Information Symmetry

I’m currently reading To Sell Is Human by Dan Pink.  In the first section of the book he writes about the diminishment of ‘information asymmetry’ and the impact it has on the relationship between buyers and sellers. (To clarify, the relationship between a customer and a travel agent or auto salesman prior to the liberation of information by the internet are two examples of information asymmetry that Pink cites).  The move towards information symmetry in the marketplace and the associated empowerment of consumers also has impacts for those who make their livelihood in the education sector.

On page 56 Pink writes, “Today, it’s possible for a motivated secondary school student with Internet access to know more about the causes of the Peloponesian War or how to make a digital film that his teacher…Today’s educators….can no longer depend on the quasi-reverence that information asymmetry often afforded them.  When the balance tilts int he opposite direction, what they do and how they do it must change.”

For educators, the reflective question is how have you (we) adapted to this new reality?  Is the classroom still an exercise in sitting and ‘getting’ information, or are lessons crafted as experiences, with the selling of concepts and information in mind?  Are the lessons students receiving segmented and siloed, or do they reinforce the types of multi-faceted, dexterous skills that students will need for their future employment viability?  Is the classroom a place of curated experiences, where students deeply engage with text and produce generous amounts of written work in response to text, or is it a place where they only get to dabble in acquiring ‘facts’ that are unilaterally dispensed from the front of the room?

The accountability movement that found it’s start almost 30 years ago with ‘A Nation At Risk’ valued discreet knowledge and the ability of students to choose the ‘correct answer’. The tests that were developed in the name of accountability created a race to the bottom, where test prep ruled the educational landscape and classrooms became factories for producing students (products) that had an ability to correctly choose from four answer choices and also produce short bursts of writing using formulas for generating responses that would be acceptable for the human graders armed with calibrated rubrics.

The result of this form of accountability has been a rise in remediation rates for freshman entering college, the reduction in students’ ability to construct well written papers and well constructed written arguments, and the diminished capacity to engage in long form written works.  Why?  Quite simply, these types of educational experiences were not valued in the accountability system, and therefore they quickly disappeared from the classroom.  When time is a limited commodity, systems quickly adapt to utilizing time in a manner that is most efficient at protecting the bottom line.  For schools, the bottom line are assessment results and associated grades on school report cards.

For all the hand wringing and consternation that the Common Core and the associated accountability tests (from PARCC and Smarter Balance) are causing, it should be noted that they are moving education back towards educational experiences that value deep knowledge, ‘doing’ with information, and writing in response to educational experiences.  In many ways, Common Core is a reaction to the types of surface level, procedural learning that the old accountability system favored, and the damage it has done to learners over the past 20 years.

So, as accountability systems evolve, and as students will be responsible for performance assessments as well as summative assessments, it is now more critical than ever that pedagogical methods change and students have daily opportunities to ‘do’ with knowledge.  As information symmetry continues to change education through school choice and competitive pressures (i.e. market forces that have transformed education from a ‘safe’ local institution to a volatile consumable product), practitioners (teachers) must develop the habit of constantly assessing the ‘product’ they are selling.  When the kids are coming armed with just as much information as the teacher, subjecting them to 180 daily doses of ‘getting’ information is not a recipe for a sustaining professional future.


Bonus New Year’s Resolutions (or, I didn’t want to blog about it separately, so it’s a footnote here)

1. Read two op-ed pieces weekly from opposing viewpoints.  A downside to not getting the newspaper means that I am responsible for curating my own information.  I have read several interesting articles (none of which I can cite at the moment) that have cautioned against the insular thinking that can occur when we create our own electronic realities.  When I only go to websites I like, follow people on twitter who have my same interests, and only read news stories from sources that resonate with me, I run the risk of having a limited world view and perspective.  To me, there is intellectual and professional strength in seeking out divergent opinions and discerning where others you many not necessarily agree with can be right.  It is hard to do this if I live in my own curated bubble all the time.  Hence, the resolution to actively seek and read the opinions of those outside of my normal walk.

2. Read six books this year, three of which will be fiction.  I read all the time, every day, in order to stay relevant in my professional life.  The problem is that it is mostly short form (blogs, news articles, research reports, information digests, etc.)  There is so much to read that I have found long form (i.e. books, extended articles) gets squeezed out by the excuse of not having time.  The reality is that there is time, if I apportion my days differently.  The six books is actually not the issue, it is the three fiction that will be the problem.  The fact is I’m a junkie for good non-fiction books, especially the history and business varieties.  Similar to resolution number one, in order to fight ‘insular creep’ I need to continue to challenge myself to branch out….which means I need a dash of fiction in my diet.

3. Use my phone less during the day.  We all know that multi-tasking effectively is a myth (well, we should know).  Responding to every beep eats up precious productivity time at work.  Letting email (or twitter) drive my actions whenever my cell phone goes off is a recipe for frustration, because instead of feeling empowered by the information, I end up feeling like I never get anything done.  So, instead of the ‘Chinese water torture’ information drip, I’m resolving to A) Not take my phone into meetings this year B) Leave my phone in my desk (on silent) while in the office (take away the temptation to fiddle) and C) allocate blocks of time for email and social media (thereby moving it from a distractor towards another productivity block during the day).

Here’s to a productive and meaningful 2014!

Remaking Education?

An article is below that captures the thoughts of the Ohio Superintendent For Public Instruction on college and career readiness.

My major concern is that while on the surface he talks about 21st century learning, students going deeper with the curriculum, improved rigor, etc., his remedy for our educational ‘woes’ will not measure these ‘solution’ skills.
In Ohio, not only are we going with PARCC to assess (in a standardized way) the common core, but there is also a push for standardized end of course exams and standardized assessments at two points in time for all courses in order to measure teacher effectiveness.
Isn’t this over-reliance on standardized tests and the narrowing of the curriculum what the common core and the focus on 21st Century skills were supposed to get away from?
From my vantage point, it looks like we are heading for a huge spike in standardize tests, not less.
And, if you think that teachers will embrace the types of creative reforms meant to produce flexible, creative, authentic thinkers (the kind that can’t be outsourced by a computer if you are a Dan Pink fan) given this new onslaught of testing, I’d think again.
In Ohio current law mandates that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be tied to measures of student growth by the 2013 – 2014 school year. In this economy, if your job is on the line, what do you think is going to happen? More teaching to the test, more top down instruction, less creativity, fewer opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery in unique and creative ways (21st Century), more student disengagement than ever.
At some point this tension between the authentic, immersive, engaged world that students live in outside of school and the authoritarian, standards driven, narrow approach that schools take in the name of proving mastery is going to have to come to a head.
We can not continue to talk about promoting digitally proficient, flexible, creative students while measuring them in ways that do not promote these values.
If traditional brick and mortar institutions continue to keep the current head in the sand approach, competition from electronic providers who understand how to leverage the world of our digitally native students will threaten to overwhelm the traditional system.
A middle of the road solution would be to require a portable electronic portfolio, tied to the common core, that would contain specific requirements (with flexible options) to demonstrate mastery of content at each grade level. By the time students reach 12th grade, this portfolio would serve as a rich senior capstone experience that demonstrates growth over time and authentically measures students strengths. While there would expenses on the front end in terms of planning and implementation, this would allow teachers to embrace the types of authentic, non-linear practices that our students need to thrive in an age where “learn-unlearn-relearn” must be the focus in our hyper-speed global economy.
None of the above can happen if standardization is the only focus.