Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fried Thinking

An article in the Times of 11/13/07 mentioned the latest nycdoe scheme to improve student success, giving them free phones with text messages from Jay-Z and Lebron James. This was dreamed up by Harvard Prof, Roland (Wonka) Fryer. (Graphic by Eduwonkette)
Some reactions:
From ednotes, featuring a pretty funny graphic
All it takes are a few messages from some rappers on a cell phone to motivate kids turned off by school. Jeez! Why didn't think of that when I was teaching? Oh, I forgot. In those days we used waxed string and milk containers to communicate. (Is there a way to send text messages that way?)

That DOE consultant Roland Fryer keep jumping from the fryer pan into the fire.

I was taken by these quotes in today's NY Times article:

“How do you get people to think about achievement in communities where, for historical or other reasons, there isn’t necessarily demand for that,” Mr. Klein said yesterday in an interview. “We want to create an environment where kids know education is something you should want. Some people come to school with an enormous appetite for learning and others do not — that’s the reality.”

"Mr. Klein said the effort was spurred in part by the results from focus groups performed by market research firms for the Education Department. That research found that black and Latino students from some of the city’s most hard-pressed neighborhoods had a difficult time understanding that doing well in school can provide tangible long-term benefits."

They needed a focus group to tell them something teachers find out in their first 10 minutes of teaching?

You see, we have been telling Klein this all along and his response is that we are making excuses. Many of us actually know how to fix this problem. Engaging, exciting curricula, not test prep. And smaller class sizes so kids who do not come with an appetite for learning have more of an opportunity to be engaged. Hell, I do not remember my friends and I having that enormous appetite for learning - we were more afraid of our mothers' daily nag.

Now let's review, kiddies:

You have non-motivated students who are often struggling with academics. I have an idea. turn on the screws by threatening them with being held over on the basis of high stakes tests and then tell them they will get a cell phone and a text message from JB Cool if they can withstand the pressure. Pure Genius!

From inside schools blog
With text message plan, DOE reforms officially absurd
Posted by Philissa at 6:25 AM
"Is there any idea that wild and crazy Roland Fryer won't try? Last week the word was that he was arranging to give kids cell phones whose minutes would be dependent on school performance. This week's plan, according to the Times, is to have famous people, such as Jay-Z and LeBron James, send poor New York City kids text messages telling them to stay in school. Really. Because a rap artist who dropped out of high school and a basketball player who skipped college for a multi-million-dollar professional contract are the perfect figures to teach kids about the long-term benefits of doing well in school.

Even getting past the obvious ironies, this plan just seems weird. I have questions about why the program will roll out in KIPP charter schools, where students already have someone at home who recognizes the value of doing well in school enough to enter them in the lottery and make sure they are in uniform for each 9-hour day. And I'm not sure Fryer needed a focus group to find out that "reaching [teenagers] through a concerted campaign of text messages or through the Internet was far more likely to be effective than a traditional billboard and television campaign" — any parent or 9-year-old could have told him that. Finally, I wonder whether it's crossed Fryer's mind that one way to increase "demand" for education would be to make school enjoyable — by bolstering the quality of teaching, reducing the number of tests kids must take, and encouraging creativity in the classroom.

I don't think there's anything wrong, necessarily, with what's essentially a 21st-century version of this 1990 public service announcement. I just don't get it.

The text messages will start transmitting in January. I can already imagine one unintended consequence that could be a boon for DOE officials and cash-strapped parents. If their cell phones start spewing motivational messages, many kids might feel incentivized to leave their phones at home."
from san francisco
"just by promising to get a silly haircut?

Of course! Kids are paid to learn all the time and it works. Many parents reward good grades, while others emphasize the future benefits of education. That’s the reasoning behind Roland Fryer’s project called “Incentivising: An Experiment in NYC Public Schools,” where he has tried to set up an experiment where pupils are rewarded for standardized test performance. There are no reports posted yet, but the idea is promising and worth investigating.

Fryer is on the right track, but Machado’s strategy offers a bigger lesson most people have not yet appreciated about schools. You need incentives because most schooling is terribly boring and, frankly, often useless. Schools were designed to impart a one size fits all education in a factory style setting. That’s why kids need to be rewarded if they are to exert any meaningful effort. You have to compensate for the negative school experience.

Machado’s idea was to make the school itself more fun, if only by making the principal look funny for a few days. He didn’t need money, just the insight that you had to change school itself by making it a less tedious environment. I am not claiming that ridiculous antics should be the only way we get kids to learn, but too much focus on incentivizing education misses the point that the school itself discourages learning. There’s definitely a role for rewarding educational effort, as Fryer proposes, but the biggest changes will come when people rethink the school from the ground up so students actually want to be there, instead of a place you endure while waiting for that nice middle class job.

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