Ed Reading Weekly: Google EDU, student data privacy, & school funding

Notes on the edSurge interview with Jaime Casap and Jonathan Rochelle. On Edtech Equity and the Future of Google EDU.

  • Jonathan Rochelle, “Nobody on the consumer products side was thinking about education.”
  • Jonathan Rochelle, “Teachers have always been using it, but not because it was built for education.”
  • Jaime Casap, “Ed tech has to be easy to use, manageable, to scale, it has to be invisible and these guys (Google Drive products) are trying to be invisible.”
  • Mary Jo Madda, “Really Google Expeditions is really just improving on the cool things teachers were already doing in the classroom with Google Maps.”
  • The importance of feedback from teachers, Jonathan Rochelle “There is no education classroom that is perfect, it is constant iteration and innovation.” Jaime Casap, “The feedback button has a bad rap with technology…what actually happens to that feedback…Here the Classroom team is actually reading this line of feedback and I always encourage teachers to use that feedback button.”
  • The future of GoogleEDU and ads on GoogleEDU tools, “Search and information are part of education. A lot of these things that students would be doing, they are already doing. Gmail, for example. ” Ads….
  • “Education levels the playing field. Information is education. And teachers taking information and converting it into intelligence…and I think that the web and internet is how (Google) helps to level the playing field”.

NO CHILD LEFT UN-MINED? STUDENT PRIVACY AT RISK IN THE AGE OF BIG DATA

This is a really important issue if the field of education is going to take full advantage of the learning powers of the internet, mobile devices and emerging technologies in general. As an educator who has managed intimate academic and personal data on students in a public school, I know that the well-intentioned push to use data and technology to help students learn can easily push aside privacy and security safeguards for students and families.

Every educator and parent should be aware of the pledges many companies make regarding the collection and use of student data if they voluntarily sign on to the Student Privacy Pledge. In addition, the US Department of Education has created a preliminary set of requirements and best practices around student data use that can be found here.

I am impressed by ed tech companies like Clever that can simultaneously make technology more accessible and more manageable for teachers and students in schools, while also assuring privacy and security of student data. But administrators, teachers, and parents need to keep an eye on the ever changing user agreements of such apps and tech tools. This article really emphasized the importance of district tech directors and school administrators doing their due diligence and actually reading the privacy policies of the ed tech apps used in their schools. Just another thing to add to the plate of overburdened principals, right?!

If you want to read more about the legislative solutions that are being proposed for this student data issue and also let your Congressman know how you feel, get the Countable app and browse through the education bills they have listed there.

How School Districts Seal Their Students Into Poverty

We all know that how schools are funded play a big role in the disparate student outcomes we have in America between racial groups and socio-economic levels. It can be difficult to understand how these often times complex funding mechanisms work, and even harder to visualize them.

Well, this week the folks at CityLab introduced me to the new ed policy center, EdBuild, which has created an interactive map of school districts and the percentage of students living in poverty in each of them. The smart folks at CityLab do a great job of breaking down some of the startling discoveries that can be made by looking at this data across the country, but just by browsing on my own my former district (Seattle, WA) and my prospective future district (Portland, OR), I can start to see my way to an explanation of disparate resources, student test scores and the overall reputations of those districts.

Social-Emotional Ed, Culture & Discipline

In the last week I have read five fascinating articles at the intersection of culture, social-emtional learning and discipline in schools. The first two articles appeared in The Seattle Times in their on-going “Education Lab” series funded by the Gates Foundation. One article reviewed the research and on-going programs in Washington state that are trying to understand and overcome how childhood trauma can affect learning and behavior in schools. The other highlighted schools in the area that are using the Yale RULER social-emotional education program.

The first article, entitled “‘You are more than your mistakes’: Teachers get at roots of bad behavior’”, discussed how researchers and teachers are coming together to address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which not only affect the education and behavior of a child in school, but can also affect their adult health. I made many notes about ACEs in my blog post review of Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed.

One of the Seattle area schools mentioned in The Times article is West Seattle Elementary. I worked with their staff and principal, Vicki Sacco, in the lead up to my former Seattle school’s application for a ‘Turnaround Schools’ elementary levy grant from the city in 2013. I was also pleased to once again read about the work of Washington State University Professor Chris Blodgett because I had the pleasure of hearing him speak about ACEs and the social-emotional training he leads at schools like Bemiss Elementary in Spokane, Washington.

Next came an AEON Ideas prompt on their beta forum discussing ‘how educators can help end the schools to prison pipeline’ started by Daniel Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies (CCRR) at The Civil Rights Project at UCLA. He laments the continued disparities in discipline along racial lines in schools across America and urges schools to begin to do the basics to avoid suspending students.

Discipline Disproportionality

Losen does not directly reference the research about the root causes for discipline issues in schools, such as ACEs, but he instead speaks to the imperative of alternative, inclusive and even restorative methods of addressing undesirable or disruptive school behaviors. He says that “well publicized research by Skiba at Indiana University has demonstrated that after controlling for poverty, school principals that embrace zero tolerance discipline philosophy have higher suspension rates and lower test scores than those that fold school discipline into their overall educational mission and strive to keep students in school.” In other words, strict discipline being exacted on kids acting out because of adverse emotional trauma they’ve experienced at home or elsewhere is truly counterproductive. Therefore, Losen suggests that schools start closing the “discipline gap” by not “suspending youth who are truant or tardy” and by limiting “the use of out of school suspension for minor offenses such as disruption or defiance.” Combined with teacher training on ACEs and an integrated social-emotional education program like the Yale RULER, schools could respond to adverse student behaviors proactively and productively.

You can participate in the AEON Ideas discussion forum on the schools to prison pipeline here.

