Michael Strong – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com Free Markets and Social Justice Wed, 15 Nov 2017 17:16:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/cropped-site-icon-BHL-32x32.png Michael Strong – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com 32 32 22756168 Creating Transformative Systems of Human Development http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/09/creating-transformative-systems-of-human-development/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/09/creating-transformative-systems-of-human-development/#comments Fri, 14 Sep 2012 14:00:52 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=3981 Systems for human development evolve based on the fitness characteristics of those systems relative to the environment in which they evolve.  The current teacher training system selects for students willing...

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Systems for human development evolve based on the fitness characteristics of those systems relative to the environment in which they evolve.  The current teacher training system selects for students willing to take education courses in order to obtain a teaching certificate.  They expect that a teaching certificate will give them a security.  But a different fitness landscape would result in a system that selected for different characteristics.

Only those behaviors which are rewarded will be adapted by the system as a whole.  In the existing dominant OS in which completion of course credits or high-stakes testing are the only metrics of value, then while individual teachers may provide some training in cultural capital, there will be no system wide-dissemination of that cultural capital.  Nor will there be systematic improvements in the training and development of specific forms of cultural capital nor in the performance art of transmitting these newly developed forms of cultural capital.  (Though religious schools with common norms or moral values, such as Catholic schools, have a de facto standard package of cultural capital distinct from that provided by the dominant OS).

Because most parents want their children to experience lifelong happiness and well-being, a system for human development anchored in parents’ subjective preferences would evolve diverse approaches to optimizing the lifelong happiness and well-being of young people.  Some will choose religious schools that academic elites consider inferior to their ideal conception of public schools.  Given the signal to noise ratio in the early stages of such a choice system, many such schools may well be inferior.

In addition, in a system with low barriers to entry, new educational models would evolve.  At the most banal level KIPP introduced innovations such as training inner city children to look adults in the eye when they speak to them.  I sometimes describe much of my “Socratic” work in middle schools as very laborious training in “Person A speaks, Person B listens, thinks, and then responds.”  Those who have not spent time with inner city students may not be aware of the importance of these elements of cultural capital.

The difference between the occasional one-off expertise of a brilliant teacher and the development of a scaleable system of replication for such pedagogical expertise is due to the creation of a brand that represents a system of quality control.  Jamie Escalante alone is Jaime Escalante.  If he has a protege, it is Jaime Escalante and protege.  But if Escalante had been able to create a year-long training program in how to teach mathematics, hand-picked his prospective teacher trainees, and then evaluated their level of expertise upon exit, then “customers” could have had some trust that graduates of the Escalante School had developed a certain degree of expertise that resembled that of Escalante himself.

The Montessori movement has grown because “Montessori” teachers have developed expertise that resembles that practiced by Maria Montessori.  Because “Montessori” is not trademarked, knowledgeable parents know that schools certified by AMI (Association Montessori International) or AMS (American Montessori Society) are held to the (different) respective standards of Montessori practice defined by each of those organizations.  A “Montessori” school that is neither AMI nor AMS certified may be an excellent school, but parents may wish to exercise additional due diligence to ascertain the quality of the schools’ program because they cannot rely on the branded quality control mechanisms of AMI and AMS.

Adam Smith noted that specialization and the consequent gains from trade depend on the extent of the market.  Because schools are infrequently selected, they have slow cycles of adaptation.  Many parents prefer to select one school for an entire K-12 career, or at least limit school switching to the transition to secondary school.  Schools make brand promises to parents that are expected to endure at some degree of consistency for thirteen years.  Often schools are de facto geographical local monopolies.  We should expect innovation in education to move slowly even in a completely parent-driven market.

Those schools that experience the most demand will expand into educational chains.  As such schools scale, as long as they are not required to hire licensed teachers they will spontaneously develop dedicated teacher training programs (aka “The Missing Institution”) that will allow them to pursue a path of continuous improvement in the transmission of cultural capital and the creation of meaning-based communities.

