Thursday, December 27, 2007

This Just In: 'Comics Help Struggling Students Learn to Read!' DUH!

From: The New York Times
"Superman Finds New Fans Among Reading Instructors"
" Some parents and teachers regard comics, with their sentences jammed into bubbles and their low word-to-picture ratio, as part of the problem when it comes to low reading scores and the much-lamented decline in reading for pleasure. But a growing cadre of educators is looking to comics as part of the solution..."
Read the full article @ its source:


*duh (du)
Used to express disdain for something deemed stupid or obvious, especially a self-evident remark.
[Imitative of an utterance attributed to slow-witted people.]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Some Perspective on all those Education Comparison Reports

Somehow, no matter how strong my resolve to look at education from within 'The Box' so that I can better relate to my fellow educators, whenever I'm assaulted with the usual educational achievement statistics and Ed-speak comparison data my eyes glaze over and my mind simply refuses to be a good boy. It revolts and looks beyond the parameters of accepted frames of understanding, looking for hints of greater meaning beyond it. I had this experience AGAIN recently when I opened my email in-box to read the PILOTed newsletter an item I generally value and look forward to receiving. Following is one of its recent "important" in-the-box reports and my reactions to it from some other place...

"US education compared to other developed nations - Education at a Glance 2007
This newsletter summarizes the US briefing paper for the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Education 2007 at a Glance report. The briefing paper for the US is available at the OECD website.
Quick summary

The data shows that the US education system substantially favors those who can afford the best schools and who can afford to go to college. Then, the US economy holds the largest rewards for those who have graduated from college, and the biggest penalties for those who do not complete high school, providing few outlets or second chances to cross that gap upon leaving school. Other developed nations appear to be rapidly expanding their university-educated, but without the university spending and income disparities of the US.

Well, NO surprise in any of this...BUT it reminded me of something shared with my cohort of fellows by professor Yasuda (Economist) when I was participating in the *Keizei Koho Center fellowship program for educators, an invition to Japan to experience that country and its schools first hand.

At our first briefing, held in our hotel before venturing out, Professor Yasuda explained that the economic sector of Japanese Society is a highly ordered structure in which the individual's rank and earning status is part of a traditional pecking order, something they simply can't function without. For that reason he explained school rankings were essential. How one did in school dictated how one would be hired, paid, and likely predict the course one's career would take over a lifetime. He also explained that while it was a given that all Japanese would expend tremendous effort in getting in to the best schools they could, and would earn the very highest grades they were capable of, and despite Japan's international reputation for high quality and highly successful schools, school had nothing much to do with acquiring the knowledge needed to do one's job. It WAS, however, an absolutley essential element of Japanese society because they HAD to have some mechanism with which to determine which rung 'on the escalator' individuals would occupy. In other words how they would sort themselves out in the hierarchy. Looking at the report PILOTed is discussing here, I wonder if the same dynamic is not really at work in American socity, even though we continue to speak about learning the curriculum as school's exclusive purpose.

While educational ranking is a great determinant of future earning power, I wonder "is it the sybolic value of the education or is it the actual, functional value that determines that rank in our socieity?" I think this question is a crucial one to ask ourselves and to answer truthfully as we continue to try to make sense of education and improve it. Furthermore, as the emerging paradigm of education demands more and more AUTHENTICY in learning, those in sync with this paradigm will have much greater perspective on the torrent of data that keeps washing over us.

Read the rest of the newsletter and the report @

A brief sample to get you started...

Data from the briefing paper
37% of the US population ages 55-64 have some higher education, which is substantially over the average of other developed countries, and is first out of the 30 countries surveyed. This figure is pretty stable in the US; the number of college graduates as a percentage of the population is basically flat, while most of the rest of the world is rapidly increasing their supply of college grads. Thus, if you look at 25-34 year-olds, the US is 10th.

In the US, people with college degrees earned 75% more than those with high school degrees. Ten years ago, this differential was 68%. There are only three countries with disparities that wide. The rate of return on a college degree is about 13.5%, slightly more for males and slightly lower for females. College graduates also have lower unemployment rates.

