news from AERO

Lefty Parent has been at the AERO conference and has been blogging from there. The blog entries are readable and  and worth the time.  AERO has a wide range of folks, from academics and quants to unschoolers and free school types and the range of sessions was broad.  I have just a few brief comments:

From Day 3, Lefty keenly notes this:
At the end of the workshop I was able to talk to Ido and his partner Ofira. I told them of my interest in finding out more about any emerging best practice in more holistic assessments of schools. Ido pointed me at work being done by Johns Bransford at the University of Washington, and also the book, Knowing What Students Know. He also said that the whole issue of school assessment was impacted by politics. Apparently the National Science Foundation is now recommending more holistic school assessments that involve subjective qualitative data from people, but the Department of Education continues to insist that all school assessments need to be completely quantitative with no subjectivity.
It is interesting that even Google has begun working on search with more than just quantitative analysis and they can really do the math.

If schools are manufacturing credentials, then certifying and testing is required to ensure they are turning out the product (our kids) to specifications. If schools are a social service serving families, this isn't what is required.  A social service that serves families would be interested in giving families feedback, so that they can make choices and work toward goals if they choose.  Manufacturing to specification and providing learning services for families are, of course, two different things.

Lefty Parent has more good commentary:
Angela indicated that her take was that the Nation at Risk analysis was flawed, and it led to much too simplistic assessments to give an accurate picture of the state of U.S. education. What it has also led to is billions of dollars being spent on testing programs and reworking state curricula, billions of dollars were not otherwise available to pay teachers and improve the resources available to students in schools. Corporations in the education-industrial complex have been enriched, while the quality of our education system, as reflected by the quality of our teachers and school facilities, has been attenuated.
Perhaps we can get quantitative data on what has been spent on all this testing.

Kirsten Olsen
Kirsten Olson also has a post up at Cooperative Catalyst, after AERO and the post is a powerful one:
The institution of school is broken, corrupt, and designed primarily to serve the interests of adults, not kids. The greatest barrier to large-scale transformation, in my view, is adult self-interest, not a lack of skills and knowledge about how to educate better. The system we have now serves adults, provides employment, professional identity and relative security to 2.5 million adults; it offers inadequate and in some cases toxic “service” to children, who have no political voice. Yet as a whole, the education sector is woefully sloppy and deeply loath to acknowledge the self-interest that is at the heart of many of its activities and structures.
I would add that it is because families were removed from active participation by compulsory attendance laws that many aspects grew unchecked by any counterweight or pushback.   I believe families would provide a real stability to educational schemes and support for things many professionals might consider out of their range, like exercise and food.  Children want and need good relationships and schools could be places that strengthen these but only if the primary relationship is not crippled: families have to be a part of the process. In fact, I believe a lot of damaged social fabric could be repaired by a new school model and, like social media, the uses of these new social interactions could be remarkable.

Change Happens
It is exciting to hear teachers becoming activists and working for change.  I blog as someone who supports them in their efforts and urges them to think out of the box and do what it takes. Homeschooling parents were just a small group of seemingly wayward people with odd ideas and that movement has changed compulsory attendance laws in every state. 

Homeschoolers have pioneered college acceptances for kids with unconventional resumes and achieved many academic breakthroughs. Gifted kids have shown how much some kids can do.  Unschoolers have questioned the very structure of schools in society and just as vegetables grown without any chemicals or fertilizers at all seemed incredible, as do houses that do not have any source of heat whatsoever, so unschoolers are growing and thriving in ways that many find surprising.

A similar activism and passion by teachers, parents and communities could make a lot of change happen.

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