March 4, 2011

Getting cynical in my old age

For the last dozen years, I've listened to Bill Gates explain how to improve education. First, it was small learning communities (which he now says the Gates Foundation wasted $2 billion upon), then it was making everybody pass Algebra II to graduate from high school, then it was something else, now it's giving the best teachers bigger classes (see Gates's latest op-ed: "How Teacher Development Could Revolutionize Our Schools").

The weird thing is that the Way to Fix the Schools has basically never been, according to Gates, about the main way the rest of economy gets more productive -- and also the one thing Bill Gates definitely knows a lot about: information technology. 

And yet, common sense says that information technology offers the main hope of us ever being able to afford on a mass scale the one educational tool that works more often than anything else, especially with math: individualized tutoring. It often doesn't work, but over thousands of years it's tended to work enough that that's what rich people get for their kids. And it's a lot more likely to work than the latest fad.

Unfortunately, assigning one human tutor with patience, insight, and communications skills per student is mind-bogglingly expensive. 

So, the standard Ed School solution is "differentiated instruction:" i.e., the teacher should be every student's personal tutor. The teacher is supposed to walk around the classroom instantly diagnosing why each individual student is screwing up and giving the exact help he or she needs. Thus, the need for Superman.

Yet, assigning one computer per student is getting cheaper all the time. And computers have all the patience in the world. It's easy for a program like Aleks to generate math problems adapted on the fly to the exact level of the student -- if you miss a question, the next one is easier, if you get it right, the next one is harder. That's how big tests like the GRE and the ASVAB work today. 

What's harder is getting the computer to figure out why the student gets wrong a problem at his appropriate level. Yet, that's not an impossible task in math, where there are a finite number of ways to screw up. 

Folks, it's 2011. Way back in 1998, my Palm Pilot could humiliate me in chess. We're not talking about beating Gary Kasparov or Ken Jennings here, we're talking about reminding a kid who thinks that -3 times -3 equals -9 that a negative number times a negative number is a positive number. 

So, what would have happened if instead of investing billions naively chasing social theory fads, Bill Gates had invested billions over the last 12 years in something he knows about: software.

Would that have done more good than investing billions in the Ayres Brothers' small learning communities idea? Maybe not, even probably not. But would it have done less good?

So, why not? 

Sometimes I wonder if all of Gates's interventions in American education aren't a sideshow to distract from Microsoft Windows' unsuitability for integrating into classrooms. Lots of schools have Computer Classrooms where the students file in and do stuff on computers under the eye of the Computer Teacher who comes around and fixes stuff when it breaks.

What hasn't worked well, at least up through Windows Vista (I have no experience with Windows 7) is integrating PCs into regular classroom work. When the solution to hangups it to reboot and wait ten minutes for the PC reload Windows, well, as Glaivester pointed out a few years ago, when he was teaching and the whole school was given laptops, learning dropped precipitously because he spent half his time fixing kids' computer problems.

That's why Steve Jobs' Winston-Smith-loved-Big-Brother approach to limiting what you can do on Apple products (e.g., no Flash) to what Steve thinks you should do may be more promising for classrooms. 

(By the way, here's Ridley Scott's "1984" Apple commercial announcing the Mac during the 1984 Super Bowl broadcast -- talk about irony.)

65 comments:

Anonymous said...

Flash is a bad example, that´s just a standards battle that is tangentially related to ease of use.

What Apple has nailed is rather the whole concept behind iOS - only apps, no visible filesystem, one button and the rest of the UI context-dependent, etc. It´s the future of personal computing, as more and more people realize.

Your overall thesis I think is correct - there is huge room for development here, especially if you compare the state of current computer games (high-tech ultra-addictive skinner boxes) with current educational software (giggle).

The underlying problem is the old dogfood one. While computer games have huge end-consumer interest, with a vast ecosystem of reviews, criticism and discussion underpinning the industry, educational software is not purchased by the end consumer, but rather by bureaucrats.

I think especially that the introduction of MMO/RPG concepts such as persistent character development, leveling, constant semi-random reward and positive reinforcement could do a lot to boost learning, especially in boys (where video games now serve as anti-learning tools).

Oke

Steve Sailer said...

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Microsoft has imported huge numbers of foreign IT workers, through use of the H1 visa and utilization of foreign-based contractors, to work in the United States. If Bill really wanted to give back to minorities, maybe he could hire a few instead of foreignizing our computer industry.

Another Anon #182734 said...

Anon (Oke),

There exists a particularly useful training system for non-academic boys that contains plenty of persistent character development and can indeed contribute to the learning of a variety of skills. It's called military service.

If you need some kind of computer game to learn something then you probably should be doing something else.

Bill said...

I think the challenge is not making AI which emulates a really good tutor, but making games which are both addictive and didactic. Making the games figure out why the student is screwing up seems nice but secondary (and not that hard---how many ways cover the vast majority of kids' screw-ups, anyway).

It is amazing how much my kids learn by playing didactic video games. The five year old has learned to spell several short words and to do elementary arithmetic from a fairly lame spongebob game on the leapster. The nine year old can pick out Nicomedia, Tarsus, Carthage on a map and can give you an (only somewhat screwed up) explanation of classical weapons and tactics from playing Rome Total War with the Rome Total Realism add-on pack.