In 2005, the probability that a young person will enter higher ed at some point in his or her life was 64%, as opposed to 57% in 2000; it is 71% for women and 56% for men. This compares with 54% as an average in other developed countries. On the other hand, only 54% of entrants to higher education in the US obtain degrees, which is last...."

* Keizai Koho Center Teacher Fellowship

Monday, December 24, 2007

Book Review: Dr. Rudy Crew's ONLY CONNECT - The Way to Save Our Schools

_____________ _Me & Rudy... Back in the Day

Book Review - Dr. Rudy Crew's

Changing Our Schools to Produce Kids Who Can Compete in the Global Economy


It is especially interesting to read this type of book when the author is someone you’ve worked with. Back in the day, when Dr. Rudy Crew was in charge of the New York City public schools and I was part of the district's central office staff, I observed him up close and rubbed elbows with him on occasion.

Dr. Crew is the genuine article, a dyed in the wool educator. He worked his way up through the ranks of the world of public schools, eventually becoming Superintendent of several of our nations largest and most challenged districts. He has left a trail of successes behind him and is an especially important role model for educational leaders at this point in time when more and more often non-educators, generally lawyers or managers from the world of corporate business, are entrusted with the futures of our young people.

Dilettantes beware! This book speaks with a level of authority that only this type of experience and commitment affords. Rudy is currently in charge of the Miami Dade school district (Florida), a lofty perch from which to reflect on the accumulated observations of a lifetime of deep involvement with the institution of Education.

In a sense, Only Connect represents Dr. Crew’s throwing down a number of crucial gauntlets. For those directly involved in, or deeply concerned with, the future of education these will resonate as defining challenges.

Repeated throughout the book is the idea that what’s missing in our schools are the connections between what they offer students and what is actually worth doing in life. This is an idea that is easy to accept. After all, it is not much of a stretch to say that the trend we’ve been seeing in our schools for a good number of years now is to DISconnect everyone and everything from the real world as we get students to produce satisfactory test scores. We’ve come to pursue these symbolic results, which are disconnected from the actual processes of living and authentic learning, keeping subject areas disconnected from one another and from people, activities, aspirations and dreams that students can relate to.

The reader of Only Connect is presented with an astute mapping of those connections that must be established. As Dr. Crew frames it, if education is to be gotten right; students will have to connect to the human qualities that make for a “mature and conscious contributor to society”: Personal Integrity, Workplace Literacy, Civic Awareness, and Academic Proficiency – our classrooms to the qualities of: Caring, High Expectations, and Diverse approaches to learning – and our schools to 14 categories of stake holders without whom they can’t succeed; these include every type of organization from the Federal Government to the Service Community as well individuals of every stripe from parents and students to teachers and principals.

The map laid out is dotted with crucial stops along the way in establishing or repairing and strengthening these connections. These involve improved: physical school plants, instructional standards and frameworks, and funding. What Mr. Crew doesn’t seem to have identified yet is a vehicle by which the actual ground referred to by that map can be traveled by real boots on the ground filled by students and teachers.

The vehicle which will enable this, although he doesn’t see it yet, really has technology at the core of its engine. While the book does discuss technology a bit, the message is somewhat contradictory. It becomes clear that Dr. Crew uses technology personally to ‘connect’ to the world of information and things he cares passionately about when he makes statements like:

“Turn on your computer, log on to the Internet, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Here in the first decade of a new century with an economy based on information, in the flat world Thomas L. Friedman talks about, it’s become apparent that the old laws of supply and demand don’t apply to knowledge in the same way they do to oil or air conditions in the summer. Knowledge is not a finite resource, and scarcity economics don’t apply to it…”

Yet, in the same introductory chapter he also states
'Here’s what “connection” and “global” do not mean: They do not mean the Internet in every classroom. They do not mean laptops for every child.'

