Friday, December 5, 2008

Keynote Flim-Flam

Will Richardson writes of his disappointment that highly paid speakers at a conference dedicated to the future of schooling lacked concrete ideas relevant to, well - the future of schooling.

This comes as no surprise to those of us who have endured endless lectures by "experts" with no educational experience, background or knowledge who apply conventional wisdom from every field except education, to improving our schools. I've asked the following question a zillion times in different forms, but continue to be clueless as to, "Why are educators so willing to take marching orders from slick talkers who know nothing about learning, have extremely limited experience in schools and have never led anything, even as assistant night manager of a 7-11?"

Will's blog about conference speakers
, Michael Horn and Tony Wagner remind me of Stager's First Two Axioms of Education Reform.
(Note: Tony Wagner has considerable education experience.)

Stager's Axioms of Education Reform

1) “It is my belief that the dominant solution to any educational challenge will be wrong and make the problem worse.”

2) "Observation is not insight and counting is not wisdom!"

The best of the fancy conference talkers and airport bookstore authors can sling meaningless statistics about cellphone ownership, Indian engineering graduates and how many kids play video games like a Cy Young Award-winning pitcher. However, the conclusions they draw, if they even bother to draw them, tend to be fatuous and apropos of nothing.

In other cases, the conclusions are drawn with complete ignorance or discounting of the social, political, historical or human aspects of schooling. Merely proclaiming that the world is changing and schools will soon be irrelevant is a cheap party trick worthy of your contempt. Inventing clever puns, taking credit for ones created by others or making self-evident claims about the value of educational tradition, without questioning those traditions, is just as disgraceful (see here)

Will ended his blog on an optimistic note, but I harbor great reservations about what he sees as progress.

Finally, I think the conversation that most blew me away was the one with Andy Ross, the VP of Florida Virtual High School. They’ve got almost 1,000 full time staff now and over 20,000 kids on their waiting list to take classes. They can’t hire teachers fast enough. Kids can take their entire high school curriculum online without ever meeting a teacher face to face, though there are plenty of phone calls and e-mails. Andy said that their research shows that those kids do better on the standardized assessments than kids in physical schools, primarily because of the deep alignment of the curriculum and the programmed delivery. Now I’m not saying that those are necessarily reasons to move everything online, but it was the one solid vision of a “School of the Future” that I got at the conference.

  • First of all, the fact that kids have decided to avoid schooling and accept an alternative, any alternative should neither surprise nor encourage us. Dropping out may be the most rational response to the current system that will not be improved one bit by kids opting out for correspondence school.

  • What is lost when you never meet a teacher face-to-face? Is education merely the objective exchange of questions and answers? Of teaching and being taught?

  • I am NOT comforted by increases in standardized test scores or the "deep alignment of the curriculum and the programmed delivery." This is a vision of education I find nauseating.

  • While I remain a great supporter of the affordances offered learners by well-designed online learning environments (I have fifteen years worth of experience teaching online), the Florida Virtual School was not created out of pure intentions. One needs only to look at the new state law requiring online alternatives to school for every elementary school student and it's easy to conclude that the Florida Virtual School is first and foremost a stealth plan for privatizing public education and cutting costs. Jeb Bush achieved what his ideological brethren only dreamed of by offering a scheme to parents that sounds futuristic. It is impossible to see this news in an apolitical context.

Educators in Pennsylvania told me that parents tired of receiving truancy calls simply withdraw their kids from school and "enroll" them in "cyberschools." The value or efficacy of that educational alternative remains in doubt.

On another note, I'm always amazed when bloggers who use so little computing potential and offer a slightly incremental view of educational innovation also feel compelled to apologize for their advocacy of the tiniest of changes in pedagogical practice.
That doesn’t mean than we throw out all of the good pedagogy that we’ve developed over the years and make everything about technology. But it does mean, I think, that technology has to be a part of the way we do our learning business
You can also keep your learning "business" while we are at it.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Why I'm Scared to Death About Obama's Education Policies

This is why (click to read article) despite contributing to his campaign and voting proudly for Barack Obama, I have trouble sleeping at night in anticipation of his education policies.

The only times I've heard Obama speak about education, he has called for merit pay, increased accountability, praised D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee (check out this fine article about her) In other words, President-Elect Obama (unless I am proven wrong) believes the same BS that drove NCLB and many of the other bad ideas oppressing children and teachers.

