Monday, January 31, 2011

How would you spend $100 million on Education?

Radical Idea #1

BY: FAST COMPANY STAFFJanuary 12, 2011

EnlargePacifier, Illustration
Illustration by Steve Noble
"In the first few years of life, there are 700 new neuron connections formed every second. The achievement gap between a child born into extreme poverty and one of the professional class is evident by age 3. Yet public policy doesn't engage the first five years of life. We still think of those years as belonging to the family, though this period is crucially important to the development of our workforce. With $100 million, I would build new centers for preschoolers, infants, and toddlers, with three teachers per classroom. Data show that kids with this level of instruction and focused play enter kindergarten in a position to compete."
-- Daniel Pedersen, president of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund

Radical Idea #2

BY: FAST COMPNAY STAFFJanuary 12, 2011

EnlargeAmerican History Book, illustration
Illustration by Steve Noble

"I can't believe that in all the furor over testing, people aren't debating the test itself, like whether the questions are any good. One hundred million dollars should be used to empower Joy Hakim to write from scratch standardized tests for all the subject areas and grade levels. Ten years ago, Hakim decided to write her own American-history textbook, A History of US, directed at middle-schoolers. Textbooks by definition are supposed to be dry and boring, and it's presumed they can never be riveting because they're written by committees of people whose objective is not to offend any groups and to check off state standard 1B and state standard 2D, etc. The result is that textbooks are never fascinating reads. But A History of US is fascinating. Hakim brings characters to life in a way that a novelist can. It's politically progressive but also patriotic in a well-reasoned way. You would read this book for fun, even though technically, it's a textbook. What if a standardized test were written not by a bureaucrat but by somebody who deeply loves the subject? If there were such a thing as a standardized test that wasn't crazy boring and dry, then we might actually have a test worth teaching to."
-- Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose
Radical Idea #3
BY: FAST COMPNAY STAFFJanuary 12, 2011

EnlargeGuitar Tamborine, Illustration
Illustration by Steve Noble

Radical Idea #4

BY: FAST COMPNAY STAFFFebruary 1, 2010

EnlargeCalendar, Illustration
Illustration by Steve Noble

"I'd focus on the arts -- music and visual arts and dance, all the things that make kids joyful. Kids need a reason to come to school, and testing is not a good reason."
-- Diane Ravitch, NYU education historian and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System

"What's missing is more time for parents and teachers to meet. Everyone talks about how important that relationship is, but these 10-minute conferences are of no value and we handicap teachers by having them do this type of work on their own hours. Give parents time off for parent-teacher conferences, just as we do for jury duty -- it could be an employment policy. And have the student there; it makes the whole meeting more powerful."
-- Deborah Meier, senior scholar at New York University and human development leader of the Coalition of Essential Schools

Radical Idea #5
BY: FAST COMPNAY STAFFJanuary 12, 2011

EnlargeBackpack, flippers, illustration
Illustration by Steve Noble

"I would use the funds to attract the best teachers for two programs. One would be a Saturday academic program for struggling students, and I would try to determine whether an extra three to five hours a week could drive their reading and math scores in a particular way. I would try the same thing in July, since it's clear that with poor kids, the summer is a time when they really fall behind. We could figure out that you need X hours in reading and X hours in math to make a difference. Then you work on scaling all of that up."
-- Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone

Radical Idea #6: Rethink Teaching

Spent well, $100 million could give the entire profession a boost.
EnlargeRethink, teaching, circles