Yale RULER Tool

The last two ed articles are related to one USC Rossier School of Education longitudinal study on the adolescent brain and how culture affects its social development. The study was designed by USC Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and over it’s five year period it will eventually include over 100 participants from Latino, East-Asian and bi-cultural backgrounds.

Half way through the research period, Immordino-Yang claims there are already two big takeaways about learning; first, Immordino-Yang says, “Traditional educational approaches think about emotion the way Descartes did; emotion is interfering with your ability to do well in school, to think rationally. Neuroscience is showing us that that is absolutely not the case—when you take emotion out of thought you have no basis for thought anymore. So we’re trying to understand how socially constructed emotion shapes learning, academic development and identity.” Second, Immordino-Yang says about the difference of our neurological processing of emotions and our outward manifestations of those emotions that, “There were no differences at all in how much these young adults’ brains were activating when they responded to our emotional stories—and no differences in the strengths of emotions that participants in the different cultural groups reported…But there was a strong cultural difference in how patterns of neural activity corresponded in real-time with participants’ experience—in how people became aware of their emotion.”

In other words, emotions play a big role in how we all learn, regardless of cultural or linguistic backgrounds, and yet those backgrounds do have a differing effect on our awareness and outward expression of those same emotions we all feel.

In one of the study’s tests, participants are asked to run up and down a flight of stairs until they can physically feel their heartbeat. The participants are then hooked up to a heart rate monitor and also simultaneously asked to monitor their heartbeats themselves, marking down every beat they feel. Somewhat astonishingly, the ability to accurately feel your heartbeat can predict the participant’s cultural identity.

“What we find is that among the East-Asian American kids, it’s the kids who are not particularly sensitive to their heartbeats who are saying they strongly hold Asian values, whereas among the Latino kids, it’s those who have a better ability to feel their heartbeat who are saying they strongly hold Latino cultural values,” says Immordino-Yang. “What that tells us is that kids’ natural awareness of visceral sensations may predispose them toward constructing a particular identity. It’s showing us how a very basic biological tendency, which we know is anatomically based, which is mainly kind of innate, is predisposing kids to adopting a particular kind of psychological self, with implications for how they act, what they believe in and who they strive to become.”

Immordino-Yang spells out the implications those results may have for educators and students. “We need to understand that the way kids feel matters. Their embodied experience in the classroom powerfully influences what children take away and how they grow both academically and personally. What science is teaching us, in short, is the need to understand the holistic emotional experience of a person, and the need to account for subjective experience when we design and evaluate educational environments.”

So think about the implications of this study in the context of a child who is growing up in poverty, who is African-American and who has a few Adverse Childhood Experiences. The holistic emotional experience becomes not just part of the learning equation for this child, it becomes the key. Educators have to try and understand how this individual child will emotionally react to different social experiences and different educational experiences because tapping a well of safe and positive emotions will help the child learn. In addition, their future cultural identity is being informed by their physical and neurological reactions to these experiences in schools. A lot is at stake and ignoring social-emotional learning, cultural backgrounds and the importance of positive discipline policies is inexcusable.

Look for more from me on the Immordino-Yang study in the coming weeks, as I will expand on my impressions of the implications of this study based on my experiences working in elementary schools in Latin America and East Asia. Unshocking spoiler; the study reinforces much of what I already assumed about how culture shapes how we learn. But, I will try not to generalize too much and I will try to give some specific examples of experiences that I have teaching abroad that will hopefully add to the discussion on this research.

South Korea Education in the News

Lately, there have been a few trending education articles in the U.S that have mentioned the South Korean education system, comparing it favorably to that of the American K-12 ed system. These references to Korean education, and other Asian education exemplars, Hong Kong, Shanghai, etc, follow the usual U.S. media narrative of marvel, favorable comparison and limited perspective. There are certainly many aspects of the Han River Miracle which can be attributed to praiseworthy aspects of the Korean education system. And I would always acknowledge the value in observing and taking note of the strengths and innovations of foreign education systems. However, in my opinion and with few exceptions, U.S. educators, policy makers and journalists tend to selectively cite the Korean education system, ignorant to a few key realities here. As a Native English Teacher currently teaching in a public elementary school in the Jeollanamdo Province of South Korea, I’d like to make a few observations in response to a couple recent headline-making ed articles in the US.

 

OECD Instructional Hours

First, in a widely-read guest post on Valerie Strauss’ blog in The Washington Post, Ellie Herman makes a compelling argument on the extreme challenges that result in high rates of teacher burnout in inner-city, high-poverty American schools. I want to first say that I do not for one minute doubt the veracity of her burnout story, as I have seen it happen first-hand with my classroom teacher colleagues in a Title I public school in Seattle that I worked at before coming to Korea. I know that teachers in these challenging, high-poverty schools in the U.S. operate in “executive function overload” for most, if not all, of the school year. Part of the problem certainly is disproportionate amount of instructional time versus planning time in the US. Herman also writes about the other major problem, that teacher “planning time” is either so structured and prescribed by district mandates, Common Core trainings, staff meetings, or Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) that it cannot seriously be considered planning time. Or, teachers have many parents to contact, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting to attend to discuss the special needs of one student, a School Improvement Team (SIT) meeting to attend to discuss the behavior of one student, nevermind a leadership team or union meeting to help further an innovative school or professional initiative. For me, there is no question that in most Title I schools in the U.S. there is little to no time during a long work day to actually plan relevant, differentiated lessons. That kind of lesson planning requires time to reflect, time to create materials and time with a brain that is not in a constant state of emergency.

