Category Archives: how teachers teach

Fads and Fireflies: The Difficulties of Sustaining Change

I have written a lot in the past 50 years about the history of classroom practice, uses of technology in lessons, policymaker decisions, and school reform that is faddish and permanent. From time to time I will look through my writings to see what I said then and what I think now. I find that common themes (not necessarily the same words) appear again and again over the decades.

In some respects that bothers me. Am I a Johnny One Note who says the same thing over and over again without questioning the one note? Even with the life and professional experiences I have had over the decades in and out of schools, do I still play the same strings on my harp? Yes and no.

The “yes” part is that themes that are woven into the articles and books I have written deal with abiding issues in the history of a politically vulnerable institution embedded in every community throughout the U.S.  Issues such as “good” teachers, “good” schools, how to improve lessons, get better principals and superintendents, and make the “system” better have tracked the history of American schooling for at least two centuries. Every generation, “reforms” arise to deal with those issues.

The “no” part is that the contexts for school reform change over decades and what is important at one time is often less important at another moment of reform. Yet if contexts shift, still many of the same reforms get recycled and appear again. Puzzling but accurate and, in my opinion, in need of explanation.

I try to deal with the “yes” and “no” of being a Johnny One Note in an interview I did 17 years ago with journalists at Educational Leadership about the history of school reform and other persistent issues that accompany efforts to improve U.S. schools.

This is what I said then. In looking at it in 2017, I stick by what I said in the interview that follows. A Johnny One Note?

John O’Neil of the journal Educational Leadership conducted this interview and it appeared in April 2000, v. 57(7), pp. 6-9

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Educator and historian Larry Cuban reflects on why reforms are proposed and what happens when they are brought to the complex laboratory of schools.

With a background that includes teaching and serving as a school superintendent, as well as training as a historian, Larry Cuban is uniquely positioned to analyze the past century’s many waves of school change. He is author of several books, among them Teachers and Machines and Tinkering Toward Utopia. He is coeditor, with Dorothy Shipps, of a new book due out this year, Reconstructing the Common Good in Education: Coping with Intractable Dilemmas.

In this interview with EL staff members John O’Neil, Holly Cutting Baker, Carol Tell, and Marge Scherer, Cuban returns to a central theme of his research: School reforms are a product of the cultural, political, and economic forces of their times. Although critics have charged that schools are too faddish, too prone to bend to the current “reform du jour,” Cuban’s view is that the implementation and sustainability of school reforms are heavily influenced by public deliberation and discourse. After all, “schools reflect what the public wants,” Cuban reminds us.

On the whole, do you think that schools are too resistant to change or too faddish?

Our society is faddish. Schools as one institution experience these fads. Think of the corporate sector, for example. Total quality management didn’t start in the schools, it started in corporations! Medicine, the fashion industry, the media—all are subject to these gusts of innovation.

People are highly critical of schools because they seemingly bend to every new fashion, but when we begin thinking about it, we could easily say that schools are one of the most democratic institutions we have. Schools reflect what the public wants.

In what ways?

Schools are extremely vulnerable to pressures from different constituencies. So if members of a school board or a cadre of parents say that schools ought to have tutors or a new writing program, school boards have a hard time saying no. This is so especially because there is often a lack of scientific evidence that shows that one kind of innovation is clearly superior to another.

When David Tyack and I wrote Tinkering Toward Utopia, 1   we used the metaphor of fireflies. We were speaking about the way that changes or reforms so frequently appear, shine brightly for a few moments, and then disappear again.

What innovations have the most staying power?

The innovations that have the best chance of sticking are those that have constituencies that grow around them. For example, when Title I funds were first appropriated in 1965 as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, this program quickly got a lot of support from constituents, ranging from educators to parents to members of Congress. So Title I and many of the other titles of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act have stuck around, even though there has been controversy over whether Title I funds were being used effectively. Another example is the constituencies that have come together to support special education.

What else besides a constituency helps sustain a change in schools?

One of the biggest factors seems to be that the reform reflects some deep-rooted social concern for democracy, for equity, or for preparing students to lead fulfilling adult lives. Basically, schools reflect cultural, political, social, and economic changes in the larger society. The school is not an institution apart—if anything, schools tend not to be at the forefront of change in the society. They tend to reflect what the elites and coalitions of parents and taxpayers believe is important. Because of how the nation came about, there is an enormous stake in schooling as a way to improve the life chances of any child—we don’t depend on hereditary privileges being passed from generation to generation.

Can you give some examples of social changes that have promoted lasting changes in schools?

Take the example of kindergarten. The nation was industrializing rapidly, and urban living for families, particularly immigrant and poor ones, had become more difficult. Kindergartens were introduced to public schools in the 1870s; before that, there were private kindergartens that were mostly aimed at middle- and upper-income families in the Midwest and New England and other places. Public kindergartens were introduced as a way of “preserving” childhood before kids encountered the rigor of grammar school or high school, as well as of teaching parents how to live in the cities. And kindergarten slowly spread, so that by the 1960s, kindergarten was a mainstay.

This gradual growth came not only from the formation of constituencies but also from a general belief that the earlier a child learns in formal situations, the better chance that child will have at academic and financial success. Public schools have always been looked at as an escalator for social mobility, and parents have always wanted to give their children an edge. So this notion of an early start gradually became fixed, and no one today would think of banning kindergarten or preschool.

Another example is the growth of high schools, and the development of “comprehensive” high schools that provided different curricula for diverse students. Up to the turn of the century, schooling for most children ended after grade 8. But by World War I, the comprehensive high school had been introduced and enrollment expanded. Labor laws kept children in school longer—and out of the workforce, where they were competing with adults. The democratic belief that every child has a different employment future pushed school administrators to provide different curricula for different students. The high school was called comprehensive because it had a job future in mind for every kid coming to school and was seen as a very democratic institution because of the equality of economic opportunity that was presumed to be embedded in the different curriculua.

What characterizes reforms that don’t stick?

The reforms that have the least potential for sticking are those that try to bring about changes in teaching, primarily because those innovations are often proposed by policymakers and officials who know little about classrooms as work places.

A lot of people think that because they’ve been in schools, they understand teaching, but the true complexity of the classroom is not clear to them. So what happens is that non-educators often will propose teaching innovations, and they may be successful in getting new laws and policies approved, but these policies will not necessarily be implemented. Attempts to change teaching and learning have often had a very short-term or inconsequential effect.