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"Unlike most professions, teachers don't get enough professional development, and the development they do get is in furtherance of learning how to use some textbook. We're not an agrarian society anymore; we're a postindustrial nation. And the thing that's coming around the corner is going to have something to do with technology or things yet unimagined. We have to do everything in our power to make kids prepared for that. The question I often ask is whether or not teachers are prepared for it. I would establish urban think tanks for teachers -- a dedicated space to think about public education and how to change it, to identify different approaches that teachers can bring back to their classrooms."
-- Damian Jones, assistant principal at Francis W. Parker, a private school in Chicago
"I definitely wouldn't try to do what we're currently doing better. The old system is becoming so irrelevant to the way the world works. I would spend $100 million on freeing up educators -- one day a week, maybe -- to talk and figure out how to create something different, not just better; how to teach learning skills, not just content; and how to turn classrooms into laboratories, workshops, and places of performance. What's killing us now is the standardization that's happening in schools. God, that's just what we need -- that every kid in the country is going to learn the same thing."
-- Will Richardson, cofounder of Powerful Learning Practice, a company that helps schools build online communities, and author of the book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms
"I would build an online professional-development platform for teachers. They could upload videos of their own practices and have them graded by their peers and experts against a series of rubrics. Then other teachers could log on and search for, say, group discussions and the best (or the worst) videos to watch and learn from. It'd be a tough sell for some teachers, but for those who don't have access to mentors or who teach in remote locations, it'd be the best solution. We could also make the platform more social, so whenever teachers search for a topic, they're served a random clip and asked to critique and grade it. Just being able to define what we mean by good teaching is highly contentious, but it's a necessary step. If we're going to help some random teacher in the middle of nowhere improve his or her practice, we have to define what good teaching looks like. We have to say, 'Yeah, that's a 1,' or, 'Yeah, that's a 4.' "
-- Dan Meyer, former math teacher; current PhD candidate at Stanford; and author of Dy/dan, a math-teaching blog
91-radical-idea-10 radical-idea-10.html Radical Idea #10
"Let's make teaching a year-round profession and expand the school year -- not the 180 instructional days for students, but the time for teachers to work and plan together. We need more time for teachers to collaborate, so they're not so isolated in their classrooms. And I would put instructional coaches in every school. They would go into classrooms with a shared research base on what good instruction is and they would coach teachers. So when you go to these schools, you'd see similar types of good teaching taking place."
-- Fred Tempes, director of WestEd's Comprehensive School Assistance Program

Radical Idea #7
BY: FAST COMPANY STAFFJanuary 12, 2011

EnlargeTortoise, Hare, Illustration
Illustration by Steve Noble

"I would build more high-performing charter schools, like the ones we've opened in Houston. Kids with a seat in these schools will average significantly higher wages over their lifetime than if they weren't at these schools. But it also creates the FedEx effect: Where FedEx's success forced the U.S. Postal Service to offer overnight delivery, something it thought couldn't be done, charter schools force the district to compete and improve. Public schools are feeling very accountable today, but they feel very accountable to the state and federal government, their biggest funders. The main focus from schools should be looking at the kids and parents as the customersthey're serving."
-- Mike Feinberg, cofounder of KIPP, a network of free, college-preparatory public schools across the U.S.
Radical Idea #8
BY: FAST COMPANY STAFFJanuary 12, 2011

EnlargeStudent, sitting at desk, illustration
Illustration by Steve Noble

"Lowering class size is one of the most important things. We have 35 students in our sixth-grade classes. Breaking that size down would mean more attention on each child and more differentiated instruction. After that, I would love to bring on the interactive whiteboards."
-- Cole Young, principal of Humboldt Elementary School in Arizona and winner of the 2010 Terrel H. Bell Award, given to a handful of principals by the U.S. Department of Education

Radical Idea #9
BY: FAST COMPANY STAFFJanuary 12, 2011

EnlargeSoccer Ball, Illustration
Illustration by Steve Noble

"Keep schools open for instructional services -- before- and after-school programs, GED programs, recreational activities -- for both kids and their families."
-- Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers

Radical Idea #10
BY: FAST COMPANY STAFFJanuary 12, 2011

EnlargeStethoscope, illustration
Illustration by Steve Noble

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"I would use the $100 million to improve coordination among different education services. The majority of schools do not have direct access to all of the kinds of support their students need -- whether it's social, like mentoring, or a health check for asthma or vision -- all of the things we know affect a student's academic performance. Those resources are not always talking to each other. I would pull together a panel with representatives from each of those agencies and task them with developing a structure to channel their resources. For example, now kids who get in trouble get a probationary officer who ends up being a mentor for that child. But if we just match a student to a mentor the minute he starts to fall behind -- before he gets in trouble -- it'd be a lot less expensive. Today we're spending more on the students who have already fallen off the track than we do on keeping students on track."
-- John Jackson, CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education

