I’m really bad at keeping up with the media cycle.
So last Wednesday, Vox put up this cute piece with the catchy title, “How Amazon Could Destroy College as We Know It.” Written in the form of a letter from Jeff Bezos to shareholders in the year 2030, it tells the story of how Amazon came to supplant traditional higher education by developing, and selling at cost, badges that people could earn to demonstrate particular skill sets. As the value of badges became evident, companies became more and more interested in using them in hiring—to the detriment, presumably, of traditional indicators like college degrees.
It’s a clever article, and well-written. It also doesn’t quite make the claim the headline implies—that the rise of Amazon badges would destroy higher education. Nevertheless, although I think that the piece gets at something real that is going on, and that is eventually going to be an important source of change, this is not how I see it going down.
Anyway, Wednesday night I started writing a blog post using a similar Bezos-to-shareholders conceit, but from a 2030 that looked quite different. It just wasn’t quite working, I think because it’s hard to see Amazon pioneering the kind of change I can imagine. Pearson, maybe. But even I can’t name the CEO of Pearson. (Apparently it’s John Fallon.)
So the format wasn’t quite working, but the underlying point still nagged. While badges may become a thing, and perhaps Amazon may even pioneer them, they are not going to be “the” new form of educational currency. The world in which “as many as half of major US employers now consider Amazon badges to be one of their top five criteria when determining whom to hire” will remain a fantasy.
Guest blogger emeritus Karissa McKelvey just won a huuuge award. Her project just won a Knight Foundation grant. Her team is going to build a search engine that allows people to access data and make sure the data is update. Think of it as Bit Torrent for data, not illegal downloads. Good job!
At Education Next, Sally Kilgore offers a thoughtful overview of James Coleman’s career. For example, the aftermath of the EEOC report:
Coleman’s claims drew a vitriolic response, particularly from some fellow sociologists, who assumed he no longer favored desegregation. At the 1976 meeting of the American Sociological Association, posters bearing swastikas and Coleman’s name were displayed in the main auditorium, and the ASA’s president, Alfred McClung Lee, led a failed attempt to have him expelled. The flap eventually subsided, and though Coleman’s work on education remained controversial for more than a decade, he was elected president of the ASA in 1990.
The attacks by colleagues must have been especially painful for a man who had actively opposed segregation. In July 1963, he and his first wife, Lucille, had taken their three boys—Tom, 8, John, 6, and Steve, 5 months—to participate in a demonstration at a whites-only amusement park outside of Baltimore. As the Colemans attempted to enter the park with a black family, they were arrested, as anticipated, along with nearly 300 fellow demonstrators.
“Public and Private Schools,” which reported our results to the Department of Education, generated a new wave of controversy for Coleman. The report’s most contentious finding was that minority students attending Catholic schools had higher levels of achievement than those in public schools. The study also found that students in private schools increased their participation in extracurricular activities in each succeeding grade, while public school students appeared to decrease their participation. Critics pointed out, justifiably, that we had not adequately controlled for initial differences in the student populations as they entered either public or private schools. For instance, the family background variables we used to control for such differences may have failed to capture more nuanced variations in parental interest in education. Coleman never balked at criticism; he quickly looked for alternative methods to improve the control over initial differences. (A few years later, using survey data from the second round of “High School and Beyond,” the team showed that students in private schools had greater learning gains between their sophomore and senior years than did students in public schools. Thus, the achievement gap could not be attributed solely to the performance of the incoming freshmen.)
Read the whole thing.