Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Education news round up: The NY Times vs. the Atlantic

Here's some of the latest on education from New York Times Op-Ed columnist Tom Friedman. First, from three weeks ago:

Institutions of higher learning must move, as the historian Walter Russell Mead puts it, from a model of “time served” to a model of “stuff learned.” Because increasingly the world does not care what you know. Everything is on Google. The world only cares, and will only pay for, what you can do with what you know.
Therefore, we have to get beyond the current system of information and delivery — the professorial “sage on the stage” and students taking notes, followed by a superficial assessment, to one in which students are asked and empowered to master more basic material online at their own pace, and the classroom becomes a place where the application of that knowledge can be honed through lab experiments and discussions with the professor.
[All this in an article showcasing MOOCs--massive open online courses--which in fact are the apotheosis of sage on the stage instruction and of superficial learning writ large. Friedman,perhaps a humanities major, seems to have forgotten all about the problem sets, problem sessions, labs, and discussion sections that supplement lectures in the "traditional" model of tertiary education.]

This past weekend, Friedman's hero was "Harvard education specialist" Tony Wagner, whose views I blogged about earlier and about whom several astute commenters weighed as well.
“We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. “Because of this, the longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school. More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”  
... 
“Teachers,” he said, “need to coach students to performance excellence, and principals must be instructional leaders who create the culture of collaboration required to innovate. But what gets tested is what gets taught, and so we need ‘Accountability 2.0.’ All students should have digital portfolios to show evidence of mastery of skills like critical thinking and communication, which they build up right through K-12 and postsecondary. Selective use of high-quality tests, like the College and Work Readiness Assessment, is important. Finally, teachers should be judged on evidence of improvement in students’ work through the year — instead of a score on a bubble test in May. We need lab schools where students earn a high school diploma by completing a series of skill-based ‘merit badges’ in things like entrepreneurship. And schools of education where all new teachers have ‘residencies’ with master teachers and performance standards — not content standards — must become the new normal throughout the system.”
Yeah, yeah, we've heard it all before. Boring facts; looking it up on Google, portfolios and play. Forget specific content and content standards.

The New York Times, whose education columnists are mostly armchair intellectuals who mouth the dominant memes,can be trusted to publish only the politically ascendant side of the education debate, whether it's Friedman on "21st century skills," David Brooks on grit and character education, or Susan Engel on cooperative groups and student-centered discovery learning--or all three on how we need to stop focusing, in one way or another, on core academic subjects.

Thank goodness for the online Atlantic. It has consistently published stuff outside the dominant paradigm--not from armchair intellectuals, but from those with some familiarity with what goes on in classrooms. Within the last few months, it has published pieces on the virtues of grammar instruction, the downsides of Writer's Workshop, the problematic emphasis on social skills over academics, and the problems with Reform Math and the Common Core math standards. Most recently, there's a new piece by Barry Garelick, the author of the last two pieces, on the virtues of grouping students by ability--a practice that, even though it's been making a quiet comeback, has been derided by the education establishment for decades.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The head of our school turns 65 this year. A product of the establishment, the school under the head's leadership is the epitome of subjective grading and constructivist ed. We've been hoping to get a letter announcing her retirement, but aren't holding our breath.

When playing around with ideas of who could replace her, we agreed that the security guard at the school could probably do a better job, as could just about any parent.

This is akin to William F. Buckley's quip: "I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University."

Parents have more common sense about education than our educated education majors.