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Archive for the ‘Assessment’ Category

I recently had a discussion with a friend John, who is a Superintendent in a rural school district. We were discussing his district specifically and what it was providing its students in the way of relevant programs of study. The conversation came around to a question often asked and an answer that is too familiar. I asked what the purpose of school was? As educators what is it that we want for our students at the end of the journey of K-12? Of course the answer was to get them to college or to get them to a good job.

My friend was consulting with a number of local companies to determine what they were looking for in employees. He was also consulting with area colleges to see what they expected to receive as college ready students. He was doing everything a responsible, caring superintendent could do in order to properly prepare his students for the stated goals of education, getting to college, or getting a job.

Thinking about the goals, as pragmatic as they are, I was really having trouble with the idea of what the goals were. We were considering limiting kids’ learning to the limited needs an industrial complex, or the present entry requirements of institutions that are slow to change in an ever-changing culture.

My other problem with these almost universal goals of American education is that for too many kids these goals are not an inspiration to learn. If college is truly a goal for education, why is it that only a third of Americans have completed four-year degrees?  The first answer that comes to mind is that most were not able to handle the studies involved. A more likely answer however, is that a degree has become cost prohibitive. People can no longer afford to go to college without incurring massive debt. How can any kid embrace a goal of education knowing that it is financially unattainable, or that it will come at a cost of unending loan payments? This is not unlike promising every kid playing sports should have an expectation to play in any of the national, professional sports leagues. Few might, but most will not.

This goal of a college career is certainly less of an incentive when we consider schools in areas of poverty. Middle-income people may have some shot at college with the help of family, but that puts the student and the family into years of debt. What chance do poor kids have, especially in the current political climate of limiting any government funding for anyone?  Nationally, student debt is rising at an astronomical rate because of the need to fulfill the goal of college and its promise of financial security upon completion. Poor kids are told that college will break the cycle of poverty. How is that an incentive for a kid who knows its likelihood will never happen? Education’s goal is not the kid’s goal. That is not a winning strategy.

Now for the second goal of education for those who we recognize as the non-college ready students. Our goal is to place them in the labor force. We ask business and industry what they require of their employees, and then we work that into our education system. We have then prepared our students for the workforce of today. The problem here is that they are not prepared for the workforce of tomorrow. That is more likely the place that they will live. We saw the result of this when the economy went bust. Many workers who found themselves again in the job market, were not prepared for the world of work today. We can’t program kids to fit into a workforce that may not support their skills after they graduate. Business, industry and our entire society are subject to rapid change driven by the evolution of technology. Think of how different the workforce will look from when a kid enters school until his or her graduation. In that time, that twelve-year span, how many businesses died, and how many started anew? Yet, we will have programmed our kids to be work ready for a workforce that may no longer need those skills. Think of how long a time it took moving typewriters out of education in a world of word processors.

If college readiness and work readiness are failing goals in education, what should the goal of education be? I don’t know. I think life readiness or learning readiness might be more fitting for our world today. Teaching kids how to learn and continue to do so outside of a classroom is the best way to prepare them for whatever path they choose.  A goal of self-reliance might serve kids better in the future. To enable a kid to learn without a teacher is the best gift a teacher can give a student.

Change will be slow however, because all of our educators and all of our society have been programmed to believe that school is to prepare kids for college or work. We have come to believe that education is salvation, when in fact it is the learning that is important. Education is a certificate of learning that comes at great expense. It does have its place however, and we will always hold it in high regard. The fact is however that fewer people will be able to pay for that piece of paper, but the learning it represents may cost a great deal less, not in terms of effort or work, but in terms of dollars and cents. In the future it may not be the degree, but the learning that is important. Maybe we need to reassess our goals in education?

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At what point in time did schools obtain the power to suspend a teacher’s constitutional right to free speech? I know that social media is relatively new to our modern history, which is reason to give some institutions a little breathing space to catch up to all of social media’s ramifications on our society, but it doesn’t give any institution the power to suspend the constitutional rights of an individual, or to punish in any way an individual who exercises a constitutionally guaranteed right.

I read a post today about a teacher in a New Hampshire school district who was forced into retirement for refusing to unfriend students on Facebook. This is not an isolated incident. As a connected educator I have had many discussions with educators from all over the United States who are fearful of retaliation from their districts for involving themselves openly in social media communities.

