Friday, May 21, 2010

Education Lobbyist Platform

Well, I did not get much response from my idea of educators banding together and paying one of our own to lobby Washington D.C. for legitimate change in education. I did name a few names in my comments on the blog that sparked the original post and a couple of them responded. (Again I want to emphasize that my original question of "Why do none of the ed-tech leaders seem to have the ear of Duncan, Obama, or any of the other politicians making terrible education policy?" was not meant to be a critique of anyone but was a genuine question).

Some of the responses given were obvious and make sense: "politics, everyone is an education expert, and politician's minds are hard to change." But one reason was given that I disagree with: "Don't assume that even the people in your list agree on the large or small issues regarding a deeply complex issue like education."

Now I know that people could argue about the fine points of education forever much like churches argue about theology. We love to split into denominations: Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, Baptist, Mennonite, Presbyterian, 5-point Calvinism, 4-point Calvinism, 2.5-point Calvinism, etc. 

We have educators who believe in standard based grading, rubrics, or no grading; homework, modified homework, or no homework; IWB's, clickers, laptops, IPads, cell-phones, 1:1, or limit technology; student-owned devices or school purchased; experimentation or research-based decisions; public schools, charters, TFA, or KIPP.

We struggle to define loaded terms and concepts such as Web 2.0, 21st Century skills, literacy, learning, purpose of schools, PLN, social learning.

But even with all of our differences I think that we could agree on some basic tenets of quality education at the Federal level and leave all of the rest to local districts to figure out in their communities. So here is my education platform:

  • Get rid of standardized tests
  • Get rid of NCLB and RTTT
  • Constructivist, student-centered learning
  • Re-write CIPA to give localities power to decide how and what to filter and to allow for the option of student-owned devices
  • Support technology integration in schools
  • Encouragement of cooperation and collaboration in schools
  • Focus on critical thinking and problem solving
Again what these look like in each district would be different, but wouldn't we all agree to these broad goals over NCLB and RTTT? So do you agree that we agree or am I assuming too much? Are there things you would add or subtract from this list?


  1. Agree with moving as much decision making to the local districts as possible. I am afraid we are going in the opposite direction. I guess if we want the $ we have to take the mandates.

  2. You might want to look at the Economist theory of Discounted Unity. Change affect society which affects materialistic wealth and therefore power and influence. The long term gain in too conceptual, resulting in short term self-interested and group bias.

    As a non-American, looking at the massive variation and complexity of American Education - you have way too many standards making it impossible to achieve one true National Standard of education. Take one National outcome; there are a hundred variations endorsed by a hundred subordinate groups.

    I don't like the term student-centred. I prefer goal orientated - you won't make anything better by making kids remember new information; and before that happens this idea of everyone teach the same thing the same way at the same time is just insane.

    Ironically, other western countries seem to be adopting it. We are doomed.

  3. Money talks, doesn't it?

    So Michael, what's CIPA?

    I mostly agree with all of it. I'm not sure about 'support technology integration.' How much does that cost? What does it look like in poorer schools?

    What I want is math specialists teaching the elementary kids. Elementary teachers are too often afraid of math.

  4. I assume that CIPA is Child Internet Protection Act---a rather micro-managing piece of legislation, and that RTTT is Race To The Top, an attempt by the Federal government to get states to do random things in schools without actually paying them anything.

    Of your list I agree with some and disagree with others:

    * Encouragement of cooperation and collaboration in schools
    * Focus on critical thinking and problem solving
    * Get rid of NCLB and RTTT
    * Re-write CIPA to give localities power to decide how and what to filter and to allow for the option of student-owned devices [Actually, I think this is too weak. CIPA is an unwarranted Federal mandate---it should be eliminated just like NCLB as well-meaning but dysfunctional.]

    * Get rid of standardized tests
    * Constructivist, student-centered learning
    * Support technology integration in schools

    Standardized tests are about the only mechanism we have to tell whether a school is teaching anything. Well-designed standardized tests can be highly informative to parents, students, teachers, colleges, ... . The badly designed state tests that we currently have are not a reason to dump the idea of standardized tests entirely. What we need to do is to take the political influence out of the test design, and test something that students care about. (Having tests for admission to high school or to college makes some sense, having tests for grading teachers and schools does not.)