In order to have a market in education that supports innovative pedagogies it is important that the teachers trained in those innovative pedagogies have access to diverse job possibilities and career opportunities in diverse locations.  A brand such as “Escalante AP Math” that fits within the existing dominant operating system does not face such challenges of going to scale (if only he had been able to get funding to create his own teacher training center, that could license teachers to teach in public schools, and at which they could use federal funds for tuition).  Brands outside the dominant OS will need scale in order to finance distinctive teacher training programs.

At the level of U.S. policy, this leads me to favor minimally regulated tuition tax credits (including donation tax credits that allow third parties to contribute to scholarships).  The more narrowly “education” is defined the more likely it is that valuable forms of cultural capital and meaning-based community will not be developed and disseminated via entrepreneurial institutions.

Since the rise of mass prosperity in the past century coincides with the era of monopolistic control of education by governments, humanity has never had a large scale system in which human development is subject to entrepreneurial value creation and continuous improvement in a free enterprise system.  Was it a mistake to create government managed education systems around the world?  If the Soviet Union had conquered the world in the 1940s, the IT revolution as we know it would not have taken place.  Brilliant engineers in communist nations would have struggled to improve upon 1940s-era computing.  Small improvements would have been made.  But no one believes the Soviets could have created the iPhone.

Innovation in quality takes place in fitness landscapes in which quality is rewarded.  We know from the evolution of species and technology that cumulative incremental changes that are initially small ultimately result in dramatic transformations:  How did a cluster of light-sensitive cells becomes an eyeball over millions of generations?  How did Turing’s explorations in abstract logic in the 1930s become an iPhone?

Had the Soviet Union not fell, Samuelson would have continued to believe that the Soviet economy was successful until he died.  There is no way ex ante to prove that clusters of light-sensitive cells would evolve into eyeballs or that Turing’s papers in symbolic logic would evolve into handheld devices that provided instantaneous access to all information.  Can education become dramatically more effective once we break free from the legislatively enforced and financed dominant standard?

Given the pervasive malaise regarding the potential of education, most readers will remain doubtful.  But I am certain that we will see improvements in education as dramatic as improvements in technology have been.  And the poor will benefit the most, just as they always do when the powers of entrepreneurial value creation have been liberated.

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Creating Scaleable Innovations to Help the Poor http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/09/creating-scaleable-innovations-to-help-the-poor/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/09/creating-scaleable-innovations-to-help-the-poor/#comments Thu, 13 Sep 2012 14:00:02 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=3978 The traditional interpretation of human capital is formal education leading to increased earning power.  But investments in human capital, in the broadest sense, are resources devoted in the present in...

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The traditional interpretation of human capital is formal education leading to increased earning power.  But investments in human capital, in the broadest sense, are resources devoted in the present in the development of a human being that result in greater lifelong happiness and well-being.  Improved test score performance and degrees from accredited institutions are merely subsets of the beneficial results from human capital investments.

For instance, an investment that reduced the probability of premature violent death, teen pregnancy, incarceration, drug and alcohol addiction, etc. is an investment in human capital.  There is evidence that participation in some religious communities reduces the incidence of criminal behavior as well as various teen pathologies.  Investments that increase such participation increase in human capital.  Some religious communities also have better health statistics than the norm.  Participation in such communities is yet another form of human capital investment.

Although academic elites routinely ridicule (or are horrified by) religious schools, those with Rawlsian predilections might transcend their loathing of such schools on the grounds that they improve the lives of the poor.  Very few of those who graduate from high school, marry, and get a job will experience chronic poverty.  If a religious school reduced the probability that a child would be among the chronically poor, it ought to be regarded as a wise choice.  (Research on voucher recipients selected at random from lotteries, most of whom attended religious schools, shows significant increases in college attendance among low income African-American students).

Martin Seligman, the leader of the positive psychology movement, notes:

The prevalence of depression among young people is shockingly high world-wide. By some estimates, depression is about ten times more common now than it was fifty years ago. . . . Depression now ravages teenagers: fifty years ago, the average age of first onset was about thirty. Now the first onset is below age fifteen. . . .

