Tuesday, February 27, 2007

David Warlick: Ed Tech Is Exciting Again (School 2.0, Part 8)

"It's an intensely exciting world that we live in, and I think that teaching children about that world should be just as exciting."

"For the first time in history we're preparing kids for a future that we cannot clearly describe. We have no idea what their work experience is going to be like, what their life experience is going to be like, what their social experience is going to be like. We just don't have any firm target to aim our curriculum at..."

I caught David Warlick as he was leaving for a visit to China, and so this interview is a bit shorter than usual (about 45 minutes). The conversation took place over a wireless cellular connection, using Skype. (I'm really surprised that it worked as well as it did!)

Interview Notes:
  • David starts the story of his interest in educational technology 31 years ago. Started teaching in 1976. No desktop computers as a part of what they were doing at that time. Started with Radio Shack model one. He became "seduced" by the possibilities of using computers to create learning opportunities for students.
  • History of "Fredmail." In 1987, this was amazing. Helped pilot it in North Carolina.
  • Says that technology has changed "culture" and "learning," but largely is has not changed "education." 1997 - 2000: it was much more exciting then than it is now. There was a lot of freedom to experiment and take risks. The computer has changed how we learn, but not how teaching is done.
  • Web 2.0 is facilitating a lot more dialog than even just a few years ago. Teachers daring to suggest alternatives to how we should be teaching. More importantly, the kids are engaged in a different style of learning--much more engaged with information. They are having intense learning experiences with this new technology, and if we are in danger of becoming irrelevant to them if we can't get on board.
  • Agrees with the concern that what the kids are learning is largely not as valuable as it could be--they still need "us" to be engaged in substantive learning. Our job is to take advantage of the new learning skills and opportunities to help them learn about the world (and not just be entertained [my words]).
  • So what needs to change in formal education? He is seeing some real excitement at educational technology conferences that he hasn't seen in a while. Same feelings that he had in early 90's.
  • On School 2.0: We are going to have to empower teachers to do whatever it takes to retool their classrooms. We have to free teachers with time and resources to learn, take risks, even to fail. We need a structure for education that allows for change to take place. Unless we free and empower teachers, give them time, tools, and flexiblity--we are "not going to make it."
  • Can this take place in the current school system? Yes, if we realize how important it is. Other countries are reinventing education from scratch. Brazil, China, Hong Kong. We are realizing the importance of getting past "just the basics," and can happen if we realize that we just don't have a choice.
  • "Education is entirely about conversation." For the first time in history, we live in a time of rapid change. We're preparing kids for a future that we cannot clearly describe. We need an education system that is as adaptable as the world we are preparing our students for.
  • "I can't do Second Life--all I do is fall down!"
  • A project he did when he was at the State Department of Education: "Voteline." Developed spreadsheets, students developed lists of what they thought were the key issues of the election. Interviewed voters, then tracked the candidates, and then projected the outcome of the election. The value of the activity was in the "conversations" they were having--both in the interviews, and with each other to determine the weight to give to each issue.
  • He is still the most excited about blogging of all the technologies, because it is all about "conversation." Teachers keep telling him how excited students get about writing. Assignments stop being "assignments," but become engaged conversations. And it's so simple--get to the conversation to quickly without a lot of preparation.
  • Social bookmarks should be "hugely" beneficial for teachers and librarians.
  • How do you help those who hesitate to use these technologies? The benefits should be obvious. Blogging gives students voice to what they are learning. There's not a whole lot we can do but just wait for some of the negative reaction to die down. The worst thing we can do it to overreact. The best thing we can do is to engage in dialog with our students and children about the dangers and concerns. We've got to "become mature" about it and do everything we can to preserve the conversation we are having with our kids.
  • Blogging as a professional development tool for teachers before they are asked to bring it into the classroom (a la Will Richardson)? Well, he sees a lot of teachers seeing the value of bringing blogging to students even if they aren't already blogging themselves. At the same time, his learning has been on a steeper incline in the last two years than ever before--just like other edubloggers have been experiencing and talking about.
  • www.ClassBlogmeister.com plug. The first classroom blogging engine--he built it in 2004 so that teachers could oversee the content. There are others now--to be honest, he would urge people to go to the others, because ClassBlogmeister was needed at the time but he hasn't really been able to keep it as current as he might like. He has 63,000 users on his service, which is free.
  • Other tools he's built: www.hitchhikr.com, www.citationmachine.net.
David is definitely one of my heroes.