And he certainly is on the right track when he asserts

“In many communities the idea of the global classroom is a reflection of how much hardware and software your district has, when the real question is whether or not your kids experience contact with skill sets that will be demanded of them when they go out into the world. Focusing on computers alone is like spending all your time and money on buying shovels when your job is to build a skyscraper.”

But connecting schools and students to what is real will involve more than simple focus and purposefulness in the acquisition and use of classroom-based technology. It is not TECHNOLOGY, but the new set of thinking, learning, and communicating practices brought about by technology that will. And of course while these aren’t technology per se, they are inextricably intertwined with it in many ways. The new paradigm of education that will help create the curative connections Dr. Crew prescribes is simultaneously grounded in the ways technology is changing human intellectual activity AND in the ways human intellectual growth evolved so that it would need to and could develop those technologies.

Until a catchy new name comes along for this multi-dimensional new ground of being and learning, something like ‘SMART 2.0’or ‘Cogno Sapia’, we’ll simply acknowledge its existence and identify it as a new paradigm in which learning is as integrated a dimension of human existence as breathing and being. We see its emergence for instance in the way the new social networking resources connect learners in the act of identifying and accessing materials to be studied while those processes are in progress, in the way our young are connected to information bearing technologies during all waking hours, and in how the technology industry has learned to direct its developmental energies towards satisfying these emergent human ‘needs’ and encouraging their growth – Learning, Knowing, Living are not technology, but they are also no longer states of being that can happen without it. We have entered a period in which one can only connect when one is connected and that happens digitally!

Mark Gura

PS - Here's a link to a review on the page where orders for this book are taken. The review AND the book it refers to are typical of what's wrong in the conversation about education:( :( :(

Saturday, December 22, 2007

And the Auto-Didacts Shall Inherit the Earth!

If you go to a rural school in an impoverished developing nation, not only will you see squalor standing in for what ought to be decent classrooms, but among the mud floors and flies swarming in under the eaves, you'll see a strong fervor for learning.

This is not the type of enthusiasm we often see in our classrooms. Students in 3rd World schools are desperate for learning. They see it as a liberating and empowering force, and one of the only things (beside good luck) that may help them elevate themselves. In such classrooms one also comes to see that the greatest deficiency, as the learners there see it, is content. For while there are highly motivated teachers and students aplenty, books, even dog-eared, out-of-date texts from decades past are highly prized because access to them is often SO limited. And of course, access to computers, including the One Laptop Per Child's XO super low cost laptops are WAY up at the top of learner wishlists.

Seeing this is to understand that IF the key to learning is simple access to knowledge/content - that is, for the multitudes who will know how to learn it once they can get their hands on it - we can infer that a new type of learner is about to inherit the Earth, the Auto Didact.

Throughout the web there abound 'how to's, tutorials, and self administered lessons of every type. From Professional Development for teachers via resources like
- The Teachers Podcast ( and
- TeacherTube ( ),
- Technology Skills from sources like Tech Tutorials (one of a great many on the web @ ),
- and Do It Yourself 'how to' in every conceivable field at resources like Expert Village( the knowledge is there for those who can take it and learn it on their own, can teach it to themselves.

As technology puts more and more such content, structed and presented for learners, in the hands of those untold Billions around the world ready to take it and run with it, we will see the emergence of a new dominant species, the Auto Didact!

Below is the link to a recent article that points to a novel new dimension of this rapidly developing phenomenon. An accredited university in Japan, which until now had conducted all classes exclsively online via computer screen, has now pushed the boundaries further to deliver a course entirely over CELL phones. This offers greater reach, greater ease and flexibility of access - that is, for those who have the make-up that will allow them to take advantage of it. Clearly it's not for everyone, or at this point, perhaps not for most. But as that sector of the popular who can do so takes advantage of it, the ground work for evolving dominance of those who teach themselves is being laid... THEY will inherit the world in the not too distant future!

"Next ed-tech frontier: Classes via cell phone"
From: eSchool News


Making Student Learning Lemonade from the Old Paradigm Schooling Lemon

We may transform the institution of School by bringing it in line with the new Paradigm of Education, BUT it will remain. School is simply too far entrenched in our cultue and in the practical ways our society has organized itself to raise our young for it ever to disappear.

