17 August 2018

Beyond the NCLB Act: Let's Get Off the Moral Path of Judgment

I read this report on the NCLB Act with an eye to discerning the moral perspective they brought to their task. 

"Although the Commission members came to the table from a variety of perspectives, we were united from the outset in our firm commitment to the goals of the law: to harness the power of standards, accountability and increased student options, so that every child becomes proficient in core subjects and to eliminate the achievement gaps that have left too many students behind."
p.20 Beyond NCLB: Fulfilling the Promise to Our Nation's Children by the Commission on NCLB
In other words, this commission reviewing the NCLB Act was united in it’s commitment to the delivery metaphor of education. 
They unquestioningly accepted that
  1. education is a matter of teacher’s delivering units of knowledge, skill and/or information into children’s heads,
  2. that those units can be counted, and
  3. therefore teachers can be held accountable (judged by the authorities) for the presence or absence of those units.

This is a perspective that appears to be fully consistent with the history of education and the story of school that put us on the moral path of judgment. 
The report on the NCLB Act does not matter that children are complex individuals with a diversity of needs that cannot be met in any standardized way. 
The logic of the industrial assumption that all the components must work together like a well oiled machine is much more important than something like the needs of specific children.
What would really be interesting is if a commission like this could be convened to start from the moral path of nurturance instead of the moral path of judgment
How would the law measure up to a bi-partisan commission investigating educational performance from the assumption that schools have an obligation to nurture children instead of judge their future economic worthiness? 
What if we expected schools to help children become good people, not just good test takers and workers?

The NCLB Act and "Accountability"

But then the question still arises about holding teachers and schools accountable for those results.
Here's what the authors of report on the NCLB Act had to say about holding teachers accountable:
"[Teachers] know what children need to learn and how to impart that knowledge, and they demonstrate their ability to raise student achievement through fair, credible and reliable measures of effectiveness.
Those teachers who are not able to demonstrate student learning gains and do not receive positive evaluations from principals or their peers would receive additional high-quality professional development designed to address their specific needs and on-site support in developing practical strategies to improve student learning. 
If teachers do not improve after they receive this support, they will no longer be eligible to teach students most in need of help."
p. 22 Beyond NCLB: Fulfilling the Promise to Our Nation's Children by the Commission on NCLB

The NCLB Commission expects there to be an all-knowing prophet (presumably the authors of standards) who can dictate the knowledge that all students will need to succeed in the future. 
Notice that they only define the needs of students in terms of knowledge. 
And if the teachers can't effectively deliver the knowledge dictated to them by the all knowing prophet then they are deemed ineligible to teach. 
This is a clear commitment to the moral path of judgment. 
The judgments of the system must be trusted to meet the needs of children, not the judgments of teachers who actually know and love the children.

Conclusions on Beyond NCLB
The vision that they present is misguided by their dependence on the industrial metaphor of education as a quasi-economic activity that can be managed using strict performance measures of academic skills like a business measures profits. 
In the presentation of their vision for the future of the NCLB Act in American schools they make no reference to meeting the real needs of children, only the needs of abstract economic and social systems on the dubious assumption that rigorous competition for academic test scores are a meaningful predictor of future national success.

There is no mention of the real human or natural communities children are embedded within and the role of those communities as important factors in the education of children. 
The closest this report on the NCLB Act comes to acknowledging community is to talk about business and the role that students will eventually play in the economy. 
If they use language that might suggest nurturance then it is used in the way an industrial agri-business CEO would talk about the plants they cultivate; as mere commodities. 
The authors of this report on the NCLB Act make no acknowledgment that there are larger systems in which learning is embedded. 
Schools are discussed as if they are isolated from the rest of the world.

To give credit where credit is due they took a good approach to investigating and reviewing the law. 
If it is indeed going to be reauthorized then their recommendations should probably be heeded.

Better Than Beyond NCLB

What would be more ideal, however, would be a plan to shift what the law assumes is worthy of measurement. 

What they should be looking at in elementary age student performance are measures of how well they can establish and maintain cognitive order, cognitive complexity, purpose, optimism, cooperation and agency under a variety of circumstances. 
More concretely they should look at how many opportunities children have for solving self-selected problems and pursuing their own chosen goals. 

What they should be looking at in terms of teacher skills is cooperative leadership and the implementation of increasingly democratic decision making processes. 
How well does the teacher transition students from Other directed activities to Self directed activities? 
How well does the teacher enable students to develop internal cognitive resources for planning, empathy and judgment to identify problems and goals that are meaningful to both the student and the communities in which they are embedded?

Both teachers and schools should be assessed based on the claims they make about what results they will achieve with their students. 
If claims are made about test scores and achievement gaps then that becomes a relevant measure of success, but if no such claim is made then those measures are irrelevant.
And the results that are measured need to be made part of the records of both the teacher and the school, not just the student. 

School performance should be measured by the level of integration with both the human and natural communities in which they are embedded. 
The more integrated the children are with their communities then the more ability to function in those communities they will develop.

