Friday, June 27, 2008

When Is School Reform Guaranteed to do More Damage than Good?

Considering the motivation behind reform measures, many of which are insituted by politicians for political purposes, not educational ones, a better questions might be, when isn't it?

Here we have an announcement (below) of what is touted to be an "important and powerful" reform...

OK, say you have Cancer and after months and months of Chemo Therapy (which makes you feel sicker than ever) your tumor has continued to grow, but your doctor announces, "Great news, patient - I've just found a way to provide you with much, much more Chemo!" Would you cheer? Or would you rationally walk out of the office shaking your head?

One more - If after helping you loose scads and scads of money in the stock market your broker calls and tells you that he has wonderful tips on more securities to buy.... "guaranteed to produce results!", would you place an order and then send out for champagne to celebrate? Or would you hang up and commit to doing the hard work needed to find more rational ways to achieve your goals?

Got it? Then how is it that politicians, people who don't know spit about Education, continually snooker a concerned citizenry into thinking that more school - more days for kids to attend - more hours in each of those days - is going to help? Since when is more of something that doesn't work the answer to making it work? Good money after bad... ugh! Worse yet, while this sort of knuckleheaded non-reform wastes money and precious time, needs and gaps continue to grow!

Our problem is in WHAT school is, not in how much of it we provide!!!

Massachusetts governor proposes major education reforms Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has issued a 40-page, 55-point report proposing dramatic education reforms, including lengthening the school day and year and aiming by 2020 to reduce the dropout rate to less than 10% while ensuring that 90% of students are prepped to enter college with no need for remedial coursework. Some observers questioned the state's ability to pay for the changes -- as well as the legislature's ability to bring about some of the more controversial aspects of Patrick's plan, such as creating a statewide teacher contract. The Boston Globe

Thursday, June 12, 2008


In Spanish "No Guerra" means No War - But War is NEEDED to make the kind of change that must happen if Education is to have any true value and the institution of school make a contribution to it!

I was not just disappointed, but appalled with the following blog post from Pedro Noguera announcing a call for post NCLB education reforms that some of our of best minds and committed activists are making - BUT where's the honest, far reaching thinking and innovation? Where's the passion, the fire in the belly, the WAR that is needed now more than ever to give our kids the education they need and deserve?

It is sad that the politically correct, half-hearted dribble the these folks, people who are better positioned to impact the shape of what is to come in Education than almost any others, are putting forth (see details to follow below) is such a wimpy excuse for what is truly needed. They have the nerve to call this "A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education" but in reality, if it is realized, the students and teachers in our classrooms will experience it as "A BOREDer, BALDER APPROACH to PUBLIC SCHOOLING"

The crux of the announcement is the notion that Accountability measures are not enough to improve education (REALLY?, have they actually helped at all?) AND that what is needed now is to ensure that students show up at school well fed and nourished emotionally sufficient to learn. I'd ask when have we heard this before?, but the truth of the matter is WHEN HAVEN'T WE HEARD THIS? AND By all means, YES give these kids what they need to be healthy and happy, but NO, what is lacking in our vision of how youngsters will become educated is not this - It's far too simplistic and reveals a self-serving unwillingness to examine the worth of what we are actually doing in our schools. In fact, I assert that the truth is just the opposite. When all kids show up at school emotionally and physically well nourished they will be in far better shape to react against the irrelevant, worthless curriculum that is set before them...and they will do what healthy people do when an institution attempts to force feed them vile tasting, swill... engage in all sorts of life affirming evasive maneuvers!

Here are the details of Mr. Noguera's communication to the education starved people of planet Earth :( to be found @

"A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education

A new task force of national policy experts with diverse religious and political affiliations, in public policy fields including education, social welfare, health, housing, and civil rights today launched a campaign calling for a "Broader, Bolder Approach to Education" to break a decades-long cycle of reform efforts that promised much and have achieved far too little.

Co-chaired by Helen Ladd, a Duke University professor of public policy studies, Tom Payzant, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a former Boston schools superintendent and U.S. assistant secretary of education, and myself, the Task Force's framework points to the many flaws in the approach of the current No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law and charges that the nation's education and youth development policy has erred by relying on school improvement alone to raise achievement levels of disadvantaged children.

According to the Task Force, multitudes of children are growing up in circumstances that hinder their educational achievement. Statistics suggest the rhetoric of leaving no child behind has trumped reality. As the Task Force's ads in today's New York Times and Washington Post note, "Some schools have demonstrated unusual effectiveness. But even they cannot, by themselves, close the entire gap between students from different backgrounds in a substantial, consistent and sustainable manner on the full range of academic and non-academic measures by which we judge student success."

The timing of the release of a "Broader, Bolder Approach" comes after months and months of gridlock in Washington tied to the reauthorization of NCLB. The statement signed by more than 60 leaders provides a fresh way of thinking about education and youth development policy for governors, state legislators, and a President and Congress who are now running for election in November.

The signatories to "Bolder Approach" reads like a Who's Who of diverse national leaders from all political and policy spectrums, who have come to agree that the policy embodied in NCLB has failed. The list includes former officials of the current administration, including Susan B. Neuman, who served as Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education when NCLB was first enacted; John DiIulio, who was President Bush's first director of faith-based programs; and Dr. Richard Carmona, U.S. Surgeon General until last year. It also includes education, health, and human services officials from the Clinton Administration, such as Marshall Smith, who was Undersecretary of Education; Peter Edelman, who was Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Joycelyn Elders, U.S. Surgeon General. Diane Ravitch, who served as Assistant Secretary of Education in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, also signed on to "Bolder Approach."