I lived in the community in which I taught for 25 years. This is not unlike many educators in our country. At no time during my tenure in that district did anyone call me into an office and instruct me on how to interact with the children of the community. No one told me I could not be friends with children in the community. I was never told where I could, or could not go in that community. I don’t think any administrator would have even considered such a discussion. Yet, these are the discussions some administrators are having with teachers today about their social media communities.

I understand the need to protect children from a range of inappropriate adult behavior even to the extreme, contact with pedophiles. This however is not a reason to suspend every teacher’s right to free speech. Just because there are some inappropriate adults on the Internet, we can’t jump to a conclusion that all adults on the Internet are inappropriate, especially, those who have been vetted and entrusted with children face to face every day. Statistics tell us that our children are more in danger from family, close family friends, and even clergy, much more than people on the Internet. If we really want to protect our children on the Internet we need to educate them early and often, not ban them from what has become the world of today. They need to live in that world. I heard a TV celebrity say recently that parents need not prepare the road for their children, but they must prepare their children for the road.

Social media communities are open to the public where everyone sees all. It is transparency at its finest, and in some cases at its worst, but that is what we have come to expect from social media. We need to learn how to deal with that. There is no fixing stupid. Some people will be inappropriate, but the community will deal with that as it develops and matures. People are still adjusting and evolving in these social media communities. Having educators participating and modeling within these communities is exactly what is needed. The more they participate, the better the communities will all be. We, as well as our children, benefit.

Administrators are quick to use social media as a public relations tool to shout out the accolades of their schools. They have control over that. They do not have control over what others might say about the schools in a social media community. The blemishes are often exposed. If administrators are fearful that their image, or that of the school will be tarnished by people speaking publicly about the school, then maybe these administrators should look at themselves, or their policies. It may be indicating a need to assess a few things. Instead of trying to shut people down by limiting their right to free speech, they might try asking them to speak up. This is where listening skills become very important. This is why transparency is important.

Eventually, someone will take this issue to some court of law. After all, we are a very litigious society. It will be litigated and maybe even travel up to the Supreme Court. I cannot see any court supporting the idea that a person gives up a constitutional right, just because they are employed by some backward thinking school district.

Schools need to better understand the world our children will be living in, as well as the world that we live in today. Social Media communities are not going away. Technology is not moving backwards. It will always move forward bringing us new problems to deal with. We need to deal with the problems and not tell people they can’t use the technology.

It amazes me that I am even writing about this. It is very clear-cut to me. I know however that not everyone looks at this the same way. Before the comments start coming from protective parents and teachers, I need to say that I am the father of two girls. They were brought up using technology. They were taught the good and the bad, as well as how to deal with it. I live what I preach when it comes to kids and technology. I understand every parent has the right to bring up their kids as they see fit. I also believe that every person has the right to free speech. We need to find a way to respect everyone’s rights without denying anyone’s. The world is continually changing and we need to adjust and adapt if we are to survive and thrive.

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My career as a teacher began way before the introduction of Rubrics to education. As an English teacher I was required to assess students’ writing and convert that assessment into a grade for the student. Back in the 70’s the most progressive grading method I was exposed to was giving a grade over another grade  (85/95). The top grade was for the piece and the bottom grade was for the effort exhibited. The entire grade was almost totally subjective, and dependent on the good will of the teacher to attempt to be as objective as possible. I always considered the effort grade a way to clear the conscience.

I thought that this subjective method of grading was pretty much gone until I had a recent conversation with my daughter about her college writing class. It would seem her professor was old school and assigned grades on assignments using the holistic method of just reading and assigning a grade. Little explanation, or justification for the grade was presented. I began to wonder how many educators still employ these methods. I have seen research that indicated most kids do not read or respond to comments on papers left by instructors, but whatever was the basis for any assessed grade should be explained somewhere. We often tell students it is more about the learning than it is about the grade, yet we give the grade without an explanation, so how can learning take place? Of course time, or a lack of it, is often the reason for this, and that is a factor to be dealt with. As a former English teacher I know my visceral reaction to those who argue that class size should not matter; the more kids we have the less time we get.