The epidemic of depression is part of a broader trend in the collapsing of adolescent well-being since the 1950s.  While deaths due to communicable diseases and injuries have decreased, suicides, homicides, substance abuse, pregnancy, venereal disease, and eating disorders have increased.

Meanwhile, William Damon, Director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence,

Research in the PYD (Positive Youth Development) developmental tradition has taken seriously the role of moral and religious beliefs in shaping children’s identities and perspectives on the future, and research has demonstrated a strong relationship between religious faith and at-risk children staying out of trouble.

As positive psychologists continue to validate ancient moral traditions (Consider Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom), we should take seriously the notion that purposiveness and a moral tradition is crucial to adolescent happiness and well-being.

With respect to earning capacity, many high paying jobs are sales jobs and/or require high-level presentation skills.  Neither sales nor presentation skills are typically developed in traditional education.  They could be developed by a different approach to education – which would be another investment in human capital not measured by test score and degrees.  Reliability, punctuality, manners, responsibility, initiative, etc. are traits that are valuable in the market place.

Many entrepreneurs and tech industry leaders are high school or college drop-outs, including Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and Steve Jobs along with dozens of less well-known billionaire entrepreneurs on the Forbes list.  “The Millionaire Next Door” cites research showing that the average American individual with a net worth of more than a million dollars was not a particularly good student – the most common profile is a “B” or a “C” student who owns a small business.  Most are not members of the educated elite.

Despite these facts, some believe that correlations between income and education, success in school-as-we-know-it is crucial to professional success.  But when occupational licenses require educational credentials, the result is a system that legally mandates school as a prerequisite to professional success.  And occupational licensure has been growing for decades.  When all the tall-stalked dandelions are mowed down, after awhile “the empirical evidence” is that dandelion flowers tend to be low to the ground.  In addition, the ever-growing regulatory state favors big business.  Big business hires high-powered lawyers, accountants, and quants.  The result penalizes business leaders whose competitive advantage consists of integrity and community spiritedness.  Over time these selection effects will result in a world in which increasingly the empirical evidence shows that educational level correlates with income.  To what extent are such correlations an artifact of the regulatory state?  We’ll never know.

Perhaps a market in human development, combined with occupational freedom, might provide more opportunities and greater well-being for the poor than does a regulatory state with government schools that require that everyone “pass” algebra and world history.  Suppose:

  1.  The most powerful way to improve the lives of the next generation of the poor is by means of the effective transmission of valued cultural capital.
  2. The most important means of ensuring a greater degree of happiness and well-being in young people of all classes and ethnicities is by means of schools that provide a sense of meaning, purpose, and community.

Then an evolving system based on the preferences of parents which rewarded those educational entrepreneurs who do transmit valued cultural capital as well as creating schools based on meaning, purpose, and community will produce new forms of human development that more effectively achieve these goals.

Some educators are able to produce some outcomes more consistently than others.  Some of those educators will be able to transmit their ability to produce consistent outcomes to others.  In order for their work to scale with quality, they will need to create quality control systems that certify those teachers and schools which will also produce consistent outcomes.  These quality control systems will go by diverse brand names once we have a full-fledged market in education.  Because those brand names that produce consistent, desirable outcomes will receive more customers (students), they will grow.  Because they are growing, they will also receive more more financial support (capital investment in the case of for-profit entities, philanthropic support in the case of non-profit entities).  This will allow them to scale while also engaging in a process of continuous improvement and innovation with respect to their core competence.

This is the only means by which we will be able to scale and innovate systems that specialize in the development of “soft” skills, including design, creativity, entrepreneurship, relationship skills, “emotional intelligence,” personal responsibility, etc.  In culturally homogenous countries traditional cultural traits may be passed on by means of mass public education.  But in a large, culturally diverse country such as the U.S. in which cultural norms are diverse and changing, we need to develop systems that will allow for the most valuable forms of cultural capital to be transmitted and refined based on diverse parental preferences.

Tomorrow: Can markets in the technology of cultural capital provide improvements as dramatic as those we’ve seen in technology?

