This is similar to a refrain I’ve heard from others about aspects of PBE that are “good” — “it just makes sense.” My question is why are we instituting new ways of educating kids based on it “making sense” — and not based on actual research? Things that make sense to some, don’t always make sense to others. And this is EDUCATION. We should be basing how we teach our kids on more than someone’s gut feeling. Use the gut feeling to justify doing the research — and find out if your gut was right. Don’t jump past the research stage and into changing a system for thousands of kids based solely on it “making sense.”
From the article:
Perhaps the basic reason for Zuckerberg’s enthusiasm is that, as he has said, “The model just intuitively makes sense.” That is, it intuitively makes sense to people like Zuckerberg and Gates, both highly motivated Harvard dropouts. No doubt they would have enjoyed school far more if they’d been able to race ahead at their own pace and choose what they wanted to learn.
Personalized learning is a slippery term, but the basic idea is to tailor learning to individual students and have them demonstrate they’ve mastered one component of learning before moving on to the next. Technology plays a key role, with students using software that is supposed to fit their needs.
And here’s where it seems the author points out that they don’t appear to have any evidence, yet, of its effectiveness:
The idea of personalized learning has proven appealing not only to Zuckerberg but also to his fellow tech titan Bill Gates. “I love this cutting-edge school design,” Gates has declared on his blog. Between 2013 and 2017, the Gates Foundation invested over $300 million to support research on personalized learning. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have announced that their own education initiative will invest “hundreds of millions of dollars a year” in the field, which they believe will provide “every student with a customized education.” Gates and Zuckerberg have even teamed up on one joint grant—a relatively modest $12 million—to promote personalized learning and build an “evidence base” that proves its effectiveness.
That’s unusual. Generally speaking, education reformers like Gates and Zuckerberg say they want to see an evidence base before they invest in an idea. They want data and “proof points” that show the idea works. And when it comes to personalized learning, the data is inconclusive at best.
The most encouraging study to date found that personalized learning had a modest positive effect on math test scores and no significant impact on scores in reading. But other studies have found that some personalized learning programs can reduce students’ enjoyment of learning or make them less likely to feel there’s an adult at their school who knows them well.
And people wonder why some parents are pushing back?
This article is a couple years old, but it’s a great overview, and highlights a lot of concerns brought up by parents. And the comments add to it.
There are two unwritten assumptions that are constant from the beginning of NCLB and carry through to this new version. Teachers are not trusted to make judgments about what students learn, how they learn it, or how learning is assessed. Assessment is defined as the external monitoring of the work inside the classroom. The second assumption is that data and technology must be instrumental in whatever process is devised. The main innovation here is the more thorough and intrusive penetration of the classroom via computers capable of monitoring learning.
Both of these assumptions are unsupported by any evidence or track record, in terms of their ability to enhance learning.
The flat or declining NAEP scores demonstrate that external accountability systems have failed to lift performance. Repeated experiments with technology-based instruction have failed to show any advantage. Virtual charter schools, the ultimate extension of this model, have been shown to be virtually useless.
Superintendent Becky Foley reached out to let us know that there’s a new section all about proficiency-based education on the RSU5.org website:
She also mentioned that it’s a work in progress and there are things that they haven’t yet posted and additional updates to sections. But it’s nice to see that it’s been started.
Also, it was nice to see a page set up for research — something I’d asked about repeatedly in meetings. But I don’t think any of it is peer-reviewed, “real” research. They’re articles written by proponents of PBE (to varying degrees). And they mainly point out what they identify as deficiencies in the current system. And they suggest a solution. But I don’t see anything there that is actual research showing why PBE is a solid alternative to traditional systems. Again… pointing out an issue and supplying a solution. Completely skipping the research part — that may or may not support the proclaimed solution.
And Thomas Guskey is cited in there. Every time I see him as a source of research about the benefits of the PBE approach I get concerned. He appears to make his living off selling books, giving talks and promoting reform. And has for years. Check out his CV. He’s prolific! And he’s got a slick website where you can try to get him to come give a talk. He’s also focused on professional development. Or as I think of it — explaining why teachers are to blame for everything and how we need to change them to improve the system — usually, conveniently through some conference or talk or professional materials that he can sell you. And while his bio says he started out teaching, his CV makes it clear that he only taught 7-8th grades for 2-3 years. In the early 70s. At what I think is/was a private school. So, while he has lots of experience at the college level, his first-hand experience teaching PreK-12 is limited at best. I love it when someone with little to no direct experience doing something (or at the very least conducting extensive research about it) tells everyone else they have the answer. And makes a living telling people this. I need to go through the CV in depth to see if anything in there is peer-reviewed research.
Anyway, I appreciate the fact that the RSU5 school system is making an attempt at transparency, even if I think some of it highlights the fact that they don’t seem to have a lot of supporting documentation showing WHY they think PBE is so great. It’s a step in the right direction. And I think it will lead to more discussions. And right now, I’m grateful that our requests aren’t falling on deaf ears.
The supposed goal of proficiency education (and other outcome-based models, such as competency-based learning) is to ensure that all students meet certain measurable benchmarks by year’s end and that all who receive a diploma are proficient in specific areas. The model is based on the notion that every kid can become proficient, if given the time. But when time is limited, resources are stretched, and students arrive at school with wildly different experiences, strengths, and weaknesses, it is rarely the case that everyone ends up in the same place in June.
It also sets up perverse educational incentives. Because the model focuses on year-end proficiency, teachers are required to let students retake tests and must give full credit for late homework. In theory, this allows students the time they need to master each skill without undue “pressure.” In reality, as anyone with a teenager well knows, it encourages slacking.
Proficiency-based education not only warps incentives. It also perverts the curriculum itself. This is particularly true in disciplines such as literature and history, where, traditionally, the goal is to familiarize students with a body of knowledge about which they are then expected to think critically, formulate new ideas, and communicate effectively. In such disciplines, promoting skills at the expense of the content itself leaves students untethered from meaning and unable to communicate effectively about anything. (But never fear: There’s always Google. And Wikipedia. And Alexa.)
Looks like one of our neighbors is hearing and responding to parents who have concerns about PBL/PBE, and especially the grading revamp that people try to sell with it. Considering Yarmouth, Falmouth, Greely, and Cape Elizabeth all have kept their 0-100 grading, I’m guessing it’s other communities that are their recruiting target (at least with these messages). Wonder who might be on their list?
Blurb about proficiency and how North Yarmouth Academy does their grading:
So, it’s been a bit quiet recently, and the upcoming school board meeting (on 5/23) is set to focus on admin tasks and not allow for public comment, but there have been a few parents asking some additional questions and I wanted to share some of what’s been discovered recently.
One interesting piece that came up was what one parent flagged as a concern in the Freeport High School’s PBL handbook: http://www.rsu5.org/docs/building/1/familyguidefinal-1.pdf?id=6065. It’s a concern we’ve brought up quite a bit — where’s the evidence-based research (or even “scholarly” research — not done at the behest of a company paying for it or benefiting from it) that supports proficiency-based learning and grading as all it’s sold to be — and how it will affect kids applying to college.
There will be another Proficiency-Based Education Workshop sometime this summer (either in late June or closer to the fall). And that got me thinking about who should be there. Answer: Everyone. Especially the teachers.