Although some supporters of NCLB call it a "civil rights law," the signatories include civil rights advocates such as Julian Bond, Chairman of the NAACP; Hugh Price, former President of the National Urban League; John Jackson, President of the Schott Foundation and former Chief Policy Officer at the NAACP; Julianne Malveaux, President of the Bennett College for Women; the noted sociologist William Julius Wilson; Ernie Cortes, director of the Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation; and Karen Lashman, Vice-President for Policy of the Children's Defense Fund.

The list includes well-known conservatives, such as Nobel economist James Heckman and Glenn Loury, a Brown University economist. Also included are progressives such as Linda Darling-Hammond, an education advisor to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama; Debbie Meier, founder of the Central Park East schools, and authors John Goodlad and Ted Sizer.
Other notable signatories include Robert Schwartz, the founding president of Achieve, the education reform organization of the nation's governors and leading corporate executives; Milton Goldberg, the executive director of the commission that produced the report, A Nation At Risk in 1983; Richard Kazis, Vice-President of Jobs for the Future, the high school reform organization; and Bella Rosenberg, formerly the assistant to the late Albert Shanker of the AFT. Although many of the signers are known for their concern about the education of urban youth, the Task Force also includes Rachel Tompkins, one of the nation's leading experts in the problems of rural education.

The statement's diverse group of religious leaders include the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches; Richard Mouw, president of the Fuller Theological Seminary, the nation's leading evangelical seminary in Pasadena, California; and Joseph O'Keefe, S.J., Dean of the School of Education at Boston College.

Prominent academic scholars of child development and the economics of education, including James Comer, David Grissmer, Christopher Jencks, Sharon Lynn Kagan, and Jane Waldfogel, are also members of the group, as are urban schools superintendents Rudy Crew (Miami-Dade), Arne Duncan (Chicago), and Beverly Hall (Atlanta).

I stated in our release that, "After six years, it has become clear that No Child Left Behind has not succeeded in improving the quality of education available to America's neediest children. This Task Force is united around the need for a more comprehensive approach to federal policy that specifically responds to the needs of children and schools in low-income areas. Our 'Bold Approach' identifies critical community support systems that can effectively work to narrow the disheartening achievement gap that exists in America.""Schools can't do it alone," said Co-Chair Helen Ladd. "Accountability is a pillar of our education system, but schools need the support of the community - both before children arrive at school and during their school years - for all children to achieve high standards."

"'A Bold Approach' calls for a broader partnership and a sturdier bridge across schools, public health, and social services," said Co-Chair Tom Payzant. "When we ensure our children are provided their most basic needs, then we can work toward the highest of standards applied to all of our students."

"A Broader, Bolder Approach" applies equally to federal, state and local policy and acknowledges the centrality of formal schooling, but also focuses on the importance of high quality early childhood and preschool programs, after-school and summer programs, and programs that develop parents' capacity to support their children's education. Specifically, "A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education" calls for:
1. Continued school improvement efforts. To close achievement gaps, we need to reduce class sizes in early grades for disadvantaged children; attract high-quality teachers in hard-to-staff schools; improve teacher and school leadership training; make college preparatory curriculum accessible to all; and pay special attention to recent immigrants.
2. Developmentally appropriate and high-quality early childhood, pre-school and kindergarten care and education. These programs must not only help low-income children academically, but provide support in developing appropriate social, economic and behavioral skills.
3. Routine pediatric, dental, hearing and vision care for all infants, toddlers and schoolchildren. In particular, full-service school clinics can fill the health gaps created by the absence of primary care physicians in low-income areas, and by poor parents' inability to miss work for children's routine health services.
4. Improving the quality of students' out-of-school time. Low-income students learn rapidly in school, but often lose ground after school and during summers. Policymakers should increase investments in areas such as longer school days, after-school and summer programs, and school-to-work programs with demonstrated track records.
"We are pleased to support the 'Broader, Bolder Approach to Education' campaign..."

Read the full post at its source:

Monday, January 21, 2008

Hurtling Toward A SMART NEW WORLD

No More 'HAVE NOTS" When it Comes to Education... With 'Democratized Learning' all "CAN DOs" Will Be Educated

The eSchool New's Jan 4, 2008 online edition ran a story titled "Top 10 ed-tech stories still resonate in 2008 (Part II)." According to this piece the #3 story of the year bears the title "Web fuels 'democratization of knowledge' (Yeah, baby!)...;_hbguid=b88698a6-3d62-4e5f-a4a2-0922383fb794

This is deep (paradigm) shift!

The piece states: "Educators might look back on 2007 as a tipping point for a movement that has been building for years, thanks to the power of the internet: the democratization of learning..."

It cites free courses available through MIT's Open CourseWare Project and iTunes U as examples of some of the many institutions that allow outsiders to get the content of teaching of their courses. Also cited as prime examples of this shift is "...the online community known as Curriki offers a place online where educators from anywhere in the world can post curricula and lesson plans for review and use by fellow classroom teachers." and "Another new resource, the OER (Open Educational Resources) Commons, makes more than 8,000 classroom materials available to teachers and learners worldwide, at no cost--from primary-source documents to complete course guides on a variety of topics." The article provides links to other sources on this revolutionary trend in Education, as well.

