort. In traditional education, teachers can make sure students avoid these traps. But then, traditional teachers are so 20th century.

But even if digital learning “worked,” parents would need to understand the totalitarian nature of the scheme. Ideally, say the blockchainers, a child could be assigned an “identity” so that every time he logs in at school, all of his skills and behaviors can begin being compiled into his blockchain account. His permanent, lifelong account. And the digital record of his skills and behaviors would be all-encompassing.

One reason Big Data and its attendant industries and foundations are pushing so hard for CBE/blockchain is that a student compiling all these micro-credentials via online platforms is a data goldmine. Every keystroke he makes, every video image he produces, every physiological reaction he experiences (heart rate, skin temperature, etc.) tells the software something useful about him – useful to corporations, to advertisers, or potentially to the government. The invaluable parent activist Alison McDowell explains how this new digital-heavy, teacher-light system empowers these outside entities to scrutinize and analyze every student’s entire being, as a means not of educating him but of slotting him into his niche in the managed economy.

Blockchainers have ambitious goals. For example, the Learning Is Earning futuristic forecasting game (created by the Institute for the Future and college-testing giant ACT) introduces a blockchain system called the Ledger. According to the promotional video, the Ledger would grant individuals an “edublock” for every hour they learn something, whether in school or from an audiobook or playing an online game or whatever. Then the “learners” could teach what they learned, earning compensation in various forms (for example, discounts on their student loans).

Obviously, this imagined scheme makes a mockery of real education. One of the actresses in the Ledger video speaks of having her university post all her course records to the Ledger, and then “I’m pre-approved to teach any subject I passed.” Seriously? This author once passed a chemistry course, but it would be educational malpractice to have her teach it to anyone else.

An “employer” on the video reports that her company has no full-time employees but rather examines job-seekers’ Ledger accounts and selects a person whose edublocks and badges match the demands of a particular project. That project completed, both parties move on. So students shouldn’t waste time on studies that don’t translate directly into micro-credentials and (even temporary) employment. It’s unclear what would happen to employers who prefer candidates with actual educations to those who simply solved an online puzzle and now count that as one of their credentials.

The aspirational Ledger illustrates the totalitarian nature of the system. A fully operational Ledger would “track everything you’ve ever learned.” “We’ll keep track,” its creators promise, or threaten, “of all the income your skills generate.” Other analysts note the blockchain might include “smart contracts” that could “automatically schedul[e] a tutor in response to a student’s academic issue.”

If you don’t want some anonymous entity tracking all your knowledge, skills, income, and academic shortcomings, you must be a selfish person insufficiently oriented toward the good of the collective.

Speaking of the collective, the blockchain as represented by the Ledger would become a “permanent part of the growing public record of our collective learning and working.” And as Sony points out, “permanence” is a feature: The blockchain allows a “secure network in which programs and information are difficult to forge or destroy.” Whatever’s there, whether accurate, misleading, or false, stays there forever. “Permanent record” indeed.

And what about the claim that information in the blockchain would be more secure from hackers than are current system? Don’t count on it. Analysis of the security of Bitcoin transactions has already determined that online trackers can see sensitive details of those transactions, and has exposed the weaknesses of commonly used technological security mechanisms.

Even if security were airtight such that only authorized parties could have access, how much pressure will be placed on college or job applicants to allow full access to admissions directors or potential employers? Refusal to turn over one’s entire life as memorialized in the blockchain could be interpreted as having something to hide.

From a broader perspective, this plan means the end of the American ideal of education as a stepping stone to a better life. It is inconceivable that the children of the elite will be relegated to this minimalist skill-training, to edublocks and digital badges. They’ll attend non-Common Core private schools that still teach real academic content, and then go on to real universities that require substantially greater preparation than Common Core provides. But for the children of the masses, a “badge” on an “edublock” will be good enough.

The good news: Some IT analysts doubt that blockchain can revolutionize education, because of problems with governance, costs, and capacity. But the threat of invasive data-collection and -storage, and damage to genuine education, is real. This is where the data gurus want to go, and they are very good at getting their way.

Four Ways to Fight for Your Kids’ Education in 2018

This week J.R. Wilson made some pretty bleak predictions for 2018 here at Truth in American Education. On Wednesday, my friend Jenni White, in an article in The Federalist expressed her disillusionment with the fight against Common Core in Oklahoma who “repealed” Common Core but still has its tentacles dug in.

We’ve earned the right to be cynical. It’s understandable to be disappointed. I am on both counts. We face what is, by all appearances, an unstoppable juggernaut.

Where do we go from here?

We did not get to where we are at overnight, and change will not happen overnight either.

Here are four ways to continue to fight in 2018.

1. Take control where you can and however you can.

If you are a parent of a school-aged child affirm that you, not the school district, state, and certainly not the U.S. Department of Education, control the education of your student.

For a growing number of parents nationwide they have done the ultimate form of opting out by pulling their kids out of the public school system to homeschool. As a homeschooling parent myself, I have joked that the only positive result from Common Core was to increase the ranks of homeschoolers.