In Tinkering Toward Utopia, we make a clear distinction between policy talk, which is the current rhetoric in the media; policy action, which means that programs or innovations are adopted; and policy implementation, which relates to what actually occurs in the classroom. It’s important not to confuse these very different levels, but that frequently happens.

An obvious example is what’s going on with the teaching of reading. People were led to believe that many classrooms were being taught through whole language because there was a lot of talk about it among educators and in journals and in the media. Actually, most classrooms were not teaching reading through whole language; most teachers were using combinations of phonics and whole language to begin with. The evidence about the takeover of reading instruction by whole-language enthusiasts was very slim, but it was a great talking point for public officials who wanted to make a major issue out of it. So there’s an important distinction between the policy talk and the policy implementation, and we shouldn’t forget that.

You’re working on a new book about school technology. What can you say about how technologies are being used in the average classroom?

Computers have become one of the tools teachers use, and many teachers have in their repertoire instructional strategies that use technologies. But I think that these will still be peripheral—I don’t see the evidence that they’ll affect the core practices of teaching.

Why not?

First, I reject the argument that’s been made that teachers are resistant or incompetent or lack expertise or are technophobes. In the research we’ve done, we’ve found that teachers and students are using computers—both groups that we interviewed said that they use computers at home all the time. That made us refocus our attention on what goes on in school to try to explain the infrequent and limited use of computers for instruction even in those schools where there are abundant technological resources.

What we see is that the structure of school—for example, in the high school, where you have grades organized by age and departments—works against a lot of the changes that have to be made for technology to be used in more imaginative and creative ways. So there are institutional kinds of concerns that have to be raised about the structures of elementary and secondary schools that I think come between teachers and their use of the technology.

Another reason we’ve found in our research that the technologies themselves have flaws. Time and time again, we found teachers scrambling to cope when the server was down, or the cascading effects of new software on two-year-old machines would cause the computers to metaphorically “blow up.” And schools can’t keep investing capital costs to purchase newer computers all the time. These are the realities facing teachers. You can’t expect a teacher to have a contingency lesson B when lesson A, which relies on using the computer, doesn’t work. That’s why teachers continue to use the textbook, the overhead projector, the chalk. They’re reliable. They’re flexible.

As you know, some analysts have said that to achieve true change in public education, we have to look to reforms that challenge the status quo of school governance. That’s one of the arguments made in support of vouchers or charter schools. What are your impressions of these as an impetus for change?

Well, changes in government do not automatically mean changes in teaching and learning. That’s often forgotten in the heat of slogans and bumper stickers about vouchers or charter schools.

To the degree that the schools can provide more choice within the public sector for parents and for children, I think that’s a plus. When I was a school superintendent in Arlington, Virginia, we encouraged more alternatives. And I believe in that. But vouchers, which call for using public funds for private uses, give me pause. The use of private funds or public funds for private purposes will ultimately decrease the amount of resources for public schools. And I think that’s unconscionable.

Basically, tax-supported public schools were set up in this country to build citizens, to help kids become literate, to strengthen their moral character, and, ultimately, to help them succeed in the workplace. So schools serve many essential social functions. They are institutions designed to promote democratic purposes and the common good. But the idea is that they are public. Vouchers assume a marketplace metaphor that suggests that every parent, every teacher, every school will compete to improve. Well, who’s going to be concerned about the public good? The advocates for marketplace competition and for breaking up the public monopoly forget that. Schools were set up to develop citizens who care for a community, who can contribute to that community. You don’t have that when you go to the local supermarket. You’re in there to get a product and get out.

Some surveys suggest that people have lost faith in public schools. What’s your view?

Schools are part of the larger national fabric of institutions. There has been a general erosion of faith in government institutions, period. So maybe there’s been some loss of faith, but I think that core faith that Americans have about education is still there. People believe deeply in the ability of schools to solve societal problems and to help children reach their potential. Think of that parent who wants her 2-year-old to get into a great preschool program that’s going to be the escalator to Harvard or Stanford. Think of the recent immigrants—the first thing they want is to have their kids enrolled in school. So I believe the core faith is there. It’s been rocked, but not shattered.

We’ve talked about the ways reforms have changed schools—what about the ways schools change reforms?

Schools, like other institutions, adapt most changes to reflect the unique environment. Think about kindergarten, where the change—as it first emerged—was to promote the emotional, intellectual, and social development of children through play and exploration. Well, kindergartens are now becoming boot camps for the 1st grade. This trend began, by the way, in the 1930s and 1940s, although it accelerated greatly in the 1960s and 1970s. Preschools have become more like kindergartens, and both now aim to get kids ready for that 1st grade.

Another example is what’s going on right now with social promotion and accountability. The “reform” was to hold kids accountable for meeting learning goals, and a lot of policymakers were adamant that social promotion needed to end. Students who didn’t get satisfactory scores on tests should be held back.

But when these proposals collide with the complex reality of teaching and learning, there are often counter-movements, and schools must adapt again. I read recently that three states are now moving to lower their cut-off score for holding children back or denying a diploma. This is consistent with what occurred during the last great wave of testing—the competency movement of the mid-1970s. As soon as it becomes apparent to middle-class parents that their kids are not going to be promoted, or will have to attend summer school, official positions of school boards start to crumble.

Again, does this mean that schools have failed to “reform”? My answer is that schools as democratic institutions are continually adapting to these external pressures and, in doing so, maintain old practices as they invent new ones.

Endnote

1   Tyack, D., & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering toward utopia: A century of public school reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

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Zombie Reforms and Personalized Learning (Part 2)

In Part 1, I described an instructional innovation Professor Fred Keller designed in the mid-1960s aimed at transforming the traditional college undergraduate lecture course in psychology. Called Personalized System of Instruction, PSI was a course using behaviorist techniques that permitted students to move at their own pace in finishing assignments, taking tests, and completing the course. Similar courses in the social and natural sciences spread rapidly across university campuses throughout the 1970s and early 1980s.

Initially popular as they were in converting traditional courses into individually guided lessons, these university courses faded.  By the mid-1990s, few faculty used PSI for introductory courses.

Evidence of higher student scores for those completing the PSI course as compared to traditional lecture course, however, clearly supported the innovation. Dropping PSI, then, had little to do with its demonstrated success with students. Other factors played a part in the disappearance of PSI on college campuses. Many professors who had adopted PSI came to realize the huge amount of work they had to put in with few tangible rewards from their department. Moreover, the lack of university incentives for improved teaching–research was believed to be far more important than teaching–drained enthusiasm from those who saw positive results of PSI courses. These and other factors led to the demise of an innovation that seemingly worked.

