Virtual School Meanderings

December 13, 2018

The Backlash Against Personalized Learning

From the National Education Policy Center earlier this week.

The Backlash Against Personalized Learning

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

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The Backlash Against Personalized Learning

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Students at the Secondary School for Journalism in Brooklyn, New York walked out of class to protest it. Another New York City public school dumped it. And in Cheshire, Connecticut, the superintendent eliminated a “personalized learning” program after families complained that users received limited attention from teachers, gamed the system, faced data privacy violations, and experienced increased levels of anxiety.

These approaches rely on software to lead each student through lessons deemed appropriate for that student at that time, thus assisting or supplementing teachers who are feared to have a lesser capacity to individualize. “Individualized” instruction may be a better name for these approaches, but advocates have popularized the “personalized instruction” name, and we thus use it here.

All three of the above cases involved the Summit Learning Platform, which is currently used in more than 380 schools. Summit was built with assistance from Facebook engineers and promoted financial backing from company founder Mark Zuckerberg. As such, they are arguably impacted by the recent backlash against Facebook, which was sparked by revelations that the social media giant improperly shared data and permitted election meddling. (The National Education Policy Center deleted its Facebook account in March over these and other concerns.)

But is personalized learning more broadly facing a backlash?

Maybe. In October, for example, The New York Times ran a series of articles about efforts by affluent parents (including those in Silicon Valley) to limit students’ use of screens not only at home—where they are often used for entertainment—but at school. For example, the private Waldorf School of the Peninsula has attracted families of executives of tech companies such as eBay, Google, Apple and Yahoo with its computer-free approach.

In a policy brief for NEPC, Vanderbilt professor Noel Enyedy writes that “recent studies show little evidence for the effectiveness” of personalized learning programs that aim to use computers to tailor digital instruction to individual students. Such programs often merely translate problematic features of traditional learning into the digital context. For instance, Enyedy writes:

(T)he basic formula of both traditional and computerized instruction has been ‘I, we, you,’ where the teacher (or computer) tells the student something, followed by a worked-out example gone over together, and ending with independent student practice. Everything we know about teaching and learning tells us that this formula is flawed and not working.

Another challenge is that there’s no one standardized definition of, or approach to, personalized learning.

“The systems lumped together under the umbrella term of Personalized Instruction differ widely,” Enyedy writes:

In fact, there is so much variability in features and models for implementation that it is impossible to make reasonable claims about the efficacy of Personalized Instruction as a whole. Worse, when decision makers consider adopting a particular system, it is usually hard to tell whether available evidence applies to the specific system under consideration.

One major complaint about Summit Learning is that there is too much digital learning and not enough instructor intervention: One student told New York Magazine that she met with her math teacher for just a few minutes a month. Survey results suggest that teachers in schools that use personalized learning are less familiar with their students and their lives inside and outside of schools. Other complaints about Summit include:

Prof. Enyedy’s brief concludes with a series of seven recommendations, including the following four:

  • Education policymakers should continue to invest in technology but should be wary of advocacy promoting computerized instruction to an extent that oversteps the current research.
  • Policymakers should encourage more partnerships among developers, educational researchers and teachers. Such partnerships have great potential to produce systematic and rigorous evidence of what works and what doesn’t.
  • Administrators must ensure that investments in technological infrastructure and software licensing are accompanied by substantive professional development for teachers in order to provide them with skills that have not historically been in the teacher’s toolbox.
  • All stakeholders should refrain from assuming that Personalized Instruction is the only model for computers in the classroom and be open to investigating new models integrating technology into the learning process.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

December 10, 2018

When Publicly Funded Schools Exclude Segments Of The Public

An item from the National Education Policy Center that hit my inbox late last week.

Policy brief analyzes discriminatory practices and possible legal protections in an era of education privatization.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Publication Announcement

When Publicly Funded Schools Exclude Segments of the Public

KEY TAKEAWAY:

Policy brief analyzes discriminatory practices and possible legal protections in an era of education privatization.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

Julie F. Mead:

(608) 263-3405

jmead@education.wisc.edu

TwitterEmail Address

BOULDER, CO (December 6, 2018) – In Indiana, a private religious school receiving over $6.5 million in public funds via the state’s voucher program placed an LGBT counselor on leave because she had married her same-sex partner. In Milwaukee, where students with disabilities constitute 12-20% of public school enrollments, they constitute only 2% of enrollments in private schools participating in the city’s voucher program. Similarly, charter schools enroll a lower percentage of students with disabilities (particularly more severe disabilities) when compared to traditional public schools. In response to these and other issues of access and discrimination, some defenders of these schools have argued that the schools have broken no laws—and they are often correct. How can this be?

To answer that question, professors Julie F. Mead of the University of Wisconsin and Suzanne E. Eckes of Indiana University authored a policy brief, How School Privatization Opens the Door for Discrimination, which analyzes discrimination in an era of education privatization.