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Scaling Quality through “The Missing Institution” http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/09/scaling-quality-through-the-missing-institution/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/09/scaling-quality-through-the-missing-institution/#comments Wed, 12 Sep 2012 14:00:10 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=3974 Many people will acknowledge the existence of extraordinary teachers, such as Jaime Escalante (immortalized in the film “Stand and Deliver” as the teacher who created one of the best AP...

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Many people will acknowledge the existence of extraordinary teachers, such as Jaime Escalante (immortalized in the film “Stand and Deliver” as the teacher who created one of the best AP calculus programs nationwide in an East L.A. school).  Because none of these educators have succeeded in scaling their successes, the conventional wisdom is that they are idiosyncratic pedagogical geniuses and that their work cannot be replicated.

An alternative interpretation for the failure to replicate pedagogical genius might focus on the fact that there are no institutions in our society that support the replication of pedagogical success.  Teaching is fundamentally a performance art – real time interactions  in chaotic and complex human situations.  There are no institutions in our society that provide for an environment in which master practitioners of this performance art systematically transfer their expertise.

Instead, academic departments of education have an effective monopoly on teacher training.  In order to become a professor of education one must complete a Ph.D. and publish a series of research articles.  The ability to produce academic research articles is not related to the ability to practice a pedagogical performance art.  The analogy that I find compelling is musicianship – while there is nothing wrong with the academic study of music, one would never imagine that academic courses taught by music scholars provide the optimal path to becoming a performing artist.  We don’t require Placido Domingo or Adele to take courses taught by music Ph.D.s in order to perform.

There are brief student-teaching assignments at the end of many teaching credentialing programs, but they are the lost stepchild of an education department – one doesn’t climb the academic ladder for creating a better student teacher program.  Moreover, even these programs are designed and controlled by education professors rather than by virtuoso teachers.

Imagine, instead, if Escalante had been a great martial arts teacher.  He might have established his own school.  Students from around the world would have flocked to learn directly from him.  Gradually, some of his best students would open up their own schools.  They would prominently display their lineage, the fact that they had studied directly with Escalante.  People who were interested in becoming serious about a particular martial arts form would ask around to discover who were the best teachers.  Those schools could charge a premium.  Sometimes such schools would trace their lineage back through several generations of great teachers.

I describe the fact that there is no Escalante School of Mathematics Teaching as “The Missing Institution.”  In the absence of government and academic domination of education for the past century, we would have seen the creation of many such training centers founded by brilliant educators, each designed to transmit their artistry.

Indeed, the Montessori and Waldorf educational systems were each designed by inspired educators whose work has existed outside of the system for nearly a century, despite considerable hostility from the establishment.  Both have their own teacher training and school accreditation systems.  This demonstrates that distinctive pedagogies spontaneously generate distinctive teacher training systems when they are able to do so.  “The Missing Institution” is not missing in the case of Montessori and Waldorf (though in each case the training institutions are imperfect and financially precarious).

KIPP Academies succeed in part because of a year-long internal administrator’s training program.  Thus despite the fact that they are working completely within the dominant standard, they have found it necessary to create a small version of “The Missing Institution” with respect to educational leadership.  Hi Tech High is a celebrated charter school focusing on project-based learning.  It is unique in that it has been allowed to license teachers through an internal training system – it too has been spontaneously driven to create “The Missing Institution.”  The Comprehensive School Mathematics Program (CSMP) was a well-funded public school mathematics innovation in the 1970s that was dropped by public schools because it required too much teacher development.  Its developers have since created a chain of private mathematics teaching centers where they can ensure quality by means of more extensive training of teachers – yet another example of the spontaneous creation of “The Missing Institution.”

The absence of “The Missing Institution” has been especially harmful for children whose parents are least likely to model intellectual engagement at home.  These are the children who do not have access to the crucial cultural capital needed to succeed in life.  It is critical that we create pipelines of talent to improve the lives of those children.  Technological innovations in education will have the least significant impact on underprivileged children precisely because the human relationships that are key to motivation, meaning, and dignity cannot be transmitted by technology alone.  “The Missing Institution” is essential to transmit crucial cultural capital across the boundaries of class and ethnicity.

