Category Archives: Reform

Animation + Sir Ken Robinson = Awesome

Back in July 2009, while I was working at Blackboard, I was called into an emergency meeting just before BbWorld 2009 was set to start. We were already onsite, maybe a day or two out from the event.

Sir Ken Robinson, our opening keynote speaker, was ill. He would not be able to attend. Cue event planner heart attack.

Luckily we were able to get a substitute speaker at the (very) last minute. Seth Godin stepped in and spoke to our audience. I didn’t actually get to see Mr. Godin speak that day, but I was lucky enough to see him speak at Educause 2011.

But 3 years later, I still haven’t seen Sir Robinson speak. So I found this animation fascinating and I’m more eager than ever to hear him speak in person. Take 11 minutes and watch – this is worth your time! It certainly made me think.

We’re getting our children through education by anesthetizing them. I think we should be doing the exact opposite. We shouldn’t be putting them to sleep, we should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves.”

Thanks to Karen Yoshino, my old Bb colleague, who shared this on Pinterest where it caught my attention!

Civics Education in (Very Exciting) Practice

I really enjoyed the first day of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educause conference yesterday. Wish I could have stayed another day!  But I made the most of my time and took in some great sessions. I’ll buck tradition and start with the last session I attended, as it’s the perfect follow-up to the blog post I published Wednesday, The Case for Civic Education.

Session: Making Teaching and Learning Authentic: Engagement through Social Media in Politically Charged Times – James A. Jorstad, Director of Academic Technologies, University of Wisconsin-LaCross

Jorstad says that authentic learning focuses on real world, complex problems and solutions. Taking a look at this video, one of many he posted during the Wisconsin budget protests, I’d say that his choice of subject matter qualifies. One of the main themes repeatedly discussed during my session at the Brookings Institute earlier this week was making government studies more relevant – creating a disposition in students to want to learn about civics. Jorstad is doing just that. What a wonderful way to involve students – taking events happening in their backyards and bringing it into the classroom in real-time.

Jorstad is a regular contributor on CNN’s iReports and during his session he shared several of the videos he took during the 2011 Wisconsin budget protests. He uses his experience to help students understand the power – both positive and negative – of social media; it’s also an opportunity to discuss how to disseminate fact from fiction in new and traditional media.

His videos of the protests, posted on iReports started getting big views very quickly – he estimates 200-300 views every 30 seconds. As the views climbed,  CNN vetted the post. Then his video started showing up on other sites, including Forbes. As the video went “viral” and from iReport to actual news, eventually the attribution was lost (I think it’s like a game of telephone…the farther the video gets from its original posting, the less likely people will include the creator). He noted that attribution is one of the challenges of a social media-driven news report.

Jorstad highlighted some of the comments made on his videos. Many were extremely hostile – another symptom of the lack or ineffectiveness of civics education that was noted in the Brookings panel. In fact, his videos of the protest were often flagged as inappropriate (which, ironically seemed to work against those trying to get the video taken down; Jorstad believes that it actually raised the viewer numbers by making the video “forbidden” for short periods of time). The comments on his video of Jesse Jackson speaking on campus were openly racist. Jorstad decided to leave the comments there, instead of flagging for removal, so he could use them as discussion points in class.

Other notes from the session:

  • He uses media examples as a tool to teach about how to effectively critique news sources. He shared a Fox news report showing “union protest violence” that actually contained footage from an incident in California. Many accept what they see on the news as truth. He uses different news sources to teach students to view media with a critical eye.
  • He had an expert evaluate his videos and his estimate was 200,000 attendees at the protest. Press reported “10s of thousands.” Again a reason to look critically at our media sources.
  • Jorstad shared his videos with students in class and asked students if their mothers would have attended the event. Most said yes – and many said their mothers were at the protests!
  • Jorstad surveyed his students (I believe political science and English classes). Over half identified themselves as Republican, with a strong bent toward the conservative Tea Party. Yet when asked which news network they thought was most biased, Fox was the runaway “winner” while CNN was considered the most impartial.
  • Students seem to realize they may rely too strongly on social media, saying something to the effect of “we know we already have poor interpersonal skills”
  • He encouraged everyone to go to and submit a story. A great learning experience for anyone!

Jorstad shared this link to resources from his session. I would add links to his iReports page on CNN, and his Learning Space blog.

All and all a great session – and I think any teacher might look to current events and social media as a way to engage students, especially in history, civics and government. I say steal this idea, teachers.   🙂

The Case for Civic Education

Hello everyone! Hope you all enjoyed your holidays. I, for one, enjoyed my semi-annual “quiet period.”