It is puzzling, however, that research studies demonstrated the superiority of PSI over traditional lecture courses yet still universities dropped such courses. With the growth of online learning–or distance learning–advocates in the past decades have talked about resurrecting versions of PSI especially because of the current ubiquity of devices and software that could be easily applied to undergraduate science and math courses. So it is possible that some incarnation of PSI may stage a comeback not in its original behaviorist design reliant upon text but as online course software conveying science concepts in undergraduate courses. A once-heralded innovation may arise from the pile of dead reform. Alas, another zombie reform.

Zombie reforms, according to economist Paul Krugman, contains “beliefs about policy that have been repeatedly refuted with evidence and analysis but refuse to die.” Think of “learning styles,” “left brain/right brain” teaching, and year-round schooling (see here, here, and here).

That is not the case for PSI. Strong evidence supported it continuation. But that second life for PSI hasn’t happened yet in higher education. Something similar to what occurred with PSI in higher education, however is occurring in K-12 schools.

With the onslaught of high-decibel policy talk on “personalized learning” and an array of programs popping up across the country funded by donors and corporate icons in technology in the past decade, self-paced and individualized software, most of which have few if any studies about their effectiveness, have appeared in many schools. In the history of school efforts to individualize teaching and learning, such reforms have appeared again and again (see here and here). And here is another “again.”

Why do zombie reforms pushing individualization in K-12 schools and often lacking solid evidence keep getting resurrected?

Answer: The abiding impact of age-graded school structures and cultures.

The age-graded school (e.g., K-5, K-8, 6-8, 9-12), a 19th century innovation, solved the  problem of how to provide an efficient schooling to masses of children entering urban schools in the 20th century.  Today, the age-graded school is everywhere. Most Americans have gone to kindergarten at age 5, studied Egyptian mummies in the 6th grade, took algebra in the 8th or 9th grade and then left 12th grade with a diploma.

As an organization, the age-graded school allocates children and youth by age to school “grades”; it houses teachers in separate classrooms and prescribes a curriculum carved up into weekly chunks for each grade. Teachers and students cover each chunk assuming that all children will move uniformly through a school year of 36-weeks, and, after passing tests would be promoted.

These structures and the culture that have grown within age-graded schools over the past century, however, say nothing about which of the multiple purposes tax-supported public schools should pursue (e.g., civic engagement, preparation for the workplace, strengthening individual character, cultivating problem-solving and critical thinking, and making society more just). Taxpayers, voters, policy elites, and donors decide.

Late-19th and early 20th century critics of age-graded schools saw these structures as crippling the intellectual and psychological growth of individual children who learn at different rates hence causing school dropouts as students of different ages piled up in lower grades because teachers flunked them repeatedly.*

The development of twice yearly promotions and ability groups smoothed out some of the inherent problems of age-graded schools. But left untouched the overall structure of the age-graded school that required teachers to cover the content and skills specific to a 3rd or 6th grade class where every student had to learn that content and skills by the end of the school year or be held back. These regularities became the “grammar of schooling” and have persisted decade after decade. The notion that children differ in how fast they learn knowledge and skills was out-of-sync with the age-graded school.

Nonetheless, reformers launched repeated efforts to “individualize” instruction.  The Winnetka Plan and the Dalton Plan appeared in the 1920s and 1930s, teaching machines in the 1950s, computer-assisted instruction in the 1970s and 1980s, and now “personalized learning”.**

In each instance, a flurry of hyperbole accompanied the innovation, programs spread proclaiming the end of the graded school, but as time went by, these efforts to individualize teaching and learning lost their mojo. The age-graded school won again and again.

The hullabaloo of new technologies again has promised that 1:1 devices and extraordinarily powerful interactive software will turn the dream of individualization into a daily workable reality in U.S. schools.

Perhaps.

No reliable and valid body of evidence yet supports such claims for any version of “personalized learning” that is marketed now. Thus, another zombie school reform climbs from the grave to do battle with the historic age-graded school.

 

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*William T. Harris, “The Early Withdrawal of Pupils from School: Its Causes and Its Penalties,” National Educational Association, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses, Boston,1873; E.E. White, “Several Problems in Graded-School Management,” National Educational Association, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses, Detroit, 1874 (Worcester, Mass.: Charles Hamilton, 1874).

**With the Education for All Handicapped children legislation becoming law in 1975 and the subsequent creation of Individualized Education Plans (IEPS), a version of “personalized learning” became a mainstay in special education but has had limited influence in regular schooling.

 

 

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“Goodbye Teacher”: The Keller Plan of Personalized Learning (Part 1)

 

This is a course through which you may move from start to finish, at your own pace. You will not be held back by other students or forced to go ahead until you are ready. At best, you may meet all the course requirements in less than one semester; at worst, you may not complete the job within that time. How fast you go is up to you.
The work of this course will be divided into 30 units of content, which correspond roughly to a series of home-work assignments and laboratory exercises. These units will come in a definite numerical order, and you must show your mastery of each unit (by passing a “readiness” test or carrying out an experiment) before moving on to the next.
The above paragraphs come from a description of an Arizona State University introductory course in Psychology offered in the mid-1960s by Fred Keller, a behavioral psychologist trained in contingency reinforcement.

 

 

Keller laid out five essential features that a PSI course (see here and here) must have:

