Let’s start with the numbers. 4.1: That’s the grade point average of a high school student entering the University of California, Irvine this year. 450,000: students on the waiting list for community colleges in California alone. 74%: the percentage of students from the richest quartile of households enrolled at the top 150 colleges in the US — even though high-income students make up only a third of high-achieving high school graduates. While the G.I. Bill and the Great Society were founded on the principle of higher education as the ladder to the middle class, in 2013 state schools are so starved of funds, and private ones so expensive, that higher education is becoming the province of the high achieving and the wealthy global 1%.
I don’t want a society that massively excludes so many students, nor one where you have to be better than perfect to gain admission to your state university. For 20 years now, anyone with access to the internet has been able to publish ideas to anyone else in the world with an internet connection. That’s an amazing opportunity and a formidable responsibility. Yet our antiquated educational system rewards a hierarchical form of silo’d, standardized teaching and learning that was designed for the Taylorized Industrial Age. Our over-emphasis on standardized testing undermines the intellectual skills of critical thinking and productive contribution needed to thrive in our interactive Do-It-Yourself era.
If we had a strategy designed to increase jobs and wages, what would it look like? For starters, it would focus on raising the productivity of all Americans through better education — including early-childhood education and near-free higher education. That would require a revolution in how we finance public education. It’s insane that half of K-12 budgets still come from local property taxes, for example, especially given that we’re segregating geographically by income. And it makes no sense to pay for the higher education of young people from middle and lower-income families through student debt; that’s resulted in a mountain of debt that can’t or won’t be paid off, and it assumes that higher education is a private investment rather than a public good.
It would also require greater accountability by all schools and universities for better outcomes — but not just better test results. The only sure thing standardized tests measure is the ability to take standardized tests. Yet the new economy demands problem-solving and original thinking, not standardized answers.
If you want to be yourself on the Internet you basically have two options. The first is to assume that the government and the big Internet companies have the ability to watch every move you make. That’s life in cyberspace. The convenience of email, texting, Facebook, Twitter do not come free. The second is to put political pressure on your elected representatives to repeal the Patriot Act and return to a legal regime in which prosecutors and snoops must get a warrant to look for information on specific people suspected of crimes. A civilized society should not permit its government to collect unlimited amounts of data on innocent people. President Obama said something to that effect when campaigning for president in 2007, when he attacked Bush’s surveillance activities as “a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand.”
Now he’s changed his tune, and warned us that those liberties we cherish are an “inconvenience” necessary for the “security we demand.” As long as the occupant of the Oval Office maintains that mindset, we’re not going to be able to fend off the prying eyes of the NSA by changing our browser. We need to change the politics.
And now it’s institutionalized with No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top; teach to the test - worst possible way of teaching. But it is a disciplinary technique. Schools are designed to teach the test. You don’t have to worry about students thinking for themselves, challenging, raising questions. And you see it down to the lowest level of detail. I give a lot of talks in communities and places where people are concerned about education and I’ve had teachers come up to me and say afterwards, you know, I teach sixth grade. A little girl came up after class and said she was interested in something that came up in class, and wanted to know how to look into it. And I tell her, you can’t do it; you got to study for the test. Your future depends on it; my salary depends on it.
And that’s happening all over. And it has the obvious technique of dumbing down the population, and also controlling them. And it’s bipartisan. The Obama administration is pushing it. Also, an effort to kill the schools - the charter school movement vouchers, all this kind of stuff is nothing but an effort to destroy the public education system. It claims that it gives the parents choices, but that’s ridiculous. For most people, they can’t make the choices; there are not any. It’s like saying everyone has a choice to become a millionaire. You do, in a way: there’s no law against it.
Some PR Person at Amplify:
“This is more than just a tablet. It’s a complete learning solution organized around the school day,” said Stephen Smyth, president of Amplify’s Access division, which produces the tablet. “We believe it’s both more affordable and more impactful than just about any other product in the education technology market.”