Yesterday I attended an interesting event at the Brookings Institute. Spurred by the publishing of “Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education,” several of the contributing authors came together to discuss the state and future of civics, government and U.S. history in K-12 and higher education. I was excited to see the event announced – I have a special interest in the topic.

I hate talking about politics. It’s gotten so bad in recent years that I find myself avoiding the news – even that haven for young news avoiders, the John Stewart Show. The hyperbole, the unwillingness to have civil discussions, the media screaming – it’s enough to make me want to hide under a table. Incredibly, it’s a problem should a politician ever have the audacity to change a position (or their minds) about an issue. Of course they do – and blithely pretend that they’d always thought that way!

But this avoidance is not a good thing. And I am the first to admit that I take many political conversations too personally. I remove myself rather than face challenging conversations. I am part of the problem! So I approached the panel with two goals – to hear from some experts how #EDU may hold answers to resolving the problem and to gain insight into how I might personally work toward being more civically engaged.

The panel included John Bridgeland, author and recently appointee to President Obama’s White House Council for Community Solutions (he also served as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under George W. Bush) and David Feith, Chairman of Civic Education Initiative. The panel was moderated by William Galston of the Brookings Institute.

In addition to some grave statistics about the lack of civics, government and history knowledge among both kids and adults, two key themes were touched on again and again: First, the current state of politics is marked by an unwillingness – and perhaps an inability – of government leaders to work together to solve problems. Secondly, the lack of knowledge in (and, more importantly, the lack of disposition to learn) civics is rampant, with no clear action plan to resolve.

The focus of the discussion was broad enough that specific #EDU action items are rare in my notes. But there are some good nuggets to share.

I’ll start by sharing a great #EDU memory from Mr. Bridgeland’s keynote. He recalls being asked to play the part of a lawyer for Dred Scott in school. He had to prepare a case and present it to the class. He still recalls everything about the experience…in the end, he won the case, winning for Dred Scott where history had failed him. This awakened an interest in government for him that was never extinguished.

Repeatedly, each panelist brought up the need for enthusiastic and passionate teachers in the subject. Adm. Michael Ratliff, President of the Jack Miller Center discussed his higher education-focused summer institutes where professors (perhaps focused on research) can re-awaken the passion that brought them to the study of civics.

I have to say that I sat up and paid attention when Seth Andrew, Founder and Superintendent of Democracy Prep Public Schools (absolutely the most passionate member of the panel) offered harsh criticism of K-12 education. Sounding a wake-up call that today’s civil rights issue is fixing our schools, he argued that reports, statistics and policies don’t matter if you don’t have a passionate, effective teacher in the classroom. His charter schools serve a diverse, almost 100% low-income student population. When he gets a new sixth-grader he can’t teach them civics right away – he has to teach them how to read.

More interestingly, he asserted that you must first create the disposition in kids to learn civics. He talked about taking his kids out to help sign up voters with hats that say “we can’t vote, but YOU can,” an activity that clearly gets his kids fired up and wishing they were able to vote. He talked about showing kids how they could be involved in the civic process even without the ability to vote. I really enjoyed his short remarks – he was one of the speakers I would most enjoy seeing again.

One of the more interesting moments of the 2 hour session was also the most fleeting. Peter Levine, Director of CIRCLE and Research Director of Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University spoke briefly about his work on civics education. He clearly is up to his elbows in policy work. He opened his remarks with a thrown-away statement that he’s not sure at all that students don’t KNOW civics …implying that his reading of the data was different and somewhat controversial. But he didn’t elaborate!!! Tease. He did go on to agree with Seth Andrew that creating a disposition in learners to get engaged in civics was of utmost importance. But I am left wanting more. Much more.

The question and discussion period was short. There was a pointed question about the general white guy-ness of the panel. Mr. Feith struggled with the question but Seth Andrews came out swinging again as a self-professed white guy running schools that are serving a community of color. He feels that engaging these communities, which are currently even less likely to participate in the process, is of utmost importance.

Overall, the panel could have been a bit smaller so we could hear more about the actual work happening to improve civics education in their respective areas of expertise. I definitely wanted to hear more from Mr. Levine and Mr. Andrew. But all and all a good introduction to the topic.

But perhaps like many students leaving our schools, I’m left wishing I knew more 🙂 What about you? Do we have any government or U.S. History teachers among my readers? Share your stories! How do you inspire your students to get engaged in the civic process?