Here is an idea for President-Elect Obama...

The $29,000 per year Sidwell Friends School is a fine learning environment and institution with a proud history of excellence. His daughters will be very happy there.

President and First Lady Obama should study everything done at Sidwell Friends School and copy it in every school across America. If it's good enough for his daughters, it's good enough for the children they are leaving behind.

Here is a most stunning principle of the school the Obama children and Biden grandchildren will be attending:
(from Wikipedia) The school does not rank its students, as this conflicts with the Quaker Testimony of Equality.

What? Not ranking students??? No winners or losers? No AYP? Where is the accountability in that?

Perhaps there are other ways of identifying educational accomplishment?

You wouldn't think so if you listened to President-elect Obama speak about public education.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

My New Favorist Essayist Speaks the Truth About School

Over the past six months I've discovered the BBC television phenomena, Top Gear. I first heard about it when Jay Leno publicly criticized NBC's desire to produce an American version. Top Gear is hosted by three blokes who love cars, build insane contraptions, challenge one another to drive across the English Channel and tease one another mercilessly.

Top Gear is an enormous international hit with its own magazine, children's books, DVDs and international editions, such as Top Gear Australia.

I've watched a couple of dozen episodes of Top Gear and have my DVR programmed to record new ones, not because I love cars or am even interested in them. I hate cars and would be pleased to never drive again. I watch the show for the hijinks, witty repartee between the hosts and because it is fantastic observing expertise.

The primary host of Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson, is also a columnist for England's The Sunday Times and The Sun. Clarkson's co-hosts, Richard Hammon and James May also write entertaining columns for British newspapers.

During a recent trip to Australia, I thumbed through Clarkson's most recent anthology of columns and found a stunning piece of writing about education, Schools are Trying to Break Children.
All of us wrap up our children when it’s cold. We put them on booster seats in the car and make them wear helmets when they’re on a bicycle. We strive constantly to keep them out of harm’s way, and then we send them off to school so they can be tortured and killed.

Apparently, schools the world over are a lot more similar than the international comparison wielding politicians would like us to believe.

Read Jay Leno's review of and affection for Top Gear.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Recent articles you may have missed

Here are some recent articles I published in District Administration Magazine...


Keep the Wish List Short

Giving parents a laundry list of supplies to buy is lousy public relations and exacerbates economic hardships.

Published in the July 2008 issue of District Administration

What's a Computer For? Part II
Computer science is the new basic skill.
Published in the July 2008 issue of District Administration

What's a Computer For? Part 1
It all depends on your educational philosophy.
Published in the June 2008 issue of District Administration

Online Videoconferencing
Web tools such as uStream make video broadcasting accessible.
Published in the June 2008 issue of District Administration

Keeping Up with the Future
Consider these suggestions for staying informed and inspired.
Published in the May 2008 issue of District Administration

The Games Teachers Play
We are cheating our students by turning reading into a game of dodgeball.
Published in the April 2008 issue of District Administration

Public Schools?
Be wary of a gift that might squash the benefits of public education.

Published in the April 2008 issue of District Administration

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Games Teachers Play

We are cheating our students by turning reading into a game of dodgeball.

Perhaps there are many more distractions facing children today, but great teachers continue to create environments where their students want to be and to learn. The answer to bad teaching is better teaching, not another worksheet, get tough movement or quick fix. The sad truth is that schools may be better at destroying interest in a subject than inspiring it.

Read my new article about computerized reading comprehension systems and their threat to literacy.

The Games Teachers Play
in the April 2008 issue of District Administration Magazine.

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Alternate Opinion: Corporate Involvement in Schools

District Administration Magazine has a feature in its April 2008 issue about corporate involvement in schools. Inside the feature is an interview with Billionaire education philanthropist, Eli Broad. I ask some questions about turning public schools into the plaything of rich folks.

Read Public Schools? Be wary of a gift that might squash the benefits of public education.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Let's Put Deborah Meier on Our Money!

Popular Web 2.0 enthusiast, Will Richardson, live-blogged about a recent conference presentation by Deborah Meier and Dr. Diane Ravitch. Several people, including myself felt compelled to explain who Meier and Ravitch are to Will's readers.

In fact, I contributed the following...

You owe it to yourselves to read Meier’s seminal works, “The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem” (1995) and “In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization.” In most countries it would be assumed that every teacher has read a Macarthur Genius like Deborah Meier.