Radical Idea #11
BY: FAST COMPANY STAFFJanuary 12, 2011

EnlargeCoffe Mug, Illustration
Illustration by Steve Noble

"I don't care whether they're poor or what color they are, 14-year-olds are only making 14-year-old decisions. They're goofy. At East Side Prep, a private school in California that serves almost exclusively black and Latino students, every student meets daily with a tutor.Practically, it allows teachers time to plan together. It eliminates the stigma of 'Oh, you have to go to a tutor,' because everyone has to. And there's less time for kids to be left up to their own devices."
-- Gloria Ladson-Billings, author of The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children

Radical Idea #12
BY: FAST COMPANY STAFFJanuary 12, 2011

EnlargeBeaker, Test Tube, Lab, Illustration
Illustration by Steve Noble

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"Public education right now is like telling doctors and nurses that they have to save lives without any materials: You can't have any tools, you can't have any medicines, but you still have to save lives -- and if you don't, we're going to punish you in some way. That's what education feels like. We're expected to produce great citizens after students go through 12 years of school, but we're not given any tools to make that happen. I would make sure that we have updated textbooks in the classrooms, supplies for labs, and instruments for music."
-- Kara Smith, teacher at Lake City High School in Idaho

Radical Idea #13: Build a Better Classroom
BY: FAST COMPANY STAFFJanuary 12, 2011
Kids sitting in a grid of desks, listening to a lecture? how very quaint. here's how to propel classrooms into the 21st century.

A| Personalized Schedules:

"The model we have now is one teacher and 28 kids in a box, and when we receive more dollars, our instinct is to hire more people. Education has suffered from a lack of imagination over the past 100 years. Personalized education means literally knocking down the walls between classrooms to create large, open spaces and 9 or 10 different stations where kids can learn -- some staffed by teachers, some staffed by virtual tutors, some with kids working independently on computers or in groups. Each day, the kids come in and look at monitors to see which stations they should be working at, like the monitors you might see at an airport."
-- Joel Rose, CEO of School of One

B| Telepresence:

"A French-language class could connect with students in Paris for two-way communication or a class could invite a remote lecturer. At one pilot program in Arizona, the district delivered Calculus III to three different schools with five students per site, and it was cost effective. Learning today is not confined to the four walls of a classroom."
-- Renee Patton, U.S. public sector director of education at Cisco

C| Beautiful Buildings:

"The environment in which a class is happening has a humongous psychological impact on both teachers and students. We're asking children to be in these places for eight hours a day -- they're institutionalized, prisonlike, decrepit, with no lights or windows or books. It's not sending a great message about what we value -- it's saying we don't value them, we don't value schools."
-- Justine Haemmerli, program administrator for graduate/public-school partnerships at Bard College

D| Internet Everywhere:

"The idea of a computer lab is misguided. Every student should have direct access to the Internet. This changes the role of the teacher in a classroom, from a purveyor of preexisting knowledge with a frontal presentation into more of a coach. The teacher could provide a starting point for a theme, to unify and excite the class, and then spend time with individuals to see where they get stuck or motivated or excited. The transformation in education will be massive, and if we let the Internet do its thing, the textbook market could go from $8 billion to $800 million to $80 million, and yet there will be more and better content and it will be available to more people."
-- Albert Wenger, managing partner at Union Square Ventures

E| Digital learning library:

"The iPad is a really good platform for the classroom because you can embed curriculum-based videos and games. Having a much more interactive experience for kids makes a huge difference in getting them excited and focused. Kids are instinctively creative -- it's about fostering their inventiveness, not just drills."
-- Paula Kerger, CEO of PBS

F| Flexible Furniture:

"We need to create a dynamic learning environment, so a lot of different kinds of things can happen that appeal to different learners at different times of the day. Students sit for seven hours a day in desks that are attached with a metal bar to chairs; they are incredibly uncomfortable. VS America designs school furniture that is flexible and allows students to move. I think creating flexible spaces that teachers can reconfigure -- to encourage collaborative, project-based learning -- is really effective at engaging students."
-- Laura Stein, associate creative director at Bruce Mau Design and creative director and designer for the book The Third Teacher

AASA and NSPRA recently honored Vancouver Public Schools with their "2011 Leadership Through Communication Award."

