Education

Education

Concerning the SBAC Tests

When I ran for State Representative, I often spoke out against standardized testing. For me, and my family, it hasn’t been a big issue. We’ve always done very well on standardized tests. They have not hurt us, in fact, if anything, they’ve most likely helped us, getting us educational opportunities we wouldn’t have gotten if we didn’t test well.

Yet if we’ve been privileged by taking tests designed in a way that benefits us, it begs the question of whether others have been disadvantaged because of the same tests.

Back when it was just the SATs, it was easier to overlook this, and go along with the system. Yet when No Child Left Behind came along and it started affecting school districts, it became harder to gloss over the impact standardized testing was beginning to have.

Now, we are confronting Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC tests. There is a lot of discussion going on about the pros and cons of Common Core and the SBAC tests. Friends are opting out of the tests and so we’ve had some family discussions about this as well.

While I am, at best, ambivalent about the SBAC tests, I always look for the teachable moments. What can my daughter learn by taking the test, even if it is flawed or inconsequential? It is good practice taking tests, in this case, using technology, a skill she is likely to need from time to time in the future.

On the other hand, might there be a more valuable teachable moment, in opting her out of the SBAC test? In search of this moment, I told her that if she wanted to be opted out of the SBAC test she should write a persuasive essay on why she believe she should be opted out. She put a lot of effort into this and with her permission, I’m sharing it on my blog. Based on this, it is our intention to opt our daughter out of the SBAC tests.

However, the teachable moment is not necessarily over. Let’s continue the discussion. What do you think? Should we opt our daughter out of SBAC? What do you think she should be doing while other students are taking SBAC? What other things should we consider?

Why I Shouldn’t Take The S.B.A.C.

I do not believe I should take the S.B.A.C. test because it accounts for nothing. It does not reflect on me or the school. Making my reasons clear in this essay will help teach me to stick up for what I believe is right. S.B.A.C. stands for Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium.

The results of this test will not will not reflect on the school or me. We are not going to get our scores back either. The Board of Directors is using students as test subjects to see if they should keep using the test. I believe that there would be better ways to develop a good test than by someone who doesn’t know the students making it up and putting pressure on teachers to make sure students do well.

If I opt out of the test it will help me learn to stand up for what I believe is right. I do not believe that S.B.A.C. is a good thing because it seems to be taking away from school time that would be better if we studied something else. I will be taking the test on the IPads which will be much harder than a computer or a pencil and paper. It will be a much harder test then C.M.T.’s. I have heard that teachers might be fired if students don’t do well on the test, and this isn’t fair.

Yes, it will be good practice for the future, but it is taking away valuable learning time away from us. It is a test that I believe will take four weeks, not to mention all the practices we have to do. Mu teacher has been working on poetry with us, which I am enjoying very much, but because of S.B.A.C. we will not be able to finish our unit. He also turned down a chance for the Lieutenant Governor to come in and talk to us because he is trying to give us more time for digital storytelling before S.B.A.C.. He seems very stressed out about the tests, and has been taking his stress out on us students. It is hard to learn when everyone is so stressed out.

For these reasons I believe that I should not take the S.B.A.C. Tests. They don’t account for anything. It will help me to learn to stand up for what’s right. It takes away precious learning time. That is why I think I should opt out.

Teaching Kids About Socially Responsible Investing

This evening, I received a distressed phone call from my twelve year old daughter who has been riding out the snow storm at her grandparents house. She has a project due for school tomorrow as part of a ‘stock project’. She is supposed to learn about investing, or something like that.

She was trying to find key indicators about Burger King’s stock. She didn’t seem to have a sense at what these indicators meant or why they were important. She just needed to copy them from a website onto her homework page. She watched an online video about how to get the information, but when she tried to do what the video told her, she was told she needed to buy premium access to Morningstar. She called home about that and we told her in no uncertain terms, no.

I have nothing against Morningstar. I’ve used it in the past when I was a more active investor. Years ago, I even completed my Series 7 exam to be a registered broker. I didn’t really need Series 7 registration. I was working as a technologist on a trading desk. However, it was interesting and I’m glad I did it.

I tried to talk her through finding the data she wanted from the free part of Morningstar’s site, or from other sites like Google Finance, Yahoo Finance or Bloomberg. In the end, we just gave up. It was not worth the aggravation, and I have some serious questions about the lesson being taught.

I can see the importance of sixth graders learning how to use ratios in the real world and even things like rates of change. Yet it did not seem like this was what was being taught. I can see the importance of understanding how stocks and bonds, and even options and indices work, but that did not seem to be what was being taught. As an aside, learning about indices is probably more important because these days it is hard for an individual investor to outperform mutual funds or index related investments. I can see the importance of teaching kids to save and to make wise investments.

