** Reprinted here in the Washington Post
Last week, I attended a Center for American Progress (CAP) discussion, where UC Berkeley professor David Kirp spoke about his research on Union City’s school system, and offered some ideas from his new book, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools.
Kirp’s work and Union City have received a lot of attention in the last month or so, and while most find the story heartening, a few commentators have had more skeptical reactions. True, this is the story of one district in one state finding success through collaboration and hard work, but research from other disciplines – sociology, business, management, organizational studies – suggests that similar human dynamics can be observed in settings other than schools and school districts. I would like to situate Kirp’s work in this broader framework; that is, among a myriad of studies – case studies, if you will – pointing to the same fundamental phenomena.
Union City is a community with an unemployment rate 60 percent higher than the national average, where three-quarters of public school students live in homes where only Spanish is spoken. About 25 years ago, the school district was in so much trouble that state officials threatened a state takeover. Since then, Union City’s measured performance has improved considerably. In 2011, almost 90 percent of the district’s students graduated from high school, and 60 percent went on to college. The change is large enough to suggest some degree of “real” improvement, and it’s plausible to believe that better school quality had at least something to do with that. So, what was Union City’s school improvement strategy? Read More »
Last month, Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl, was shot in the head, in an attempted assassination by Taliban militants. Her “crime” was daring to advocate for girls’ education. In a New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof observes that we in the West find it “easy to dismiss such incidents as distant barbarities,” and uses the example of sex trafficking to illustrate that we “have a blind spot for our own injustices.” I agree. However, I am not sure we need to go so far to find domestic injustices.
How about a close look within this very area: The education of girls (and boys) in the U.S.? Stories about how girls have surpassed boys in educational attainment have become common, and are often linked to statements about how boys are forgotten and/or lost. This rhetoric is troubling for several reasons. First, it can be read to imply a zero-sum equation; that is, that the educational advancement of girls is the cause of boys’ educational neglect. Second, stories about girls’ “successes” and boys’ “failures” may obscure more than they reveal.
There are the “lost boys” of higher education and the “missing girls” of STEM. We worry about boys and reading and girls and math. Recurring questions include where are the women in technology? Or, are there enough novels that cater to boys? Women have sailed past men in obtaining college degrees but, importantly, continue to concentrate in different fields and need Ph.D.s to match men with bachelor’s in the workplace.
When issues are addressed in this fragmented manner, it’s hard to tell if it’s girls or boys that we should be worrying about. Well, both and neither. What all these pieces of the puzzle really say is that – at least in this day, age, and nation – gender still matters. Read More »
** Also reprinted here in the Washington Post
In the education community, many proclaim themselves to be “completely data-driven.” Data Driven Decision Making (DDDM) has been a buzz phrase for a while now, and continues to be a badge many wear with pride. And yet, every time I hear it, I cringe.
Let me explain. During my first year in graduate school, I was taught that excessive attention to quantitative data impedes – rather than aids – in-depth understanding of social phenomena. In other words, explanations cannot simply be cranked out of statistical analyses, without the need for a precursor theory of some kind – a.k.a. “variable sociology” – and the attempt to do so constitutes a major obstacle to the advancement of knowledge.
I am no longer in graduate school, so part of me says: Okay, I know what data-driven means in education. But then, at times, I still think: No, really, what does “data-driven” mean even in this context? Read More »
I’ve been reading Albert Shanker’s “The Power of Ideas: Al In His Own Words,” the American Educator’s compendium of Al’s speeches and columns, published posthumously in 1997. What an enjoyable, witty and informative collection of essays.
Two columns especially caught my attention: “That’s Very Unprofessional Mr. Shanker!” and “Does Pavarotti Need to File an Aria Plan” – where Al discusses expectations for (and treatment of) teachers. They made me reflect, yet again, on whether perceptions of teacher professionalism might be gendered. In other words, when society thinks of the attributes of a professional teacher, might we unconsciously be thinking of women teachers? And, if so, why might this be important?
In “That’s Very Unprofessional, Mr. Shanker!” Al writes: Read More »
I’ve been noticing for a while that a lot of articles about education technology have a similar ring to them: “Must Have Apps for K12 Educators,” “What Every Teacher Should Know About Using iPads in the Classroom,” “The Best 50 Education Technology Resources for Teachers.” You get the drift.
This type of headline suggests that educators are the ones in need of schooling when it comes to technology, while the articles themselves often portray students as technology natives, naturally gifted at all things digital. One almost gets the impression that, when it comes to technology, students should be teaching their teachers.
But maybe my perception is skewed. After all, a portion of the education news I read “comes to me” via Zite, Flipboard and other news aggregators. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that that these types of software applications have a bias toward certain types of technology-centered stories which may not be representative of the broader education technology press.