I’m acutely aware of the absence of this institution because of the discrepancy between what I can achieve myself with students by means of classroom conversation and what the average teacher can achieve.  If I’m allowed to identify intelligent people and train them for a year, that then I can promise significant improvements in SAT critical reading scores and AP humanities test performance among underprivileged populations.  Whereas education majors typically score the lowest on SAT and GRE exams, there are countless intelligent, underemployed humanities majors and mid-career professionals who could be great Socratic educators given adequate training.  Most such people find such careers emotionally rewarding and intellectually stimulating when they are able to work in a school that supports the perfection of their craft.

Measurable academic performance aside, Socratic Practice amounts to focused development of the prefrontal cortex,  “implicated in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making and moderating social behavior.”  What institutional systems exist that would develop, refine, and disseminate these practices to those students who most needed them?  Suppose there were an entire set of habits, attitudes, and practices that could be developed that were especially important for the long-term well-being of inner city children from dysfunctional families.  Where, exactly, would people learn how to develop, refine, and transmit these traits?

In 1988 Charles Reavis published a short book titled “Extraordinary Educators:  Lessons in Leadership,” in which he noted that some educators consistently outperformed others:  A cheerleading squad in Kentucky that repeatedly won the national championship, a debate team in Texas that repeatedly won the state championship, etc.  How is it that some educators consistently out-performed the norm by a wide standard?  His answer was that these educators (who, incidentally, almost all excelled in coaching extracurricular activities rather than teaching academics) held their students to very high standards, they clearly cared about their students, and they were capable of coaching expert level performance in the given activity and provided real-time feedback to their students in order to coach great performances.

Reavis’ research rings true to my own experience.  What is most relevant in this context is the critical role that The Missing Institution would play in training others how to provide the real-time feedback needed to provide expert level performances.  A choral teacher can’t allow the sopranos to sing flat – she needs to correct a flat note IMMEDIATELY.  Likewise a great Socratic Practice teacher can’t allow one student to intimidate another student into shutting up – such behaviors must be stopped IMMEDIATELY.  If we are going to coach impulse control and develop the prefrontal cortex in a systematic way, we need to have individuals who care about the children, set high standards, and coach impulse control in real time.  In a room full of hormone-laden and animated teens, this is a complex performance art that is not cultivated by means of enrolling in education courses at a university.

Tomorrow:  How can we create an educational system that helps all young people achieve their full potential?

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Case Study: Socratic Practice http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/09/case-study-socratic-practice/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/09/case-study-socratic-practice/#comments Tue, 11 Sep 2012 14:00:11 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=3972 I began my experience as an educator training teachers in Socratic Seminars in Chicago Public Schools for Mortimer Adler’s Paideia Project in the late 1980s. Paideia was a public school...

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I began my experience as an educator training teachers in Socratic Seminars in Chicago Public Schools for Mortimer Adler’s Paideia Project in the late 1980s. Paideia was a public school reform movement that aspired to give poor children as high quality an education as more fortunate children had.  The slogan was Robert M. Hutchins’ “the best education for the best is the best education for all.” Socratic Seminars – text-based open-ended discussions – were a deliberate attempt to integrate higher-level thinking skills as well as meaning and purpose into public school curricula where they had been lacking.

From roughly 1988 to 1996 I spent much of my time training thousands of public school teachers to lead Socratic Seminars. Despite the opportunity to continue working as a public school consultant making $2,000+ per day, I became depressed over the outcomes.  While a few teachers were capable of leading rigorous Socratic discussions, most were not.  I realized that I could not ensure high quality intellectual development among students by means of providing brief in-service trainings of teachers at public schools.

