Friday, December 16, 2011

New Additions to "Purpose of School" Mini-Interview Project and an Invitation to Participate #ties11

The TIES Conference afforded me the opportunity to add a couple new interviews in my "Purpose of School" collection. This project has been a real slow process and I don't expect to be anywhere near done with it in the near future. It may never be done. I had hoped to have the opportunity to interview Joel Rose and Gov. Mark Dayton, both of whom were at the conference, but I was not able to catch either one of them. I did, however, get a chance to interview both Chris Dede and Bernajean Porter at this conference. Here is how they responded to the question, "What is the purpose of school?":

See how others have responded to this question:

If you are interested in adding yourself to this collection send me a recording of yourself answering this simple question, "What is the purpose of school?" You can upload it to YouTube, Vimeo,, or whatever your favorite video sharing site is and post a link in the comment section below. Or, you can email me at if you prefer (do not attach a video file directly, use a third party like filedropper instead). I would love to hear how you respond. When I feel I have reached a critical mass I will create a special site devoted to addressing this question where all responses will be showcased. At that point I will also begin aggregating these responses into categories and constructing some way of analyzing and comparing responses in the effort to reach some kind of conclusion. And, in case you are wondering, the purpose of asking this question is to draw attention to the diversity of responses and to show how varied responses produce very different outcomes in schools.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Promethean & Chanel One Partnership #ties11

I usually stay as far away from vendor-sponsored events at conferences as possible but this year I was invited to a luncheon at the TIES conference sponsored by Promethean and First Tech. I know the folks at First Tech and am friendly with them even though I am highly critical of their products and how their partner Promethean targets schools. I know that for both of these companies the bottom line is the bottom line and for them its all business, nothing personal. But I don't make that distinction myself. I see what these companies do in their rigorous marketing to schools and how they use tactics that might be in their best interest as a company but which might be antithetical to good teaching and learning decisions. It is their propaganda that fuels district IWB initiatives, not sound pedagogical decision making. Its not that I don't like the products they sell, I just don't like how their marketing gimmicks often turn into school policy. To them, when a district decides to cut one or two media specialists so they can afford IWBs in each classroom its just business, nothing personal. But, to that media specialist or to the kids they serve its not business, it is very personal.

So, I agreed to come their luncheon and largely because I wanted to hear what edtech policies were being drafted from their marketing department so I could know what to expect from school districts in the near future. This year their big unveiling was a partnership with Chanel One. If you never attended or worked in a Chanel One school Chanel One was a huge venture from the early 1990s. Their business model was that they would give each school a television set for each classroom in the school in exchange for showing a 15 minute news broadcast to the kids that was made especially for the kids. And of course all this was made possible with advertising. Sure the schools got free technology but at the price of forcing kids to sit through propaganda designed to make them want certain products or make certain choices. In a way it was the Google Adsense model of marketing even before there was a Google.

On a side note, this was also where Anderson Cooper started his career:

Promethean said they were in the early stages of this partnership and are still developing what the final product will look like. So far they have made the Chanel One broadcasts much more interactive and will provide daily lesson plans with flipcharts and activities that work with the ActiveVote and ActiveExpression devices and are tailored to the day's current events. I suspect over time this will also mean that they will run promotions for schools to receive IWBs at a much greater rate, or perhaps signing on to Channel One will come with it a free set of student response systems or something. How many schools will take the bait? It does sound tempting but I also fear what this does to the teacher-student-content relationship. Somehow letting marketing experts write curriculum leaves a bad taste in my mouth. At least the lunch wasn't bad.

What do you think? Is a Chanel One partnership with Promethean good, bad, or ugly?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reflection on #ties11 Opening Keynote - Joel Rose - School of One

Let me preface this post with two statements/disclaimers:

First, I love the TIES conference. I've been attending this conference and presenting at it every year for the past five years. I like the people at TIES and consider them some of my closest colleagues. I have a lot of respect for that organization and a lot of respect for the impact their annual conference has for education in Minnesota and beyond. That said, what criticism/observations in this post are more a general criticism aimed at the state of affairs in education today through which I believe this week in Minnesota TIES was a conduit.

Second, this post will contain a greater percentage of my own editorial than simply just reporting/recording what Mr. Rose said at the conference. I have some deep concerns and I feel obligated to express them. Readers of this blog who have been with me a while will find no surprises.

