Posts Tagged ‘education reform’

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At first glance the above topics are dissimilar; however, all of the above occur within my Twitter stream during a twenty-minute period. Upon further examination, one would find that the people tweeting about these things are united in their goal to reform education without destroying the unique American school system. I can’t really do justice to trying to tie these disparate elements together, but I’m going to try anyway. Please forgive me if I fail to make sense.


We have reached a critical point in the U.S. regarding how we educate our students. There are “reformers” of all colors and stripes who believe that their solutions are the only solutions. Most of these reformers won’t sit down and talk to each other because they do not want to budge regarding what they know to be “the solution” to whatever they suppose the problem in American education to be. The point the reformers seem to be missing is that willy-nilly reform efforts are unlikely to reform or transform the current educational system…in fact, these efforts are more likely to destroy the current system while leaving no real system at all behind–just a hodge-podge of hurried initiatives to improve our global position on another standardized measure.


While the various reformers don’t agree on the how, they are agreed on the what: we need to change how we “do education.” I can’t argue with that sentiment: times change and we must adapt to the times; however, I take issue that we are not moving in the proper direction. How often has it been said in business, “If you don’t have a plan, then you plan to fail?” It may be true as the headline of one of the related posts states, “Success in Educational Reform Requires Radical Change,” however, if we compare many of today’s schools with their counterparts of only a decade ago, hasn’t radical change already occurred? For example, a decade ago “Smart Boards” were unheard of and many families still had limited personal access to technology. Today the landscape is vastly different, as are the teachers who had not yet entered the classroom or who were just beginning their careers.


A tweet appeared in my stream regarding getting the subject of eliminating auto-DMs to trend. (For the uninitiated DM is an abbreviation for direct message). This tweep informed me that she knows many who are so aggravated by auto DMs that an auto DM is just cause to “unfollow.” Those who use auto DMs seem to be self-promoters from this writer’s perspective, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with self-promotion, I think the irritating factor with auto DMs is that they are entirely impersonal. Auto DMs remind me of the “signed” photographs that were once used extensively in political compaigns: they fooled a few of the people for a while, but they are not fooling anybody now. This leads to the topic of standardized tests. What are they measuring? Are they accurate snapshots? Can an impersonal standardized test truly reveal the quality of a given educator?

I am not an abolitionist when it comes to standardized tests. They have a place and can serve some valuable purpose within our educational system; however, they must not become the gold standard by which teacher effectiveness or student achievement are measured to the exclusion of all other measures. For example, many people (I am one of them) excel at taking standardized tests. I have taken some measures where I was asked to “respond as I would usually respond in a given situation.” Really? How much of a fool am I supposed to be? I am going to give the answer that the tester “expects” of a candidate for the position regardless of whether it is how I would normally respond!  Standardized tests measuring learning outcomes are no different: given four possible answers, two are likely to be off-base and can easily be eliminated by many test-takers; thus, increasing the probability that any given student has a 50% chance of answering any given question correctly. Is that a true and valid measure of either student learning or teacher effectiveness? One should hope not. Instead, ask the student to demonstrate application of a concept learned in the classroom. Surely it will be more time-consuming to measure; however, this would prove a more effective and reliable method of assessing actual ability and learning as well as effectiveness of instruction. Like auto DMs, standardized tests are cold and impersonal, and they shouldn’t be fooling most of us like those “personalized, signed” letters did for a brief while.


How do the Tonys fit into any of this discussion? It’s simple: You can’t fake a live performance. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. If you miss a beat, you can’t just stand there like a deer in the headlights because the show must go on. You can’t do a re-take, you must simply carry forward. One well-known reformer and advocate of free and appropriate public education for all put it this way: “Keep live theater alive, everywhere!” Presently, we run the risk of taking away “live theater,” music programming; and other fine arts from American students because “reformers” can’t sit down together to make a plan; thus, they plan to fail; because ideological factions are more concerned about how students “perform” on an impersonal test than how well they can perform in public and develop into well-rounded citizens  with the same kind of varied experiences earlier generations have enjoyed. Finally, real, meaningful reform needs to take into consideration that both students and teachers are human, not automatons! There is no single “one-size-fits-all” solution when dealing with individuals, and until everyone understands that, many “reformations” will fail, but the show must go on!

Samsung M910 Intercept

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I bought a no-contract Android phone last week with service through Virgin Mobile. It is now possible for anyone to access the web virtually anywhere at anytime at a moderate price. I paid $190 for the phone and have an unlimited data plan for only $25 per month without a contract. The Samsung Intercept that I purchased can be purchased for as little as $150. The service fee would remain the same. My intent is not to advertise for Virgin, Samsung, or Google’s Android OS; however, I felt it necessary to reveal both the affordability and availability of this kind of mobile technology for the vast majority of U.S. consumers before continuing with this brief post.

I tweeted last week that I was impressed with the number and quality of free and low-cost educational applications available and that I would soon review a few of them.

