Archive for March, 2011

Jeb Bush

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Digital Learning Now! is a policy group stemming from the “Digital Learning Council,” originally formed by and co-chaired by former governors Jeb Bush, of Florida, and Bob Wise, of West Virginia.

As a strong proponent of digital learning options, I registered for and attended an Education Week sponsored seminar on 03.03.2011 that was framed around DLN’s “10 Elements of High-Quality Digital Learning” released in a statement by the group issued on 12.01.2010. I will include a link to that document for any who choose to read it–it is not terribly long as it was somewhat hastily put together in December.


  1. Student Eligibility
  2. Student Access
  3. Personalized Learning
  4. Advancement
  5. Content
  6. Instruction
  7. Providers
  8. Assessment and Accountability
  9. Funding
  10. Delivery

The above ten elements are largely the same as those elements used to judge high-quality traditional instruction, so I have neither problem with the face of the elements nor the (albeit simplistic) statements defining the elements. And, while I have stated above my strong support for more digital learning options, including addressing the prospects with the local superintendent of schools and several school board members, I do have some problems with this initiative.


The first concern is the apparent lack of significant “in the trenches” experience with daily education or management of students. On the executive team, only one of eleven members is clearly identified with a school district, Joel Klein, of New York City Public Schools, yet his position within the schools is unidentified. (Joel Klein is the former Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools and is recently retired.) The remainder of the executive board includes two former politicians, four representatives of charitable foundations, two representatives of national political associations (one ostensibly representing high-level state educational technology directors),  one high-level state bureaucrat, and the president and CEO of iNACOL, a non-profit group representing the interests of online curriculum providers.

Most of the 100 contributing members to DLN are politicians, business representatives (including several whose represented interests–curriculum providers, technology manufacturers, online curriculum providers like K-12, Inc. and Connections Academyhave much to gain under the policy proposal) charter school associations, and others with specific agendas and vested interests such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the LMS (learning management system) provider Blackboard, Inc. While it is positive to have members of the business, political, and philanthropic entities involved, what is glaringly obvious is who is not involved: representatives of the current public school systems in America. That alone is enough to cause one to question what is truly driving this policy proposal.

One need not read far in the document to determine that the purpose of the group is clear: a dismantling of the current educational institutions. No one need question that our public school systems need to embrace change. Most educational leaders understand the need for change and are implementing changes, particularly where technology is concerned. One key take-away from the webinar (hosted by Ed Week but led by the above-mentioned Connections Academy) is that all educators need to embrace technology and would be wise to complete career development coursework in educational technology. Change is a part of life and is necessary to the survival of competitive institutions, but we need not dismantle what we have to create systemic change; we need to work with not against the establishment in order to evoke on a broad scale the kind of systemic change most Americans would like to see. In order to work with the establishment, DLN needs to include educators and educational leaders from within the existing system–especially educators like Jim Sonju and Justin Baeder who are already creating change within the existing structure.


DLN has a bold mission and should be applauded for championing systemic change within American education. Above is the link to Digital Learning Now’s homepage. At the bottom of their page is a link to the December 1, 2010 document. You can also follow Digital Learning Now! on Twitter: @diglearningnow. The group is definitely here to stay with funding and support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw Hill Education, Apex Learning, Cisco Systems, the Pearson Foundation, Smart (think Smart Boards), ETS, Connections Academy, and Scholastic. They have strong backing from The Charter School Foundation, and New York’s School of One. The group will issue a progress report, the “Report Card on Digital Learning,” detailing state-by-state progress toward the digital initiative in October 2011. Widespread adoption of technology for delivery of learning and for enhancement and individualization is imperative, but DLN’s perspective without including those in the trenches is both simplistic and overly optimistic.

SER-Niños Charter School

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Warning: I am about to turn a noun into a verb! I “stumbled” the below link to an abstract from the Arizona State UniversityEducation Policy Analysis Archives” today:

While I am intrigued by the abstract, I have not yet read the article; however, the abstract states clearly the position that charter schools are more racially segregated than traditional public schools. Charter schools can be positive and fill niches that traditional public schools cannot fill; however, I have long stated that charter schools are not a panacea.

I felt it important to share this abstract and the link to the article immediately. I will write more after reading the article.

Four children reading the book How the Grinch ...

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I follow @JensBookPage on Twitter. She does a great job of promoting children’s literacy and children’s books, but I had never before today visited her website because I did not realize that it is titled: Jen Robinson’s Book Page. Well, let me tell you that Jen Robinson’s Book Page is a true gem! Jen’s Book Page contains a myriad of reviews; book lists for years from 2006-2011 and links to many other book reviews.

You can find a sample review posted today at Jen’s Book Page. This review features a newly published book by favorite children’s author Dan Yaccarino: All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel. I hope that you will find Jen Robinson’s Book Page to be a great resource!