Another article of note illuminating this theme is
"Internet Access Is Only Prerequisite For More and More College Classes"
From Washington Post:
Berkeley's on YouTube. American University's hoping to get on iTunes. George Mason professors have created an online research tool, a virtual filing cabinet for scholars. And with a few clicks on Yale's Web site, anyone can watch one of the school's most popular philosophy professors sitting cross-legged on his desk, talking about death.
Studying on YouTube won't get you a college degree, but many universities are using technology to offer online classes and open up archives. Sure, some schools have been charging for distance-learning classes for a long time, but this is different: These classes are free. At a time when many top schools are expensive and difficult to get into, some say it's a return to the broader mission of higher education: to offer knowledge to everyone..."

Access to school can no longer be equated with access to learning! We have moved beyond even the revolutionary state of having a plethora of learning content freely available online. We have now entered into a realm in which the teaching of that content is in a state of open and opening access, as well. With the proliferation of Internet capable devices like the One Laptop Per Child Project's XO device, we begin to complete a holistic picture in which learning is there for the asking...for the very first time in the history of our species! The final piece that remains is the creation of CONTEXT. We have seen for some time that while individuals may be exposed to an instructional program, they do not necessarily engage with it (the alarmingly high percentage of time off task witnessed in American schools is a good example).

As we move into this new era, we will witness some remarkable changes in the state of education. For one, in the developing world (among other places) a new species of learner, the Auto Didact will emerge as the dominant type of learner and consequently, of individual who achieves success because of it. For another the existing concept of the Lifelong Learner will have to be expanded to conceive learning as a key part of the business of living...from cradle to grave. And in relation to that, Learning will have to become THE most important element of the curriculum.

Finally, with the overwhelming majority of the logistical needs for learning in place, instructional programs will have to become hyper-flixible as the only acceptable reason we will be left with for their failure to first, engage, and second, effectively educate, will have to be seen as their own inadequate design - considering that lack of resources will have been ruled out!

A brave and SMART NEW WORLD is coming and the path for it must be cleared with a high degree of honesty.

Feeding the Kids the Menu - Not the Meal:(

A starving man manages to crawl through the wildrness in which he's been lost for a week, reaching a restaurant. He quickly sits down at a booth and a waitress brings him the menu. On the cover is a color photo of a thick, juicy cheese burger. Delirious with hunger the man pours ketchup on the menu and wolfs it down in a few big gulps. He hasn't eaten the meal, he's eaten the menu - He's fatally mistaken a symbol for the thing for which it stands!

The story above serves well as a metaphor for the relationship the New York City Public School Sytem has adopted to standardized test scores. As today's announcement in the New York Times shows, the administration seems to believe that the scores ARE the learning, not mere indicators that learning may have occured, the purpose they were intended to serve originally. Compounding the damage this unfounded assumption will have on the institution of Education, these managers are leaping beyond using the test scores to assess student learning, to use it to measure teacher effectiveness.

What would we think of a doctor who continually insists to a patient who is wildly complaining about symptoms, that his blood pressure, pulse, and heart rate all all fine... continually inists the numbers are healthy even as that patient loses conciousness and dies. Education is not so simple that the numbers generated by expediently administered mass testing should be taken for more than indicators, hints that things are on or off track. Diagnostics can not be held as results. This would be true even if they were accurate, and they are not!

The pity of it is that through the use of digital technologies, students can be engaged in the creation of real learning products that result from their involvement with authentic learning activities. Not only are these far more accurate indicators of achievement, but they offer the possibility of measuring the knowledge and skills that are needed in the 21st Century. Generally, standardized tests do not! Wonderfully, such products (as evidence of learning) blur the line between learning and assessment, returning the experience of learning to the realm of benign reality.

Some highlights from the article:
"New York Measuring Teachers by Test Scores
Published: January 21, 2008

New York City has embarked on an ambitious experiment, yet to be announced, in which some 2,500 teachers are being measured on how much their students improve on annual standardized tests.
The move is so contentious that principals in some of the 140 schools participating have not told their teachers that they are being scrutinized based on student performance and improvement.
While officials say it is too early to determine how they will use the data, which is already being collected, they say it could eventually be used to help make decisions on teacher tenure or as a significant element in performance evaluations and bonuses. And they hold out the possibility that the ratings for individual teachers could be made public.
“If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in the city — every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with it what you will — that will have been a powerful step forward,” said Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project.
“If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.”
The effort comes as educators nationwide are struggling to figure out how to find, train and measure good teachers. Many education experts say that until teacher quality improves in urban schools, student performance is likely to stagnate and the achievement gap between white and minority students will never be closed. Other school systems, including those in Dallas and Houston as well as in the whole state of Tennessee, are also using student performance and improvement as factors in evaluating teachers.
The United Federation of Teachers, the city’s teachers’ union, has known about the experiment for months, but has not been told which schools are involved, because the Education Department has promised those principals confidentiality.
Randi Weingarten, the union president, said she had grave reservations about the project, and would fight if the city tried to use the information for tenure or formal evaluations or even publicized it. She and the city disagree over whether such moves would be allowed under the contract.

“There is no way that any of this current data could actually, fairly, honestly or with any integrity be used to isolate the contributions of an individual teacher,” Ms. Weingarten said. “If one permitted this, it would be one of the worst decisions of my professional life.”
New York invited principals from hundreds of elementary and middle schools with sufficient annual testing data to participate in the program, which will produce an elaborate stream of data on 2,500 teachers.
In 140 schools — a tenth of the roughly 1,400 in the system —
teachers are being measured on how many students in their classes meet basic progress goals, how much student performance grows each year, and how that improvement compares with the performance of similar students with other teachers.
In another 140 schools, principals are being asked to make subjective evaluations of roughly the same number of teachers so officials can see if the two systems produce widely disparate results. New York City schools employ roughly 77,000 teachers. In all 280 schools, the principals agreed to participate in the program.
Deputy Chancellor Cerf said that how students performed on tests would not be the only factor considered in any system to rate teachers. All decisions will include personal circumstances and experiences, he said, but the point will be to put a focus on whether or not students are improving.