1. Mastery of course material,
2. The use of proctors,
3. Self-pacing,
4. Stress upon the written word,
5. Use of lectures and demonstrations primarily for motivational purposes, not for    transferring information.
Keller wanted very much to end the traditional ways of teaching courses in the university that depended on professors giving thrice-weekly lectures, asking students to absorb information from a textbook, and periodic blue-book tests. He felt that students would learn more content and skills if each student would move at his or her pace, master the content, demonstrate mastery through completing successfully an assessment and then moving on to the next topic in the semester course. Self-pacing, positive reinforcement through passing assessments (which if failed could be taken until passed), and individual help from course assistants was a far better way of teaching and learning in the university.
Within a decade, college and university professors across the nation had adopted Keller’s Personalized System of Instruction (PSI) as research studies showed time and again that students using PSI for college courses in psychology, physics, chemistry, and other courses outscored students taking the traditional course with lectures, discussion sections, and periodic tests on end-of-semester tests (see here and here).
The high-water mark for this instructional innovation hit in the early 1980s. By the 1990s, few college instructors had heard of PSI, much less used it. Then some interest in PSI emerged.
With access to increasingly affordable high-tech devices and software, advocates of “distance learning” or “e-learning” have looked closely at the components of PSI and seen much to admire and adapt to online courses (see here). Beyond that, however, familiar ways of teaching undergraduate introductory courses where students sit tapping away on their laptops in lecture amphitheaters two or three times a week, discussion sections meeting once a week, teacher assistants to answer student questions and guide discussions of the content and blue books remain the order of the day. Even amid the ubiquity of electronic devices on campuses, the regularities in teaching stemming from university structures insofar as scheduling lecture courses for undergraduates, offering few incentives for instructors to innovate, and spending seat time–three hours a week for course credit–persist.
Postmortems of the long-gone innovation called the Keller Plan or PSI have focused on the many incarnations of PSI that differed from what Keller had done at ASU  in the mid-1960s in how they adapted the plan and put it into practice, the amount of work that went into creating the study guides, questions, and assessments, and the lack of institutional incentives to use instructional innovations (see here and here). Innovations that appeared as shooting stars and eventually fell to earth is a familiar tale among not only in higher education but also in K-12.
Personalized learning in K-12 today

 

 

The behaviorist slant embedded in PSI as an individualized, self-pacing learning plan for students to master content and skills is part of the spectrum of various forms of personalization programs running from competency-based programs to ones where students make decisions on what and how they learn (see here). All of these various incarnations of personalized learning have been dubbed innovations and heralded near and far as they have popped up in K-12 schools in urban, suburban, and exurban districts across the nation over the past decade.

 

For those policymakers and practitioners who want at least reasonably strong evidence of success, however measured, to put “personalized learning” programs into classrooms, well, such evidence is as scarce as taxis on a rainy night. Which is why “personalized learning” is an instance of a zombie school reform, a topic I take up in Part 2 of this post.

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Seymour Papert on How Computers Fundamentally Change the Way Kids Learn

Seymour Papert died at the age of 88 in 2016 (see obituary in New York Times). Many of his lectures, newspaper op-eds, books, and videoed talks are archived. The following description of  Papert was written to introduce the interview he gave to Dan Schwartz in 1999.

[Seymour] Papert is the co-founder of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence and Media Labs, professor of Media Technology at MIT, and one of the world’s foremost experts on the impact of computers on learning. He is the current elder statesman in a lineage of educational reformers that include John Dewey and Jean Piaget. His constructionist theories are manifested in Logo, a programming language he developed for children. His 1980 book Mindstorms sent shockwaves throughout the education and psychology communities, both of which accused him of pushing an educational pill that would induce psychosis in our children.

Almost twenty years later no one is exactly clamoring for surgeon general warning labels on PCs. Indeed, anyone who has witnessed a toddler using a computer has probably experienced a sense of awe at that child’s facility with what for adults can be an infinitely frustrating gadget. It’s one thing for a child to play a computer game; it’s another thing altogether for a child to build his or her own game. And this, according to Papert, is where the computer’s true power as an educational medium lies — in the ability to facilitate and extend children’s awesome natural ability and drive to construct, hypothesize, explore, experiment, evaluate, draw conclusions — in short to learn — all by themselves. It is this very drive, Papert contends, that is squelched by our current educational system.

Papert knows the bureaucracy he is crusading against is firmly entrenched. But he takes comfort in a secret weapon unavailable to a long line of education reformers up until now. He calls it “kid power.” Papert’s is a trickle-up vision of change demanded by a generation that learned to use a mouse about the same time it learned to use a spoon. And for the parents of this digitally-weaned generation, Papert offers some ideas about how to bridge a gap that, for many, starts not during adolescence, but in preschool.

 This interview was posted on ZineZone.com in 1999. Archived at: http://www.papert.org/articles/GhostInTheMachine.html

ZZ: Let’s begin with an overview of your ideas about child as a learner.

SP: Children, of course, come into the world as very powerful, highly competent learners, and the learning they do in the first few years of life is actually awesome. A child exploring the immediate world does that pretty thoroughly in an experiential, self-directed way. But when you see something in your immediate world that really represents something very far away — a picture of an elephant, for example — you wonder how elephants eat. You can’t answer that by direct exploration. So you have to gradually shift over from experiential learning to verbal learning — from independent learning to dependence on other people, culminating in school, where you’re totally dependent, and somebody is deciding what you learn.

So that shift is an unfortunate reflection of the technological level that society has been at up to now. And I see the major role of technology in the learning of young children as making that shift less abrupt, because it is a very traumatic shift. It’s not a good way of preserving the kid’s natural strengths as a learner.

With new technologies the kid is able to explore much more knowledge by direct exploration, whether it’s information or exploration by getting into his sources, or finding other people to talk about it. I think we’re just beginning to see, and we’ll see a lot more non-textual information available through something like the Web or whatever it develops into. So there will be much more opportunity to learn before running into this barrier of the limitations of the immediate.

ZZ: So context is key?

SP: It’s purpose. I think context is a concept that’s been overused here, and it’s misleading because people try to give context by relating it to other things and preaching to kids about how this is relevant to X and Y and Z. Or even providing a story of somebody who invented it, and that provides a–that’s not the same thing as being in a situation where you are struggling to solve a real problem that comes from your own activity that you really care about, and you struggle around and find this mathematical method by remembering it, or asking somebody or reinventing it or gets bits and pieces of it from other people and putting them together….

ZZ: Does technology by its very nature lead to this kind of experiential learning? Is it the tail that wags the educational dog?

SP: In fact what’s happening now is almost the opposite. I like to distinguish between that first phase of exploratory learning (home-style learning or Piagetian learning), and school-style learning. What we’ve seen with most so-called educational software is pushing school-style learning backward to earlier ages in the home, which is almost the reverse of the way that I think the technology could be used. And I think it’s a very dangerous trend that people will buy this software because it looks schoolish, and they think that makes it good, but maybe it makes it bad. I mean even apart from what you think about school as such. Pushing school back into the region of a powerful spontaneous learning is not something we should be doing lightly.

ZZ: I have a friend who has two kids. He is well-educated and keeps up with current events. He told me he’s worried that there is something about raising kids in the digital age that he should know, but that he doesn’t. What doesn’t he know that he needs to know?