They can give lectures on the imaginary worlds of pokemon and bacugon, complete with discussions of rules, attributes of various imaginary creatures, and combat tactics derived from these. Now, they've learned relatively little from this, but they could have if the games had been designed differently.

In my younger days, I gave up on learning to type using a tutoring program until I found a ridiculously lame space-invaders typing game which was kind of fun. As a result, I find secretaries annoying rather than essential.

Even my daughter could be educated this way. She plays an alchemy game on her phone which is not educational but which could be.

josh said...

I will attest to spending inordinate amounts of time fixing students computer problems. I am participating in an online textbook pilot program, which has been nothing but a headache.

Polistra said...

It wasn't "mind-bogglingly expensive" in the one-room schoolhouse, nor in modern schools that follow the one-room model.

Solution is simple: Let the smart kids tutor the dumb kids. Keeps the smart kids busy and gives them a sense of USEFULNESS so they don't get all Gothy and weird; and gives the dumb kids individualized learning at zero cost.

beowulf said...

Great point Steve. The Pentagon looks at this the same way you do, DARPA has been working on a program called "Education Dominance" for several years now. I was glad to read that somebody at the White House (new economic adviser Gene Sperling apparently) is paying attention.
The White House in its 2012 budget proposed creating a $90 million education research initiative modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency... In fact, the project was announced Feb. 4—not by the Education Department—but by Gene Sperling...
While it’s best known for projects like ARPA-net, the Internet’s precursor, DARPA also has several learning and education-related projects such as a digital adaptive tutor that quickly trains young U.S. Navy recruits in information technology

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/02/14/21arpa-ed.h30.html

Education Dominance focuses on several key approaches:
* Replicating expert tutor behavior using knowledge engineering techniques.
* Modeling intrinsic motivation and memory to optimize learning and consolidation.
* Building student/tutor models based on abstractions of a wide range of student behaviors with live tutors.
* Incorporating remediation strategies to enable the Digital Tutor to provide targeted reinforcement.

http://tinyurl.com/4dg9ozw

Anonymous said...

Could linux be used as a classroom operating system? it has a few things going for it.

1) it's free

2) it's much quicker than vista and much less prone to crashing than xp

3) it's a pain in the ass to install games on.

4) most of the software written for it is free and open source. if a high-school math class wants to add some problems to a math teaching program, a sufficiently computer-nerdy teacher should be able to do it.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

My thought, Gates doesn't really give a s***. It gives his wife something to do, buys him status, and he's got the whole world to cherry-pick talent from anyway.

On a less technical level, I just shake my head when my daughter comes out of school lugging 40 pounds of books. I predict schools transition to CD's and flash drives beginning in 2020.

Evil Sandmich said...

There's been a trend in Ohio to use electronic online schools to kill off...er...supplement our fine, fine public schools. For example:
"Over the last 10 or 11 years, we've shown not only can it work but it's a great option for many students," said Nick Wilson, spokesman for the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, the state's first e-school. It opened in 2000 with about 2,200 students.

It's now the largest school in the state with more than 9,300 students. If ECOT were a traditional school district, it would rank above all but 20 of the state's public districts in size."

http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2010/10/11/enrollment-rises-at-online-charter-schools.html

Anonymous said...

The best tutor for a middle class kid is a parent. Parents and children are are cognitively similar, and the parent can act as Dutch uncle by saying:"If you knew what I know now, you'd get an A instead of a B in Algebra II."

What surprises me is that Bill Gates didn't try to make Microsoft a major developer of educational software for K-12. Then he would be motivated to invest his resources in projects that would earn him a billion dollars instead of worthless kudos from Maxine Waters and Cecilia Munoz.

But I degress. We all know Bill throws chump change at ineffective education boondoggles for low IQ NAMs so nobody blames him for not hiring them.

Anonymous said...

What about Gates' support for Khan academy?

Glaivester said...

2 problems, Steve:

1. The kids I was teaching were using Macs.

2. The problem was not so much that I needed to fix the kid's computer problems; it was that students were internet surfing or playing games rather than using the computers for the tasks at hand. They were more of a distraction than an aid.

Here is my original post (note that the Udolpho link goes to his front page instead of the post I was attempting to reference. It's been so long I forget why, and I cannot locate the original post at this time).

Anonymous said...

"There exists a particularly useful training system for non-academic boys that contains plenty of persistent character development and can indeed contribute to the learning of a variety of skills. It's called military service."

The military has long harnessed many of these factors, indeed. But frankly, teaching math and reading using military service is probably much further off than smart use of gamelike teaching in schools.

Also, this would probably benefit high-IQ kids quite a bit, as they would gain motivation, which is often their main obstacle to learning.

Carol said...

"Let the smart kids tutor the dumb kids."

They've been doing that for years. Decades even.

So much of elementary and secondary math is just manipulation of numbers..I couldn't imagine working through a problem without pencil and paper. That way you show your work, too, for troubleshooting. And it seems simpler and more real that opening up Notepad for the task. But I'm old..how do they do this now?