Dr. Ravitch worked for President Bush 41 as Assistant Secretary of Education and works for the Hoover and Brookings Institutes. Despite her right-wing background, she is rational and thoughtful. She has been smeared and attacked repeatedly by the Bloomberg/Klein junta. Dr. Ravtich has demonstrated courage, integrity and an admirable capacity for growth. Her book, “The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn,” is a great read.

Those two women are the type of speakers every confrence should feature. Their expertise is awesome, accomplishments great and ideas are timeless.

I have long admired Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch and have recommended their books to my magazine readership, graduate students and friends.

I wrote about Ravitch's book in a 2003 article, "The End of Textbooks."

My interview with Deborah Meier was published in 2002 and may be read here, "The Power of Her Ideas."

The more I think about it, the more I believe the point I made about American educators' awareness (or lack thereof) of powerful ideas is important. Why hasn't every American educator read Meier, Kohl, Dewey, Holt, Papert, Sizer, etc?

Until the recent adoption of the Euro, Italy's currency featured educator Maria Montessori. Can you imagine if our nation afforded great educators that level of respect and admiration?

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Charlie Rose Lobotomized by "education" Guest

Last evening, January 2nd, my favorite journalist/talk show host once again demonstrated how his IQ can drop in half when the subject being discussed is education. Rich guy, and probably well-meaning, philanthropist Geoffrey Canada saluted the Bloomberg/Klein cabal, touted merit pay, bashed teacher unions, demanded a longer school day, pretended that the multi-billion dollar disaster of American standardized tests compared our kids to foreign students, supported KIPP Academy and even went so far as to cite the Houston public schools under Rod Paige's leadership despite the documented evidence that the "Houston Miracle" that spawned NCLB was a complete fraud for which only the whistleblower was punished. Mr. Canada also took umbrage with the phony baloney issue of "social promotion" and wishes NCLB were fully-funded.

Canada kept repeating that the reason poor kids are in failing schools is because of politics, Yet, all of his political theories are faith-based free-market schemes with no record of success anywhere and not a single example of actual classroom practice - in other words HIS pitch is 100% political.

I LOVE Charlie Rose. I rarely miss a program. I used to watch his 2-6 AM show, CBS Nightwatch, in the 1980s. There is no better interviewer on science, the arts, culture or politics than Mr. Rose. However, on the rare occasion he covers education, his guests are always conservative drill and kill proponents. The conservatives want vouchers, more testing and longer school days. The liberals want merit pay, more testing and longer school days.

The only guests I've seen on Charlie Rose in recent years have been Chancellor Klein the founder of Teach-for-America and Geoffrey Canada. For some reason the ordinarily remarkable journalist, Rose, completely suspends his disbelief and allows his platform to be used to promote dopey educational theories that are ruining the lives of children.

Perhaps Mr. Rose does not know that other voices exist in public education or that there are successful urban schools where the students are treated as his Upper East Side friends expect their children to be educated.

I offer a partial list of guests who can share their expertise and present a different vision of education for future television programs:

Dennis Littky & Elliot Washor
Jonathan Kozol
Deborah Meier
Herbert Kohl
Theodore Sizer
Alfie Kohn
Susan Ohanian
Etta Kralovek
Roger Schank
Ron Canuel
Stephen Krashen
Constance Kamii
Gerald Coles
Gerald Bracey
Ken Goodman
John Taylor Gatto
Robert Coles
Diane Ravitch
Ted Hamory & Stephanie Lee
George Wood
Lella Gandini
Pedro Noguera
Chris Lehman

Related article - Bill Gates and Eli Broad Go Gangsta

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Recommended Books for Holiday Gifts

For kids of all ages:

George's Secret Key to the Universe

by Stephen Hawking and Lucy Hawking (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2007) Curious George's author, H.A. Rey, was an amateur astronomer and friend of Albert Einstein. Now Stephen (this generation's Einstein) and Lucy Hawking have accepted this generation's challenge of explaining the universe to kids. If you haven't been able to finish A Brief History of Time, this book, written for children ages 9-12, might help.

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!

by Dr. Seuss (Picture Lions, 2001) This book was published posthumously and completed by Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith. In addition to being a fabulous ( and timely) fable about the dangers of reducing education to test prep, the second half of the book is an exploration of Dr. Seuss' creative process and a behind-the-scenes look at how the book was created.

