Whatever Happened to Behavioral Objectives?

Not much. They are still around but often goes by an alias.

Introduced in the early 20th century, behavioral objectives are like  wallpaper in a favorite room that is stripped and then re-papered with wallpaper of a different hue but closely resembling the discarded debris. In short, the phrase has different names today (e.g., performance objectives,  learner outcomes, competencies-based outcomes) but remains common across the educational domain as well as in business, medicine, and other professional work. They are now a permanent fixture of organizations but not called “behavioral objectives.”

Where Did the Idea Originate?

The efficiency-driven wing of early 20th century progressives, inspired by management innovator Frederick Taylor, educational psychologist Edward Thorndike, and other university-based academics saw the rational design of lessons as important. In the 1930s and 1940s, Ralph Tyler of the University of Chicago and head evaluator of the Eight Year Study championed behavioral objectives and scientific ways of assessing student and school outcomes. The advent of teaching machines and the work of B.F. Skinner advanced the breaking down of specific knowledge and skills into constituent parts that could be taught and measured. Instructional designers began pressing K-12 educators to adopt the idea of “behavioral objectives” as early as the late-1950s. They advocated that educators must state clearly and objectively exactly what they wanted students to learn, the conditions under which the students will learn specific content and skills, and how these educators will know students have indeed learned what was intended.

Psychologists who championed instructional design, many of whom were trained as behaviorists such as B.F. Skinner, Robert Gagne‘, Benjamin Bloom, Robert Mager,and others in the 1940s and 1950s–along with Tyler–see above–produced articles and books throughout the 1960s that laid out how teachers should and could compose and specific objectives for their lessons in terms sufficiently clear to determine whether or not students had learned what was intended in the lesson (see here).

What Are Behavioral Objectives?

Sometimes called “learning” or “performance” objectives, Robert Mager laid out the three parts that every behavioral objective must contain: what the learner will do (not the teacher or instructional materials), the conditions under which the learner performs, and the criteria to judge how well the learner has performed the task.

Examples of such objectives across academic subjects are:

*The students will be able to classify the changes of state matter undergoes when given a description of the shape and volume.

*Given four works of short fiction of contrasting genres, the student will analyze and
match each work with its correct genre.
*Using the washingtonpost.com Web site, the student will correctly identify and print out two examples each of a news article and an editorial regarding a topical new item.
*Given twenty examples of incorrect verb tense usage, the student will identify and correct a minimum of sixteen instances.


Sometimes, behavioral objectives can be put into words that young children can understand such as:



What Problems Did Behavioral Objectives Intend to Solve

Because behavioral objectives drive a lesson, according to those championing “performance” or “competency learning outcome”, these objectives are too often stated as to what the teacher does rather than what the student will do and learn . Even when objectives are phrased as what students will do, they use language that is ambiguous and hard to demonstrate that learning occurred.

Examples of such lesson objectives are easy to find: “teacher will read story to kindergartners,” “I will define the lunar cycle for students,” “teacher will interpret the meaning of Paradise Lost,” “students will develop a three-dimensional form through using wire and wood.”

Or consider unit on colonialism in America that listed the following objectives:

Students will understand how learning U.S. history will help them
reach their goals.
Students will get an overview of U.S. history from colonization to the
Civil War.
Students will use maps to understand the process of colonization.
Students will learn about the geography of each group of colonies
and how geography affected their economies.
Students will review two persuasive essays about the centrality of
money in America and write responses.


The following “do” and “don’t” chart captures both what they are and the problem they seek to solve.




Do Behavioral Objectives Work?

No one knows for sure. If “work” means their ubiquity in lesson and unit plans across the country, the answer is yes. But if “work” asks about their effectiveness in improving the quality of a lesson or what students learn, such research is slim to sparse. Linking academic improvement to the quality of behavioral objectives is, well, nigh impossible (see here, here,  and here).

What Happened To Behavioral Objectives?*

Not too much. Under different labels, they are everywhere in curriculum manuals, district budgets, proposals to donors, and government agency programs.