So, is it me, or is it true that the media sometimes sees educators as a bunch of technological neophytes, while seeing students as technological whizzes from whom teachers must learn? And, if true, is this particular to the field of education or is something similar seen in regard to professionals in other fields? Read More »
Although some parents are better positioned than others to meet their families’ child care needs, very few parents are immune to the challenges of balancing work and family. Adding further stress to families is the fact that single-parent households are at a record high in the U.S., with more than 40 percent of births happening outside of marriage. Paid parental leave and quality early childhood education (ECE) are two important policies that can assist parents in this regard. In the United States, however, both are less comprehensive and less equally distributed than in most other developed nations.
As a recent (and excellent) Forbes piece points out, we have two alternatives: hope that difficult family circumstances reverse themselves, or support policies such as paid parental leave and universal early childhood education and care — policies which would make it much easier for all parents to raise children, be it as a couple or on their own. So, what’s it going to be?
In 2010, a global survey on paid leave and other workplace benefits directed by Dr. Jody Heymann (McGill University) and Dr. Alison Earle (Northeastern University) found that the U.S. is one of four* countries in the world without a national law guaranteeing paid leave for parents.** The other three nations are Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland. Some might see this as evidence of American “exceptionalism,” but what a 2011 Human Rights Watch report finds exceptional is the degree to which the nation is “Failing Its Families.” In fact, according to a survey of registered voters cited in the report, 76 percent of Americans said they would endorse laws that provide paid leave for family care and childbirth. Yet, it is still the case in the U.S. that parental leave, when available at all, is usually brief and unpaid. Read More »
It’s probably too early to say whether Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a “tsunami” or a “seismic shift,” but, continuing with the natural disaster theme, the last few months have seen a massive “avalanche” of press commentary about them, especially within the last few days.
Also getting lots of press attention (though not as much right now) is Adaptive/Personalized Learning. Both innovations seem to fascinate us, but probably for different reasons, since they are so fundamentally different at their cores. Personalized Learning, like more traditional concepts of education, places the individual at the center. With MOOCs, groups and social interaction take center stage and learning becomes a collective enterprise.
This post elaborates on this distinction, but also points to a recent blurring of the lines between the two – a development that could be troubling.
But, first things first: What is Personalized/Adaptive Learning, what are MOOCs, and why are they different? Read More »
We have been engaged in decades-long public policy debates on gaps and how best to close them: the income gap, the student achievement gap, gender-linked gaps in employment opportunities. But why do we care so much about gaps? In a land of diversity, why are subgroup differences such a concern?
At a basic level, we care about gaps because (or when) our fundamental assumption is that, on a “level playing field,” there should be no systematic differences among people based on ascribed traits, such as race and gender, that are unrelated to the “game.” It is “ok” if a specific Hispanic kid performs at a lower level than his/her white counterpart or vice-versa. But it’s not ok if, on average, Hispanic students’ test scores systematically lag behind that of similar white children. Why? Because we know intelligence and ability are normally distributed across racial/ethnic groups. So, when groups differ in important outcomes, we know that this “distance” is indicative of other problems.
What problems exactly? That is a more complex question. Read More »
The majority of social science research does not explicitly dwell on how we go from situation A to situation B. Instead, most social scientists focus on associations between different outcomes. This “static” approach has advantages but also limitations. Looking at associations might reveal that teachers who experience condition A are twice as likely to leave their schools than teachers who experience condition B. But what does this knowledge tell us about how to move from condition A to condition B? In many cases, very little.
Many social science findings are not easily “actionable” for policy purposes precisely because they say nothing about processes or sequences of events and activities unfolding over time, and in context. While conventional quantitative research provides indications of what works — on average — across large samples, a look at processes reveals how factors or events (situated in time and space) are associated with each other. This kind of research provides the detail that we need, not just to understand the world, but to do so in a way that is useful and enables us to act on it constructively.
Although this kind of work is rare, every now then a quantitative study showing “process sensitivity” sees the light of day. This is the case of a recent paper by Morgan and colleagues (2010) examining how the events that teachers experience routinely affect their commitment to remain in the profession. Read More »
Affirmative action has been defined as “voluntary and mandatory efforts undertaken by federal, state, and local governments, private employers and schools to combat discrimination, foster fair hiring and advancement of qualified individuals regardless of their race, ethnicity and gender; and to promote equal opportunity in education and employment for all.” It is also a highly controversial policy, with few fans and many detractors.
Some of this is due to the history of expedient implementation, where affirmative action came to mean a ham-handed system of quotas. But much of the unease is due to disagreement with the policy’s intent.
Many conservatives argue that fairness requires that we do away with preferences and treat everyone exactly the same way. Meanwhile, some liberals criticize nondiscrimination statutes for their focus on race, religion, and gender to the exclusion of socioeconomic factors that can be more limiting. How, they argue, could you consider the son of an African-American neurosurgeon to be more disadvantaged than the son of an illiterate white sharecropper? It’s a very good question. Read More »
In the world of education, particularly in the United States, educational fads, policy agendas, and funding priorities tend to change rapidly. The attention of education research fluctuates accordingly. And, as David Cohen persuasively argues in Teaching and Its Predicaments, the nation has little coherent educational infrastructure to fall back upon. As a result of all this, teachers’ work is almost always surrounded by important levels of uncertainty (e.g., lack of a common curricula) and variation. In such a context, it is no surprise that collaboration and collegiality figure prominently in teachers’ world (and work) views.