My Teaching Practice

In my own early teaching with 6-12 year olds I did not make any claims because I did not have the ability to measure any specific outcomes.
Even today I would not make claims about reading and math, but my students improve their ability to establish and maintain positive states of mind (although I don't have access to measures of that outcome, yet). 
While I would not make claims about reading and math skills, I would welcome periodic assessments of those skills and have progress noted, if possible, since it would likely be substantial. 
The reason that my students would make progress in those two areas in particular is that those two activities are great sources of optimal states of mind. 
Reading is probably the most common access to optimal states of mind in literate cultures. 
Math has a bad reputation, but it is also pervasive in our society and when children learn it in the context of real human communities where it is a valued tool for getting things done, then it is quickly mastered.
The NCLB Act and its later iteration as the Race to the Top are fatally flawed for proceeding further down the moral path of judgment instead of directing the system to make a switch to the moral path of nurturance.

16 August 2018

Betsy DeVos and the Irony of Her "Innovation" Agenda

When my default inner liberal reads about the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Drumph's Secretary of Education, I see her as the devil in disguise because of her relentless use of the term "choice" as a code word for the privatization of schools without transparency or accountability. 
But, when I rein in that bias to allow my inner teacherpreneur to take hold, I appreciate her consistent rhetorical emphasis on innovation and specifically on the idea that we should enact policies that will overcome the bureaucratic stranglehold that prevents innovation in most schools. 
If I rein in that bias, as well, allowing my inner psychologist to have the floor, I continue to appreciate the need for innovation, but great concerns arise about the ways that both parties have ALWAYS consistently compromised learning through the policies they use to guide the bureaucracy. 

It is the values and perspective of my inner psychologist that I strive to live by as an education advocate. 
That is the perspective that I am confident will give me the deepest understanding of the situation in education and will best represent the long term interests that the education system must serve. 
The long term challenge is to figure out how to ensure that learning, not teaching, is valued and respected as the true essence of good education, regardless of partisan traditions and opinions about how to run schools.

Betsy DeVos On The Record

Taking that challenge as my lens, Betsy DeVos’ actual statements slap me in the face because she appears to have exactly the same mental model of schooling that has caused all the problems she rails against. 
Betsy DeVos' political maneuvering will come to naught as long as she continues to act as if schooling is essentially the process of teachers delivering content into students’ heads. 
In the following press quotes and in her own transcript of a speech she gave she repeatedly refers to our "education delivery system": 
If you claim you are for freedom…if you claim to be an innovator or you value innovation…if you claim to be an entrepreneur…if you claim to believe in equal opportunity…if you claim to embrace social justice…then you have to embrace educational choice, and you have to embrace opening up our closed education delivery system. 
Betsy DeVos on Forbes.com
“We must revolutionize our education delivery system in America,” [Betsy DeVos] says.
She also used the phrase in her remarks to the SXSW Education Forum as that speech was quoted in the Washington Post. In fact, she used the phrase six times, according to the written transcript posted on the website for the American Federation for Children (which Betsy DeVos is affiliated with). 

Delivery via Betsy DeVos

The delivery view is most destructive in public policy when the metaphor guides "accountability" measures. 
The idea is that as long as the delivery happens, which can allegedly be verified by measuring student regurgitation of content on tests, then there is no reason to be concerned with anything else. 
Betsy DeVos' version of "choice" appears to be just as myopically dedicated to a partisan ideological commitment to privatization as the liberal devotion to maintaining the "public school" monopoly does. 
Both ideologies assume teaching-as-delivery is the soul of schooling and they merely differ in the details of how to manage the delivery of academic content that is most easily measured by instructional bookkeeping (test scores, grades, completion rates, etc). The history of education shows that both learning and teaching are deeper and more interesting than mere instructional bookkeeping of delivery would suggest.

Learning has never been the central concern of any major political ideology because until recently it has been a vague and messy concept that cannot be used to anyone’s political advantage. 
That is going to change. 
There are key aspects of learning that are tractable to scientific study (and therefore more clearly defined and less messy in an institutional sense). 
Also, the science of learning is reaching a level of maturity so that it may finally become politically useful. 
The trendy use of research on things like mindsets, grit, mindfulness, and other scientifically informed concepts is evidence for the maturation of the field. 
What is currently missing for the politicos to make use of learning as the central commitment in schooling is a unifying narrative that can enable the differing political viewpoints to distinguish themselves from one another in a manner that still reinforces the scientific truth. 

Trans-Partisan Truth

In case you are skeptical that a scientific truth can be supported by both parties simultaneously, consider the status of germ theory in healthcare politics. 
We are currently struggling to figure out how to pay for the healthcare system, but neither side proposes to save money by cutting the features of programs or infrastructure investments that are inherently more expensive due to the dictates of germ theory. 

Here in Portland, Oregon, a few years ago we completed a multi-billion dollar infrastructure investment affectionately called "The Big Pipe," making sure that we better comply with the central dictate of germ theory which says that to prevent the transmission of communicable diseases like cholera, raw sewage should not mix with fresh water that people might drink or swim in. 
It would have been a lot cheaper to ignore that scientific dictate. 
But we have a large body of law and policy at both state and federal levels that ensure that dictate is not routinely violated. 
That body is so robust that it required us to build "The Big Pipe" even though our previous sewer system only violated that dictate a handful of times every year. 
But even once a year is too much when we consider the negative public health consequences predicted by germ theory. 