In visiting classrooms throughout Silicon Valley in 2016, I often saw listed on a whiteboard, the agenda for the day. Usually, the first item was the lesson objective. For example, in an Advanced Placement Physics class at Los Altos High School that I observed in September 2016, the teacher had written on the whiteboard the following objective for the lesson: Students will be able to (SWBAT) create instructional videos using whiteboard animations in order to demonstrate problem solving skills and provide instructional support to peers.

For those eager to “personalize learning,” one way is to list the skill and content competencies that students will learn at different paces, usually through software, in a unit and lesson. These competencies are behavioral objectives in disguise (see here, here and here).

Educators may not call them “behavioral objectives” today but they are commonly built into daily lesson plans, student assessments and teacher evaluations.


In a later post, I will describe a parallel innovation within private and public organizations called “Management by Objectives” (MBO). Authored by management guru Peter Drucker in the mid-1950s, it spread rapidly in the late-1960s in federal agencies under the Nixon administration aimed at holding agency officials accountable for outcomes they had specified. By the early 1970s, MBO has become the organizational reform du jour among private and public sector leaders. By the early 1980s, it had become passe’.

If behavioral objectives were for teachers, MBO was for CEOs, federal and state agency heads, middle managers in the private sector and principals, superintendents, and school boards in K-12 and higher education. In K-12 schools, MBO and behavioral objectives were joined at the hip in laying out a format for the introduction of accountability for assessing student, school, and district outcomes.





Filed under how teachers teach

Is Homework Compatible With Personalized Learning? (Autumn Hillis)

Autumn Hillis works with middle schools in the middle Tennessee region as an open educational resource curriculum specialist. She has taught at the middle school and high school level for six years with a focus in life and physical sciences. She is also currently working with Tennessee universities to train Tennessee science educators about personalized and project based learning.”

This post appeared in EdSurge, October 3, 2017

Differentiating content and instruction for each individual learner was once considered the pedagogical holy grail. Yet it could be tiresome. Offering three tiers of worksheets, four centers with varied ways to access content, or five levels of text was what defined a master teacher. But just as continual development of the iPhone eventually renders older prototypes obsolete; so too are new educational technologies pushing us past differentiation towards personalized learning.

Transitioning to a personalized learning environment doesn’t happen overnight—it’s a process. There are parts of the shift that feel impossible at first like moving into the passenger’s seat during lessons, managing new technologies and analyzing what seems like an endless amount of data. But in time these impossibilities become like second nature and new challenges arise. We start asking deeper questions and setting loftier goals for ourselves as educators.

In 2013, when I began rethinking some of the practices I once thought of as tried and true, one of the biggest shifts for me was the realization that the topics I found interesting were not necessarily the most engaging for my students. I had to set aside the pride I felt for my personal knowledge—and my love of talking—so that I could start listening to my students and discover what was meaningful for them.

By fall of 2015, I had come leaps and bounds with making my classroom student centered, and personalizing instruction during class time. But this nagging question kept bringing me down: What message does it send our students when we only personalize learning from 8AM-3PM, and then send everyone home with the same worksheet for homework?

Homework has been an area of controversy amongst practitioners for years, with strong evidence of both benefits and drawbacks. While I have never been interested in inundating students with extra practice outside of school hours, I do believe that some concepts and skills require extensive independent practice.

After combing through research presenting data for and against homework, one argument really resonated with me. Too often, parents cannot help students who are struggling through an assignment that they are not prepared for. This can lead to frustrating nights when a family could be enjoying their time together. The one thing I knew for sure was that if I was going to give homework, I needed to develop a solution to give students the independent work time they needed without creating unnecessary stress. I decided to experiment with creating assignments that would mirror the individualized experience students were receiving in my class.

Experimenting with new classroom techniques is daunting. Creating multiple resources for one concept, developing systems for managing the paperwork, and giving feedback in a timely manner are challenging enough for a small class—but with classroom sizes bulging with 33 to 36 students, these tasks are completely overwhelming. In 2015, when I began investigating how to personalize homework, I knew that I’d need to leverage technology if I wanted to make it sustainable. I taught 130 students a day, so efficiency was key.