Again, back in the day, I would underline mistakes without comment. My intent was to have students attempt to figure out why segments were underlined on their own. I even provided collaboration time so they could check with a “study buddy”. I would then meet with them for a brief face-to-face meeting for feedback and comments. This was time-consuming, but effective for some, not all. It was still difficult to objectify what was, so obviously, a subjective assessment. Can tone outweigh a few grammatical mistakes? Are two simple sentences worth less than a compound, or even more a complex sentence? Does the grasp of the content overshadow the poor sentence structure? Was I being consistent for every paper from each of my students? Were all papers being assessed equally? I was rarely satisfied with the answers to these questions that kept popping up in my head with every graded assignment.

I remember the first time I heard the term “Rubric” in a department meeting. I had no idea what it was, but I did not want that to be found out through my questioning, so I sat quietly until the conclusion of the meeting. My mistaken impression was that we were to break down the components that we were grading for, and assign a rating scale for each. That seemed simple enough. I have come to learn that many educators hold this simplistic view today. It is not truly what I came to understand as to what a Rubric is.

We were, as a department, giving a grade level assignment, so to make sure that the assessment of the assignment was as fair and objective as possible, we were to develop rubrics that all concerned teachers could live by. That would also enable anyone in the department to grade any paper with consistency.  We discussed what was to be graded. What each section was to be worth. We described in detail what the top of the scale should include for each section, as well as the middle, and the bottom. We even defined what specifically constitutes a zero paper in the event that we got one.

I found the process in developing these Rubrics eye-opening. For the first time, I had a clear understanding of what it was I was looking for with specific guidelines and values. It was no longer a gut thing. We developed the entire list of Rubrics, arranged them in boxes, and placed the entire elaborate display horizontally on a single piece of paper. This was going to be great. I would include this with each of the assignment packets, and all would be clear to each of my students.

That clarity never came to my kids. I failed to recognize that what took me time to analyze, digest, and appreciate with understanding, only occurred over a period of time while developing the rubrics. That experience could not translate to reading a document, no matter how elaborate, or eye appealing it might be. I realized after the first class which I tried this in, that I needed a better strategy. I needed to spend more time up front, so I could use less time and get better results on the back-end.

My plan was simple: I was going to develop the Rubrics with my students. I reasoned that the process that worked for me, should work for them as well. I knew where I wanted to take them, because I worked out the rubrics already. I needed to guide them through it, taking their ideas, while explaining not only my expectations, but also what my means of assessment would be in determining their grade. They became part of the process and took ownership of the rubrics. I made some small adjustments based on their suggestions.

From that day forward, they had an understanding of Rubrics that lasted. It actually gave some means of control to the students. I was as limited to adhering to the Rubrics as the students were. It was a pact to be honored by all parties. The Students had a clear understanding of expectations on the assignment. They understood what would be graded and how it would be counted.

Some might argue that Rubrics enabled students to do less work to attain a minimum-passing grade. Rubrics might limit a few students in some ways to go beyond the rubrics. I did not find that to be true.

I know as an adult I want to know what is expected of me in given situations. As an adult, if I am to be judged on something, I want to know on what am I being judged and in what way. Kids should be afforded the same answers and it should not matter what subject in school this happens. This is how we learn. Is learning not what education is about?

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Of course the end of this year is about to slam us in the face with the fact that all of those well-intended resolutions, both personal and professional, for 2013 will no longer have the time to be fulfilled. Undoubtedly, we will feel really bad about it this year, because they were all great resolutions. As far as the professional resolutions go, many of the ideas may have come from connected colleagues and blogs, so they were very relevant as well, and specifically designed for 2013. Maybe there is a possibility that we can repackage a few for 2014.

Having an intention to do something is different from accomplishing that as a goal. Resolutions only require the intention to do it. If we want to increase the odds for success, we need to keep the resolution simple and limited. I am a big believer in the KISS method, (Keep It Simple Stupid). The intention of creating and implementing several new great ideas in the coming year may be more than most of us can handle. I would suggest that we resolve to design and implement ONE new thing in our world of influence. To accomplish more than that would be a bonus, but not necessary to complete our resolution list.