“This isn’t about how hard we try,” Mr. Cerf said. “This is about however you got here, are your students learning?”
Ms. Weingarten said the system was not needed. “Any real educator can know within five minutes of walking into a classroom if a teacher is effective,” she said. “These tests were never intended and have never been validated for the use of evaluating teachers.”

The experiment is in line with the city’s increasing use of standardized test scores to measure whether students are improving, and to judge school quality. A new bonus program for teachers and principals, as well as the letter grading system for schools unveiled last fall, are all linked to improvement in scores. Nationally, too, school systems are increasingly relying on these measures to judge schools.
Virtually all education experts agree that finding high-quality teachers is critical to improving student learning, particularly in high-poverty urban areas, where good teachers are usually more difficult to find. Recent research has found that the best teachers can help struggling students catch up to more advanced students within three years.

But experts are grappling with how to determine what makes a good teacher. Neither graduate programs in education schools nor previous academic records are reliable predictors, they say. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires that districts place a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom, which typically means one who has completed a certification program, but this, too, is not necessarily a good indicator of quality.
“It seems hard to know who is going to be effective in the classroom until they are actually in the classroom,” said Thomas J. Kane, a professor of education and economics at Harvard, who is conducting several research projects on teacher quality in New York City, and who is involved in the new effort.
Mr. Kane said there was little evidence that teachers with the “right paper qualifications” were any more effective than those without them. “But most school districts spend very little time trying to assess how good teachers are in their first couple of years, when it is most important,” he said.
Nationwide, more than 95 percent of teachers receive tenure within their first three years of teaching, according to some studies. And once teachers receive tenure, it is extremely difficult to have them removed from classrooms.

In some sense, New York’s effort to judge teachers partly on their students’ improvement is a logical extension of the grading system for schools that was unveiled last fall, although officials adamantly say they have no plans to assign letter grades to individual teachers.
“I don’t think anyone here would embrace the formulaic use of even the most sophisticated instrument — you get tenure if this, you don’t get tenure if that,” Mr. Cerf said.
He added that the new effort was just one of several ways in which the city was exploring how to evaluate and improve teacher quality. In recent months, city officials have begun training new lawyers to help principals navigate the considerable red tape required to remove inadequate teachers.

They have increased recruiting efforts to attract talented teachers to hard-to-staff schools. And they are allowing schools to earn merit bonus pools to distribute to teachers based on test scores.
“This should simply be one more way to think about things,” said Frank A. Cimino, the principal of P.S. 193 in Brooklyn, who said he was participating in the experiment. “It is going to tell you some things you don’t know, but it will miss the other things that go on in a classroom.”
William Sanders, a researcher in North Carolina who was one of the first to begin evaluating teachers and schools based on student test score improvements, said that while such a system could be used to make broad judgments, it was difficult to use it with precision enough to find differences among teachers who are simply average.
Can you distinguish the top teachers? Yes,” Mr. Sanders said. “Can you distinguish the bottom teachers? The answer is yes, too. But it would be risky to make decisions using information at the classroom level for teachers who are just in the middle. You might miss a lot that way.”
The city’s pilot program uses a statistical analysis to measure students’ previous-year test scores, their numbers of absences and whether they receive special education services or free lunch, as well as class size, among other factors.
Based on all those factors, that
analysis then sets a “predicted gain” for a teacher’s class, which is measured against students’ actual gains to determine how much a teacher has contributed to students’ growth.
The two-page report for each teacher examines information both from one year and over three years. The information also compares the teacher with all other teachers in the city, and with teachers who have similar classrooms and experience levels. The second part of the report measures how well a teacher does with students with different skill levels, showing, for example, whether the teacher seems to work well with struggling students.
Mr. Cerf said officials expected to decide by the “early summer” whether they would use the analysis to evaluate individual teachers for tenure or other decisions, and if so, how they would do so. Such a decision would undoubtedly open up a legal battle with the teacher’s union.

Read the article at its source:

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Take This "Great Educational Thinking" Multiple Choice Question :)

Question: Which of the following quotes does not belong in this set?
Select the letter of the quote below that does not belong with the others as your answer. Using a number 2 pencil carefully fill in the circle next to the letter that corresponds to your answer!

A) The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled. Plutarch- Greek historian, scholar, biographer, and essayist

B) Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each. Plato - Greek philosopher

C) There is no purpose to go to high school if the function of high school is not to complete it successfully! Joel Klein – Current Chancellor, New York City Department of Education

D) In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards. Mark Twain - American writer

Answer Key:

If you chose answer "C" you are right! Among many other pieces of evidence revealed since he has been in charge of the most important school system in the U.S., Joel Klein, in announcing a new policy to prevent 8th graders who have not demonstrated adequate test scores from entering high school, has revealed a personal approach to education that runs contrary to all important thinking on motivating students for successful learning.