Too much time is being wasted teaching "concepts" now so students supposedly know "why" and not just how. But I think the students are just not ready for that, which makes more sense when you have more skills under your belt. Even in college I always hated the first week spent on set theory. K-12 students just want to get on with it, and gain a sense of accomplishment and not bewilderment.

Also, the students need to review and and practice between terms or they will forget everything.

I also think it's mistake to teach Algebra I in 8th grade. Again, it's too abstract for them. Let them wrap up elementary & middle school mastering more straightforward skills like fractions. In Cali, kids are going into HS already severely depressed about math, and ready to drop out as freshmen.

Anonymous said...

"What hasn't worked well, at least up through Windows Vista (I have no experience with Windows 7) is integrating PCs into regular classroom work. When the solution to hangups it to reboot and wait ten minutes for the PC reload Windows..."

Wouldn't being able to access programs from the "cloud" on any OS make it impossible for a student on the school's or his own equipment not to be able to keep working. I know schools tend to have to use old technology to stay cost effective but couldn't they have a backup server or something that would connect to workstations.

I also wouldn't be surprised to learn that schools in India had already implemented computer learning and found away around time wasting glitches.

I'm all for computercentric learning in public schools. Students can access videos of lectures, repeat all are part of them and go on sites like Wiki for further explanation all without having to wait their turn for some attention. If computers aren't reliable enough, yet, the distance learning approach could still cut down on the number of teachers needed at least for disciplined regular to advanced students.

The problem I see is how to reorganize the system. Someone on another post mentioned having a 3:1 student to tutor ratio. That sounds like a lot of tutors who get paid less than a traditional teacher who doesn't get paid an overly high salary to begin with. What kind of staff, how many, along what do they need to know are questions I haven't seen answered.

Stagirite said...

A profound, and basically unresolvable, tension exists in our culture between elite meritocracy and mass mediocrity, what Leo Strauss called the 'charm of competency.' The founding father chose to create a Republic for a reason, to have an elite pluto-aristocratic order within a stable mass of human, the problem is the stable mass has grown out of proportion with the small group of elites. Added to this are modern illusions of liberation from limitations, and an utter inability to perceive the reality around us. I teach high school Literature (writing really), and most of the students do not particularly enjoy the Sesame Street, self-esteem moral education they have been given, or, they appreciate the truth. They also readily understand the wide spectrum of differing abilities between their classmates. They are assessed all the time, so it is impossible for them to lie to themselves that they are all equally smart when numbers tell them otherwise. The delusion is, as Steve as consistently pointed out, that they have been told they can all be good, when half of them are below normal.

As a polis, we keep important an underclass of laborers, but then instead of teaching them a laboring trade, we tell them they should go to college, to then go to grad school, to then get an entry level job somewhere. Mechanics and plumbers are so expensive because there are so few of them, and plenty of these (below) average kids would be a lot better served attending a technical high school where they learn how to plumb or do minor automotive work than taking my class where I have to teach them to write thesis sentences and analytical paragraphs about the role of Fate in Oedipus Rex. I know they will never, ever, use the skills I teach them, and they know it too. For most of those kids, the best I can do is tell them they have to find a way to be happy in their punishment like Camus' Sisyphus, that that is a much more valuable skill in life.

Smaller class sizes are the only thing from my personal experience as a teacher that helps at all. Once you get over 20 students, teaching is mostly crowd control, and if you want to talk one-on-one with a student about anything, you have less than 2 minutes per kid in a 50 or 60 minute class $12 billion would have bought a hell of a lot more teachers (we are cheap) and far fewer administrators. One of the real booms for the smaller learning communities (I was in a school that instituted them) is they each required their own administrative structure. Each 'community' needed a headmaster, assistant headmasters, curriculum people, department heads, discipline people, community relation people. I imagine most of the $2 billion went to the people dumb enough to get a degree in education administration. Teachers mostly had more meetings with said administrators, who needed something to do when they got bored sending emails to each other from their Blackberrys.

I think Gates' interventions have more to do with him distracting us from his $54 billion in net worth, and his company who's revenues are higher than many of the sub-Saharan African country's GDP. He's one of the richest men alive and dresses like Mr. Rogers for a reason. It is modern noblesse oblige.

Stagirite
http://whatothercareer.blogspot.com/

M. Möhling said...

It's quite possible to dumb down newer (=NT based) Windows systems by restricting user rights ensuring nearly fail-safe operation, and many educational programs have an app like look and feel already. Besides, virtualisation can ensure that screwed up systems can be restored in seconds, and there are several high quality VM solutions for free. Setting up such a virtual machine to be used in a specific grade is technically trivial and shouldn't cost more than a few hundred $. Attacks by malware and user manipulations can be ignored as they will be undone when the VM's original state will be restored either each morning or even after each lesson, while format-restricted user data can be stored on the host system's shared directories or flash drives. Best of it all: Windows VM's can run on free Unix-based systems. Mr Gate won't like this but VMs can run on Win hosts, too, and quite reliably, and for each VM guest schools would need to buy licenses anyway.