SP: Well, of course, there are a lot of things that people don’t know and none of us know about the digital world. We don’t know what it’s going to turn into. There are things that people know are wrong, and maybe that’s something that one could focus on.

So I think one thing that people know is wrong is the emphasis that has been accentuated by the success of the Internet as a way of getting information. And then you begin to wonder, “What do we do with it? Why do we want all that information? How do we distinguish good information from bad information, and how do we protect people from evil information?”

In education also we’ve got the same thing. There’s education as putting out information; teacher lecturing, reading the book. There’s learning by doing, which is the constructional side versus the informational side. And, unfortunately, in our schools the informational side is the one that gets the emphasis, and so there’s this line-up between one-sided emphasis in the thinking about school, and the one-sided emphasis in thinking about the technology. Both of them emphasizing the informational side, and they reinforce one another. So in many ways, through this, the wrong image we have of what digital technology is about reinforces instead of undermining some of the weaknesses and narrowness of traditional education.

ZZ: In your book The Connected Family, you suggest that to further their understanding of these issues, parents need to learn more about learning than they do about computers.

SP: I use that term “connected family” as the name of a book, playing on two meanings of connected, of course. Talking about the fact that we connect through the Internet, but also about whether we connect or don’t connect inside the family. And there’s a widespread fear, often justified, about the possibility that computers inside the home are going to disconnect the family, that it creates a deeper generational gap than there was before. People get involved in their own isolated kinds of activities and already the television was a conversation killer in the home. This can be more so.

So what I’m interested in is, how can we think about the computer presence in ways that will strengthen rather than weaken the other kind of connection inside the family? I think if parents are going to connect with children, or if people in the family are going to connect together around the computer in intellectually interesting and bonding kinds of activities, what they need is not more knowledge about computers only, although they might need that too. But that’s the easy part. The more interesting and important part — and harder part — to get is more knowledge about learning, about shared intellectual activities. I think that parents are very inhibited by the fact that they are being solicited by vendors of software which promise to prepare the kid for school or result in better grades and all the rest of that, but which allow very little opportunity for parent and kid to do anything together.

How can they be joint projects between members of the family? How can parents participate in the learning experiences of the kids? And even if they don’t want to go through the actual learning experience of that complex game or simulation, whatever it might be, how can they converse about it, and be sympathetic and understanding, and learn from the kids about the kids’ learning experience? I think there are very strong possibilities of that, and that many parents do it, but many more parents are not aware of that possibility, or are too nervous about the technology, or too angry at it, because they don’t like what’s happening. So I was trying in that book to take a baby step towards encouraging people to think about the technology in a way that would strengthen what I call the “learning culture of the family.”

ZZ: How do you envision technology impacting teaching and learning in the classroom?

SP: I don’t think I want to predict. I think people haven’t done very well by predicting exactly what will happen. But I think we can predict that some things will go away. Age segregation will go away. This fragmentation of the day into periods devoted to different subjects will go away. Curriculum-driven structure of learning, by which I mean you learn something because it is the day in which you are supposed to learn that. As opposed to project- or application-driven learning; you learn it when you’ve got a need for it.

Now these are all transformations of existing school. “What grade are you in?” is a natural question you ask a kid, or “What subject are you doing in third period?” These are not intrinsic to the nature of creating a good learning environment. They are caused by a previous level of knowledge technology, where the only way we could give out knowledge was by a production-line method. And all this is a production-line model, an assembly-line model of school. So I’m sure that that will go away. What will come in its place has to be a social invention.

ZZ: Of course, educational reform initiatives come and go, and yet many schools don’t look a whole lot different then they did decades ago. Do you see technology as a Trojan Horse for systematic and lasting change?

SP: I think the technology serves as a Trojan horse all right, but in the real story of the Trojan horse, it wasn’t the horse that was effective, it was the soldiers inside the horse. And the technology is only going to be effective in changing education if you put an army inside it which is determined to make that change once it gets through the barrier.

Unfortunately, the easier way to get the technology to the school, if you’re a vendor, for example, is to open it up and say, “Look, there’s no army inside here. It’s fine. It suits your purpose. It’s not going to be subversive, and so it’s a Trojan horse without any soldiers, and that’s not a very effective way of doing it.”

Of course, the presence of computers in the home changes the whole political context. One way that I think is very important is that it turns kids into a political force. I’ve been using the phrase “kid power” for a very optimistic trend in what’s happening in education. We’re beginning to see a significant number of kids who grew up with computers in their homes in the classrooms now.

In fact, the generation of kids where a large proportion had computers in their homes from birth is just hitting the schools now. I think that that wave is going to have a dramatic effect on the schools. It just takes a sprinkling of kids in every class who know there is a better way of learning, have experienced it, and so can make a bigger demand in the classroom. Moreover, apart from the demand, they’ve got an offer also, because they can offer their own expertise. They can help. And so the kids are becoming a political force. They are also becoming an educational force, because they are in quite a lot of projects around the country, kids are explicitly being mobilized. Those kids who really know about computers, and love them, are being mobilized by the system to teach teachers and parents and implement changes in the school.

So that’s a huge change in the player forces, and maybe the thing that makes it most optimistic. I think that in The Connected Family I used this analogy — I thought of John Dewev. Just 100 years ago, John Dewey was saying things about educational change, not very different from what I believe in. He couldn’t get very far. And the reason why he couldn’t get very far is that he had only philosophical arguments. He didn’t have an army. You must have an army, and it’s an army primarily of children and the adults also are a political force in this.

ZZ: You also write in The Connected Family that great change is never free and seldom comes without risk. What’s at risk for children and families in the digital age?

SP: I think the biggest risk is what the term “connected family” is trying to counteract. There is a problem, because parents are likely to see that there is less control. That they’ve got less influence on the way their kids develop, and what the kids know, and what they learn. What they do. Many parents really don’t understand what the kids are doing, or what language the kids are using.

So there’s no doubt it has this disruptive effect–and I think that’s bad. In some ways breaking the kids free from the grip of the previous generation, the previous culture, is good, and I think the kid power that will change schooling is a tremendously good thing.

On the other hand, the preservation of an orderly progress of society depends on an a balance between forces for change and forces for stability. I think we do have a need and responsibility for conveying to kids a heritage from the past, and giving them guidance that comes from our greater experiences. It’s a delicate matter, this balance between growing independence of the kids, that has its good side, and its dangerous side.