Strategic Plan for Communications

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) presented the "2011 Leadership Through Communications" award to the Vancouver Public Schools.

Dr. Steve Webb is the Superintendent of the Vancouver (WA) School District and a member of the Horace Mann League.

The "Executive Summary" with links to examples.

Click here.

A very informative collection of practical ideas for improving communications internal and external stake holders.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Let's Not "Reform" Public Education

Saturday 22 January 2011

by: Adam Bessie, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis
Recently, I had the honor of being dubbed a "vapid champion of the status quo" by American Enterprise Institute (AEI) resident education scholar Frederick Hess, a widely published, renowned advocate of the free-market public school "reform" movement, one that has reached the mainstream with the popularity "Waiting for Superman." Hess has published numerous books; he's on the head of national organizations and even hobnobbed with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at arecent event for AEI. To my shock, Hess made time to write in his blog about me, a lowly assistant professor of English at a community college with a blog audience of a few hundred.
The conflict was over a cover story in The Oakland Tribune, in which the reporter pointed out the role that teacher pay played in creating budget problems. Hess was cited as a nonpartisan education expert, which I took issue with in my blog - not because he shouldn't have been cited in the article, but because the reporter failed to point out to readers that he is a scholar for a neoconservative think tank, one that is a strong proponent of the pro-corporate education "reform" movement and that states on its official website: "The government's authority to tax and regulate represents a growing encroachment on the private sector." In other words, Hess is paid to advocate for a fiscally conservative, free-market educational ideology, a fact the reporter neglected to mention, and one that readers deserved to know so they could best evaluate his perspective.
In response, Hess lambasted me, framing me as someone who stands in the way of real reform, a stodgy supporter of the "status quo," the establishment standing in the way of reform. Hess reveals a prevalent attitude among free-market education advocates: that if you don't support their reform - if you don't support a capitalist, competitive approach to education replete with extensive testing - you don't support students, or improving education in general.
Hess - and the corporate reformers, such as Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee - present the public with a false choice: that there is, on the one hand, the "status quo," one that doesn't work, and, on the other, their "reform" movement, which is the only pathway out of our morass of mediocrity. Unfortunately, the mainstream media has unquestioningly bought into this limited conception of educational reform.
Corporate Reformatory School
The word "reform" itself is a linguistic trap. At face, it assumes that something is profoundly wrong with our public schools, a commonplace belief in the wake of "Waiting for Superman." Further, it suggests a way to fix this wrongness - discipline. Think of a "reformatory school," a military-style institution where frustrated parents ship their bad children, who are then molded - literally re-formed - into good children through discipline. The public school system, in this case, is like an ill-behaving child, in need of a ruler on the wrist and a 5 o'clock wake-up call to get it disciplined, remolded and reformed so it'll say, "Yes, ma'am" when called on.
But most of all, "reform" is a gracefully ambiguous term - formless, even - one that implies an urgency, a need for discipline, for fixing, but it is a term that doesn't suggest what, exactly, is wrong. The word "reform" is an empty shell, one that could suggest any number of problems, innumerable diagnoses - without identifying a single one. Thus, the listener can insert whatever idea she likes into "reform," whatever she thinks is wrong with the schools, whether it is "bad teachers" or unhealthy school lunches.
Who can disagree with reform? Who can be against helping children stuck in a bad school system?
What the corporate reformers have done well is to essentially trademark "reform," branding in the public mind their diagnosis of what's wrong with schools and the harsh, chemotherapeutic remedy.
They own reform.
Rhee Goes Rogue
What's wrong with the school system, according to corporate reformers, is the bad teachers, their unions and "special interests," as Rhee claims practically unchallenged in her Newsweek cover story and across the corporate media, including in "Waiting for Superman," which earned ample air time on Oprah's "Shocking State of Our Schools." The corporate media has adopted this diagnosis, as is best illustrated in Tom Brokaw's segment in "Education Nation," an NBC special applauding the corporate reformers featuring Rhee and Gates (Gates also appeared in "Waiting for Superman"). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was also one of the sponsors of Education Nation, and Gates was a star of his own show. Not surprisingly, Brokaw - a reporter, not a pundit - claims, as fact, that there is a "teacher establishment," which is part of the problem, echoing Rhee and other corporate reformers sponsoring the event.
Given this diagnosis, the corporate reform remedy is obvious: take down the "teacher establishment," a sentiment that sounds surprisingly similar to that of the Tea Party bent on taking down the Washington establishment. Much like Sarah Palin, Rhee frames herself as a rogue agent of change, with the forces of the establishment aligned against her, against "reform." We hear the same David and Goliath sentiment echoed in the mainstream media again, in a Time Magazine editorial by education policy analyst Andrew Rotherham in " 'Waiting for Superman': Education Reform Isn't Easy." He claims that "despite all the attention ["Waiting for Superman"] is bringing to education, there are still more reasons to bet against reform than for it." "Reform," in this case, is the corporate reformers' policies. And again, "reform" is being stopped by the "teachers unions" and other special interests, which have put "a lot of money to keep various reforms at bay." Rotherham writes a blog that is underwritten, in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.
In essence, Gates and other corporate reformers have heavily bankrolled a media blitzkrieg to convince the public our schools need "reform," and that the free-market, test-heavy, privatized pathway is the only logical definition of reform. Joanne Barkan, reporting in Dissent Magazine, makes transparent how Gates - and other "venture philanthropists" - have created this successful propaganda campaign through extensive invisible (and visible) funding, Koch-Brothers-style. On the one hand, Gates uses his extensive funding to hire out hidden proxy bloggers - like Rotherham - to spread the "reform" message. And, on the other, the corporate media is wary of casting a critical eye on these positive "reform voices," as they are stuck in the linguistic trap of "reform." Barkan cites Hess, who found in a study of national corporate media that the "press ... handles philanthropies with kid gloves." For every one negative account, Hess found in his ten year study from 1995 to 2005, there were thirteen positive ones - which explains, in part, why the corporate media has highlighted the efforts of "reformers" with applause and why Hess himself got a pass during his interview with The Oakland Tribune.
And again: who can be against "reform?"
Waiting for Alyssa Milano
"In view of the money and power now arrayed on behalf of the ideas and programs I will criticize, I hope it is not too late," are the fateful final words in the introduction of Diane Ravitch's 2010 book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System."