As a first experiment, I started with an eighth grade science unit on the periodic table of the elements. Typically, I gave homework two or three nights a week, and graded the assignments for accuracy and completion. I checked each answer to make sure students weren’t just blowing off my homework. Homework responsibility accounted for 15% of each student’s grade, so while there was some accountability, we weren’t spending much time reviewing the material covered by the extra practice. I was inadvertently sending the message to my students that these assignments were busy work. So I decided to shake things up a bit.

After presenting some introductory concepts, I gave my students a short formative assessment with six questions that they could grade independently. Unknown to them, I had divided the questions up into two parts. If students missed the first three questions then they were struggling with concept A; if students missed the last three questions, then they were struggling with concept B. I recorded each student’s grade and took note of which questions they had missed. From this data, I offered them several choices of activities they could complete for homework. Some were activities that I created through Google Classroom or Google Forms, and others were from websites such as ReadWorks and BetterLesson.

In addition to the options I provided, I also invited and encouraged my students to find their own resources, with one caveat—they had to submit an “Internet Resource Quality Check” that I gave them. This quality check was designed to measure quality, rigor, and safety of alternative resources. Students were expected to submit proof of their practice for alternative resources as well as the ones I provided.


This sequence continued through the remainder of the unit. My students would take a formative assessment after completing each concept to see if they had mastered it and complete homework to reinforce areas of struggle. Students could also retake their assessments after completing their homework to determine their level of success in mastering challenging concepts.

Perhaps the greatest shift was that homework was no longer graded for accuracy or completion. The accountability for completing homework became the formative assessment score signaling mastery or the need for more practice. My students immediately respected the fact that they were not being asked to complete busy work.

At the conclusion of the unit, students took my summative assessment. I compared this data with scores I had collected in a unit that did not have the personalization of homework or independent practice, and the results were telling.


At the end of the unit, I asked my students if we should use this new homework structure moving forward, and I received an overwhelmingly affirmative response. Apparently, they were motivated by the prospect of not having to do an assignment if they demonstrated mastery on their assessments. They also reported less struggle at home because they weren’t being asked to tackle material that was outside of their current grasp.

This experiment changed my practice substantially. It helped me recognize that tailoring instruction and independent practice inside and outside of the classroom are equally important. Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way about developing personalized homework.

Take It Slow

Much like personalizing classroom instruction, creating personalized homework takes time. I didn’t put pressure on myself to create all of my personalized homework assignments in one sitting. I started with two or three choices and added more over time. I collaborated with my local colleagues and those in my virtual PLC (professional learning community) to develop and add to the resource bank I already had.

Shift Your Perspective

Grading 130 homework assignments a day is unsustainable. Shifting my perspective to view homework as independent practice to support classroom instruction, rather than something that needed to be constantly graded for completion helped. Homework became an opportunity for students to practice a skill in order to master content at their personal pace. If homework wasn’t completed, and they couldn’t show mastery on the assessment, then they continued to work on that concept before moving on. Eventually, students learned that giving me their best effort regardless of the grade was beneficial to them as well.

Feedback That Counts

Giving consistent, personalized, specific feedback, especially on homework, is more powerful than giving a grade. I held bi-weekly conferences to celebrate successes and discuss areas for growth, and used the private comment feature available in Google Classroom to give specific feedback on student work. This encouraged my students to go back and review their work rather than simply look for a score, and it allowed them to communicate with me about their progress by responding.

Accept Technological Support

The teacher-to-student ratio makes managing a personalized learning environment tough enough without adding homework into the mix. The right technology can help us become more efficient with delivering choices, developing personalized content, managing work submission, providing feedback and grading student work. The best tools are those that students can use seamlessly from home—that way classroom instruction and independent practice are working in sync.


My district does not support a one-to-one device-to-student ratio so I quickly learned to always have a non-tech assignment option. Some students cannot complete assignments that are only available online due to limited accessibility to devices or internet connectivity. In the best-case scenario, I include multiple non-tech options because the element of choice is key to personalization.

In 2017, I plan to continue investigating the impact of personalized homework on student growth. My new role as an open resource curriculum specialist offers me an opportunity to work with other teachers to continue finding new ways to tailor homework and make it more personal. My hope is that as device and internet access improves—and as technology continues to advance—both independent and collaborative homework will become more meaningful for students, and the ability to scale personalized feedback to students will become more manageable for teachers.


Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

A Few Teachers Speak Out on Technology in Their Classrooms

I am fortunate to have many readers who are classroom teachers. I have published posts over the past year about my research on teachers identified as exemplary in integrating technology into their lessons. Some of those posts triggered responses from teachers. I offer a few of those comments here.

Louise Kowitch, retired social studies teacher from Connecticut:

….The impact of technology can vary greatly depending on the subject matter (among all the other things you’ve addressed). While some pedagogical practices are universal, when “doing the work of the discipline”, content-specific practices,and by extension the impact of technology, might vary widely.

I mention this to say that as someone who lived through the IT revolution in the classroom (from mimeographs, scantrons, and filmstrips to floppy disks and CD-ROM, and finally to smart boards, Skype and Chromebooks), by the time I reached three decades as a full time classroom teacher, I was spending MORE time on my lessons and interacting with students, than less. Some tasks were indeed more efficient (for example, obtaining and sharing maps, artifacts, art, primary sources). Others, like collecting data about student performance for our superintendent, became arduous, weekend long affairs that sucked the life out of the joy of teaching.

That said, I loved how Chromebooks and Smartboards freed up my instruction to empower students to do their own research and conduct substantive debates. For example, a simulation of the post WWI debates over the Treaty of Versailles from the perspectives of different countries – something I had done before Chromebooks – became a powerful lesson for students in the art of diplomacy, the value of historical perspective, and the grind of politics, as a result of THEIR OWN RESEARCH, not my selection of primary sources. This was MORE time consuming (2 weeks of instructional time, not 8 days) and LESS EFFICIENT, but MORE STUDENT CENTERED and COLLABORATIVE.

Was it “better” instruction? Yes, if the point was for kids to experience “the art of negotiation”. No, if it meant having to drop a four day mini unit on elections in the Weimar Republic that I used to do after the WWI unit. Something is lost, and something is gained. Like you, I grapple with it’s a zero sum game.

Garth Flint,  high school teacher of computer science and technology coordinator in Montana private school:

My question has always been what effect does the increase in classroom tech have on the students? Do they do better through out the years? How do we measure “better”? We have an AP History teacher who is very traditional. Kids listen to the lecture and copy the notes on the whiteboard.
About the only tech he uses are some minor YouTube videos. His AP test results are outstanding. Would any tech improve on those results? At the middle school we have a teacher who uses a Smartboard extensively. It has changed how he does his math lectures. But he is still lecturing. Has the Smartboard improved student learning? I do not know. I have observed teachers that have gone full tech. Google Docs, 1-1, videos of lectures on line, reversed classroom, paperless. Their prep time increased. Student results seemed (just from my observation, I did not measure anything) to be the same as a non-tech classroom. It would be interesting to have two classrooms of the same subject at the same grade level, one high tech, one old-school and feed those students into the same classroom the next year. Ask that next year teacher if there is a measurable difference between the groups.


Laura H. Chapman, retired  art teacher from Ohio:

“So answering the question of whether widespread student access and teacher use of technologies has “changed daily classroom practices” depends upon who is the asker, who is the doer, and what actually occurs in the classroom.”

Some other questions.
Who is asking questions about the extent of access and use of technology by students and teachers and why? Who is not asking such questions, and why not?

Is there a map of “daily classroom practices” for every subject and grade/or developmental level such that changes in these practices over time can be monitored with the same teachers in the same teaching assignments?

Are there unintended consequences of widespread student access and teacher use of technologies other than “changes in daily classroom practices?” Here I am thinking about the risky business of assuming that change is not only inevitable but also positive(e.g., invigorates teaching and learning, makes everything moe “efficient”).

Who is designing the algorithms, the apps, the dashboards, the protocols for accessing edtech resources, who is marketing these and mining the data from these technologies, and why? These questions bear on the direct costs and benefits of investments and indirect costs/benefits…. Continue reading


Filed under how teachers teach, technology

“The Dance of Ideology” (Charles Payne)

A sociologist from the University of Chicago, Charles Payne has taught and worked in urban schools for decades. Based upon his work in Chicago schools and many experiences in urban districts, Payne authored So Much Reform, So Little Change (2008). In the following excerpt from that book, Payne distills the basic assumptions that drive school reformers (including educators) from both the political left and right. He believes that the history of urban school reform and the current context calls for rethinking both sets of ideas in trying to improve big city schools.