ZZ: Has there been any risk for you in advocating something that is inherently risky?

SP: Well, I came into this business of what computers might mean for kids in the 1960s, and two significant things about the 1960s were that computers were very expensive, rare, big things, and the chance of a lot of these getting into the hands of a lot of kids seemed to a lot of people pretty remote. The 1960s was also a time of egalitarian anti-elitism — so I very acutely felt attacks for being “elitist.” I got reviews of a proposal to a federal agency, which was a scathing attack on this elitist proposal that will bring better learning to the children of a handful of millionaire families. It couldn’t possibly have any effect on the majority of people, except to increase the gap. That was hard. And it was very very hard, practically impossible to persuade most people in those days.

Now was there risk? I was pretty sure already that it was going to change. You could see it looming ahead. You could see that computers one day would be mass-produced things, and would be inexpensive enough for every kid to have one. But it was way off, and most people weren’t aware of that. So that was a risk, and I got into trouble in getting funding.

ZZ: You’ve been working with children, education and technology for over thirty years. What keeps you going? What drives you?

SP: I think what drives me –the deepest question about education is, what drives learning? What drives kids? What drives everybody? And when I look at young kids who haven’t yet been to school, they are all driven. They are passionate about what they want to do. They get into it, and they really want to do it. I think that in a lot of people that’s strangled as we go through this very traumatic, dangerous experience of school. Those who get through it can open out and find a new opportunity to be creative and free and self-directed like we had before school.

So I think the question isn’t what drives me, but how is it that you and I and all the people in the world who remain creative and passionate about what they’re doing survived the system, that in so many other cases — in the majority of cases — strangles that enormous energy?

ZZ: Looking back, did you get anything wrong that you would have done differently?

SP: There are two kinds of looking back about what I would have done differently. There’s the looking back where you say, “Given what was known at that time, was that the wrong decision to make?” And that’s a sensible kind of question, it’s re-examining how you made decisions; versus looking back: “If I’d known more. If I’d known what I know now. If I’d know what I didn’t know, would I have done…” Of course, there’s an infinite amount of that, and that’s not interesting. That’s fantasy.

Just on this education/computers thing, I think that a key balance where I got it right, but I think that when it really got out to the schools, in the 80s, I could have recognized earlier and didn’t; that there was going to be a dynamic of schools adopting and neutralizing this new thing. I think that in the 80s, if we had kept more focused on a goal of “one day,” we could have been more effective and brought it somewhat nearer. But only somewhat. I think that if we say, “Where are we now? Where are we going to be?” As much as I analyze what could have been done and what we could have done in the past, I think that what happened in the last 20 years maybe could have happened in 10 years instead of 20 years. And maybe what’s going to happen in the next five years could have happened five years earlier, but it’s not huge changes.

I think one of the themes of Mindstorms is bugs that we learn by getting it wrong, and you never get it right, and the important thing is to be able to look in a kind of constructive way at what you got wrong, and that’s a cause to do it. It’s not always easy, and sometimes I have to fight back a little bit against bad thoughts. Well, what can I learn from how I decided to do what I did? I guess that is what human life is about, and what learning ought to be about.

 

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Coding: The New Vocationalism (Part 3)

What are public schools for?

That is the larger question raised by the “new vocationalism” in the past decade, as vendors, donors, and technology-enthused policymakers have pushed coding and computer science courses into public schools. Through advocacy groups that lobby districts and states to legislate both as requirements and social media campaigns touting high-paying jobs at the end of schooling, the hyperbolic rhetoric of reform with its statistics of how many computer programmer and software engineer jobs will need to be filled in 2020 has pushed the “new vocationalism” as the primary purpose for tax-supported public schools.

Americans have always wanted their schools to pursue more than one purpose. Opinion polls (see here and here)  have regularly shown that both parents and non-parents wanted public schools to do many things:

*insure that students become literate,

*prepare citizens to be engaged citizens,

*developing students moral and ethical character,

*getting children and youth ready  for careers,

*teaching students how to think,

*appreciating cultural diversity.

Those polls (above ones from 1981 and 1996 ) also showed that opinions shifted over time from one goal to another. The key point, however, is that Americans have wanted more than one purpose for tax-supported public schools.

Narrowing schooling’s purposes to preparation for work–as opposed to, say, a civic one or social justice or community uplift–has occurred before in the history of U.S. public schools (see Part 1). Such constricting of purpose confirms anew that schools mirror potent economic and political forces within the larger society.

For nearly four decades, federal and state reform-driven policies of higher curriculum standards, more testing, and rigorous school accountability have dominated U.S. schools. Such policies aimed to make U.S. schools an engine of economic growth essential for the nation to compete in global markets. And with the parallel growth of schools’ access to and use of new technological devices and software, the notion of more, faster, and better teaching and learning directed toward that narrowed purpose of preparing children and youth for college and future work seemed in the grasp of policymakers. Thus, coding and computer science are not curricular fads but logical outgrowths of recent reforms aimed at making the U.S. economically competitive.

But “in the grasp of policymakers” does not easily translate into classroom lessons especially when it comes to top-down policies adding computer science courses to the curriculum and expecting teachers to teach coding. In Part 2, I offered examples of teachers invariably adapting policies aimed at altering their practice. The examples showed the untoward consequences of top-down policies entering (or not entering) classrooms, often leaving a sour taste in the mouths of reformers (for other such instances, see here, here, and here).

For those reform-minded policymakers seeking to replicate a “successful” pilot program (e.g., reading, “new” math, coding) across a broad swath of schools, fidelity to the model, that is, teachers copy faithfully what the “successful” pilot achieved, irritation and disappointment await them.

Why so? The tension between the dynamic process of teachers actively adapting top-down changes to fit their students and fidelity to the model has been (and will continue to be) unresolved resulting in both policymakers and teachers becoming annoyed with one another. You cannot have both fidelity to the model and accept that teachers will tailor the design to fit their classrooms.

Consider the example in the late-1990s of Comprehensive School Reform, a federally funded initiative to get individual schools across the U.S. to adopt “successful” models such as Success for All, America’s Choice, Accelerated Schools, Core Knowledge, and the Coalition of Essential Schools. By 2006, spurred by both the variety of models and federal grants over 8,000 elementary and secondary schools had adopted innovative whole-school reform models from a menu provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Follow-up studies showed extensive modification of the models as they entered schools and classrooms (except for the reading program Success for All which demanded close adherence to the model–see here).