What follows is a record of my live-Tweets from Joel Rose's keynote along with my own reflection and commentary:

At #ties11 waiting to hear School of One founder Joel Rose give opening keynote. 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

Promethean rep is talking now. Did they sponsor the keynote today? #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

Two years ago Promethean sponsored Dr. Marzano as the keynote speaker at the TIES conference. That year Promethean had paid Dr. Marzano a handsome fee to conduct and publish research showing that their products promoted student achievement gains. Marzano never let that research be peer-reviewed and what the research actually tells us says less about the technology products and more about teaching practices. But, I'm not going to rehash that whole debate here.

Promethian rep is restating Marzano "research" again. #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

Joel Rose started in ED as a TFA recruit then was an exec for Edison Schools. #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

This was how Joel Rose was introduced to the audience here at TIES. I am not quite sure those credentials instill a lot of confidence in an audience where the majority of those in attendance are educators who entered the profession with more than a five week training course on how to be a teacher. Also, Edison Schools (now EdisonLearning, Inc.) was a for-profit brand of charter school that failed. Widely touted as the school model of the future they failed to show the academic gains they promised and their stock fell from $40 a share to 14 cents. There are no Edison Schools in the United States today because they all closed or morphed into other entities. Edison got out of the business of running schools and entered into the business of offering services such as testing and after-school programs.

Anyway, Mr. Rose was also introduced as having 15 years experience in education which means that if he was a TFA recruit and then an administrator at Edison Schools that he couldn't possibly have more than 4 or 5 years experience in the classroom. Most likely what experience he brings to education is most strongly rooted in a form of assessment derived from the Edison Schools model.

"The reason we do school the way we do dates back to 1843 when Horrace Mann went to Prussia." Rose #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

Rose begins his talk by asking why schools today don't look radically different from how they looked in 1843. By now this is starting to become a cliche comparison but it is a pertinent question.

About 1/3 grad ready for college, 1/3 need remediation, 1/3 dropout. -Rose #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

Again, citing a statistic that I agree is troubling and needs addressing.

Teachers are the biggest private donor to public education. -Rose #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

Now, this was a great little side note in his presentation and it generated much adoration. What he did was show in a bar graph how much money has been donated by the Waltons, the Broads, and the Gates to public schools and then a bar that dwarfed these bars in comparison showing how much teachers give to public schools. Now, the way he figures this is if you take all the extra time teachers work grading papers and writing lesson plans and multiply that by what would be their hourly rate and add up all that money for all teachers the amount donated by teachers is ginormous. However, this kind of comparison is a bit dishonest as we are comparing the giving of time to the giving of monetary resources and to arrive at this statistic requires some massaging of the data. But, that was also how Edison schools showed for years that they were making gains in student achievement. This kind of data analysis should call into question the methodology Mr. Rose uses to show the academic gains of School of One. This also works as a rhetorical device to draw attention away from the effect private donors like Gates, Walton, Broad, and Zuckerberg have on public education.

Why do we try to integrate technology? Why isn't tech just part of how we do school? -Rose #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

No disagreement there. On this point I agree with Rose. School needs a redesign and technology ought to be part of the fabric, not just an add-on. I'm just not sure that what School of One offers as an alternative vision really is radical enough of a shift. It still carries with it a lot of the bad stuff inherent in the current old model.

We don't assume just b/c you are in 6th grade that you've mastered all the 4th grade content. -Rose #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

I wish this were framed different. This still implies that a linear progression with "prerequisites" is a necessary component of knowledge and skill acquisition. What if we decided not to assume that there is or should be such a thing as 6th grade or 4th grade content? Or chapters? Or levels?

What do you do with all that data? -Rose #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

Our algorithm takes all that data and customizes lessons for each kid. -Rose #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

Here is the crux of my rub. (oh that sounded dirty). The theme of this conference was "Its Personal: Transforming Pedagogy With Technology" but what the premise of this statement, which is arguably the single most distinguishing feature of School of One, is a form of personalization. The key difference between personal and personalize is where the agency lies and who is empowered to make educational decisions. If I create a personal learning environment I as a learner have the agency to make decisions about what is allowed to be part of that environment, what content I choose to study, what tools I choose that fit my needs, and what people and resources I find valuable. If learning is personal then personal learning transformed by technology must involve the learner making choices about the content, modalities, and direction. If my learning is personalized for me someone else is telling me what to do. The agency still lies with someone who is telling me where to sit, who to listen to, how to learn, and when to move on to the next thing. Learning that is personalized is not personal learning.