See the recent New York Times article from which this quote is taken “Extending Requirement to Advance in School” (January 18, 2008):

In retaining these students what is revealed is an understanding on the part of the administration that only way to motivate students is either with carrot or stick, in this case the very heavy stick of being left back to repeat the 8th grade until test scores indicate that success in high school is guaranteed. Unfortunately, almost all of the extensive bodies of studies on this pracitce over the decades have shown that its effects are negative - rendering the retainees as social pariahs, branding them as failures, destroying any shreds of confidence as learners that may remain, and increasing their inability to cope with school work by having them repeat curriclum and activities they have already failed at without offering any variation or new approach to the experience.

Follow up question (for extra credit)

Q: Will this policy encourage students to work harder and learn better, allowing them to enter high school for future success? - OR - Will it result in a new phenomenon, massive dropping out from Middle School by students who have been stuck in the 8th grade for years?

A: The effect of this policy will not be understood for a number of years, by which time Mr. Klein will likely have moved on from his current post.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Using Tech to Prop Up Old Paradigm Thinking :( Ugh!

While technology can help in establishing a new paradigm for Education, unfortunately it is often employed to perpetuate the traditional one:(

I was watching network tv this morning and was floored by a WNBC News Channel 4 segment titled Sree Advice (

Sree is the resident tech expert's name (I guess the title is supposed to be a clever play on words & names...whatever). This particular edition was devoted to online homework help resources. Needless to say red flags appeared quickly on my radar screen.

When it comes to homework, one of those nearly unquestioned instructional practices that dates way back way to the time of repressive schools like the one Twain described in Tom Sawyer, an astute world citizen would likely choose to ponder its purpose, value, form, and place in the evolving order of 21st century learning and knowing. This expert, however, simply sought to share online resources for those who accept the practice blindly.

I took a look at the recommended resources - not from the "Gee whiz, they're on the web!" point of view proffered by the segment's host, but from the standpoint of weighing their actual value for 21st century learners. Some observations:

    · A free homework portal for various ages.
    Most of what’s on this very extensive list of links is useful but general information that students can read off the screen (or perhaps watch as streamed video) much the same as they would passively ‘absorb’ the content of a text book. The 2 Ask an Expert links given are among the sparse bright spots of potentially life affirming and nourishing resources here. CAVEAT: A real life mentor can be a boon to a young mind IF he encourages genuine inquiry and supports learning by guiding student effort, not simply monitoring for right or wrong answers. However, ‘mentors’ who simply help youngsters cope with the need to satisfy meaningless assignments in order to get teacher off their back, aren’t really adding anything we might truly call ‘educational’ to the mix.

    · Lots of free resources
    This one also has links to 'Ask the Experts' sites (as well as the rest of it)...Pretty predictable. But hey, you’ve got to admire the spirit of a homework help site that overtly states “Don't waste your precious after-school hours surfing the web for homework help. Why? Because, we've found the best totally FREE homework help sites for you already!” Are they saying homework is a waste of ‘precious after-school hours’? or do they mean that doing one’s own research to get to the same cookie cutter material that everyone else is going to come up with is pointless?

    Most distressing is their proposition
    “How can you add energy to your upcoming in-class report or presentation? Make it interactive! Here, Chatterbee's presents top-notch interactive web sites that you can add instantly to your report to make your in-class presentation an engaging state-of-the art winner!"

    Kind of reminds one of the good old days back in the ‘50s and ‘60s (and obviously, right up to the present – sigh) when teacher would tell you to make a report about blah-blah-blah, and you’d go to the library, photo copy an illustration of an XYZ, and the next day hold up that graphic, now scotch taped to a sheet of tag board, and then Johnny, and then Susie, and then Barry, and then a good many other classmates would get up and show the same graphic and say the same things to accompany it. Gee Chatterbee’s, is this how technology has changed learning, knowing and communicating? Sigh!

    · Full of math help, as the name implies
    Beyond the offer of lessons and worksheets for sale is the homework help section. This is really a threaded discussion forum - Here, the student posts a word problem (for instance) and his confession about the portion of solving it he just doesn’t get. If he’s lucky he may get a prescription of how someone who is not stymied by the problem would solve it… This figures VERY low down on Bloom’s Taxonomy of thinking skills. You know, using the Internet to globally perpetuate a 19th Century approach to math learning is not really much improvement over perpeturating that approach in an isolated one room schoolhouse out on the Prairie!

    · NoobsHelp: A free site founded by two Florida high school students
    What would you get if you re-purposed the revolutionary social networking functionality of MySpace and Face Book to support the needs of goodie-two-shoes kids who are already doing well in school and whose inner sense of compliance to ‘the system” drives them to seek better ways to go with its flow? Something like NoobsHelp! Not much activity to be seen there. Maybe you need to get a little more edgy, dudes!

    · A free site that's been around for more than 10 years.
    TRUE, there are links to hundreds of resources here, some of them real good - items like: My Virtual Reference Desk Search Engines, The MathPage, and National Geographic Science Homework Helper. Most revealing though is the statement on this site’s masthead “If you can’t find it here, you just can’t find it” Do you suppose Pinchbeck ever wondered whether or not kids could create 'it' for themeselves, though? Clearly, not! :(

    · The leading live, on-demand tutoring service. Sessions can last from 10 minutes to 100 minutes or more. Tutors are available 2 pm - 1 am EST. Prices: $35 for 60 minutes - $150 for 300 minutes; monthly Plans: $32.50 for 60 minutes - $129 for 300 minutes. More than 2 million tutoring sessions have take place.
    Not much to say about this one’s orientation… pretty much self evident :(

