Tuesday, October 28, 2008

They Can't See the Page: More Basic Reasons Poor Kids Struggle to Learn

One in twenty students has trouble focusing well enough to read without trouble. How are kids supposed to learn if they can't see the page?

This isn't new information. We've known about the "vision problem" for years.

In fact, not surprisingly, for poor children this problem, is much worse.

Research indicates that:
50% of low-income kids have untreated vision problems
In some underserved areas, the number of children who fall through the cracks is staggering. Optometrists volunteering through the Lions Club found that 47 percent of children had vision problems in schools in West Los Angeles.
And you can't catch these problems with the cursory exams usually done in schools:
Many lay people confuse a vision screening with a vision exam, although the former is but a procedure that's supposed to identify those children who may need further examination. However, the screenings many schools administer even fall short of that. Vision screenings that test only acuity detect 30 percent of children who would fail a professional exam
In fact, cursory exams may actually exacerbate the problem, indicating that a child can see fine and reducing the chance that she will get a comprehensive exam. In other words, poor exams may actually ensure that the problem is never corrected.

How much of the challenge that poor kids face in learning results from incredibly basic causes that have nothing to do with pedaogy (or even with more subtle issues like cultural mismatch, etc.).

How about the relationship between vision and "delinquent" kids?

A key finding was that almost all of the 132 delinquents in the study had learning related vision problems, but only a few had nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism. Common in teens, these refractive problems are a sign that the person has made adaptations to deal with the stress of close work in the classroom. . . .

The lack of such problems in these delinquents indicates that, at any early age, they chose not to deal with close work, Dr. Harris said. Other study findings show the reason why. They simply lacked the vision skills to do close work.
How much of the achievement gap could be eliminated with comprehensive health care, breakfast, and nutrition?

What an incredible tragedy. Even on these most basic levels we find it impossible to support these children.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Brain in Color

More at Technology Review.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mike Rose on McCain on Education

Interview with Mike Rose who wrote Possible Lives and Lives on the Boundary. His blog is here with more comments in the leading post.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

ACORN, Organizing, and Education

My writing on community organizing now mostly appears on Open Left. But a couple of my fellow bloggers asked me to write something on ACORN, the national community organizing group that is currently under attack for its voter registration work.

The right wing is attacking ACORN not only because of its voter registration work, but because it is one of if not THE most important community organizing groups in America.

Unlike other national groups, ACORN generates its membership by knocking on doors, one after the other, not by organizing organizations like churches. As a result, its local membership is usually more broadly representative of poor and working-class people in America. Also unlike other groups, it participates actively in national campaigns and policy debates and does not just operate as an umbrella training and support organization.

ACORN is not a 501(c)3 organization, which means it can integrate political AND issue work, something most other organizing groups cannot do. ACORN is also one of the publishers of Social Policy.

ACORN and Education

ACORN has done extensive work on education, including running their own schools, national policy studies and reports, local studies (pdf), and, of course, direct . action for educational . change.

This report (pdf) is a few years old, now, but gives a sense of the range of educational issues ACORN engages with.

Note: I haven't had much direct involvement with ACORN, and I'm not really up on their current activities.

Those new to my organizing posts may want to read Part I and Part II of "What is Organizing?".

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Technology in education: a ground-map, part a (revision 2)

CAC comment: This is an edited version of my original post from 9/13/08, taking into account comments received (thanks for those!) and some further thinking about this topic.

For this month's "Monthly Forum" (yes I know I'm late to start this was last month's topic), I'd like to get a conversation going about the role of technology in education.

For myself, I'm trying to develop a "ground-map of the province" (if you will allow me an obscure reference to Dewey) of issues related to technology in education. This is part of a project that will result in a chapter on philosophical issues related to technology in education for a forthcoming book to which I've been asked to contribute.

Key question #1: What is educational technology?

Technology is "the application of science (or knowledge) to meet objectives or to solve problems." (source)

Technology is not science itself, which is primarily concerned with the production of knowledge and the sorting out of which knowledge is privileged within the academy society, by certain people who call themselves "scientists," or by policy-makers. While science clearly has a role in education (both because we want to have a public that understands its methods, issues, and major findings, and because we want to know how people learn best so we can design education to be efficient and effective), this essay isn't dealing with science per se, but with its application. When we apply science/knowledge to solve educational problems, we are (often? always?) using technology. On this broad definition of technology, schooling is largely a technological enterprise.

(Schooling is the systematic formal process whereby the behaviors [and ideas] of [mostly young] people are shaped to meet adult expectations. Education is the [largely informal] experiential process through which a person comes to know and be who s/he is. These definitions were developed by my FND 510 class this quarter.)