That being said, there is one statistic cited in Herman’s piece that I had to question and feeds into the rosy and incomplete picture of the Korean education system that many Americans most likely have. Herman writes that according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the research and policy organization of the developed world, “the average secondary school teacher in the U.S. puts in 1,051 instructional hours per year” while the average Korean teacher puts in 609 hours. Admittedly, I am not sure where that Korean instructional hours number comes from exactly, how it was calculated or what report Herman found it in. This is what I do know, the average Korean homeroom teacher on the elementary level spends at least four hours a day in front of students according to my own Korean colleagues in my school. That means that in a single school year, which lasts 220 days here versus 180 days in the US, the average homeroom teacher would teach 880 hours. From what I know the same estimation would be true for secondary teachers here in Korea, and this is a conservative estimate for both. Even if you estimate an average of four instructional hours a day over a 180 day school year, Korean teachers would still teach 720 instructional hours per year on average.

As you can see, my rudimentary calculations confuse the OECD findings for me. I speculate that the Korea number and the U.S. number are skewed, Korea to the lower end and the U.S. to the higher end. In Korea they hire many contract teachers, a category of teacher we do not have in the American public schools system. These contract teachers may teach a specific subject like art, music or English and have a defined amount of weekly instructional hours that may average out to 3 hours or less per day. In contrast, in the U.S. we do have some 0.5 FTE teachers, but usually we bring their status up to 1.0 by combining part-time positions, or the teacher has full-time instructional hours cobbled together at multiple schools. Thus, these contract teachers may skew the number downward for Korea, while the hiring and funding systems of the U.S. produce more teachers with full-time instructional hour schedules.

 

OECD Homework Hours

Another OECD education statistic which confused me this last week came from a Vox.com article on the amount of time students spend on homework in developed countries. Again, I am unsure of the methods that the OECD used to collect this homework data, nor I am sure of what specific OECD education report Vox is referencing. In any case, the article displays the following graph which shows that Korea is second only to Finland in how few hours students spend on homework per week.

Homework Hours

This statistic absolutely shocked me as a teacher currently working in Korea. Unless the Korean education system has significantly ramped up the amount of homework given to students since 2012, and did so without regard for the already outstanding PISA results of their students, then I am baffled as to how this number was tabulated. I have no hard data on the amount of homework my elementary students or secondary students in general in Korea undertake each week, but within the country the workload of Korean students is notoriously and proudly high. Parents and educators are not ashamed to say that students should spend long, hard hours studying. For example, most of the students at my school attend the famous or infamous hagwons or after-school academies where they sometimes get even more rigorous instruction in STEM subjects, English as a Second Language, or the arts as they do in their regular homeroom. More to the point, students receive homework from their hagwon on top of the homework they get from school. I would assume that most of my elementary students do more than OECD number of three hours per week in homework just from their regular school studies. And from what they tell me, and what I see after school, they are doing much more than that when you include their hagwon workload. I’m talking about 3rd and 4th graders here!

 

Korean Education Realities

In the past few weeks there have been two realities that have been revealed to me about the Korean education system, which I somehow suspect will never make it into a Washington Post international education policy article. These facts of the Korean education system are completely unrelated to each other, but they both add some complexity to the discourse about the merits and shortcomings of the Korean and American systems.

The first is an allegedly atrocious act by a Korean hagwon teacher here in Yeosu, my town of residence. The police have taken into custody a teacher who allegedly beat a 6th grade student with a Kendo stick causing her to fall, hit her head and die. The police are investigating, but there are reports that the girl stole something from the unregistered, illegal hagwon and at the request of her parents she was corporally punished by the hagwon teacher, leading to her death. Corporal punishment was essentially outlawed in schools in 2012, but there is a significant legacy here and it is not without it’s proponents in the current teacher ranks in Korea.

Second, in my teacher certification program we were asked to identify the primary objectives of the district in which we work so that we could align our unit and lesson planning to meet both the district objectives and the educational standards. I worked with my wonderful Korean co-teacher to translate the Jeollanamdo Office of Education objectives into English. The one that stood out was this, “Reduce the workload of teachers.” I think most teachers in the U.S. would consider this an unfathomable objective to propose in a district strategic planning meeting, even if they thought it to be a good and reasonable idea that would net better outcomes for students.

I mention these two things because they add some nuance to the perception of the Korean education system. Like most things, the system here is not black and white, it is not all academic gains and happy students, nor is it all rigorous teaching based on extensive planning time. There are significant systemic problems here too. These problems are functions of the local culture and context, just as many of the strengths of the Korean education system result from the specific socioeconomic and cultural situation of the country. I think Ellie Herman makes a strong case for more unstructured planning time for U.S. teachers and I also think there is significant research that says that, depending on the developmental stage of a student, a certain amount of homework can start to do more harm than good. Considering our unique makeup in America, Korea and Finland will not always show us the way educationally speaking, and these statistical comparisons can act as red herrings. If the logic and the research are there, lets rely more heavily on those arguments. If we are going to use international comparisons to boost our policy point, lets be more rigorous in our acknowledgement of the nuance unique to each educational system.

Innovative Teaching and Learning Pilot Year Report – Microsoft Partners in Learning

Microsoft Partners in Learning is supporting a long-term global Innovative Teaching and Learning research project focused on information and communication technology (ICT) use in the classroom, student-centered 21st Century Skills development and extended learning opportunities outside the classroom in a global context. The pilot year of this research project was in 2009 and it included classrooms in Finland, Russia, Senegal and Indonesia. In Module Two of the Teach-Now certification program, we were asked to explore the world of ‘Tomorrow’s Teacher’. One task in this exploration was a reading of the Innovative Teaching and Learning pilot year report and the creation of an infographic to visually represent the key findings of the report. Below is my submission:

Innovative Teaching and Learning Infographic

Steve Hargadon’s Interview with Jim Knight

I recently listened to one of Steve Hargadon’s EdTechLive podcasts that featured an interview with Jim Knight, author of High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching and associate research professor at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. You can find Knight’s website here and you can join his “The Big Four Ning” professional learning network here (my own membership is pending). You can also find Jim Knight on Twitter @jimknight99.