The Amplify Tablet offers states, districts and schools a Wi-Fi enabled, 1-to-1, personalized learning solution that includes Amplify’s exclusive software designed for teaching and learning; preloaded third-party content and reference tools; customer care; professional development; and enterprise-level device management. In addition to the Wi-Fi model, which will be used by the Guilford County Schools, school districts can opt to provide teachers and students with the Amplify Tablet Plus, which includes 4G LTE connectivity from AT&T.
Hard to know where to start. It’s just stunning to me the way people think about “learning.” In this case, it’s obviously something we do to students. We organize it. We deliver it. We solve it.
Oh, yeah…and it’s cheap too.
This is just the beginning of the Joel Klein, Rupert Murdoch bid to take over the edu-world. Do the teachers in Guilford really want their “exclusive software designed for teaching and learning” in their practice? Do they feel so disempowered to think and act and work and learn with kids on their own that they’re ok with the district buying it for them? Is this what it’s come to?
God help our kids. And our teachers.
To complicate matters, however, the effects of this regimented kind of professional development are questionable. As Rick Hess argues: “We spend a lot on professional development…. Yet hardly any of this actually appears to make teachers better…only a tiny sliver of PD involving thirty to one hundred hours of teacher time showed any evidence of correlating with student achievement gains.” The effects of PD on student outcomes are unclear.
1. Could professional development possibly have positive effects in the classroom that don’t show up in student achievement as measured by test scores? I know a lot of the work we did in PLP made very positive impacts on teachers as learners and, subsequently, on students as learners. Much of that might be considered “immeasureable” however.
2. What if we don’t necessarily want teachers to get “better” in the traditional sense? What if, rather, the focus of PD is to help them evolve as learners? Or is that a silly question?
I don’t disagree that a lot of professional development monies are wasted. And truth be told, teachers should be responsible for their own PD now. Kids wouldn’t wait for a blogging workshop. Adults shouldn’t either.
But we’ve got to stop measuring everything by it’s impact on “student achievement” as defined by content based test results. There’s more to learning than that.
So nice of Teach for America to jump on the “schools are broken and we need non-educators to fix them” bandwagon. As seen on every tray in the TSA security line at the Detroit airport. #sigh
If I have one overarching takeaway point in this talk, it’s this: there’s almost nothing new about the kind of online education that the word MOOC now describes. It’s been given a great deal of hype and publicity, but that aura of “innovation” poorly describes a technology—or set of technological practices, to be more precise—that is not that distinct from the longer story of online education, and which is designed to reinforce and re-establish the status quo, to make tenable a structure that is falling apart.
Which is exactly the issue I have with how “flipped classrooms” are being marketed. They represent little that’s really new in terms of pedagogy and practice, and they “reinforce and re-establish the status quo.” In both cases, we’re turning small tweaks into transformation for the sake of being able to say “Look! Look! Things have really changed this time!”
This, of course, only resonates if what you want is a different way of schooling for modern times instead of a “better” way of schooling for old outcomes.
Sharing information freely, without traditional rewards like royalties or paychecks, was supposed to create opportunities for brave, creative individuals. Instead, I have watched each successive generation of young journalists, artists, musicians, photographers, and writers face harsher and harsher odds. The perverse effect of opening up information has been that the status of a young person’s parents matters more and more, since it’s so hard to make one’s way…
…If we keep on doing things as we are, the answer is clear: The future will be narrowly owned by the people who run the biggest, best connected computers, which will usually be found in giant, remote cloud computing farms.
A few weeks ago we posed a big question: Could our little edu-network make a REAL full-length documentary feature that incorporates kids in every aspect of the production process? It appears we’re going to find out. Within days, hundreds of you volunteered to help make this admittedly ambitious undertaking become a reality. (If you haven’t signed on and still want to help, fill out our survey now!)
As a result, we have formed a core group of amazing people focused on marketing, fundraising and developing a comprehensive web presence. All of this structural support makes it possible for us to dig in deep and craft a compelling narrative for this film.