Henry Horner Projects as photographed, B. Sloane, July 28, 2005

A colleague mentioned There Are No Children Here written by Alex Kotlowitz and published in 1991. The book stemmed first from a brief essay written by the author to accompany a photo essay published in Chicago magazine in 1985. Two years later Kotlowitz wrote a longer piece about children in poverty for The Wall Street Journal. The book followed that article.

In the introduction, Kotlowitz states his hope that publication of the book might help reduce the staggering rate of twenty-percent of children in the United States living in poverty. It is unfortunate to note that during the ensuing twenty years since the publication of There Are No Children Here, that rate has not declined. As of 2011, the rate of children living in poverty in the U.S. remains at least twenty-percent. I am not hopeful given current policies and practices that the figure will decrease any time soon.

For more information about this book, see the Shelf Renewal Blog from Library Journal at

For more information about the Henry Horner Projects featured in the story and the above photograph, please visit City Noise.

The western front of the United States Capitol...

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Budget Cuts Raise Questions About Federal Commitment to Literacy.

New post on Ed Week blog reveals that 1/3 of cuts to US Dept of Ed budget come through cutting funding from literacy programs. It seems disingenuous to require “100% proficiency” for all students in reading and math and then to cut funding to literacy programs that work.

As Senator Franken recently remarked in a response regarding the dubious H.R. 1, “…difficult choices must be made. We cannot simply decide we will cut $500 billion from the budget with no effect on or consideration for the public. We will have to look at real programs on which we are spending real money and decide that we are no longer going to spend money on those programs.” Franken continued to state that H.R. 1 cuts willy-nilly without consideration of effect on the nation. Franken also makes clear his support for education.

We can all agree that some funding must be cut and some programs eliminated. We must concede that there are duplicative efforts within some of the federal programs, including within the education sector, and where duplication exists, it makes sense to eliminate. That said, it seems dubious, at best that 1/3 of funding cuts to education (approximately $350,000,000) come from elimination or defunding of literacy programs. Who is supposed to step up to fill these gaps?

Minnesota State Capitol building in Saint Paul...

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Update from “Dad” regarding testimony before MN senate.

The above is a direct link to the Facebook page, “Different, not Diseased” that I co-moderate. The link details the back story and impact of the proposed legislation, S.F. 348.

Here, I will describe my personal reflection regarding the event. It was somewhat surreal because everything happened so quickly: I was notified on Friday that our “story” had been distributed to the state legislators. At that time I was also informed that legislation retaining a small amount of PCA services for those serviced due to one ADL (activity of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, eating, etc) or Level I behaviors (broadly, “violent” behaviors related to mental health concerns) had been passed by the state legislature.

Considering that just a few weeks ago we were notified that all PCA services for our sons, serviced under level I behaviors, would be eliminated come July 1, 2011, the above news was cause for some jubilation…until I researched and read S.F. 348, the specific details of which can be read at the above link. Nevertheless, even a small victory, which I am told and believe is the most we can hope for this legislative session in Minnesota, is better than a complete defeat.

During my weekend research, I discovered that the bill was scheduled for hearing today rather than this upcoming Friday; however, I am also aware that these schedules can change. I made contact with the NAMI state office and heard back that indeed the hearing had been rescheduled for today. I made arrangements to head to St. Paul post haste and arrived in the nick of time as the topic was slated second on the agenda but had been moved forward. Due to the time-wrangling, NAMI’s state director, Sue Abderholden could not make it to the hearing on time, so mine became the “big gun” testimony, and I had not had much time to prepare. Fortunately, my years in the classroom and having to “wing-it” when a lesson flopped paid off, and I felt that my testimony was effective, especially when coupled with the story distributed to legislators last week.

There was no vote today, but I will post an update as soon as I know the outcome. For Minnesotans who would otherwise lose all PCA care services, I can only hope for passage of the bill. For all of us, I hope for better economic times ahead so that necessary programs and services will not continue to be cut at both the state and federal levels.

03.15.11 UPDATE: I have located an MP3 including my testimony and will upload when possible.

The Process of Readability Formulas

The Process of Readability Formulas (Photo credit: Brian Scott Designs)

I am in the process of leveling some of the “summer readers” for the summer reading program at the school where I am working as a volunteer literacy tutor. The primary resource I use to level books is the “AR” score, a grade-level equivalent measure from Renaissance Learning. If you are familiar with “AR Quizzes” that is the tool I am using. AR is great because it has most of the books that we have purchased for our program, but once in a while, I find myself stumped, so my next resource (because most of the books we buy come from Scholastic) is the “Book Wizard” from The reason I tend toward AR first instead of Scholastic is because Renaissance is a “what works” in education program and the scores are quite reliable. Look up the same book between Scholastic and AR and you are likely to find a discrepancy; though usually not a great discrepancy, consistency is best!

