Is Online Higher Ed the Answer?

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/03/opinion/college-graduates.html

Ray Myers

Helping Students Spot Junk Information

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/technology/france-internet-literacy-school.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2Fadam-satariano&action=click&contentCollection=undefined&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=7&pgtype=collection

Ray Myers

Americanization of Swedish Schoolsoi

In the last 15–20 years, Sweden has suffered a downturn in several important aspects of the elementary and secondary education system. To begin to illustrate the state of Sweden’s schools, we can make a comparison with the heavily criticized American education system. It is a common and understandable belief, in the U.S. and elsewhere, that Swedish schools compare favorably with American schools in terms of educational outcomes. But the weakest American students in 8th grade performed significantly better than the weakest Swedish 8th graders in the TIMSS Mathematics assessment in 2011, one of the international comparative tests that have existed since the 1990s. In the latest cycle of the TIMSS Mathematics assessment, conducted in 2015, the weakest U.S. and Swedish students performed identically, but American students outperformed Swedish students in all other percentiles.

In contrast, Swedish students outperformed their U.S. peers across the entire distribution in 1995. A similar negative development can be observed in Swedish students’ performance in the PISA. Swedish 9th graders performed above the international average in the first cycle of PISA in 2000, but then Sweden’s results steadily deteriorated in each of the three PISA core areas—reading, mathematics, and science—until a low point was reached in 2012. Another PISA assessment conducted in 2012 revealed shortcomings in creativity, critical thinking, curiosity, and perseverance, and ranked Sweden 20th out of 28 countries. The findings in the TIMSS and PISA assessments suggest that there has been a significant decline in knowledge among Swedish students in recent years.

Yet the average merit rating (based on grades) in the final year of Sweden’s elementary schools has markedly improved since the late 1990s, which is highly suspicious. Indeed, the disconnect between international assessments of Swedish students’ performance and their grades is compelling evidence of rampant grade inflation in Swedish elementary schools, and the same problem is showing in secondary education as well.

Furthermore, Sweden has one of the highest levels of absenteeism and late arrivals in the OECD. Depression and anxiety among children aged 10–17 also increased by more than 100 percent from 2006 to 2016. According to Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare, the reasons for this dramatic increase are most likely linked to schooling and the transition from school to adult life. Similarly, physicians have suggested that the soaring prescriptions for ADHD drugs in Sweden, where as many as nine percent of boys are medicated for ADHD in some counties, are related to factors within the school system.

Finally, there is a kind of malaise in the teaching profession. There is an acute shortage of teachers, mainly caused by a high dropout rate among students in education degree programs. A further crisis component is the selection of applicants. Today, only five percent of teachers deem their profession prestigious, and barely half of them would choose the same occupation again. This fall in teaching’s status is reflected in the sizable share of applicants with low grades from secondary school and who grew up in homes with less cultural capital. Moreover, teachers are one of the least satisfied groups in the Swedish labor market, even though teachers’ relative wages have increased sharply in recent years. A recent study showed that four out of ten active teachers are considering leaving the profession.

What on earth is going on

Ray Myers

(Excerpted from “Post-Truth” Schooling and Marketized Education: Explaining the Decline in Sweden’s School Quality)

What’s Gender Got to Do With It?

Research shows that students, especially boys, benefit when teachers share their race or gender. Yet most teachers are white women.

By Claire Cain Miller

Sept. 10, 2018

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Zara Gibbon helps a new sixth grader at Animo Westside Charter Middle School in Los Angeles. A majority of teachers in American schools are white women.

As students have returned to school, they have been greeted by teachers who, more likely than not, are white women. That means many students will be continuing to see teachers who are a different gender than they are, and a different skin color.

Does it matter? Yes, according to a significant body of research: Students tend to benefit from having teachers who look like them, especially nonwhite students.

The homogeneity of teachers is probably one of the contributors, the research suggests, to the stubborn gender and race gaps in student achievement: Over all, girls outperform boys, and white students outperform those who are black and Hispanic.

Where Boys Outperform Girls in Math: Rich, White and Suburban DistrictsJune 13, 2018

Yet the teacher work force is becoming more female: 77 percent of teachers in public and private elementary and high schools are women, up from 71 percent three decades ago. The teaching force has grown more racially diverse in that period, but it’s still 80 percent white, down from 87 percent.

(Excerpted from NY Times, 9 /11/18)

Ray Myers

Help Individual Teachers in U.S.

Yes, this title is correct. Perhaps some readers will remember a blog that I posted eleven days ago about the deteriorating infrastructure of U.S. schools. TodayI am going to post some information about how individual schools can be helped by contributions through one online organization, DonorsChoose.org.

“Teachers across the United States use DonorsChoose.org to raise money for individual projects that they wouldn’t otherwise be funded by their schools. Some have sought money for technology upgrades, classroom basics (like notebooks and paper), and creative ideas you most likely wouldn’t have thought of. The website allows you to find projects in your area.”

Make America Great Again!

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be back blogging next week, on May 2. Have a great weekend!

Too Much Screen Time in School?

Digital tools can enrich, but is there a downside to too much screen time? Some pediatricians and parents are now raising concerns about the classroom laptops, tablets and apps, partly because school districts are adopting digital tools in droves.

Last year, primary and secondary schools in the United States spent $5.4 billion on 12.4 million laptop and tablet computers, according to International Data Corporation, a market research firm known as IDC. “The concern is that many programs students use in school are entertainment and gamified,” said Dr. Scott Krugman, a pediatrician in Baltimore County, who supported recently proposed state legislation that would develop optimum health and safety practices for the use of digital devices in schools. “We felt these are things that should be tracked and monitored.”