There are so many ideas that are flying around the connected educator hangouts, that selecting but one to act on should be a simple task. A difficult task to arrange would be to have everyone in the world jump as high as they could at the exact same time to see what effect gravity would produce as a result. That is a real challenge.

To ask every educator to select one new idea and implement it in the coming year pales in comparison to the mass jump. The total effect of such a singular accomplishment could take education closer to where it should be in addressing the real needs of students. The other consideration is that other educators often adopt successful, new ideas. The snowball-rolling-down-the-hill effect could result in that unattainable “Paradigm Shift” that we have heard so much about over the years.

In order for this to work, we need to make a selection for the right idea. That may require that we connect with other both connected and unconnected educators to find what new ideas have worked for them.

We can collaborate with other educators for specifics. We may need to connect our unconnected colleagues for help. We may want to keep up with Education Blogs for relevant posts because they are often the result of our thought leaders in education. We must be sure to connect our unconnected colleagues with those blogs as well. We can also access webinars that are becoming so prevalent on the Internet and share them as well. We can seek out education chats for relevant ideas for change.We can even take along an unconnected friend to a chat. Education communities on Ning sites are another great way to gain access to these new ideas. There may be a need to share those sites with the unconnected. If we are lucky enough to attend an education conference, we could access new ideas face-to-face with other educators. The digital Face-to-Face method would involve Skype, or Google hangouts. Both are easily shared with unconnected colleagues.

Once we determine the best new idea that we can embrace, understand, and implement, we need to put our energy into it. We need to commit. If it doesn’t work the first time through, we need to assess why, and make adjustments, and repeat as necessary. Once we have fulfilled our New Year’s resolution, we need to examine the process that got us there. If it worked successfully once, chances are it will work again. The best part is whom else we involved and benefitted in the process, even beyond our students. Happy New Year!

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On January 15, 2014 my Blog will be three years old. With this post included I have written 223 posts just for my blog. In addition, I have done several dozen guest posts for other blogs. On a week-to-week basis I strive to write something new about education, or at least a new take on an old subject, but there are some subjects that linger with very little change.

Social media’s influence in education is a great example of slow change under the influence social media itself on education. The acceptance of social media in our culture has allowed social media’s slow acceptance into our school system as a source of branding, collaboration, and communication. The idea of blanket banning of students and teachers from all social media, although, unbelievably, still existing in some less enlightened districts, has been a declining practice. There are far fewer posts about that narrowly considered practice. At least this is progress.

Technology’s acceptance in education however, seems to be a never-ending subject amongst bloggers. Many refer to the fear factor involved with educators and technology. I do not understand what there is to fear from technology. It is what we all depend on to drive our civilization at this point. It is part of our world, and will continue to be so into the future. Our kids will use it and rely on it more than we do, as we used it and relied on it more than our parents did.

There is no longer a choice as to whether or not educators should incorporate technology tools for learning into education. That boat has sailed, that train left the station, that genie is out of the bottle, and that horse got out of the barn. Time to close that barn door and get on with it.

If there is nothing to fear about technology, why are so many educators fearful of it? I have often read that there is a technophobia among some educators. Could it be a fear of being replaced by a computer? I doubt it, because educated adults, especially educators, should be able to recognize that as a myth perpetrated by science fiction. Computers cannot replace teachers, but they can make teachers more effective and efficient.

I think the real pushback on technology from educators comes not from fear, but rather a reluctance to give up time and effort to have to learn something else. Teaching is not an easy job to begin with. It requires not only subject or content knowledge, but education knowledge as well. It requires mastery of two areas and that comes with a price. It requires more than a specialized degree, but additionally, an ongoing struggle to stay relevant in a society that is undergoing continual change at an ever-increasing rapid pace. Learning about technology and how to incorporate it into learning specific to one’s class may be a bridge too far for many educators.

This dilemma, as pervasive as it seems to be, is not totally the fault of the educators. Many educators have taken to learning on their own. They have personalized their learning to address their needs, as well as the needs of their students. As educators we know that self-motivation in learning is not a common commodity. It also holds true for educators who are learners as well.

If our education system requires that our educators maintain their relevance through education than the system should have a responsibility to provide the support and security to do so in terms of time and access to learning. Professional Development needs to be more than an occasional workshop that can then be checked off of an Administrator’s list of things that need to be done for the year. PD must be prioritized and supported on an ongoing basis. It must be part of the workweek. In addition to providing access to new ideas, technology, and methodology, time must be afforded for educators to collaborate on what they have learned. Educators need time and support to put into practice what they need to learn.