The conversation between Hargadon and Jim Knight centered around instructional coaching, high-impact strategies and teacher professionalization methods. But the conversation did not solely revolve around education jargon and get lost in the weeds. Instead, Knight and Hargadon balanced a worm’s eye view with the bird’s eye view, presenting the big picture and then drilling down to minutia within a given topic. Here is the central theme of the interview and of Knight’s latest book:

One reason why many teachers are not striving to be there best is that poorly designed professional learning can actual inhibit growth by de-professionalizing teachers, treating them like workers on an assembly line rather than professionals doing emotionally complicated knowledge work… If we are to get the schools our children deserve, we need to start by treating teachers as professionals.

Knight starts out by making his big pitch; that there is a fundamental irreconcilability with two underriding assumptions in the teaching profession today. There are some that assume that teachers are intrinsically motivated to improve their practice, and others that assume teachers will not be motivated to improve unless there is a carrot and a stick, for motivation and accountability, i.e. value-added measurements tied to teacher evaluations (the stick) and higher pay for higher impact teachers (the carrot). Knight makes no bones about it, he cites Daniel Pink’s hugely influential book Drive in making the case that teachers are generally intrinsically motivated and that extrinsic motives, coercion and punitive accountability measures are actually detrimental to the development of the profession.  He succinctly stakes out his position when he states, “The distinction between power with and power over is really fundamental to establishing a positive learning community.”

Knight is talking both about the learning environment in the classroom between teachers and students and the learning environment among professional peers striving for improved instructional practice. Knight is an expert on professional learning and Hargadon draws parallels between how Knight talks about positive and productive learning environments for professionals and those for young students, parents and children, institutions and the community. Knight picks this point up and runs with it, surmising that often what happens when schools ‘loose’ parents during the IEP process is when they are not equal partners at the table.

What follows is a discussion on the finer points of the differences between different professional learning strategies from peer learning to positive deviance and appreciative inquiry. I was not at all familiar with these approaches before listening to this podcast and so some of this part of the conversation was lost on me. However, that does not mean I will not encounter these methods in the future and I’m glad to be aware of them. A cursory google search of these strategies immediately got me reflecting on the professional development approaches I have experienced and witnessed here in South Korea. Culturally, I would say the education profession, nor many other professions on the peninsula, have embraced any of these power with instead of power over professional learning methods.  In any case, Knight’s conclusion seems to be that there is no silver bullet in terms of professional learning, the key is “freedom within structure” whatever that structure may be.

Jim Knight’s list of 7 principles that educators should use to guide their actions with colleagues:

  1. Equality
  2. Choice
  3. Voice
  4. Dialogue
  5. Reflection
  6. Practice
  7. Reciprocity

The discussion gets into some deep waters at this point, as Knight cites Bob Sutton’s leadership research (side note: I googled Bob Sutton and found a fascinating interview with the aforementioned Daniel Pink, check it out!) and Paulo Ferreira’s concept of ‘mutually humanizing’ learning and collaboration. Again this sparked an immediate reflection on the work and learning culture here in Korea, which has produced unquestionably miraculous results in the six decades since the Korean War, but is a far cry from what I envision to mean ‘mutually humanizing’. I wonder if other cultures do not need a sense of power with instead of power over in order to be successful in a collective effort. Whether it is Confucian tradition, nationalist pride, or filial piety there is definitely a different intrinsic motivator at work in Eastern cultures. I also wonder if this motivation is limited? Will it evolve to look like something more collaborative with lower power distance between authority and subordinates? Will I appreciate the greater autonomy and more collaborative spirit of teaching in the US after my experienc here in Korea? Or, will I be convinced by colleagues that the Common Core, the district central office or my principal is dictating too much of what I teach and how I grow professionally?

There is great Ted-Ed video that was recently released on understanding power structures among individuals and societies. It’s a video that students 4th grade and up could more than likely understand and engage in a discussion that could help set a classroom culture of power with instead of power over.

They move into a discussion of the use of data of professional learning in education. What is notable from this discussion is their agreement that you need to have a “clear picture of current reality” before you can make a high-impact goal. Knight says that the best use of data in the business world is when it is not used punitively, instead as an improvement tool, one of many.

Next comes content planning, which is probably the most practical portion of the discussion, especially for a new teacher like myself. Knight lays out the two most important components of excellent content planning; first, the knowledge, skills and big ideas that the students need understand and acquire. Second, is content mapping, a visual representation of the path the students will take in their learning. The common theme with both those components is that the research says that students learn best when they understand the big picture and can make connections between the individual steps and tasks of the learning along the way and how they fit into the end goal. During my Teach-Now academic studies we were required to make a variety of graphic organizers such as mind maps and infographics. This is definitely a goal of mine for my first year of teaching. I am a believer in learning maps and graphic organizers.