…For progressives, [their] ideas include the following Holy Postulates:

  1. Thou Shalt Never Criticize the Poor. It is okay to imply that the poor have agency but agency only to do good. If the poor do anything that’s counterproductive, it is only because of the inexorable weight of oppression, which leaves them no choice. We do not talk about poor children or parents as part of their own problem.
  2. The Only Pedagogy is Progressive Pedagogy and Thou Shalt Have NO Other Pedagogy Before it. Drill and practice is everywhere and always bad … [and] the devil’s handiwork…. [A]nything that suggests centralization or standardization of instruction has the taint of evil. Context is irrelevant–teachers in a given building may have questionable content knowledge, there may be no support structure for teaching, teachers may not believe in their own efficacy or in their students. Doesn’t matter. Real teaching is always inquiry-based, student-centered, constructivist.
  3. Leadership in a Community of Professionals Is Always Facilitative, Inclusive, and Democratic. Again, we advocate this without regard to the context, without regard to the degree of social capital in a school or the degree of organizational coherence. This is part of the larger set of ideas which holds that real change must be voluntary; you must have buy-in from the bottom before you can do anything.
  4. Test Scores Don’t Mean a Thing. They don’t reflect the most important types of growth, it’s easy to cheat, easy to teach to the test. Tests take us away from the real business of education. On the other hand, if test scores rise in the context of progressive instruction, then they are further proof of the superiority of that method of teaching.

The errors of the right are presumably more dangerous at the moment because the right has institutional power. Conservatives proceed from a reductionist set of sensibilities: a reductionist sense of child development, a reductionist sense of teaching, of research, and of human motivation. (Sign on a Chicago  principal’s desk, “The flogging will continue until morale improves around here.”) These sensibilities translate into a contrasting set of postulates.

  1. Money Doesn’t Matter. The mother of all conservative sins is refusing to think about resource allocation. The popularity of vouchers and charters is due partly to the fact that they present themselves as revenue neutral. Look at Washington, D.C., they will say. Lavish spending and terrible results….
  2. It Only Counts If It Can Be Counted; Only the Quantifiable Is Real. This applies to everything from children’s growth to teachers’ credentials….
  3. The Path of Business Is the True Path. Leadership, decisionmaking, and organizational functioning should all mirror what is found in the American business community, renowned for its efficiency and hardheadedness. One result is the fetishizing of privatization, often without any regard to context or attention to the instructional core.
  4. Educators are Impractical. Another corollary of the romanticizing of the business model. In contrast to the practical, get-it-done business people, educators are seen as losers, dreamy, if not out-of-touch whiners.
  5. Change is Simple If You Do It Right. “Doing it right” often comes to mean equating change with the change of structures. There is very little sense of social process. If we organize schools as charters, that’s assumed to mean something fundamental has changed. Big Magic.

These are only ideal types, and both camps have moved some, over the last decade especially. Still, this does capture some of the central tendencies of the two camps….




Filed under Reforming schools

Whatever Happened To Values Clarification?

In the mid-1960s, prompted by a bestselling book among educators, a classroom approach called “Values Clarification” spread swiftly among elementary and secondary school teachers. The thrust of the approach was to have students use texts and new instructional materials to identify their  values and reflect on them in discussion, writing, and small group work where the values often came into conflict. In effect, help students work through their positions on such values as loyalty, truth, trust, lying, etc.

Where Did the Idea Originate?

Louis Raths, a professor at New York University in the mid-1950s, working with John Dewey’s ideas about the importance of values in education, developed for his classes materials and teaching strategies that got his students to think about what they prized in life. He, Sidney, Simon, and Merrill Harmin published Values and Teaching: Working with Values in Classrooms in 1966. The book went through subsequent editions and became a staple in university teacher education programs and innovative urban schools. For example, I used it in the late-1960s in training former Peace Corps returnees to become social studies teachers in a Washington, D.C. high school.

