Not all new technologies represent progress if the goal is that every child receives a good basic education and the education level of a society is such that the average member of the society can not only perform routine tasks which allow them to exist in society and sufficient knowledge to be an informed citizen and participate in the political process. In Everything Old is New Again I said:
In Good Schools are Relentless About the Basics I said:
Sharon Otterman has a good news story in the New York Times about how a relentless focus on the basics can yield results. In Brooklyn School Scores High Despite Poverty Otterman reports:
…The school’s approach, while impressive in its attention to detail, starts with a simple formula: “Teach, assess, teach, assess,” said Jack Spatola, its principal since 1984.
Mr. Spatola attributed the coaches and other extra help to careful budgeting and fighting for every dollar from the Department of Education; the school’s cost per pupil, in fact, is lower than the city’s average. [Emphasis Added]
What this school does well is know its student population and design assessments and interventions targeted at its population of kids. It is an example of the think small not small minded philosophy.
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina,
Chapter 1, first line
Russian mystic & novelist (1828 – 1910)
So it is with schools. There are certain elements that successful schools share. The Wisconsin Department of Education has a good guide about successful schools. Chapter One,Characteristics of Successful Schools , lists key elements:
Chapter 1 describes the seven characteristics that comprise a successful school. Briefly, they are:
· Vision: having a common understanding of goals, principles and expectations for everyone in the learning-community
· Leadership: having a group of individuals dedicated to helping the learning-community reach its vision
· High Academic Standards: describing what students need to know and be able to do
· Standards of the Heart: helping all within the learning community become caring, contributing, productive, and responsible citizens
· Family School and Community Partnerships: “making room at the table” for a child’s first and most influential teachers
· Professional Development: providing consistent, meaningful opportunities for adults in the school setting to engage in continuous learning
· Evidence of Success: collecting and analyzing data about students, programs, and staff
Like, unhappy families, failing schools are probably failing in their own way.
It seems everything old becomes new once again, although a relentless focus on the basics never went out of style.
Two recent stories demonstrate that everything old is new again.
In the first story, about Roosevelt High School’s cursive refresher course, Linda Shaw reports in the Seattle Times about cursive writing. In Roosevelt High School Teacher Gives Her Students a Review in Cursive
According to Shaw, the teachers report that students who take pride in their writing take pride in their school work.
The second story involves some push back on the “Kindle Revolution.” In Amazon.Com’s Kindle Fails the First College Test Amy Martinez reports in the Seattle Times about the reactions to some University of Washington students to using Kindle for college coursework:
Wary of lugging a backpack full of textbooks on the University of Washington campus, Franzi Roesner couldn’t wait to get her hands on a new, lightweight e-reader from Amazon.com.
Soon after receiving a Kindle DX, however, something unexpected happened. Roesner began to miss thumbing through the pages of a printed textbook for the answer to a homework question.
She felt relieved several months later when required reading for one of her classes was unavailable on the Kindle, freeing her to use a regular textbook….
Perhaps, it is wishful thinking. One cannot stop “progress.” Sometimes, everything old is new again.
Three recent stories point to the idea that technology is a tool which can be used to make life more comfortable, it will not address basic failings in family and/or societal relationships.
In the first story, Randall Stross reports in the New York Times that expected learning gains in providing computers to low-income students have not materialized. In Computers at Home: Educational Hope vs. Teenage Reality Stross reports:
Still, wherever there is a low-income household unboxing the family’s very first personal computer, there is an automatic inclination to think of the machine in its most idealized form, as the Great Equalizer. In developing countries, computers are outfitted with grand educational hopes, like those that animate the One Laptop Per Child initiative, which was examined in this space in April. The same is true of computers that go to poor households in the United States.
Economists are trying to measure a home computer’s educational impact on schoolchildren in low-income households. Taking widely varying routes, they are arriving at similar conclusions: little or no educational benefit is found. Worse, computers seem to have further separated children in low-income households, whose test scores often decline after the machine arrives, from their more privileged counterparts.
Ofer Malamud, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago, is the co-author of a study that investigated educational outcomes after low-income families received vouchers to help them buy computers.
“We found a negative effect on academic achievement,” he said. “I was surprised, but as we presented our findings at various seminars, people in the audience said they weren’t surprised, given their own experiences with their school-age children.”
Professor Malamud and his collaborator, Cristian Pop-Eleches, an assistant professor of economics at Columbia University, did their field work in Romania in 2009, where the government invited low-income families to apply for vouchers worth 200 euros (then about $300) that could be used for buying a home computer.
The program provided a control group: the families who applied but did not receive a voucher. They showed the same desire to own a machine, and their income was often only slightly above the cut-off point for the government program.
In a draft of an article that the Quarterly Journal of Economics will publish early next year, the professors report finding “strong evidence that children in households who won a voucher received significantly lower school grades in math, English and Romanian.” The principal positive effect on the students was improved computer skills.
At that time, most Romanian households were not yet connected to the Internet. But few children whose families obtained computers said they used the machines for homework. What they were used for — daily — was playing games.