Listen to the the Interview in MP3 format
Listen to the Interview in Vorbis OGG format

Subscribe to this AudioCast:

Friday, February 23, 2007

Academic Rigor: A Rough Cut

I'm intrigued by a the discussion of academic rigor, and I think our experience homeschooling our oldest daughter might shed some light on this subject. This is a draft of my thinking:

The dialog around academic rigor often feels as if it is based on the two opposing, but exclusive, viewpoints, between which we are asked to choose: 1) the environment which emphasizes passion, or 2) the environment that focuses on rigor. (The former being seen as "loose," and the latter often being the rationale for high-stakes testing.)

And just stopping here, I think there are many that would agree that the two should not be mutually exclusive. But even then, there is still an inherent assumption to the discussion that I want to challenge: either or both are almost always presented in the structure of our traditional school system--that is, where education is something that adults impose upon children.

Now, before you write me off as being flaky or weird, here is the alternative assumption: that education is essential to the health and well-being of ourselves as individuals, and when we are rigorously engaged in our own life learning, we can generatively mentor students by communicating the value of being both passionate and rigorous, and expecting both. And it is amazing to find that when education is treated this holistically, students can accomplish incredible things. We're all aware of students who have done this, we just don't see it as the norm (which is part of the problem).

In the homeschool program our daughter was in, it was believed and communicated that a student by the age of 14 - 16 should be so self-engaged in their education, that they have chosen challenging fields of interest to immerse themselves in, and are studying deeply 10+ hours a day. They are becoming scholars. They are reading the great books, interacting with challenging the brightest minds of their culture.

Do we believe in rigor and passion in our own educations? It's a hard message, but if our free time is filled with unchallenging and mindless entertainment, and if when we talk about our school days we speak of something that is behind us that "we got through," then our children will not know any better. When our major method for accomplishing something is enforcement (which is really what the culture of school is now), we give the implicit message that it is not something that is going to be enjoyed, no matter how much we say otherwise. Want to help your child become a better learner? Let them see you studying math or reading a classic...

All of the best stories of education come from instances where the students became so engaged and passionate that they sought rigor themselves.

A Great Flood

I had a vision in the wee hours of the morning today.

The polar icecaps of our information world were being melted by the heat of collaborative thinking and the trillions of connections being created by new networks. A technological tidal wave from Web 2.0 was beginning to flood the earth.

I saw many of us hanging on for dear life to the flotsam of what was our pre-wired world, having nearly been drowned in immeasurable data, and with no understanding or ability to see what was going on in the new, living-water world below. What used to be a beautiful valleys with relatively small rivers and streams of information, where we once drank deeply of the wisdom of the ages, had been filled by an ecosystem where that information was the very breath of life for our world's new inhabitants.

We who were information sponges, dearly soaking up knowledge in a disconnected world, now were floating bloated and without direction, lost in a new world that no longer just collects information, but lives actively and deep inside it. Some of us could learn to take deep breaths of the old air and dive in to this world for periods of time, but we always aware that we must soon return to the surface, gasping for breath. We watched in amazement as new species, with gills and fins, unconsciously swam high above where we once walked, comfortably unaware in space where we only once dreamed of flying.

Oh, well. It was only a dream...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Steven Jobs, School Reform, and Choice

Warning: opinions appear below. :)

I guess I was surprised to see Steve Jobs put one leg so directly into the bear trap of criticizing teacher unions at the 2007 Statewide Education Summit in Texas, sponsored by the Texas Public Education Reform Foundation; and then put the other leg right into the trap of asking for schools to act like businesses.

