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The Education Community Can’t Read or Research

Cardiff Giant, 19th Century Hoax

The education community has been swindled, hoodwinked, bamboozled – and what it says about the education debate’s commitment to truth is damning.

The Hoax

On July 29, Alexander Russo published a post on his This Week in Education blog called “Television: “Classroom Intervention” Appears This Fall.” It detailed A&E’s announcement that a reality show would debut this September exposing professional interventions for struggling teachers.

News Flash: There’s no show. It’s fake. And the ed community swallowed it right up.

Claus from publicschoolinsights.org was the first to bite:

“This could be very good, or it could be very bad. Depends on who’s creating the intervention, I guess.

Teachers TV in the UK offers an example of how it could work–though in 15-minute segments”

I was surprised that an ed commentary regular took the bait despite the post being listed under the category of “Made-Up News” – that detail went by the wayside. So did the lack of a link, perhaps to a page on A&E’s site, that would have more fully described the show’s premise and goals. That didn’t matter to Claus (and surely many other readers who didn’t bother to comment), who took it as gospel – despite being unverified – and went on with the day.

I chimed in, laying a foundation for my post-to-be and hoping to encourage contributions from others (which didn’t happen):

“From reading teacher-to-teacher discussions on blogs, chats, and events like the weekly Twitter #edchat, I had the impression that all teachers were motivated, future-thinking “lifelong learners” – along with most of their colleagues.

That A&E has rounded up a few teachers in need of improvement will be a difficult reality for many of the education cult leaders to deny.”

Then I posted.

The Natives Are Restless – and Bad at Research

Much is made about “digital natives” – the generation who grew up with broadband internet, fast computers, iPods, iPhones, iEverything – and their ability to multi-task, conduct in-depth research and create media. Some, like Mark Bauerlein in “The Dumbest Generation,” have ripped holes in theories that digital natives use these tools to increase their knowledge and productivity at a faster clip than non-natives. Others have more generally criticized the natives as familiar with technology, but sloppy with its use.

Study after study confirms that students fail to examine information found on the internet, follow up appropriate links/citations, or read beyond the first hit in Google. What the education community omits is that they – teachers, administrators, scholars, professors, policy wonks – are, for the most part, as careless as students when it comes to reading and researching online.

Studies Show…

Emily Alpert, an excellent education writer (and there aren’t many) from San Diego, Tweeted a link to a ReadWriteWeb piece about this problem. From “So-Called “Digital Natives” Not Media Savvy, New Study Shows”:

“A new study coming out of Northwestern University, discovered that college students have a decided lack of Web savvy, especially when it comes to search engines and the ability to determine the credibility of search results. Apparently, the students favor search engine rankings above all other factors. The only thing that matters is that something is the top search result, not that it’s legit.”

They give it a quick read and moved on without thinking twice:

“During the study, one of the researchers asked a study participant, “What is this website?” The student answered, “Oh, I don’t know. The first thing that came up.”

That exchange sums up the overall results from this study: many students trusted in rankings above all else. In fact, a quarter of the students, when assigned information-seeking tasks, said they chose a website because – and only because – it was the first search result.

Only 10% of the students made mention of the site’s author or that author’s credentials while completing tasks. However, in reviewing the screen-capture footage of those respondents, the researchers found that even in this supposedly savvy minority, none actually followed through to verify the identification or qualifications of the site’s authors.”

For the millionth time, kids are sloppy with internet research (though they’re slightly more skeptical when it comes to Wikipedia).

I decided to mix the findings in these articles with the response to Russo’s post to see how closely the ed community actually reads the information it discusses. That night I wrote a post called “Teacher Interventions, Education Policy and Common Sense.” The first part of the post opined on the A&E show and the questions it raises in the context of a seminal problem in public education: that the ed community doesn’t always get the relationship between the forest and the trees.

And readers gobbled it up. Stephen Downes was the first to comment. He thinly criticized my claim to read a lot of ed content, explained that he disagrees with the entire post “point for point,” and that he “won’t bother with the point by point refutation,” case closed. Had he clicked the link to Russo’s original piece – or Googled, or bothered to verify any of it in any way – he would have seen that the content was fake. Instead, indignation and automatic disagreement took priority to informed debate.

Swing and a miss, Mr. Downes. It was an eephus, not a fastball.

Stephen’s response came within 15 minutes of my post. I wanted to encourage him, and anyone reading the post/comment debate after him, to take another look. I replied:

“I know you follow a tremendous number of sources – your RSS feed compilation is more extensive than any I’ve ever seen in education.

