Friday, June 18, 2021

A Reconstruction of Public Education

    Derek Black’s book, School House Burning, Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, could simply be titled The Assault on American Democracy with a subtitle of The History of Public Education in America. The book is the story of the assault that is being waged on our democracy by the dismantling of our public education system and the historical precedents of this current trend. Public school buildings aren’t burning, they’re being dismantled by power seeking reformers and replaced with charter schools and vouchers. The dismantling has already happened in New Orleans; it’s well underway in Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky.

   School House Burning should become required reading in all education administration and policy programs. Black very poignantly and personally gives us a detailed history of public education in the United States and carefully and thoughtfully explains the unassailable fact that public education has always been essential to our democracy. Black makes clear that public education was and is the key to making our ideal a reality. The provisions for a publicly financed education were established even before the Constitution in the Northwest Ordinances. Black acknowledges that our ideal democracy and the public education system necessary to support that democracy has yet to be fully realized. Achieving the ideal of public education and our democracy has been shunted by multiple segments of U.S. society, including the Federal and State courts. The ideals set forth in the Northwest Ordinance, the Constitution, and the 14th Amendment are all plans to be carried out in every state. The good news is that Black sees that it is still possible to save public education and our democracy, but it’s not a sure thing. We will need to stave off those who are trying to use public funds to pay for private schools and quasi-public schools.

    The proposed Page/Kashkari Amendment to the Minnesota constitution is a current example of the attack on our democracy. The amendment takes the language of Minnesota’s constitution that currently reads:

“...it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state”

And changes it to:

“All children have a fundamental right to a quality public education that fully prepares them with the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy, and society, as measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state. It is a paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that fulfill this fundamental right.”


    A set of standards already exists in Minnesota statutes. They are available for all to read here. “The Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards are the statewide expectations for student learning in K-12 public schools. School districts are required to put state standards into place so all students have access to high-quality content and instruction. In accordance with Minnesota Statutes.” Schools are already required to report to the state how students are doing as measured against those standards. The proposed amendment eliminates the state's existing responsibility to provide a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.

    The proposed amendment also takes the state off the hook for providing the funds in order to secure the thorough, efficient and quality public education. Removal of - "The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system..." creates the possibility of semi-private schools providing the quality education. That means the state could close down the public school and determine that only a charter school that is owned by a friend of a legislator is the one that provides a quality education.

     A non-uniform system that is not funded solely by taxpayer dollars is what resulted in New Orleans after a constitutional change and a hurricane. All public schools in New Orleans were replaced with charter schools. The Page/Kashkari amendment puts Minnesota on course to do it with a blizzard. The promoters of the Page Amendment hold up Louisiana and Florida as states where changing the constitution has worked to improve education. Currently Minnesota is in the top five of U.S. states for average student achievement. Florida is ranked 32nd and Louisiana just edges out Mississippi for last place. Changing the constitutions may have improved the achievement of students in Louisiana and Florida but it did so by essentially destroying public schools and replacing them with charter schools and vouchers to private schools. Both Louisiana and Florida have lower achievement gaps than Minnesota; Florida’s Black students score one point higher than Minnesota’s, but Louisiana’s lag far behind. The lesser gaps in Florida and Louisiana are a result of white students scoring much lower than Minnesota’s white students. The Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis’s report claims that if achievement gaps correlated exactly with socioeconomic gaps, Minnesota schools do better than expected. Or in other words, if Minnesota schools weren't as good as they are, the achievement gap could be even worse. Eliminating the state's existing responsibility to provide a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state and not requiring the state to fund it with tax dollars is not improving education.

    The Page/Kashkari Amendment could be a way to avoid the provision of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which requires that when a state establishes a public school system (as in Minnesota), no child living in that state may be denied equal access to schooling. The amendment ensures that charter and private school operators will have a better chance at making money while significantly decreasing the number of schools financed with only public money.

    This assault on public education is part of the larger trend that Derek Black describes; “ the challenges confronting public education and democracy are variants of the ones we faced generations ago. Plantation and property owners resisted the cost of public education during Reconstruction. Segregationists considered dissolving public education before they integrated in the 1960s and 1970s. ...in today’s story, the primary rallying cry is against public education itself.” Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump and Florida’s Governor DeSantis have railed against ‘government schools’ by which they meant schools funded solely by public money. In May of 2021, DeSantis signed a bill that expands what state scholarships can cover as part of a private education.