There is more, much more that Knight and Hargadon touch upon, all of it resonates greatly with me. Knight makes the connection between gamification and flow, the idea that if we gamify learning students could potentially enter a state of optimal experience while personalizing their own learning. The discussion then moves to the importance of storytelling in education, which is a favorite theme of mine. Then on to the moment when a little girl, Natalie Gilbert, faltered in her singing of the national anthem at a Portland Trailblazers game, was first heckled by the crowd and then assisted by Maurice Cheeks, the Blazers head coach. What ensues is heart-warming and as Knight says, literally an inspiration to all educators to be a coach like Cheeks. Open questioning as a high impact strategy to get student “authentically engaged” and how to get teachers to shift their practice to leverage it. Authentic learning as doing science, not learning about science. Knight summarizes that teachers really need “caring and control” in order to be effective, a control that comes out of . He then gives one practical tip for teachers to use to make sure they are systematically attending to all their students’ needs; make a list at the end of every week on students she may have overlooked that week and came at the end of the list, then note the positive strengths of those students at the end of the list, and make sure the following week that they are not at the end of the list (witness to the good), i.e. teach yourself to notice what’s going well.

Key takeaways:

  • Weekly list of students, positves of students at the end of the list
  • Two components of content planning: 1) content definition 2) content visual mapping
  • Seven principles of collegial interaction (see above)
  • Power with instead of power over in all learning environments

Paul Tough Stuff

In 2013 I took part in the Seattle Public Schools Strategic Planning Stakeholder Taskforce, which was tasked with reestablishing the mission, vision and a set of policy priorities for coming the coming five years for the district. On that taskforce, I had the opportunity to discuss many of our districts’ most pressing education policy issues with many of the prominent education leaders and active stakeholders in the community. Invariably, many of the discussions revolved around the so-called Achievement Gap between students of poverty and those of middle-class or higher backgrounds, or certain groups of students of color as against white students.

 

The whole idea of the taskforce was to help the school district identify a few priority metrics by which we could judge student academic progress over the next five years, and thus judge the performance of district officials, school administrators and teachers in their use of time and taxpayer resources. At one point at our table a discussion was sparked about how to measure the intangibles, the social-emotional health and the whole child qualities that may not show up on test scores, but everyone knows is vital to a healthy and productive life. As one of my esteemed table-mates put it, “How do we prioritize the ‘Paul Tough Stuff’?”

 

Paul Tough, of course, is an education journalist, perhaps best known for his first book on education, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America. If you are not familiar, see the controversial documentary Waiting For Superman or google the Harlem Children’s Zone. I read that book in 2010 while teaching English in a community of violently displaced peoples outside of Barranquilla, Colombia. At the time, the book helped to explain some of the struggles I had in the classroom there, although the parallels were few and far between other than blanket poverty.

 

Last week I began reading Tough’s latest book on education, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. In this blog post I am going to collect my thoughts about the ‘Paul Tough Stuff’ that I find interesting and noteworthy. Hopefully, I will be able to make some connections to my work as a teacher in Colombia, a bilingual instructional assistant in a Title I school in Seattle and my other encounters with poverty and overcoming it. It just so happens that Coursera, the online MOOC platform, is offering a class on teaching character taught by KIPP Academy co-founder, David Levin. I am planning on auditing this class when it starts in mid-December.

 

Introduction & Chapter I

 

  • Tools of the Mind, is a pre-K teaching method where students are “taught a variety of strategies, tricks, and habits that they can deploy to keep their minds on track.” The three big self-control skills are keeping your focus on the task at hand, managing and regulating emotions and organizing your thoughts. This concept has it roots in the work of the Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, who believed that childhood play is critical in the development of the mental tools that shape a child’s mind. Students make “play plans”, i.e. goal-setting, they use physical ‘mediator’ tools, i.e. visual cues, and they participate in ‘mature dramatic play’, i.e. complex structured play which teaches children how to ‘follow rules and regulate impulses’.
  • The Cognitive Hypothesis – That success primarily depends on cognitive skills.
  • James Heckman – Nobel Economist at the University of Chicago, GED founding board member and researcher. He found that GED recipients ended up with lives that looked a lot like those of high school drop-outs even though they had the cognitive skills to graduate via a GED program or enroll in a university. Heckman concluded that some psychological traits, non-cognitive skills, significantly helped high school graduates in later life. Traits like persisting through a boring & unrewarding task, delayed gratification, follow through on a plan. GED holders are “‘wise guys’ who lack the ability to think ahead, persist in tasks, or to adapt to their environments” Heckman is quoted.
  • The Perry Preschool Project – Detroit area, War on Poverty study on the affects of early childhood interventions on low-income, low-IQ children. Heckman found that nearly two-thirds of the total benefit that Perry gave to its students was due to non-cognitive factors, “such as curiosity, self-control, and social fluidity.”
  • The book’s premise: “What can any of us do to steer an individual child–or a whole generation of children–away from failure and toward success?”

 

    • Elizabeth Dozier – Fenger High School Principal, Roseland neighborhood, South-Side of Chicago
    • Nadine Burke Harris – Bayview Child Health Center, in Hunters Point, SF.
    • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) – Physical and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, household dysfunction, divorced or separated parents, family members incarcerated, mentally ill family members, addiction problems within the family. All of which affect the long-term mental and physical health of a child.
    • Vincent Felitti & Robert Anda – Authors of “The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adult Health: Turning Gold Into Lead.” The first ACE health research done by Kaiser Permanente. “When they looked at patients with a high ACE scores (7 or more) who didn’t smoke, didn’t drink to excess, and weren’t overweight, they found that their risk of ischemic heart disease (the single most common cause of death in the US) was still 360 percent higher than those with an ACE score of 0. The adversity these patients had experienced in childhood was making them sick” despite good habits and behavior as adults.
    • The HPA Axis – Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal” axis, “the way that chemical signals cascade through the brain and body in reaction to intense situations.”
    • The Firehouse Affect – The HPA Axis is good at blanket responses to stress and intense situations, but it is not surgical. In fact, it gives us stress responses that are not at all helpful in many or most intense situations.
    • Executive Functions – Among Burke Harris’ patients with an ACE score of 0, only 3 percent had behavioral problems at school. Those patients with an ACE score of 4 or more, 51 percent of them had behavioral issues.
  • The prefrontal cortex is adversely affected by stress. The prefrontal cortex is “critical in self-regulatory activities of all kinds, both emotional and cognitive.” Stress and ACE’s make it harder for children to sit still, concentrate, rebound from disappointments, and to follow directions.
  • Executive Function – The ability to deal with confusing and unpredictable situations and information.
  • Stroop Exec Function Test – The word red is written in green letters. What color is the word?
  • Working Memory – The ability to keep a bunch of facts in your head at the same time.