Not that there probably isn't a lot of room for discussion on the union issue, but those who are vendors to schools (and I include myself in that category), I think, have to be careful when pointing the finger of blame at any other group in public education. Just go to the exhibit hall of any educational technology conference, and you have to ask yourself if there isn't something fundamentally flawed with the idea of seeing schools as a "market." Huge amounts of money have been spent by schools on technology solutions that are often hard to tie to true benefits. How many other programs have been cut in order to purchase computers over the last 20 years?

Michael Dell was wisely a bit more circumspect on the topic at the same event. It's not that we shouldn't all have a voice in trying to help in education, but it does seem a little suspect for someone at the top of the financial pyramid--who got there in part by selling products to schools--to criticize an institution designed to protect the rights of those who are mostly at the bottom of that same pyramid. At least, that's how I see my teacher friends reacting.

And why would Steve Jobs believe that schools should be run like businesses? Hello!? I'll save that topic for someone who knows all the rebuttals, but I wouldn't trade the devoted teachers and principals that I know for their business counterparts. They live in different worlds, and for good reason. Both are worlds that could use improvement, but Steve--get real. Business is cutthroat. Education should not be.

I also think that it is all too easy to seek for simple answers to complex problems. At the heart of the dialog about education is a very simple fact:

Very smart, committed, thoughtful people have very different views about education, and how to best help our youth in their most critical and formative years.

K-12 education is not ready to be as quantified as medical school, or law school. As a society, we don't have a consensus agreement as to what constitutes a good K-12 education--any more than we have general agreement on politics, parenting, religion, or psychology. And so a large, public educational system is going to have a lot in common with the government of a democratic society: flawed, messy, wasteful, but ultimately balancing the interests of all.

Which is why I have been recently so interested in the charter school movement. Why don't we agree that we don't all have to agree on what constitutes the best practices for education. Let's allow some choice, so that those who want their children's school to act like a business can have that, and those who want a science-based education can have that, and those that want a religious education can have that. But I think this idea is generally met with a negative response (just as home-schooling often is).

Here's why I think that is scary to most of us, even if we don't realize it: the world is a bit more comfortable when schools are all relatively the same. All the fish are basically swimming in the same direction. Hey, it is like working in a factory--but the world our kids face after school is no longer like a factory. Choice would be much, much harder. As parents and as a community, we'd have to be much more involved with our schools, and in helping our children learn, and in making decisions about what we think is important for them. It would be more work, and we'd also be worried that we might make a decision that would ultimately be negative for our child, since that responsibility would now be more ours, instead of being able to blame the system. Am I on target here?

On the other hand, that's the great thing about choice: there will still be a regular, acceptable path for those who like that. I can't see that going away.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Terry & Elaine Freedman on Web 2.0 in the Classroom (School 2.0, Part 7)

Terry and Elaine Freedman spoke with me the other day in advance of the release of the second edition of Terry's "Coming of Age: An introduction to the NEW worldwide web," the free .pdf book on the use of Web 2.0 tools for teachers. When the first edition came out, I read every page and made lots of notes--and I'm quite sure I was not the only one, as Terry at one point calculated that it had been downloaded over 60,000 times. It's been tremendously popular, and if you want a sneak peak at the contents of the greatly expanded second edition, see the book blog here.

Interview Notes:

  • Terry is an independent ICT (Information and Communications Tech) consultant for schools in the UK. His list of credentials is impressive.
  • He started teaching in 1975, using computers--even then--to run a simulation of the stock exchange. They ran a computer game called "Running the British Economy." He discusses how he and his students would use of that program for a purpose that it wasn't intended for (to find out the underlying economic assumptions of the game)--and how that often defines what kids do with technology.
  • Elaine, a teacher herself, helps with everything but the accounting (smile!).
  • The miracles of Skype: I talked to Terry and Elaine at 11:20 am my (Pacific) time, which was 7:30 pm their time in England. Amazing how comfortable it is becoming to talk with people all over the world now on a regular basis.
  • The first edition of Coming of Age came about because Terry felt that the tools of Web 2.0 (blogs, wikis, etc.) were really becoming of interest to teachers, but that those same teachers were not likely to have the time to go out and research how to use them--since they are very busy with all of the other things they are required to do.
  • The "so what?" criteria that Terry uses: how can these technologies actual help a teacher or a student? Just because you have an interactive white board doesn't mean that you use it any more productively than a blackboard. And you have to make sure that you have built a support structure for these new technologies.
  • Terry discusses the duty that schools have to help students to know how to conduct themselves online.
  • Terry talks about what the technology is allowing kids to do--with the example of how they are finding out about new music using social technologies. This is a fantastic time, he says, to be a teacher. He remembers when interactive white boards first came out--and realized at the time that there was no way he'd have gotten the $10,000 they cost back then. But now is a different story.
  • Are these technologies going to "tranform" education? Terry's answer is that it is not the technology, but how the teacher uses the technology, and that great teachers are able to use any technology to be engaging. But then he goes on to say that the technology can also enable good teachers to put into practice what they have always wanted to do. Elaine used the example of a microcope that works with an interactive white board--allowing the students to see what she was seeing, and allowing her to annotate the image. I point out to Terry that he starts by saying it isn't the techology, but then gives great examples of teaching techniques that the technology makes possible... :)
  • Again, some more examples of what the technology enables: podcasting helping a child overcome fears of speaking publicly, or blogging and online forums helping the shy child to contribute.
  • We talk about the changed audience for students: when I was a student, I produced a limited amount of work that saw a limited audience (usually, just a teacher). Students now produce a lot more content, for a much broader audience. Terry talks about how the new environment allows for "thinking out loud" instead of only "finished thoughts." This seems very, very positive for learning. It doesn't negate the power of a teacher--Elaine says it actually makes the role of the teacher more important.
  • In the context of subject areas that are rapidly changing and complex, a teacher saying "I don't know, so let's find out together" can be a very powerful moment and a great way of modeling learning.
  • The new edition of "Coming of Age" will have 58 contributors, 14 sections, and over 100 chapters. Because it is so large, Terry is thinking of releasing sections one at a time. Some of it was out of date a week after it was submitted, so there is constant updating going on... :) At some point he says, he is going to have to just cut it off and get the book out! He is really hoping that the book provides practical advice for teachers in real situations. He hedges on the date of actual release...
  • The "Post Show" was so interesting to me that I left it in. Hopefully you will find it interesting, too. We talk a little about the value of these interviews, and the value of the Web 2.0 technologies for me as a businessman. "Let's see if we can find things to do that make a difference, that then hopefully build loyal customers." Terry talks about the fascination of people commenting back on things that he has posted on the web. Recongition and being noticed--how they are a part of our personal needs. Web 2.0 as professional development. The change when we let go--not to be the expert, but to be part of the dialog. The feeling of participating is just as energizing and thrilling as feeling that we are the expert. Terry and creating or putting things out as an "Aunt Sally"--to put something out to be knocked down or constructively criticized, or something just to start with. Elaine: the germ of altruism: sharing ideas without the expectation that someone will credit you. Me: connection with Richard Stallman and the Free and Open Source Software movements and "free" content. (Claudius the cat continues to make her presence known by bumping the Freedman's mic.) Elaine: new support systems through the web which are either replacing old support systems, or augmenting them. Me: how the contributions to the web are helping to see the motivation of "free" contributions, which has for a long time been a source of misunderstanding about the motivations of FLOSS.

Great fun. I hope you enjoy this interview.

Listen to the the Interview in MP3 format
Listen to the Interview in Vorbis OGG format

Subscribe to this AudioCast:

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Moodle Gets Even Better

1. For the last year and a half, I've really appreciated Moodle as a great introduction to the use of Free and Open Source Software (FLOSS) in education. I think it has really opened the door to awareness of FLOSS because it can be so incredibly valuable to schools that they overcome the normal push-back associated with FLOSS (e.g., how can something be "free?").