After all, difficulties can be dealt with more effectively when/if individuals are situated in supportive and close-knit social networks from which to draw strength and resources. In other words, in the absence of other forms of stability, the ability of a group – a group of teachers in this case – to work together becomes indispensable to cope with challenges and change.
The idea that teachers’ jobs are surrounded by uncertainty made me of think problems often encountered in the field of security. In this sector, because threats are increasingly complex and unpredictable, much of the focus has shifted away from heightened protection and toward increased resilience. Resilience is often understood as the ability of communities to survive and thrive after disasters or emergencies. Read More »
Think about something you have always wanted to learn or accomplish but never did, such as a speaking a foreign language or learning how to play an instrument. Now think about what stopped you. There’s probably a variety of factors but chances are those factors have little to do with technology.
Electronic devices are becoming cheaper, easier to use, and more intuitive. Much of the world’s knowledge is literally at our fingertips, accessible from any networked gadget. Yet, sustained learning does not always follow. It is often noted that developing digital skills/literacy is fundamental to 21st century learning but, is that all that’s missing? I suspect not. In this post I take a look at university courses available to anyone with an internet connection (a.k.a. massive open on-line courses or MOOCs) and ask: What attributes or skills make some people (but not others) better equipped to take advantage of this and similar educational opportunities brought about by advances in technology?
In the last few months, Stanford University’s version of MOOCs have attracted considerable attention (also here and here), leading some to question the U.S. higher education model as we know it – and even envision its demise. But, what is really novel about the Stanford MOOCs? Why did 160,000 students from 190 countries sign up for the course “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence”? Read More »
In the United States, nearly 1.3 million children attend publicly-funded preschool. As enrollment continues to grow, states are under pressure to prove these programs serve to increase school readiness. Thus, the task of figuring out how best to measure preschoolers’ learning outcomes has become a major policy focus.
First, it should be noted that researchers are almost unanimous in their caution about this subject. There are inherent difficulties in the accurate assessment of very young children’s learning in the fields of language, cognition, socio-emotional development, and even physical development. Young children’s attention spans tend to be short and there are wide, natural variations in children’s performance in any given domain and on any given day. Thus, great care is advised for both the design and implementation of such assessments (see here, here, and here for examples). The question of if and how to use these student assessments to determine program or staff effectiveness is even more difficult and controversial (for instance, here and here). Nevertheless, many states are already using various forms of assessment to oversee their preschool investments.
It is difficult to react to this (unsurprising) paradox. Sadly, in education, there is often a disconnect between what we know (i.e., research) and what we do (i.e., policy). But, since our general desire for accountability seems to be here to stay, a case can be made that states should, at a minimum, expand what they measure to reflect learning as accurately and broadly as possible.
So, what types of assessments are better for capturing what a four- or a five- year old knows? How might these assessments be improved? Read More »
Blatant forms of discrimination against women in academia have diminished since the Equal Pay Act and Title IX became law in 1964 and 1972, respectively. Yet gender differences in salary, tenure status, and leadership roles still persist among men and women in higher education. In particular, wage differences among male and female professors have not been fully explained, even when productivity, teaching experience, institutional size and prestige, disciplinary fields, type of appointment, and family-related responsibilities are controlled for statistically (see here).
Scholars have argued that the “unexplained” gender wage gap is a function of less easily quantifiable (supply-type) factors, such as preferences and career aspirations, professional networks, etc. In fact, there is extensive evidence that both supply-side (e.g., career choices) and demand-side factors (e.g., employer discrimination) are shaped by broadly shared (often implicit) schemas about what men and women can and should do (a.k.a. descriptive and prescriptive gender stereotypes – see here)
Regardless of the causes, which are clearly complex and multi-faceted, the fact remains that the salary advantage held by male faculty over female faculty exists across institutions and has changed very little over the past twenty-five years (see here). How big is this gap, exactly? Read More »
Knewton, a technology firm founded in 2008, has developed an “adaptive learning platform” that received significant media attention (also here, here, here and here), as well as funding and recognition early last fall and, again, in February this year (here and here). Although the firm is not alone in the adaptive learning game – e.g., Dreambox, Carnegie Learning – Knewton’s partnership with Pearson puts the company in a whole different league.
Adaptive learning takes advantage of student-generated information; thus, important questions about data use and ownership need to be brought to the forefront of the technology debate.
Adaptive learning software adjusts the presentation of educational content to students’ needs, based on students’ prior responses to such content. In the world of research, such ‘prior responses’ would count and be treated as data. To the extent that adaptive learning is a mechanism for collecting information about learners, questions about privacy, confidentiality and ownership should be addressed. Read More »