PS. I do hope I caught all the spelling errors in this post. I have discovered that while my new tablet does many things – it does NOT do spell check. And neither do the mobile versions of gmail, WordPress, or my document editing software. Sigh. 🙂 But I wanted to get this out to you and I am not at my home office today. Hope to see some of you at the regional Educause this afternoon in Baltimore!

“Rebooting” Higher Education

The fabulous Jan Poston Day invited me to an event at the American Enterprise Institution. The AEI is “a private, nonpartisan, not-for-profit institution dedicated to research and education on issues of government, politics, economics and social welfare.”

The panel was called “Rebooting Higher Education: Kaplan CEO Andrew Rosen’s “” and the Future of Postsecondary Education in America” and, of course, featured Mr. Rosen. The panel was well moderated by Andrew Kelly, an AEI research fellow for higher education policy. Also on the panel were Diane Auer Jones from the Career Education Corporation; Jeff Selingo from The Chronicle of Higher Education; and Zakiya Smith, of the White House Domestic Policy Council.  Mr. Rosen’s book, “ Rebooting for the new talent economy” was the impetus for the panel.

After a short introduction, Mr. Rosen opened by sharing a few quotes about higher education:

  • These colleges are resorting to all kinds of devices to get students.
  • These institutions are universities in aspiration rather than fact…they are pretenders to the title of university.
  • These schools are robbing the US Treasury.
  • These colleges compete unfairly with established colleges.
  • The students who attend these colleges are not college material.

In the first of a few surprises for me, these comments were NOT made about for-profit institutions like Kaplan. These were all directed at the “land grant” schools in the second half of the 19th century that wanted to teach the children of non-elites practical skills like agriculture, science and engineering instead of more classical liberal arts studies. Iowa State University, University of California and Rutgers were all land grant universities.

Really? Cause I don’t know about you, but I assumed these quotes were about for-profit universities. Don’t lie now. You did too 🙂

Mr. Rosen went on to talk about how higher education has a rich history of disruption. Oxford and Cambridge didn’t think much of Harvard at first. He asserts that today’s “pretenders” become tomorrow’s leaders. But history also says that higher education and government won’t reform themselves. It takes other factors to ‘shove’ them into action. And Mr. Rosen says that the shove is coming.

More to come! I wanted to share what I could write up in the wee small hours of the morning. In the meantime, check out some video clips from the panel here.

Taking it to the Courts – Discipline, Part II

Second in a series. You can find the first here.

I’d like to share the opening of a recent Washington Post article with you:

SPRING, TEX. — In a small courtroom north of Houston, a fourth-grader walked up to the bench with his mother. Too short to see the judge, he stood on a stool. He was dressed in a polo shirt and dark slacks on a sweltering summer morning.

“Guilty,” the boy’s mother heard him say.

He had been part of a scuffle on a school bus.

I had to think about this for a second. Do you know how old fourth graders are? They are 9 or 10 years old. Reading this, my thoughts immediately went to a young teenager, but a teenager none the less. But a 9 year old? Wow.

Does anyone think this is ok?

Ok this is an emotional reaction to a emotion-provoking piece of writing. So I’ll try to step back a bit. I’ve recently read a few articles on the so-called “criminalization” of student discipline. I’ve written once before on “zero-tolerance” from my own perspective.

Zero tolerance doesn’t seem to be working. School districts are considering dropping zero tolerance policies. There is evidence of racial tolerance (which seems to imply that zero isn’t really always zero, anyway).  It raises drop-out rates. In fact, one of the leading punishments for truancy is … wait for it … suspension. So, what do we do about it?

Jan Day pointed me to an article about Judge Steve Teske and his efforts to keep kids with minor discipline issues out of court. I highly recommend you take some time to read the article and click on some of the links. One of the interesting quotes, to me, is Teske’s recall of his own naughtiness during school:

Teske recalls pulling a prank at age 13 that set off his school’s fire alarm. He recalls the mass havoc that ensued. The threat of arrest. The terror he felt.

His principal prevailed in insisting the school system would mete out the punishment. “Would I even be a judge today had I gone to jail that day?” he asks.

He says he was inspired by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. In his district, he brought together parents, teachers, police, social-services and students to discuss better ways of doing things. In the end, his approach is not easier. It takes time and is not a cookie-cutter implementation – there is a lot of gray.

Now student incidents are managed in school more – referrals to juvenile court fell more than 70% over 7 years. Weapons incidents have dropped. Tips on serious offenses improved, as did relations between students and police.

