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In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Harold O. Levy proposes  Five Ways to Fix America’s Schools.

Here is a brief summary of Levy’s suggestions, with a minimum of commentary from me. I’ll leave it mostly up to the reader to ponder the coherence and joint compatibility of these proposals.

#1 – Raise the age of compulsory education to 19, and require every student to complete at least one year of college.

Make kids stay in school until they’re 19 years old. And force them to go to college, whether they like it or not.

#2 – Fight truancy using high-pressure sales tactics “to compel parents to ensure that their children go to school every day.”

After reading Levy’s first proposal, I was relieved to see that he’s at least thought about truancy. ‘Cause after #1, there’s going to be a lot of truancy.

#3 – “Advertise creatively and aggressively to encourage college enrollment.”

I tend to think that legally forcing kids to take a year of college is all the encouragement they’ll need. Don’t you?

#4 – Make accreditation information public, so that the Department of Education can rank colleges and universities instead of U.S. News & World Report.

According to Levy, what we have now are “rankings that are skewed by colleges, which contort their marketing efforts to maximize the number of applicants whom they already know they will never accept, just to improve their selectivity rankings.” OK … and according to #3, the way to make things better is for colleges to advertise and market themselves more “creatively” and “aggressively”?

But why bother to rank colleges and universities at all? Everyone is going to college. Right?

#5 – According to Levy, “the biggest improvement” we could make with respect to higher education: “produce more qualified candidates.”

This one takes the cake. What can we do to fix schools? Produce better students.

At this time, it is morally obligatory for the reader to slap his or her forehead.

This editorial is, without a doubt, one of the most disappointing things I’ve read all summer, given that it was written by a former school administrator and college trustee. Indeed, and setting aside the viable utility of any one of these proposals: Levy’s essay represents intellectual standards (and, thus, of educational leadership) so low, it’s disturbing.

Found this today: a lengthy opinion piece titled ‘Beautiful Losers’ by William Lyne, professor of English at Western Washington University.

This is the most challenging and provocative essay I’ve read all summer – industrial-strength, and not for the faint of heart.

Definitely a must-read.

Now here is a timely, well-written, interesting and informative article about technology in the classroom, courtesy of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Hooray!

Another sighting of the techno fallacy: this week, in an article from an Education Week blog for administrators.

The article is a small dose of the usual: 21st century means of communication are dizzying, the sky’s the limit for exchanging information in the classroom, etc. etc.

I’ll keep this brief:

The stark contrast between what and how students learn in a traditional classroom environment and the 21st century possibilities becomes strikingly evident. As educational leaders, it is our responsibility to learn about, utilize and convey our knowledge of the various modes of information communication to our teachers. After all, what is communication? Information!

OK, pet peeve: Don’t identify two things that are merely related. Would you say, ‘Talking is sentences’? Or, ‘Marriage is wife’? Or, ‘2 + 2 is 2’? Of course you wouldn’t. For the very same reasons, please don’t say ‘Communication is information.’

Moving on to business. In the quotation above, the author stipulates that there is a “stark contrast between what and how students learn in a traditional classroom environment and the 21st century.” First thing to notice, then, is that we’re not only talking about means and methods of delivering instruction in the classroom (the how), but also about the content that is delivered (the what).

In other words, the author is (among other things) stipulating that there is a “stark contrast” between so-called traditional content and 21st century content.

What is this stark contrast? Unfortunately, the author never says. They (techno-preachers) never do.

On the other hand, what they typically do do (haha) is argue along the following lines:

(1) Technology has rapidly changed.

(2) If technology has rapidly changed, then our methods of classroom instructional delivery are out-of-fashion.

(3) If our methods of classroom instructional delivery are out-of-fashion, then the content we teach is also out-of-fashion.

Therefore:

(C) The content we teach is out-of-fashion.

This is a deductively valid argument. We’re in great shape, except for a false premise: premise (3). What reasons are there for thinking that premise (3) is true? None that I can think of. And neither does the author give us any (they never do); the author simply stipulates that this is so.

Not much here but the techno fallacy, folks: Just because the kids (and administrators) have a bunch of cool new toys, doesn’t mean everything else in the world has suddenly downgraded to version 1.0. That you can Tweet on your BlackBerry doesn’t make the information in your biology book out-of-fashion.

It never fails that these preachers accidentally shoot themselves in the foot as they get down from the pulpit:

students are already familiar, comfortable and capable of using these forms of technology.

So … the kids already know this stuff? Inside and out? Forgive me, then, while I get back to teaching traditional content.

You know, the stuff they don’t know inside and out.

That quote, taken from this AP story on shrinking budgets and growing classes, pretty much speaks for itself.

Hard times, indeed.

According to Clay Shirky, most schools have “forgotten about intrinsic motivation.”

Perhaps he’s right. My hunch, though, is that the real problem is slightly different, and a whole lot larger. If it is true that most schools have forgotten about the intrinsic value of learning, it’s because most Americans do not find learning to be intrinsically valuable.

Imagine kids who grow up in homes where there’s not a book to be found, where mom and dad don’t read for themselves much less out loud to the youngsters. Whose attitudes toward reading are these children more likely to adopt–those of the family, or those of the school which they attend? If they are born and raised into a culture that finds little or no intrinsic value in reading, we should not be surprised to find that that is precisely the attitude with which they enter kindergarten–and to which they cling throughout their lives.

It’s a hypothetical (and bare-bones) example, but my point is this:

What reason(s) do the kids in my example have for accepting that reading — education, learning — is intrinsically valuable?

Answer: there are no such reasons. There never have been any.

At least, there never have been any that aren’t just plain good old fashioned extrinsic reasons.

Perhaps it is true that the kids in my example ought to apply themselves and do their very best in school so that they might: graduate with a high school diploma? make mom and dad proud? get a decent job after graduation? go to college? graduate from college with a degree and get an even better job? go on to graduate school and ….

You get the idea. The above are all good reasons for doing your best in school: and, I suspect, they are the answers that Americans have always more or less given to these questions. But these motivations are all extrinsic: none of them has anything to do with the intrinsic value of, say, reading.

At any rate: I suspect that what motivates most of us to apply ourselves and do our very best in school is a complex of largely extrinsic rewards.

Indeed, the most basic reason for going to school in the United States is that you are legally compelled to do so. How’s that for extrinsic motivation?

Often I have wondered what is meant by the term nonverbal when we school professionals talk about, e.g., nonverbal intelligence and nonverbal ability.

An article by Jack A. Naglieri provides this concise bit of explanation:

Many people assume that intelligence comes in two kinds—verbal and nonverbal. What they do not understand is that the verbal-nonverbal distinction refers to the content of the items on an intelligence test, not to the type of thinking, or intelligence, required. Verbal and nonverbal tests are two different ways of measuring general ability.

Evidently, with respect to verbal and nonverbal test results, these measures are not correlated with distinct cognitive faculties after all. Even when these scores are widely discrepant, we’ve still measured only one thing: general IQ (or, as it’s called by some tests, ‘full scale IQ’).

So far, this is all very straightforward. And apparently sensible. But still I have some worries that won’t quit simmering. Worries that are related to our procedures for evaluation and identification of students with a specific learning disability, for example.

I’ll keep thinking, and continue this later.

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