Archive for January, 2011

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I confess to having been a Twitter skeptic. I only decided to give it a try in December because I was trying to increase my “sphere of influence” to help an organization I support win a Pepsi Refresh grant. I figured I would probably stop using once the goal was attained…but I didn’t.

Everybody’s heard of Twitter, but if you have never used it, you may be among those who, like I did, doubt the value of Twitter. After all, you and your friends probably use Facebook, so if you wish to share a status update,  you can just post it there. Why would you need Twitter? Most of your friends probably don’t use it anyway. You may well be correct on that count, but Twitter use is increasing every day, and chances are if you aren’t using Twitter now, you will use it eventually.

You are doubtless familiar with celebrities who have caused themselves headaches using Twitter. You probably remember a year or so ago when Miley Cyrus announced she was  closing her Twitter account. (To the best of my knowledge she has not resumed using Twitter). Still other celebrities like  Alyssa Milano are well-known “tweeps” who boast many followers and have morphed the way Twitter was “intended” to be used–for posting status updates–to  becoming a valuable source of up-to-date information. Twitter has evolved; it has become as some have said, a “micro blog.” It has become a means of advertising. Twitter has become a very real means for communicating news and other data immediately and from anywhere.

Here are some interesting applications for Twitter that extend its capabilities and allow users to do more with less:

  1. TweetChat — as defined at the TweetChat site: “Hashtags identify specific topics and those hashtags allow TweetChat to connect you with people talking about similar things.  Choosing a hashtag directs you to a TweetChat room. Each tweet automatically gets the hashtag added and the room auto-updates” (TweetChat.com, accessed 1-30-11).
  2. Bit.ly — Bitly helps you share, track, and analyze your links (bit.ly.com, accessed 1-30-11). Bit.ly is a URL shortener.
  3. HootSuite –allows a user to “Add a Social Network,” so you can manage all of your social networks and blog feeds from one dashboard. “Create a New Tab” allows you to choose how your information is displayed. (This is too complicated to explain here, so if you want more info, try Joe Hage online for a description of TweetDeck, a similar app). HootSuite also allows a user to schedule tweets in advance! It is difficult to explain how beneficial it is using an app like TweetDeck or HootSuite until you have tried Twitter in its original form for a while. Basically, these apps make Twitter easier to manipulate in the way many of us are using Twitter now. An additional advantage to using HootSuite is the ability to shorten or to not shorten links within your tweets as you choose without having to rely on an external link shortener like bit.ly.
  4. TwitLonger — TwitLonger is an easy way to post long messages to Twitter without the need to write a blog post. “Write what you need here and we post the link to Twitter for you” (http://www.twitlonger.com/index.php/main_new, accessed 1-30-11).

There are a number of other apps for Twitter, but the above are the apps I use and with which I am most familiar. As you can see, the above described applications significantly change the ways in which Twitter can be used by allowing “real-time” collaboration and communication; allowing for “tweets” longer than 140 characters when needed (not recommended to overuse this ability); shortening links to allow for a longer message or a complete URL; and the ability to schedule messages–highly useful for marketing purposes or reaching users at peak times!

Twitter is no longer just for status updates. You may have noticed that as businesses establish pages on Facebook, they are establishing a presence on Twitter, too. I enjoy using Twitter to communicate with followers and people I follow in addition to my primary purpose for using Twitter: to obtain information from important and reliable sources.

Here are two recent local anecdotes from Rochester, Minnesota that display the value of using Twitter. Many local media personalities are on Twitter. I follow one of the local meteorologists and came upstairs the other day and informed my wife it was snowing before even looking outside. She looked, and indeed it was snowing! In another situation, I had checked my twitter feed after work and found out that one of the three local cinemas had just closed. I mean “just closed” when I say it. About an hour later, when the story broke on the news and someone else made a comment, I already had all of the details!

I recommend checking out Twitter if you haven’t already. You may be amazed at what you can find and do with Twitter…it’s not just for status updates anymore!

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#HootSuite is the one stop shop for social media mavens. http://hootsuite.com ^KA

“The Greatest Salesman in the World” by Og Mandino. End of book contains 6 “scrolls”. #Reading 1 3x/day 30 days b4 reading next. More L8R.

Trying out HootSuite Social Share! http://ow.ly/3LosS I love it!

Teachers, School Choice

OPINION: Columnist Debunks School Choice Myths. Was unaware until earlier today that this week has been dubbed, “School Choice Week.” I am all for choice in schools, and Minnesota has been a leader every step of the way from open enrollment, to “choice schools” and the charter school movement.

A personal favorite of mine are the choice schools available in Rochester, MN. I have the good fortune to have one child enrolled at a choice school and to be able to work at another of those schools. Rochester’s choice schools are proving that public education is and can be VERY successful.

