Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fairly Unbalanced

Over the last couple of years I have tried to ignore Faux News. They claim to be fair and balanced. If that is so then I am rich and irresitible. Just calling yourself something doesn't make it so. The reason I can no longer ignore them is that they are everywhere. By that I mean every time I am in an airport or even a fastfood place I am confronted by Bill O'Really or Glen Blecck. Now I don't care what perversions people do in their own home up to and including watching Faux news, just as long as they don't hurt someone else.

And that's my point. Pushing that particular perversion in my face in public places is degrading to me and I shouldn't have to deal with it. I should be able to enjoy my Big Mac without having Glen Blecck up in my face. The other day I was under the golden arches when I looked up to see ol' Glen going on about how the current conservatives where really the civil rights heroes and the "progressives" (I never realized a four letter word could have that many letters!) were the racists. This segment was fitted between segments on why up is down and black is white. I'm sitting there trying to figure the logic of how you could call those who were responisible for the Civil Rights Act, The Voters Rights Act, Brown v. Board of Education and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act were the perpetrators of racism and how those who fought all those things were really the champions of civil rights. Of course, it isn't supposed to make sense to me--just to the people who watch Faux.

Like I said, I don't mind others watching that drivel. It is a free country (Blecck, O'Really, Sean Insantiy and Rush Dimbulb (or is it Doughball?) notwithstanding.) Folks can choose to watch what they want. But don't make me watch it. I won't make them watch Olberman, Maddow and Schultz. So here is what I propose. Everytime you are in a public place and they are showing opinion television ask to speak to the manager and complain that they are foisting their stupid ideas onto you in a public place. And complain up and down the line. I don't think it will harm Faux that much, but it will help my indigestion and preflight flutters if I don't have to watch that junk. Junk food is bad enough--don't serve it to my brain too!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sticks and Carrots

During the eight years of the recent Bush administration education was subjected to a school reform model that relied largely on "sticks"as a motivational device. The "No Child Left Behind" version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, while having some redeeming qualities (eg the focus on disaggregation of data), largely depended on coercive strategies to get things done. Schools and school people were put on notice that if schools did not meet the arbitrary standards set by states, they would be put into a track whre more and more decisions were made by those outside the school.

The Obama administrtion has taken a slightly different approach. They are using more "carrots" as incentives to created change. The "Race to the Top" competition is putting four billion dollars into education and they are suggesting that the new reauthorization of ESEA will use competition between schools and districts as its lever for change.

Now there is not argument that carrots are tastier than sticks, but it IS good to remember that a carrot is just a stick you can eat. In other words, while the tone may be "kinder and gentler" (to quote another Bush)the approach relies on the same basic assumptions of how you get people to move. You either threaten them with a stick or entice them with a carrot.

The problem with both these approaches is that they rely on extrinsic threats and rewards to move people. They assume that education is external and mechanistic and if you can just leverage things different behavior will result. However, education is not external and mechanistic--it is internal and organic. It comes from the inside out and it depends on the humanity of the teacher and student to succeed. It is perhaps more dependent on intrinsic rewards than any other business out there.

Daniel Pink, the author of "A Whole New Mind" (which should be a must read for any educator) has written a new book called "Drive: The Truth About What Motivates Us." In this book, Pink mounts extensive research to make the point that extrinsic motivation works when the work is repetitive and simple. When it requires creativity and innovation, intrinsic rewards are best. He suggests that work that involves autonomy, mastery and purpose go further in promoting creative expression.

Teaching and learning, by their very nature, require creative expression and would best be promoted through a reliance on intrinsic rewards. Merit pay and other forms of pay for performance, which currently are the rage in Washington and which are being promoted by the Obama administration, seems to be exactly the wrong thing to do in the context of expecting better classroom performance. Perhapds policy makers should abandon the idea of sticks or carrotss and focus more on how we might promote autonomy, mastery, and purpose in our classrooms.

(This entry first appeared on the Developmental Studies Blog.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Trifecta of Stupidity

I moved to Arizona a couple of years ago for the sunlight. Unfortunately, that does not create more enlightenment, as we have witnessed the last few weeks. While the rest of the country is experiencing political gridlock, the Arizona legislature has proven they can pass anything by doing so.

First came the concealed weapons law. A number of years ago I was surprised to learn that anyone can carry a weapon here as long as it is visible. It gives the state a feel of the old west to see folks packing their six-shooters. The Arizona legislature, in its quest to go where few have gone before, decided that wasn't enough so they passed a law allowing anyone to carry a CONCEALED weapon legally. That moves us from the Old West, to a reprise of the Godfather.