Trans-Partisan Truth in Education

Experts on learning have an implicit consensus that it is the growing of mental maps, cognitive cartography, to put it into $3 words. 
The consensus is only implicit because the experts routinely use that combination of metaphors (growing and map making) but have not formally acknowledged it as a theory. 
The mapmaking metaphor is commonly used by cognitive scientists, such as Antonio Damasio, Richard Ryan, Edward Deci, Vilayanur S. Ramachandran , and Daniel Kahneman. 
It is also used by influential education researchers such as Linda Darling-Hammond. 
The growth metaphor is widely used by educators. 
It turns out that the challenge of an education system is to create the conditions for the growth of mental maps. 
It also turns out that dictating instructional delivery for every student at all times is detrimental to creating those conditions. 
The very "soul of schooling" under the old way of thinking is itself the destroyer of what most experts agree are the proper conditions for learning. 

Taking the growing mental maps theory seriously requires a different kind of innovation; holding schools accountable for the learning conditions, not for instructional bookkeeping. 
There is a place for instructional bookkeeping, but not until after the conditions at a school meet with scientific standards for optimal learning. 
Those scientific standards follow from what are known as primary human needs. 
Schools can create the conditions for optimal learning by ensuring that the students have their primary human needs supported. 

Of particular note for schools are the psychological needs for autonomy and relatedness. 
(If you are interested in the precise theory I am referring to, it is the Basic Needs sub-theory within the meta-theory of motivation known as Self-Determination Theory.) 
Those are the needs with the most consistent evidence of being thwarted. 
They are also consistently depicted in books and movies as being thwarted in schools. 
If you can remember any of the most famous school movies of the last few decades like: Freedom Writers (2007), Dangerous Minds (1995), Lean On Me (1989), Stand and Deliver (1988), Teachers (1984), To Sir, With Love (1966), or Blackboard Jungle (1955),
then you may recall how alienated and resentful the kids (and often many of the teachers) were portrayed to be. 
Unless Hollywood was completely making it up, then it is common knowledge that schools are notoriously need thwarting places. 
The consistent scientific evidence for declines in engagement and motivation across the span of K-12 schooling further supports the notion that it is a widespread pattern that is not confined to those students who are dramatic enough to be portrayed in the movies. 
Most students have had their learning compromised by being disengaged in school by the time they leave. 

Innovation in Education Will Not Be Partisan

Shifting the perspective of education policy to psychological needs is a major change, so it will not come about quickly and easily. 
I have not yet seen any statements by nor attributed to Betsy DeVos that would suggest she has a clue about learning. 
To be fair, I am writing the book that will articulate the growing mental maps idea of learning as a theory for the first time, so she is not to blame for this oversight. 
My upcoming book on the growing mental maps idea of education and its implications for public policy is called Nurture: The Surprising Secret to Saving Our Schools, Ourselves, and Our Society
Given her public record as a private citizen with a lot of money to throw around, Betsy DeVos is effectively the devil in disguise, but not for the reasons that liberal ideologues suppose. 
Liberal ideologues are also devils in disguise as long as they continue to champion policies that undermine the primary human needs of students, teachers, and all the other humans in schools. 
The devils of education politics are all those who continue to construct policy based on the false delivery theory.

15 August 2018

A Nurturing Educational Policy to Solve Every Parent's Dilemma

Policy Creates Every Parent's Dilemma

Parents naturally want to put their children into schools that are familiar to them, but the familiar schools will diminish learning by failing to nurture their children. 
Familiar schools versus nurturing schools, these are the horns of the dilemma that typical mainstream parents are put on by the fact that 30 years of solid scientific studies show that mainstream schools fail to nurture their students (where nurturing consists of supporting them to meet their primary human needs). 

The foundation for effective and efficient learning is well-being, both physiological and psychological. 
Yet, existing policies fail to acknowledge these foundations of good learning, let alone require systemic support for students and teachers to meet the primary human needs that produce well-being.
The talk below illustrates the challenge more graphically. 

Bad News 

Children's psychological well-being in mainstream K-12 schools consistently diminishes, thus creating the dilemma all parents face, even when they do not realize it.

Good News

Children's psychological well-being is supported in K-12 schools that facilitate self-directed learning.

Silver Lining

The good news can transform the bad news if well-being is given top priority. 

Why do K-12 schools that facilitate self-directed learning serve less than 5% of all students in the USA despite over 100 years of good results?

The systematic growth of school models that support self-directed learning has been stunted by hidden barriers. 
The hidden barriers also prevent more mainstream schools from sustainably adapting their practices to become more nurturing. 
The barriers are based on a theory of education that is wrong. 
K-12 educational policy makers at every level can remove those barriers by making an explicit commitment to ensuring that the schools they oversee support well- being. 
Every Parent's Dilemma presents following educational policy resolution which you can take to your favorite policy makers to advocate for the well-being of all students.

Buy the book: Every Parent's Dilemma