Now, if I choose to outsource the personalization of my learning to someone else that is my choice and can arguably fall within the realm of a personal learning choice. There are definitely times when this kind of arrangement is desired and needed by the learner. But in that choice the agency still lies with the learner and if that method doesn't work out there ought to be a choice to abandon the endevour.

And, what of the lessons? This is something I would like very much to know more about. From Mr. Rose's description of where they get the lessons in their lesson bank it doesn't sound like the lessons are created with a new learning system in mind. They sound very much like old school lesson plans be they taught by a teacher in a small group, online asynchronously, or online remotely. I would like to learn more about this aspect of School of One before I pound the gavel on this but if my impression from this talk is correct, what the algorithm does is simply shuffle the old school lessons and presents them to each student in an individualized schedule. Essentially, it sounds like the learning experience for a student at School of One on the pedagogy level isn't any different than any other school.

Our kids take an online assessment everyday. -Rose #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

I find that revolting.

Who ought to be getting to know students, a teacher or an algorithm? #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

This was my question. Nowhere in Mr. Rose's talk did he address how School of One does community building or what the role of personal relationships between students and teacher are. Nowhere is this addressed but we know from volumes of literature and research on this topic that this social element of the learning environment is extremely important. This is especially true when we are talking about the at-risk students Rose called our attention to at the outset. If you work in a school that serves that 1/3 of students who are likely to drop out you know how important relationship building and community is. Where is that in the algorithm?

"I love the algorithm." teacher in School of One video #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

Is anyone else feeling like John Henry right now? #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

How does School of One do community building? When do they build relationships? Is that part of the equation? #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

In the after-school program participants had double the academic gains of non-participants. -Rose #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

Yes, but are you comparing a group of students who have the family support and/or personal motivation and initiative to attend an after-school math program to students who don't have those things? How were students chosen for the after-school program? Did you compare students in this after-school program to students in another after-school program that used different methods? There are just too many variables to make this an actionable statistic.

Tech has meant more lawyers, accountants, bank tellers, librarians, & ticket agents. -Rose #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

If some level of judgement is involved in a job that job will not be lost to technology. -Rose #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

Rose ended his talk trying to address a fear he anticipates teachers might have about School of One that it will mean teachers will loose their jobs. He cites economic data showing fields where technology has caused a transformational change showing that fields where some level of human judgement is involved those careers have seen increases while those that didn't saw decreases. He speculates that in education this will mean more jobs for teachers, not less.

I would like to push back on this notion for just a moment. It isn't like education has not yet seen a transformation, in fact we are in the midst of one right now. But, I think most are too close to the trees to see the forest on this issue, or rather, too close to the circuits to see the machine. The whole standards-driven education environment with high-stakes testing and standardized mechanisms for measuring student achievement, school improvement, and teacher "effectiveness" is a technology itself. It is the core processor driving School of One. The algorithm in School of One is only part of the equation. It is a subroutine in a much larger program called standards-based education.

The standards-based machine is a biased one. It has its own set of values and very little room for what falls outside it. The standards-based machine only understands inputs and outputs that can be easily measured by its sensors. It ignores all else. In its scans it misses important details because it does not possess the sensors to detect certain domains of learning, certain domains of understanding, certain domains of knowing. Those things, the things that are not easily standardized, are lost to the machine because the machine cannot process it. Because the machine cannot process them and the fate of schools depends on the machine showing good results schools will focus more energy and time only into those domains the machine can read. Therefore, we see reductions in the arts, reductions in family and consumer sciences, reductions in creative writing, reductions in physical education, and reductions in anything else that the machine has not been programmed to read.

Mr. Rose argues that domains that require human judgement will not be negatively impacted by the integration of his technology, a technology that not only supports the standards machine but makes it more efficient. Because the algorithm can only see what it has been taught how to read it will just as likely expedite the extinction of the domains already in decline. And to add a bit of irony to this, it appears computer science is among those domains.

TIES is the upper-midwest's largest technology education conference and very very little of what was offered this year addressed how to teach computer science in school. Not one session on programming, not one session on how to teach students to write their own algorithms. I don't blame TIES for this, this is a much larger trend. In the past two years at ISTE I observed the same phenomenon. Somehow we have come to a point where technology in education is something we use to put kids through their paces, to help to personalize their learning, to program students. I want students to learn how to program a computer, not to be programmed by one.