Technologies used in schooling include classrooms, chalkboards, books, podiums, graded classrooms, chair-desk, bells, bell schedules, school buses, school buildings, playgrounds, athletic fields, band rooms, band instruments, colored chalk, the architecture of schools, p.a. systems, teacher certification systems, the ways we "divide" subjects into "disciplines," testing (and other assessment approaches of all kinds), school districting, "catchment" areas, curriculum plans, "standards" statements, and many many other activities/processes/devices/frameworks. It is important to emphasize, "technology" isn't just things, but the systems of ideas that legitimate and constrain the use of things. On this expanded notion of technology, we can say that "schooling" is the application of technology to make mass education the mass alteration of the behaviors [and ideas] of [mostly young] people not only possible, but affordableand effective.

(Of course, it's also the application of technology to do things schooling achieves other things as well, such as warehousing kids, but let's leave that aside for the moment.)

Related to this, technologies can roughly (thanks Jason!) be divided into those that are "old" (that is, taken for granted as being "necessary" for schooling) and those that are new (that is, still being negotiated in terms of their role--or lack thereof--in schools). This, of course, depends on one's perspective, since a technology that is taken for granted by a young person might be still be considered to have an unsettled role to an older person. Similarly, technologies that are taken for granted in wealthier, suburban or private schools (such as interactive whiteboards) are often considered exotic or a luxury in poorer, urban schools. Such differences in attitude are never about whether a particular technology is really needed for education; they are always about whether they deserve to be funded or mandated for all schools--again, the central question of educational policy.

But we don't tend to talk about this question as if it were a question about technology. Instead, we limit our explicit discussion of technologies to a subset of those that are applied to policy questions about schooling, as if educational technology policy was only "about" relatively new, digital technologies, especially those tools and approaches that are not yet universal (or nearly universal) in their application to schools. "Technology," then, is used as a euphemism for "things that we're still trying to decide whether we need," or "things that only some schools can currently afford."

This limitation of the application of the concept of technology tends to draw attention away from certain critical perspectives (such as those of Michel Foucault, Neil Postman, or Michael Apple) which talk about, for example "technologies of [political] control." Surely these critical perspectives are justified in used of the word "technology," just as much as the common person is justified (in some ways) in limiting discussion of technologies to what I've described above as "digital technologies." What's important is realizing that any limitation of the word "technology" to particular types of technologies has both motivations and consequences, which should be examined. Thus, the limitation of the discussion to "digital technologies" tends to take OFF the table many of the other things I've listed, such as bell schedules and P.A. systems, even though THOSE technology are pernicious and omnipresent in schools.

I guess wWhat I'm saying is, the question of what we MEAN by "technology" is ahas political oneimplications that perhaps logically antecede questions about the use of particular technologies in particular situations. [However, let me add here, without going into it in greater detail, that a "technology" can not be completely separated from the "use" of that technology, because, well, a technology without an application in a specific situation isn't a technology at all.]

Key question #2: What criteria do we use in evaluating educational technologies?

Like all technologies, each item on the list I just generated above can be critiqued from several many different perspectives, using many different criteria. Among such criteria for criticism include effectiveness (in reaching whatever objectives are desired), efficiency, humanity, cost-effectiveness, opportunity costs, ease-of-use, standardizability (can they applied in a consistent manner), teachability (can teachers/administrators/students actually learn to use them), fairness, beauty, "fit," conformity to [public] values of all kinds, carbon footprint, etc. etc.

(For the general public, probably, the most important criterion is whether the use of a technology conduces to the achievement of [whatever measure of success is given credence, for example] higher standardized test scores. But that criterion is hotly disputed by many.)

Given the importance of the choice of criteria to apply, perhaps I'd say the essential question of educational policy is the question of which criteria to apply to evaluating the technologies of education, because this question is basic to other questions such as what resources should we make available to all schools or all students, or to which students, and why. A key corollary of this insight is that anyone who merely argues for or against using a given technology without spelling out exactly what criteria go into (or are being ignored in) making that recommendation is not to be trusted without further investigation.

Okay, enough revision for now. Stay tuned for Part B, where I'll talk about some of the political, cultural, and ideological forces at work in discussions about educational technology, including those that are ostensibly concerned with student learning.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Intelligence and Genes? Too Many Genes, Not Much "Intelligence"

Scientific American article on intelligence and genetics.

Of course questions about intelligence are inherently linked to questions about whether "intelligence" as some single factor actually exists. The genetic data seems to support the general argument that "intelligence" is so complicated and multifaceted that there isn't any such thing as "intelligence."

That's my take.