However, by addressing the real needs of The Whole Student, School can be rendered a truly nourishing experience, making it something far more valuable educationally (and far less damaging psychologically) than today's test score mills. The ways to accomplish this are vast and that discussion too deep for a single blog post...BUT, there are some perennial approaches that can always be counted on:
  • Fire up student imagination
  • Engage youngsters in the production of authentic products, things that will have them making real statements to set before real audiences
  • Encourage personal expression and teach the methodologies that support and promote it
  • Bring the ARTS into the learning experience... to name a few.

Here's a project that engages youngsters in producing their own short digital videos. THIS is not only New Paradigm Education, but it is that most valuable variety of it that eases itself into the structure of school - No violent revolution here, just an opting for a newer, more authentic approach! It doesn't get much more meaningful than this....

The project is The Great Minds Video Contest at Barrington High School.

Here's the project website:

But before you do anything else, I recommend you watch this student video submission which I feel sums it all up...the wonderfully nurturing, yet healthily subversive way the new can replace the old in Education. Check out this kid's work:
Hey, you gotta love the title "Wasted Day" (Be a Studier, Not a Slacker...hmmmm???)

And if you want a little more background and additional perspective, I'll recommend the following item from magazine...



Thursday, December 20, 2007

Restoring the Balance BACK to Visual Learning

Rummaging through the trunk of my car recently for something worthwhile to read while I ate my diner breakfast of scrambled eggs and rye toast, I exhumed the October 2005 Edutopia Magazine. As I lectured myself about eating only a few of the home fried potatoes that the waitress brought even though I didn't order them, the magazine fell open to VISUALLY SPEAKING a brilliant article by Leonard Shlain. A lucky breakfast mindblower....

I highly recommend you read it @:

Mr. Schlein points out that "The conventional prejudice is well known: Now that DVDs and movies are ubiquitous, and television and computer games incessant, generations of students are becoming less literate, with ominous implications for the future..."

But wait a minute. What if there are advantages to the newly emerging intellectual virtual LEARNscape (my word) that has been emerging and asserting itself through the proliferation of digital/info-tainment technologies?

Schlein points out that our text-biased world may have represented a short sighted lapse in the human potential honoring balance of things anyway. Text sets up a linear, temporaral favor of educating the brain's left lobe (and probably empowering left lobe oriented individuals). Consequently, because school has been so far canted in this direction the entire prospect of human education has been out of balance.

The new technologies, if viewed rationally, offer the opportunity for us to restore that balance and return many of the human potentials that have been given short shrift over the past couple of centuries to a more realistic level of value. Schlein states Evolution, did not naturally prepare humans for the immense innovation we call literacy... It has taken thousands of years and a major technological revolution to begin the rebalancing of human cognition.

The pendulum it appears is now swinging the other way. This is something that Educators must become aware of, attempt to understand, and embrace as part of how they do what they do!

This revelatory understanding of a juggernaut bearing down on the field of Education will certainly upset the apple cart. Do educators have the will, the intestinal fortitude to drag themselves out of the comfort zone and handle the white knuckle roller coaster ride that looms before them?


More Funds? For What? That's the Issue!

Interesting the flotsam that shows up in your e-in box... Still waking up with my first cup of coffee this morning I read the following items. These individually make a great deal of sense, but when seen as an ironically synergistic pairing really make a point, at least to me.

I. The latest issue of PILOT Ed, a really smart (although somewhat traditionally oriented) newsletter showed up today. This one is put out by some people I know who are involved in the business end of providing schools & school systems with resources, including and especially technology oriented resources.

As the newsletter's writer puts it:

"Early this month, at the AESA conference in Tampa, Florida, I heard Stan Collender speak. Stan made the US budget seem interesting and relevant to all of us in education. It was scary..."