    · Cosmeo: From the Discovery Channel, a $10 a month service (or $99 a year), with 30-day free trial.
    Finally, a resource that’s at least on the right track! Entertaining, kid appropriate, high motivation films (well, at least some of them are) taken from Discovery and related docu-education cable tv stations. Your science teacher may not have been a good science teacher, but Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, certainly was!!! Relevant – Engaging – Thought Provoking films used to provide content? Gee – what a concept! what an approach to educating youngsters!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

New York City's Top Educator Evidences Educational Pradigm Confusion (Severe)

Many of us who've actually logged years in classrooms struggling to teach inner city kids believe that education, particularly authentic education done right, offers its own reward. The proof of this is abundantly evident when one observes the engaged, motivated, inspired behavior of students involved in high value learning activities ( like robotics design and programming - see my post @ )

The absolute converse of this would be to bribe youngsters to bite the bullet and suffer through what they find as boring, off-putting instruction so that they can get an artificial reward at the end of the torture. Many believe the New York City Department of Education's program to give schools monetary rewards for high scores on standardized tests is just such a scenario!

Recently, at a photo-op ceremony at which Joel Klein, the Chancellor of New York City schools made such an award to a school, the Chancellor was taken to task by a city councilman who pointed out how such tests prove little or nothing about actual learning and represent serious dis-incentives for true education to happen within the city's classrooms (see full article on this statement @ ).

Put on the spot by the univited Councilman, and thus forced to offer a spontanoues explanation of his policies, Chancellor Klein's relfexive response was "When I was in school we had tests. They didn't say just bring two number two pencils. They said 'you better learn the 20 vocabulary words we are practicing this week,'"

In making this statement Joel Klein revealed two of his personal understandings/beliefs about education that shed light on why the city's schools are in the state they are:

1) It is valid and useful to model what is done currently in tens of thousands of classrooms on memories of what was done in one classroom 4 decades ago, and

2) Memorization of facts IS learning.

Both assumptions reveal an understanding of the goals and means of education that is thoroughly steeped in 19th Century - Old Paradigm thinking! This, despite millions and millions of pages published defining what professional educators hold to be understandings that go light years beyond this.

According to the "independent voices of New York City public schools parents" blog, Councilman Weprin had "crashed" this press event . and because his critical presence there was unexpected, the Chancellor had no statement prepared by his press corps with which to respond to the accusations made against his policies. This is serendipitous for us, obervers of the evolution of the educational paradigm and its influence on the reality of classrooms, because it is in the heat of moments like this that people unexpectedly and genuinely reveal who they are and what they believe!

Since those days when a young Joel Klein was held responsible for more than just bringing to school two #2 pencils, man has walked on the moon, the personal computer has taken over the world, far more print content than was ever published on paper has been made available on something called the Internet, incalculable numbers of people carry wireless telephones with them wherever they go, the digital calculator, a novelty that cost hundreds of dollars in the late '70s has become a ubiquitous mainstay everywhere costing just 99 cents, ETC. ETC. In view of all that, should we not move our understanding of education beyond a youngster's ability and willingness to memorize 20 vocabulary words?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Dear Text Book Reliant Educators...

...Like, "Are you offering today’s students an educational experience worthy of their attention?"

In the history of public schooling/mass education nothing has made more of a contribution than the text book! An awesome resource, the text book really amounts to an entire course between covers. Text books contain all the content needed for a course, discussion focus questions, quizzes, homework assignments, teachers’ guides, and in many cases even more. They are put together by teams of highly accomplished educators and editors and have become so closely associated with the culture and body of practice of schooling that truly, schools have evolved due to the influence of text books almost as much as text books have evolved to accommodate the needs and demands of schools.

On the other hand, little is more emblematic of the old paradigm of schooling than text books. They are static tomes, out of date as soon as they are printed. And they thoroughly support the idea that to be educated is to absorb or memorize a body of factual knowledge and likewise support the idea that purpose of teaching is to transfer knowledge from the teacher (the knower) to the student (who does not know).

To a marginally prepared ‘School Marm’, an isolated teacher out on the prairie in periods of our history gone by, and to the community of learners she served, the text book would have made education… POSSIBLE. Essentially, such a teacher was there to ‘implement’ the text; to guide the students through reading it, and then using the focus questions provided have them reflect on what they had read, implementing its assignments, tests, etc. As highly valuable as all this has been over the years, it has disastrously lead to an unintended consequence: trivializing of the role and preparation of teachers. Due to the tempting over-reliance on text books, teachers have evolved into a species of implementers rather than thinker/creators; a species of educators who promote the old paradigm of schooling in a vicious cycle.

Here are excerpts from a recent article in Teacher Magazine that inadvertently reveals how the ‘School Sector’s’ unthinking reliance on textbooks is intertwined with the irrelevance of schooling and the spiraling out of control nose dive of public school education. I’ve interspersed some of my own commentary in red:

Published: January 2, 2008

Textbook Shortage
By The Associated Press

Aimee Hein had a math class at Apollo High School that didn't have enough books to allow her to take one home. It made preparing for class and doing homework more difficult, the senior said. "It's harder to study for a test if you don't have your own book," Hein said…

Q: Is she studying for recall or for reflective understanding? The later would not come from the book.

"It made it hard to do assignments. If the lesson went long (in class), you didn't have enough time to do it."

Observation: It would appear that what these students do in class is read textbooks, and consequently if they run out of time in class they are expected to continue their reading at home. Instead of worrying about the supply of textbooks, maybe this district should be worrying about the educational relevance of the uses they are put to.

"You can't run a school district without textbooks. You can't say, 'We are not going to have textbooks until somebody gives us money to have textbooks,'" school board member Jerry Von Korff said. "There are certain fundamental things that are required."