In an ideal world every educator would pursue relevance on their own as life long learners. They would seek out the latest and greatest methods and technologies to enhance their teaching and all would benefit. All would be right with the world. Unfortunately for us, we do not live in that world. Educators are strapped for time and money as much as anyone else. Fear of learning something new is far less a factor than time or inclination to do so. If we want to incent people to learn more, we need to prioritize it with time and money. It always comes down to this.

Professional Development for educators for the most part has been left to the individual educators. The hours spent on PD are often mandated by the district, or state and described in teacher contracts, but the learning often comes at the expense of the educator. This is a model that does not work. We are a system obsessed with assessments, yet we fail to assess many of the things that would really make a difference. Try assessing the effectiveness of PD in a district. Is it making a difference to the entire system, or are only a few educators benefitting? If your system’s method of PD does not do what PD is supposed to do, than maybe you need to change the way you are doing it.

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This week’s #Edchat was about teacher-centric learning vs. student-centric learning. It is a topic that often gets teachers actively involved in discussion. The reason why so many teachers are so passionate about this subject is unclear, but if Twitter chats and tweets are any indication, it is obvious that many of our connected educators strongly favor student–centric learning. Many view it as 20th century education vs. 21st century. In fact we have been having the “sage on the stage” vs. “ guide on the side” argument for quite a few decades.

Direct Instruction and Lecture are methods of education that have dominated our lessons in education for centuries. They are probably the lessons that most Americans imagine when they are asked to think of what a typical lesson in school should look like. It is the way that most content experts often deliver content to their students. Lecturing is the mainstay of college courses. The majority of the work in this model falls on the teacher to take in and understand the content and deliver it in digestible chunks to the students. This is then noted and memorized by the students for a later summative assessment. That would be the model applied from: chapter to chapter, unit to unit, subject to subject, and textbook to textbook. Both teachers and students were programmed into this model for the most part. Does any of this sound familiar?

The last few decades however have had teachers experimenting with other ways to deliver content. I remember the first time I used simulations in an integrated social studies and English project in the late eighties. It seems a little lame by today’s standards, but we were pushing the envelope back then. The classroom was noisy, the kids were all over the room, the furniture was used as anything but furniture, but we were all engaged in learning. It was active learning and not passive listening.

Moving ahead to the 21st Century we see the use of Project-Based learning, Problem-based learning, and now the Maker movement. None of this is really new, but many educators in larger numbers are newly employing it. We are seeing in more and more literature that lecture and direct instruction may not be as effective as these other forms of learning.

Collaborative learning, which has always been with us, has been turbo-boosted by technology. It once required face-to-face environment to even be considered. It was always effective, but the requirements of time and space limited its use in the classroom, and made it almost impossible outside the education setting. Technology changed all of that. Collaboration now has no boundaries of time and space. Collaborative learning can take place anytime and anywhere. Connections are both local and global. This has become the heart of connected education, and collaborative learning on a global sc

Direct Instruction and Lecture are elements of education that will always be with us. They should not however be the focus of education. Technology now provides the means for student-centric lessons. We need to educate our educators in the benefits and implementation. We also need to get our students familiar with having a voice in personalizing their learning. We cannot hold them responsible for learning, if we don’t teach them the skills of learning. This student-centric learning strongly supports lifelong learning. It creates independent learners and thinkers. It is a learning-by-doing philosophy.

The deterrents to this oncoming wave in education are few, but they are daunting. Observations by administrators are used to assess a teacher’s performance. The easiest observations to do are teacher-centric lessons. Otherwise, in a student-centric lesson, an administrator would have to observe student learning as opposed to teacher delivery of content. Although not impossible, it is a more difficult way to do things. Nevertheless, there are forms of observations that accommodate student-centric lessons. We need to prepare administrators with those tools. More importantly we need to get them as supporters of a method of teaching and learning that has not been the mainstay of education. This is a difficult task in an institution as conservative as Education.