" My conclusions from listening to Stan’s presentation and talking with him on the phone:

- Don’t look for any new education initiatives to be funded in this coming election year.

- Expect that there will be no agreement on any education bills that need reauthorization this year.

- Look for moderate decreases in federal funding for education over the following year or two, no matter who wins the election or how much they say that education matters.

- Find ways to motivate parents to talk to and visit the local offices of their senators and representatives; it’s the best hope for education funding to improve our education system..."

The rest of the newsletter offers a highly rational discussion about funding and how to deal with this prediction of a poor short term funding forecast and other attitudes to help cope with and strategize this situation. However, at a certain point that little voice in the back of my head started to pipe up saying "Wait a minute... before we get so focused on money to buy things for education, do we really have straight what we want to buy and what the true impact of those purchases will be? One of the worst results of education spending is that every time money is spent on it and the results of that spending are disappointing, the prospect of getting more to spend down the road diminishes. Do we really want to put a large share of our education hopes on spending to support Old Paradigm Education?

II. Speaking of which, here's the other item that showed up in my browser this morning (thanks, David, for tugging my sleeves to it). A video of a gathering of state Teachers of the Year trashing NCLB, a program that embraces Old Paradigm Education more iconically than pretty much anything else I can think of. Do we want to spend our money to achieve the goals of THAT understanding of what education is, should be, and how it works and can be made to succeed?

One last thought before I embed the video from YouTube... I spent 18 years as a teacher in New York City inner-city classrooms and then another 13 as a supervisor of instruction on various levels - I saw a great deal that did and didn't work in educating today's students - I saw periods and situations in which getting a dozen new #2 pencils from the administration was an impossible dream (we got nothing with which to teach... nothing!) and plenty of other times in which it seemed like it rained money... libraries of new books, mountians of art materials, computers up the kazoo, etc. etc. In all honesty I really can't say that all that stuff made much of a difference and that included PD (workshops, in-house trainers, conferences)... at the end of the day, talented, hard working teachers who were allowed to follow their hearts and who inspired youngsters... that's what I saw that works!!!!!

OK, here's the video...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pencils Down!

Doing some focused web surfing recently I came across an old (2001) article by David Thornburg that really got the juices flowing. This piece, "Pencils Down! How Decontextualized Standardized Testing Can Destroy Education", is a great reflection on what by now has become a near epedimic level phenomenon that actually IS destroying public school education. I recommend you give it a read @

Before we delve into his explanation of HOW this type of testing does so much damage though, I'd like to offer up a bit of an explanation as to WHY administrators, many of whom probably understand things the way Mr. Thornburg does, go ahead and test anyway...

Part of the story has to do with our "kick ass" accountability-focused culture, in which it is assumed that left to their own devices, people simply sit on their hands and don't: work, do what they're supposed to, teach, learn, whatever... I can't possibly buy in to that idea. There are far too many people I know, teachers included, who do what they ought, even more, because their lives are inspired, satisfied, and given meaning through doing. Not only is the accountability culture misreading human motivation, but it does a great deal of damage through the ways it reacts to that misreading. That, however, is a reflection for another blog post.

The way Thornburg puts it "...our educational system is operating on the principle that what gets measured gets done." But, as has been pointed out recently by so many who observe the reactions of school communities to growing testing programs, what actually gets done is teaching to the test. Let’s spin this scenario out a bit - If the test doesn't measure what's worth knowing (and any correlation of test questions to Bloom's Taxonomy, the rock on which all modern understanding of learning is based, will bear that out), then teaching to the test is to teach toward things not worth knowing, making this whole debacle a Gordian knot that increasingly becomes harder and harder to unravel.

I assert that some of today's politically driven top level Educational administrators understand this full well, but persist. Why? Because they hope that by currying favor with a gullible public through announcements of raised test scores, they’ll solidify their own self-serving positions. It’s all part of a dance in which they further muddy the waters by mouthing platitudes about how what goes on in their districts really isn't teaching to the test at all. But if they were sincere, they would explicitly prohibit teachers from doing that and put in measures to make sure they comply. This simply doesn't ever happen. The testing phenomenon continues to spiral out of control.