2. At Science Leadership Academy, I saw another aspect to Moodle: how powerful an organizational tool it is for students and teachers when used pervasively. Just from a practical standpoint, in a one-to-one laptop model, just the assignment and calendaring functions of Moodle make such a difference that both students and teachers say they can't imagine not using it.

3. But Michelle Moore, pictured above in Philadelphia for our two-day Moodle workshop, made me aware of a third, and AMAZING, benefit of Moodle. When she started using Moodle as a middle-school math teacher, she started because of the organizational tools. But Moodle's collaborative tools, being available, quickly drew her into its pedagogical base, and she found that when she provided more opportunities for her students to collaborate, their engagement and achievement were significantly increased. In other words, Moodle can come in the front door of the school as an organizational tool, but then provide a safe, walled-garden introduction to the tools of the Read/Write Web.

Way to go, Martin.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A Town Hall Meeting about Education Reform

This photo from my cell phone shows the moderator and panelists, and some of the 200+ people who attended a meeting last night on school reform in Watsonville, California, called "Improving Our Schools: Getting Beyond the Rhetoric."

This event was sponsored by Beacon Education Network, a non-profit charter management organization group formed to create charter schools in the Santa Cruz area, and, I believe, endowed with $1 million by Reed Hastings of NetFlix, who was member of the panel. This 2-hour and 15-minute meeting was incredibly thought-provoking, and left me and my brother-in-law, a Santa Cruz resident, talking long into the night.

