I was honored to be asked to contribute to the new book, Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning. I wanted to share the challenge of finding the right educational opportunities for my kids and the uncertainty that comes along with being dissatisfied with what traditional education has to offer. And I also wanted to share the confusion and messiness of questioning that very dissatisfaction and questioning even more all the different approaches our family has used to address it. It’s hard to hear your own beat when the band is playing so loudly. It’s hard to risk alternative educational opportunities for your kids when your community is more than satisfied with the traditional. None of us want to get it wrong.
So I was blown away when I had the chance to read the final book. Not only did it articulate things that I didn’t know how to express, it painted a picture where our family is not alone in our struggle to provide more for our kids.
It’s not about the infrastructure, the new policies, or the digital content. It’s not about tablets or smartphones or Chromebooks or laptops. It’s not about learning management systems. It’s not even about data and privacy. Challenging as all these are, they don’t hold a candle to the subtle, intricate work of culture change – the human heart of transformation with technology.
Without real culture change, 1:1 implementations do little more than trade pencils for pixels. The low-hanging fruit of increased engagement and access to information and content are harvested early, and then stagnate. After a few years, parents and politicians question why this investment didn’t lead to increased test scores and the experiment is considered a failure, the investment a waste.
This article contains a somewhat longer version of a TEDx talk I presented at TEDx PSUBerks on November 14, 2014. The chance to give a talk in this format was a great opportunity to for me to synthesize the different strands of my work over this past decade as an executive, an education advocate, and a mom. It let me get to the heart of what is most human for me inside our traditional institutions. And it was all inspired by the theme of a lovely TEDx: “Love and Education.” Videos from the event are being posted over time here. 4/20/2015 – Update: My video is now posted – see above. Unfortunately the sound quality is poor.
When my son was three, he did that thing. You know? Where he sat in a chair and started tipping it back on two legs? So what immediately came to my mind, of course, was “Stop That! You’re going to break your neck,” which would have been an overreaction, a lie, and really, an instinct to control my child for his own good and my peace of mind. So instead I got down to eye level with him, got his attention, and told him, “If you keep doing that there is a chance, a chance the chair will slip and you will fall down and hurt yourself.” I wanted him to have a realistic framework for thinking about risky behavior, and a framework for building trust.
My son and his sister are adolescents now and I worry about more than risky behavior. I worry whether the relationships they’re about to start developing are going to be healthy ones. I want them to feel deeply, in their bones, that respectful, accepting relationships are normal and that controlling, demeaning relationships are weird and wrong. So with far more love than know-how, I’ve stumbled through trying to raise them without all of the power imbalances that usually come with being a kid: They know it’s not polite for them to interrupt adults, but I’ve also taught them that it is not polite for adults to interrupt them. And that my desire to get the shopping done while I’m in the mood is no more valid than their desire to finish building that toothpick sculpture. So to whatever degree this philosophy may have had an effect, I may, I hope, have ruined my kids for controlling relationships
It feels hypocritical. Because the current testing regime makes me angry. Angry for students who are stressed by hours and hours of high stakes testing. Angry for teachers whose value has been discounted as anything other than test-prep machines. Angry for anyone who suffers the misguided consequences of using test results in ways that they were never intended – to prevent graduation and to fire capable teachers. Angry.
But the baby is far too precious to send the way of the bath water. I would be up in arms protesting and boycotting testing if it weren’t for one unassailable truth: state testing is how we know if our students are being educated to the same levels as those in other demographic and socio-economic groups. No Child Left Behind, amid all the horrific and counterproductive side effects, accomplished this one thing too important to ever give up: it shone a light on the disparity between the outcomes for kids of privilege versus kids of poverty and between white kids and kids of color.
As a mom, I cannot, will not, be a part of extinguishing this light. Read more
I worry about testing in the way I worry about alcohol abuse. On a societal scale, addiction is a tragic waste of human potential but in the privacy of my own home a glass of Tempranillo before dinner is at worst relatively harmless. Similarly, on a national scale student testing is a complex issue bound up in a Gordian knot of interrelated concerns from equity to test anxiety to teacher accountability to the appropriateness of assessing against standards that cross state lines, while in the haven of pursuing academics in my home it is not merely benign but essential – it is feedback.
As a math mom I’ve been asking (and asking and asking for the past decade) “ How do I know whether my math kid really understands the math?” For that matter, how do I know whether I understand it myself? Or if we are both merely engaging in the equivalent of “just invert and multiply” to get correct answers without much depth. What I’ve been asking for are tests. Read more
As a parent, I demand the right to have my children’s data used by schools, researchers, content providers, and other 3rd parties. My kids deserve no less than for their learning institutions to use every tool possible to improve their education and enhance their learning.
Warm, caring, competent professional educators came within an inch of beating the love of math out of my precocious, curious math kid. How? By making him repeat mastered material three years in a row. Why? Because they had no diagnostic tools to assess what he really knew and could do beyond grade level. Or perhaps they did, but worked in a culture that didn’t support using data to make such decisions.
Data gives power to students and families. It takes accountability from some abstract plane to a very concrete personal one. “My son learns 3-4 times faster than you teach, learns by solving new problems rather than listening to lectures and drilling the same problem over and over with different numerical values, and needs an hour to a day to work on one challenging problem at a time – preferably collaboratively. He has mastered topics A-Q except M and P, and has some understanding of T, V, and W. How are you going to nurture his talent? I hold you accountable for this.” Read more
There are real questions about the value of a college education. Is it worth the debt that students take on? Does it prepare students for today’s or tomorrow’s work environments? Is a portfolio a better for getting jobs than a GPA? As I’ve been providing my own kids with an eclectic education outside of traditional schooling, whether or not they go to college is certainly on the table.
These are the kinds of questions that belong to the privileged. At least for now. Humanists looking at what learning should be like, politicians making hay, pundits garnering attention with shocking statistics and predictions, even families choosing alternative education paths – all have the luxury of hypothesizing and even experimenting with the goals, building blocks, and methodologies of learning.
Not everyone has that freedom or that power. Read more
When is playing video games actually a seminar in executive leadership? When the game is an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online game) and the stakes seem high – just as high as the goals, accomplishments, recognition, disappointments, and politics in your workplace.
This article was first published at Getting Smart on April 30, 2013
Where does the current emphasis on accountability come from? I think it comes from a desperate need for equity and justice – from the awareness that has been raised by the national high-stakes testing of students that there is a very real and tragic difference in the outcomes of poor students versus those that are more affluent. The No Child Left Behind legislation has caused data to be collected for the first time that measures achievement according to race, economic status, English learner status, and so on.
The results are grim. According to this blog from the National Education Policy Center, a think-tank based at the University of Colorado:
“In 2012, white and Asian students had a 71 percent probability of a higher English Language Arts score than Black and Latino students, and a 75 percent probability of a higher math score.”
There is widespread agreement that the achievement gap is real and persistent and that this sort of social inequity is unconscionable. Something must be done, and an obvious place to start is by ensuring that every child, regardless of race, has access to a quality school with quality teachers and quality leadership. Read more
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