I’ve always been a fan of employee owned companies. Invest in where you work. If the employees have skin in the game, they’re more likely to see that their company performs well. Yet that is not a well diversified strategy. Employee ownership and diversification of investments are probably even more interesting topics to teach to kids.

Yet it seemed like the biggest issue is what is the goal of investing. I suspect most people will immediately suggest maximizing return. Yet is this what we really want to be teaching our children? Where does social responsibility fit in? Do we want our children to focus on maximizing their wealth at the expense of others? Are we espousing a virtue of selfishness, or could there be other, more important issues in investing?

I did a quick search on “teaching kids about socially responsible investing”. I got all kinds of information about teach kids about investing and about corporate social responsibility, but nothing good for kids about how the two fit together. The closest I found to anything useful was United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ webpage about Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines . While I have many disagreements with the Catholic Church on various issues, I thought this was well worth reading and I look forward to discussing it with Fiona when I get a chance.

The section that jumped out at me was

Although it is a moral and legal fiduciary responsibility of the trustees to ensure an adequate return on investment for the support of the work of the church, their stewardship embraces broader moral concerns. As part owners, they must cooperate in shaping the policies of those companies through dialogue with management, through votes at corporate meetings, through the introduction of resolutions and through participation in investment decisions.

While my moral viewpoints don’t always align with the Catholic Church, I believe we can, and should, discuss the “broader moral concerns” in investing. We might even want to discuss these concerns in education and the core curriculum.

What is core to your curriculum? Where does creativity, cooperation and compassion fit in? What are the lessons that are really being taught?

Looking at the Core Curriculum from a Health Care Perspective

Yesterday, I attended a presentation on the use of tablets in health screenings. It is a project CHC has been involved with together with UConn and another health care organization and it is funded in part by the Connecticut Health Foundation.

One of the comments that particularly jumped out at me was about research that questions the effectiveness of many earlier screening programs. The problem is that these screenings often took upward of an hour and were not necessarily all that accurate.

By using tablets with targeted screenings that the patient could do, typically in four to seven minutes on a tablet while waiting for an appointment, the researchers found much greater accuracy and patient satisfaction with the screenings.

Earlier in the day, I had read an article in the New Yorker, THE DEFIANT PARENTS: TESTING’S DISCONTENTS. It was a fascinating article.

The article is full of great quotes, “One teacher remarked that, if a tester needs three days to tell if a child can read ‘you are either incompetent or cruel…’” Applying it to health care, any practice that took frustrating grueling days to administer basic tests would quickly find themselves out of business.

Part of the Affordable Care Act was the creation of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. Perhaps, as part of education reform, we need to look at student centered outcomes research. How effective are the existing batteries of standardized tests? Are there better testing methodologies? Are the components of the core curriculum really the components that will result in the best life outcomes for the students? How does the core curriculum relate to twenty first century skills? Is the focus on the core curriculum diminishing the focus on other key 21st century skills, like creativity and collaboration?

This ties back to one of the lines in the New Yorker article,

Allanbrook says that her decision to speak out was motivated in part by thinking about the fifth-grade social-justice curriculum at the school, in which children who are about to graduate are asked to consider the question “What are we willing to stand up for?”

That especially jumped out at me. Does the school your children go to have a social justice curriculum? It seems like such a curriculum may a great example of what needs to be taught to reach twenty first century skills, and getting skipped because of excessive focus on the core curriculum.

To return to the topic of testing, the article talks about a testing process which takes “seventy minutes a day for six days” and contrasting it with “alternative tests produced by the Department of Education, one in English language arts and one in math, each lasting just forty-five minutes”.

There is another of aspect of health care that jumps out at me which I’ll introduce by way of the infamous quote from the Harvard Educated son of a University of Chicago Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who

described critics of the Common Core as “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—[find] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

Yes, I am white and suburban, though I’m a father, not a mother, and I have not found any of my three daughters any less brilliant than I thought they were. The older two both skipped high school to start college at fourteen. The eldest is teaching English in Japan and the middle daughter completed her Masters in Education at age 19 and has already published three books, her most recent pointing out issues with an education system that does not sufficiently promote creativity. The youngest who is attending a great public elementary school consistently is a top scorer on standardized tests.

Besides relying on false stereotypes, the biggest problem I have with Sec. Duncan’s quote is that it reflects a different issue with the core curriculum.

In health care, we have the National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services.

Provide effective, equitable, understandable and respectful quality care and services that are responsive to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy and other communication needs.