Sadly, even with more in-depth training most existing teachers cannot be trained properly:  Another Socratic Seminar teacher trainer was named the administrator for a $10 million grant to Timken High School in the 1990s, at the time the largest single philanthropic gift to a public school.  Although the terms of the grant stipulated that it could only be spent on educational improvements, and not bricks and mortar, this man quit well before he had finished spending the money.  He realized that the teachers, many of whom were hard-working and conscientious, had never experienced intellectual inquiry themselves.  With no power to hire, fire, or promote staff, he realized that no amount of spending on teacher training would result in the necessary improvements.

Meanwhile programs that I supervised personally were successful. In an inner-city Anchorage public school I created a program in which minority female students gained as much on the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal in four months of Socratic Practice as the average American student gains in four years of high school.  Later at a private Montessori school in Palo Alto, I created a middle school program in which students averaged 100 point annual gains on the SAT vs. 15-30 point annual gains for the average American high school student.

I received supportive letters from leading educational experts, including Project Zero founders Howard Gardner and David Perkins, MacArthur “Genius” Award winning educator Deborah Meier, 1994 National Teacher of the Year Elaine Perkins, brain-based learning experts Renate Numella and Geoffrey Caine, authentic assessment expert Grant Wiggins, and others.

One of the differences between the highly successful projects that I oversaw personally and the inconsistent outcomes in most public school implementations was due to the transition from “Socratic Seminars” to “Socratic Practice.” “Socratic Seminars” were weekly events in which teachers led a discussion. By contrast, “Socratic Practice” was the daily practice of the prerequisites to intellectual dialogue:  Close textual analysis, group dynamics, and the habit of taking ideas seriously (a trait that defines “intellectual” but which is only irregularly encountered in K-12 student populations).

In collaboration with colleagues in Alaska, I had discovered that children without educated parents often lacked the social, emotional, and intellectual skills needed to engage in classroom intellectual dialogue.  This creation of a learning culture rather than merely a classroom activity inspired my book, The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice.  It is misleading to describe the issue as one of skill development:  The process of holding students accountable for their own moral beliefs and, even more importantly, getting students to hold each other accountable for acting in integrity with their beliefs, goes well beyond “skill.”  The goal is to transform culture by means of instilling a new set of interpersonal norms.

While it may sound unexpected that such a focus on interpersonal norms could result in improved academic performance, it is worth considering the extent to which much of secondary school in the U.S. resembles Beavis and Butthead.  At the most banal level, subcultures that watch less television tend to perform more highly than do those that watch more television.  Consider that on an international comparison of test scores (PISA), the U.S. ranks 20th among OECD nations.  But the average score of students from U.S. homes with only one television set would rank us third in the world.  Almost 80% of American children live in homes with three or more television sets, and scores from children in those homes are almost 40 points lower than are those from children from one television homes – a score difference that is roughly the same magnitude as the difference in scores between 20th-ranked U.S. and top-ranked Finland (see Table 2 here).  Simply creating a school in the U.S. at which students take learning seriously can result in significant improvements.

In 2002, after several years creating private schools, I had the opportunity to create a charter school based on Socratic Practice in northern New Mexico. The students there had never taken an Advanced Placement course; indeed, a representative of University of New Mexico-Taos told me point-blank that northern New Mexico students were incapable of passing an AP exam.

Through daily Socratic Practice by the second year of operation our school ranked 143rd best public high school in the U.S. on Newsweek’s Challenge Index.  Our third year we ranked 36th, with a pass rate (score of “3” or higher) on AP exams that was more than double that of the national average.  The schools more highly ranked were either magnet schools or in elite suburbs.

The statewide AP coordinator of New Mexico hired my faculty and me to train teachers from across the state. Parents moved to our area to enroll their children in our school at Moreno Valley High School.

Nonetheless, I was forced out of the school because I had never obtained an administrator’s license.  When NM charter school legislation had originally been signed by Governor Gary Johnson, no such license had been required.  But after I founded the school Governor Bill Richardson signed new legislation requiring all charter school principals to be licensed.  In order to enter an administrative licensure program in New Mexico, I would have needed to have had seven years’ experience as a licensed teacher.  Despite my fifteen years in K-12 education, I had never been a licensed teacher.  Appeals to the State Board of Education fell on deaf ears.