As one of proselytizers for the teaching strategy, Howard Kirshenbaum said:

Values clarification was arguably the most widespread of the innovative approaches to values and
moral education that were popular during this period.
Kirshenbaum said “arguably.” Like many other teaching strategies, tracking how many teachers,
schools, and districts adopted  and then implemented it is impossible to nail down. In 1972, one of
the authors of the best selling book on the topic could only list a few schools that adopted
it, but talk, oh so much talk, about the strategy flooded educational publications, staff rooms,
and educator conferences. Moreover Values Clarification as a teaching approach was squirmy
since it varied classroom to classroom as teachers adapted it to the contours of their students.
Nonetheless, among many teachers and administrators throughout the 1970s, the talk and
adoption of the teaching strategy was widespread.


What is Values Clarification?

Here is an exercise that teachers in a junior high school used in their classes in the early 1970s,
according to the principal of the school:

A. You are on a Congressional Committee in Washington. D.C. $10 million has been given for three

worthy causes. Which would you do first, second, third?

You must spend all the money on one thing:Clean up rivers, garbage, sewage, and pollution.

  1. Clean up rivers, garbage, sewage, and pollution.
  2. Train those who do not have jobs.
  3. Divide the money among 10,000 needy families.

B. Which would you find hardest to do?

  1. Drop a bomb on Vietnam?
  2. Electrocute a man who has been judged to die in the electric chair?
  3. Run over someone who is threatening you with harm while you are driving a car?


The above exercise is typical of what many teachers embracing Values Clarification would use.

Louis Raths and his colleagues explained the thinking guiding the strategy and what teachers have

to do in using the approach.

Valuing involves one’s beliefs and behaviors. Valuing means students engage in seven processes:  


(a) choosing freely; (b) choosing from alternatives; (c) choosing after thoughtful consideration of


consequences; (d) prizing and cherishing one’s choices; (e) publicly affirming one’s choices; (f)


acting on one’s choices; (g) acting with some pattern incorporating one’s choices.


In using this strategy, teachers must:


*Accept and encourage student answers;


*Expect diversity in student answers and do not assume that there are right or wrong answers for


these value questions;


*Respect student’s right to participate or not;


*If student responds, respect student’s answer;


*Encourage each student to answer honestly;


*Listen carefully to student responses;


*Ask clarifying questions of student answers; avoid questions which may limit or threaten student thinking;


*Ask both personal and social questions.

Values Clarification avoids instilling values in students; the approach seeks to have students
examine the values they already have.



What Problem Did Values Clarification Intend to Solve?

Emotional needs of young children and youth seldom get dealt with in public schools–what students prize, honor, and feel strongly about. It is those values embedded in emotions, feelings, and ideas that lay behind the choices that students make in and out of school. In most classrooms such clarifying discussions never arise and the value-choices get swallowed by both teachers and students.

Content and skills dominate classroom lessons and value-laden choices they have to make in life (e.g., take drugs, have sex, report law-breakers to authorities, lie to parents) are absent. Such discussions, such clarification of choices students make, need–champions said–to find a place in academic subjects in elementary and secondary schools.

Does Values Clarification Work?

No evidence beyond single, small studies has shown that Values Clarification improves student decision-making, alters their existing values, changes choices they make in life, or bolsters academic achievement (see here and here).

What Happened to Values Clarification?

The short answer is that it disappeared from the vocabulary of school reformers and teachers by the early 1980s. Poof, gone. Few mentioned the phrase a decade later.

But if the phrase disappeared, some proponents of Values Clarification migrated to an old stand-by in public schools for the past two centuries:  “character education.” Character education (see here and here) has existed in U.S. public schools off and on for the simple reason that tax-supported  schooling was always expected to strengthen personal character and the community (e.g., love of country, help neighbors, do the right thing for yourself and family). Schools, advocates for character education said, instill the correct values. Clarifying values can shake the core values children and youth bring from home.

Formal programs of character education have entered and exited public schools. Since the 1980s, Character Education has spread across elementary and secondary schools in urban, suburban, and rural schools (see here and here).



Filed under how teachers teach, school reform policies

Questioning the Unquestionable: Schools and the Economy

Maybe, just maybe, the deeply entrenched “wisdom” that quality schools graduating students will strengthen the economy ain’t the “wisdom” it has been since A Nation at Risk was published in 1983.

