Educational Standards & Quality

Thoughts from the California Information Communication Technologies Industry Advisory Committee

I flew down to San Diego last night to participate in the Statewide Information Communication Technologies (ICT) Industry Advisory Committee.  It helped me to remember how important ICT education is.  We had a great group of folks at the meeting, with a lot of passion and experience in supporting the students of California to becoming our next generation of “computer nerds”.

But it also brought back to me, about how our education system isn’t keeping up and changing for the needs of our next generation.  Technology is our future, and of any industry sector (other than potentially energy), it is the use or abuse of technology will make the biggest difference to the future of human kind. And educational content standards, and the related curriculum, can either be what will give our students the knowledge that will be needed when they graduate; or force irrelevant content on them, leading to more disillusion with our education system; and at the same time lead to more unemployment.

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Why Johnny Can’t Compute: The Failure of the Old Math

Why Johnny Can't ComputeNearly every leader in our nation is saying that we need to have students get more STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), so that our country will not fall behind technologically and economically from the rest of the world. But, what they don’t say (possibly, because they don’t know), is that the type of math that is needed for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Computer Science (CS) is not the math that is normally taught in high school.

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My Comments on an Economist Article about having Masters Students Reproduce Published Studies

Recently, the Economist had an excellent article about the importance of reproducibility in science, and a new academic journal dedicated to reproducing medical studies.  I believe that reproducibility is critical, and that our institutions of higher education could support this, as I wrote in the following comment:

It would be good for many universities to have Masters students to have the option of repeating a previously published study as part of their graduation requirements. This would help prepare these students to do better original research as part of their doctorate, as well as contribute to the field in a meaningful manner.

What Educational Reform Attempts Could Learn from Software Backward Compatibility

In technology, backward compatibility is a common issue.  Some software companies like Microsoft have tried to keep most of what they created being backward compatible, so that files created in older versions will still work on newer versions.  Even if this causes contortions to arise to be able to do new features, and makes the software less “elegant” and simple.

But, software that isn’t sufficiently backward compatible can have some big problems with getting people to adopt it.  For example, the Python programming language is still having troubles getting programmers to switch from version 2.x to 3.x.  Even though there are relatively few changes between the two, they are profound enough to make it very difficult in switching.  This same problem faces attempts at education reform.

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Blame Common Core?

With the hype about Powerball, I am reminded of a quote, that the lottery is a tax on those who can’t do math. Further, the meme that is going around Facebook that if we divide the current Powerball pot by the population of the U.S. we all would get $4.3 million, also shows a lack of math ability.  (Although the counter meme is grammatically wrong, and many posting the original meme are doing it as a ruse).  What is worth looking at deeper is the lack of understanding of big numbers and probabilistic thinking in the U.S., which our education system has not yet solved.

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Why California Can and Should Immediately Allow Computer Science to be used as an alternative to Algebra I as a High School Graduation Requirement

It is a given that the 21st century economy will be driven by information and communication technologies (ICT), in which nearly the entire human-created world that surrounds us will have a basis in computer science. And while our high schools require a graduate to know about the underlying structures of biological and physical sciences, there is no consistent requirement to understand the underlying structure of the information world. While groups and legislators have worked to make computer science, not just computer literacy, being a high school graduation requirement in California, this has not yet come to pass. And possibly it is not the best answer to the problem.   Instead, I’m going to suggest that a more appropriate solution, which can be implemented immediately, is to have high schools allow an introductory Computer Science course to be used as a graduation requirement alternative to Algebra I.

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Thought of the Day: Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.

As part of my data science self-study, I was reading Flaws and Fallacies in Statistical Thinking, and ran across the quote by H.G. Wells: “Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.”  Since I know many quotes (even those in textbooks) are at least partially apocryphal, I searched, and found the original quote to be:

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A Simple and Appropriate Value-Added Measurement of Colleges’ Economic Benefit

The news talks all the time about our national problem of student debt, and the problems with the cost of colleges.   To solve this, there is a need for a simple measurement that is “objective” (or at least properly contextualized) that can be used determine whether a college (or program within a college) is likely a worthwhile economic investment.

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Some Practical Thoughts on Developing Multiple Choice Questions

This image, originally posted to Flickr, was reviewed on 5 January 2014 by the administrator or reviewer Chenzw, who confirmed that it was available on Flickr under the stated license on that date.Multiple Choice questions are common because they are easy to grade.  And while assessment theory has a lot to say about making tests that are reliable and valid, for most teachers in a classroom who wants to make their own tests, they won’t do all of that work.  So here are some practical thoughts for teachers on how to improve the creation of their multiple choice tests:

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Thought of the Day: Having Educational Standards are Good. Having Good Educational Standards is Better.

I was watching an interview of Bill Gates on C-SPAN (Yes, I watch C-SPAN at times, and I think more people should!)  Most of his interview was about the Ebola outbreak, but he also was asked about Common Core.  His basic response was to give an analogy about how the U.S. would be if we didn’t have standards in voltage for power outlets, or different track widths in the railroads in each state.

His analogy has some merit on the surface.  But, he didn’t give the example about feet, inches, yards, and miles…  We have a U.S. standard for distances (and other measurements), that is different from nearly the rest of the world, and our standard has caused problems with engineering, lagged down our economy, and no one yet has found an effective way to change it.   The QWERTY keyboard is another example of a standard that no one has been able to effectively change on a widespread basis, despite being clearly a poorer standard.  (And no, I don’t buy the arguments made by “Reason” Magazine on this topic).

So with the standardization of educational outcomes from the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards, we should ask ourselves “are these the right standards”.   And, this is where there has not been enough work done to answer that question.