Baltimore County Schools also recommended that students take activity breaks from computer tasks every 20 minutes and leave their devices inside during recess. They may even have to play and talk with each other. Hmmm, old school, I guess?

Ray Myers

How About U.S. Schools’ Infrastructure!

So here’s another challenge to Make America Great Again. Make all our schools physically sound and safe. I know that from the federal level, and in some states, we have been focusing on the importance of bringing technology into our classrooms. This is critically important in the twenty-first century, but we also have to ensure that our schools are not crumbling around our students and teachers. The current White House resident has talked about improving our highways (still waiting?), but I hope that he can also add improving America’s schools to his “to do” list. Time may be getting very short.

Please have a look at this article from yesterday’s New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/16/reader-center/us-public-schools-conditions.html, which depicts some of the most egregious conditions from around the country. Our students and teachers deserve better. Can this President help?

Ray Myers

Put Down Your Laptops, Pick Up Your Pencils

Silicon Valley may find this all too hard to believe, but researchers are now finding that bringing your laptop to class and typing your notes verbatim as the professor speaks, may actually undermine the learning process. Typing out your handwritten notes later on your preferred digital device may be the better practice to reinforce your retention of material that has been presented in class.

“But a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings and in all kinds of workplaces (Dynarski, University of Michigan, 2017).”

I guess it’s time to sharpen our pencils, and put our “thinking caps” back on!

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be posting again on next Wednesday, December 6. In the meantime, please have a look at mypeacecorpsstory.com, podcast #018, where I discuss my “technology-free” Peace Corps years in India.

Microsoft and Google Heighten Competition in the Classroom

Microsoft and Google appear to be preparing to do battle in theeducational marketplace.  I believe Microsoft has  always seen schools and teachers as their primary clientele, and Google has more recently developed more tools that are attracting new users to their services.  Microsoft spent the last year in efforts to refocus and renew their classroom efforts.  Microsoft spent the last year talking to thousands of teachers and designing high-tech experiments that require mostly low-cost parts.  It will give the designs to schools for free so teachers can use them in their lesson plans.

Google has gained ground in public schools by offering a tightly connected system of free classroom apps, lower cost laptops called Chromebooks and a web-based console that allows schools to remotely manage thousands of student devices.  Industry analysts said Microsoft’s initiative was the company’s first credible response to Google’s recent encroachment into education.  Microsoft executives are looking forward to seizing  the chance to make an updated impression on future consumers.

So the classroom has become a new battleground for these giant tech companies to clash for future customers.  Let’s just hope that America’s students and teachers come out the winners.

Ray Myers

P.S.  I will not be posting a blog on Monday, May 8, but will return on Wednesday, May 10.  Enjoy your weekend.


American Lobbying in Europe – We Can Help You!

“We’re here to help.”  And if you are lobbying for an American tech firm in Europe, you may find that a lot of those countries’ political and business leaders are not very convinced of our benign intentions.  Google appears to be the most successful to date in helping our European friends fill a funding gap that exists there, particularly in terms of technology improvements for schools and museums.  Perhaps the biggest challenge for Google is to convince European leaders that they will fully protect citizens’ privacy rights online.

Another major concern appears to be that Google will have too much control over how Europeans gain access to digital services.  I don’t think that this has become a major concern in the U.S. ?  I believe we have come to use Google as our all-purpose search engine, “Google it!”  Is it a question of losing our individual autonomy by using the most powerful and reliable search tool at our disposal?  We still have the prerogative of using other search engines, but let’s be honest, size and scope of these searches do matter.   Yahoo!

But it seems apparent that Europeans’ perceptions of American interests in Europe and elsewhere might always be tinged by the impressions we left behind after the Second World War: “oversexed, overpaid, and over here.”

Ray Myers


Let’s Make America Great Again – Really Connect All Schools to the Internet

It’s almost been twenty years since American schools began having access to funding to wire their schools though the federally funded e-Rate program administered by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).   Unfortunately, if you live in a poor rural area of this country, you will still find that the speed and reliability of connections to your schools are not what they are in your state’s larger cities or more populous communities.  It will not be high-speed Internet.  In fact, teachers and students may be spending more time trying to connect to the Internet than in actually teaching and learning with it.  I know Al Gore has moved on to saving the world’s environment but we could really use his help on this one since he very instrumental when all this began during the Clinton years.  He must be feeling our pain.

There are a relatively small number of schools and communities that have this lack of needed connectivity, but our larges telecommunications companies seem to have little interest in connecting to them.  And there is little competition to provide services.  Seven percent of U.S. schools nationwide fail to find bidders when looking to upgrade Internet connectivity according to the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).  Should our federal, state and local governments be doing more?  Or should we just let a “free market” take care of all this.  Students in many European and Asian countries have better connectivity.  (See U.S. Department of Education report on International Experiences with Technology in Education, http://tech.ed.gov/files/2013/10/iete-full-report-1.doc).

I know there are many geopolitical and geographic challenges that are unique to our American schools.  But we are, or can be, “great” again as we will continue to hear throughout this campaign year.  Let’s make our schools part of that challenge, promise?

Ray Myers

Tech-free Time?

I wonder what we would all do if we set aside certain times, days, occasions, etc., when we would all be “tech-free.”  This may be the hardest of all for our children, but for many adults, this would also be a wrenching experience.

I think you will find that some of our educational institutions at all levels are beginning to recognize the value of being “tech-free,” allowing administrators, teachers and professors to impose such restrictions at selected times.  At some schools in the boroughs of New York City, for example, there is a booming cottage industry in the storage of students’ cell phones outside the schools’ doors in renovated ice cream vans. There still may be plenty of technology inside the school, but imposing a ban on cell phones does appear to provide some degree of internal control.

The school building itself may be the last bastion for encouraging socialization (along with learning) across generations.

Ray Myers