Else I concur, but while Bill Gates sure has some flawed conceptions about how society works or should work, you're on the wrong track technically; Windows is quite reliable nowadays, particularly in a guarded and controlled environment, though for all I care other systems (Linux, MacOS) are ok, too. Possibly most existing educational software is for Windows only, as it has the biggest market share, but that could change if bureaucrats wanted--however it doesn't matter much.

> educational software is not purchased
> by the end consumer, but rather by bureaucrats
There's the rub.

Stagirite said...

Also, I wholly second Galaivester comment about computers in the classroom. My school also has Macbooks, and while we do have problems with them (the secure wifi in the school is too slow for 25 computers to log on at one time), once they are logged on, they get basically nothing done. Nothing. Half of the girls end up taking photos of themselves and their friends with photobooth, and the boys play whatever free game they can find online. I usually have them use the computers because while they have them aren't disruptive, so I can conference with them one on one in peace without having to shut them up ever minute, and I have covered my ass by giving them time to work on their essays.

Anonymous said...

Tutor the price of one.

Silver said...

Seems to me the problem isn't so much a lack of good ideas as it is the ideological inertia you're up against. As good summary as any here.

beowulf said...

Frankly, all you need is a netbook that will access the cloud while students are at school (a simple word processor and the textbooks themselves can be loaded in flash memory). A Macbook really seems like overkill.

Kylie said...

"...we're talking about reminding a kid who thinks that -3 times -3 equals -9 that a negative number times a negative number is a positive number."

Why? Why would we be talking about that? That's simply not information that's needed in daily life for the vast majority of people and probably won't be for the foreseeable future.

Why not teach all kids things they really need and would actually use? The brighter kids could learn about, say, negative numbers or the theme of innocence vs. corruption in the works of Henry James--all the information that needs to be passed down to future generations but doesn't need to be in the pool of common knowledge that should be available to all.

Everyone needs to know how to balance a household budget, how to care for a baby, how to read a storybook to a child, how to write simple declarative sentences, how to fill out applications, how to plan a nutritious diet, how to conduct themselves civilly in public, how to keep themselves and their homes clean.

This doesn't mean the arts can't be taught. But instead of the equally dumb extremes of either teaching what is to most the terribly arcane (e.g., Mehlville) or the stupidly pc (e.g., Walker), kids should be taught the pleasure of reading and rhyme by learning simple poetry. They should learn how to listen to classical music. It's surprising how often on the classical music and ballet videos on YouTube, I see comments like, "I'm 13 but I love this" or "I'm black but I love this". The Top 40 of classical and ballet seem very accessible to a wide swath of people; imagine how many more could enjoy them with just a bit of prompting. Every kid should be exposed to the artistry of, say, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Mississippi John Hurt, too.

This isn't some high-flown lunacy on my part. I lived in a lower-class neighborhood with high rates of illegal drug use, petty crime, unemployment and general dysfunction. (I was one of the very few who had no illegitimate children and no criminal record.) Yet even there I found people who enjoyed classical music or would give some thought to a film that engaged them.

Teach kids what they need to know to navigate through daily life and them teach them things that help make that effort worthwhile.

But that will never happen. Education is a big racket with lots of money and prestige to be had by the grabbiest and smuggest. Nobody has any interest in changing that.

Whiskey said...

First Steve, Bill Gates obsession with Africa, and "uplifting" non-White kids is really Melinda Gates. There is no evidence whatsoever that Gates gave a damn about Africa, or non-White kids in America, until he married Melinda Gates. Afterwards he engaged in the usual social climbing and philanthropy (designed to make the Gates a big deal to people women care about -- Bono, Al Gore, High Society). And the solution to Bill Gates problem: "How can I make my wife happy who only married me for my money and probably detests me as a Beta Male?" is spreading cash around to people who will worship him as the big shot.

Not actually doing anything productive.

Anonymous said...

I'm skeptical of having a computer tutor kids. Without the engagement of a real person, it can be hard for kids to care. Satisfying the program that wants you to click on the lower right quadrant of the screen is different from satisfying a real tutor.

Whiskey said...

Let me add, that Bill Gates model of software development means that there is no possibility he can EVER create something that won't be rebooting for ten minutes constantly. This is why he's failed in mobile, failed in tablets, failed in video games (X Boxen lose money and the division has lost about $1.5 billion over the last six years IIRC).

Gates model of development is throw tons of cheap H1B Visa holders at what amounts to legacy spaghetti code from DOS onwards that key business customers demand. He has not done what Apple did which was use a UNIX base to simplify the OS and add the pretty UI on top.

Also, Gates does not care. Steve Jobs will be at Apple until he dies. Gates walked away, because it was never about the technology for him (unlike Jobs), but the money.

I think some provider will mass-market Steve's basic concept -- AI Tutors installed on your home computer, for anxious middle class and higher IQ lower class parents wanting a cognitive boost to their kids. Now think about it. The Teaching Company makes a nice business off College (and HS) lectures on all sorts of areas, particularly science, math, astronomy, medicine, history, classical music, literature, and religion. There is a HUGE hunger for learning, and higher learning, by "middle brow" people as our culture becomes a degraded freak show (one of the unfortunate tendencies of the Scots-Irish who love freak shows and don't really value education).