The brief’s review of relevant laws reveals that voucher and charter school programs open the door to discrimination because of three phenomena. First, federal law defines discrimination differently in public and private spaces. Second, state legislatures have largely neglected issues of discrimination while constructing voucher laws. Charter laws are better, but they fail to comprehensively address these issues. Third, because private and charter schools are free to determine what programs to offer, they can attract some populations while excluding others.

After briefly examining the history of discrimination in schools, the brief analyzes each of these three enabling factors and then outlines recent developments. Finally, based on its analysis, the brief offers the following recommendations to help address the issue of publicly funded programs currently failing to serve all segments of the public:

  1. Congress should amend federal anti-discrimination laws to clarify that states supporting charter schools and states directly or indirectly channeling public funds to private schools must ensure that those programs operate in non-discriminatory ways.
  2. Federal agencies should explore whether governmental benefits should be withheld from private schools failing to meet non-discrimination standards.
  3. State legislatures should include explicit anti-discrimination language in their state voucher laws to ensure that participating private schools do not discriminate against students and staff on the basis of race, color, sex, race, class, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, national origin, or primary language.
  4. State legislatures should adopt or amend charter school laws to ensure that policies and practices are reviewed throughout the process of approval and renewal. Schools failing to attract and retain reasonably heterogeneous student populations should be directed to address the problem and should be considered for non-renewal if the problem is not corrected.

Find How School Privatization Opens the Door for Discrimination, by Julie F. Mead and Suzanne E. Eckes, at:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/privatization

This policy brief is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

December 5, 2018

Report Fails To Sufficiently Address The Evidence Surrounding Teacher Evaluation

An item from the National Education Policy Center from yesterday’s inbox.

Narrow focus and methodological flaws also diminish report’s attempt to promote the benefits of teacher evaluation linked to measures of student growth.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Publication Announcement

Report Fails to Sufficiently Address the Evidence Surrounding Teacher Evaluation

KEY TAKEAWAY:

Narrow focus and methodological flaws also diminish report’s attempt to promote the benefits of teacher evaluation linked to measures of student growth.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

Amy N. Farley:

(513) 556-5111

amy.farley@uc.edu

TwitterEmail Address

BOULDER, CO (December 4, 2018) – A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) highlights six teacher evaluation systems purportedly “yielding substantial benefits.” This comes at the end of a decade when reformed teacher evaluation systems that link teacher performance to measures of student growth have been at the center of educational debate.

Amy Farley and Leah Chamberlain of the University of Cincinnati reviewed Making a Difference: Six Places Where Teacher Evaluation Systems Are Getting Results. They find that the report does little to enrich an already tired conversation about linking teacher evaluation to student achievement.

Overall, the research regarding teacher evaluation is mixed, at best. Most notably, a recent multi-year RAND report suggests that a $500 million investment in teacher evaluation that heavily weighted student growth measures, with considerable funding from the Gates Foundation, did not improve student outcomes. In fact, the reform may have exacerbated unequal access to effective teachers for low-income students and students of color.

While the NCTQ report promotes these approaches to teacher evaluation, Farley and Chamberlain explain how it fails to seriously counter the groundswell of academic literature critiquing these systems. It also does not present a compelling justification for its site selection or the criteria used for inclusion of evidence.  Instead, it appears to rely on a limited set of data drawn mostly from internal reports or interviews with district or state representatives and does not adequately consider disconfirming or contradictory evidence.

These methodological flaws limit the validity of the report’s findings, they conclude, which ultimately diminishes its usefulness for policy and practice.

Find the review, by Amy Farley and Leah Chamberlain, at:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-teacher-eval

Find Making a Difference: Six Places Where Teacher Evaluation Systems Are Getting Results, written by Hannah Putman, Kate Walsh, and Elizabeth Ross and published by the National Council on Teacher Quality, at:

https://www.nctq.org/dmsView/NCTQ_Report_-_Making_a_Difference

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

November 30, 2018

Conversation About The Reading Wars, Sparked By A New Documentary About Literacy Instruction: Q&A With Elizabeth Moje, Dean Of The University Of Michigan School Of Education

An item from the National Education Policy Center.

Conversation about the Reading Wars, Sparked by a New Documentary about Literacy Instruction: Q&A with Elizabeth Moje, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Education

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Newsletter

Conversation about the Reading Wars, Sparked by a New Documentary about Literacy Instruction: Q&A with Elizabeth Moje, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Education

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They’re back. Or maybe the “reading wars” never really went away. For decades, political skirmishes have raged between supporters of phonics instruction and proponents of whole language. Regardless of the recent history of this battle, education journalist Emily Hanford’s recent American Public Media radio documentary, Hard Words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read? has certainly set off a fresh round of public debate. Hanford’s piece aims to make the case that millions of children are being set up to fail because educators are either unaware of or resistant to the need for well-executed phonics instruction. Her documentary, which she followed with this New York Times commentary, has inspired multiple responses, including:

  • An open letter from Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute saying that learning how to teach children to read was “not part of” the elementary certification program that he graduated from;
  • An Education Week “Teacher Beat” blog describing comments from teachers with similar complaints;
  • Washington Post column from cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, who called the reading wars a “waste of time”;
  • blog from Furman literacy professor P.L. Thomas, critical of Hanford’s work and urging the media to stop misrepresenting reading instruction;
  • An interview with Hanford on Alexander Russo’s Phi Delta Kappan blog, The Grade; and
  • An interview with Hanford on EWA Radio, the podcast of the Education Writers Association

In order to shed light on issues raised by the documentary, the National Education Policy Center conducted the Q&A below with NEPC Fellow Elizabeth Birr Moje, Dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan. She is also the George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Education and the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor. Her areas of expertise include the intersections of the disciplinary literacies of school and the literacy practices of youth outside of school. In addition, she helped to develop a program that advances discipline-based literacy education.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: Hanford’s piece criticizes balanced literacy as treating phonics “a bit like salt on a meal: a little here and there, but not too much, because it could be bad for you.” How would you define balanced literacy? Is balanced literacy, as a practical matter, the same thing as whole language instruction, as implied in the documentary? When implemented with fidelity and as intended, does the balanced literacy approach assign too little importance to phonics? Is balanced literacy the prevailing approach to teaching reading in American schools?

A: Balanced literacy is not the same as whole-language approaches to reading instruction, although it incorporates practices that could also be used in whole-language instruction. Balanced literacy, like whole language approaches, also includes phonics instruction. The concept of balanced literacy was put forward to remind teachers that no one dimension of the reading process should be privileged in teaching children to read. Rather than emphasizing only phonics instruction or only comprehension strategy instruction, the concept of balanced literacy was developed to ensure that children received instruction in all the different components of reading. My analysis suggests that, if done appropriately, balanced literacy does not assign too little importance to phonics instruction. Nor, however, does it assign sole importance to phonics instruction, especially not to the exclusion of comprehension or meaning making.

The real question is not whether one approach is a “whole language” or a “phonics” approach…

Click here to read the rest of this Q&A.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

November 28, 2018

School Rankings Based On Spending And Outcomes Suffer From Severe Methodological Flaws And Insufficient Research

From the National Education Policy Center.

Analyses of the performance of state education systems provide misguided and unfounded conclusions.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Publication Announcement

School Rankings Based on Spending and Outcomes Suffer from Severe Methodological Flaws and Insufficient Research

KEY TAKEAWAY:

Analyses of the performance of state education systems provide misguided and unfounded conclusions.

CONTACT:

William J. Mathis:

(802) 383-0058

wmathis@sover.net

Bruce D. Baker:

(732) 932-7496, x8232

bruce.baker@gse.rutgers.edu

TwitterEmail Address

BOULDER, CO (November 27, 2018) –The Reason Foundation recently published a policy brief that offers an alternative ranking of states’ education systems. The brief, which was based on a working paper from the Department of Finance and Managerial Economics at the University of Texas at Dallas, purports to offer needed adjustments and nuance, but makes its own serious mistakes, according to a new review.

Rutgers professor Bruce D. Baker reviewed Everything You Know About State Education Rankings Is Wrong and the underlying working paper, Fixing the Currently Biased State K-12 Education Rankings. He found the analyses provided did little or nothing to advance the conversation about the effectiveness of state education systems.

The twin reports begin with the presumption that high average test scores combined with lower school spending should be the basis for state rankings, which are reasonable premises, depending upon how the analyses are approached. But the reports then head off the rails, Professor Baker explains.

Offering a ‘corrected’ representation of student outcomes and a crude analysis asserting that spending has no relation to those outcomes, the reports declare states such as New Jersey and Vermont to be poor-performing, highly inefficient systems by comparison to many states. The reports then estimate a regression model and assert that the higher performing states are those with (a) weaker teachers’ unions and (b) more children in charter schools.

However, Baker’s review details how the reports’ so-called corrections involved unreasonable and illogical assumptions and adjustments. For example, the reports re-weight racial and ethnic subgroups so that they inappropriately place equal weight in states like Vermont or Wyoming on students comprising 1 to 2% of the population as the other 98 to 99%. Other problems concern a decision to ignore economic status entirely and a poorly executed adjustment for cost of living.

Regressing multiple, highly related, interdependent measures against a specious outcome measure leads to even more suspect findings and, Baker concludes, would only mislead policymakers.

Find the review, by Bruce D. Baker, at:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-rankings

Find Everything You Know About State Education Rankings Is Wrong, written by Stan J. Liebowitz and Matthew L. Kelly and published by the Reason Foundation, at:

https://reason.com/archives/2018/10/07/everything-you-know-about-stat

Find Fixing the Currently Biased State K-12 Education Rankings, written by Stan J. Liebowitz and Matthew L. Kelly and published by the Department of Finance and Managerial Economics at the University of Texas at Dallas at:

https://ssrn.com/abstract=3185152

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

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