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Transforming Education Beyond Common Core: Arne Duncan’s “Classroom of the Future”

Last month, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described his “vision for the classroom of the future” in what he hoped would be the first of many posts on the site called Bright (at medium.com), which is funded by the New Venture Fund, a non-profit that supports public interest projects in education, global issues, public health, and other issues.

The classroom of the future, wrote Duncan, would involve the “digital revolution,” as he presented reasons quasi-syllogistically: “In the United States, education is meant to be the great equalizer.  Technology has the potential to bridge gaps for those who have the least.  Simply put, technology can be a powerful tool for equality as well.”

Of course, many would differ with him about the major premise: that education is meant to be the great equalizer, at least in the way that Duncan and this administration think of it – as ending the achievement gap, with that duty falling to the federal government.  Other departmental missives have promoted the same goals.  Duncan has put pressure on states for “equitable funding” of school districts to overcome racial disparities, and has called for increased federal funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to overcome disparities of the “tax base” in communities.

Similarly, the Department recently cast the opting-out of Common Core tests as a lack of concern about “underserved populations,” recalling the comment made by Duncan in 2013 about Common Core opponents being “white suburban moms.”

The Department has been redefining education, emphasizing behavior and attitudes over academics, and even casting awareness about racial and ethnic identity as overlooked evidence of intelligence.  Education is no longer about teachers imparting knowledge to their students.  Linda Darling-Hammond, leader of Obama’s education transition team and developer of one of the two Common Core national assessments, has repeatedly disparaged traditional assessments that objectively test students’ knowledge as skill and drill.  In this she follows progressive and radical educators who see their roles as developing agents of social change, agents who do not learn in the traditional Eurocentric linear and logical way, but emotively and tactilely.

Replacing our traditional ways of learning, through reading, writing, and study—contemplative and solitary activities—are the communal and hands-on activities promoted in Common Core and now digital learning.  Both Common Core and digital learning serve to obscure a large part of the reason for the achievement gap: reading ability.  Students who are poor readers lag in other subjects.  To cover up this inability, Common Core emphasizes “speaking and listening skills,” (with points given for behavior and attitudes, such as the ability to work with “diverse” groups) and group work, where lagging students are coached along by others as they do “close readings” of short passages.  This ensures that all students have mastered the same (minimal) level of knowledge. Similarly, games offer an opportunity to hide differences in ability.  Information is delivered through images and sound, not words on a page, and at a pace that the student directs.  Duncan writes that technology is “helping teachers to use their time and talents more effectively to personalize learning for students — tailoring the pace, approach, and context of the learning experience to students’ individual needs and interests.”

Additionally, technology alters the relationship between teachers and students, leveling the relationship even further than the currently fashionable one of teacher as “facilitator.”  The student presumably gains the information on his own and applies that knowledge to “real-world” problems.  Duncan writes:

Until recently, the main function of public education has been to convey knowledge in one direction, from teachers to students. But with the growth of the Internet and mobile technology, our relationship to knowledge has fundamentally changed. To succeed in today’s world, our students need to be adept at not only recalling information, but using their knowledge to conceive, create, and employ solutions to real-world problems.

Duncan then employs the much-used strategy of reductively stereotyping traditional education, as he writes, “Students aren’t vessels to be filled with facts. And educators aren’t simply transmitters of information.”

In this schema, little attention is paid to “recalling information”—or the acquirement of knowledge. Emphasis is placed on the ability to – through the wonders of technology – find information.  (Of course with little concern about the ability to discern among the sources of information.)

In Duncan’s estimation, technology is the great liberator, unleashing children’s creativity and natural ability to solve problems.  It’s the ultimate instantiation of the progressive idea that students simply “discover” knowledge through their own creativity and curiosity – a theory which has time and again been disproven by the data, as Jeanne Chall and her student Sandra Stotsky have shown.

Aside from the logical impossibility of doing “real-world” problem-solving outside the real world, i.e., in a classroom and with children, such a focus away from objective measurements to hypothetical problems and solutions is another way to ensure equality of outcomes.

For those teachers who agree to promote such pedagogies, the Department of Education has many awards and ambassadorships to bestow.