As always, you and everyone else can take my word for it, disregard it completely or behave somewhere in between (which is probably best). Then we can discuss the differences and see what’s true and what isn’t.”

I gently pushed for a re-examination – including undermining my own credibility in a subtle way – but that didn’t happen. It rarely happens in the online education debates; instead, folks tend to  go-go-go, pushing their agenda – no homework, smaller class sizes, charter school expansion, etc. – with blinders on. But occasionally, someone takes the time to do all that research, fact-finding and verification they spend their careers  preaching to the digital natives.

At least he (and the friends/colleagues I personally linked my post to) and the other readers aren’t alone: Russo’s hoax grew tiny little legs. On Joanne Jacobs’ site, “Teaching Badly on TV” got a couple comments.

Kim Caise, Our Hero: She Trusted, But Verified

In the Northwestern study (Trust Online: Young Adults’ Evaluation of Web Content, available at the International Journal of Communication), 0 out of 102 did what we’d consider complete research, despite students  (presumably) trying to do their best. I started writing this piece when my post, “Teacher Interventions, Education Policy and Common Sense” hit 102 views. 1 out of those 102 – Kim Caise, who writes about education technology – followed up what she’d read and commented:

“As I visited the website you mentioned regarding the upcoming ‘Classroom Intervention’ show. The category for the post is ‘made up news’ and some of the other posts in that category by the author indicate the posts were fake and actually made up. Seeing that there isn’t any discussion or mention of the show on A&E’s website, I tend to believe that this show is actually made up as well.”

Here’s what Kim did:

  • She read the text closely and with a bit of skepticism;
  • Followed the link to Alexander Russo’s original entry to reference it with my post;
  • Read Russo’s entry, including the category titles, which she followed to place his original “Intervention” post in context;
  • Researched A&E’s website (and probably Google as a whole) to verify;
  • Put together the available evidence to form a conclusion (in this case, that some of us were full of it)
  • Notified the community and added to the debate by leaving a descriptive comment.

In short, Ms. Caise did exactly what the ed community preaches to digital natives, while the balance of readers dropped the ball.

To Lie or Not to Lie

Once I took a class that was filled with the types  those concerned about the quality of higher education lament: mindless neo-hippies, illogical diversophiles (whose lives, paradoxically, are anything but diverse), professional protesters (who seldom grasped either side of an issue) and the well-meaning smart kids who’d encountered too few good teachers. Most had tunnel vision with regard to most complex social/political issues, so when I had an opportunity to read something to the class, I chose a short letter about the lynching of Zachariah Walker.

I edited the letter to make it anonymous in terms of time, place and demographics, though it was clear that a black man had been lynched for killing a white man. I asked a few questions at the end that gauged what the class thought about the letter. They expressed with confidence that it was about a black man being lynched in the deep South in the 19th century and that the letter-writer was a black man, too. Had to be, said one, because no one else could have understood the complexities of the issue – what happened, why, what it said about the community – the way a black person could.

Walker was lynched in Coatesville, Pennsylvania in 1911 – both details were tiny surprises to the other students. And the letter was written by a white reverend. It was the first time I’d seen a number of people have that blank, 5-second “I’ve just realized that I’ve totally misunderstood this issue to the detriment of myself and others” look.

After the class I talked with the professor – with whom I talked frequently, so we were candid and friendly – about my bait’n'switch. I thought it was harmless and perhaps would push a student to a stark realization about how they process, usually without enough consideration, complex issues. She thought that it was a mistake and that in terms of teaching strategy, creating skepticism might have negative consequences down the road.

I’ve never made up my mind on this issue (which is a good discussion for another post, probably on another site). I see the merits of both sides, but I’ve leaned slightly – very, very slightly – toward the position that a refresher on skepticism is a valuable thing when it’s infrequent and about something significant.

Significant, like students, teachers, and the rest of the education community not knowing how to read or research properly.

What Can We Do?

This is not a scientifically rigorous study. It’s not longitudinal and it’s not exhaustive. It is, in my opinion, representative of the sloppy – and downright lazy – approaches to the education debate that we see in too many comment threads and too many back-and-forth arguments.

And what’s worse is that it exposes the lack of commitment the ed community has to ensuring serious debate and the pursuit of truth.

The moral of the story is that progressive debate in education – and any other field – requires a bit of care. It’s hard and it’s time-consuming, but professional responsibility dictates that we do it.