And graduation rates are up 20% in that same timeframe. Other school districts are starting to take notice.

Teske shares an interesting metaphor in his blog.

Officer Robert Gardner, a veteran school police officer with Clayton County describes his student population using a lamb, sheep, and wolf allegory. Most of the student population is made up of sheep. They make noise, get into some trouble, but nothing major. They just make you mad from time to time.

The lambs are the nerds — always quiet and under the radar. They make up about 25 percent, at most, of the population.

The wolves — they are the dangerous students who come to school to wreak havoc and prey on others. They also make up no more than 2 percent of the population.

Gardner says his job is to focus on the wolves — the predators — the 2 percent. He says he can’t do it if he is arresting sheep.

But, let’s set aside stories of students referred to court for soda-pop possession, what about those kids who are clearly trouble – the “wolves?” Don’t we need to get them out of the classroom so we can focus on the kids who are there to learn? And what responsibility do we have to try and turn around those kids who do make trouble. Do we just give up?

A friend of mine shared a People Magazine article* about a judge in St. Louis making a difference in some of those wolves’ lives.

Here’s a little something about one of the students offered a chance at Edwards’ school:

In the fall of 2010, [16 year old] Jakayla Ivory stabbed a classmate in the neck with an ice pick during a fight.

Wow. That raises a different kind of emotion, right? This student had been kicked out of four schools since the seventh grade for various disciplinary problems. Now this violent encounter not only landed her in jail, but all but guaranteed her to be kicked out of school altogether, with all statistics about dropouts in front of her. But she was offered a life line.

Judge Jimmie Edwards started the Innovative Concept Academy in 2007 – an experimental school designed as a last resort for troubled and violent kids. The school takes the most desperate cases out of the justice system and gives them one last chance to change. Edwards, who sentenced hundreds of people to prison before moving to juvenile court, says “I knew I could do better than just taking away someone’s liberty.”

Beyond academics, close supervision and a strong, clear disciplinary approach, the school keeps students busy with after school problems and exposes them to new activities like golf, fashion, chess, and dancing.

These are students with difficult home lives and, often, quick tempers. But the students feel the change – Jakayla, above, raised her grades from F’s to B’s and C’s. She returned to public school, where is she now doing well. Other students have had similar turn-arounds. The article indicates that it’s too early to tell if the approach is working. But of 700 students enrolled since the start, only four have returned to the criminal justice system. That sounds like working to me.

We all are concerned about crime, the cost of keeping people in jail, how to prevent crime in our cities and communities. But we also think “We can’t save everyone! Some kids are just bad!” But perhaps Judge Edwards’ effort is well worth the time and energy. Maybe it would truly benefit all of us to think about how to help the toughest cases.

What do you think?


*I wish I could refer you to the article, but I can’t seem to find an online copy. However, if you also want to hear about Jackie O’s private life, check out this podcast of the magazine – the article starts just before the halfway point on the podcast. The article is in the October 10, 2011 issue of People Magazine and was written by Jeff Truesdell and Alex Tresniowksi.

Writing is Hard

*Note. I write this today in what could be described as a “crotchety old man” mood. I keep thinking things like “in my day we…” and “get off my lawn.”  So, you know, that’s something you should know. Not that I think this post would change dramatically!

I read a blog post in the Washington Post today regarding writing remediation for students going into college. The post was written by William G. Tierney, a professor of higher education and director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at the University of Southern California and Stefani R. Relles, a former community college instructor and doctoral candidate at USC.

A few key points from their post:

  • Remedial courses are a bottleneck in higher education (and according to another article I read recently, a significant cost for many students)
  • Writing skills, especially, are lacking with many students never having written a formal paper longer than 2 or 3 pages.
  • More and more standardized testing is being done, with more and more classroom time devoted to prep. Yet research shows that timed essays on tests are “unreliable indicators of writing strength.”

I’m not that surprised. I’m a marketer. I’ve read lots of “content” from blog posts to emails to newsletters at places I’ve worked. And boy, the quality is often astoundingly poor. I don’t mean boring or with grammar issues – I mean unclear or confusing writing with little structure, muddled narrative. Not always. Not everyone. But often enough.

Of course, my perspective was shaped before I entered college in 1991. First, I hand-wrote most of my papers until my sophomore year in college (personal computers not being very prevalent at all).  Even when I typed papers, it was based on a hand-written copy.

