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Ed Tech Thoughts on the Space Coast

Policy

Norwegian School Places Parents Under the Tutelage of Educators

photo credit: Jim Forest, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/3346684797
A former student and friend shared a Norwegian news article with me and asked me what I thought… a Facebook question and response turned into a blog post. You may want to start with the new article:

The school has a new task, namely to educate parents

Even though this article reports on education in Norway, we have seen similar policies in the good old U.S. of A. We have often said that student success has a high correlation with stable, healthy home environments and supportive, educated parents. So the big question is can (or should) teachers be held responsible or accountable for parent learning or educational involvement?

The Denmark regulation states: The school and now will: facilitate cooperation with the home and ensure that parents / guardians share responsibility in schools. Good teachers should already be doing that. The concern is when it becomes law and must be documented, assessed and enforced.

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How Thoroughly Has Our Legislature Thought This Through?!

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It is predicted that sometime this week Florida Governor Rick Scott will sign a piece of legislation that is similar to one vetoed by our previous governor after an outcry from parents, students and teachers last year. Senate Bill (SB) 736 is very similar to SB 6. It represents our state’s efforts to qualify for the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top money. Our state doesn’t want to miss out on $700 million dollars of federal education funding, so it has crafted a new set of legislation that many believe will compromise the future of public education.

Unfortunately, the legislators themselves have estimated that this Race to the Top prize will not be not be enough to cover the additional expenses of creating new tests, training, deploying, grading and reporting the results of the tests that SB 736 requires. There is immense cost in creating fair standardized tests specific to every course’s curriculum. SB 736 doesn’t provide any additional funding and most citizens are unaware that the additional burden of creating these tests will come out of the local school district’s shrinking budget. It is another case of legislate something new but providing the money to make it happen.

Many of my colleagues believe that SB 736 (and last year’s SB 6) is all about publishers making money from standardized tests and the grading of those tests. A well-placed team of lobbyists can be very influential.

What is happening to curiosity-driven inquiry? With all the stress of testing, are children going lose yet more of their childhood? One question teachers and parents are asking is
Do we really want instructional time devoted to more standardized style testing?; but I think the real question is What does all this testing tell us?

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Albert Einstein

Concern #1 What are we testing?!
When we begin to look at assessment, one of the first thoughts that come to my mind is a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein:
Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. However, it is probably better to credit sociologist William Bruce Cameron who wrote something very similar in his 1963 book: Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking (1963). It appears to have made some impression on Albert Einstein who apparently quoted it and became associated with this thought. But I digress...

(1) Ben Grey (bengrey) on Twitter
Illinoisan Tech Ben Grey gave voice to a concern that many experienced educators have: What have we identified as the highest measures of the educated? Are the noblest characteristics of a learned person being measured? Can they be measured in a ‘standardized test fashion’? Ben tweeted the question, Where is our standardized test for creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration and communicating?

Seesmic Desktop 2 - d.seesmic.com
In Florida’s SB 736 a teacher’s livelihood will be determined by test scores that have very little to do with Ben’s list of admirable educational goals. Mom and Dad, future employer, you who are soon to retire, do you want our public schools to demote or (worse yet) fire teachers that emphasize these objectives? I promise you, the obsession with FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) scores have already pushed project-based learning and practically relevant learning experiences out of the classrooms I facilitate as a technology integrator at my school. Coverage, coverage, coverage... tell them what they need to know, then test them. Students don’t need to think for themselves, they just need to know. End of course tests have already put Algebra teachers at my school on a demanding, unforgiving schedule so focused on hitting every chapter to stay on time that passion and relevance are shot and it is hard not to leave children behind.

Concern #2 What do the test numbers really mean?!
Education is not as simple as manufacturing widgets in a factory. Most public school teachers cannot determine the type of student that crosses their threshold each August. Unlike other vocations, educators have very little control on the raw goods they are given and the events of any given household, community or school are not consistent year to year. Measuring the success of a teacher following a year of instruction is much more complex than developing a quality product in a factory assembly line.

I am trained as a scientist. Science relies on numbers to prove or disprove a hypothesis. An experiment may provide results that are different from a control group but not statistically significant. The term
Statistically Significant is used when the results are unlikely to have occurred by chance alone. Cause and Effect is very difficult to establish, because observed results are not always a direct result of the treatment.

In the physical sciences, cause and effect is easier to establish because physical science subjects “behave” consistently according to the laws of energy, principles of mass, etc. Sciences that deal with living things introduce much more complex systems. There are so many variables (many hard to quantify) i.e., internal vigor, hormone levels, diet, previous experience. The complexity of living things make it very difficult to establish cause and effect, and this complexity is even greater with human subjects.
When we say a teacher should not return to their job next fall because their students didn’t make significant improvement on their standardized test scores, we are implying a cause and effect relationship that doesn’t necessarily exist.

