Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thoughts on the Future of Public Education, Part 1

Pearson, the education publisher, suffered a huge loss in February of this year.  From The Guardian:
Pearson has reported a pre-tax loss of £2.6bn for 2016, the biggest in its history, after a slump at its US education operation.
The profit warning was prompted by the collapse of its US higher education business, which is struggling with a decline in textbook sales and the transition to digital learning. The US business accounts for two-thirds of Pearson’s revenues and profits.
I point this out because even as Seattle Schools struggles with textbook adoptions, are textbooks on the way out?  I think that may be true in years to come but until every single child has a tablet or access at home to a computer, I'm not sure how that could be mandated.  It would seem to be a real cost-saver to districts as well as add to the variety of curriculum available.

From The Atlantic, What is the Future of Public Education?  Four agendas beyond school choice the new administration might look to advance:
It appears unlikely that President-elect Donald Trump can convince Congress—even a Republican-controlled Congress—to shell out $20 billion for school choice, as he promised during his campaign. But by tapping billionaire voucher-advocate Betsy DeVos for education secretary, Trump is making his priorities known.
Here are a few more areas to watch in 2017:
  1. Rules for the Rewrite of the Federal K-12 Law 
  2. School Lunch
  3. Campus Climate
  4. For-profits and "Free"College
What about the far future?  A top futurist predicts the largest internet company of 2030 will be an online school.  From Insider:

I've been predicting that by 2030 the largest company on the internet is going to be an education-based company that we haven't heard of yet," Frey, the senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute think tank, tells Business Insider. 

Frey's prediction comes amid a boom in artificial intelligence research. Google is developing DeepMind, a complex piece of machine-learning software. IBM is developing Watson-powered robots. Amazon is developing drone delivery. 

Only, the instructors won't be humans beamed through videos. They'll be bots, and they'll be smart enough to personalize each lesson plan to the child sitting in front of the screen.  

Frey doesn't go so far as to argue education bots will replace traditional schooling outright. He sees them more as a supplement, perhaps as a kind of tutor. If a child struggles with algebra, a bot may be able to offer some help during homework time or over the weekend.
In December, 2016, there was this from Stanford University:

The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) is pleased to introduce new research-based evidence and analysis that supports investment in public schools as a better alternative than the privatization of education.

The book, Global Education Reform: How Privatization and Public Investment Influence Education Outcomes, with a set of supporting infographics, videos, and research briefs, provides hard evidence supporting investment in pubic schools. Researchers thoroughly investigated the results of experiments with education in Chile, Sweden, and the U.S. and compared their educational outcomes with those of nearby countries with similar economic and social conditions: Cuba, Finland, and Canada (Ontario). At the national levels in Sweden, the U.S., and Chile, market, charter, or voucher systems are associated with greater disparities and lower student outcomes on international tests. 

“This book shows how public investment in education outperforms privatization across three continents, addressing this critical question as President-elect Trump’s appointee, Betsy DeVos, considers shifting U.S. education to a voucher scheme,” said Frank Adamson, PhD, the primary editor, chapter author, and Senior Policy and Research Analyst at SCOPE. “This book offers reasoned evidence to policymakers, communities, and families about how investing in public schools produces better and more equitable outcomes than voucher programs.” 

Also on spending, this article from the New York Times from December, 2016 (bold mine):
The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in July, was conducted by the economists Julien Lafortune and Jesse Rothstein of the University of California at Berkeley and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern. They examined student test scores in 26 states that have changed the way they fund schools since 1990, usually in response to a lawsuit like Connecticut’s, and compared them with those in 23 states that haven’t. While no two states did exactly the same thing, they all had the effect of increasing funding for the poorest districts.

The post-1990 time frame is important: That’s when courts changed how they think about states’ obligations to public schoolchildren. Previously, nearly all school funding lawsuits focused on the question of “equity” — did disadvantaged students receive funding equal to that of their well-off peers?

The problem with that perspective was the answer could be “yes,” even if funding was too low across the board. Starting with a 1990 court case in Kentucky, courts started asking about “adequacy” instead. Were school districts getting enough money, which might require giving extra money to districts that enroll many low-income, expensive-to-serve students?

They found a consistent pattern: In the long run, over comparable time frames, states that send additional money to their lowest-income school districts see more academic improvement in those districts than states that don’t. The size of the effect was significant. The changes bought at least twice as much achievement per dollar as a well-known experiment that decreased class sizes in the early grades.


Anonymous said...

@ Melissa, I'm not sure there's a big access difference between textbooks and digital learning. Your argument that "until every single child has a tablet or access at home to a computer, I'm not sure how that could be mandated" would make more sense if every student got physical textbooks now. In our experience, they don't. Classrooms often share copies, so you only have access at school as it is.


Anonymous said...

So true, HF. The lack of textbooks continues to amaze me. It's so basic. Students are asked to purchase novels for LA and donations are requested for World Language workbooks, lab fees, etc. My child received a used workbook and was left to erase pages in order to make use of it. Some of the world language texts are so dated that teachers need to tell them, that's not really how it's said now. Students print out digital versions of texts for history. It's pretty dire. Textbook budgets need to be taken out of school budgets and made into a district line item, so schools are not left to scrimp on basics such as textbooks.

textbook starved

z said...

Re: digital learning/textbooks

Melissa said: It would seem to be a real cost-saver to districts as well as add to the variety of curriculum available.

Unfortunately, that's not the way it works. The districts aren't the ones saving money, it's the publishers that save on printing costs. They still charge ridiculous "licensing fees" that you have to pay over and over, year after year. With "real" textbooks you can use them for as long as the bindings hold together and the material stays accurate and relevant. With digital licenses, the minute you stop paying them or they go out of business you're out of luck.

There are some advantages, in that it's easier to update content, but the direction publishers are trying to go with this stuff isn't to save schools money, but to make themselves more profitable. Or, in the case of Pearson, perhaps just profitable.

And I'm sure I don't need to remind Melissa, but for everyone else, most of these digital learning companies also gather a TON of student data about how/when/where the kids are using and reading texts, how fast or well they read, what they understood, every possible bit of data they can mine, they mine. When they start having financial problems, like it sounds like Pearson is having, does anyone think they won't start trying to profit from that data? If they aren't already, that is.

Bikerman said...

The job market is changing. Today's students will be working in tomorrow's jobs. If equity is a concern for the district, you would want students to be prepared for the types of jobs that will be around when they enter the workforce. According to this list, many of the best jobs will be in medical fields, computers, and a small selection of other fields (management, accounting, financial advisors, advertising, lawyers, electricians, elementary school teachers).

So, how are we doing Seattle Public Schools? After school programming classes can cost several hundred dollars per term. Where's the equity in that? How well are we preparing today's students for those types of careers?

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