Handwriting papers necessitated multiple writings of a paper – not only to correct spelling errors and grammatical issues but to incorporate revisions and corrections. My papers were littered with cross-outs and writing in the margins. My drafts became, quite literally, pictures of my writing process.

In both high school and college, I had multiple writing projects that took several revisions and weeks to complete. I had to write different kinds of projects – from creative pieces to speeches to research papers to summaries. It was a huge part of my learning experience and, for me anyway, more difficult and time-intensive than most tests.

Of course I had my challenges. When I am summarizing, I often write important text verbatim from the source without realizing it. So I had to be careful of unintended plagiarism. I also tend to write too much. Over the years strike-outs turned into regular use of the highlight/delete function.

I believe that this kind of writing not only developed my writing skills but also my ability to condense and analyze information, to think critically about what I was reading, and more. It also helped me develop a “voice” of my own* and learn how to write in different voices and styles depending on the situation.

The writing processes I learned are similar to what Tierney and Relles propose to reduce the need for writing remediation:  “Set specific and understandable goals. Teach students how to revise. Teach summarizing, not analyzing.** Require more and longer writing.”

But even these solutions are “controversial” in the words of the authors.

“Adopting [these kinds of solutions] would mean focusing on writing as process rather than as product, an unsettling break for those accustomed to exams and assignments without revision opportunities.”

In the authors’ Los Angeles high schools students take up to six state and district tests yearly — on top of midterms and finals. 94% pass the state exit exam. And yet 42% need remedial English. Should the test be harder? Test different things?

I’m not sure. I don’t think writing can always be tested in a few hours. My best writing is often done over days or weeks. And some teachers liked my writing better than others! There is an element of “art” to writing that I believe requires students to be exposed to a variety of resources and teachers over time. Can we standardize that? Do we want to?

Maybe all of this is much ado about nothing – maybe things haven’t changed that dramatically. Perhaps there are always going to be some folks who are more comfortable writing than others. And it’s not only people younger than me who struggle with writing (though my – admittedly anecdotal – experience is that folks older than me know their writing isn’t great, whereas younger folks tend to think theirs is just fine, even when it’s not).

What do you think? How do your kids’ classes manage it? Teachers, are you able to assign long writing projects and research papers? What is your experience?


*If you are reading this, you hopefully like my “talky, kinda casual, pretty human” voice of choice. And while I have issues with some of the poor writing examples I see (and the systematic neglect of writing skills implied by the discussed blog post), I don’t claim to be a grammarian! I don’t care if you put one or two spaces after your period. I don’t get up in arms if you use “it’s and its” incorrectly once in a while. I don’t believe perfect grammar is perfect writing. There’s more to it than that, if you ask me. And maybe you’re thinking “this Kerry Jo girl’s not even that good of a writer!” Maybe not! There’s the art sneaking in again.

**I bulked a little at the “not analyzing” bit. But I love their explanation:

“Critical thinking in and of itself is not a precursor of good writing. Putting thinking into words, sentences and paragraphs is the endgame, and that crucially involves the ability to summarize material, a more concrete and therefore teachable skill. If students are able to summarize what they have read, they can better grasp how to put together their own arguments.”

Educause Wrap-up Part II (I know…I know…) and Seth Godin’s Keynote

It’s a little embarrassing, but even in this day and age it happens. I don’t like to talk about it…but last week, at Educause, I didn’t have….I didn’t have…internet at my hotel.

Oh it’s terrible, ladies and gentlemen. Awful. They promised me internet. But it didn’t happen.

So while I was able to tweet extensively during the show using my phone, blogging just didn’t really happen. So here I am now, with apologies and some recap of what was a most educational week.

There’s a lot jangling around in my head. I got to see lots of great technology – some brand new, some that you might know. So I’ll do a bit of a ‘company update’ separately. I also went to a few great sessions where I took extensive notes, so I’ll share those. So…here’s my first in a series of blogs sharing some of the awesomeness I saw at Educause.

Seth Godin’s Keynote @ EDU11
(Sadly this is not available streamed post-conference.)

I’ll be honest. I went in with low expectations. (As I saw @gsiemens tweet: “Getting ready for #edu11 keynote by @thisissethsblog. I’m a cynical bastard. Not convinced he has much to say relevant to education.”)

But WOW. I thought he was excited and exciting, compelling and he set a tone that encouraged exploration. He seemed to talk off the cuff; his slides were very funny and immediately made his point without excess text. It was about inspiring people to do extraordinary things, rather than telling people exactly how to do it – which is appropriate, I think, for a keynote.