If, for whatever poor reason it gives, a district engages in standardized testing, then it has to deal with the logistical realities of testing on a mass scale. There are hundreds of millions of students out there and they all are supposed to be learning multiple disciplines across numerous grade levels, all of which require tests. This leaves the Ed administrator with the challenge of getting a Mount Everest of assessments done with limited funds, manpower, and time. The answer to this dilemma is to use assessment tools (tests) that are expedient (cheap and easy). Computer graded ‘fill-in-the-bubbles’ student answer sheets, for instance, can be administered, graded, and paid for with the very meager resources available to school districts. Even essay questions, items that appear to probe thought processes, not just factual recall, are really designed with the logistical challenges of administering and grading them foremost in their authors' minds - format, length, and grading criteria all subordinated to these considerations.

At the end of this chain of malpractice, we end up giving the tests we CAN give - not the tests we ought to give, tests that actually measure things of value. And we lie to the public about it, telling them that all of this is part of giving today's youngsters the education they deserve. The situation is worse now, sadly, than it was when Thornburg originally wrote the piece I cite here. :( :( :(


Friday, December 14, 2007

Q: When Is Spinning One's Wheels Dangerous? A: When Doing So Requires the Consumption of Scarce Fuel that Might Carry One to More Healthy Ground!

Here’s an article about how a company called Wireless Generation has been given a big US Dept. of Ed. grant to extend to math instruction the magic it’s worked with its mCLASS PDA reading software. Hmmmmmm....

From: eSchool News
"Solution aims to transform math assessment: Already revolutionizing early-literacy assessment via handheld technology, Wireless Generation seeks to boost elementary math"

How does the software work? According to the article, it allows teachers to roam the classroom and enter data about student “math proficiency, monitor their progress, and learn about their thought processes.”

I wonder though, are we better off with software the helps teachers better understand where their students’ thinking goes wrong in approaching traditional goals of math learning OR would more benefits be accrued from software that engages youngsters in activities that illustrate and model for them habits of mind and thinking strategies that are effective in a reconceived curriculum?

Herbert Ginsberg, math education ‘expert’ cited in the article states:

”... children seem to fall into four groups when it comes to math problems.

  • The first group of students will get the answer right and will understand the process behind the math problem.
  • A second group arrives at the correct answer, but students in this group can't always determine how they arrived at the right answer.
  • Students in the third group have a good understanding of the process, but get the answer wrong owing to sloppy mistakes.
  • And students in the fourth group, Ginsburg said, get the answer wrong and don't seem to understand the process or might need extra help.

OK… But of course we have to wonder about math instruction so focused on ‘the right answer.’ More to the point, though, this is clearly an approach to the use of technology in which the professional educator has decided that the existing instructional program (curriculum and pedagogy) is essentially fine, and the technology can help get better results with kids within that structure. Small wonder this group gets grants like this one. Its mission is to make the existing paradigm work in the face of much evidence that it is faulted, not to challenge it.

Ginsburg continues:
"I see this as helping the teachers to understand the kids better--it's not just to get a score,"

"Don't think of your students only as people who get the answer right or wrong; they have concepts and strategies, and that's what we have to focus on. Once a teacher finds out a student has one concept but not another, then we try to link all this up with instructional suggestions for teachers."

Fine, but why not apply the awesome power of technology to creating engaging resources that model thinking strategies for kids, not simply helping instructional hacks figure out better where they ought to apply more effort in hammering home the same, tired old teaching again and again? Technologies, like gaming, can put sparkle, interest, and extraordinary INSIGHT into the learning experience! Why use tech to get more mileage out of a dying paradigm when it can be used to give birth to a new one?

Putting the final touches on what seems to be a confession of being totally committed to going down with the ship of old paradigm education, he continues:

"It's hard for some people to understand that this isn't a math test; this is a teacher talking with a student about how he or she solves a problem," he said. "Kids love that attention and like talking with an adult who takes them seriously."

