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Monday, April 1, 2019

When money do not make any difference.

Imagine that you know nothing about agriculture, nothing about fertilization, pesticides, breading, etc., you know nothing about anything at all.
And yet you spend millions of dollars on developing tech gadgets for farmers without trying to understand what and how exactly they work.
In education the situation is even weirder.
Farmers at least know the exact technology including many nuances of their trade. Agriculture is a science. You could find an expert who knows how to get from a square one to the final result - every step of the course. And in the end anyone can see - literally!-  if the used strategy worked a failed - there is clear predictability and measurability!
Education has no science (no predictability), only a scientific field. Teachers, including the best ones, are much more artists than scientists.
You give them gadgets (in a general sense), they take them. They use them. They and their bosses and an army of researches write reports about them. That will make them look “searching”, “innovative”, “advanced”.
But that will not make any difference for students, will not make any effect on the learning outcomes of their students.
Disagree with this statement?
Show me solid data which say the opposite.
I am a scientists, I will trust solid objective data.
Start from presenting objective tools for independent measurement of student learning outcomes.
I doubt those exist, though.
In fact, I know they don’t.
Imagine that to measure temperature every county, every city and every town would use only their own scale, only their own thermometer developed and used only in that specific place. Plus no one would even bother creating any conversion tables.
The fact of the matter is that this is exactly what is happening in education with measuring its results. People do not even use term “measuring”, they say “assess”.
But the absence of objective tools for independent measurement of student learning outcomes is not a problem.
The problem is that no one even sees this absence as a problem.
No one even states the development of objective tools for independent measurement of student learning outcomes as a goal.
That is why all tech “enterprises” in education have failed.
And this one will eventually meet the same fate.
Many EdTech VCs have not become investors through a long process of growing up as financial analysts, they simple became rich overnight after selling their own enterprise. The have no deep knowledge of wealth management and financial investments. They just follow their gut feeling.
There is a phenomenon called "the end of a year spending" (or a in another variation, financial year). It happens when companies start spending the rest of the money they have not used yet just to make sure there are no money left. This is the time when one can see a sidewalk that was repaired a year ago is being repaired again, or a sudden company retreat, or a 3-D printer that no one asked for, etc.. It happens because large sums of unused money are not seen as saving, as effective way of working, but as "you asked for too much and didn't use it, so this time we give you less money". Hence, administrators are under pressure to spend every penny.
Venture capitalists experience a similar pressure to spend - well, they say "to invest" - the money they have or manage. No one knows haw many "investments" they do are actual investments, and how many are done just to make an impression of an investment. This happens because the investment market has too much money and there is no point to be picky - anything that can be presented as "innovation" deserves "investment".
Circling back to the origin of this piece, the essence of the new CZI project can be summarized in one sentence.
"Dear teachers, please tell us how do you use our tech gadgets/apps, but, no, we don't want to know how you measure the quality of your teaching, or what do you need the most to teach better".

Since I have been writing on the matter before, I forward readers to previous publications, including (but not limited to):
A word of advice to Mark Zuckerberg: “You are not Steve Jobs, and that’s a good thing.”

 To Dr. Priscilla Chan (and everyone who is hungry): food for thoughts.

     The mission (i.e. the reason for existence) of education as human practice is to ensure the progress of humanity.
     The mission of education as social institution is enabling people to succeed in life.
     The goal of educational institutions is to equip people with relevant knowledge and skills.
     The mission (i.e. the reason for existence) of science as a human practice is making reliable predictions.
     The mission of a scientist as an agent of that practice is discovering truth and presenting it in a testable form.
     The mission of a teacher is fostering in students his/her love for learning.
     The mission of a science teacher is sharing with students the feeling of pleasure from thinking.
     The mission of a mentor is sharing with students the feeling of pleasure from doing the right thing.
     The mission of a parent is making children feeling safe, loved, and confident.
     The mission of humanity is making world a better place
(C) Valentin Voroshilov

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