In the United States, Jacob L. Vigdor and Helen F. Ladd, professors of public policy at Duke University, reported similar findings. Their National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, “Scaling the Digital Divide,” published last month, looks at the arrival of broadband service in North Carolina between 2000 and 2005 and its effect on middle school test scores during that period. Students posted significantly lower math test scores after the first broadband service provider showed up in their neighborhood, and significantly lower reading scores as well when the number of broadband providers passed four.
The Duke paper reports that the negative effect on test scores was not universal, but was largely confined to lower-income households, in which, the authors hypothesized, parental supervision might be spottier, giving students greater opportunity to use the computer for entertainment unrelated to homework and reducing the amount of time spent studying….
Education is a partnership between the student, parent or guardian, teacher(s), and school. Parents cannot abrogate their role of mentoring and guiding their child to television or technology. They must be active participants in their child’s life.
The second story is an opinion piece by David Brooks which was reprinted in the Seattle Times. In Literary Culture Seems Better Than The Internet at Encouraging Learning Brooks opines:
Recently, book publishers got some good news. Researchers gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books (of their own choosing) to take home at the end of the school year. They did this for three successive years.
Then the researchers, led by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee, looked at those students’ test scores. They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students. These students were less affected by the “summer slide” — the decline that especially afflicts lower-income students during the vacation months. In fact, just having those 12 books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school.
This study, along with many others, illustrates the tremendous power of books. We already knew, from research in 27 countries, that kids who grow up in a home with 500 books stay in school longer and do better. This new study suggests that introducing books into homes that may not have them also produces significant educational gains.
Recently, Internet mavens got some bad news. Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy examined computer use among a half-million fifth- through eighth-graders in North Carolina. They found that the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access was associated with significant declines in math and reading scores.
This study, following up on others, finds that broadband access is not necessarily good for kids and may be harmful to their academic performance. And this study used data from 2000 to 2005, before Twitter and Facebook took off.
These two studies feed into the debate that is now surrounding Nicholas Carr’s book, “The Shallows.” Carr argues that the Internet is leading to a short-attention-span culture. He cites a pile of research showing that the multi-distraction, hyperlink world degrades people’s abilities to engage in deep thought or serious contemplation.
Carr’s argument has been challenged. His critics point to evidence that suggests that playing computer games and performing Internet searches actually improves a person’s ability to process information and focus attention. The Internet, they say, is a boon to schooling, not a threat.
But there was one interesting observation made by a philanthropist who gives books to disadvantaged kids. It’s not the physical presence of the books that produces the biggest impact, she suggested. It’s the change in the way the students see themselves as they build a home library. They see themselves as readers, as members of a different group….
See, Taxing Ourselves To Pay For Seattle Public Libraries Should Be Considered
The final story by Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times is about using new technology to support the old technology of books. In Bookstore Embraces, Bucks Web Westneat reports:
Like a lot of book lovers, Carrie Jenott had a dream of one day opening her own bookstore.
In her vision it would have wood floors. Cushy chairs for readers. A side room for authors to entertain the crowds.
But then along came the Internet. Against that force, who in their right mind would try it the old-fashioned way, with a walk-in storefront and actual books stocked on actual shelves?
“So I got this warehouse instead,” Carrie laughed, a fork lift beeping by. “Not very romantic, is it?”
We were standing in a distribution storehouse in the warren of corporate parks that covers the Kent valley. It’s the headquarters of Once Sold Tales, an online used-book website that Carrie and her husband, Eric, took over in 2004.
They started out in their basement. Today they have four warehouses in Auburn and Kent, staffed by 25 employees and crammed with nearly 400,000 used titles to be sold, via the Web, all over the world.
The business is driven by a software program Eric wrote that assesses the online book market and re-prices their entire inventory every 24 hours to make sure it’s the lowest-priced anywhere. Some of the more expensive books are re-priced every 20 minutes….
On Monday, Once Sold Tales opened an old-fashioned walk-in bookstore, in the front of the company’s main warehouse (the website business remains.) It’s stocked with their orphaned books, the ones destined for the pulp factory.
The price, for all books, is $1 a pound.
No shipping costs, but you gotta get there in person. And by “there,” I mean in the middle of warehouse nowhere — 22442 72nd Ave. S. in Kent.
Shoppers Tuesday said it was a find. Nancy McKeever, of Enumclaw, snapped up a hardback of Sophie Kinsella’s “Shopaholic & Sister.” It weighed 1.15 pounds….
Of course it’s crazy to open a physical store, especially one that sells books for 36 cents. It’s doubly crazy, Carrie Jenott says, that it’s the Internet — the beast that’s supposedly killing the brick-and-mortar stores — that compelled her to go back to the future.
She sure was smiling, though.
It may not have wood floors or cozy chairs or author readings. But she’s finally got her bookstore. [Emphasis Added]
Everything old is new again, but sometimes the new can be used to make the old work even better.
Dr. Wilda says this about that ©