One of the criticisms of standardized testing is that many such tests have been culturally biased. Is enough being done to address cultural biases with the core curriculum? Do these cultural biases also end up in the classroom as teachers “teach to the test”? Concerns about the cultural aspects of education are just one part of the larger concern about the ‘one size fits all’ aspect of the core curriculum. Should the requirements vary depending on a students learning style? Does it really matter at what age geometry is learned and at what age algebra is learned, or does what really matter is that adequate progress is made towards learning all the aspects of the core curriculum by high school graduation?

Perhaps Ken Robinson’s comment about ‘date of manufacture’ addresses this issue best

We still educate children by batches. You know, we put them through the system by age group. Why do we do that? You know, why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are. You know, it's like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture.

Well I know kids who are much better than other kids at the same age in different disciplines. You know, or at different times of the day, or better in smaller groups than in large groups or sometimes they want to be on their own.

If you are interested in the model of learning you don't start from this production line mentality. This is essentially about conformity. Increasingly it's about that as you look at the growth of standardised testing and standardised curricula. and it's about standardisation. I believe we've got go in the exact opposite direction. That's what I mean about changing the paradigm.

(You can get the transcript of his talk here or view the great RSA Animate video of it.)

As a final note, plenty of people have criticized the Affordable Care Act. It doesn’t do enough to reform health care and perhaps some of the reforms are headed in the wrong direction. We do need to improve the Affordable Care Act while recognizing benefits that it brings.

It seems as if the same applies to education reform. We do need a core curriculum, one that really addresses the twenty first century skills our students will need. We need proper testing and scientific research into how well these skills are being taught, the impact they are having, and even on the impact of testing, and we need to introduce ideas like the CLAS standards to education and move away from a one size fits all approach to testing and education.

Back to the starting point of this blog post, research at CHC has found that by coming up with new approaches to health screening, effectiveness and satisfaction can be improved. We need to look at similar ways to do this for education, perhaps individualizing and gamifying the whole process.

So, I asked my twelve year old daughter, “What if we replaced standardized tests with computer games?”

Her response was, “That would be awesome!” and then we went on to discuss how people could use it, track student and school performance and play the games from home.

Smarter Happier Selfies

This evening, I sat down to my evening positive attitude adjustment, and found Howard Rheingold had shared on Facebook a link to Jason Feifer’s comments in Fast Company, GOOGLE MAKES YOU SMARTER, FACEBOOK MAKES YOU HAPPIER, SELFIES MAKE YOU A BETTER PERSON

It was, in my opinion, a very well written response to Sherry Turkle’s recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, The Documented Life where she complains about Selfies.

My Initial reaction to Turkle’s piece was to write Sisyphus’ Selfie. I’ve been intending to write more on this, and I started to write a comment to Howard’s status. Yet as it grew, I thought I should really make it part of my blog post.

I started off:

I must say, as an active participant in LambdaMOO back in the mid 90s and a friend of many of the researchers and cyberanthropoligists that became involved there. I've always found Turkle to be a bit full of herself (and other stuff).

I read her Op-Ed and found that my opinion of her hasn't improved over the past 18 years. I've been meaning to write a blog post about her article, very similar to Feifer's, but perhaps from a slightly different angle.

This is where I decided to merge the comment into this blog post. One person suggested, why not just call Turkle a Luddite, and then went on to repeat various assertions of Turkle that are tangential to the article, claiming them to be facts.

I think Luddite is an overused word amongst technophiles and so I want to present a slightly different idea.

Marc Prensky, in his famous article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants presents the idea of people who have grown up in a digital culture as digital natives. Those who have moved into a digital culture, having grown up in a different culture are digital immigrants.

In my mind, this fits nicely with some of what Turkle talks about. Yes, growing up in a digital culture does change the way we think and act. Yet this also points to the biggest problem with what Turkle has to say.

She is looking at digital culture from the viewpoint of a digital immigrant. For example, her comment

We don’t experience interruptions as disruptions anymore. But they make it hard to settle into serious conversations with ourselves and with other people because emotionally, we keep ourselves available to be taken away from everything.

This sure sounds a lot to me like that old grandmother living in the immigrant community complaining about how people these days just don’t do things the way they used to in the old world, and how much better the old world was.

I pause to think a little more and glance at my daughter creating something in Mindcraft. She is a digital native. Me? Having been on the Internet for over thirty years, and on bulletin boards and programming computers long before this, I tend to think of myself as a digital pioneer, or perhaps a digital aborigine.

Yes, working with computers for all these years has changed my way of thinking. A critic might compare it to the way mercury changed the thinking of hatmakers, and my children might have other comments about having a Dad that has been online longer than they have.