Here is where the concept of mutual adaptation enters the picture making policy adherence to faithfully replicating the model not only ahistorical but very laughable.

Historically, in the journey from policy to classrooms, teacher palm-prints appear time and again  as practitioners figure out how best to put top-down mandates into practice. As teachers grasp the meaning of a policy and see some virtues for their students, daily lessons do change. The back-and-forth between policy and practice is active, even energetic, as teachers embed parts of the policy into their classroom activities. Forget fidelity to the model.

Thus far, I have cited negative examples of models entering schools and classrooms becoming unrecognizable to their designers, there are a few positive examples, however, of the dynamic process when policies journey into schools and teachers–call them street-level bureaucrats–refashion those policies and in doing so, change how they teach. This has occurred with both top-down and bottom-up policies such as cooperative learning, project-based teaching, and International Baccalaureate schools (see herehere and here).

I end this series of posts with an example that impressed me with its serious involvement of teachers in promoting science projects through technology in Chicago middle schools. Seeing mutual adaptation as both inevitable and worthwhile, a group of Northwestern University researchers created “work circles” of teachers to figure out how to make a newly-adopted unit on ecology and evolution be both meaningful to middle school students and expand the repertoire of teachers using technology. They studied one of these “work circles” made up of four teachers from two schools.

Meeting every other week for five months, the teachers expressed concerns with students using the technology, the science content, and pedagogy. With the researchers they worked on solutions to the concerns they raised. And then taught the unit to their students.

The researchers concluded:
While teachers had initial concerns, some of them serious, they engaged in a concerted effort to create a curriculum to address concerns. Their involvement in the design process led to their deep engagement with both the science content and the pedagogical issues in the software investigation. This is the type of deep engagement with subject matter and pedagogy that can serve as a vehicle for teacher learning and change

 

I agree. Mutual adaptation can benefit teachers and students. But this is only one
small study of four teachers wrestling with teaching a science unit. It is
nonetheless suggestive of what can occur.

 

Will similar efforts as these “work circles” involve teachers early on and make the process of mutual adaptation work to benefit both teachers and their students?  I have yet to read of such initiatives as districts and states mandate computer science courses and require young children to learn to code. Repeating the errors of the past and letting mutual adaptation roll out thoughtlessly has been the pattern thus far. The “New Vocationalism,” displaying a narrowed purpose for tax-supported public schools, marches on unimpeded.

 

 

 

 

 

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Coding: The New Vocationalism (Part 2)

 

As more states and districts require courses in computer science for high school graduation and the teaching of coding in elementary school, they will rediscover what previous generations of school reformers have learned. Moving from adopted policy to alter what and how teachers teach is no cinch. Neither is it–pick your cliche–“a piece of cake,” “a walk in the park,” “shooting fish in a barrel,”” nor “taking candy away from a baby.”

Contrary to the above cliches, policies aimed at changing classroom practice, such as curricular reforms have persistently run into problems that  have plagued ardent reformers. The lessons that have to be learned time and again from earlier generations of school reformers are straightforward.

*Build teacher capabilities in content and skills since both determine to what degree, if any, a policy gets past the classroom door.

*With or without enhanced capabilities and expertise, teachers will adapt policies aimed at altering how and what they teach to the contours of the classrooms in which they teach. If policymakers hate teacher fingerprints over innovations, if they seek fidelity in putting desired reforms into practice, they wish for the impossible.

*Ignoring both of the above lessons ends up with incomplete implementation of desired policies and sorely disappointed school reformers.

Curricular reform of the 1950s and 1960s

Examples of these lessons are legion. Consider the new curricula that reform-inspired academic specialists, funded by the federal government, sought for all U.S. teachers a half-century ago. Aimed at revolutionizing teaching and learning in math, science, and social studies (spurred in part by a popular perception that Soviet education was superior to American schools), millions of dollars went into producing textbooks, developing classroom materials, and training teachers to use inquiry and discovery lessons to engage students in asking questions, solve problems, and use thinking skills. Using the best instructional materials that scholars could produce, teachers taught students how scientists experimented, mathematicians solved math problems and historians used primary sources to understand the past. Published materials ended up in the hands of teachers who, for the most part, had had little time to understand what was demanded by the novel materials or, for that matter, how to use them in lessons.

By the end of the 1970s, education researchers were reporting that instead of student involvement in critical thinking, problem solving, or experiencing how scientists worked, they had found the familiar teacher-centered instruction aimed at imparting knowledge from a text. There was, however, a distinct curricular residue of these federally funded efforts left in the textbooks published in the 1970s. The attempt to revolutionize teaching and learning evolved, in time, into new textbook content (see here and here). Reformers were deeply disappointed in the small returns from major efforts.

The experience of Logo

Another example of reformers ignoring the above lessons was introducing a voluntary program of coding into schools in the 1970s.  Logo illustrates the core dynamic at work in schools and classrooms when policies aimed at changing what and how teachers teach get put into practice.

The brainchild of Seymour Papert (who had worked with Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget) and a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Logo had children using programming language to command a robotic “turtle” on a computer screen. Beginning in the early 1970s, the MIT team sought to teach young children how to construct and solve problems, learn geometric concepts, and bring creativity back into the classroom. The designers saw Logo as a student-centered, progressive innovation that would transform teaching, learning, and the institution of schooling.

Launched in a Brookline (MA) elementary school and with the subsequent publication of Papert’s Mindstorms (1980), Logo and its “turtle” swept across many schools (and homes) here and abroad.

Scratch+AMS+LOGO.jpg

*Photo is of Audrey Watters and brother doing Logo in 1984 (see here)

 

From Mindstorms, Papert made clear the intent and dream of Logo in schools.

00bfc142-fe59-489b-bcf6-f8abbb541b63.png

 

For Logo activists, however, their timing was bad. The idealistic and experimental years in public schools during the mid-1960s to mid-1970s was already ebbing as reformers began piloting Logo in a few elementary schools. In a few years, A “back to basics” reform had seized civic and political leaders and the window for new ventures such as Logo, anchored in the work of Jean Piaget and John Dewey, had closed. Traditional forms of schooling and teaching were back in vogue. Logo became a boutique offering. As always, context matters when it comes to reform.

In the wake of the Nation at Risk report (1983) warning leaders that unless schools became more effective the U.S. would languish economically, teaching young children to program a turtle scuttling across a screen was out of sync with another generation of reform-driven policies.

