What Do We Choose Now?

During my recent trip to Florida I stopped to see the Kennedy Space Center for the fourth time. The first three of my tours the NASA center was engaged in our manned exploration of space with either the Apollo Moon missions or the Space Shuttle. One could the feel the excitement as tour guides discussed upcoming manned missions to space and what we could expect from them. This last trip there was a different feel about the place. It was like an old, washed-up athlete sitting around telling stories of his or he past glorious accomplishments because there was nothing else the athlete could talk about. 

During the tour, every stop was someplace that once had importance during the manned missions into space. Now that there are no more American human spaceflights in the foreseeable future, these buildings had a snackbar and a giftshop stuck on the ends and became tour stops. The giftshops had all kinds of memorabilia about the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle missions. In fact the Space Shuttle was called "The Pride of America." I guess calling the now seemingly ancient Apollo Moon missions the pride of America would be too much to stomach even if I thought those were more exciting than a "flying truck." The biggest thing discussed was the addition of the retired Space Shuttle Atlantis, a reusable rocket to launch satellites into space, and a new vehicle to explore Mars. These are all good things but it does not bring to me the excitement that sending humans back to the Moon or to Mars would bring.

When I was growing up, the astronauts were real-life heros to me. I would follow each mission on television with great interest. Other people followed the manned space missions because we were in a competition with the Soviet Union to see who could get to the Moon first. Later, I would tell my history students that our race to the Moon proved to ourselves and the rest of the world that again Americans could accomplish anything it sets its collective mind to. One day we woke up and decided to go to the Moon and actually did it in about eight years. It was this same determination to do something that scared the Soviet Union into spending itself out of existence when President Ronald Reagan proposed a missel defense system to do the unthinkable, make a nuclear war winnable. Could such a system be built? Who knows but based on past history the Soviets could not take that chance and started spending money on defense and neglecting the needs of its people to the point it could not sustain itself and collapsed. We need a national goal such as going to Mars to inspire today's students to take up challenges that have always defined America in the past. 

SC to Wavier Bye-bye to NCLB?

'Group of Children in Gaza waving goodbye' photo (c) 2011, proisraeli - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/I just returned from a meeting held by the South Carolina Department of Education seeking public feedback on a flexibility wavier request from requirements under the Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) otherwise known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). When it looked like many states would not meet the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements that 100% of students meet educational goals because this is not a realistic number, the United States Department of Education allowed individual states to apply for waivers to seek relief from the punitive repercussions of not meeting upcoming AYP goals. It was stated by SCDOE presenters that this wavier request is not a permanent solution to NCLB problems, just temporary relief. Once the current version of ESEA, already about four years overdue, is revised and unauthorized by Congress and signed by the President (whoever that will be). The waivers need to meet conditions under four principles outlined by the USDOE for a wavier to be considered. Those principles are:

 

  1. College and Career Ready Expectations for All Students
  2. State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support
  3. Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership
  4. Reducing Duplication and Unnecessary Burden

 

Here are my thoughts about what I saw tonight.

 

  • Principle 1 College and Career Ready Expectations for All Students The biggest reason we educate our students is to prepare them to, hopefully, become productive members of society. This means students need to be ready to enter college, the work, or (I am adding) the military. This includes English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) or similar type students. South Carolina will also be adopting the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. As with NCLB all students will be assessed yearly that may or may not be an adaptive test. The current PASS test given to students in grades 3-8 will have to change because they mainly measure what students have memorized. Common Core Standards are mainly geared around critical thinking and problem solving which PASS does not assess. All of this sounds good so far.
  • Principle 2 State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support I am not going to go through all of the details but this is the meat of the wavier. Schools will be measured on student growth. The problem is that the growth is measured from year to year based on a annual assessment like PASS testing. I would rather see growth be measured from a pre assessment to post assessment. I thought it was funny when the SCDOE officials said they did not want to overburden students with assessments. Guess they have not heard our students are given Measure of Academic Progress assessments three times a year. Schools will be given a "report card" based on the following criteria for high schools: ELA Proficiency, Math Proficiency, Biology Proficiency, History Proficiency, ELA % Tested, Math % Tested, and graduation rate. For grades 3-8 it will be ELA Proficiency, Math Proficiency, Science Proficiency, Social Studies Proficiency, ELA% Tested, and Math% Tested. The normal subgroups are broken down with the addition of gender. To make AYP schools must have 90% in all categories. Schools that do not meet AYP may allow children to transfer to higher performing districts and must give other academic support to those students who do not make the growth cut. Schools that do not make AYP will be labeled either Focus or Priority schools depending on how much growth is needed. No school will be listed as failing. The biggest problem I have with this is what stake do students have in this testing? What is their incentive to do well? School pride? I think not.
  • Principle 3 Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership Probably the biggest thing I saw is that ADEPT will be five ADEPT Performance Standards and 19 Indicators. This is down from the four Domains, 10 APS's, and 34 Indicators. After that things get rather fuzzy. Since ADEPT will be streamlined are all teachers going to go through this evaluation process every year? Teachers will also be measured on the growth of their students as well. Nothing was said about how this will be used but it needs to be addressed. Will this become the tool to weed out the "bad teachers" whose students do not do well on the tests?
  • Principle 4 Reducing Duplication and Unnecessary Burden Anything to make our lives better and easier I am all for!