 

Chapter 2

  • David Levin, co-founder of KIPP Academy. Yale grad, TFA grad. Houston area was where the first KIPP school was started, but the South Bronx middle school was their big moment (Michael Feinberg, other co-founder).
  • http://www.kipp.org/mobile/video-60-Minutes.cfm (60 Minutes feature, 2000)
  • 8 of 38 of the first cohort of South Bronx middle school graduates of KIPP went on to complete a four-year college degree. Nearly all of that cohort enrolled in university, but most did not finish.
  • Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman – University of Pennsylvania professor of psychology, argues that optimism is a learnable skill, not an inborn trait.
  1. 3 P’s of negativity explanations: Permanent, Personal and Pervasive
  2. 3 explanations of positivity: Specific, Limited and Short-term
  3. Character Strengths and Virtues: Handbook & Classification, the “mirror image” of the DSM Manual of Mental Disorders (Noble: bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom, integrity, Emotional: love, humor, zest, appreciation of beauty, Human Interactions: social intelligence, kindness, gratitude)
  4. What “I think is great about the character-strength approach is that it is fundamentally devoid of value judgement” – David Levin
  • KIPP slogans: Work Hard, Be Nice, There are no shortcuts, One School. One Mission. Two Skills. Academics and Character.,
  • Riverdale Country School, elite prep school in the Bronx, headmaster is Dominic Randolph,

 

  • Angela Duckworth – Penn Pyschology professor, “To help chronically low-performing but intelligent students, educators and parents must first recognize that character is at least as important as intellect.”
  • Walter Mischel, Columbia psychology professor, famous for the 1960’s experiment of the “Marshmallow Test”. Children are posed with a choice, eat the marshmallow immediately and they can only have one. Wait until the test proctor returns in 20 minutes and they can have two marshmallows. Seminal in both its assessment of techniques of will-power by children and the long-term effects of the children’s ability to delay gratification.
  1. The more children were able to distract themselves from the marshmallow at hand or think differently or abstractly about the marshmallow, the longer the children were able to delay eating the marshmallow.
  2. Self-control techniques are most effective when the student or child know what he or she wants, making less immediate, more intangible long-term goals harder in terms of self-discipline, delayed gratification (motivation).
  3. Duckworth divides motivation into two achievement dimensions, both are necessary to achieve long-term goals, neither is sufficient by itself:

1) Motivation – Drive, vision, goal-setting, intrinsic or extrinsic reward

2) Volition – willpower, self-control, grit, determination, persistence

  • The Big Five human personality dimensions:
    1. Agreeableness
    2. Extraversion
    3. Neuroticism
    4. Openness – Creativity, flexibility, linked with a liberal ideology
  • Conscientiousness – Doing your best in all situations without a promise of material reward because of an internal motivation to always do your best.
  1. a) Orderly
  2. b) Hardworking
  3. c) Reliable
  4. d) Respectful of Social Norms
  5. e) High level of Self-Control is the most important ingredient to   

               conscientiousness

  • “People high in conscientiousness get better grades in high school and college; they commit fewer crimes; and they stay married longer. They live longer…and a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.” Along with improved workplace and material outcomes.
  • Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, two Marxist economists, found in their 1976 study of character and schools that students with the highest GPA’s were the ones who scored the lowest on measures of creativity and independence, and highest on the measures of punctuality, delay of gratification, predictability, and dependability. For Bowles and Gintis this indicated corporate America’s desire to create and maintain a docile and dependable workforce, “bland and reliable sheep”, so they created a school system which rewarded conscientiousness.
  • Other personality pyschologists also consider too much conscientiousness to be a negative, an indicator of excessive restraint, difficulty making decisions, unnecessarily delay gratification or deny themselves pleasure, “classic squares: they’re compulsive, anxious and repressed.”
  • Grit: “a passionate commitment to a single mission and an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission.”
  • The KIPP and Riverdale 7 Important Character Strengths:
  1. Grit
  2. Self-control
  3. Zest – Indicator: a student raises her hand to answer every question.
  4. Social Intelligence
  5. Gratitude
  6. Optimism – Indicator: a student believes that effort will improve their future.
  7. Curiosity – Indicator: a student is eager to explore new things.
  • CPA – Character Point Average, grades based on an assessment of student character strengths
  • Moral Character – Ethical values such as fairness, generosity, integrity
  • Performance Character – Effort, diligence and perseverance
  • Madeline Levine, Marin County pyschologist, who says that children of affluent parents now exhibit “unexpectedly high rates of emotional problems beginning in junior high school” because affluent parents are more likely to be “emotionally distant from their children while at the same time insisting on high levels of achievement.” Levine is featured in the Race To Nowhere documentary.
  • For Riverdale students, character and the necessity of character building takes on a different meaning. As the Riverdale counselor, Fierst, puts it, “We are letting you in on the secret of what successful people are like” at KIPP, with impoverished students. While Riverdale’s students are not dependent on their teachers for such information and examples. And yet, Fierst also says, “Our kids (at Riverdale) don’t put up with a lot of suffering. They don’t have a threshold for it. They’re protected against it quite a bit. And when they do get uncomfortable, we hear from their parents.”