The next day or so they passed a "birther" bill requiring presidential candidates to "prove" they are a natural born citizen of the U.S. Even though laws pertaining to presidential candidates are governed by federal statute, Arizona is now protecting America from leaders who might have been born in Panama (as was John McCain) or even Hawaii/Kenya as other might have been.I thought they had reached their nadir with this one but they were just getting warmed up.

Later in the week they passed the law that allows (no demands) police to check people who might look "suspicious" to determine if they are legally in this country. Immigrants would be forced to carry their papers proving they are here legally. But in fact ANYONE could be stopped and asked for papers. I stopped carrying my birth certificate some time ago so I suppose I am vulnerable.

But I have been assured that won't happen because I do not "look" illegal. I suppose it is the light hair and blue eyes that gives me away. And yet the proponents of the law have insisted it will not lead to racial profiling. One question. How in God's name does a policeman determine that someone looks suspicious except by the color of their skin and their accent?

All this harkens back to the good old days of Nazism and Aparteid where those who were different had to label themselves by wearing a gold star of David or by carrying their papers. Even though this law has created a national firestorm, polls indicated that about 70% of my fellow Arizonans think it is a good law.

Some of this stems from violence along the border and the heavy influx of illegals into the state which has gotten folks on edge. Certainly the federal government needs to step up and deal with the border issues so that craziness like we are seeing out of Arizona will not happen.

On a related note, the genius astro-physicist Stephen Hawking has indicated he believes their are alien cultures in space and if they come to visit earth they will not be coming in peace. Never fear, if that should happen, just come out to Arizona. If they try to get in here, we will throw their ugly alien butts in jail!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Race to the Trough

I wish I could claim this title but I got it from a friend, David Berliner. I use it because it so perfectly describes what is happening with education policy. President Obama and his education team were met with great anticipation a year ago. Most educators felt their long nightmare of NCLB would be over--that we would have a more enlightened approach to education. And to give credit where credit is due, they have changed the tone and been better listeners to the pain that folks in the field feel, but the thrust of their reforms look suspiciously like the ones of the last administration--more accountability, an emphasis on assessment, more charter schools and they have raised the ante by pushing measuring and rewarding teacher quality through test results.

The main push for education improvement lies in the "Race to the Top" efforts. This will award over 4 billion dollars to states that meet the criteria for the money to create innovation. The implication of the requirements is that states must have laws and policies that reflect the expecations of the administration. They have traded the "stick" of the Bush administration (which threatened the removal of federal money if states did not comply) with the "carrot" of improved resources. Given the current status of education funding in most states with draconian cuts being passed by money strapped legislatures, it is little wonder that forty states went after the competitive money.

Now 4 billion seems like a lot, but when divided across a number of states it starts to diminish in impact. And when one considers that it represents less than one percent of current education funding, the administration has been able to wring a lot of change out of people for a little investment. It reminds me of the old joke where a guy approaches a young lady and offers her a $100 to sleep with him. She is very insulted and says, "what do you mean? How could you think I would sleep with you for a lousy $100. What do you think I am?" The man replies, "I know what you are, we are just negotiating the price." Well, it would appear that the price for buying the compliance of states on continuing the policy of pushing education towards controlling and mechanistic solutions to educations's woes is four billion dollars. They know what we are, they have just established the price.

Meanwhile, is this likely to work? There is little arguement that better assessment and data systems are needed in education. But there is also scant evidence that charter schools are more effective than regular public schools. Some are, some aren't. And when it comes to pay for teacher performance, there is really a lot of evidence that it is counterproductive. Daniel Pink has just released a wonderful new book called "Drive" which deals with what motivates people. It would seem financial rewards are really not useful if workers are not making a resonsable salary and most teachers are not. Further, he cites a great deal of research that shows that if work is repetitive and simple, financial rewards can be effective. However, if the work is complex and requires creativity, they can actually undermine improved performance.

Now I happen to believe that teaching is a complex, creative act, so I question the assumptions that underlie performance pay. But now that I think of it, if policy makers are successful in driving education towards a stimulus-response model of learning as the increased emphasis on test results are doing, then education may well become a repetitive and simplistic act and the race to the top will succeed. However, it will succeed as a race to the top of a very low hill.