Technology is a driving force for much of the student-centric learning. We need our educators to be at the very least literate in this relatively new digital literacy. It is not a generational thing that people over 30 cannot ever understand. It is a learning thing that teachers can be taught through collaboration, support, and prioritizing ongoing teacher learning for professional development.

The idea that content is king may just be a passing phase in education. Content should be the tool that we use to teach kids the skills of learning. What we learn should take a back seat to how we learn. Once we know how to learn, the content will come to us, as we need it. We need to prepare this generation not only to learn, but also to think critically as well. Learning and thinking are a far cry from listening, memorizing and regurgitating facts.

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I just finished an #Edchat that I left me with a feeling of not being able to add any authority to the discussion. For those unfamiliar, #Edchat is a weekly Twitter discussion on Education topics. This week’s discussion was based on this statement: There is a strong belief among some educators that poverty is the biggest factor in a failing education system.

It is difficult to have any discussion on this topic without people, including me, entering it with all of the biases built on myths and facts over the years. It is a mixture of biases not just of poverty, but race as well. It is not a comfortable place to be, since we are very aware of how incendiary these discussions can get with just a few poorly chosen words by well-intentioned people not thinking things through.

I am an average white guy who grew up on Long Island, New York in the 50’s in an all-white community that was designed to be just that, segregated. My college experience offered opposition to the Viet Nam War, and supported the Equal Rights Amendment in demonstrations that are now a part of history, and can now be only experienced through video clips on YouTube, or TV newscasts. I was a socially aware, late 60’s college student.

Nevertheless, I entered this Edchat discussion hoping to shed what little light I had on the subject of the huge effect that poverty has on today’s Education. To add to my total lack of credentials, I have never taught in a school that was considered to be in an impoverished community. In all honesty, when I devised this topic for the Edchat discussion, it was my hope that educators from poverty areas would join in to offer a credible voice on the subject.

It has been my experience that poverty comes in two large varieties, urban and suburban and they have both similarities and differences. Each community however, seems to have its own culture. How, and where education fits into that culture varies with every community. All are hindered by poverty and language barriers further hinder some. In a nation populated by immigrants, we are a host to many languages. If educators coming from English-speaking cultures to communities of non-English speaking students, that is a problem for education.

Many impoverished communities must deal with higher crime rates, as well as violence that are expressed with open gunfire. Communities are finding themselves under siege in many instances. How can Kids concerned about getting to school safely, making it through the school day there, and returning home safely, ever concentrate on learning?

The idea that the parents of poor students are sitting home all day without jobs is another myth. That prevents us from addressing poverty as a problem for education, and not as a bad result of some liberal social welfare programs. I was stunned to hear that the average age of fast food workers is 34 years of age. That tells me that people are trying to carry their families with jobs that are minimum wage dependent. How can anyone adequately support a family that way? It is however, the bulk of jobs that are available. Retail jobs, and service positions are also high on the occupation list for the poor. If most poor people are working, but not earning a living wage, that is another problem for education.

The very goal of what most educators strive for is that college education as the pot at the end of the rainbow. Educators see it as a way out for their students and can’t see why the kids drop out. If kids from poor families can hardly support the financial needs of a public school education, why would the goal of an over-priced college education be an incentive to graduate? The financial needs of the family often dictate the direction of the student’s need for education. That is another problem for education.

Research has shown us that nutrition and proper sleep are two components of a child’s home life that will determine his or her success in school. For a number of reasons, tied directly to poverty, this is rarely the case for students in poverty. This is yet another problem for education.

I have always supported the whole child approach to education expressed by ASCD:

Whole Child Tenets

Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.

 

Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.

 

Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.

 

Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.

 

Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

 

All of these are necessary for a student to succeed in school. The first three of the five are a struggle for students in impoverished schools. That is a problem for education.

I do not disagree with the belief that the most important element in a student’s education is the teacher. The teacher however is not the only factor in a student’s education. There is no level playing field here. That is a problem for education.

Educators adhere to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains, but before schools in poverty can even get there, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a more-needed consideration. This is a problem for education.

I am the last person who should be talking about poverty, but I do feel confident in talking about education. As an educator it is obvious to me that unless we deal directly with the issue of poverty, we will never address the issue of education in any way to improve it. I have heard it said that if we factor out the schools in poverty, the U.S. education system is very good. A blind eye never works in the real world. If we don’t deal with the real issue we will continue with the real problems. This is the biggest problem faced by education. Nobody is pulling themselves up by their bootstraps in this world of poverty. That is a ridiculous expectation!