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure

by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Rotraut Susanne Berner, and Michael Henry Heim (Owl Books,2000) Imagine a whimsical novel, plus math, and you get the picture of this book, which can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Pippi Longstocking

by Astrid Lindgren (Author), Lauren Child (Illustrator), Tiina Nunnally (Translator) (Viking Juvenile, 2007) This classic children's book has been illustrated by popular contemporary illustrator and children's author, Lauren Child.


Educational technology:

Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms

by Will Richardson (Corwin Press, 2006) District Administration columnist Richardson explains the emerging technologies of blogging, podcasting, wikis, social networking and other innovations based on RSS.

The Children's Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer

by Seymour Papert (Basic Books, 1994) The "father of educational computing" provokes us to think hard about the incredible potential to construct knowledge using computers.

children's machine

Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers, and the Transformation of Learning

by Bob Johnstone (iUniverse, 2003) A fascinating history of educational computing from WWII through the laptop revolution of the early 1990s.

MySpace Unraveled: What it is and how to use it safely

by Larry Magid and Anne Colliermagid (Peachpit Press, 2006) takes the incredibly novel position of suggesting that you know what you're talking about before setting policy at home or in school. The book teaches adults how to use so that they may more rationally discuss social networking with children.

Internet & Computer Ethics for Kids: (and Parents & Teachers Who Haven't Got a Clue.)

by Winn Schwartau, D. L. Busch (Illustrator) (Interpact Press, 2001) This terrific book should be read
by every parent, educator and teen.



Painting Chinese: A Lifelong Teacher Gains the Wisdom of Youth

by Herbert Kohl (Bloomsbury, 2007) Herb Kohl's poetic meditation on life, art, teaching and learning is a gift that keeps on giving.


The Book of Learning and Forgetting

by Frank Smith (Teachers College Press, 1998) Smith may have written the most beautiful and thoughtful book about learning in the past decade.

Raising children:

Come on, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors

by Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint (Thomas Nelson, 2007) Cosby and Poussaint explore the problems plaguing child rearing in our poorest communities and offer no-nonsense practical advice for adult caregivers and educators.

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

by Alfie Kohn (Atria, 2005) Popular education author Alfie Kohn focuses on parenting in an informative book that might make Supernanny crazy.

Reading instruction:

Reading FAQ

by Frank Smith (Teachers College Press, 2007) This book poses the countless questions educators and parents have about reading, and answers them succinctly and in plain English.

School innovation:

The Big Picture: Education Is Everyone's Business

by Dennis Littky and Samantha Grabelle (ASCD, 2004) Now on his fourth decade of successful school reform, Littky demonstrates how it is possible to create successful schools for the 21st century with innovations that are replicable.

The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach Advanced Reflections, 2nd edition

by Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini, and George Forman (Ablex Publishing, 1998) American educators of all grades can learn from the municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. This book explains their educational ideas better than any book.

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In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization

by Deborah Meier (Beacon Press, 2003) A fantastic book about creating learning communities within the four walls of the school and beyond by a Macarthur Genius


Teaching in these times:

Letters to a Young Teacher

by Jonathan Kozol (Crown, 2007) For more than 40 years, Kozol has given voice to the voiceless children in our cities. In his latest book, he uses the literary device of writing to a new teacher in Boston as a vehicle for exploring issues of pedagogy, politics, social justice and the joy of teaching.

Stupidity and Tears: Teaching and Learning in Troubled Times

by Herbert Kohl (New Press, 2005) A terrific collection of essays by the legendary educator and author.


Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade

by Linda Perlstein (Henry Holt, 2007) Perlstein, a celebrated journalist, chronicles the story of a school that raised test scores dramatically by exploring the sacrifices made and whether continued progress is possible.

The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial

by Susan Eaton (Algonquin Books, 2007) Eaton writes an in-depth analysis of the crises plaguing urban education through the story of one school in Hartford, Conn., over a period of 18 months.

The Game of School: Why We All Play It, How It Hurts Kids, and What It Will Take to Change It

by Robert Fried (Jossey-Bass, 2005) Fried offers thoughtful critiques on the state of public education and what we might do to improve matters.

Vision, leadership and management:

Letters to the Next President: What We Can Do about the Real Crisis in Public Education (2008 Election)

by Carl Glickman (Teacher's College Press, 2007) This collection of essays by leading educators and citizens offers unsolicited advice about education policy for our next president of the United States.