Ravitch, however, is not critiquing the "special interests" aligned against reform, but the reform movement itself, of which she was a former elite member. She switched sides after extensively studying the results of No Child Left 
Behind and is now convinced that these reform efforts are "undermining education." Ravitch is convinced that by relentlessly testing children and by pitting schools against schools, teachers against teachers, parents against parents and children against children, we are diminishing the quality of learning that happens in schools and undermining the foundations of a democratic society. And while Ravitch has relentlessly promoted this well-supported perspective - such that Hess acknowledged her as the most visible education scholar based on her publications and mentions in media - she still has made little dent in the public mind and in the corporate reform "status quo."
Besides the considerable money and political clout behind it, the corporate reform movement - much like the Tea Party - has a compelling narrative package: a hero (Rhee), villains (teachers' unions) and poor, innocent victims (children). Like the Tea Party, the reformers have adopted a David and Goliath stance and evoked it again and again. That stance is appealing to a country that currently feels a lot like David beaten senselessly by Goliath. This powerful, human narrative was brought to life on the big screen with "Waiting for Superman," repeated in major media outlets and even tweeted by "Who's the Boss?" star Alyssa Milano to her million-plus followers. The story is so emotionally potent that it feels like fact - it must be true, especially to many that, like Milano, know nothing about real issues in education and are championing a cause they do not understand.
The corporate reformers have reached the hearts of the public, blinding them with a beautifully rendered fiction.
Even though Ravitch is very visible, even though she has powerful data and analysis to support her conclusions, which are widely published and read, she hasn't been successful in capturing the public imagination, as there is no story - no hero or villain - for the American public to easily grasp, to reduce into a simple plot with an obvious moral. There is no heartwarming tale to sell newspapers or to draw viewers to the evening news or sob-filled theatres.
Yet, until Alyssa Milano is tweeting Ravitch, the corporate takeover of our schools will continue, reforming public education - and our children - to behave well in the free-market.

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