Imagine a "Latin tutor in a software package" the way Rosetta Stone advertises on TV. Or Calculus Tutor. Aimed at people paying directly out of pocket (the way Jobs did an end-run around corporate purchase/domination of PCs by positioning Macs in 2001 as consumer high end music devices).

Dan Kurt said...

re:"Smaller class sizes are the only thing from my personal experience as a teacher that helps at all. Once you get over 20 students, teaching is mostly crowd control, and if you want to talk one-on-one with a student about anything, you have less than 2 minutes per kid in a 50 or 60 minute class…" ‪Stagirite‬ said...

Read, please, Dorothy Sayer's Lost Tools of Learning: http://tinyurl.com/4nmrtjo

Of course I never had the good fortune to experience what Sayer advocated being in school in the 1950s in America but at least I had a watered down equivalent as did many of my fellow students who matriculated with me in an Ivy in the 1960s.

What we had were large classes ( 50+ students, often 60+ ) in primary and secondary school; sex separation 9th through 12th; iron discipline especially 9th through 12th; stratification by IQ testing in the big cities where there were enough kids to separate into similar IQ cohorts, drill and more drill for 8 grades, and a real threat of failure hanging over a student for all 12 years as one saw students held back, expelled and disciplined.

One more thing, at that time Teachers were in no way our friends. Neither were our coaches out of school. When I was 14 I was benched for four baseball games because I didn't bunt when signaled to do so by the first base coach and hit away doubling in a run. I caught hell from him and the head coach and my own father for not listening and was embarrassed in front of both teams and the fans as I was yanked out of the game and another player was sent to second base to run in my place. No thought was given to any self esteem that I may have lost over the incident.


Dan Kurt

none of the above said...

A lot of Gates' pattern in other areas has been to find the experts, ask them what needs doing, and then do it. My guess is, that works better or worse depending on the quality of available expertise. To the extent expert opinion on education is tangled up in taboos about race and IQ, or current political compromises, he just gets crap advice.

Thrasymachus said...

Education is undemocratic; individual self-paced education is incredibly undemocratic. A few children would zoom ahead, some would fall far behind. The idea that everyone is suited to learning the same thing at about the same pace would be shown up.

Education is mostly seen as a group socialization process anyway. Children can learn indivicually, but they can't be indoctrinated individually. To make somebody believe something that is clearly wrong, you have to make them see that there are social consequences for it.

kurt9 said...

The purpose of Bill and Melinda Gate's foundation is not to actually solve any social problem by thinking out of the box. Its purpose is to help Bill Gates overcome the public image of being a nerd. Since thinking out of the box and actually trying to solve problems is the "nerd" thing to do, Gate's foundation is not about to do any of this. Instead, his foundation exists to finance all of the ideas espoused by the "trendy" non-nerd people in the social science milieu so that Bill can feel that he is a part of this crowd.

Svigor said...

The weird thing is that the Way to Fix the Schools has basically never been, according to Gates, about the main way the rest of economy gets more productive -- and also the one thing Bill Gates definitely knows a lot about: information technology.

Bingo. Bill's a douche. Full stop.

(That's for the Linux crowd; Windows users are already well-aware)

Anonymous said...

The best thing Bill Gates could do would be to fund 'Steve Jobs High'. Where Steve designs the school, curiculum, use of tech etc. A template for what C21 education could look like. Liberal Arts meets Tech.

Also check out his comments in the section 'Could technology help by improving education?' in:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.02/jobs_pr.html

Bostonian said...

There are at least two reasons computerized instruction has not caught on. One is that public schools are partly run for the benefit of teachers' unions, who fear labor-saving technology.

Another is that computerized instruction, by allowing children to move at their own pace, will allow some children to move MUCH more quickly than others through the curriculum. It magnifies the differences that educationists do not want to acknowledge. Gifted math students do NOT need seven years of arithmetic/pre-algebra before studying algebra. Educationists are more interested in having children be in classrooms with their age peers than in letting some kids move faster than others.

RGH said...

Tutoring doesn't have to be expensive if it replaces school rather than supplements it. For the $10,000 or so we spend per student on schools, you could pay for four hours of tutoring per week for thirty-six weeks and still have a couple of grand left over for books, software, sports or activity fees, etc. And that's paying fifty bucks an hour for tutoring; you could hire a pretty good tutor for fifty bucks an hour. You wouldn't have to pay for schoolhouses, vice-principals, secretaries, principals, or any of the other stuff the schools waste money on. (Tutors could provide their own office space.)

And tutoring is effective even if it's only done a few hours per week. When I was teaching I supplemented my income by taking on home-bound students (kids who had mangaged to finagle a note from their doctor to get them out of school). Most of the kids did better academically while on home-bound than they did in the classroom (true of bright and dull alike).