Contrast the existing world of education reform with that of technology:  Steve Jobs as a 12 year old kid picks up the phone and calls Bill Hewlitt.  He spends the next few years learning at HP, then goes to Reed, drops out, and goes to India.  He later sees the mouse and the GUI interface at Xexox Parc.  Xerox fails to develop the technology, Jobs and Wozniak do, and the rest is history.

In order to create an innovation, Jobs did not need to persuade professors of anything.  He didn’t have to ask any governments to change any rules.  All he needed was an idea, a partner, some capital, and customers.  Most business people and engineers ridiculed the personal computer for a long time.  If Jobs had had to get permission from professors, governments, and leading experts at IBM, Apple would not exist.  Ex ante no peer reviewed journal would have accepted an article showing that a college drop-out hippy would create the world’s greatest computer company.

Tomorrow:  How can we scale the work of individual educators?  And what institutions are missing that prevent us from doing so?

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Have We Reached “The End of History” with Respect to What Education Can Achieve? http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/09/have-we-reached-the-end-of-history-with-respect-to-what-education-can-achieve/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/09/have-we-reached-the-end-of-history-with-respect-to-what-education-can-achieve/#comments Mon, 10 Sep 2012 19:07:05 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=3966 Whereas once people believed that education would change the world, now people across the political spectrum tend to be skeptical.  Academic performance remains stagnant despite a threefold increase in per...

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Whereas once people believed that education would change the world, now people across the political spectrum tend to be skeptical.  Academic performance remains stagnant despite a threefold increase in per pupil spending over the past forty years.  We’ve tried thousands of new methods, pedagogies, textbooks, software, testing regimes, teacher training programs, etc. within the existing constraints without progress.  Diverse thinkers (Plato, Rousseau, Kant, Jefferson, Dewey, etc.) in the western tradition believed that education could be transformative.  The current zeitgeist is that we’ve reached the limits of what education can achieve.  Were the earlier dreams of philosophers, humanists, and educators simply wrong about the potential of education?

By contrast, technological innovation over since the Enlightenment has been stunning:  In 1870 the cost of cotton clothing was one percent of what it was in 1770.  The cost of computing power is one ten-billionth (1/10,000,000,000) of what it was in 1950.  Items that are routinely dumped at Goodwill in the U.S. today, such as books, clothing, plates, utensils, tools, toys, etc. were only available to elites in 1800.

Perhaps the field of human development is unlike technological development.  Perhaps it is impossible for significant innovations to take place in human development.  Indeed, because of the stagnation in “education,” most observers believe that significant improvements in educational performance are not possible.

Here I will present an educational innovator’s case that:

  1.  Significant improvements in educational performance are possible.
  2. Government control over K-12 education, teacher training, and occupational licensing prevents innovations from being developed.  Government control also prevents improvements from scaling.
  3. With more freedom, we will gradually see significant improvements in human development.  As with technological innovations, these will become affordably available to all.
  4. Existing school choice legislation, such as charter schools, while positive, are not adequate to release these innovative forces in education.

To understand the potential of innovation, we must first understand how government domination of education acts as a dominant operating system that prevents important innovations from scaling.

State-managed K-12 education is the norm around the world.  In a long process that began in Prussia in the 18th century, governments have increasingly taken a dominant role in K-12 education.  By the 1930s, a majority of children ages 6-17 in the U.S. were forced to attend government-managed schools, staffed by government certified teachers.  Government domination of K-12 education is a feature of society in nations around the world.

One of the early justifications for school choice in the U.S., from Milton Friedman (1950) through Chubb and Moe (1990) was that it would result in greater educational innovation. After twenty years of the charter school movement, one of the most striking features of school choice is the relative absence of innovation.  Other observers have noted that entirely private education is not particularly innovative either. Should we conclude that school choice will not, in fact, result in significant innovations that will benefit the poor?