Let’s suppose that we know that the end of year test is good. The student did learn something. The test measures (correctly) that gains were made. Does this mean that the teacher was successful. Not unless there are significant numbers and significant gains and repeated success with a wide variety of students. It is a very large leap from the test correctly evaluating the student to the test evaluating the teacher in a cause and effect relationship.

I am not a statistician, and I don’t play one on TV, but I really question the validity of relying on test score improvement each year as the primary measure of how effective a teacher is. Here are some points to ponder:
  • Currently, teachers have about 50 hours (per subject) to ‘move the needle’ before the FCAT is taken. Subtract classroom management, unavoidable student absences, and various interruptions, the actual time that teachers have to ‘produce learning’ is not as great as ‘a year of instruction’ might indicate.
  • Although teachers are very important, the range and potential effect of other variables in the learning styles, foundational experiences, home, and emotional environment can overwhelm the effect of a charismatic, logical, knowledgeable, and talented learning facilitator. The total time students are ‘exposed’ to other stimuli far outweighs the time they are exposed to the teacher’s instruction.
  • Because students have different learning styles, our very best teachers are most successful when using a specific teaching style to teach them. The factory model of education that standardized testing assumes and reinforces makes it much more difficult for them to operate in the range of learning styles. If our teachers are supposed to deliver ‘differentiated instruction’ then assessment must be differentiated as well. This is at odds with the idea of standardized testing which says that success is measured by one standard applied to all in the same way.
  • In statistical language, I wonder about sample size, the randomness of selection of subjects (sampling distribution), disqualification of outlier results, standard deviation, significance of small gains or small losses (effect size). Human learning research is confounded by many more variables and measurement issues than other sciences. That is why behavioral and social sciences are called a ‘soft science’ and human learning is at the farthest end of the soft science <–> hard science continuum. Are true social science statisticians going to review this process to determine if there is statistically sound reason to award, penalize, or fire teachers based on their class’s scores on one test??!!
  • My final concern has to do with the internal reliability of the instrument. SB 736 (if signed and not blocked by courts) starts July 1st. End of course testing has begun and judgements will be made next year on the results of these tests. Assuming each teacher will be giving a pre-test for their course and post-test, someone has a lot of work to do (with no money) prior to the start of school in August. What is kind of quality are we to expect of these tests? This bill is intended to be used for hiring and firing decisions next year. It is unrealistic that these tests will be an equitable, fair assessment for such huge consequences.

When SB 736 ties a teacher’s pay (or even more seriously, the teacher’s employment) to their students’ test grades we need to be absolutely certain that cause and effect can be proven in a statistically significant fashion. We are talking about a teacher’s livelihood, their future; these are real people with families they are supporting. Personally, I am not confident that our legislators have taken these validity concerns into consideration. When we make a law, it must be fair to all people under all conditions. All courses, all teachers, all grade levels in an equitable, humane, fair fashion.

I understand the frustration of the public. There are bad educators that we need to be able to get out of the classroom. It would be nice to reward the efforts of excellent educators. However, annual test gains are not the answer to a very, very complex problem.

I have thoroughly enjoyed over 25 years as a career educator. I love being with students, watching them learn and learning with them. I have been honored several times on local regional and national scale as an educator. My students have achieved great things. Even though it has been difficult financially to support my family solely on my public school salary, I feel fulfilled through my career.

However, I am very reluctant to recommend education as a career to my brightest students– given this obsession with test scores. And I doubt they would be persuaded any way.
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Another: What's Wrong With This Picture? Obama & The Space Program

I must say... I am kind of in shock. Though I might have expected it, it still seems so wrong and perverse.

I just watched a June 30th, 2010 Al Jazeera (Arabic World’s News Agency) interview with Charles Bolden- President Obama’s appointee in charge of our nation’s National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA). In this video interview, NASA Director Bolden says “...before I became the NASA administrator, he (President Obama) charged me with three things, one- he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, (two) he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations, to help them feel good about their historic contributions to science, math and engineering.”

I understand that this might be a message specifically designed for the Muslim interviewer and his Muslim audience, but even if it is a ‘people pleaser’ statement, it causes me to question our elected and appointed leaders. I have previously blogged concerns about closing down manned space flight, and I wonder why the person in charge of our government’s space agency doesn’t have any immediate direction or goal to explore space. The idea of moving forward with space exploration and science is not even on his radar apparently – the ’Next Big Thing in Science’ doesn’t make his top three goals in any clear formulation.