To reiterate, Doug, Josh and I decided right from the start that this film could and should be built by the people who are most affected by education policy—namely kids, parents, and teachers. Instead of just talking about the problems with school in its current form, we’d like to see “our” film driven by what the community is actually doing. So, we’re setting the bar as high as possible to show what happens when kids are given the opportunity to do meaningful work, and prove that we can transform the focus and function of school. The next step is to engage with everyone out there thinking, writing, creating, and putting their ideas into action for the benefit of kids.
We’d like to hear from you, get a glimpse of what you are doing, and potentially include footage of your kids doing meaningful things in and outside of your classrooms. Here’s how you can help:
Send us high quality HD video footage of kids, teachers and classrooms that we can use in a teaser trailer we are putting together to fundraise, promote, and build excitement for the movie. This footage will also help us better visualize what the final feature will look like, although at this point we are not specifically looking for footage or stories for that purpose (yet). Some ideas of what we’re looking for include:
Submitting your videos of powerful learning is simple. You may provide a link to videos hosted on YouTube, Vimeo, or anywhere else on the web. For this teaser trailer we will likely use only a few seconds of any clip so if there is a specific part of the video we should look closely at, please identify that. If we want to use part of your video in this trailer we will ask for you to send us a file in full HD (1080p) format and have everyone in the video, and their parents, sign release forms.
We’d love to get your submissions by June 1. You can e-mail Josh and Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the process.
Finally, we’re now also on Twitter and Facebook. Follow us and like us to keep up with our progress. Our new website will be up soon as well.
Thanks for all the support and enthusiasm you’ve already shown for this project. With your help we know it will be awesome!
The role that the computer can play most strongly has little to do with information. It is to give children a greater sense of empowerment, of being able to do more than they could do before. But too often, I see the computer being used to lead the child step by step through the learning process. Ivan Illich said the most important thing you learn at school is that learning only happens by being taught. This is the opposite of empowerment. What you ought to be learning at school is that you don’t need to be taught in order to learn. This is not to say that the teacher is not an important part of the learning process. That teacher is, of course, the most important person there. But recognizing the importance of the teacher is very different from reducing learning to the passive side of being taught. This is the fundamental cleavage between theories of education: empowerment of the individual versus instruction and being taught.
What does it means to tell our students that we’re actually not going to read their papers, but we’re going to scan them and a computer will analyze them instead? What happens when we encourage students to express themselves in such a way that appeases the robot essay graders rather than a human audience? What happens when we discourage creative expression?
Robot graders raise all sorts of questions about thinking machines and thinking humans, about self-expression and creativity, about the purpose of writing, the purpose of writing assignments, the purpose of education, and the ethics of education technology and of robots in the classroom.
And what are the implications of automating the teaching and learning process? Why does efficiency matter so much? Why do we want the messy and open-ended process of inquiry standardized, scaled, or automated? What will all of this artificial intelligence drive us to do about human intelligence?
(Note: If after reading this you want to help, please fill out this interest survey. Thanks.)
So here’s the question: You think our little edu-network could make a movie? Like, a REAL full-length documentary feature? As in the next (and better) “Waiting for Superman?” One that kids had a big role in producing?
If your interest is piqued, read on…
A couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail from Josh Weisgrau and Doug Herman, co-founders of Rough Cut Media, asking if I’d be up for a conversation around making a feature length documentary of Why School?, the TED book I wrote last September. Floored and humbled, I wrote back something along the lines of “Really? Absolutely. Yes. Definitely. Totally. Anytime. Really?” Last weekend, we sat down at a Panera just north of Philadelphia and explored the idea in depth and started creating the requisite Google Docs. I think all three of us walked away feeling totally excited about the potential for a project like this, and also totally overwhelmed by what it might take to do it well.
The bottom line? Despite the hugenamity of this, we’re going for it.
But here’s the deal: We decided from the start that we want you, all you nodes in our networks out there who have been thinking and writing and creating and designing and pushing and working hard to deeply understand this profound moment of change in education, we want you to play an important role in making this happen if you choose to. We don’t want this just to be “our” project as in Doug, Josh and me. If we do this, we want it to be “our” project as in the global community of connected educators that care deeply about what schools must become for our kids to flourish in their futures. Those who believe in some semblance of that third narrative I wrote about recently and that we need desperately to bring to scale a new conversation about schools and classrooms and learning in the modern world.