    Privatizing our education system will lead to an even more stratified society and control by those with money and power, which is what the founders of the United States wanted to prevent. Our democracy has not yet lived up to the ideals set forth in the Constitution, the Northwest Ordinance and the 14th Amendment, but dismantling public education will make ever fully achieving a democracy less possible just as surely as white supremacists made sure that the ideals of democracy were not fully realized by all after the Civil War.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

An OERtist

In a recent tweet, Pam Moran generously included me in a group she called “progressive educators.”  I accept being called a progressive educator, but I like being identified as an OERtist even better, which I consider to be a subset of progressive educator. My wife, Casey, made up the word to explain what it is that I do. I like it. An OERtist works with OER. I create it, curate it, fund it, promote it and support its use by educators (progressive or not) of all levels. I take any opportunity I can to talk or write about OER. 

OER is the acronym for Open Educational Resources - "teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions." OER is a collective plural as in OER have been recommended by UNESCO to:

“help all Member States to create inclusive knowledge societies and achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, namely SDG 4 (Quality education), SDG 5 (Gender equality), SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities within and across countries), SDG 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals)”

UNESCO, the Education group of the United Nations, also recommends that all of its members get the attention of those who are responsible for learning, education, and research and tell them about and encourage them to use and promote OER. So, even though the United States is not currently a member of UNESCO (since 2018 when that president avoided the work of the world beyond our border) I think it’s important to bring OER to the attention of progressive educators and all those who work with progressive educators.

OER drastically changes education for all by giving teachers and students actual legal ownership of their educational material for free, no money. Teachers and students can legally copy, revise, remix, and redistribute the educational material all they want any way they want. That power seismically shifts what education is and does.

We can make proclamations about equity, diversity, inclusion, and student agency, but if we don’t have the legal authority and necessary skill to change the actual material of education, we're often stuck with material that is not diverse and inclusive; that doesn’t provide equity and student agency. We can’t wait for the commercial publishers to get around to making all material equitable, diverse and inclusive, and we shouldn’t. Making education materials equitable, diverse, and inclusive is the job of educators who are educating. Getting rid of desks, bells, grading, grade levels, walls, and all of the other things about education that are being “reimagined” pales in comparison to the power and progress that OER affords educators and learners.

OER is not about saving money even though one large urban district that is currently piloting the OER middle school math curriculum that SABIER, the nonprofit I founded, and GeoGebra remixed from another curriculum will save about $4.5 million per year compared to using a proprietary remix of the same curriculum. The driving reason why that district is piloting the curriculum is the ability of that district's math department to edit, reorder, and translate the curriculum to fit its very diverse population.

Nonfiction education policy and practice books that help educators reimagine, redefine, and redesign schools and schooling actually reach more people and get used in more classes and staff development sessions when they are openly licensed than when authors share, usually not so handsomely, with the legacy for-profit publishers. Open licensing is much more progressive than the old way of copyrighting nonfiction material used in education. Traditional copyrights are still very appropriate for works of art in all media, but if your goal is innovation and collaboration in education open licenses are the way to progress, to be progressive.

I’m a journeyman OERtist making daily progress toward becoming a master.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Students are Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions


What did you expect? Were you thinking a pandemic was going to increase student scores on standardized tests? That might happen in the next pandemic, but are you really surprised about this one?
 
A New York writer put out a story today that mentioned a few 'studies.' Here's my thoughts on those studies, 


This is data from a survey collected between May 7, 2020 to May 12, 2020. It shows that remote teaching during a pandemic has not worked well for large groups of students. I don’t see the question, “Did you think this was going to work out well, and why did you think that?

An analysis from McKinsey & Company, the consulting group.


“Achieving this goal will make it necessary to provide teachers with resources that show them how they can make virtual engagement and instruction effective and to train them in remote-learning best practices.”

I couldn’t agree more with the general thrust of McKinsey’s call to action. I do wonder, though, about which of their clients this report is designed to support. They will say they’re doing this just because they want to contribute to the good of the community. That may actually be true, but most of their paid work is done to improve the return on investment for their corporate clients. Their pro bono work with the Minneapolis Public Schools has resulted in a very real possibility that the Minneapolis Public Schools will be mostly dissolved in the not too distant future. It wouldn’t be too hard to believe that was the original purpose of their pro bono work. McKinsey has a long history of busting unions, and there are plenty of people, usually people who want public money to go to private schools or semi-private charter schools, who see teacher unions as the bad guys in public education.

It would not be a huge logical step for McKinsey to support the for-profit corporatization of our public schools to save them from the ravages of the pandemic. The study referenced lays out the first step in that process - detailing the ravages of the pandemic on public education.