I understand that not everyone is in a position to do that. Some may have the ability to send their student to a private school that embraces classical education.

Some may not have the means or a school to send their child to.

You are still in control. Continue to resist standardized assessments. Let your school district know that you do not consent and will not consent to data collection of your child. Know your child’s teachers on a first name basis, make sure you know what is being taught in their classroom.

Seek out tutoring for your child if needed. Supplement what is lacking in your child’s education at home.

This will take commitment and sacrifice.

If you no longer have kids in school, how can you be a resource to those who still do? Can you help tutor? Can you provide financial support? Perhaps you can help organize a parental education co-op.

What can you do? We can’t just fight this takeover in education in the policy arena.

Also, stay informed and take time to inform your friends, family, and neighbors with accurate information.

2. Local… Local… Local…

Jenni mentioned how she’s focusing on local efforts in her piece at The Federalist.

If I learned anything from Common Core, I learned that local is the answer to nearly every government problem, and I turned my attention to my tiny Oklahoma town of 2,700 where, in April, I became mayor.

You may not be able to repeal Common Core in your state, but can you put pressure on the school board about the curriculum they use or how much testing they do beyond what the state requires? Can you push classical literature, traditional math to be taught in the classroom? Is your school district giving up control where they don’t have to? What is the bare minimum they can do and still be in compliance with state law?

3. Be the change you seek.

It’s easy to complain about wishy-washy elected officials and candidates. Maybe it is time for you to run for your local school board or for your state’s legislature.

If you can’t run yourself can you recruit candidates to run? A friend, family member, or neighbor whom you trust is the next best thing to running yourself.

4. Stay in the fight, but don’t forget low-hanging fruit.

Find the low-hanging fruit and start there.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We will not be able to bring down a corrupt system in one fell swoop.

I believe it is important that we stay in the fight even if we don’t succeed because as parents and taxpayers we must speak truth to power. Success begets success, however. This is true whether we are talking about legislation or elections. We may not be able to replace every elected official who has disappointed us on this issue, but who is vulnerable and can be targeted to send a message? What are some common-sense bills that you can rally bipartisan support behind? Local efforts have a greater probability of success than do efforts at the state level. State level efforts have a greater probability of success than federal initiatives.

Technological Opium Dens at Home and at School

Photo Credit: Lexie Flickinger (CC-By-2.0)

Our entire universe is probably in a tiny glass jar somewhere, placed on a shelf in some alien child’s room as a science fair project that got a C minus …”

Leave it up to a meme … the new technological bumper-sticker … to tutor us about our probable insignificance and immaturity.

It’s smart to be reminded of how dumb we are.

It seems we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. Chugging down this technological speedway … and some of the most fragile passengers haven’t any seat belts at all.

At the moment “… it’s hard to know how many of us in this perpetually plugged-in society have a serious problem.”

Well, at least that’s a start. But that hasn’t slowed us down one bit.

We’re outfitting kids with technological gizmos we don’t even understand. Giving them super-powerful thingamajigs we think of as toys. But they’re not toys at all.

Our homes are rigged like technological opium dens. High-tech paraphernalia everywhere, doing everything. We command it all by voice or touch. And it conveniences our lives. A point-and-click existence pre-programmed almost thoughtlessly.

And therein lies the danger.

Kids are famous for finding new uses for usual things. They turn pots into drums, dogs into horses, and curtains into capes. Why shouldn’t they do the same with these whatchamacallits? Why wouldn’t they partner them with their own imaginations?

But are they mature enough for all of this? Ripened enough to slot it into their lives as it should be? Lots doubt that … and our own experience makes us doubt it, too.

Some professionals are candid with parents … “I tell them, you’re the drug dealer … You need to understand what you’re modeling to this child.” And parents nod … and agree … and then okay the latest smart-phone upgrade. For the whole family.

Hmmm … old advice for new sins … ignored again. Not much different than the teenage beer lecture while sipping a Martini.

And then there are the schools.

Teachers will soon function more like R2D2 … and file cabinets have been replaced with data dump-sites. Lessons are downloaded from some far-away curriculum depository. Quizzes, tests, and on-line involvements are assessed and clumped together to form digital student profiles of the “guinea pig generation”.

There are some who even want body language recorded and inspected for this or that. And others are now scanning lunch-trays for data crumbs.

And students … “kids” in real-life speak … are provided with finger-print access to a never-ending array of screen-challenges. Programmed adventures they’re sure to flip away from their intended purposes … because that’s what kids do.

But whether at home or at school, reality will be further blurred as these escapades morph into escapes … separating kids from the usual human experiences that round out a person.

Those interactions that grow a personality and refine a temperament and a personality.

They just might become that “Lost Generation” who will shrink the universe so that it does fit in the jar on the shelf … and then inflate their own significance way beyond reality. And that is an unhealthy place with scary consequences.

All of this should make for some especially uncute kids. And an unbeautiful society. A nightmarish cosmos of thumb-pressing Pavlovian proteges unable to break free from their absorbing screen-world.