I agree, kids do love that attention and hopefully they are getting it from an adult who merits it and who's engaging them in actitivies worthy of their future!

Gingsburg added: "I think we really are doing something interesting and unique."

Well, you are doing some-thing. And though unique it may be, I think it's misguided! - one of those 2 steps backward we seem to be forever fated to take as we move 3 steps forward:(


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Required Hiding

A few decades back when I was in college as an under graduate, there was one of those beloved, smirky, commonly accepted bits of wisdom that fell from the lips of almost every wag who could get another soul to listen to it. It went something like this: "College is a warm place to hide for 4 years between high school and real life."

Those who studied hard sciences or professional courses like pre-accounting, pre-med, pre-law etc. wouldn't understand. But any of that vast majority of souls who prepared for professions like teaching or counseling or who were Humanities majors or who may have studied soft sciences like 'poli sci' or "phyche" will understand and nod in agreement that while college may have been easy or hard depending on your bent, abilities, and the level of need to maintain an appearance of rigor of the institution you attended, it is hard to say exactly what one did or was supposed to accomplish there despite all those lectures, books purchased and sold back at a loss to the college bookstore, term papers written over Oreo Cookies and instant coffee, all nighter 'gotta pass this one to keep up my GPA' cram sessions, and furtive glances at that gorgeous classmate in the 2nd row by the window.

Simply stated, it is very hard to see what this type of school attendance has to do with actually preparing for whatever the attendee does in real life after graduation!

However, because our Education policy makers appear to be eaters of the menu and not the meal - walkers on the map, not the mountain, they continue to perpetuate the myth that the prosperity and well being of our nation depends on all citizens getting a good education and that there is no better measure of this having been achieved than graduation from college.

And so, as reported in an article on the policy makers in Maine have an important idea to share with the world (sarcasm used to make the point)
"Plan requires high schoolers to apply to college to get diploma"

Wouldn't life be wonderful if it could be this simple; force kids to apply for college and walk away satisfied that you've successfully impacted a real problem in our society, that not enough people are sufficiently educated? And, of course, one has to ask 'how much time, energy, attention, money, and other types of resources that might have been applied to actually improving education were wasted on this partular bit of high profile posturing?'

Read full article at its source:

Dear Student Accountability Freaks: Be Careful What You Push For !

(From: WTOP
"Calif. Exit Exam Boosts Dropout Numbers"
Hey, nice work Test Advocates! Apparently your scheme to force youngsters to learn didn't take into account the fact that those students are human beings and human beings have feet! Instead of becoming beneficiaries of a painfully constipated instructional program... they've walked! It would seem that droves of California high school students have simply dropped out as a more sensible (to them) response to having to "perform" at a level with which they are hyper-uncomfortable. According to the article, since the adoption of an exit exam a few years back, dropout numbers have increased astronomically. Details in the full article @

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Motivation Mojo and Tyanny by Math Requirement

On 10/5/07 USA Today ran an article entitled:
"How kids can get over the motivation brick wall".
This article touches on the very crux of where Education succeeds and fails, and does so in ways that almost all Educators are totally oblivious of. It highlights the work of Richard Lavoie who (as the article states) "is widely known for a popular PBS video and workshops that show teachers what school is really like for struggling kids. A special-educator for more than 30 years, he has written The Motivation Breakthrough: 6 Secrets for Turning On the Tuned-Out Child (Touchstone). "

By the way, it's always seemed to me that struggling kids are the ones who give true insight into the processes of teaching and learning and should be valued as a reality touchstone for the entire enterprise of Education.

In the article Mr. Lavoie makes some great points:

- "... "learned helplessness." When a child faces failure enough times, he begins to feel he's not going to succeed and doesn't see any sense in investing himself. Every child hits this sort of motivation brick wall at some point, and then what we do as teachers and parents, unfortunately, is sort of blame the victim and say that it's the child's fault..."