All of this administraton’s goals are ‘feel good type goals’, although feeling good about things is important, how about some immediate, technology outcomes? Beyond the affective domain, where will human space flight be when you leave office, Mr. President? Are we moving forward or backward?

How do we expect ‘children to want to get into science and math’ when we are telling them that the US will be paying other countries to transport our astronauts to the space station while we close down the income of over 8,000 households?!!! Yes, that’s right kids, you go ahead and study math and science while our tax dollars pay Russia about $56 million dollars a seat for a round trip ticket to the International Space Station.

I guess that covers the 2nd goal that Director Bolden stated - the Obama plan is definitely expanding our international relationships!

”and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations, to help them feel good about their historic contributions to science, math and engineering.”

NASA Director Charles Bolden

So that leaves me to comment on the third goal. Yes, our numaric system is Aramaic. But should our once proud Space Exploration Agency hold up it’s foremost goal to “make them (Muslims) feel good about their historic contributions to science, math and engineering”??!! Please!!!!

Talk about taking your eye off the ball! The agency that was once the embodiment of the modern American pioneering spirit, the international expert of technological innovation and application, the epitome of scientific endeavor now (under President Obama’s mandate) has as it’s
foremost goal to try and make Muslims feel good about their contributions...

I did listen to the rest of the interview, but honestly feel a great deal of cynicsm based on the opening statements. I would probably not have been as upset if
even one of the 3 goals that Director Bolden had provided had something to do with the United States showing some immediate leadership in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) instead of just trying to make people feel good.

How different this President is compared to the President that kicked off this national endeavor...

The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space.

Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it--we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.

Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation.

“We Choose to Go to the Moon”
President John F. Kennedy, 1962


What do you think?
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An Open Letter to Florida Governor Charlie Crist

Once again, it is time to make our collective voice heard.

A notice came from friend today:

GREAT NEWS!!
 After years of effort the Florida Legislature has passed landmark legislation allowing traditional textbook dollars to be used for innovation and technology in the classroom!  Tremendous thanks go to the hundreds and hundreds of supporters in and beyond the Sunshine State to make this happen.  However, the legislation won't become law unless Florida Governor Charlie Crist approves it, and that remains uncertain at best.

THE CLOCK IS TICKING!  We have until Friday, May 14 to make the case to Gov. Crist, so act now on behalf of students everywhere who will reap the benefits of this landmark bill.
 


I am sure than many who read this blog already realize this, but for many decades, the textbook industry has fought furiously through their lobbyists to maintain their exclusive budget line in the state education budgets of the nation. Our world has changed tremendously since the internet revolution began just over 16 years ago... it it time that our classrooms changed as well.

I am proud that a friend, State Senator Thad Altman from
Melbourne, Florida introduced this bill. Now it is our turn to let the governor know how important this is!

Please consider emailing our governor in support of this bill, we need his signature!
Send to:  
Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com 

Mail to:  
The Honorable Charlie Crist
Governor, State of Florida
PL05 The Capitol
400 S. Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL  32399-0001

Here is the letter I sent:


Dear Governor Crist,

I am a native Floridian and a career educator (28 years) in Florida's public schools and private college system. I have been nationally recognized as an educator several times and enjoy the privilege of traveling around our nation providing professional development for educators when I am not in the classroom in Melbourne, FL.

First I want to thank you for your veto of the SB6 last month. It was very gratifying see our state governor was willing to apply common sense to a very complicated issue. I was glad to hear that you recognized that there is a real problem, but the solution is not as simple as that bill made it seem.

Now I would like to call on you to provide school systems with the flexibility to move on to keep up the modern world with respect to learning tools. For years, our state and others, have been held financially hostage to state textbook adoption budgets, purchasing books that were outdated the day they were printed. With changes brought on largely by computer technology, our world is changing in many respects faster than new textbooks can be authored, typeset and printed, much less adopted, purchased, shipped and distributed.

I wouldn't suggest that textbooks are obsolete, or that there is no place for printed resources in our schools, but they no longer are the only way or always the best way to communicate and teach our children. eBooks can be instantly updated over the internet and they can contain multimedia such as 3D objects and movies as well as interactive exercises and self-grading quizzes and tests.

The fact is our schools have often felt obligated to purchase books that were really not needed since the previous adoption was in good shape. They felt obligated to purchase books because if they didn't, they would lose that money that was solely budgeted for textbook purchases. This is poor stewardship.

Please give your approval to CS/HB 5101which contains a proposal that will allow districts the flexibility to spend a portion of their educational materials budget to purchase technology for delivering digital content for classroom instruction.

This legislation will help establish Florida as a progressive, forward-thinking, fiscally responsible state that recognizes that the world is changing–  and the way that we prepare our students for their future is changing as well.

cordially,
Gordon Shupe
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