We know the short-term effects. It’s the long-range outcomes that will transform this society into some freaky, asocial, anti-interactive collection of creepy adolescent gamers and cyborgs on their way to droidhood.

In the years ahead … as screen time increases and more gadgets appear at home and at school … it will presage a cultural change not many have envisaged carefully enough.

We’re largely flying blind because we’ve done so little research…” that “… it’s hard to know how many of us in this perpetually plugged-in society have a serious problem.” Oh, boy!

Homes will become isolated islands surrounded by technological moats. Unique will be the child who exhibits even the slightest social grace and poise. Owning a personality might become a status acquisition … likely nurtured by academies specializing in such mysteries as conversation, charm, and passable witticism.

And social status may be measured by one’s fearlessness in the face of large gatherings of people that might require dinner-speak, archaic table-manners, and synchronized choreography syncopated to live music … that dying art of “dancing” … which will be as rare as a meteor fly-by.

Perhaps we should S.O.S. Rod Serling and fetch him back from his Twilight Zone resting place … so he can script a less frightening climax than what now seems inevitable.

So the future is under construction … and too few actually understand what the hell will emerge. But it’s going to make some already old authors … think Huxley and Orwell … seem like a modern-day Nostradamuses.

In the meanwhile, double-think your own choices as we all hyper-speed through this queer age of progress. And forgive yourselves. Your parents once jostled your world with electric typewriters, princess phones, and blaring eight-track tapes … and you turned out alright. Didn’t you?

I so wanna be wrong about this. Real wrong.

Education Reform Is Moving Too Slowly?

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was a keynote speaker at the 10th Annual ExcelinEd Summit in Nashville, TN late last month where he told the audience gathered that education reform is encouraging, but moving too slowly.

After highlighting the changes in technology that have happened rapidly – i.e., smart phones and apps, Bush pivoted to education.

“We’ve seen dramatic, dramatic changes, and yet sadly, our education system in spite of the success we’ve made (he mentioned a list of reforms states had adopted earlier in his speech) has made incremental change,” Bush said.

He then compared education to the evolution of the “global economy.”

The global economy is developing at warp speed and at a rapid pace of change that is far, far outpacing the adoption and implementation of education reform.

In the ten years since our last summit, Apple has released 13 versions of the iPhone…13 versions in 10 years. By comparison, our education system, and even with the progress that you all have made, virtually remains the same as it did fifty years ago and even a hundred years ago in some ways.

By comparison, this gap and this growing gap is what we need to deal with. The fact is that the economy isn’t waiting for education to catch up. If we really care about student success we need to significantly accelerate the pace of reform. Frankly, good policy doesn’t need a pilot program anymore. It needs relentless leaders with the courage to advance bold and transformational reform now.

Look, this is probably the place in the speech where it is important to say that the political arguments we have… What we need to do is get beyond that and recognize whether you think our schools are great, and some people do, and whether you think our schools are failing our kids, we need to put that aside and recognize they have to get better and they have to change to the world we are moving toward.

It’s like a quarterback throwing into the end zone. You don’t throw it to where the receiver is, you throw it to where the receiver will be. And that is exactly what we have to do in education. Perhaps rebuild the coalition of the willing to make transformational change happen.

Here are some thoughts I had as I listened to his speech.

  1. Education will never keep up with technology because policymaking is not nimble. It will never be nimble. It is not supposed to be nimble. We have a deliberative process in our legislative bodies, and that is a good thing. One has to make a compelling argument for a policy and persuade people. When there is a bug with an updated version of iOS on our iPhones, they can release another update with the fix. When there is a bug within an education policy implemented in a rush, we won’t recognize it for years. Since public schools are funded with taxpayer money, the taxpayers through their elected representatives must have a say.
  2. Attempts at accelerating “reform” have failed. I was told by a friend who attended the conference that Common Core was barely mentioned if at all. The silence isn’t a surprise since Common Core has been an absolute failure and ExcelinEd and Jeb Bush were some of the top cheerleaders for it. That was an accelerated reform pushed onto the states through Race to the Top, bypassing most state legislatures and the deliberative process they have, and we suddenly had dataless reform in our schools.
  3. “Progress” is not always good. The fact Bush said schools have not changed much in the last 50-100 years (I’m not sure what schools are supposed to look like in his mind because learning styles haven’t changed that much) is ludicrous. We’ve seen countless fads come through our public schools at the expense of tried and true methods that work.
  4. Pilot programs are always needed. Back to this deliberative process. How do you convince a group of people who may be skeptical about a particular education reform? Let them see it work in a controlled environment. Instead of launching widespread change, make sure that said reform works before unleashing it upon the entire K-12 education system. That wasn’t done with Common Core, and we’re paying the price for it now.
  5. We can agree schools need to improve, but what does that improvement look like?  I think most people understand that schools need improvement, but we disagree on how, this goes back to my first point – the deliberative process – circumvent it at your peril.
  6. Want change? Think local. Our schools are tied up with so much state and federal red tape that real innovation and change in education is difficult. Unfortunately Bush and his allies have pushed nationalization of education policy which ironically slows down the very process he wants to speed up.