I must confess that the majority of the educational apps I have downloaded and tried are geared toward early literacy, meaning pre-K through K. Here are a couple of apps I found interesting, research-based, and useful in that category:

  1. iStoryBooks, which can be located on Facebook at There are a number of free books available that are read by “Maya” and with which early readers could read along. Many stories are available free and include selections of fairytales, fables, and folklore. The stories display on mobile media…my second-grade daughter was delighted to read along with a few of the stories over the weekend, so there is some appeal to the stories through primary grades.
  2. KidsPhonics ABC is a free app (there is also a full version for purchase) that allows young learners to learn letter sounds through a variety of interesting games and challenges that include auditory processing, kinesthetic learning styles, and visual processing. One of the practices is quite similar to something I do as a literacy tutor to develop early literacy skills: students take puzzle pieces and connect them to make words, which they can then understand by blending the sounds together.
  3. Beyond those two apps the only other purely educational application I have tried is one called sight words. Not much further explanation required…it is what it says. The app presents sight words and then pronounces those words for the reader to learn. Again, this would be a good early literacy skill or supplement for a primary student struggling with Dolch words.

What fascinates me more however is the potential use of non-educational applications in the classroom. One such application about which I have read is the use of QR codes in the classroom. One teacher (I will post a link here later) has used QR codes for math assignments. Another has introduced them as a means for completing research…seems like an enhanced version of the popular web-quest.

As they used to say at Florida’s Walt Disney World: “The future is NOW!”

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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?

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If you cannot attend Diane Ravitch‘s presentation personally in Madison, WI on March 8, 2011 at the Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Letters, and Sciences, you can click the below link for a live stream of the event. The Academy recommends clicking the link at 6:55pm that evening.

You can click the link on this page now to be taken to the Academy’s website and see other featured events as well. Enjoy!

Wisconsin Academy : Online Video.

UPDATE: 03.10.2011 Diane Ravitch’s Tuesday presentation is archived at the above link, so you can still see it if you missed the live event Tuesday!

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Questions – Unions – February 18-19, 2011 – Rasmussen Reports™.

So, if you word your questions in a particular way, you will probably lead the respondents to the answer you want. Then, if you focus particularly on one question when you release your findings, in this case question three–a nullity since Wisconsin state employees CANNOT strike, and an absurdity because police and fire are not included in Walker’s plan (presumably because they vote more conservatively than do members of other unions…read teachers, in particular…see Mother Jones article from 2/17/11)–you are sure to mislead the general public, especially if you read only the headline: ‘48% Back GOP Governor in Wisconsin Spat, 38% Side With Unions.’

Here are three reasons this poll is skewed:

1. As previously mentioned, state employees CANNOT strike, so why ask that question unless you want to elicit a certain response?

2. Walker’s proposal targets (yes, that is a loaded word, but I think it is accurate, particularly in light of the Mother Jones article above mentioned) specific union members, most notably teachers, who tend to vote more liberally than do police workers and other public safety officers, who, interestingly, are not included in Walker’s plan…AT ALL!

3. The headline of the released article dehumanizes people who are members of unions by referring only to “unions” that are not human entities. The word union is polarizing in this country. Note that the Governor of Wisconsin maintains his humanity in the title as he is referred to not only by position but specifically by his surname. Union employees, who are also people, are not afforded that courtesy, thus it is much simpler for the reader to picture the “evil” unions rather than picturing neighbors, family members, and friends, who may be members of unions.

I would like to think that people can see through this proposal for what it really is: political posturing and pandering to “punish” certain workers while rewarding others for their political views. I would like to believe that Americans, and Wisconsinites in particular, actually want politicians to work together across party lines rather than to further the political and social divide that currently prevails. But perhaps that is a delusional belief….

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The above will be the subject of an upcoming post, but at present, let it suffice for me to remind you that Bill Gates, alleged genius, former Ivy League slacker and college dropout with a trust fund just happened to have the “right idea” at the right time…somewhat like Henry Ford.

I do not begrudge Mr. Gates his fortune nor do I mean to invalidate in any way his contribution to his own success. Somebody had to have the idea, and he was the guy, or was it Paul Allen, long-forgotten co-founder of Microsoft, or wait, was the better idea really from Steve Jobs, creator of Apple, but Gates just happened to have more influential contacts like his bank president grandfather who was well-connected and from whom he received his trust-fund? Or should the real heroes have been the developers of the freeware OS Linux?

Regardless, Mr. Gates is the man with the money, and as we know in America, money does speak, and loudly at that. In a more developed post to appear later this week, I will discuss the perceived problems in our education system, the real problems, and why we need to compare apples to apples and not to oranges and bananas…until then, this is Ed signing out.

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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!

edReformer: Google Building Digital Learning Apps. The tagline may be a bit misleading. This article does reference Google investing in digital learning; however, addresses other areas as well, including the growth of educational apps in the iTunes store, the phenomenal growth of Edmodo, a secure social networking site developed for teachers and students, and a plea for “smart” administrators to turn to digital learning to boost quality, support students, and avoid $ cuts.

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I’m an educator by training and by practice. I also struggle to maintain mental health. What began at the end of 2010 as a place to discuss education issues, education reform and policy has, as I suppose is natural with any personal blog, become a place to post my random musing on many topics; however, I aim to stay as true to the course as possible, focusing on issues of import to education. That said, you will find mental health, literacy, and technology discussed here.

If you tweet, follow me on Twitter: @Ed_Advocate (I’m a bit more random there, and more inclined to tweet about mental health and literacy)

I also write for Suite101.

Thanks for looking. I encourage comments and feedback. While comments are moderated, I will approve any comment that directly refers to the topic; however, I reserve the right to edit. Approval of comments does not imply endorsement or agreement.