Researchers at Brown and Harvard looked at Zearn

The online program Zearn was formerly used primarily in schools where students accessed it via school computers. We shouldn’t be too surprised that their usage dropped off significantly when students were accessing or attempting to access via home capabilities. I’ve not yet been able to find out who is behind the non-profit, Zearn. Their CEO and founder worked at Bain and Co. before she founded Zearn. Bain and Co play in the same league as McKinsey and Co.

working paper from NWEA, a nonprofit organization,


“In this study, we produce a series of projections of COVID-19-related learning loss and its potential effect on test scores in the 2020-21 school year based on (a) estimates from prior literature and (b) analyses of typical summer learning patterns “

Projections and estimates are a lot like best guesses. If that’s all we got, well, then, that’s all we got. But let’s not pretend that it’s solid research.

NWEA is a nonprofit that acts a lot like a for-profit. I used their products extensively when I was teaching and I found them to be very good at generating reports on how students performed on reading and math assessments that were based on a set of criteria that represented how other students performed on those assessments. The remote learning during a pandemic is going to really mess up their comparisons of students. They’ve previously been able to present their data as if all students were receiving similar instruction from teachers who had similar skill levels using similar curricula in similar types of socio-economic environments. The pandemic has blown big holes in all of the previous assumptions. 

Education journalists have a whole lot more work to do to explain how all of those previous assumptions no longer apply. It could be argued, and I would, that the assumptions were never valid. But, making the assumptions created a great industry of measuring student performance and enabled politicians and policy makers to ‘re-imagine’ educational governance and finance every five years or so.

We'll all do better in the next pandemic, I hope.


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Comments on the Hewlett Foundation's Next Phase


  The recent publication by the Hewlett Foundation of their Open Education Strategy for 2020 is like a breath of fresh air in the sunshine in these troubling times. The Hewlett Foundation is the unquestionable leader in the field of open educational resources (OER), and their attention to how and what students actually learn when using OER is welcome and necessary for both K12 and Higher Ed.

Hewlett might be missing the forest for the trees, though, when it comes to models to propel and sustain the growth of OER. We don’t necessarily need to help developers and publishers of OER grow, certainly not the private for-profit ones. The whole point of OER is for teachers and educational institutions to be able to exercise their own ability to revise, remix and redistribute material. Our universities are more than capable of revising, remixing and redistributing material. Some K-12 districts and most state departments of education are, too. The beauty of OER is that every university and every district in every state doesn’t need to do it themselves; they can share the work and collaborate in continuing to make educational material more culturally relevant and more accessible to all. That can be the glue for the new networks called for by Hewlett.

That leads to examining another point made in the Strategy for 2020 - the need for professional development. One of the big reasons, as Hewlett noted, why “currently, few educators who use OER-based curricula understand that these materials are OER or use the open license to its full potential” is that educators are not professionally instructed on what OER is and how to use, revise, remix, and redistribute the material. Hewlett is absolutely correct in saying that “Teachers require professional support to learn how to take full advantage of the flexibility that OER affords in service of student learning.” Professional support should start even before teachers are in the classroom. It needs to happen in teacher preparation programs. Today, however, very few teacher preparation programs include developing an understanding of OER and how it can be modified to promote deeper learning. To “ensure that the growing knowledge base reaches educators and policy makers” the pedagogy first needs to be articulated and taught to the practitioners, then the effectiveness of the pedagogy can be researched and reported.

An integral component of developing new teachers’ ability to use, revise, remix and redistribute OER will be showing teachers how to import OER material into learning management systems (LMSs), and then how to modify it in the learning management system. OER is hard to revise when it's printed material, PDFs, or ePubs. Google docs are a step in the right direction but they don't provide all of the assessment and analytics that are available in an LMS, and an internet connection is more necessary with Google docs than it is with opensource LMSs.

The pandemic that is now threatening all of our teachers, students and parents has highlighted the glaring lack of internet access, learning management systems, and teachers’ mastery of the LMSs. We have as a society been slow to demand that all of our students have access to current educational technology. The tools already exist to enable educators to make education material accessible and culturally relevant to all,  but too few schools have implemented the tools and developed expertise. OER is critical in that work.

Before OER, we relied on publishers to make  textbooks and distribute them to every classroom. Today in the field of OER, for-profit providers are housing OER in proprietary platforms to deliver the functionality that is available in learning management systems. Relying on for-profit providers to make materials accessible and relevant is maybe a convenient way to get started with OER and it proves the concept, but it doesn't provide all of the benefits of OER that are possible. It doesn't help institutions and teachers develop the skills they need; and it's much more expensive in a not very long run.