Some general conclusions:
  • It seems to me that this event--a kind of "under-the-hood" look at public education, where there was a willingness to really question what we are doing--is not likely to take place unless there are empowered and legitimate fringe groups that are able to push the issue. This meeting was created by a charter-school organization, and while such deep soul-searching may be taking place within traditional public-school settings, I haven't seen it in the communities we have lived in.
  • There was a particularly noticeable difference between the statements of Michael Watkins, the new Superintendent of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, and the other panelists. His answers exemplified what I imagine are the requisite political skills to deal with the incredible pressures of those who work in public school administration, and to balance an enormous range of constituent interests. In other words, I was almost never satisfied with any answer he gave, and often wasn't sure that an answer was actually given. This was particularly telling about our expectations for educational leaders, because while the other panelists gave clear, focused, and opinionated answers that really made the evening worthwhile, I could not imagine their outspokenness ever allowing them to be elected superintendent of a county office of education.
  • Because of the above, I left with an even greater commitment to some form of school choice. It seems to me that passion and a belief in the value of learning are at the core of great educational experiences, and our current system seems to rob us of that by requiring sameness. The influx of passionate educators and administrators seems to be one of the great benefits of the charter school movement.
  • This is the kind of event that should be taking place all over the country. We need a great, open, national dialog on education. Tom Brown, Beacon's President and CEO, and the organizer of the evening, later seemed to indicate that he has an interest in taking this experience and using it to help others on a national leve.
  • For a debate on education, this was decidedly low-tech experience, which surprised me. I sought a power plug in the auditorium to no avail--turns out it's against the fire code to plug in a laptop there (!!). Also, there was no apparent way for the dialog of the evening to continue, even with all of the new tools of the web that make that so easy.
  • In the same vein, I have to admit that I was surprised at the general focus of the roundtable members on discipline and structure, and no mention of "engagement." These same web tools that are transforming learning in the business environment were never mentioned, nor was technology at all. Now, given 20 years of spending on technology that hasn't really done anything, I'm sensitive to that. But I left vaguely unsettled that there was no voice for student engagement and participation (rigor and passsion) that have so informed my thinking for the last several months. (See our new wiki on School 2.0 and my interview series.)
  • At times during the panelist roundtable, and during the follow-up questions, the crowd applauded, hissed, murmured, and even boo'd. OK, I'm not a big fan of emotional crowd responses (I might even go so far as to say that I hate the superior attitude of someone saying "I know what is right" and not being willing to engage in thoughtful discussion); I am instead a huge fan of activities that bring diverse opinions into engagement. I've had enough experiences in my own life to know that multiple perspectives almost always bring us closer to "truth." (The Wisdom of Crowds was one of the best, and most thought-provoking books I've read in years.)
Now, some specific notes from the event. This is a lot of material, but I expect to some it will help to give a sense of the scope of this discussion:
  • In Tom Brown's introduction to the evening, he said that it is too tempting to think of the challenges as "schools' problems," and that we need educators, policy-makers, business leaders, parents and student all talking together to solve these issues. Bravo, Tom.
Reed Hastings:
  • Reed Hastings was, to be frank, incredibly well-informed on all issues that he discussed. I was very impressed, and hope to hear a lot more from him. His clarion call from the start was to provide strong school cultures that support great teaching. Reed was the former President of the California State Board of Education, and his commitment shows through his detailed knowledge.
  • When the discussion came to the question of for-profit schools, and seemed to head into a non-productive dialog, Reed pointed out that fewer than 1% of charter schools are for profit, and the fuss is something of a political canard--thankfully closing that topic quickly.
  • When the discussion was on the cost of educating a student adequately, Reed pointed out the easiest way to come up with a valuable number: take the cost that private incur, which is $11,000 per student per year (California spends $8,400 per student).
  • When the discussion turned to the incredible inequalities that exist in how much is spent on students in different communities, Reed pointed out that this is not really a problem in California like it is in other states--again, saving an unneeded debate. He also pointed out student achievement is not actually tied to ethnicity, but to the educational level of the parent--and because of that, you have many schools in that have succeeded in spite of apparent ethnic disadvantage. So, he said, you don't have to guess or experiment, you just need to look up those schools that are succeeding and copy their recipe: discipline, structure, long hours, and a focus on basic skills.
  • In the discussion on bi-lingual education, he was similarly clear in his opinion: it is a "terrible idea, and the biggest mistake California has ever made." (That got boos and hisses.) The students just get further and further behind. It may be a good idea in theory, he said, but practice has not worked. He came into this issue relatively neutral, but the more he got into the data, more compelling the case was againstit. It is a complex issue because of cultural identity, but the data is black and white: provide lots of English early, in the first and second grades. It is harder for the older kids, but they represent a tiny fraction, as over 50% of those for whom English is a second language are already here in kindergarten.
  • Reed addressed a question about charter schools taking away funding from regular schools by using LA Unified as an example--they have 100 charter schools, and that hasn't bankrupted the system. Similarly, it also hasn't taken away all of the best students--it's shown that achievement is possible and that people should be able to make choices.
  • Reed really angered the crowd when he talked about teachers having fewer"rights" in charter schools, and that the rights of the teachers (the right to employment, I'm assuming) and students (the right to a good education) have to be balanced. He made what I thought was an incredibly important point when he suggested that charter schools have more unified staff because the teachers, also, have chosen to be there and were not "assigned" there.
Brian King, the President of Cabrillo College, was a panel member.
  • There was a lengthy, and informative discussion, on the role of community colleges as remedial institutions, and which I won't detail because of my focus on K12. However, like the high-school basketball coach who runs summer basketball camps for elementary and junior high kids, Brian seems committed to the discussion of how to help students be more prepared when they arrive at college, since that would allow the college to better serve them from that point on.
  • Brian talked about the importance of building a bridge between college and high school instructors, so that there is good communication between them. We have good middle and high school teachers, he said, who have a commitment to our students excelling, but they need a better understanding of what those expectations are for college-ready work.
  • Brian did mention the difference in education between filling a pail and lighting a fire. Again, it surprised me not to hear more on that.
  • Brian talked about how California is on the upper end of access to community colleges in this country, but on the lower end in funding (about $4,000 per student per year).
  • In a self-acknowledged plug for community colleges, Brian talked about how a high school diploma is no longer the entrance ticket to America's middle class, and that 80% of jobs in the future will require more than a high school education, but less than a 4-year college degree.
Lisa Keegan, a former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, was also a panel member:
  • Lisa quickly identified herself as a Republican, and was introduced as having been one of the drafters of "No Child Left Behind." She was not shy about her viewpoint, and provided a great deal of insight, making me appreciate, again, the value of different viewpoints.
  • Lisa started her comments by lamenting the fact that we don't allow the people that believe the most in the children to dictate what happens (provide leadership) in the schools. In the charter schools, it's generally teachers who start because they are so passionate about education. KIPP schools was started by two guys teaching 5th grade in Houston, she said, and is based on culture, and they hire people with same vision. What makes a great school, she said, is great leadership at the school that everyone buys into, and a belief in the kids.
  • On how you change schools: you give control to the person that is actually running the school--but that happens rarely. But if a governing board's job is to hire a superintendent, who then hires principals, and if those principals were really were in charge and got to have all the money attributed to them, then that would make a huge difference.
  • Incredibly well-spoken and persuasive, Lisa had more difficulty addressing her belief that you can have for-profit schools. (I'm much too tired to go into that whole discussion here...)
  • Lisa was most compelling in giving a positive view of NCLB and testing, and the value of shared expectations. I hear a lot (a LOT) from teachers about the negatives of NCLB, so I was particularly interested in her views here. Her point was that high-achieving schools are doing testing all the time, and that it doesn't have to be dreary, awful stuff. It can also be, she said, a great tool for finding schools with similar demographics or difficulties that have been able to succeed, and to learn from them. She later said that one of the things she really wishes that they had been able to include originally was that it be based on a "gain" measurement, which would better measure actual progress that was being made.
  • Lisa got applause when she talked about the difficulties of being a teacher, and how the single contract model of districts really limits the flexibility and initiative of teachers, since they can't get paid more for doing more. She also said that we need to adjust the barrier of what it takes to teach. She quoted someone (I missed it) about about how the barrier to getting into teaching are so high, but then overcoming those barriers has nothing to do with what is actually required later.
  • Lisa made what, if true, is a significant argument for the value of charter schools: that they raise the achievement levels of their surrounding schools by raising the stakes and the dialog. I got the sense from the crowd response that charter schools face some of the same immediate, emotional responses that we got when we home-schooled our oldest daughter--there is some sense that not following the traditional school path is seen as mutinous, or a form of abandonment.
David Conley, the Director of the Center for Education Policy Research at the University of Oregon, was the final panel member:
  • David's thesis was that our secondary and post-secondary educational systems don't connect. In the US, you have to make an extraordinary effort to get to college, he said, and it shouldn't be that way. College-readiness needs to be more transparent, and the definition shoudl be "the ability to succeed in entry level at college." Students aren't ready, so they go to remedial classes or avoid certain topics in college altogether.