What role does student choice play in School of One? #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

What does School of 1 teach students about learning? Does it use tech 2 program stdnts or help stdnts learn 2 use tech 4 themselves? #ties11 1 day ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

This conference is huge. This year they reported over 3,100 participants and about 1/3 of the school superintendents in MN were present. That is a lot of students they are responsible for and for one morning they all were presented an infomercial for Edison Schools 2.0. I like to think that most of our school leaders have a good enough BS detector to sort through a lot of this and ask tough questions but I know in a group of people from any sector of life you will have some who buy in hook line and sinker. This is especially true if you are in a state of crisis. This year the number of schools not making AYP was staggering. That pressure can lead anyone to make decisions without asking the right questions. In conditions like those someone coming along selling an idea with a promise to solve all your problems receives a welcome reception. I suspect more superintendents were receptive to what Joel Rose had to say than would be if the standards machine were not causing a crisis in their districts.

Normally at the TIES conference the keynote address is followed by a small group presentation/discussion between the presenter and the superintendents. This is then usually followed by a Q & A session with the presenter. Rose had no such session. There was no opportunity given for other conference-goers to ask questions. There was no platform for push-back. I hope some of the questions I raise here were asked in the superintendents session but not being part of that club I will never know.

To TIES credit, the rest of the conference was filled with feature speakers that did justice to the other side of the personal learning coin. Christian Long, Chris Dede, Bernajean Porter, and Ananth Pai all were excellent and highlighted the value of personal agency in learning. Also, the one place I did see some computer programming was in the Classroom of the Future installation where the kids were fully immersed in a LEGO Mindstorms project.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Come see me at TIES - Its Personal!

This year I will be presenting one pre-conference workshop, one poster session (which was originally going to be a community of interest session), and co-presenting two general sessions at the TIES Conference in Minneapolis, MN. The theme of the conference is "It's Personal! Transforming Pedagogy with Technology."

I intend with these sessions to raise the question of what the difference is between personAL and personalIZED since from the keynote speaker and featured speaker lists it seems no distinction was made. Hopefully this was done intentionally with hopes of invoking a debate. In fact, School of One founder Joel Rose is giving the opening keynote address. In case you are unfamiliar with School of One, it is a new school model which takes testing, student profiling, and differentiated instruction to new heights of programmed instruction letting an algorithm determine a student's educational journey.

"I love the algorithm." That line always gets me. Anyway, with the keynote on Monday being Joel Rose and the keynote on Tuesday speaking about video games in education I sense a strong grip of scientific management taking hold with this agenda. In Seymour Papert's (1993) book Mindstorms he said,
"In most contemporary educational situations where children come into contact with computers the computer is used to put children through their paces, to provide exercises of an appropriate level of difficulty, to provide feedback, and to dispense information. The computer programming the child." I want to see children programming the computer. I want to see children in charge of their own learning. Problem is, programming children is easily marketable, teaching children to program is not.

So, here are the sessions I will be presenting. I hope to see you there:

Also, on another note, I just had a lesson plan on Citizen Journalism published at EDTECH: Focus on K-12. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Twitter Book Club: Ronald A. Wolk (2011) Wasting Minds - Part 2

Part 2
A Second, Parallel Strategy

Chapter 11
One Student at a Time

"schools must be relatively small because students and teachers must know each other well if education is to be personalized." Wolk 9 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"standardization is the antithesis of personalization" Wolk 9 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Schools are required by law to provide all special-needs students with individual learning plans because they are ... 9 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

@anderscj They do deserve it. But what happens when the resources (man power) are unavailable. Whoops. McKneely :P 9 days ago via TweetDeck · powered by @socialditto

@MsBisOnline that is why we need school redesign and not school reform 9 days ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

"Personalized education is practiced successfully in innovative small schools that are devoted to teaching students... 9 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Much of the emphasis of the current reform movement is on better teaching, better instruction. But we know that no... 9 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Because students learn best when they are interested in the material, schools should focus on their strongest inte... 9 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"If the student needs to learn something to complete a project she is deeply interested in, she will learn it becau... 9 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"more often than not, school sends a different message to students: What we want to teach is more important than wh... 9 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

Chapter 12
Many Pathways to Success

"There is something terribly wrong with an educational system from which so many participants drop out or earn a di... 7 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

@anderscj welcome back 7 days ago via TweetDeck · powered by @socialditto

@pammoran I only took one night off from this. But thanks anyway. 7 days ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