Selling the Dream : How to Promote Your Product, Company, or Ideas-And Make a Difference-Using Everyday Evangelism

by Guy Kawasaki (Collins, 1992) Kawasaki has inspired countless readers to gather and sustain support for their products and innovations.

Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency

by Tom DeMarco (Broadway, 2002) A management expert, DeMarco makes a compelling case for granting employees some much needed time and space.

The Inner Principal

by David Loader (Routledge, 1997) Loader, one of the world's boldest and most accomplished principals, lets readers inside his head and heart as he does his job.

inner principal

Predict education's future by reading about the past:

The New Education: Progressive Education One Hundred Years Ago Today (Classics in Progressive Education)

by Scott Nearing (New Press, 2007) Originally published nearly 100 years ago!

How Kindergarten Came to America: Friedrich Froebel's Radical Vision of Early Childhood Education (Classics in Progressive Education)

by Bertha von Marenholtz-Bulow (New Press, 2007) Read about the inventor of kindergarten, his radical ideas from a book originally published in 1894 and the fascinating story of how his ideas came to America.

The Public School and the Private Vision: A Search for America in Education and Literature (Classics in Progressive Education)

by Maxine Greene (New Press, 2007)

From - "Maxine Greene, one of the leading educational philosophers of the past fifty years, remains "an idol to thousands of educators," according to the New York Times. In The Public School and the Private Vision, first published in 1965 but out of print for many years, Greene traces the complex interplay of literature and public education from the 1830s to the 1960s—and now, in a new preface, to the present. With rare eloquence she affirms the values that lie at the root of public education and makes an impassioned call for decency in difficult times, once again a key theme in education circles. A new foreword by Herbert Kohl shows how the work resonates for contemporary teachers, students, and parents."

A Schoolmaster of the Great City: A Progressive Education Pioneer's Vision for Urban Schools (Classics in Progressive Education)

by Angelo Patri (New Press, 2007)

From - Angelo Patri's eloquent 1917 chronicle of multicultural education in the inner city remains as relevant today as it was ninety years ago. Long out of print, A Schoolmaster of the Great City illustrates Patri's commitment as a long-time principal at a New York public school to integrating all backgrounds into the classroom and to nurturing a community that extends beyond the school yard. The New York Times Book Review called it "an inspiring and an aspiring vision, an ideal of a force that would be a greater power in molding and Americanizing and democratizing American life than it would be possible to find in all other agencies together."

The Progressive Education Movement: Is It Still a Factor in Today's School?

by William Hayes (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2006) 3/4 of this textbook is a terrific history of progressive educators and its unsung heroes. The chapters on the modern era are of less value.

Books by Pulse Contributing Editors:

Gerald Coles

Ken Goodman

Alfie Kohn

Etta Kralovek

Stephen Krashen

Susan Ohanian

W. James Popham

Roger Schank

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Monday, December 3, 2007

My new DA column is online

My most recent District Administration Magazine column, "Arts for All," is available at The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate.

See you there!

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I Still Don't Like "The World is Flat!"

In my new column, I once again question educator's awestruck devotion to The World Is Flat and paralyzing fear of globalization. Here are a couple of excerpts from the new column.

I continue to meet colleagues who apologize for not having found time to read Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat. They long to read what they've been led to believe is the instruction manual for 21st-century living. I await the book's children's edition and the Saturday morning cartoon in which a ragtag bunch of American AP students are outsourced to India and are forced to use Microsoft Vista.

I have not moderated my 2005 appraisal that The World Is Flat is chock-full of sloppy facts, simplistic reasoning and dopey rhymes. My greatest concern is that school leaders are much more apt to quote from books written by men who have never run a business than from those written by educational innovators. An administrator's quest for a quick fix and misplaced faith in the advice of charlatans is much more alarming than Mr. Friedman's ignorance of technology, education or policy. He just wrote a book. We bought it.

Read the entire column, Lessons You Can't Learn in a Book.

Discuss it here!

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bill Gates and Eli Broad Go Gangsta

Bill Gates and Eli Broad can’t revolutionize public education alone. They need a posse. Realizing that they needed to appeal to more than billionaires and ex-Governors Ed in ’08 teamed up with another education policy expert, rapper Kanye West.

Read Bill Gates and Eli Broad Go Gangsta

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