 

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I am planning on attending an Edcamp for leadership next week, which has caused me to reflect upon my administrator/teacher experiences of the past. There was once a time in education, not too long ago, that all discussions about education were led and controlled by those who led and controlled the very schools in which education took place. Building, or district administrators could pretty much control the flow of education information based on their personal education philosophies, as well as their exposure to the latest education ideas and methodology available to them. What was relevant and what was status quo? What was progressive education philosophy, and what was fad or trend? We counted on administrators to lead the way in informing us. That was in fact part of why they were hired and held their positions, to direct the educators below them. That was all part of the system.

This would work very well, as long as the administrator stayed informed, relevant, and was opened to sharing with a faculty open to that direction. This of course was the shiny side of the coin. The other side offered an irrelevant administrator steeped in the past centuries of education and leading the faculty to make no waves in an atmosphere of status quo.

In my career I served under both types of administrators. I thrived under the relevant and struggled with the supporters of status quo. One constant in education however, is that the career lifespan of most administrators is usually short. They move on in order to move up, so waiting them out became the desired answer for the bad, and the dreaded end for the good.

The problem for educators was in not knowing what was good and what was bad. Getting to the outside world of education conferences and collaboration did not come easily to teachers. It was expensive and periodic. Teachers were needed in the classroom, which limited their conference availability. This strengthened the teacher reliance on administrator leadership. There was very little transparency as we have come to know and appreciate it today.

Social Media today has changed this dynamic. An idea in education may come from any educator, regardless of title. Ideas are considered on their own merit and not just by who put the idea forward. Of course it does help if thought leaders support an idea. The point is that the thought leaders are teachers as well as administrators, and authors. It is the open collaboration, and transparency of ideas that test their viability. Teachers and administrators can openly question and discuss things on a scale never before afforded to us. We are not limited to the successes and failures of our own buildings, but we can sample responses and results on a national or even global scale.

This places greater pressure on the leadership in education to maintain relevance if they are to lead educators who now have the ability at anytime to call on experts and question authority. Administrators need to better reflect on ideas and involve a more informed faculty in decision-making. They should also keep in mind that the same collaboration of education ideas works equally well in publicly sharing accomplishments and failures. We all need to strive to be better in order to create and maintain positive digital personas based on our accomplishments and positive interactions with other educators. Our world has become much more transparent and in many ways much more democratic. We need more educators exercising their participation in this process.

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I attended a wonderful conference this week in the Greater Clark County School District in Indiana, which is just on the other side of the Ohio River from Louisville Kentucky. They have committed to a huge undertaking of providing a Chromebook to every teacher and every student. Needless to say, many of these teachers came to this conference with Chromebooks in hand to get whatever they could before school begins for them in a few short weeks.

In addition to me, Shelly Terrell, @ShellTerrell; Kyle Pace, @Kylepace; Nick Provenzano, @TheNerdyTeacher; and Tim Gwynn, @Tgwynn were all invited as guest speakers. The entire conference was conceived and executed by Brett Clark, @Mr_Brett_Clark and his staff.

This was the first time I attended a conference where the goal was to equip and train an entire staff with technology tools for learning. I know I have read about it, tweeted about it, and have even written about it, but I have never seen it happen for real until this conference. It was a great opportunity to examine the responses of the teachers in both their excitement and their fears concerning this systemic change in their district, as well as each teacher’s personal career.

As to be expected there were different reactions from the staff depending on their familiarity and comfort level with technology. Some teachers were eager to go, others not so much. I was told that a number of teachers had yet to even remove their Chromebook from the box that it came in, and they obviously were not in attendance at the conference. That does not make them bad teachers. It does however point to a greater problem where an education system has failed to prepare, and maintain its educators in terms of relevant methods and tools for learning in a technology driven culture.