It would be impossible to give you a summary, but here are a few highlights many of which were culled from my tweets or the tweets of others during the keynote to augment my memory. Note that these highlights and quotes are not necessarily in the same order as Godin’s speech. I’ve tried to recreate something closer to the story Godin told – I think it’s a bit easier to understand it this way, considering each bit is so out of context. There are also a few editorial comments, usually in the form of a RT quote in italics.  I just want you to know what you’re getting here!

  • RT @twarmbro: educause general session! Hoping @EDUCAUSE_HULK makes an appearance – maybe he could bench press Seth Godin!  <OK that wasn’t from Seth Godin – just a tweet I thought was funny>
  • Competence is no longer a scarce commodity.
  • Mass marketing by definition is average stuff for average people. No choice but to make average products. The college-industrial complex is no different – its object is to keep growing. BUT the world has fundamentally shifted. Mass marketing is broke. Our customers, students are over-saturated. We have branded ourselves to death. We can no longer continue selling average stuff to average people – even if that stuff is a college education.
  • Public schools were created for the industrialized system, for compliance. If you get a defective batch, repeat the grade. They do what they are told so we can ignore them.
  • Give me a map- I’ll do it.” We’ve trained to be competent. But competence is no longer a scarce commodity. What if there is no map?
  • If you can write it down, I can find it cheaper. So there is no future in higher education (with all the costs it entails) if all it’s going to be is high school with more binge drinking
  • Never again is someone going to pay you to answer a question that they can look up on Wikipedia. School is really for solving interesting problems. (@GardnerCampbell adds “finding interesting problems, too.“)
  • Revolutions destroy the “perfect” and enable the “impossible.” Example: the music industry is dead, but there is more music available to more people than ever before.
  •  But now, the means of production have shifted; person who owns means of production keeps the money. “Everyone” w/ computer now owns the means.
  • The first person to install a urinal was an artist, the second was a plumber. We can all be artists with a connection to the world. Art is a human being doing something different that touches another human being. Art means working without a map.
  • RT @GardnerCampbell (Colossal ironies here. Higher ed keeps building maps.)
  • World is getting weirder. Reinforcing their edginess. More weird is more normal. Edge cases are finding edge cases online. The curve is melting. Perfect is now boring. We’re looking for something extraordinary.
  • There is no more mass marketing, in the new model there is engagement, respect and connection.
  • Students need to learn how to solve a problem that has never been solved before.
  • This generation is not looking for a boss, not waiting to be picked. They are just doing it. The people who want to make a difference in the world are not looking for a boss. Education must support these people.
  • If failure is not an option, you have to accept that neither is success.
  • Ignore your lizard brain (the part that tells you not to do something because it’s not safe). It tricks you into meetings and into waiting for someone else to do something before you do.
  • The action of being the one that will be missed is a choice.
  • Stop listening to your inner critic. Move.
  • “Art is about gifts not favors.” Care more about the art not making a nickel. Do art – make change. Give it away.
  • Free range kids is the only way to go. Put them on the subway when they’re 12 & hope they come home at the end of the day.
  • We have to blow up this notion of curriculum. Except for cardiovascular surgeons.
  • You don’t have a job. You have a platform.
  • Lead, connect with people, and know the destination even if you don’t know the directions.
  • RT @GardnerCampbellThis is the chance of a lifetime.” – S. Godin (Is higher ed looking for this? Do we even believe this? I worry; I wonder.)

A few thoughts:

First, I think it’s true you can find information for yourself now. Maybe college isn’t as important anymore. Lots of kids are going out there and finding their own path. But I think there is value in lessons from the past. If they don’t have the discipline to learn what’s come before them – art, literature, business, history – will they have what they need to be successful? Maybe. Maybe not. I think there is value in traditional education. I’m not sure I completely agree with his assertion that school is for churning out workers that fit the system so that we can ignore them. But I do love his idea that education can be a place for students and teachers to work together to solve interesting problems. I think that’s already happening in the most exciting classrooms.

Secondly, I love the idea that you don’t have to wait for someone else – you can make it happen. I know my lizard brain is strong – I have to work hard to silence my inner critic. But that work is worth doing.

Lastly – and this is an area worthy of discussion I think – the idea of “giving it away.”  Open source, open content, open universities – I think it’s awesome. Some of that will be top notch. But…and this is a big but…I think that people need to make a living. In the long run, will “free” resources be able to maintain the quality if no one is paying the authors?