Learning management systems (LMSs) are the key to making OER more useful in both K-12 and higher ed. One of the reasons that LMSs have had such a poor standing with all levels of education is that they didn't previously have OER. Conversely, OER  makes LMSs really useful in both K-12 and higher ed. Without OER, LMSs can be an appendage or clumsy tool for teaching and learning. And, without an LMS, OER is often something that is harder to use than what we've always used previously - the textbook.

An openly licensed textbook can be fitted into a learning management system quite easily and practically. When the textbook is housed in a LMS, it is more easily accessible to students, teaching notes can be included, assessments are included, and reports aligning student learning outcomes can be created for all the necessary and various levels required. The most exciting part is that OER makes the content in a learning management system something that is alive, flexible, and well suited to the collaborative process of great teaching and learning.

A focus on teacher preparation program development of K-12 expertise in using OER with LMSs and then then ensuring that current teachers get the needed professional development would be a useful addition to Hewlett's next phase.  So would advocating that all students have access to digital content both in school and at home. Internet access needs to be the public library of the future. Using digital tools for learning won't be scary or difficult once it's ubiquitous, and it will open wide the world of OER to teachers, students and parents. K-12 teachers becoming proficient in using all of the features of OER will encourage Higher Ed faculty to do the same, and then everyone benefits.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Hybrid for Fall 2020

Matt Dean wrote about his concerns for institutions of higher ed starting the Fall term of 2020. He suggested that a hybrid model might be something to consider. The experience of Augsburg University may be useful. I led the team of academic and tech support staff that implemented a move of all of Augsburg's weekend college and graduate courses to a hybrid format from a previously face to face format. That work is described in this paper  which was named a Best Paper at the 2014 HLC Conference and in this book chapter which I don't think is available electronically.

A couple of points from Augsburg's experience that are worth noting are:

Faculty consensus is critical. It took Augsburg the better part of a couple of years to come to a consensus that moving to a hybrid format for the weekend and graduate courses was the way to go. It would be possible to do it more quickly, but the effort will be difficult without a strong consensus of faculty and staff.

Leadership is also important. A move like this won't succeed without a firm commitment to support it from all levels of the highest leadership. And, leadership needs to be in it for the long term; not as a short-term fix. There be will a powerful pull even after consensus is reached by faculty to revert to 'the way we've always done it, "the right way" ' when difficulties arise. And, they will arise.

Technological infrastructure needs to be firmly in place. This mostly just costs money, but it's also an issue of the will to get it done. This includes, WiFi, devices, and all of the necessary software.

And, maybe most importantly, a plan to provide significant levels of faculty professional development and support for the transition will be crucial. One of the biggest hurdles will be getting consensus about the software and platforms to use. Initially, it will be better to have everyone do it the same way and use the same platform. Learning management systems work when they are properly supported with professional development. Because an institution of higher ed is comprised of a lot of people with PhDs, there will be lots of opinions about how to do it differently and plenty of people exerting 'academic freedom' in all kinds of ways. That's why the first point about consensus is so critical.

It will be useful to keep an open mind about the specific model of hybrid. Augsburg used a biweekly model for most classes, but the low residency model used for the graduate creative writing program could be a useful model for lots of courses. That model consisted of a week on campus at the beginning of the term and a week at the end of the term. Variations of that should be strongly considered for as many courses as possible.  Lab intensive courses will be the most logistically tricky. An attitude of adventure and experimentation will come in handy.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

OER in a Time of Corona


My previous post was about the advantages of using the Moodle learning management system and open educational resources, OER, in a digital or distance learning environment. Because so many schools and teachers are suddenly being required to make big changes, it is important to remember to Keep it Simple and Do First Things First. Keeping it simple with regard to a learning management system means by all means use the one you have, or in the immortal sound of Stephen Stills, Rita Coolidge, et al., Love the One Your With .  If you have Schoology, or Canvas, or D2L, or Google Classroom use them. An emergency transition to distance learning is not the time to change to a new LMS. If you're not already using an LMS, or if your district doesn't already have an LMS that can accommodate all grade levels and disciplines then a Moodle site might be the best option.

When it comes to the content to use in a digital learning environment, openly licensed content or OER will always be the best first choice. The exception to that would be if you or your district already has a subscription to a complete course in a digital format that is easily accessible by students remotely. If you have the subscription but haven't been using it, consider using OER content instead. It's also important that districts or departments of teachers and classes reach a consensus on which content to use. This is not a time when every teacher does that with which they personally feel most comfortable. This is a time for teaming and collaboration.