We aren’t perfect. For example, the original Tweeted article cited University of Chicago students as subjects rather than University of Illinois – Chicago students and I re-Tweeted it without catching the error. Mistakes happen. But if teachers, administrators and policymakers are going to maintain credibility and engage in productive debate, they need to practice what they preach.

Trust, but verify.

Public Education Discussion on RFC Radio, Wednesday, June 17, 10pm EST

There will be an hour of talk radio dedicated to discussing the general state of public education in the US airing tonight, Wednesday, June 17th, at 10pm EST on RFCradio on Dr. Melissa Clouthier’s “The Right Doctor” show.

The Right Doctor has an exciting guest for the evening – me – and we’ll be talking about all sorts of topics related to education: a bit of legislation, some teaching, some local school administration/governance.

You can listen to the show by going to www.rfcradio.com and clicking ‘Listen.’

There will also be a live chat as the show airs – I’ll be in the room, along with the Doctor and many others, to discuss elements of the show or any related topic that comes up. You can access the chat by going to www.rfcradio.com/chat .

See you there – and if you can’t make it, I’ll link to the podcast [which includes about 15 minutes of additional content] when it’s available.

RFC Radio - Radio for Conservatives

Wishing the Forum for Education and Democracy’s “Will We Really?” Campaign a Short Life

A teaser:

“If I thought for a second that this Forum was an objective, non-partisan opportunity to discuss problems in public education instead of an ideological pow-wow, I would likely participate.

Again, thanks for the heads up – and I look forward to any more announcements you might have. Please tell Ms. Darling-Hammond, Ms. Meier and Mr. Noguera that I said hi.”

I receive many e-mails a day with press releases, requests for exposure, requests for help/organization/administration/web design – lots of things. I can’t always oblige, but I appreciate them. They keep me informed and alert me to blips on the massive radar of public education that I might otherwise miss.

And some of these notices are garbage. Well, not the notices/press releases themselves, but the events and initiatives they describe. The PR firms almost always do an excellent job.

Consider the following from the Forum for Education & Democracy, which is introducing a campaign called “Will We Really?” My e-mail response is after the jump.

NEW NATIONAL CAMPAIGN URGES OBAMA ADMINISTRATION AND THE PUBLIC TO IMPROVE PUBLIC EDUCATION

January 6, 2009 (Washington, DC) – Just days before President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office, a major education group is launching a national web-based campaign that challenges all Americans to transform the optimism of the election season into the promise of collective action to improve public education.

“Our goal is to build on the “Yes We Can” hopefulness of the Obama campaign, address the shared anxiety about our uncertain future, and channel both sets of feelings into actions that will help support our nation’s schools,” said Sam Chaltain, National Director of the Forum for Education & Democracy, which is sponsoring the campaign.

A short web film, an homage to the “Yes We Can” will.i.am-produced video that has been viewed nearly 15 million times on YouTube, sets in motion a national petition drive, available at www.willwereally.com, in which all signers commit to work with President Obama to honor four promises that must be fulfilled if we are serious about supporting young people and public schools:

1. Every child deserves a 21st Century education.

To honor America’s ongoing commitment to a democratic way of life, we must provide all young people with a high-quality, free education in schools that are designed to help students develop the skills and abilities they need to exercise a powerful voice in shaping their own lives — and our nation’s future.

2. Every community deserves an equal chance.

To honor America’s founding promise of “liberty and justice for all,” we must provide equal access to a high-quality education to all young people, regardless of their family’s money, race or power.

3. Every child deserves a well-supported teacher.

To honor America’s commitment to its public schools, we must ensure that all young people have the same opportunity to learn from well-prepared, well-supported teachers, who are in turn empowered to exercise their professional judgment, and not just follow a script, when it comes to helping students learn.

4. Every child deserves high-quality health care.

To honor America’s responsibility to take care of its youngest citizens – and to acknowledge the myriad out-of-school forces that impact a child’s capacity to learn – we must ensure that all young people are free from want, and have access to high-quality health care.

To encourage action on the local level, the Forum provides a list of easy steps people can undertake individually and at the community level in support of each promise.

There’s more, but I’ll spare you. What I pasted above is the tofu and soy-flakes [meat and potatoes didn't seem appropriate]. Here’s my e-mail response:

Thanks for the heads-up here, I appreciate it a great deal. It’s not easy to stay in the loop – even with the internet – without being in one of those policy centers like New York City or Washington.