→ On both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, “If your premise is that your students are lacking in deep traits like grit and gratitude and self-control, you’re implicitly criticizing the parenting they’ve received.

→ Riverdale creates a high floor, not a high ceiling for its students. It a risk-management strategy for the parents so as to make it very hard for their children to “fall out of the upper class”. See this Vox.com interview with Peter Thiel for more on this issue.

  • Randolph says, “The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure…And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything”…because there is a high floor, so not a large chance of ‘original success’ or failure, i.e. no real stakes at play. See the Peter Thiel interview for more on this also, he says he is not a believer in failure, but instead of building successes.
  1. Is it possible that children of different socioeconomic groups need different character building challenges, maybe affluent students need real stakes and a risk of failure in an endeavor in order to build grit, while students of poverty already have grit, but instead need to build conscientiousness and self-control?

 

  • SLANT – Sit up, Listen, Ask questions, Nod, and Track the speaker
  • Code-switching – The ability to recognize and accurately perform the behaviors appropriate to each different cultural setting. The problem with code-switching is that “the kids who are actually part of the dominant culture don’t necessarily act like it at school.” Anti-conformist behavior at Riverdale is the dominant culture’s behavior, while at KIPP everyone has to conform in order to succeed.

Note: This is controversial ground, where race, culture and socioeconomic power come into full focus in the book, yet Tough seems to avoid the deeper implications of this code-switching issue. Are there problems with a school serving low-income students of color and enforcing the expectations of a dominant white culture of affluence which does not even need to follow its own social norms? Why do these students of color need to adhere to these proscribed cultural expectations in that case? Why do they have to diligently code-switch if society has been set up to see their social norms as less desirable, and thus set-up to make success harder for these students of color? Why do they have to worker harder at this, or at all, if they can compete with the Riverdale students on the same level academically? Or, is there just something fundamental about grit and self-control which make them keys to success across cultures, and so we’ve got to teach them in appropriate ways differentiated for each classroom culture?

 

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – “Using the conscious mind to recognize negative or self-destructive thoughts or interpretations and to talk yourself into a better perspective.”
  1. Metacognition – Thinking about thinking
  2. Thinking about character and about evaluating character are both metacognitive processes
  3. Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII) 2-step process –
  1. Mental Contrasting is “Concentrating on a positive outcome and simultaneously concentrating on the obstacles in the way.” This creates “a strong association between future and reality that signals the need to overcome the obstacles in order to attain the desired future” say Gabrielle Oettingen and Duckworth.
  2. Implementation Intentions are “specific plans in the form of if/then statements that link the obstacles with ways to overcome them, such as ‘If I get distracted by TV after school, then I will wait to watch TV until after I finish my homework.’”
    • MCII is engaging the prefrontal cortex, which again is instrumental in self-regulatory processes, because we are making structured rules for ourselves that can create a willful determination that turns into an automatic response, or habit.
  • William James, American philosopher, “Habit and character are essentially the same thing.”
    • It is a powerful and easily understood thing to tell a child that some people have good habits and others have bad habits. Habits can be hard to change, but certainly not impossible, while character sounds a bit more daunting. Again, see the definition of conscientiousness, it is when people are in the habit of doing the ‘right’ or ‘good’ thing, “meaning the more socially acceptable or long-term-benefit-enhancing option.”
    • KIPP has a strong group identity. See South Korea as a national example of strong group identity with a mostly positive result as well. This group identity can have a strong impact on achievement.
    • Stereotype Threat – The theory that when a group of people are worried about confirming a stereotype about your group, you get anxious, and as a result you create a worse outcome.
  • Carol Dweck – Growth Mindset, “Regardless of the facts on malleability of intelligence, students do much better academically if they believe intelligence is malleable.”
  • Tell students, “Intelligence is not a finite endowment, but rather an expandable capacity that increases with mental work” and the growth-mindset message may improve academic outcomes for your students.
  • So at KIPP, “Levin wanted math teachers to use the character strengths in word problems, he explained that history teachers could use them in classes about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.” And discussions about literary characters and their personality traits in light of growth-mindset, the 7 character strengths, and MCII.
  • “If you don’t have that kind of social safety net (that Riverdale students enjoy) – and children in low-income families almost by definition do not – you need to compensate in another way. To succeed, you need more grit, more social intelligence, more self-control than wealthier kids.”
    • And here Tough gets back to the code-switching reality. I think his above statement is undoubtedly true and undoubtedly unfair to children of poverty and especially children of color. As teachers, we need to recognize this, and work with parents to assess the character strengths and areas of growth in our students no matter their background, but especially in the students Tough is talking about.

 