As I said in my previous post, OER will allow teachers, or teams of teachers, the freedom to revise the content to meet the particular needs of their students. The availability of OER material for K-12 has grown dramatically in recent years such that there’s no longer any reason for teachers or schools to pay for access to content. The Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum (MPCC) is a good example of OER content for K-12. The content is available for free to anyone who wants to use it.

One of the big advantages that the MPCC offers is that it is a comprehensive collection of digital course work for each of the four core subject areas – Math, Science, English Language Arts, and Social Studies – for grades 3-12. All of the courses are aligned to Minnesota standards but they could easily be adapted to standards in other states or countries. That’s the beauty of OER; it’s adaptable to the particular needs of students. The comprehensiveness combined with the adaptability of the MPCC courses provides teachers the assurance that the content they're using fulfills the state's requirements, but they're able to add or substitute any content in any area they need for their students. The structure of the courses, which includes assessments and teaching, will be valuable to teachers who are trying to provide structure for students who may be experiencing some of the most chaotic times in their lives. 

It might be somewhat comforting to note that most teams only need to choose to use enough content to get them and their students to the end of this academic year. It will be easier to think about longer range choices for next year when we get a summer break. The advantage of OER content now is that it can be adapted to fit whatever is chosen for next year. Content and tools to use for digital distance learning will be evolving quickly in the days and weeks to come - pick another lively tune to keep your spirits up.


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Moodle and OER in a time of Corona


  In this unsettling time in which we're now living, all schools are being forced to reconsider how to provide instruction and learning. Schools that have already been fully online won’t need to make many changes. Those that have been hybrid or blended will only need to add to what they’ve already created.  Whenever possible, schools should choose to use openly licensed content on openly licensed software. I make this recommendation based on my years of experience with systemic open practices and my experience implementing instructional and assessment software in schools in both K‒12 and higher ed.

The best open source learning management software for teachers at any level to use is Moodle, which is used by two-thirds of higher education institutions in the world. Using Moodle now will be the safest way to ensure student privacy, the best way to enable retrieval of student work created now and in the future, and the best way to get assistance from other users of the learning management system. Being able to get help from other teachers is crucial. Because Moodle is the most widely used system globally it provides the greatest possibilities for support and it already has over fifteen years of well documented user experience upon which to draw. Small Moodle sites (up to 50 students) are available for free. Sites for more students are very inexpensive and the setup time is minimal. If you need assistance I can help with that.

I began using Moodle in a 3rd and 4th grade classroom in 2007. This blog post describes some of the ways I found it useful with 3rd and 4th graders. That post is from almost 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve spent several years assisting higher ed faculty in how to move their courses to a hybrid environment. It’s actually a lot easier than it seems at first, and it frequently enriches the teaching and learning experience for both the teacher and students. A common reaction from senior faculty who converted their course(s) to a hybrid format from a face to face format was - ‘Why hasn’t anyone shown me how to do this before now?’

Changing how students and teachers interact offers a new experience. In 2004 Garrison and Kanuka explained that asynchronous Internet communication technology, the kind of experience that Moodle offers (synchronous communication is also an option), has the “ability to facilitate a simultaneously independent and collaborative learning experience. That is, learners can be independent of space and time—yet together.” (1)  Online can be a good thing. In my experience that’s possible for any age from grade 3 to graduate school.

The best type of content for teachers to present to students on Moodle is openly licensed content or OER. Teachers are able to link to any type of digital media from within Moodle so they’re not restricted to only using OER, but OER will allow them the freedom to revise the content to meet the particular needs of their students. The availability of OER material for K-12 has grown dramatically in recent years such that there’s no longer any reason for teachers or schools to pay for access to content. The Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum (MPCC) is a good example of OER content for K-12.

The MPCC is a grassroots initiative of more than 200 Minnesota school districts that created a comprehensive collection of openly licensed digital course work for each of the four core subject areas – Math, Science, English Language Arts, and Social Studies – for grades 3-12. Here's a 5 minute video about the MPCC. The more than forty full year long courses created by the MPCC are aligned to Minnesota standards but they could easily be adapted to standards in other states or countries. That’s the beauty of OER; it’s adaptable to the particular needs of students. The content is available for free to anyone who wants to use it. The enormous contribution to education by organisations like the MPCC and Moodle is becoming more apparent daily. Those contributions will be long lasting.

Moodle could use your help now to continue providing free and inexpensive sites to teachers and schools. Go to the donation page here.

1.  Garrison, D. R., and H. Kanuka. 2004. Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. Internet and Higher Education

7 (2): 95–105.doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2004.02.001.