We've educated our own kids through private tutoring. My eldest daughter took most of her high school classes from tutors, some she shared an hour per week with one other girl, and some she shared a couple of hours per week with six or seven other kids. She did well enough on her ACT to get a really good scholarship from a flagship state U, and (so far) has a 4.0 in college. We never spent more than four or five hundred dollars on a class, and we spent a good deal less on most. Tutoring works better and costs less.

Anonymous said...

lol "technology can save us!"

Good luck with that one.

JSM said...

"Solution is simple: Let the smart kids tutor the dumb kids. Keeps the smart kids busy and gives them a sense of USEFULNESS so they don't get all Gothy and weird; and gives the dumb kids individualized learning at zero cost."

NO. You are NOT going to force my smart kid to spend 7 hours a day in school tutoring dumb kids.

If we lived in an ethnically homogeneous country, maybe, but not now, here, in PC-MC enstupidated U.S.

I do NOT need my smart kid's head bashed in by a dumb, and jealous, and ungrateful, and resentful, non-White kid.

Whattayou? An advocate of "closing the gap" through the ballpeen-hammer method?

JSM said...

"2. The problem was not so much that I needed to fix the kid's computer problems; it was that students were internet surfing or playing games rather than using the computers for the tasks at hand. They were more of a distraction than an aid."

How hard could it be for school districts to order computers without an internet browser or games installed?
If a kid in such a school wants to use the 'net, make him ask permission to go to the internet-ready one in the proctored computer room.

Anonymous said...

A big problem with school that is often overlooked is that we sort kids out solely by age, so they have no interaction with kids of other ages. That's stupid. Kids can often best learn a skill from other kids who have just gone through the process of learning it, and the more advanced kids get their knowledge reinforced by teaching.

We should have a system that encourages interaction of students across age groups, sorted out by IQ. Let the smart older kids teach the smart younger kids.

Anonymous said...

Not competition and private business?

Anonymous said...

"Steve Jobs will be at Apple until he dies."

So another six weeks?

Anonymous said...

I think a good idea would be to assign to the "star" teachers an assistant who would help with discipline. When I was in high school and college I did quite a bit of math tutoring and I think I would make a good lecturer.
What turns me off from the idea of teaching math to a classroom of kids is the need to constantly maintain discipline. An assistant who would help with the wayward individuals would free the instructor to focus on the subject matter rather than behavior.

David said...

What Bostonian said.

Plus: a large purpose of "public school" is simply to babysit or incarcerate, depending on age. Google John Taylor Gatto and see what this prize-winning teacher had to say about the reasons "public school" was created in the first place.

Stagirite said...

Dan Kurt makes excellent points, none of which I disagree with in any way, and I thank him for exposing me to Sayer's essay, something I have not come across, though I have come across Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed multiple times in grad school ed classes. I only want to add two points, one ontological and the other material.

Materially, schools would be much much better if you took say, 90% of women in professional fields (law, scientific research, medicine, computer science, etc.) and had them teach, which was essentially what was happening until those careers were opened up to women. Those people are hardworking, disciplined, and in the upper echelon of human intelligence. I, on the other hand, went to a 2nd tier private university, am lazy, and undisciplined. I have taught kids who have their pick of tier one Ivy and near Ivy league schools, and most of them would be wasting their time teaching.

Ontologically, my students (and I) have no concept of a patriarchal order, and all grew up in an era where one's feelings are equally, if not more, important than one's ability. In my school, there is an entire multiple room for the students to go to when they are not feeling good, emotionally, of course, and I would be seen as some sort insensitive, antiquated tyrant to keep them from going there. They would probably throw a temper tantrum, and I would end up having to fill out all sorts of paperwork, and end up apologizing (in both senses) for my actions.

Watching 5 minutes of any reality television show makes it blatantly obvious that we no longer live in a shame culture; vices, both venial and moral, are readily celebrated on television.

I have taught at test-in magnet schools, and the quality of the teachers is definitely higher (though not what I imagine it was in Mr. Kurt's time), and the discipline and intelligence of the students was an order of magnitude higher, the ontology was the same.

My opinions about class size et al. come from my experience of being within the world (to borrow some vague, Heidegger jargon) with sufficient education and intuition to see the current beneath the surface. Mr. Kurt is correct in every way, but the values and state of being his world had is as discordant with the current world as the Roman world would have been with his.

Peter Kang said...

"The best thing Bill Gates could do would be to fund 'Steve Jobs High'. Where Steve designs the school, .... Liberal Arts meets Tech."

LOL. Keep both of them away from the kids, please. Gates had his one big moment with MSDOS license to PCs. He's done NOTHING of value since, and even that is questionable. Jobs great accomplishment is stylizing and feminizing tech. Making tech fashion accessories. He's done nothing else.

map said...

First of all, I really like Whiskey's take on why Bill started the Gates Foundation.

To add, it should be obvious to all that the Gates Foundation is basically a tax scam. This is just another non-profit hedge fund that gets to keep the difference between what it disburses as required by law and what it earns through various investments...while allowing family members to draw huge salaries in perpetuity as directors.

It will never solve any problems because it was never meant to solve any problems.