Observation: This statement illustrates an attitude of absolute reliance on mindlessly perpetuating what has been done before in schooling, a dangerous attitude when preparing youngsters to cope with a world in which change is the only constant!

Textbooks are just a part of the resources that teachers use to help students learn subjects. Lessons are supplemented with DVDs, compact discs, computer work and other items teachers find and develop.

Q: Should lessons be ‘supplemented’ by the use of these types of resources? Or perhaps THESE resources offer a better source for the lesson entirely, at the very least this is an important question to ask!

In many classrooms, the textbook is a key component, and teachers and students say without access to them after school it slows the learning process. Students get books in class and have to turn them in when the bell rings. Some of the information is outdated and requires teachers to point out the changes.

INTERPRETATION: “Key component” all too often is code for 'only actual component', with other types of resources and modes of teaching and learning really just window dressing at best!

Chris Ann Johnson, a physics teacher at Apollo, said she has a book that talks about the U.S. someday planning to visit the planet Mars. Johnson said teachers have to supplement the books that are out of date with current information.

"It's more the real life relevant examples—those change," Johnson said.

Yes, and content about such examples is available as authentic documents FREE on the web! Why not go and get them for the students or better yet, send the students there to get them for themselves?

Textbooks from the four core subjects—math, science, social studies and English—are mostly no more than 10 to 12 years old, according to a St. Cloud Times review of St. Cloud school district's textbook inventory. Espe and teachers say that books should probably be replaced every six years.

Observation: There is a tremendous amount of current content free on the web for educators who look for it!

"...We are probably better off than other areas of the school district because our standards were so recently updated," said Mike Berndt, a psychology teacher at Apollo who oversees the textbooks in the social studies department.
The challenge, Berndt said, is that the some of the tests that advanced placement students take are about cutting-edge research that the books don't reflect. He said good teachers will just supplement.

Q: Why slough off such work as supplementation by ‘good teachers’? Why not set up a district-wide expectation for all teachers to do this and SUPPORT them in those efforts? DUH!

"There were a couple of times, you had an assignment and there aren't enough books in the library. It's very frustrating," Kayser said.
Johnson said teachers are usually understanding of those situations.

Q: Instead of being ‘understanding’ why not support and encourage students to go out on the web where more content is available than students can ever use?

Bart Gibson, who has taught industrial arts at Technical High School since 1992, said he doesn't have the budget to replace textbooks and some of the aging equipment in the wood, metal and auto shops. He buys one copy of a textbook and provides copies of relevant material for students.

Free tutorial videos are available on the web that show the ‘how to’ for a great deal of what is covered in Industrial Arts. Furthermore, teachers like Mr. Gibson can do their own low cost, easy to produce digital videos (or audio podcasts), which can be distributed endlessly in unlimited copies. Imagine how powerful it would be if each school in our nation created just one such video and uploaded it to a common web depository? We’d have 10s of thousands to share!

"I think it curtails the excitement. When the children have the resources, when they have the books, it helps to kindle the fire and build the excitement and the interest and helps them make a decision on what they do with their lives," Gibson said.

Want to see some fire, Mr. Gibson? Give the ‘children’ resources that relate to the century in which they are growing up. Try free, online, interactive, media-rich resources!

Hein, the Appolo senior, said the older books do take a bit of the spirit out of student enthusiasm for a subject. "When a book is really old, you are like, 'Do you know what you are talking about?'" Hein said.

I agree with this student, like, “Are you offering today’s students an educational experience worthy of their attention?”

Read the full article @ its source:

And of course any discussion about text book practicality has to include a discussion of digital textbooks. There ARE Digital Texts being used currently, but this is not common. The basic problem is a chicken or egg conundrum – publishers won’t produce digital texts on speculation as they are very costly to develop and schools won’t commit to ordering them until they have been on the market for a while and are a proven commodity.

There are a number of things the Federal Government could do that could get the ball rolling involving pre K – 12 Digital Texts:

1) It could produce a series of digital texts (online and/or downloadable) for all grades and for all commonly taught subjects. This set of texts would be offered to all schools and students free of charge. This might cost $50 million or so, but imagine how making these available to all interested learners would impact education. The cost of updating this would be a small fraction of the original cost. Once an online text is produced and uploaded, the cost of providing it repeatedly via servers is very marginal and no doubt many hundreds of millions of people around the world would benefit and look to the US as a touchstone for education.
2) The Federal government currently dispenses many hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to schools systems annually. All of these grants carry reporting and sustainability requirements. Why not require all grant recipients to produce, as part of their acceptance agreement, content in textbook style or in and alternative format that can perform the same function. By uploading these to a common repository the entire nation can benefit from the grants given to specific localities.
3) The Federal government carries great power through the function of tax exemption to foster the creation of digital content for learning. By granting tax breaks or incentives to newspapers and other content publishers to tweak their content so that it is easily usable as k-12 content, a vast amount would be added to what is available. These sources of free content online would not damage the publishing industry, as there will always be demand for higher quality and specialized materials. By providing the basics free, consumers will ultimately have access to these improved and enriched items.

Current Curriculum Driving Kids to Drink?

Perhaps instead of forcing students to swallow a curriculum they have great difficulty mustering interest for, educators should look for one kids find relevant and motivating.