By the late-1980s, states had raised their graduation standards, created more demanding curriculum frameworks, and began testing regimes. In a few years, traditional age-graded schools adapted to the changing national context in both curriculum and instruction. In the midst of these changes, Papert had come to see schools as places where the “grammar of schooling” was inherently hostile to the ways that students should learn concepts and skills (see here, here, and here).

Times change. Now the climate of rabid acceptance for anything smelling of high-tech, computer science, and new devices has so permeated the culture, learning to code in schools is one whose time has come.  Given the history of new curricula and  Logo and how they were implemented suggest to me that the those backing the current vendor and donor-driven passion for coding and computer science courses in schools need to consider those often ignored lessons I described above and the  concept of “mutual adaptation,” the historical process by which policies get put into practice in U.S. schools. Part 3 of these posts take up mutual adaptation of classroom reforms.

 

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Coding: The New Vocationalism (Part 1)

There is hardly any work we can do or any expenditures we can make that will yield so large a return to our industries as would come from the establishment of educational institutions which would give us skilled hands and trained minds for the conduct of our industries and our commerce. Theodore Search, National Association of Manufacturers, 1898

Coding should be a requirement in every public school…. We have a huge deficit in the skills that we need today versus the skills that are there. Tim Cook, CEO Apple speaking to President Donald Trump at White House, 2017

 

Goodbye to old vocational education preparing youth for jobs in an industrial economy. Hello to the new vocational education of teaching coding and computer science to all U.S. students

Public schools have experienced two spasms of vocationally-driven reform. One created the  “old vocational education” in the early 20th century endorsed by the National Association of Manufacturers (see above quote) and now the “new vocational education” a century later, endorsed by high-tech CEOs spreading the gospel for teaching children to learn to code and take computer science courses. Then and now, policymakers saw an intimate connection between a strong economy and strong schools. And that is why Theodore Search and Tim Cook could easily have sat down and had a cold beer together.

And were I to join Search and Cook in drinking beers, I would ask each: what is the purpose of having taxpayers with or without children pay to have public schools? Their answer, given the above quotes, would be: prepare children and youth with the knowledge and skills necessary to gain successful entry to the labor force in an ever-changing economy. Fine, I would say, but there have been and continue to be other important purposes driving legislators to tax property and income to fund schools and make attendance compulsory.

Consider these equally as important aims for tax-supported public schools: Schooling children to be proud, fully-rounded citizens who give back to their communities. Reinforcing community values and strengthening individual character. Helping students fulfill their individual potential (see here, here, and here).

Preparation for the workplace is not the only goal for public schooling. Yet that has been the primary purpose for most reformers over the past three decades. And a century ago, reformers had also elevated workplace preparation to be the overarching purpose for tax-supported public schools.

Beginning in 1917, the federal government appropriated monies for states to spend on vocational training for industrial and commercial jobs. This support made the NAM version of vocational education dominant in public schools for three-quarters of a century. Since the 1980s, however, vocational education has largely disappeared as a formal choice in the curriculum. Career and technical academies and scattered high school courses do pinch-hit and offer some choice to those students uneager to spend four additional years sitting in college classrooms (see here and here).

With the morphing of the “old” vocational education into career and technical education, a shiny new vocationalism is being highly touted for all U.S. students. Yes, I refer to the shrill cries for more computer science in the curriculum and the teaching of coding to children and youth (see here and here).

You do not need a Ph.D. to figure out that the past thirty-plus years (I use A Nation at Risk report in 1983 as a benchmark) have forged strong links between the economy and public schooling. The primary purpose for K-12 schools in recent decades has been crisply defined as preparing each child for college and career. Completing college, of course, is basically geared to getting decent paying jobs. So becoming college-ready means that higher education is really a vocational school and a ticket to a decent paying job. Advocates for coding and requiring computer science as a subject seek to expand the K-12 curriculum (or replace other content and skills) by adding a C to the three Rs.*

Today, high tech entrepreneurs and CEOs lament the need to outsource coding to other countries and import software engineers from India and elsewhere (but do it nonetheless on special visas) pointing to the lack of U.S. graduates skilled in programming, systems analysis, and computer support. The growth rate in such jobs will continue to escalate by 2020. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that computer and information technology jobs will grow by a half-million from 3.9 million in 2016 to 4.4 million in 2020.

Keep in mind, however, that the U.S. economy now employs nearly 164 million workers. Those technical jobs in 2020 would represent less than three percent of the overall workforce. Far larger growth in jobs will occur, according to recent estimates, in health care and social assistance (almost six million), professional and business services (nearly four million), and construction (nearly two million) far surpassing computer and information technology (half-million).

Coding for all U.S. students to prepare for jobs that represents less than three percent of the workforce?

The strong smell of Silicon Valley self-interest accompanies these proposals to improve schooling. Behind Code.org and other advocacy groups are the thick wallets of donors and technology companies carrying iconic names. In pushing state and local education officials to require computer science for high school graduation, classify the subject as a fourth “science” in the secondary curriculum, substitute for a foreign language requirement, and have five year-olds learn to code wafts the scent of companies seeking graduates who can enter the computer and information workforce, a minute fraction of the entire U.S. workforce (see here).

Backers of coding are a Who’s Who of Silicon Valley firms and donors who see the necessity of coding and computer science being part of the required curriculum in U.S. schools as it has in over 15 European nations and Israel (see here and here). The United Kingdom, for example, tossed out its previous curriculum on ICT and introduced computer science and coding in 2012 (see here,here,and here). As in the U.S., the rationale for such reforms go beyond the smell of vested interest insofar as hiring skilled software developers and programmers. Recently, the reasons for such changes have broadened. As one advocate put it: “Learning how to code allows kids to do their own thing, be creative and secure a job in an area where there will be a huge shortage.”

The champions of coding and the subject of computer science in the U.S. have already succeeded in lobbying policymakers to insert coding and computer science into state curriculum standards and graduation requirements (see here and here).

Like a century ago, the “new” vocationalism with its emphasis on skills for an information-driven society has become the primary purpose for tax-supported schooling.

The picture I have sketched out of growing support for a “new” vocational education is well documented, but when it comes to classroom implementation, old, familiar difficulties come to the surface raising questions about the reform taking hold. I take up the historic issue of putting curricular reforms into practice in Part 2.

 

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*The national commission that produced the 1983 Nation at Risk report recommended that a half-year of computer science be a requirement for high school graduation.

 

 

 

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