Thursday Reading List: Assessing Personalized Learning and Why Do Republicans Suddenly Hate College?

The concept of personalized learning is all the rage right now. Nichole Dobo is in The Hechinger Report, trying to determine if there's a way to know whether or not the idea works:

Traditional school districts that attempt to bring a new model of education that provides personally designed lessons for students often face conflicting priorities that make it difficult to follow through, according to a new report released Tuesday. And schools should not expect a dramatic or sudden increase in math and reading test scores, according to the new research from RAND Corporation ... The new report from RAND follows a 2015 study of personalized learning that generally found more positive results. The earlier research included some of the leading pioneers in personalized learning, such as Summit Public Schools and Rocketship Education. The new report includes a more diverse subset of schools that are not part of big networks. In other words, it might provide a more clear-eyed look at how personalized learning strategies play out in typical public schools. The new report from RAND found that traditional schools tended to run into roadblocks more often than charter schools did.

There's a lot to unpack here, but these results reflect what tends to happen when new ideas "scale up." The early adopters of a new approach are more likely to implement an idea with fidelity to the intent of the model, and as a result, rapid expansion can lead to diminishing returns. These results also serve as a good reminder not to place too much faith in any hot new educational idea as a panacea. The best way to kill a promising reform is to overstate its potential before it has a chance to prove itself.

Hot ideas, coming through!

Hot ideas, coming through!

Erica Green and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times look at how Betsy DeVos's administration is thinking about campus sexual assault:

In recent years, on campus after campus, from the University of Virginia to Columbia University, from Duke to Stanford, higher education has been roiled by high-profile cases of sexual assault accusations. Now Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is stepping into that maelstrom. On Thursday, she will meet in private with women who say they were assaulted, accused students and their families, advocates for both sides and higher education officials, the first step in a contentious effort to re-examine policies of President Barack Obama, who made expansive use of his powers to investigate the way universities and colleges handle sexual violence. How university and college administrations have dealt with campus sexual misconduct charges has become one of the most volatile issues in higher education, with many women saying higher education leaders have not taken their trauma seriously. But the Obama administration’s response sparked a backlash, not just from the accused and their families but from well-regarded law school professors who say new rules went too far.

Read the whole thing. While the administration hasn't changed anything yet, the rhetoric of top officials sends important messages about their values. In particular, DeVos's top civil rights official has made some flippant, offensive comments about the victims of sexual assault, which justifiably have angered activists.

In other news, David A. Graham of The Atlantic wants to know why so many republicans have turned against the concept of higher education:

In the era of Trump, institutions—and especially those that are perceived as liberal—are unpopular, and opinions divide sharply along party lines, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center. Alright, maybe that isn’t surprising. But there is one startling result in the survey: a sharp decline in conservative impressions of universities ... What could possibly account for such a steep drop in trust in universities? Several analysts, including Philip Bump, suggested that this is backlash against the rise of identity politics on college campus. Bump noted an increase in Google searches for “safe space” over the time period in which the flip happened ... Still, I’m skeptical that this explains all of the change. After all, to mix a metaphor, conservative leaders have used the Ivory Tower as a punching bag for decades ... So if “safe spaces” account for only some of the shift, what else might be at work? One theory that seems to make a lot of sense is that the composition of the Republican/Republican-leaning demographic has shifted.

While Graham does not prove any of his hypotheses, it's a cultural divide worth considering. 

If colleges want to be a stepping stone for social mobility, they need to respond to the needs of students who are upwardly mobile. To that point, Jeremy Knight is in Blavity discussing the need for first-generation college students to have a greater voice in education policy:

First-generation college students are the first in their family to attend college, and their achievements represent generations of sacrifice and the promise of upward mobility. In spite of our successful accomplishments and progress in pursuing the American dream, our viewpoint does not have enough influence in conversation about the American education system.  34 percent of undergraduates were first-generation college students in the 2011-2012 college year. As a group, we face unique issues and obstacles: The majority are from low-income families and are more likely to come from low-performing schools. Leaving our distinct firsthand experiences and valuable perspective out of the equation means ignoring a sizable hole in discussions about education generally, and more importantly, where the system falls short in preparing students who may need the most support.

Knight is with the organization Students for Education Reform, and in the interest of full disclosure, I serve on that group's board of directors. I won't add much to his perspective, except to say that there's an interesting interplay among the arguments that Graham is making in The Atlantic, and Knight is making here. In both cases, you see large swaths of the American public clamoring for a greater voice in the institutions that purport to serve them ... without getting much in return.

Have a thoughtful day!