"As John Gardner once stated, when a society does not value both its philosophers and its plumbers, neither its the... 7 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Schools should recognize the success and value of home schooling and provide students an opportunity to design the... 7 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Unlike tracking, pathways give students a say in their own education and a chance to discover and pursue their passions." Wolk 7 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

Chapter 13
Life to Text

"Arguably, the best model of education in history was the apprenticeship, where the novice learned from the master.... 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"In general, however, we tend to learn best when we have a practical reason to." Wolk 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Real-life learning doesn't always have to happen outside of school; good teachers can bring it into the classroom." Wolk 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"How is it that despite positive research findings and the testimony of teachers and students, real-world learning ... 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

Chapter 14
It's the Work That Counts

"The question is whether authentic, performance-based assessments are compatible with common standards and a common curriculum." Wolk 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"As adults, we are almost never evaluated mainly on the basis of test scores. Our performance is assessed on severa... 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"I have always been mystified that parents would rather have their child's performance expressed in an A or a C tha... 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"We have an assessment system that can be used to compare and hold schools and students accountable, but it is a lo... 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

Chapter 15
Start Them Early

"Nationally, 66 percent of 4-year-olds and more than 40 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in a preschool educati... 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Research shows that an average child from a lower-socioeconomic-status home starts kindergarten with an average vo... 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"What is so often forgotten in conventional schools (if it was ever believed) is that learning should be fun and no... 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Students should learn to read by reading literature and stories about history, geography, and science [not Basal r... 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Simply requiring students to spend more time in our existing education system will not improve their achievement, ... 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

Chapter 16
A New Role for Teachers

"High-quality teachers, whatever their specialty, have to be continuous learners, just as they expect their students to be." Wolk 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"It does not denigrate the importance of knowledge to say that education works best when teachers and students lear... 6 days ago via via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"by taking responsibility for individual students in close relationships, advisors inevitably become involved in th... 6 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

Chapter 17
A Matter of Choice

"For a national voucher program to be justifiable, the demand would presumably exceed supply, and the result would likely be chaotic." Wolk 5 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"As any enterprise without a captive market, schools soon get the message that they can only prevent the loss of st... 5 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"A charter school that is simply a conventional school with a different form of governance undermines the purpose of chartering." Wolk 5 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"It is illogical to pass chartering laws and then adopt policies that stifle them." Wolk 5 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Critics of charter schools say they should be held accountable the way conventional schools are. In fact, they are... 5 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"The question that should be asked is why a disproportionate number of minority and poor students are choosing to a... 5 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Affluent families already have a choice. The 'tuition' they pay to attend suburban schools is the price of a house in that district." Wolk 5 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

@anderscj Wolk looks to have some fascinating ideas, Is the book at the Rochester public library? 5 days ago via web · powered by @socialditto

@mnphysicist It's a great book. Real new too and lots of references to MN schools. Doubt the Rochester Public Library has it yet though. 5 days ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

@anderscj The chapter on charter schools seems to really aligned with today, scarily so. I'll have to see if MNLInk has it 5 days ago via web · powered by @socialditto

@DianeRavitch Have you read Ronald Wolk's Wasting Minds? Wondering what your thoughts are on it. He calls you to the floor on charters. 5 days ago via Twitterrific · powered by @socialditto

@anderscj We disagree. 5 days ago via Mobile Web · powered by @socialditto

Chapter 18
Schools for Digital Natives

"more often than not, virtual schools and cyber schools are essentially traditional schools on the Internet." Wolk 4 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Cyber schools are poking at the traditional structure and culture of the conventional school, but even they do not... 4 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"If schools cannot change fast enough to keep pace with the advances in learning technologies, learning will leave schooling behind." Wolk 4 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Jamming new technology into a curriculum and pedagogy that are essentially obsolete and ineffective with most of t... 4 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"I submit that new technology is being used more effectively in new schools that commit to personalized education a... 4 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"Clearly, the new technology will be accepted and used in schools only to the extent that teachers understand it, k... 4 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"The potential benefits of technology in helping students learn are so obvious that one might assume it would be we... 4 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

Can We Get There from Here?

"Except for organized religion, no social institution has changed less in the past century than public education." Wolk 4 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto

"We need to adopt a parallel strategy of creating new schools of human scale that are innovative and very different... 4 days ago via Twittelator · powered by @socialditto