    "Constructivist" is a currently fashionable buzzword, but I'm not convinced that it is universally the best way to teach all students and all subjects. I think that we need to be pushing for a greater diversity of teaching styles, so that students are more likely to get at least one teacher whose style fits with their learning style, rather than replacing one dogma with another.

    "Student-centered" sounds good, but in practice it often ends up meaning unfocused and incoherent. Like "differentiated curriculum", it is a nice idea, but difficult to execute well. When executed badly, it can be worse than what it replaces.

    "Technology integration" is a nice buzzword for the hardware and software vendors, and is certainly better than wasting money on technology that doesn't get used at all, but I'm not convinced that pouring money into technology is going to solve any of our educational problems---at least not the sort of technology that schools seem to be getting sold.

    I see some value in teaching kids how to write using word-processing software and how to do an oral presentation with visual aids. I see a lot of value in teaching them how to research information on-line and off-line, how to trace ideas back to their sources, how to avoid plagiarism, and how to cite things properly.
    I see some value in teaching them how to use a calculator and how to do simple computer programming. Some of these skills are much easier to teach if the kids all have access to reasonably recent computers with good web access, but the focus has to be on the skills, not on the ephemeral technology used to teach it.

  5. @techteach I can not accept that "I guess if we want the $ we have to take the mandates." We need to fight against any education policies that are not good for children.

    @anonymous I agree that the U.S. has way too many standards. I am not sure the answer is national standards though. I question the value and meaning of "standard." I don't believe there is such a thing as a "standard" 4th grader. Yes, there is the average knowledge and skills known by a child that age, but what do we gain by ranking and comparing students? How does that help any child's learning? I believe all students learn at different paces and that is ok by me.

    @Sue Kevin defines CIPA accurately and I like your emphasis on elementary math. It is so hard to catch kids up later.

    One of the problems of making short bullet lists is terms not being clear. I really was trying not to be too specific to try to make the items agreeable to everyone, but obviously that was not the case. Remember this is a platform of ideals that an educational lobbyist would support. It is not supposed to be fleshed out in detail.

    @Kevin You say, "Standardized tests are about the only mechanism we have to tell whether a school is teaching anything. Well-designed standardized tests..."

    I could not disagree more. There is a reason I put standardized tests first on my list: I believe they are the worst problem in education right now.

    I do not believe test are the only way to tell if a school is teaching anything. There are many ways: observe classrooms, look at student work, student portfolios, talk to students about their learning. My 2nd grade son has not taken a standardized test but I can tell you a lot about his learning.

    In my own classroom, I can predict how my students will test because I know them. I know their strengths and weaknesses. The biggest thing that standardized tests mean to me is that people do not trust teachers as professionals. I know there are some who are not, just like their are some doctors, policemen, and lawyers who are not. But I believe in the professionalism of the majority of teachers.

    Kevin, I also would like to see your "well-designed test." I am not sure it exists, but I am sure that it is not multiple choice and it is impossible to take the politics out of test-making.

    Technology integration, constructivism, and student-centered learning along with cooperation, problem-solving, and critical thinking are all related in my mind. The biggest shift needed in education is away from the teacher as the "center of knowledge" to students working together to solve their own authentic problems. Learning should be focused on the student and their efforts not the teachers scripted plan.

    Constructivism really just means that students learn in context to their previous body of knowledge not in an abstract vacuum. It means students learning is built on previous experiences.

    Technology is the tool that helps students find their own resources and knowledge. They can easily find multiple points of view instead of relying on the teacher or the textbook. My favorite technology is any device that connects to the internet and lets students consume and create content.

    I believe technology can help teachers make the major shift to student-centered learning. It would also take a large amount of professional development to train teachers to use the technology to support new practices. Professional development is the often missing key to technology integration successfully improving student learning.

    Again this is a platform ideology so how it would flesh out and how much it would cost are not as important as having someone who is speaking for this philosophy to politicians. We need support of politicians to purchase technology and good administrators to provide proper professional development to teachers.

  6. One thing I'd add is something having to do with moving the formal education experience beyond the walls of the classroom in an organized and authentic way; not just field trips -- though that's a good start -- but real hands-on learning and tech-augmented service learning in the communities where students live and beyond.

    Education doesn't have to depend on the walls of the classroom anymore; so, let's put the power of mobile computing into the hands of our students and take them out into the world to do stuff.