Schools surely matter in building citizens, strengthening character, teaching students to live in culturally and socially diverse communities, and, yes, preparing students to enter the workplace with essential skills and knowledge.  But it is the latter goal that has come to dominate public policy for schools in the past 35 years. The iron-clad belief that schools create human capital as students march to Pomp and Circumstance and enter the workplace to build a strong competitive economy in the global marketplace is pervasive. It is as if public schools serve the economy and if graduates cannot fit in the workplace or find the right job, it is the school’s fault.

Yet other factors beyond the school’s door such as where one lives, the local labor market, and the pace of automation eating up skilled and professional jobs are crucially important in determining where high school and college graduates end up in jobs and climb the rungs of the social ladder.

Some economists are now challenging this pervasive and dominant “wisdom.”  In various studies, economists have found that students’ performance and the future of high school graduates in an economy and society riven by ever-increasing income inequalities point to differences in job markets  across the country, and other factors. In other words: schools do not produce jobs for graduates, employers do (see here, here, and here).

In questioning the unquestionable “wisdom” of the moment, these economists may have more influence on policy direction than teachers ever wield (see here and here). Here are some things those economists say:

*In a series of studies  (2014), economists said the following: [A] poor child raised in San Jose, or Salt Lake City, has a much greater chance of reaching [the top of the social ladder] than a poor child raised in Baltimore, or Charlotte. They couldn’t say exactly why, but they concluded that five correlated factors—segregation, family structure, income inequality, local school quality, and social capital—were likely to make a difference.

*Jesse Rothstein, using the same data cited above found that differences in local labor markets—for example, how similar industries can vary across different communities—and marriage patterns, such as higher concentrations of single-parent households, seemed to make much more of a difference than school quality. He concludes that factors like higher minimum wages, the presence and strength of labor unions, and clear career pathways within local industries are likely to play more important roles in facilitating a poor child’s ability to rise up the economic ladder when they reach adulthood

*Some results from economists’ studies may not be self-evident to most teachers and school officials but speaks to the context in which big city schools are located. One study concluded: follows:

Based on the research for this report, it is clear that there is a strong relationship between union membership and intergenerational mobility. More specifically: Areas with higher union membership demonstrate more mobility for low-income children.

[C]hildren growing up in union households tend to have better outcomes than children who grew up in nonunion households, especially when the parents are low skilled. For example, children of non-college-educated fathers earn 28 percent more if their father was in a labor union. This analysis helps provide evidence suggesting a link between unions and economic mobility.

And I did not even mention that many of the current skilled and professional jobs will have portions (or all) of their work  automated (e.g., lawyers, money managers, dermatologists, and coders–yes, coders) in the next decade or so.

Such findings  raise serious question about the historic rationale (at least for the past 35 years since A Nation at Risk) for preparing the young for jobs by having a common curriculum, extensive testing and holding schools accountable for those scores.

While these contemporary school policies of standards, testing, and accountability may produce increased academic achievement in some schools, they do not necessarily lead to graduates exceeding their parent’s lifetime income or moving up the socioeconomic ladder; other factors come into play when jobs are concerned. Economists challenging the mainstream policy “wisdom” of the moment about the linkage between the quality of the school and students getting “good” jobs reasserts the self-evident and experienced-produced knowledge that teachers have accrued over time that far more than their classroom lessons influence what graduates do in succeeding years.

None of these studies that challenge the current “wisdom,”—important as they are–  diminish the continuing task of improving school quality for reasons other  than economic ones. Better schools that are safe, engaging, ambitious in getting students to learn and places where students and teachers work together to reach common goals is worth striving for beyond whether such schools strengthen the economy.  Bravo, I say, to those economists that question the unquestionable “wisdom” of the moment.





Filed under school reform policies

Some Technology Leaders Worry about Children and Digital Devices: They Should

We don’t have cellphones at the table when we are having a meal, we didn’t give our kids cellphones until they were 14 and they complained other kids got them earlier.

Bill Gates interview, 2017

I worry that the level of interrupt, the sort of overwhelming rapidity of information — and especially of stressful information — is in fact affecting cognition. It is in fact affecting deeper thinking. I still believe that sitting down and reading a book is the best way to really learn something. And I worry that we’re losing that.

Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, Interview with Charlie Rose, 2009*


They haven’t used [the iPad]. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.

Steve Jobs, Apple, 2010 in reply to reporter about  his children using newly-released iPads


I do not know whether these high-tech leaders feel that way today (Jobs died in 2011) but there are other Silicon Valley dads and moms who work for Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and start-ups who wrestle with dilemma of valuing highly technology access and use but see the negatives of overuse of devices by their children. Listen to a manager for a Silicon Valley firm who limits his 12- and 10-year old daughters’ device time to 30 minutes a day yet he uses devices for hours:

“I’d give myself a B-minus or C-plus — and that’s up from a solid F at one point….The kids have called me out on it, for which I was grateful.”

The sting of parents considering themselves hypocritical in setting limits for their sons and daughters in using tablets, cell phones, and laptops at home while they are on the devices for long stretches of day and night-time (average daily use of mobile devices for adults was five hours while awake) is an ever-present issue in Silicon Valley and across the country. It pinches San Francisco Bay area parents  with devices even more so.

Sharael Kolberg says she was one of those parents. A Silicon Valley writer (her husband worked in marketing) describes an experiment they did with their daughter in A Year Unplugged: A Family’s Life Without Technology. She recalls: “We went back to the ‘80s, basically. I got out my record player and typewriter, we used the phone book and paper maps. It enhanced our relationships with our friends and family. Technology takes that away from us.”

Few parents and their children are going to go cold-turkey for a year regardless of what Kolberg writes and medical associations recommend. But many parents will try to reduce use of their devices and the ones they buy for their children because it cuts down on family face-to-face communication particularly when both (or single) parents use devices daily (and nightly) for their work (see here).

And other parents will avoid conflicts with their kids in trying to limit use.

But conflict is inevitable since the spread of devices has also swallowed schools. Although largely poor and minority schools have fewer devices than their suburban cousins, overall, nearly half of public schools now distribute one-to-one devices to students beginning in primary grades through high school. Screen time for children and youth has leaped ahead dramatically (see here and here).

Can parents do anything about schools doubling the screen time for their sons and daughters?

Schools can restrict use. There are a few schools that see the overall picture of home and classroom screen use and restrict use of devices. Google executive Alan Eagle whose children attend a Waldorf school spoke to a reporter:

[H]e says his daughter, a fifth grader, “doesn’t know how to use Google,” and his son is just learning. (Starting in eighth grade, the school endorses the limited use of gadgets.)

High tuition private schools with a clear ideology about teaching and learning and the place high-tech devices should and should not play in both have that latitude to reduce use of computers in elementary and middle school grades. That Waldorf school caters to affluent offspring of Silicon Valley parents, many of whom work at nearby companies.

Except for school policies banning cell phone use in classrooms–a policy that administrators and teachers are often ambivalent about and enforce erratically–few public schools have the luxury of restricting use of digital devices in lessons. In a society that loves technology and sees it as the solution to problems both private and public, school officials who raise questions risk strong backlash from parents, vendors, and students. Unless, of course, they are pressured by parents concerned about use of public funds for technology and increased screen time for children and youth.

Parents can raise questions with district and school administrators about use of digital tools for classroom lessons. There are straightforward questions such as why is the school adopting devices for all students (see here)? Then there are the questions that often don’t get asked: Is use of computers effective in increasing academic achievement? After the novelty effect of new tablets and laptops wear off, as it inevitably does, are devices used in daily lessons and in what ways? Can ever-rising expenditures for school technologies be re-directed to research-based options such as hiring trained and experienced teachers?

Such parent/school cooperation around screen time is rare although a few parents and school officials do raise such questions (see here, here, and here).

Those top leaders who founded and run high-tech organizations talk about how they reduced use of technology for their own children have yet to make the connection of total screen time now that schools have thoroughly embraced digital devices as must-have tools for daily lessons. Combined time watching screens at school and home for the young mirrors the work world where employees are always on call and boundaries between private and work lives are disappearing.








*Interview with Charlie Rose, March 6, 2009–quote begins at 42.00



Filed under raising children, technology use