This Week’s Trends in Education and Technology (June 1-7)
[The Week in Education and Technology is a weekly summary of news, events, and ideas related to education.]
I’ll admit a certain fondness for the Latin phrase, Sic transit gloria mundi, or “Thus passes the glory of the world.”
The phrase was used in papal coronations from 1409 to 1963, as a reminder of the transitory nature of life and earthly honors. I often it to point out the transitory nature of human plans and currently held societal convictions, most of which are eventually replaced by new plans and convictions based on different thinking, research, or public interest.
I find sic transit gloria mundi particularly relevant to education models, education technology, and education policy. After all, education, as we know it today, is still in its infancy, less than 100 years old. Changes are rampant, as we should expect them to be in a newly formed, dynamic model. And with every shift in direction, many of the “old ways” are cast aside.
Thus, sic transit gloria mundi is a reminder to place our hopes in ideas and visions that transcend the plans and thinking of our present generation. What we consider today to be a “gold standard,” may very well become an outdated theory or practice in the very near future.
Things That Caught My Attention
Keeping sic transit gloria mundi in mind, I would suggest that it’s always a good idea to question the efficacy and validity of our educational practices. A good example can be seen in this lecture by economist Sam Peltzman in 1993, in which he asks what schools are for and whether or not they are succeeding. AEI posted a podcast with Rick Hess this week that revisited Peltzman’s answers, as well as the road that has brought American public education to where it is now.
Indeed, it seems that public schools in the U.S. are at a crossroads and it’s not clear how we can or will move forward. Enrollments across all K-12 grades will show declines in less than 10 years and traditional public schools are losing students at noticeable rates, both to private schools (traditional and virtual), and public charter schools (traditional and virtual). There is no evidence that this trend will reverse, which means our current system and the infrastructure we have built up around it, will continue to disintegrate.
There is certainly plenty of criticism of public charter schools, their methodologies, and their impact of public school systems. At the same time, there is also ample research to show that, at least in some areas, they represent an improvement. For example, a comprehensive 2014 study from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that California charter schools perform better for the state’s least advantaged citizens. “Specifically, CREDO found that poor black students at charters gained an average of 36 extra days of learning in literacy, and 43 extra days of learning in math, compared with those in traditional public schools; poor Latino students gained 22 extra days of literacy and 29 extra days of math.”
One of the reasons for the impact with lesser advantaged populations os the fact that charter schools have greater demographic diversity among their teachers than traditional public schools. A recent study from the Fordham Institute” adds a notable new facet to the existing research, finding that black students are much more likely to encounter a same-race teacher in a charter school than a traditional public school. And the study’s author, American University professor Seth Gershenson, says that the greater likelihood of racial matching might help explain charters’ success with minority students.”
Inevitably, parents, communities, and governing bodies will determine the future of education in the U.S. That said, the fact that Los Angeles voters recently defeated a proposed tax increase to support public education is telling. It may signal that school spending will remain tighter as education jockeys for funding position in government funding race that also includes health care, public works, and security. Whatever the case, it’s likely no coincidence that K-12 spending is still reeling from ‘lost decade’ of economic growth.
Here is a quote from Jean Rauch, Manager of Consumer Activation at Bayer Healthcare (part of a Cengage report on employment skills): “Students don’t have the knowledge for general business protocol – how do they answer the phone, respond to an email, conduct yourself in a meeting. I won’t hire someone who can’t look me in the eye.”
This is obviously one of the challenges facing U.S. higher education today, as many students are graduating with a deep understanding of domain information while lacking essential professional and thinking skills. Some see this as a reason to question the general value of a college education, while others see pathways for new, more affordable models of instruction.
Meanwhile, we continue to struggle when it comes to bringing postsecondary learning to rural or remote areas and prisons. And the cost of higher education is a serious, very real issue, as shown in a new report from the National College Access Network (NCAN).
Oh, by the way, I should mention that American college and university enrollments declined again – for the 8th year in a row.
Et Tu Publishing?
Finally, and in sticking to my theme of transitory human accomplishments or institutions, I should note that Barnes & Noble bookstores finally found a purchaser this week. I remember the first time I encountered a Barnes & Noble store, how incredible the book and media experience was. However, while retail over the past 20 years the New York bookseller stayed with its original paradigm. Today, even though I live fairly close to a Barnes & Noble, I go only when I’m in the need of a quick gift.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
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