While I attended a parochial school in the Milwaukee, WI area for high school, and I understand the argument people make concerning paying both tuition for a private school and property taxes, the facts are that most students attending private schools, yes, private elementary and secondary schools, do so at substantially reduced rates through scholarships and other means. Another seldom-mentioned fact is that in most locales the public education system is obligated to provide transportation to private schools within the school district’s boundaries (in my case, I was bused OUT of the suburbs and into the City of Milwaukee at suburban taxpayer expense). So, neither the argument that the parents are truly “paying” both and, nor the argument that private schools “do more with less” really hold water. (Admittedly, my father was one in that category who did pay both and because of his significant income; however, the vast majority of families at my high school and at the parochial school in MN where I taught for three years, paid literally pennies on the dollar towards the “real” tuition cost.)

I do not know the statutes in other states, but I am also aware that Minnesota statute requires the local school district to purchase or lend any and all textbooks requested (with the exception of purely religious texts). To my knowledge, the majority of private schools, parochial included, utilize this statute to their enormous benefit. At the parochial school where I taught in MN, all textbooks were clearly identified as the “property of” the local public school. Another significant cost savings for the private school, and yet a further explanation for the belief that private schools “do more with less.”

There is another common misconception regarding private schools: that private and parochial teachers “make more money.” Perhaps they do at a handful of exclusive and outrageously expensive schools, but on the whole, private school teachers, especially in parochial schools (which the vast majority of private schools are) earn substantially less than their public school counterparts. Yet another reason that private schools apparently “do more with less.”

For those who would now vilify the public school teacher, consider that all of the true professions pay substantially more than does public education. There seems to be some notion that public school teachers are earning on average far more than they actually do. For example, I know of no teacher in our local district earning $70,000 per year. Any teacher who is near this figure, I believe the local wage scale tops out at $65,000 for a PhD with 20+ years experience(!) has certainly paid his or her dues in time, personal expense (the district didn’t pay for that PhD!) and experience in the classroom to “deserve” double that figure! The average wage for a teacher in our district is between $35,000-$45,000. A teacher with an M.A. starts at $40,000. Any who dispute these statements are welcome to find this publicly available information on the ISD 535 website: http://rochester.k12.mn.us .

Now let’s touch on the popular concept of charter schools. Charter schools are publicly funded schools and the funds used to pay for these schools may not come directly from the local district, but they do impact the bottom line of the local district negatively, unless the local district happens to be the charter sponsor, in which case, the charter school can actually be a boon to the local district. Charter schools have their place, to be sure, but the typical charter school has about the same track record for success as the typical small business: three or so years. The vast majority of charter schools fail to accomplish what they purposed and thus fail to benefit the children who were supposedly being failed by the existing public schools. Charter schools, like private schools, often pay teachers significantly less than they would earn if employed by the local district. Charter schools often have poor oversight. In short, charter schools are no panacea.

To conclude I will revisit the novel concept of choice schools that has been so effective in our local district. Without going into detail because the details can again be found by perusing the local district website at http://rochester.k12.mn.us, we offer a variety of options for our students and families. Who attends is chosen by lottery, but generally, those who truly wish to attend a choice school will be accepted. Once the first child in a family is in, the younger siblings will be automatically accepted to that school. Choice schools are an alternative public school option for students whose neighborhood schools have not met AYP. In fact, students from schools not meeting AYP will be given priority over students whose neighborhood school does meet AYP. The students at our choice schools, on the whole, outperform the students at our neighborhood schools, even where neighborhood schools do meet AYP. Choice schools are a viable alternative to private and charter schools, and in the end, the only reasons a private school or charter school may be less expensive to administer in the near term, are those reasons above stated: teachers earn less, and the local district heavily subsidizes with busing, books, and other services, so what happens in the long term when we have depleted the resources of our public districts by shifting the funds to the creation of new “charter schools” that may ultimately fail? We will have created a nightmare!

*Addendum, 1.25.11 See http://bit.ly/gVdmxk for article from Hechinger report documenting the comparative lack of success of charter schools in Indianapolis where only 6 of 15 charter schools made AYP!

More thoughts on StudentsFirst

Posted: January 13, 2011 in post

I recently engaged in conversation with an educational leader and writer regarding thoughts on StudentsFirst (S1). Here are a couple of comments from this anonymous individual:

“The S1st agenda strikes me as a glib “if only…” policy wish list. Sounds good on paper. Doesn’t jive with reality.”

Agreed. I have not seen how any of the stated objectives are to be accomplished. I think teacher union busting is a pipe dream. Another education expert recently tweeted, “Big news: Tenure began in late 19th c, before there were unions, to give underpaid teachers a modest degree of security.” So, tenure is not a creation of the NEA or other unions. Tenure has been important in protecting freedom of speech. Stripping teachers of tenure is not likely to create a collegial environment.