  • Some studies show that writing actually declines in high school, he said, and writing is a key gauge of success. Community colleges can have up to five levels of remedial math, and while America believes in second chances (and we don't want to lose that), how do we create high schools that have clear, appropriate, high expectations so that they have a clear pathway for the next level of learning, instead of community colleges replicating high school?
  • His thoughts on restructuring schools: the history of focusing on restructuring is not a history of success. If you just change the structure of a school and nothing else, you're not likely to see any change. (Moving to the block structure, for example.) Structural changes don't amount to anything and just take away from the real changes that need to take place--you need to focus on what's going on in the classroom, what's being taught, and what the expectations are.
David's contributions to the discussion deserve more than I have given here, but I'm already way over my own time limits for this post, and all known rules about brevity... There is still much of the discussion that I have not covered (segregation, funded pre-schooling, health services, and teacher training, to name a few). If I have misquoted on misinterpreted someone, I hope to be corrected. But I also hope that the length of this post gives some sense of the value of the evening, and the necessity that I see for this dialog to become more public.

The Power of Common Experiences

Just a quick note about the power of a common experience--which can be the reading of a particular book. In my visit to Science Leadership Academy, English teacher Alexa Dunn told me that every student coming into the school was asked to read Kindred, by Octavia Butler. While not addressing the story content, I just wanted to remark on the power of this type of experience.