In other words, we sincerely want and need your help.
Some details: First, this will be a “real” movie, a la “Waiting for Superman” or “Race to Nowhere.” The bar will be high for professional quality writing, filming, production, marketing…the whole deal. We’re building a budget that we hope to fund on Kickstarter later this spring. We want to enter it in film festivals, hold meet-up screenings around the world, get on PBS (Or NBC). And more.
In other words, we’re dreaming big.
(Note: All monies raised for this project will go either to production expenses or, if there’s anything left over, a scholarship fund for students wanting to pursue a career in video production. No one will reap any profits, in other words.)
Second…and this honestly may be the best part…kids will play a HUGE role in making this movie. In case you didn’t know, Doug and Josh’s Rough Cut Media was created to bring the skills of multimedia production into schools. The pilot program Doug directs at Science Leadership Academy has already shown that high school students can run a professional video production studio. Through consulting, professional development, and online classes, Rough Cut’s core mission is to spread the message that students can, and must, be able to communicate professionally using modern media. We’re thinking this is an opportunity to bring those ideas and practices to schools from all over the place who might choose to do some interviewing and filming at remote locations. As much as we hope this movie tells a new story about learning in schools, we also hope it serves as an amazing example of what our students can accomplish in the way of real, authentic work with technology and guided mentorships.
Third, this won’t just be a US or North American-centric story. The Web and technology in general are challenging us to learn and relearn schools and classrooms and learning itself all across the world. This truly is a global shift, and we want to try to capture the global story that goes along with that.
Finally, this won’t be a movie about “Why School?” the book per se as much as it will be about a narrative that we all (hopefully) craft together. No question, we’re thinking the ideas in the book can serve as a foundation for that narrative. But our goal is to produce something that represents the major themes around the profound changes that are required by these connected, constructivist technologies that up until now, at least, haven’t been clearly articulated at scale.
Call us crazy.
There’s more to tell, but for now, we’re interested in what you think. Seriously, you wanna make a movie? And maybe, in the process, start a movement? Would you be willing to contribute your ideas? Your time? Your skills to this?
If you said yes to any of that, or you’re thinking of something else you can contribute, please take a second to fill out this form to express your interest and start the brainstorming process. We’ll be back in touch with next steps.
Thanks for considering it. We think the potential is amazing. Really looking forward to seeing what happens with this.
For the past few months, I’ve had the good fortune of working with the folks at Houston A+ to develop an idea for a small, progressive, learner centered new school in the museum district in Houston. My role has been pretty minimal, mostly as a sounding board for the core working group of which Stephanie Sandifer, one of my network connections from way back, is a member. They’ve come up with what I think is a great vision for a school that really focuses on students as learners with technology, yet is grounded in the rich resources that only local community spaces can offer.
The plan is to open this fall as an independent school for 40 or so 6th graders and then move to a public charter next year. We’re targeting kids in and around the city who are currently wait-listed for high performing charters, trying to offer them a better option. Students will have a 1-1 environment to stay connected, collaborate, and create many of their own learning experiences, and they will travel to and learn from many of the professionals who work in the museums and the Houston Zoo. There’s much more to the plan, but suffice to say the emphasis is on developing students as truly self-directed, passionate learners who can solve problems, communicate effectively, and work with others in amazing ways.
What we’re looking for now are a couple of great candidates to fill the two teacher/learning coach positions. These are openings that will offer a great deal of autonomy and innovation to those who fill them, and they pay pretty well to boot. We’re looking for people who are “Innovative, creative, imaginative, entrepreneurial, and eager to own the creation of non-traditional and effective learning environments.”
I know that’s just a tease, but I really think this is a rare opportunity to be a part of something meaningful not just in terms of its service to kids but in helping stretch the thinking around what schools and an education could look like. If you’re interested, you can read through the complete description here. please contact Mukta Pandit as soon as possible for all the details and for information on the hiring process. Interviews will start in a couple of weeks.
Also, please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions that you think I can help with.