Another comment from the first anonymous source: “I also wonder: What problems are we trying to solve, and to what extent are they really problems everywhere? Or just in DC?”

This is a great point. The DC schools have been ailing and failing for years…does that equate to all schools failing? No. As I stated in my previous post, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the “problem,” such as a “problem” exists. Students are doing very well in certain districts and in certain schools within districts. As an example, the school where I work–I do not teach and am not directly employed by the district; however, I am connected with the district and service students–has seen significant year over year gains on results. Personally, I do not believe 100% is posible in most circumstances, but it is a phenomenal goal, and our building is fast approaching at 88% achievement this past school year. Why should anything be changed in this successful school? We adapt and change to meet the needs of our students to ensure year over year growth. The “formula” such as it is, is unique to our building…it “works” for us…it might not work in another building.

The above stated, we don’t keep our successes to ourselves: we consistently have other schools and leaders visiting us to see what we are doing. They are free to take what will work for them, and free to adapt as fits their individual needs, which are surely different from ours.

Ending point: Some things work in education, others do not. Each school, and each individual student is unique and has unique needs and abilities. Suggesting that we mandate specific changes for “education” is folly. Seeking continuous improvement is the way to go. Let’s have a little more faith in our educators and educational leadership. Nobody “wants” to fail….

"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...

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The StudentsFirst juggernaut launched in December 2010 by Michelle Rhee has just released their “Policy Agenda.” If you don’t care to read the summary, in brief it outlines the three (3) primary goals of StudentsFirst:

1) “Elevate the teaching profession by valuing teachers’ impact on students.”

2) “Empower parents with real choices and real information.”

3) “Shift spending taxpayers’ money to get better results for students.”

The summary continues to outline three (3) or more criteria to support each of the above primary objectives. You will have to view the summary for a full listing of each of those, but I will here comment on the few ideas that I believe will cause the greatest stir. While I support “education reform” and believe that certain reforms are necessary, as somewhat of a federalist, I question whether such reform should be driven and legislated by Washington.

I wonder exactly how “Evaluating teachers based on evidence of student results rather than arbitrary judgments, and separating teacher evaluation from the collective bargaining process” elevates the teaching profession. Human service workers are grossly underpaid. The teaching profession is no exception. Having worked in union positions and non-union positions, I am assured that teachers would suffer financially without unions. In theory, it sounds good to evaluate teachers on the basis of student results, I mean, educating students is what teachers are supposed to be doing, right. Unfortunately, teacher evaluation can not be reduced to a mere numbers game. As Diane Ravitch tweeted yesterday, “…[students] change every year. Schooling is not same as manufacturing cans or widgets.”

“Empowering parents with clear and useful data.” Data are currently available to parents. What new data will be provided and how will it prove useful to parents?

The above statements are those I find most troubling at present. As I have reviewed only a summary, and the summary is painted with broad strokes, it would be unfair to criticize lack of specificity in some of the other areas such as governance structures and dispelling myths about “what works.” In all fairness, the current centralized structure utilized by most districts is antiquated and inefficient at best. Many good ideas for governance reform exist. See William Ouchi for one view.

I applaud anyone who wants to improve our schools and increase student performance, but we must avoid any sort of “one-size fits-all” approach…there is no single formula for success. If there were, districts would be following the formula!

AdLit.org

The above link to AdLit.org links directly to a section called “AdLit101…a great resource for students beyond grade 3 who need help building literacy skills. One of the problems our educational system has faced in my lifetime is an “all-or-nothing” approach. First, we had phonics, then we had whole language. Now we have a better understanding that young readers benefit from a phonetic approach but that “sight words” are necessary, too, as our language is predicated upon so many different languages.

With an “all-or-nothing” attitude, it can be easy to fall into the trap that everybody needs phonics instruction; however, the research indicates that past a certain point, phonics alone will not solve a reader’s problems. The above link addresses the different stages and uses for different types of interventions. Worth a look.

http://bit.ly/tic2teach This is a direct link to the “Ticket to Teach” proposal by Democrats for Education Reform. It’s only ten pages in length, so I plan to actually read it, but at only ten pages I wonder how practical it could be. The Education Week blog, “Teacher Beat” states that it seems unlikely to be implemented, and I would tend to agree, but I’ll save the rest of my pontification for later.

 

According to a new study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, people fail to understand the consequences of social trauma felt by victims of bullying, teasing, and ostracism. This “empathy gap” can be devastating because it means victims often do not get the support, intervention or advocacy they need.

Hitchen, Mike. Bullying: Failure to identify with bully victims may cause increased suffering and decreased advocacy. http://ionglobaltrends.blogspot.com/. Tuesday, January 4, 2011.