I think about one of my favorite organizations – my roller derby team.  Everyone involved loves it! But only about 20% of our members are willing to put in an extraordinary amount of time to keep the ship afloat.  Sure, everyone helps out to some extent. But the vast majority of the work is done by a few. That’s the nature of volunteering. And that 20% tends to get burned out quickly. After all, they have to have some energy left to go to work, which is where they get paid.

What do you think? Maybe I’m not thinking big enough!

One Teacher’s Viewpoint on Discipline

So I was so excited to see a comment on my “Discipline” blog post from Melisa Mitchell, a college friend of mine who is a 11th and 12th grade English teacher in Baltimore, MD at inner-city school.

Amidst all the talk about standardized testing, how to evaluate teachers and students, and city-wide benchmarks it is nice to hear from one teacher about what is and isn’t working in her classroom. So I wanted to share her comments more widely. So, here it is, from Melisa!

I think about this topic a lot because I was over-disciplined as a kid and am now a teacher who is accused by her administrators of under-disciplining her students. (I teach 11th and 12th grade English in an inner-city school in Baltimore.) However, I do not have even HALF the classroom management issues that other teachers in my building have: Kids don’t talk back to me, don’t cuss me out, don’t throw desks or get into fights. They participate, think about things, disagree with each other (and learn how to do so respectfully), and disagree with me (sometimes without the level of respect I’d prefer, but they are works in progress). And this “works in progress” thing is something I think adults tend to forget: Kids’ brains are wired to make them act like kids, and teenagers are no exception–just because they look more like adults doesn’t mean that they’re capable of acting like adults. Kids act like kids but want to be treated like adults; adults want them to act like adults but treat them like kids. They need to be able to make their own mistakes so that they can learn from them and become, as your dad and his siblings did, healthy and successful adults. People who are sheltered from making mistakes by adults who attempt to control them never learn the critical things we must to be functional members of society and tend to become so fearful of making a mistake that they aren’t capable of functioning. There need to be mistakes, and there need to be realistic consequences, but getting put out of class for not having a pen or for falling asleep is not appropriate. WHY does that kid not have a pen? WHY is that kid sleeping in class? The causes of their behavior need to be addressed as much as the behavior itself.

There are so many factors that go into making us who we are, and I want so much as an educator to be one of the adults my students come in contact with who helps shape them into functional citizens NOT by raising my voice every time they do something wrong but simply by holding them accountable for their choices; by not judging them and accepting that they are flawed people just like I am; and by continuing to guide them in making good choices without making their choices for them. It’s hard to care so much about kids and not want to fix all their wrongdoings before they occur, but it is our obligation to let the mistakes happen. No one ever learned everything she needs to live her life from cautionary tales told by someone to whom she can’t even relate. Certainly we must have some behavioral constraints and clear expectations, but letting kids fall is critical to their growth.

I feel like this is a little rambly, but as I sit in my classroom at lunchtime reading your post and watching the nuts run the halls outside my door, you really got me thinking. Thank you for that!

Melisa, forget rambly! This is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It sounds like you are just the kind of teacher we need out there. Here’s hoping you get the support you need and deserve.

This is an important conversation. There is much to be considered and even more at stake. Are you a teacher or an administrator struggling with this issue? Please share your thoughts!

Best Post I’ve Read this Week. Read it.

(From me: Thank you Peggy Zugibe. That is all.)
Copied from The Washington Post’s blog, The Answer Sheet (
Find this article here:

Why public education must be preserved

This was written by Peggy Zugibe, a member of the Haverstraw-Stony Point (N.Y.) Board of Education. She is also a member of the Rockland Board of Cooperative Educational Services and a member of the board of directors of the New York State School Boards Association.

By Peggy Zugibe

People often ask me why I’m a school board member. To be sure, it is an unpaid and largely thankless job. You make decisions that affect people’s wallets and their children, and emotions can run high. No matter what forms of academic progress our students achieve, some will say our schools are failing and call for radical changes.

But I love being a school board member because I believe in public education. I believe that all of us associated with public schools – school board members, administrators, teachers, students and involved parents and community members — are working to preserve one of our nation’s greatest assets.

Our Founding Fathers believed in public education. In 1785, John Adams wrote, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

In the 1800s, when our country took in more immigrants and it became more diverse, education reformers saw public education as a means of creating productive citizens, ending poverty and crime and unifying an increasingly diverse population. Those societal goals are as relevant today as they were then.

Polls show that the American people value public education.