When I really get into trouble is when I cannot find a score from either AR or Scholastic…. Sometimes a Scholastic book will have a level written on the back. If AR has no level, and I can’t find one from Scholastic’s “wizard,” I will just work with what is printed on the back; however, sometimes (usually in the case of an older or brand new book) I can’t find any level, but I have located some new–to me–online resources that I have found helpful. Rather than suggest any specific site for this purpose, let me instead suggest the following search string: “grade level equivalent analyzer.” This search string will yield results whereby one can enter a bit of text…I would suggest two or more representative paragraphs…and the analyzer will run the calculations to determine an approximate readability level. The caveat here is that not all analyzers are created equally; hence, why I did not wish to recommend a specific source at this time. Even those that take the same factors into consideration may have different formulas that will yield disparate results.

Again, this is new to me, and perhaps some reader will have an idea of a specific and reliable site. If there is one you have used, please mention it as I would love to try several sites.

UPDATE: 03.18.11–In addition to finding some of the online analyzers, here are some other sites I have found that will teach you about leveling books and how to level on your own. It is more time-consuming, especially at first, but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you crunched the numbers and can feel confident about the grade-level equivalent assigned. For those with tech-savvy, you could probably create your own analyzer using formulas in a spreadsheet program. Here are some great links:

First, here is a great white paper describing ATOS and other leveling systems. It is only 8 pages. Report from the School Renaissance Institute. is another helpful site that provides the Flesch-Kincaid Grade-Level Readability formula.

Kathy Shrock’s Guide for Educators provides detailed information regarding Fry’s Readability Graph, including directions and a sample of a Fry graph.

Grace Fleming, an guide, provides the Flesch Readability formula as well as additional links here. provides a wealth of info regarding readability formulas and even includes a unique search-engine that allows you to determine the readability of a website by entering the URL!

A site called StreetDirectory provides a “down and dirty” overview of the topic along with the Flesch formula.

A site I can’t quite identify by name, provides a detailed overview of Flesch-Kincaid and other Readability formulas here. The site lists some books on the subject if you just can’t get enough!

All About Readability by Cheryl Stephens provides an historical overview of readability formulas and discusses the uses and pitfalls of readability tests. It is written from a writer’s perspective but is useful for understanding the history and uses of readability formulas.

If you are interested in “Plain Language” training for writing, visit for an overview and resources, including the free “Plain Train” course.

I hope you will find the above resources useful. I am sure there are many, many more; however, these seemed to be a few of the best I could locate. Please leave a comment regarding your experience with any of these sites if you use them.

UPDATE, December 8, 2011–

As I was leveling some new books for the school “leveled library” (a resource for teachers to use in their classrooms) I discovered that ATOS, the readability standard developed by Renaissance Learning, now allows users to enter their own text! This is fantastic because prior to this point if one used the ATOS system, the book had to be available either through the AR Bookfinder or the Renaissance Learning Quiz Store. If the book you wanted to level was not available in either of those two places, then another system would need to be used. As noted, there are various reliable methods around; however, being able to enter text directly and analyzing it using the ATOS system will, in my case anyway, lead to greater uniformity.

Briefly, to conclude this update here are the ways in which the ATOS Readability measure can be used for books not in the database:

1. You may submit the complete text of a book for instant analysis. This is probably best for very short books for early readers.

2. You may submit text with an estimated word count. The directions for estimating the word count are available on the site. Just select three different portions of text from the book (each about 150 words or so of representative text) and then upload your text along with your estimated word count for the book.

3. ATOS for Text “…works best for short stories, magazine and newspaper articles, test items, and other classroom materials.” Accessed 12-8-2011.

I’m excited about this great new feature from Renaissance, and I hope to make use of it quite frequently.

Haliaeetus leucocephalus (bald eagle) landing ...

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If you have not yet seen this view from an Xcel Energy cam in Decorah, IA, you need to check it out. Live feed from an Xcel Energy cam showing nesting Bald Eagles with three eggs expected to hatch 4/1/11! Too cool to not share with the world. Pass it on.

The “Eagles”: Live! from Decorah, IA Must see!

Wendy Kopp, Founder & CEO TeachforAmerica

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Teach for America and other programs have been pushing for alternative teacher licensing throughout the US during the past decade. Now, the Minnesota Senate has passed a bill that focuses on attracting mid-career professionals who want to teach; recent college grads who want to teach but haven’t earned traditional teaching credentials (this would be the “Teach for America” set); and teachers currently licensed in another state who want to teach in Minnesota.

MPR has released two articles that delve more fully into the legislation, and you can access those articles here: Minn. Senate passes alternative teacher licensing, and here: FAQ: Minn.’s alternative teaching licensure legislation.