When my company was at the height of it's participation in computer refurbishment for Hewlett-Packard, we had 35+ staff members in three different locations. Our culture was one of high participation and open-books (as in financial), and we used the power of books (as in paper) as part of our process of building an open culture. We had three books we asked every staff member to read (Growing a Business, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and The Great Game of Business), which they could do on work time or on their own--but either way they received a cash bonus for each one completed. We also had weekly team meetings for each work group, at which time they spent half an hour reading a business book of their choosing out loud and then discussing (I know, sounds pretty fringey, but you'd be amazed at the opportunity that it provided for collaborative dialog on important issues).

Now, I'll only tease you with this: our most productive, efficient group was actually placed inside a warehouse at HP. Their productivity was measurably four times greater than any previous subcontractor that HP had used in that particular process. And this group did this book reading program each week. The managers at HP actually told us we had to discontinue the process because it gave the appearance to other subcontractors that our team was not working very hard. Someday I'll post more on entrenched business cultures that reject improvement, as I think there are going to be some real opportunities to relate those ideas to school reform.

One final thought on shared experiences for culture-building: we have some good friends that run a ranch for young women in Idaho. At the start of each two-week session, as soon as the girls arrive, they are put into a large barn with all of the power tools of a woodworking shop. Without any fanfare or fuss, they are all asked to complete a woodworking project that afternoon. They are given help using the machines, they work together, and at the end of the day, most of them have done something that might have intimidated them in any other setting--but they end that day with a shared experience of accomplishment, empowering them beyond the normal expectations of teenage girls. And makes the next two weeks less about boys and makeup, and more about things that really matter.

ADDED NOTE: I also remember my wife and I taking a parenting class which involved reading a parenting book together. It was significantly easier for us to talk about our parenting thoughts and strategies within the context of the book--since we could start by talking about someone else's opinion. She and I were then united in trying to understand the author, and felt free to collaborate together to understand the issues, instead of feeling that we were debating each other. This helped us avoid the common trap of feeling possessive or defensive about our thoughts--or what my wife and I later called, "going polar:" when the tricky dynamics of conversation about significant issues between two (or more) individuals cause them to go from positions that may be only slightly different to being world's apart.

Cellular Broadband Saves the Day

I'm in Santa Cruz, California, and had a scheduled audio interview with David Warlick today. I came down here last night for the Beacon Education Network's public "roundtable" meeting on education (which I'll be posting about soon--it was pretty seriously fascinating), but found that the erratic DSL at my brother-in-law's house was leaving me worried about my interview with David. So I plugged my cellular broadband PCMCIA card into my laptop, drove to a parking lot in town with a view of a cellular tower, and conducted the interview on Skype over cellular broadband... in my car. :) There was some slight audio distortion, but all-in-all, I was impressed at how well it worked. Since I am trying to decide if I'll keep this extra cellular service (I have a 15 day trial period), I've been testing it in different locations and anywhere I seem to get two bars on my cell phone, I tend to have a fairly positive browsing experience using the wireless broadband.

By the way, the interview with David was pretty great, and will get posted soon after one I did with Terry Freedman a couple of weeks back. Here's what I have decided is the key to success in an interview series: interview interesting people, and let them talk a lot.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The School 2.0 "Manifesto" Begins...

Literally torn from a paper tablecloth at the London Grill restaurant in Philadelphia are the first notes on a "School 2.0 Manifesto." To be fair, the discussion really started (and got legs) with Will Richardson and Chris Sessums at the FETC EduBloggerCon during Orlando, Florida the week before, but this was the first actual instance of pen to paper (notice the copy of The World Is Flat underneath the papers--symbolic, wouldn't you say?)

On this night, Chris Lehman, Michelle Moore, Bill Fitzgerald, and I had a deep dinner conversation on education and technology. Deep enough that I felt I'd better start recording some of these ideas.

Will's original suggestion was a documentary in the form of a documentary like An Inconvenient Truth, but focused on education. While that seems like a huge task, we'll set ourselves the intermediate goal of using EduBloggerCon 2007 in Atlanta as a forum forum this dialog...