But the current political climate is downright hostile to public education. Teachers are viewed as underperforming, administrators as overpaid and school boards as overly contentious if not dysfunctional. In certain cases, the criticism might have merit.

But overall, schools and school boards do vital work. This is what democracy looks like.

Political scientist Benjamin Barber has argued that our public schools don’t merely serve the public but actually create the public: “Public schools are not merely schools for the public, but schools of publicness: institutions where we learn what it means to be a public and start down the road toward common national and civic identity.”

As a nation, we need to remind ourselves of the value of public education. This has been recognized by national education organizations such as the American Association of School Administrators, which has a terrific campaign called “Stand Up for Public Education.

Also, the Center on Educational Policy has a great publication called Why We Still Need Public Schools that covers the history of public education and explains how public schools are linked to the common good. It cites six missions that our country has expected public education to fulfill. Our schools:

*Provide universal access to free education.

*Guarantee equal opportunities for all children.

*Unify a diverse population.

*Prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society.

*Prepare people to become economically self-sufficient.

*Improve social conditions.

Are those not worthy goals? Like our Founding Fathers, I believe that that my district and public education in general is serving the public interest. How else can we offer an equal chance for success to all students?

We owe it to future generations to preserve the ideals which have served our nation since its beginning. Our public schools have produced presidents, statesmen, scientists, sports and entertainment figures. We can’t let outside forces result in public education becoming a system of haves and have-nots. We must make sure that we remember what our Founding Fathers saw: that public education is essential to our country’s common good.


What does it mean to be held “accountable?”

Can we talk about accountability?

I instinctively cringe when I hear the word. Probably because it’s usually used by managers asking me to figure out data that measures the success of my work. I want to say ASK MY CLIENTS. They like me. We talk a lot. They’re happy. What else do you need to know?

Which is probably not the best reaction.

Then I read and tweeted this post by Jay Mathews in his online column, Class Struggles, a few weeks back. I think it’s important so I want to revisit it. And to be honest, it makes me feel much better about my reaction above.

The post is called “We may have accountability wrong.” I assumed it would be another article on the education reform debate and the struggles to figure out how to hold teachers accountable for student success.

Well…it is, sorta. But only sorta.

The column references a new report from Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation called “Don’t Count Us Out: How an Overreliance on Accountability Could Undermine the Public’s Confidence in Schools, Business, Government and More.”

Wait, an OVERreliance? Isn’t data king? Aren’t we supposed to measure, measure and measure some more?

Turns out, there is a disconnect between how the average joe defines accountability and how leaders in business, education and other organizations define it. I’ve linked to both Jay Mathews’ commentary and the report itself, so I won’t regurgitate. The report itself is about 50 pages and I’ve just started to read it. But the link takes you to a very fine summary. Here’s an quote:

 “The upshot is that the strategies many leaders rely on to persuade the American public that they are being ‘accountable’ are almost certain to disappoint.”

 The report found that more information does not lead to more trust by the public. Often it leads to less. They also found that responsiveness matters to people more than benchmarks. This speaks to me. Personally, I don’t really care about your numbers. I care if you take my call and try to help me.

This is pretty dramatic stuff if you think about how it applies to the debate over teacher accountability. What if your school is hitting all your marks? Getting great testing numbers? And what if your community still feels that you aren’t doing the right thing? Wow, that kind of stinks.

But maybe it’s a matter of perception. Maybe your benchmarks aren’t what your community needs to know in order to trust and believe in your teachers. Maybe it’s just as important to reach out and open the lines of communication.

So how could the conversation about school accountability be affected by this information? Should the focus change? Stop worrying about numbers?

Probably not. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for data – and I’m fairly sure the report isn’t saying that either. I think that organizations need to measure themselves, push themselves to improve. But it is worth examining why our trust in public institutions is lessening even as many provide us with more data and “transparency.” As Mr. Mathews said, it is a little depressing when you think about the gap, which is just getting wider.

I have a thought. You know when you go to that local store you go to…the one that sells those really awesome cat toys (or baseball bats or pianos or garden tools) that always seems to have exactly what you need? Where the gal (or guy) behind the counter always knows what questions to ask so that she can give you exactly what you need? She’s never pushy, she just knows her stuff and is willing to share her knowledge? And it’s local. You just…trust them. Why? Because you know them. Maybe that’s what we need here – a little more local, a little more direct conversation, one to one or one to small groups. Maybe the answer is as simple (and of course, as complicated) as that.

So what do you think? Comment away please! I feel like this needs to be discussed 🙂