"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, September 20, 2013

Innovation? No Thank You

There is a problem with really successful people: They tend to believe they are incredibly capable in every field, and that most other people are not.

Success is a deluding experience, and if there is anything that innovators are, it is delusional—delusional that being innovative is greater than having field experience or expertise.

In education reform, delusion is rampant. And the key source of all that delusional innovation is that innovators are often keen on pushing their innovations in fields in which they have no experience or expertise (see above).
And thus, good people with good intentions are trapped in really bad ideas—such as TransformSC, being praised by Cindi Scoppe at The State:
SUPPORTERS say the reason to get excited about TransformSC is the grassroots support it has generated since it was launched in May as a way to, well, to transform our state, by transforming the way children are taught. 
And certainly, grassroots engagement is going to be essential if this is to become anything more than just the latest in a never-ending string of smart education initiatives — nearly all of which have gone nowhere.
But honestly, the reason to get excited, and hopeful, about TransformSC is the list of organizations that have signed on: the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, S.C. Association of School Administrators, S.C. School Boards Association, S.C. Education Oversight Committee, the S.C. Teachers Association and the Palmetto Teachers Association, along with state Education Superintendent Mick Zais and an impressive group of individual businesses. It is, says Mike Brenan, a coalition that “I don’t think has ever been together on anything ever before.”
But if you seek out just who and what TransformSC is, you find this:
SC Council on Competitiveness unveiled TransformSC, an initiative to transform public education in South Carolina, at an education summit held on May 1, 2013. A stellar line up of education innovators and innovation supporters energized and motivated a packed conference of over 300 business leaders, school superintendents, school administrators, school board members, and many other parties interested in rethinking public school in South Carolina. Response to the summit was overwhelmingly positive with statements from participants that, “a movement has begun.” 
The conference was opened by TransformSC co-chairs Mike Brenan, SC President of BB&T, and Pamela Lackey, SC President of AT&T. State Superintendent Mick Zais then addressed the conference asserting his support for the total transformation of an outdated school system that was designed over 100 years ago for an agrarian society. “Our global knowledge economy demands a new system to produce the graduates needed to succeed in today’s world.”
"Competitiveness," "transform," "innovators," "innovation," "rethinking," "outdated"—I think we have seen all this before, right? InnovationInnovation for innovation's sake?

It becomes nearly impossible to separate the genuine from the parodies, but look carefully at the caption for the photograph in The State article: "The TransformSC vision starts with new teaching models, such as collaborative, project-based learning."

The only people who would construct a claim equating "collaborative, project-based learning" with "new teaching models" are people with no sense of the history of education (collaborative, project-based learning is pure John Dewey and was "hot" throughout much of the first half of the twentieth century, making some educational entrepreneurs quite wealthy and famous—see William H. Kilpatrick, who penned The Project Method in 1918); see Knoll's warning of historically decontextualized reform:
The history of the project method makes it clear that the progressive education movement at the turn of the century represented only one, and not even the most important, international reform movement in modern times. Unlike Cremin (1961) and Röhrs (1977), for example, we cannot simply regard the 19th century as "prehistory" and the 20th century simply as "post history." We must, with Jurgen Oelkers (1996), see progressive education as part of a continuous, albeit differentiated, development springing from definite social and educational needs and reaching from the 17th century up to the present. Only from this broad perspective can industrial education-like professional and vocational education as a whole-be properly perceived as a fecund source of modern progressive educational practices (e.g., Knoll, 1993b). However, the history of the project method also illustrates how necessary it is to embed current thinking about educational reform within a historical context. Otherwise, as Cuban (1990) and Tyack and Cuban (1995) have correctly observed, reform moves from initiative to initiative without a clear understanding of why they dissipate and vanish [emphasis added]. The results are frequently disappointing and meaningless. In the case of the project approach, a specific and indispensable method of teaching is turned by Kilpatrick and his followers into a general and blurred philosophy of education (Katz & Chard 1989).
While Sal Khan is innovation like 1954, TransformSC looks like innovation like 1918 (makes you wonder about "outdated," huh?).

SC doesn't need innovation; it doesn't need bankers, business owners, entrepreneurs, and innovators.

SC needs the winners to recognize that the state is overburdened by poverty and inequity, and thus so are the schools.

Innovation? No thank you.

Acknowledging and trying to overcome food insecurity among children and families, underfunded community schools, misguided funding and time directed at yet new standards and more testing, job instability, overcrowded classrooms, struggling English language learners—there are some innovative approaches we do need, just to name a few.
NOTE TO INNOVATORS: "So why you gotta act like you know when you don't know?/ It's OK if you don't know everything." ("Old Bastard," Ben Folds)

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