In order to understand the paucity of innovation in charter and private education, we need to explain the ways in which the existing system acts as a dominant standard. The default educational system consists of:

A. Grade-level curricula organized by discipline (math, science, language arts, social studies, etc.) along with textbooks, state standards, and high stakes tests aligned with these standards.

B. State-licensed personnel who are authorized to play specific roles in this system (pre-school teacher, middle school mathematics teacher, high school language arts teacher, principal, etc.)

This system, with a few small variations, is legally required in all public and charter schools in the U.S.  In some states elements of this system are also required of private schools.  In most countries other than the U.S. state-mandated curricula are required in both public and private schools.  For this reason, and to simplify exposition, I’ll focus on U.S. education.  It is worth noting, however, that most school choice experiments outside the U.S., such as that of Sweden, Holland, and New Zealand were implemented within the boundaries of national curriculum and teacher certification requirements:  a bit of glasnost, but not quite a free market.

Even in U.S. states where private education is relatively unregulated (only minimal health and safety standards), the foregoing system acts as a dominant operating system that constrains innovation.  Microsoft’s “monopoly” in the field of computer operating systems in the 1990s was neither as extensive nor was it government subsidized and legislatively enforced the way that government educational monopolies have been.  Apple and Linux faced a level playing field vis-a-vis Microsoft in the 1990s in comparison to the challenges faced by small private schools outside the government’s dominant OS.

A private school attempting to provide an education outside the bounds of the standard operating system must build everything from the ground up: create its own curricula, educational materials, evaluation systems, strategies for college admissions, and most importantly, its own teacher training system.  Therefore, most private schools use standard components, so to speak, rather than innovate.

Despite these constraints, private schools have been responsible for a few key innovations, including the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate systems. These are arguably the most important innovations that have grown to scale in the past fifty years. Charter schools have also innovated to a limited extent, within the boundaries of the standard, with KIPP Academies being the best known.

Consider the fact that just four companies – Harcourt Educational Measurement, CTB McGraw-Hill, Riverside Publishing (a Houghton Mifflin company), and NCS Pearson – produce 96% of standardized tests given at the state level.  Hitherto almost all discussions of “school choice” have taken place within the boundaries defined by these corporations.  But why should we accept those boundaries as the definitive standards for human capital development for all American children?

In the existing system of high-stakes testing, it is a high risk move for any educator to devote resources to such approaches given the fact that students might score worse on high stakes tests (and even most private school parents base their judgments of academic excellence on conventional high stakes testing).  Despite a few promising trials here and there, scaling such systems is almost impossible in the face of the dominant operating system.

What about the development of intellectual skills for which there are no widely recognizable metrics, such as programming or design?  Programming and design abilities are arguably two of the most important 21st century “New Economy” skill sets – yet they are almost entirely absent from the K-12 curriculum.  High profile individuals have promoted such programs in schools – most famously Seymour Papert’s Logo programming, which was deployed as a pedagogy of creativity.  More recently there has been a movement with leading figures in the world of design promoting more design thinking in schools (see here and Luma Institute).  But after promoting creative problem solving through Logo programming for decades, Papert wrote “Why School Reform Is Impossible.”  In essence, Papert discovered, as the promoters of design thinking will discover, that it is impossible to introduce high-quality, large-scale reforms into a system in which all of the incentives continue to redirect educators to prepare students for conventional tests in (mostly) conventional ways.

The situation is much worse for attempts to scale the high-quality development of non-academic abilities:  moral, social, relationship, spiritual, aesthetic, etc. qualities cannot be brought to scale in conventional education because the existing incentive structure does not reward educators who systematically develop them.  (And they can all be developed:  consider extracurricular and adult systems for the transmission of athletic ability, musical ability, “personal growth” systems, yoga and meditation, manners and decorum, etc.)  Malcolm Gladwell’s notion that 10,000 hours of practice are required to achieve world-class abilities applies in diverse skill domains, including the foregoing.

What if the most important innovations to help the poor required the creation of educational programs outside the dominant standard?

The post Have We Reached “The End of History” with Respect to What Education Can Achieve? appeared first on Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

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