Chapter 3 –

  • Elizabeth Spiegel, Chess Teacher at IS 318 in Brooklyn, a Title I school and the best Chess public middle school in the country, or just the best.
  • Elo ~ (10 x IQ) + 1000, meaning a chess player’s tournament rating, your IQ score multiplied by ten and add 1000 and you get what your maximum chess player rating could approximately be (~). This proposes that there is an IQ dependent cap on a person’s chess ability.
  • Executive functions of chess at IS 318:
  1. Cognitive flexibility – The ability to see alternative solutions to problems, to think outside the box, to negotiate unfamiliar situations.
  2. Cognitive self-control – The ability to inhibit an instinctive or habitual response and  substitute a more effective, less obvious one.
  • Spiegel says that, “Teaching chess is really about teaching the habits that go along with thinking.” This should sound familiar, it rhymes with the notion that character and habits are really the same thing. “Like how to understand your mistakes and how to be more aware of your thought processes.” Teaching chess for Spiegel is like ‘psychotherapy’ for most people, you go over habitual mistakes and try to understand why you make them.
  • Spiegel, “I try to teach my students that losing (or failing) is something you do, not something you are.”
  • Chess-in-the-schools, NYC – http://www.chessintheschools.org/
  • Spiegel, “I definitely have a warm relationship with a lot of the kids. But I think my job as a teacher is to be more like a mirror, to talk about what they did on the chessboard and help them think about it.” No condescension! Take the students seriously, believe in their abilities and challenge them to improve themselves.
  • The Marshall Chess Club, Greenwich Village, NYC
  • Laszlo (psychologist) and Klara Polgar, raised three genius daughters, Judit Polgar is considered the best chess player of all time.
  • Grit and Flow reinforce each other, they are both represent a “dedicated pursuit of a goal” and require strong self-discipline.
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist collaborator with Martin Seligman, created the idea of optimal experiences or FLOW, when a person is totally engaged by a pursuit, in the moment, free of distractions. “Intense concentration”
  • Falsification: the only way to test the validity of a theory is to prove it wrong. This was coined by the Austrian philosopher Sir Karl Popper. People do not look for contradictory evidence, instead they automatically look for data that proves them right, “confirmation bias”. If a chess player becomes adept at being more pessimistic about a certain move or series of moves, they can more easily falsify their move theory and discover the optimal choice for their next move. You still need optimism in order to be confident and decisive and relentless in your pursuit of success on the chessboard.

 

Chapter 4 – College Success

  • The US is 8 out of 34 OECD countries in terms of college enrollment, but ranks second to last in terms of the percentage of college freshmen who go on to graduate.
  • “An American with a BA can now expect to earn 83 percent more than an American with only a high school diploma.”
  • William G Bowen, former president of Princeton University, Michael S McPherson, former president of Macalester College in Minnesota, and their 2009 book, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities.

Findings:

  1. a) Undermatching was a big problem among teenagers of poverty, meaning they

were disproportionately attending schools below their academic achievement

level. Undermatching did not mean students more easily graduated from college,

quite the opposite effect, actually.

  1. b) The best predictor of college completion was a student’s high school GPA, no matter where the students attended high school, nor the caliber of the university they entered
  2. c) Angela Duckworth used the same data and found that standardized test scores were correlated to pure IQ test scores, while GPA was best predicted by test scores of self-control, ie non-cognitive, pre-frontal, executive function, character stuff!!!!
  • Jeff Nelson, former TFA teacher, CEO of OneGoal
  • Asking students from poverty to spend 16 years delaying gratification for a chance at ‘success’ and stability is like a grand, real-life marshmallow test, except instead of a known reward, it is an unknown and exotic reward that anyone would be hard-pressed to imagine.

Chapter 5 – A Better Path

“The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure. And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.” – Dominic Randolph

  1. “First, as much as possible, you protect him from serious trauma and chronic stress;
  2. then, even more important, you provide him with a secure, nurturing relationship with at least one parent and ideally two.”
  3. Then, you teach your child how to manage stress by repeatedly providing LG “when their pups were stressed out.”
  4. Last, “some child-size adversity, a chance to fall down and get back up on his own, without help.” How to manage failure.
    • Ivy League Insurance Policies, see Peter Thiel Vox interview also, before the Great Recession of 2008, three-quarters of all Princeton grads went into one of two finance careers. Ivy League students, according to James Kwak, are motivated by two main decision rules, “close down as few options as possible; and only do things that increase the possibility of future overachievement.”
  • Tough’s education reform and poverty syllogism:
  1. Scores on achievement tests in school correlate strongly with life outcomes, no matter a student’s racial or socioeconomic background
  2. Children in low-income homes did much worse on achievement tests than children in middle-income and high-income homes.
  3. Certain schools, using a very different model than traditional public schools, were able to substantially raise the achievement-test scores of low-income children.
  4. Conclusion: if we replicate and scale to a national level the accomplishments of those schools (KIPP academy, etc.) we could make a huge dent in poverty’s impact on children’s success.

→ Eric Hanushek, Thomas Kane, William Sanders, the economists and statisticians that first made the claim that through ‘value-added models’ we could identify effective teachers and ineffective teachers.

The “original papers, the ones by Hanushek and others that are now cited by reform advocates, concluded that variations in teacher quality probably accounted for less than 10 percent of the gap between high- and low-performing students.

 

  • Gates Foundation Measures of Effective Teaching (MET Project)
  • 7 million American children are growing up in a family earning less than $11,000 a year, making more likely the effects of ACE on long-term health, among many other disadvantages
  • While some charters and public schools have found a way to intervene successfully in the lives of “better-off” low-income children, those making $41,000 a year in their family of four, NO ONE HAS FOUND A SUCCESSFUL INTERVENTION METHOD FOR THE “DEEPLY DISADVANTAGE CHILDREN”.
  • Orgs that are trying to find systems of support and intervention for the poorest of the poor in America:
  1. Center for Youth Wellness – Bayview Hunters Point, Nadine Burke Harris
  2. Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC Program)
  3. Tools of the Mind
  4. Turnaround for Children – Character-building and Cognitive behavioral therapy
  5. KIPP Through College

 

The crux of the problem of poverty and education achievement gaps according to Paul Tough:

  • The root causes are:
  1. A home and community that create high levels of stress
  2. The absence of a secure relationship with a caregiver
  3. The learned behavior of managing stress appropriately
  • The barriers to conversation and intervention of poverty:
  1. The science of ACE’s is not well known and is dense
  2. If you are not low-income and not a person of color, it feels very ‘uneasy’ talking about the dysfunction in a certain community’s homes.
  3. It challenges political truths on the left and right. That character matters and it can be cultivated by environment of a child, challenge long held notions in red and blue states.