Most of our educators are experts in education, as well as content, and as such, many have been conditioned through school and culture to believe that the teacher cannot make mistakes in front of students. That mindset strikes fear in the heart of every teacher who believes kids are digital natives and know more about technology than any adult, especially if they will be required to use technology to teach. The convergence of these two myths is the biggest obstacle to integration of technology in education. Many teachers are further discomforted in their belief that they must know everything about the technology and all its applications before they consider taking it into their classroom. In reality, that will NEVER happen with the frequency of change in technology and all applications.

Another very big consideration when we talk about integrating technology into education is the change in the learning dynamic for teachers, as well as students. It requires a commitment to life long learning which goes beyond just the words. It also requires a commitment to personalized education, which, if not enabled by technology, its ability and impact are certainly enhanced by it.

Technology drives change. Change requires that we are flexible, and adapt as we go, which promotes more change. This will continue whether or not some individuals participate in that change or not. Individuals who do not adapt and change should never be our educators. The constant in education should be the learning and not the status quo. If society is moving to change at a rapid pace, then we need to develop in our children the skills and abilities to change as well, and that requires the same abilities in the educators who are charged with teaching our children.

Before we can get educators to accept technology as a tool for learning, we may need to change the culture of education. We need to address the fears of the educators that restrict their abilities to teach with relevance. In assessing the effects of technology we need to first assess if it is being used properly. Equipping an entire district with Chromebooks, or Ipads does not insure proper use. Training, support, collaboration, and encouragement will take a district beyond the limits of just purchasing and handing out the tools. It does not bode well for technology to assess its impact on learning if it is not being properly used with students.

I commend Dr. Andrew Melin, @amelin_gcs, Superintendent of The Greater Clark County Schools, and my friend Brett Clark for embracing the learning tools of our century in order to prepare their students for their century yet to come. They are both bold and courageous in this effort, which requires great resolve. I would encourage them to remember that we can better educate our students if we better educate their educators. We should never hold up our past as our children’s model for their future.

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My youngest daughter just graduated high school in June. She has always been an outstanding student and, as her dad, I welcome the chance to recognize that publicly. One of the high points of one of the speeches given at her graduation ceremony caused a huge round of applause from the audience, which was gathered for the outdoor event. Ninety-Five percent of the graduating class of over 300 students had been accepted to institutions of higher learning. Why would the cheers not abound? This is the exact statistic that politicians, business people, parents, and educators are all calling for in every high school across our land. Percentage of college acceptances has become a component in the way we assess successful schools.

My concern is that if our goal is to educate our students to give them a path to college, how are we preparing those who do not go to college? If they failed on the pathway to college program, have we adequately prepared them for a life short of a college education? That applies not only to those who were not accepted to college, but a great number of those who were as well. Many of those students proud of their acceptance to college upon high school graduation will drop out after the first year. If we have only prepared them for college and that doesn’t work out what pathway do they now step to?

Overcoming the impediments to completing college may not even be within the student’s control. The same politicians demanding a higher rate of acceptance to college are placing impossible conditions on the ability to obtain the money to attend those colleges. The economy combined with the rising cost of education place that very goal of every high school that every student is forced to strive for, out of range financially. If acceptance to college is the goal we can do it. If completion of college is a goal, we need to do much more work. Even with completed degrees in America at an all time high, we only have 30% of Americans with Bachelors degrees. That would mean 70% of America was prepared for a path that they never took. What were they prepared for? Did we offer any alternative programs? What will happen to about 200 of my daughter’s classmates?

Educators may not be addressing the needs of the non-college path students not because they don’t care, but because one thing all educators have in common is at least one college degree. Educators were successful in the education system. They realize and understand the advantages of attaining a college degree, but they may not understand the needs and skills required by non-academics to survive and thrive in a culture that holds college in high regard, but only 30% of its population is able to attain it.

With a majority of our kids not completing college, shouldn’t we consider examining our programs and considering options to address this reality? Should we offer more vocational programs, internships, and apprenticeships? Would educators view this as meeting a need, or would they see it as short-selling their students? Are the views and prejudices of educators concerning the importance of advantages in attending college holding us back? Everyone deserves a chance to obtain a college education, but unless we make considerable changes in financing education, college degrees will continue to go to a minority of students. The preparation for college may not be the proper preparation for a majority of our students, who will never complete college. If college is not a realistically attainable goal, why is it such a great part in assessing schools? Can we continue to cater to 30% of our students without addressing the real needs of the majority?

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