(Mark>) This makes me think about the trajedy of our current approach to Mathematics Education, or perhaps more acurately Tyranny by Mathematics Education. Here's an exercise I actually carried out for roughly 6 months a few years back... I simply asked every successful person I came in contact with (my banker, accountant, dentist, architect, plumber, pharmacist, bar tender, store owners, graphic artists, Education professors...whoever) exactly what math they use in their work. My discovery was that while they all asserted they did use math continually, it was rather basic math or at the very least, math of a level that is much lower than what is required to earn a high school diploma. You know, the four basic functions of Arithemetic, plus a smattering of very simple or pre Algebra...proportions and ratios, that sort of thing. NONE of these very smart and accomplished people ever needed to use Advanced Algebra or Calculus.... NEVER!!!!

This pisses me off no end because in public school the rhetoric that is used to bully students into intellectual submission is that the required high school exit (read that graduation) requirement of Advanced Algebra is based on the strong, unwavering assumption that this is what the Typical Joe will definitely need in the work place. This is simply not true!

Now on one level, forcing students to take more math than they'll really ever need might seem like a benign piece of confusion. After all, the math sympathisers' argument goes, how could it hurt to know more math than you'll actually use?

Well, the truth is, quite a bit. You see those with their eyes open in observing what really goes on in public school will have to acknowledge that because students from an early age are forced on to a 'fast track' in learning math, something that has to be done IF you are going to insist that SO MUCH math is to be learned over the course of years as you speed these young minds unnaturally toward and through Advanced Algebra, the result is that the average student learns not the math, but from an early age just how "not smart' he is. He internalizes the fact that he is just not very good at the mountain of seemingly pointless and uncomprehensible material shoved down his throat in the guise of "the math he'll definitely need"

And so the typical kid either develops a series of coping mechanisms to bluff his way through all this, or (more typically) keeps his mouth shut and suffers the fact the he isn't one of the smart ones. Perhaps he "passes" math somehow, or he fails and suffers through being one of the 'dumb ones' (just like almost everyone else), but in the end whether all that math is learned or not learned, in real life it simply isn't used - it is forgotten and forgotten about. What stays is a bad taste in the mouth about learning and school! And so, in an ironic way, the most successful part of our current approach to teaching mathematics is the successful teaching of the idea that learning is unpleasant!!!

During my tenure as member of the Cabinet of the Deputy Chancellor for Instruction of the New York City Public School System I was drafted as a committee head of the Chancellors Math Commission. During this most interesting exercise, which llasted a full 6 months, I had occassion to chat via phone with Dr. Lynne Steen of St. Olaf's College in Minnesota, one of the nation's foremost Mathematics Educators. Dr. Steen, when I shared with him the same understanding of the trajedy of math requirements I share above, to my surprise agreed with me that the field of Mathematics Education is way off base. What he feels we really ought to be aspiring to is a state of 'Numeracy', a familiarity and comfort with numbers and the way they behave, not the mastery of advanced concepts that is now forced down the throat of hapless Joe Ciitzen.

Getting back to Lavoie's work, he seems to be on the same page with me stating "...the most important thing parents and teachers need to do is to keep in mind the balance between suport and challenge. You need to constantly challenge kids. But you need to give them support to meet those challenges." Our contemporary Math curriculum does not reflect any such balance. It is all challenge without much support. Needless to say, also, this insensitivity is not the elclusive province of math educators, they simply make a whopping good example ot this type of thing.

Lavoie has other important points to make about motivation and how it impacts teaching and learning. In one such reflection he states "... I had a teacher say to me one time "I taught it to him, but he didn't learn it." I said "That's like a salesman saying to his boss. "I sold it to him, but he didn't buy it." I think that particularly at the upper school level, we assume that the kid's going to come in the door totally motivated and sit there and learn, and it simply isn't true. You need to continue to be a salesman and a motivator as a high school teacher and as a parent of high school kids."

(Mark>) And above all, we must question frequently why we are teaching (and expecting kids to learn) what we do, and make adjustments when we see that what we set before our young people may not truly be worthy of them, may even be counter productive!

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