Saturday, October 6, 2012

The State of Massachusetts and Education

Whenever I hear the phrase, “The State of (anything)” I can’t help but think of one of my favorite songs from Dropkick Murphy’s called “The State of Massachusetts.”  Enjoy the banjo picking.  And the accordion.  Does it get any better than this?

Now, on to the State of Education as discussed in the blog called The Future of Education.

There were a lot of ideas presented in this webinar.  I’ll touch on a few that I found interesting.

One comment real quick on one of the tools used in the webinar forum.  At the beginning of the webinar the moderator had all of the participants use the “star” icon to show where they were from on a map of the world.  I don’t mean to get too colloquial in my blog (sarcasm) but that was just cool.  Walt’s vision of a small world now rings true.

My reflection on some of the ideas…

First, a gentleman named Alfie Kohn posed two similar questions.  First he questioned whether “assessment” is equal to “measurement.”  He stated that we don’t even consider assessment apart from some quantifiable measurement in evaluating teachers.  He questioned whether this is a valid assumption.

I come from the world of automotive engineering where we used to say, “If you can measure it, you can control it.”  I am not sure I agree with this statement, and so I think it is worth reflecting on Mr. Kohn’s question.

Second, along the same lines, he questioned whether this idea of “excellence” is equal to “beating people” (in the context of competition).  He suggests that we are only measuring “excellence” by how much we are beating other school districts, states, or countries in education measurable.  Is this valid?  Good question…

Second, a theme among all four speakers was this idea that education should remain a largely public institution.  I agree with this.  The idea of public education, in any society, is revolutionary.  In times past, education was restricted to those who could afford it.  Without getting into a long discussion on human rights, I would argue that education is one of the basic human rights. It is a step forward in a society when human rights are made available to all.  (I realize there is much to be argued for and against here…but let’s just leave it there for now).

Lastly, one of the statements that I would have liked to understand better was made by Gary Stager.  He suggested that all of the problems in education have already been solved by past generations, and that we just need to apply those solutions.

I am not ready to say if I agree or disagree yet.  My thoughts about how our current state of education differs from past generations is this:

·      We have significantly more diversity in our public education in terms of cultural, financial, and ethnic backgrounds than has ever been seen in history.

·      We have larger populations of students in our public education system than has ever been seen, which equates to the potential for more students to get left behind (by simple statistics).

·      We have higher expectations on our public school systems than ever before.  This equates to more pressure on teachers and administration, and more fault finding by the public.  This seems to lead to more division at the present time.

I would like to know how Mr. Stager would respond to my concerns before I judge his statement true or false.

All in all it was a very good discussion with a lot of different ideas being suggested.

As if often the case though, this talk seemed to present a lot of concerns, without a lot of action steps.  Although I left the engineering world, one thing I can say for them is that they do not leave a problem without definitive action steps.  We might need to look a little harder at this for our education forums.


  1. Thank you for the thoughtful response here. One tension that I look forward to hearing more about is how engineering principles, which work consistently in the natural world, translate into people-centered work, where the "ingredients" are far less predictable.

    Stager is an interesting guy to keep tabs on (he wrote a blog post we used in 504 this past summer). I don't always agree with him, but he always gives me something to think about!

  2. is very interesting to compare tools and ideas from my old world to this new one (for me anyway).

    In the business world we work on inanimate products and turn that in to money. In the "social world" the work and product is people-centered, with social justice and opportunity as the outcome. I feel like bridging that gap...understanding the similarities and, more importantly, the the key to finding the right lens to view the job that has to be done in the social world. Some people don't think there is a difference (I could get political here but I won't), but there is a difference, and defining that difference is so important.