As far as math tutorial programs go, what happened to MathXpert? That seemed like a viable solution.

Udolpho.com said...

Computers in the classroom will fix all our problems, right after overhead projectors in the classroom, slideshows in the classroom, film projectors in the classroom, and televisions in the classroom.

But hey it's free money right? We can afford to spend it on untested, expensive, rapidly depreciating resources.

rainy_day said...

> What's harder is getting the computer to figure out why the student gets wrong a problem at his appropriate level. Yet, that's not an impossible task in math, where there are a finite number of ways to screw up.

I've posted this before, but for algebra, it's been done: http://www.stuckonalgebra.com/soapositive.html

he doesn't specify it there but, he was a tutor for a few years, and knew what mistakes kids made. His software figures it out and helps accordingly. [I'm not associated with him, I just think it's cool. I wish there was similar software for topology :) ].

Udolpho.com said...

jesus having read the comments, with a few exceptions this post really drew the intensely clueless geek crowd...guys, save your Linux and Mac lectures for the people who care, which would be nobody

Fred said...

"Tutoring doesn't have to be expensive if it replaces school rather than supplements it. For the $10,000 or so we spend per student on schools, you could pay for four hours of tutoring per week for thirty-six weeks and still have a couple of grand left over for books, software, sports or activity fees, etc. And that's paying fifty bucks an hour for tutoring; you could hire a pretty good tutor for fifty bucks an hour. You wouldn't have to pay for schoolhouses, vice-principals, secretaries, principals, or any of the other stuff the schools waste money on. (Tutors could provide their own office space.)"

Combine RGH's idea with Steve's idea about retired Army or Marine NCOs and you've got something.

Carol said...

"A big problem with school that is often overlooked is that we sort kids out solely by age, ...Let the smart older kids teach the smart younger kids."

Oh, horseshit. Where have you been? Schools tried that 20 years ago. Even here in flyover. A retired teacher told me how suddenly one year she had to teach three grades combined, for the same stupid reasons you cite, and it was fucking chaos. There is a big difference in maturity year to year at that level. And as someone said above, where is the justice in making the smart teach the stupid and maybe dangerous?

You need to learn more about the plethora of progressive ed fads the schools have been through, the last 40 years, before you go handing out advice.

What pisses me off is that our legislators are just as ignorant.

Anonymous said...

"Ontologically, my students (and I) have no concept of a patriarchal order, and all grew up in an era where one's feelings are equally, if not more, important than one's ability. "

So you're saying we're now metaphysically in a maternal vs a paternal sort of world order, interesting.

Felix M said...

For kids who want to learn, you want orderly, step by step instruction. With no distracting Sesame Street junk.

And this is being delivered - for free via Youtube - by Sal Khan (of the "Khan Academy"). To his credit, Bill G has provided some funding to Sal.

Of course, this approach will mean that kids will learn at different rates.

Which brings me to Carol's comment that it's "a mistake to teach Algebra I in 8th grade. ... it's too abstract for them". That's probably true for some, but others can tackle algebra in year 6 and move on to calculus at, say, age 15. This notion is scarey - it would limit all the kids to the level of the slowest.

BTW, having brighter kids teach the slower ones does not work. My mom got me a few jobs tutoring math when I was in High School. But, while I knew the math, I was hopeless at the task of teaching, ie communicating it to people who found it difficult.

Stagirite said...

Responding to Anonymous' question/comment: "So you're saying we're now metaphysically in a maternal vs a paternal sort of world order, interesting."

My male students who have been exposed to some element of a patriarchal order, whether at home or through some sport (boxing, for example) are significantly better behaved and more disciplined that those that grew up without one. I would say in many parts (ie. blue) of the country, the maternal order of feelings, talking, self-esteem, and softness has reigned for decades now. Black males are almost exclusively raised by their mothers and grandmothers and The Rawness has amply pointed out how feminine many of them act (lack of control over emotions, obsession with outward shows of wealth and power, etc.) Go to any playground and see how inappropriate any use of masculine force is and you will quickly see how maternal our culture is.

Anonymous said...

"Frankly, all you need is a netbook that will access the cloud while students are at school (a simple word processor and the textbooks themselves can be loaded in flash memory). A Macbook really seems like overkill."

Do you mean just downloading the textbook on a Sony reader or Kindle? I wouldn't want to read from a PC for a long time. Better to carry a Kindle than a big bag of books. Maybe they'll be able to write on them in the future.

Anonymous said...

" A retired teacher told me how suddenly one year she had to teach three grades combined,"

We had mixed grades in the 70's for 1st thru 3rd grade. I don't know the reason. Maybe it was talent level.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree that having brighter students tutor slower students never works. It all depends on the students of each ilk being chosen. Canny teachers choose patient, somewhat phlegmatic bright kids to pair with earnest but dim kids. The openly hostile are left to their own malignant devices. I have personally seen many kids "get it" when they didn't before, and witnessed many honest expressions of appreciation for the assistance. The concept can and does work, but it must be controlled by a teacher who really knows his or her students.

none of the above said...

