Newer Isn’t Always Better

A book I finished reading recently, titled The Revenge of Analog, discussed the importance of concrete things in today’s increasingly digital world. While the book discussed things like record players, moleskine notebooks, and other such physical products, it also discussed broader ideas. One subject the book tackled, ableit briefly, was that of education (in a chapter titled “The Revenge of School”).

I really appreciated this chapter, particularly one quote that talked about the idea that newer is always better. The quote was specifically noting a program called One Laptop Per Child which, a few years ago, believed that giving low-income students a laptop would be the remedy to the achievement gap. Shockingly, the idea did not live up to its hopes. The book states, “[One Laptop Per Child]’s great mistake was presuming the universal importance of a shiny technology in spite of the recommendations of people closer to the problem at hand.”

Doesn’t this sound familiar? To me at least, it sounds familiar on two fronts. First, the phrase “…in spite of the recommendations of people closer to the problem at hand” really stuck out, but that’s a topic for another day. The second piece was the idea of technology being the answer to everything in the classroom. Each year that I taught in New York, I was given some state-of-the-art literacy computer program that, I was told, would lead to revolutionary reading growth in my students. What this basically meant was that my students, instead of spending time reading actual books, spent time in front of a screen for 30 minutes per day. And it meant that the school, instead of spending thousands of dollars on books or field trips, decided to buy these programs that, at their best, didn’t harm student interest in reading. Shockingly (again), no extraordinary gains resulted.

Although I’m probably more anti-technology in the elementary classroom than most, I don’t consider myself a complete luddite. I recognize technology’s role in everyday life and that it can provide some very important tools in education, especially for educators and in special education. But, at most, I think that technology should be used as a minimal resource in schools, especially with our youngest learners. Kids get enough time in front of screens at home. Schools need to trust teachers to do their jobs and recognize that, if using technology will benefit our students, then we’ll ask to use it. Mostly, though, we need to help students get their hands dirty in schools, both metaphorically and physically. Because messy learning, in my opinion, leads to real learning.

 

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Book Commercials

Technology and reading are not often thought to be partners; in fact, teachers struggle to make books more appealing to students than so many other tech past times. A recent article that I read on Edutopia suggests a unique way to blend these two seemingly opposite ideas – book commercials. The article compares this project to the more common book review or book preview. And, in essence, these commercials are the exactly the same – they get kids excited about books and about reading. The big difference is that they also give kids the creative power. Oh, and they use technology.

When I was working with one upper elementary class a few years ago, my goal was to read and write one book review each week for the class (to be fair, I was not the classroom teacher, but rather helping out my cousin a few afternoons a week in her classroom – aka I had a lot more time). After I would give my review, I put a typed copy of my review and the book in the classroom library. My cousin told me that students would practically fight over the book in hopes of being the next one to read it.

This excitement occurred with me, an adult, simply taking the time to read the book and recommend it (in an engaging way, of course) to the class. Imagine the power of this recommendation coming from a fellow student? And imagine how much more excitement there would be if there were visuals, graphics, and music? Not only would students be excited to read recommended books; I am sure that they would be equally as excited to read a new book and recommend it to their classmates in this way.

I thought that this idea of a book commercial was really creative and a great way to pair technology with reading. With so many options available to distract kids from reading, teachers and parents will need to continue to be creative to instill a love of reading in our students. As my grandmother told me a long time ago, “If you can read, you can do anything.” We need to do whatever we can to ensure that our students not only can read but love to read. When this happens, they will truly be able to do anything.

On Ms. DeVos and Mr. Trump

Some of the biggest news in the realm of education policy this week is Trump’s appointment for Education Secretary, Ms. Betsy DeVos. I would be lying if I said I knew much about Ms. DeVos before yesterday, but I spent some time today reading about her, as well as reading more deeply about some of Trump’s supposed stances on education. Here are my brief thoughts on both of these topics, with links to some articles I enjoyed reading.

On Ms. DeVos

One of the most alarming things that I read over and over again was Ms. DeVos’ lack of teaching and classroom experience. I feel like I can stop the argument here. How can you justify being in a role with absolutely zero experience? The idea of a lack of experience, one of my biggest critiques of many large charter schools and their leadership models, simply would not fly in any other position of this caliber. Would you ever appoint an attorney general who is not an attorney? Or a surgeon general who was not a doctor? No way. So how can there be an education secretary who has no teaching experience or educational leadership experience whatsoever?

Ms. DeVos also has a vast history of supporting school-choice initiatives, investing millions of her own dollars to do so. In an attempt to be unbiased (though I’m not), I’ll try to find some common ground. Ms. DeVos has stated her belief that ZIP code should not confine children to failing schools. I, as I hypothesize that anyone in the world of education would, agree with this statement with all of my being. But that’s about the only sentiment that Ms. DeVos and I share. In my humble opinion, ZIP code should not impact educational quality because education quality should be consistent regardless of location. By supporting a school choice program where families can select schools, one is suggesting that all schools are not created equal and that some schools are better than others.

Every child should have access to a great education, and every school should provide a great education. Allowing students school choice is not the long-term solution. While families should be free to send their kids to a private or religious school at their choosing, this choice should not be one of necessity. All schools should be equal, and that means providing support (financial and otherwise) to those schools that most need it.

On The [President-Elect] Donald

Oh boy, lots could be said here, but we’ll stick to education. Here’s a nice little summary I came across that outlines some of Trump’s ideas. My focus was primarily on those actions that would impact K-12 education, particularly K-5 education, as that is my niche.

Trump’s selection for Education Secretary made clear his stance on school-choice, so just see above for my thoughts on that. Surprisingly enough, though, Trump’s wishes to dismantle the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) aren’t terribly far from my own. While I am not entirely opposed to CCSS in theory, the way they have been rolled out left a bad taste in my mouth and think they could use some heavy editing. Many of the standards seemed developmentally inappropriate, especially those standards in early education. In particular, I disliked the standards that required such early reading, forcing all students to read in kindergarten before some of them are developmentally ready to do so.

As I said earlier, in theory I can support CCSS and can support the idea of a nationwide set of standards to ensure even academic expectations across the country, but they need to be developmentally appropriate and need to be introduced better in schools. I am sure that Mr. Trump’s reasons for wanting to dismantle CCSS (if he has any) are very different from mine, but hey – I’m trying to find some common ground.

Last Thoughts

Needless to say, it’s an interesting time for education, and the future of what education will look like in the United States is unknown. I would love to see the public-school system not undermined but supported, thus making this appointment a bit unnerving. I would love to see the teaching profession become more respected. And I would love to see an education system where students, regardless of where they attend school, know they are loved and safe and where they are pushed each day to be creative, thoughtful, kind, and curious.

My hope is that Mr. Trump, Ms. DeVos, and the team that the two of them assemble can remember that the students should be the only thing that matter. I hope that the two can recognize that each child is unique and valuable. I hope that the two can create policies that emphasize these two things. Maybe wishful thinking, but I’ve gotta have some hope.

Articles

Here are some of the articles I found interesting on these topics:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/us/politics/betsy-devos-trumps-education-pick-has-steered-money-from-public-schools.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Feducation

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/trump-picks-billionaire-betsy-devos-school-voucher-advocate-as-education-secretary/2016/11/23/c3d66b94-af96-11e6-840f-e3ebab6bcdd3_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/11/23/trump-terrifies-public-school-advocates-with-education-secretary-pick/?tid=pm_local_pop

http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2016/11/24/trumps-education-secretary-choice-is-a-blow-to-our-nations-science-health/#bd0d09053382