But I’m going to pass on this one other than posting the press release [and this e-mail] on my website. This initiative is tripe.

Please share that, along with the following opinions, with the folks at the Forum for Education and Democracy.

Here’s a bullet-point review of the initiative’s four core principles:

1. Every child deserves a 21st Century education. The rhetoric in support of that point is baseless, useless and unclear. FfE&D hasn’t a clue what a “21st Century education” is – and hot air about a “powerful voice” means even less.

Stop that.

2. Every community deserves an equal chance. That’s one we all agree on, and I’ve yet to meet a serious thinker in education, on a large or small scale, who thinks otherwise.

The bit about “power” may work well in a college freshman’s Sociology 101 paper – or perhaps in an introduction to a Teachers College Press book, if we throw in a few typos – but it’s not to be taken seriously outside of either. If you want to talk about failed pedagogy [Whole Language or 'Investigations'-style math], abysmal teacher education programs and the fiscal mismanagement that keeps so many communities from the equality we’d all like to see, I will welcome the discussion [provided that the conversation doesn't include will.i.am videos].

Not “power,” though. Take that one up with Maxine Greene, a third-rate grad student or one of the distinguished conveners.

3. Every child deserves a well-supported teacher. Agreed. Nothing in the description, however, suggests that this Forum will take a hard look at teacher preparation programs – or the realities of teacher practice. I won’t join you folks in railing against ‘scripted’ curricula because some of it is very good, and some teachers desperately need it. These points are tendentious rhetoric, not critical analysis of pedagogy or administration. When the Forum cares more about objective analysis than the storybook dignity it’s invented for practitioners in public education, perhaps we can talk.

4. Every child deserves high-quality health care. Again, we agree – though points about keeping children healthy are low-hanging fruits. Unfortunately, this has almost nothing to do with education. The failures that have necessitated the Forum’s examination of points 1-3, albeit a misguided examination, don’t bode well for our ability to solve healthcare problems short of increasing already-bloated per pupil expenditure by an obscene amount.

I’d go into more detail on that point, but the fiscal responsibilities and the financial realities on which points 1-4 depend were not elements of the proposed discussions.

If I thought for a second that this Forum was an objective, non-partisan opportunity to discuss problems in public education instead of an ideological pow-wow, I would likely participate.

Again, thanks for the heads up – and I look forward to any more announcements you might have, and I hope the next one will be for a fairer, higher-quality initiative.

Please tell Ms. Darling-Hammond, Ms. Meier and Mr. Noguera that I said hi.

Best,

Matthew
mktabor@gmail.com
www.matthewktabor.com

Hillsborough County Public Schools and the Blogging Problem

hillsborough county, florida - education blogging capital of the world!

“We must have hit a nerve,” sayeth one of those Tampa-area bloggers. I believe that blogger is right.

I also believe that it won’t be long before Ms. Faliero et al. try to silence Tampa education bloggers officially, or at least try to intimidate them into submission.

I might be wrong. I hope I’m wrong.

I wrote a lengthy guest piece for the UMiami Education Students blog about Hillsborough County Schools and blogging. You can read about Jennifer Faliero foaming at the mouth about misinformation and lies on blogs – and read her call for the St. Pete Times to literally employ someone to monitor blog comments “round-the-clock.”

Oh, and she wants to “force” commenters to register in a verifiable way – and one has to assume Faliero would want that information accessible to HCPS. Good Lord, it’s almost as if she’s a union boss.

Faliero puts a panicked, high-pitched, uptalk “eeee!” in the phrase “Free press.”

Here’s are a few lines from my piece titled “Hillsborough County Schools’ Blog Problem is About Communication“:

“A [growing] segment of the Hillsborough public doesn’t trust the district. That takes time to erase. But in the meantime, trust can be built by using these channels of communication rather than complaining about them.”

It’s probably true of your district, too. I suggest you read the whole thing.

EdTechTalk Conversations: Digital Footprints, Personal Responsibility – and MKT

I was pleased to join hosts Lisa Parisi and Maria Knee on Episode 19 of EdTechTalk Conversations this Sunday. We spent an hour discussing digital footprints/online image of teachers – and whether they have a special responsibility to tailor that image to the profession’s standing – when private actions bleed into the public sphere, and a ton of offshoot issues that ranged from political to lighthearted.

I had a great time talking with them both and interacting with the live listeners in the chat room. If you haven’t heard ETT Conversations before, I recommend subscribing…

… when you pop over to listen to Episode 19, of course.

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