EDITORS NOTE: The next installment will discuss the latest effort by the Department to promote digital learning, as described enthusiastically by a teacher and a U.S. Department of Education “Teaching Ambassador Fellow.”

More questionable social engineering comes to Hawaii’s public schools

News Release from Rep Bob McDermott, February 27, 2014

Representative Bob McDermott is in the process of reviewing the latest arrival from the mainland to be thrust upon the Hawaii public school system. This new program is called Teaching Tolerance.

On the heels of the controversial Pono Choice sex education curriculum, comes another, grant-funded program. This time it is for training teachers to impart the concept of “tolerance.” While everyone agrees with the principle of tolerance, it seems that Hawaii has historically already done a better job with it than those now purporting to show us what values we should adopt. Also, like Pono Choices, there is a disproportionate focus on normalizing homosexuality.

McDermott said, “I support tolerance. But there is a difference between tolerance and forced acceptance of sensitive and controversial issues that violate one’s faith, creed or moral code.”

One workbook example actually singles out, in a negative way, an “exclusionary fundamentalist Christian home.”

“Where’s the tolerance for people who hold faith-based morality?” asks McDermott.

The Teaching Tolerance Program is a product of the Southern Poverty Law Center based in Alabama. It is a K-12 teacher training for a “literacy-based anti-bias curriculum.” One of the problems is how it is being implemented. Teachers, who are required to develop this type of curriculum, can now get a turn-key solution for free. In fact, the promoters, with the full blessing of the Hawaii Department of Education, will pay teachers $250 for attending the pilot training. This raises all sorts of ethical issues. Are Hawaii teachers being bribed to promote a specific point of view in these materials to their students?

A preliminary review of the materials by McDermott’s staff shows that while tolerance of race, gender and physical disabilities are discussed, almost 25% of the example scenarios deal with gay acceptance. As he did during the Pono Choices debate, McDermott asks why the gay population (which is no more than 4% of the general population) is consistently disproportionately represented in these new teaching materials.

Rep. McDermott added: “There is something fundamentally wrong with the Department of Education imparting a version of ‘tolerance’ on our children, without first consulting the local and diverse families that already make Hawaii the most accepting and loving place in the world.”

REFERENCES:

TT: LGBT-inclusive Best Practices Now Available

TT: Toolkit for In Bounds

TT: Michael Sam, Masculinity and Teaching Tolerance

TT: LGBT

Second Florida hotel cancels anti-Common Core conference

Laura Zorc, SE State Coordinator for Florida Parents Against Common Core, in an email states that the Rosen Hotel, Orlando has cancelled the contract for an anti-Common Core conference. This comes on the heels of the Ritz Carlton/Marriott cancellation.

Billy Hallowell from TheBlaze reported on June 19th, “The Common Core State Standards Initiative has created a fair bit of angst among critics who view it as a poor — or even dangerous — plan to amend the nation’s educational schema. Considering this dynamic, it’s no surprise that some concerned Florida parents are planning to protest a national Common Core conference that is slated to be hosted later this month by The Center for College & Career Readiness.”

“But when FreedomWorks, a non-profit organization, agreed to help these parents by providing a grassroots training to accompany their protest, the conservative organization charges that a hotel abruptly canceled its reservations. The hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes, however, is denying these claims, stating that the anti-Common Core initiative’s goals had nothing at all to do with the decision — and that the decision was based on crowd-control concerns,” writes Hallowell.

Whitney Neal, director of grassroots initiatives at FreedomWorks, told TheBlaze that the Ritz, a hotel nearby the venue that is hosting the national Common Core conference (the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes Resort and Spa), cancelled the conservative group’s reservations — and after the group had already paid for and booked the space.”

Both the anti-Common Core training and protest of the National Conference on College and Career Readiness and Common Core State Standards will take place on June 28-29, 2013 as planned according to Zore.

Zore states in an email to supporters, “[This] Protest is a legal protest Thank you to a commissioner from Orange county. We have insurance, permit, and police depart has been notified.   The Ritz cannot stop us from being on public property. Since we are in the spotlight now we really need all the parents we can get to come out for this 2 hour protest [against] this National CC conference.”