Here's the latest news in a trend that has cropped up over the past few years: sobriety tests for students. On the surface it might seem like a no-brainer to clamp down on kids who use alcohol during or just before school. But while they're at it, I suggest these educators ask themselves if there might not be something about the school experience they are affording students that induces them to swallow alternatives:
Q: Would students involved in a highly motivating and satisfying instructional program want to drink while that program is in progress?

Here's the article from Eye Witness News 3:
Southington School Gets Alcohol Sensor

SOUTHINGTON, Conn. -- A gift from a previous graduating class will be used to find alcohol drinkers at Southington High School.
A passive alcohol sensor, which looks like a wand, will be used by staff to determine if a student is in possession of or has consumed any alcohol in the past 10 to 12 hours.

Officials said the school received equipment from a previous graduating class and has two types of sensors: a blood-alcohol content sensor and a passive alcohol sensor.
The school will use only the passive system, which is designed to read alcohol simply by waving it in front of a suspected alcohol user.
"I think that the use of the tool in an appropriate manner is a truce win-win for students and administration," said Superintendent Joseph Erardi.
He said that it will give administrators proof of whether a student has been drinking and will give students a way to prove that they are sober.
Tests can be conducted at random during the school day and the sensor could be put into use as early as next week.
Read the article @ its source:
View this piece's embedded video:

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Attempting to re-KINDLE the book reading spark in the middle of the online literacy forest fire!

Is it not hyper-ironic, now that human literacy has evolved to a new state, one that is shaped to a large degree by its own reliance on digital technologies, that a very large percentage of those humans whose profession it is to foster literacy in younger humans have decided that technology is an impediment.

One response to this silly “either we know youngsters are literate because they read hard copy books OR we know they are not literate because they don’t read hard copy books” take on reality is to translate the classic format of the book into a Digital Age Corollary, the “e-book”. With this act of comforting sleight of hand the understanding that The Book IS Literacy can move forward without the walls of its box being torn, re-shaped, or challenged seriously.

And of course as these dynamics play themselves out there are individuals and organizations ready to promote, purvey, profit, whatever… Not necessarily to the detriment of anything, but definitely to hitch a ride for their own agenda on the backs of the general population’s unfamiliarity with The New.

A most fascinating new development in this set of interlocking circumstances emerged recently on the heels of an international outcry about the loss of Literacy among today’s students. This was based on the release of a report by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) that alarmed and galvanized literacy snob ludites far and wide. The new development is the release of KINDLE, a new generation of e-book “reader”, a portable digital device that will enable purchasers to carry (and read) e-books with them anywhere, paralleling the ability of iPod users to download and listen to music.

Here are 2 articles that give details about the Kindle and its hoped for “clicking” with this new generation of readers; hoped for despite the failure of e-books and digital e-book readers to light a literacy fire under the tails of humans previously. Also embedded are some examples of Ludite and Dig-ite chatter that reveal the underlying paradigms of the parallel universes these 2 species occupy simultaneously.

Article from Los Angeles Times “Reading between the lines with Kindle”,0,3455010.story

Article: from eSchool News “Can Kindle ignite interest in reading? Some say Amazon's Kindle is the future of books, but others aren't so sure”;_hbguid=a3720952-7dd74582-b77b-c4c08f667ee2

At the end of the day though, just as you can’t go home (how’s that for a quote from classic hard copy literature), there is no preserving an old paradigm when a new one is born and begins to muster strength. The e-book will have a life of its own and make its own special contribution to human literacy, far beyond being the simple translation of an old format into the stuff of the new digital era. Educators had better understand and embrace this!

Following are some online resources that upon examination should provide abundant ‘ah ha’s” about what e-books are, how they differ and in many respects provide functions and options that outstrip hard copy books – doing this while not only preserving, but expanding the possibility of Literacy as a state for humans.

Suggested e-book links for educators:

General/Background info on e-Books

Blind Bookworm
This older website (parts of it are out of date) is a meta-resource with links to a mother lode of information and e-books, etc. Interest in e-books has been episodic over the years and this site is a good example of the ebb and flow of that interest and related activity.

if book: A Project of the Future of the Institute for the future of the Book
A blog giving good perspective on the theme from its name is derived

Light Learning e-Learning center
“This page provides links to some resources about e-books and e-textbooks and the part they can play in education and training.”

Good-to-Go e-Books

International Digital Children’s Library
Give a glimpse into an alternate universe – the tip of the ice berg vast amount of free books for youngsters available online in e-book form

Children’s Story Books Online interesting approach to books online that really are simply websites.

Tumble Books group provides books to be read online over a school’s network. An interesting approach to selecting and distributing e-books for young readers on a mass scale.

Creating e-Books.

Teachers can create their own books for students or make the creation of books a project they present their students. Here are a couple of items that address this dimension of e-books for education.

Creating eBooks with PowerPoint (or any other presentation software)

How To: PowerPoint E-Books

Cybertrain How to and resources on creating e-books.

The Evolving e-Book

Not only is the e-Book not understand and not receiving the attention it deserves, but it form and function continues to evolve, as well. Here’s a new approach that will open many new horizons for the e-book should it catch on!

(MSDN Forums) Make your iPod Touch a Powerful learning Gadget
Create eBooks for the iPod: * This bit of software turns text files into ebooks that you can read on your iPod. After you load a text file, it will make the text readable through iPod Notes (which you can find under “Extra Setttings”). * iPod eBook Creator - convert books into iPod notesThis utility/PHP script loads large text file and splits it into iPod notes. It is easy to read your book in plain text format on your iPod via Notes functionality. All iPod notes will be automatically linked, so you can move from one to another with absolute ease. It's as simple as turning pages of the book.