Computerized education has had a huge impact on me, from college on. That's not software to teach me some subject, but rather access to experts, papers, summaries, blogs, and discussions about whatever subject I want to study. Podcasts and iTunes U are utterly amazing--you can basically sit in on classes from MIT and various other places, for free.

Extending this to kids in school means making it more accessible. I think that's certain to happen. And as it does, we will get a natural experiment about Flynn's feedback-loop hypothesis explaining the Flynn effect. (His idea is basically that smarter people select more intellectually stimulating environments, and so get still smarter.) My guess is, this will be a huge inequality amplifier. Smarter kids will learn more every day than dumber kids, at least assuming some combination of discipline and interestingness-of-material, and the more you know and understand, the more you can learn.

Assuming the basic HBD view of the world is right, that will make the racial differences much bigger and more obvious, as the kids shooting up through the stratosphere will be overwhelmingly Asian or white. Assuming the unconscious discrimination model of the world is right, the previously-shut-out black and brown geniuses, given access to a color-blind way to push themselves, will shoot up to their rightful places. That's another natural experiment, one I hope we make soon.

Anonymous said...

And yet, common sense says that information technology offers the main hope of us ever being able to afford on a mass scale the one educational tool that works more often than anything else, especially with math: individualized tutoring.

Art Jensen had a similar idea about individualized tutoring (by computers), which, I believe, can be found in "The g Factor and the Design of Education" here:

http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=gTP05XkjiR8C&oi=fnd&pg=PA111&ots=zkyAogXIVX&sig=SfjjXp6VCrDfLZM6HPRGQ8Eelrg#v=onepage&q&f=false

Harold said...

Who needs AI when there are Indians?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11452881

From the above link:

“Pupils at a north London primary school have been improving their maths - thanks to the internet which has put them in touch with teachers thousands of miles away in India.”

But the teachers’ unions don’t think this is a good solution. For some reason.

“Tutors and pupils may be enthusiastic about the scheme, but teachers' unions have criticised it, saying schools should focus their resources on empowering classroom teachers to raise standards.”

Kylie said...

"My guess is, this [Internet access to advanced knowledge] will be a huge inequality amplifier. Smarter kids will learn more every day than dumber kids, at least assuming some combination of discipline and interestingness-of-material, and the more you know and understand, the more you can learn."

With all due respect, I think you've missed a key point. You need to assume not only a combination of discipline and interesting material but continued accessibility.

Years ago, I used to look up my favorite literature online and then read profs' lectures, or even their syllabi and study questions. I learned some useful background that made me enjoy what I read even more. But I notice that increasingly these aren't available. Maybe they're in some other format.

The continued dumbing down of so many curricula should give you pause. There's a reason for that and it's not so bright students will seem or become brighter. I wouldn't be surprised if general access to advanced knowledge became increasingly restricted or just fell into the memory hole.

In short, I think you're overly optimistic.

Anonymous said...

Surely by now we would know if Computer assisted education really worked, don't you think? People have been experimenting with this concept for 30-40 years by now -- where's the big payoff? Do you really think that some big idea is just around the corner here -- which idea has until now escaped the imaginations of the thousands or tens of thousands of developers who have toiled in the field of educational software?

Honestly, this is just another fad that we can add to the long list of failures in the area of supposedly breakthrough reforms.

How about the idea that education is hard, both for student and teacher, and that we're not terribly far away from the asymptote of what we might ever achieve here, given the students we have on our hands?

Anonymous said...

Thrasymachus said...

Education is mostly seen as a group socialization process anyway.

That's really all that public education has been for the last 65 years, plus some overpackaged trivia that passes as "academics".

(That's right, trivia. The academic knowledge passed on by educators is basically a collection of pre-packaged facts and factoids. No deep knowledge. No critical thinking.)

Children can learn indivicually, but they can't be indoctrinated individually. To make somebody believe something that is clearly wrong, you have to make them see that there are social consequences for it.

IOW, create an artificial culture of shame.

Anonymous said...

A big problem with school that is often overlooked is that we sort kids out solely by age, so they have no interaction with kids of other ages. That's stupid. Kids can often best learn a skill from other kids who have just gone through the process of learning it, and the more advanced kids get their knowledge reinforced by teaching.

That is a double-edged sword.

One of the reasons for age segregation is to protect the younger, physically smaller and weaker, children. Even with age segregation, schools have a poor record of such proection.

It is nice when kids get to interact with kids of other ages - but schools are not extended families. Leave that to actual families, and to adult-supervised special interest groups.

Anonymous said...

JSM:

NO. You are NOT going to force my smart kid to spend 7 hours a day in school tutoring dumb kids.

Most of these dumb kids shouldn't be in school anyway, even vocational school. They should be out on the street, or playing their precious sports 24/7, or working as chimney sweeps.

I do NOT need my smart kid's head bashed in by a dumb, and jealous, and ungrateful, and resentful, non-White kid.

I don't want my six-year-old smart kid's head bashed in either, nor do I want him to be swallowed whole by some 17 year old roid mutant (of any race) who should be doing manly work such as clearing minefields in Iraq - rather than being cooped up in clasroom with "faggy little munchkins".