    Particularly augmented by mobile tech, experiential learning has the potential to really shift our students' understanding of the real value of education away from "jumping through the hoops" and towards something meaningful and empowering.


  7. Standardized tests are the worst way to decide if a school or a student is making gains. Four days of testing during two weeks in April doesnt' measure the success of my students or my teaching.

    The formal and informal observations of my teaching tell me my effectiveness. Outside organizations coming to observe our school and students is effective. Knowing my students and seeing their skills in action is effective.

    If you need a test, make it a test that measures the students progress throughout the year, quarter to quarter.

    If you really want to make a difference, ensure that the students stay in the school for more than a few months. Give the community tools to make residents, parents and kids, successful where they live. Don't take away successful things, don't take away resources. Pour resources into the communities to make the "village" a success that will translate into the school.

  8. I'm not fond of multiple-guess tests, or of tests at all. In my (college) classes, I pretty much stopped giving tests 10 years ago, grading students based on their projects and papers instead. I agree that standardized tests are hard to write, and that most of the examples we have of them are terrible. Perhaps the best I've seen are the AP tests, which, though narrow, do a pretty good job of determining whether students have learned what they are supposed to have learned in a course.

    But I have also seen that some high schools do an excellent job of preparing students for college and some do a terrible job---any system that evaluates students strictly in the local context results in the students (and teachers) in terrible schools getting misled about how the students are doing. Standardized testing may not be needed every year, but every student should be thoroughly tested every 3-4 years, with a test that has consequences for the student, so that they take it seriously.

    I agree that is is probably impossible to take the politicians out of the testing.

    As for the advantages and disadvantages of constructivism, I think that the Wikipedia article on the subject is a fairly balanced review. I generally favor constructivist approaches, but don't think that they should be used exclusively---there are times when students need direct instruction as well.

  9. Michael,

    I like all your bullet points, plus the one Shelley adds. But, I remove a few of them since this a suggested lobbying platform. Specifically, I would remove those items that are pedogically oriented: constructivism and critical thinking. From a policy standpoint, I think we would be shooting ourselves in the foot, tying our hands behind our backs, backing ourselves in to a corner . . . generally limiting ourselves. Lobbying would turn into legislation which turns into accountability which turns into specific measurements. These methods would become to strict at the exclusion of some other philosophies that might be equally appropriate at times. It brings back memories of the 6 Step lesson plan that everyone was required to use, regardless of the lesson.

    RE: technology integration, another idea I support 100%. However, as with the above, how do you lobby for that from a legislative and policy perspective? This is very close to just being good pedagogy.

    I like the idea of having a lobbyist to speak for our concerns because the people in the trenches are never heard. Until one of them rises from the trenches, becomes a celebrity of sorts, and forces others to listen. Who would that be?

  10. @Shelly Love the concept, but am not sure it fits into something that we want to legislate. Would it look like x amount of service hours in the community through technology? It seems like an idea to grow more organically.

    @Knaus Agreed, we already know that the main thing that standardized tests measure is parental income.

    @Matt You bring up a good point about pedagogy. I never intended to say exclusively constructivist and only problem solving. As Kevin said there will always be a time and place for direct instruction but it should flow from student inquiry.

    So perhaps you are right that these should not be legislated, but then how do we get more teachers to change to these methods?

  11. One way to get teachers to change to these methods is to require them. None of like to use that term, but that's what it take. Submission of a lesson plan that demos the key elements of constructivism or whatever pedagogy you wish will get folks thinking in that direction.

  12. I believe the catalyst in the demise of today's students receiving a true, applicable to the "real-world" education is indeed the standardized tests: teaching to the test. In my master's classes(Reading Specialist), teachers have shared that they are "restricted" from teaching reading with books or "organic literature" so to speak; instead they must teach skill and drill exercises. It is only after testing in April that the district(s) give their nod of approval for teaching literature from a real world approach: reading literature from a book, newspapers, etc.

    Additionally, as a nation we need to focus on education as being all around us. Children's learning should not turn off once the school bell rings. Likewise, a child's education should not be postponed until they begin Kindergarten. Parents need to begin taking responsibility prior to their child entering school as well as supporting their education during their school age years. Children today are entering kindergarten with a range in receptive vocabulary scores from 1 yr. 9 months to 10 yr. 8 months. Which children do you believe have been set up for success?