Yet I relish my experiences with technology and I’m glad that my children are having even greater experiences with it. I love the camaraderie of other digital pioneers or digital aborigines.

Through my discussions with friends on Facebook, I’ve also found myself talking about Jacques Ellul, whether or not people need to learn to program, representations of transhumanism, The Power of Patience and Civil Religion and how it relates to prophetic religion, the social contract, the way we interact through digital media, and if there are implications for a Great Awakening.

And, for that matter, I let a young college student from Iran borrow my Google Glass this afternoon, so he could take a selfie of him wearing Google Glass, standing next to a robot.

Technology does change the way we think and act. There is much that needs to be discussed about it. I’m happy that Facebook has given me topics to Google and become smarter about. I’m just not sure that Turkle is really adding much of value to the conversation.

My Backyard

Saturday morning, the leading edge of the winter storm had arrived. It was still just snowing lightly, but it had already snowed enough to make the roads messy. Because of events on the previous weekends, it had been a couple weeks since I had made it to the transfer station and I really wanted to go before the weather got bad.

These days, every big storm brings up the topic of climate change. Yes, it had snowed recently in Egypt, for the first time in over one hundred years, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary with this storm.

On the radio, Scott Simon had talked about the drama around the production of RENT in Trumbull RENT has been much on my mind these past several days.

After dropping out of college back in 1980, I moved to New York with a couple friends. We lived in an old spice factory that had been converted to loft space in Brooklyn. One of my roommates was a painter who was working on a masters degree at NYU. Another was a photographer who was a food service manager at CBS’ broadcast center, and a third was a sculptor trying to find some way of making it in the big city. Upstairs, there were dancers. I aspired to write poetry and supported myself writing computer programs.

It was not ‘La Vie Boheme’ from RENT, but it came close. I met pushers and pimps, prostitutes and junkies. I remember the first time I saw someone shooting up in a car on 2nd street when we went to visit friends in the east village. Safely up in the apartment we sang Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done.”

A couple years later, I left to spend eight months hitchhiking around the States and Europe. I stayed with friends of a friend in San Francisco and walked down a quiet Castro street in 1983. AIDS was on everyone’s mind.

When I came back, I live for a while with actors on Mott St in Little Italy and spent time talking with the old WW II and Korea veterans who drank Wild Irish Rose as they sat on the steps of the laundromats not far from the Bowery. One of those actors was from Greenwich, which now has already produced the High School version of RENT. ANother was from Trumbull. I don’t know if his folks still live in Trumbull, or what he thinks of what is going on there now.

Somehow, we all made it through those turbulent times. I got married, started a family and moved to Connecticut. It wasn’t until the nineties that I knew someone who died from AIDS. A friend of mine was gay. He didn’t tell people because he was afraid he might lose his job. His partner of 14 years had contracted AIDS and I remember doing the little I could to help.

A couple years later, my first wife left me. It was devastating to me. She got a job teaching theatre and moved to Trumbull. She still teaches at a private school in Connecticut. I haven’t spoken with her about what is going on in Trumbull, but I suspect she sees these sort of conflicts more than she would like.

During my reminiscences the song from RENT, “Light My Candle”, came to mind. I remarried. Fortunately a less tumultuous relationship than that of Roger and Mimi and she still lights my candle thirteen years later.

On my way home from the transfer station, after unloading my trash, I listened to the special coverage of the one year anniversary of Sandy Hook. I listened to the bells toll from Asylum Hill as a professor from Hartford Seminary talked about grief, hope, forgiveness and community. She spoke eloquently about what she heard in each bell toll, children’s laughter, gun shots, screams. tears, the tears of parents, of the community, of the world. They talked about other lives that have been lost to gun violence.

The words of John Donne came to mind.

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

It’s been a year. My mind goes back to RENT. 525,600 minutes. Seasons of Love. How do you measure a year?

In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died

High school was hard for me. Not academically, I got good grades good test scores and was an honor student. But I was socially awkward and my parents separation and our financial difficulties weighed heavily on me. It was things like high school musicals that helped me through those difficult years.

A few years back, I found that there are municipalities near Trumbull where the median household income is over $200,000 and other municipalities where the median household income is less than a tenth of that. Sandy Hook is just a few towns away.

In the discussions of Sandy Hook, people often ask, who failed. Why didn’t the gunman or his mother get the help that they needed?

Was it because the school administration and the members of the community were unwilling or unable to confront challenging topics? I’m not saying that a tragedy like Sandy Hook is likely to happen in Trumbull because of overly cautious administrators, but I do believe we need to look closely and see how the actions of the current administration in Trumbull relates to other failures in education and community across our country.

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