The attempt by South Carolina to seek the ESEA flexibility waivers are commendable. If we must test then showing student growth is better than attempting to make some arbitrary line drawn. It also looks like there are attempts to ease the burdens of teachers which is a good sign. However, some of the glaring holes that are in NCLB are still there in this growth model but those are the federal government's making and not South Carolina's. This includes no student incentive to do well on these tests and taking into account the family situation a student comes from. One day we may have the technology to do ongoing assessments of students over the course of a year that gives a teacher the immediate feedback to help a child do their best academically. Also, we may have the tools to deal with all factors a child must go through when he or she enters the school everyday. For now, as my principal always tells us, we are being sent the best children each family has so we must do our best to cherish and see to their academic growth as best we possibly can.

 


Opening American Minds

This post was inspired by the report "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform" by Marc S. Tucker for the National Center on Education and the Economy (May 24, 2011). This report was from a study the NCEE did of countries that consistently did better than the United States in education and what those countries did to get on top. The countries primarily studied were Canada (Ontario Province), China, Finland, Japan, and Singapore. It is important to note that each country studied what other countries did to improve education, developed a national will which led to a political will to enact change, and did not use anything remotely put forward as reforms in the United States. The United States at one time did have the best education system in the world but made the mistake Ancient China made in determining there can be nothing learned from other countries and closed our minds and our doors to other practices of other countries. Like how Europeans, Americans, and the Japanese used improved technologies invented in China to virtually colonize the once proud Asian country, the same is happening to the United States in education. Hopefully, we can learn from China's mistakes in the past (as they have done themselves) and look outward to rebuild our once great educational system like Japan did during the Meiji Restoration that modernized Japan and turned it into a world power in a short time-span. 

Office of the Governor of our Great State

Over two years ago our state saw three of our biggest companies that provided jobs to over three thousand of our citizens close their doors and move to an Asian country. The political rhetoric that was going around included unions were hurting our state’s ability to compete because of the high cost of compensation. Another complaint was policies in Washington are hurting business with burdensome regulations and taxes that force them to other countries that are more accommodating. I ran on a platform that promised to work hard to bring more jobs to our state and the people of this great state have entrusted me to do just that. One of the first things I did as governor was to sit down with the heads of the companies who are leaving to find out why they turned their backs on us. Their answer startled me. They told me our education system was not producing the quality of workers that can help them stay competitive in a global market. They further told me that their requests to previous administrations for improving our state’s education system fell on deaf ears or was explained away because teacher unions would not allow reform or Washington had their hands tied. 

I wanted to say the same things to but I decided to form a task force to study not only the country where those businesses are going but other countries that consistently outperform the United States in education to see what they are doing and we are not. After we studied the education systems of Canada, China, Finland, Japan, and Singapore I gathered a nonpartisan group of legislators, business leaders, parents, college representatives, teachers, teacher’s union representatives, school and district administrators, and school board members from across the state to create a system of education that will prepare our children for the challenges of the 21st and 22nd centuries. Based on their report, I am making the following recommendations to change our education system into one that is world class:

  1. Improving teacher quality. Much has been said about the relationship of the quality of teachers and the quality of education. The first step is to change the way teachers are trained for this profession. Those who wish to be teachers will need at least a bachelor’s degree in the subject area in which they want to teach and teacher training programs will be done at the graduate level. Those who wish to be considered for a slot in a teacher training program must have above a 3.0 GPA in coursework in their major, pass a rigorous state teacher entrance examination, go before a review panel to include a school administrator to determine a candidate’s fitness and desire to teach, take rigorous coursework in the art of teaching, student teach under the guidance of a master teacher for one year. 
  2. Improving teacher compensation: Teachers in our state will become among the best compensated in the world in order to attract quality candidates for our new teacher training but also keep them in our classrooms for years. Teachers who teach in our lowest performing schools will be given bonuses provided student achievement is improved. It was pointed out our teachers were among the lowest paid in the country and did not even make half of what other professionals with similar education credentials made on average. 
  3. Treat our teachers like professionals: This means not only means having the rights of being treated like a professional but also the responsibilities. Teachers will be expected to work together to improve their students. Also, teachers will be expected to determine what staff development is needed to help them achieve their educational goals set for their students and implement those techniques in the classroom. While teachers will be given curriculum guidelines from the state, the teacher may use whatever means he or she believes will accomplish objectives. While this may mean longer work hours teachers will now be compensated at a level that expects them to do what it takes to accomplish educational goals.
  4. School governance: First our schools will be controlled by the state department of education. They will be the entity responsible for setting curriculum standards, funding schools on a needs basis, assigning teachers and administrators to schools that match their talents to the needs of the school. This means taking power away from our local school districts and even county councils but I believe this would streamline many school functions which would help save money in the long-term that can be put back into the classrooms. Also, the state can better allocate money to schools who are struggling instead of local boards who may not have the tax base to adequately fund their schools. Counties can form advisory groups that can send recommendations to the State Superintendent of Education but will have no governing role in schools. While parents are still encouraged to engage in their children’s schools they can contact regional education offices if they have any problems. 
  5. No Child Left Behind: The State Department of Education will refuse any money from the United States Federal Government that have any restrictions the State Superintendent believes will interfere with the education of our students. While I have directed that our department of education follow all civil rights and special education needs guidelines set by the U.S. Government, we will not participate in mandatory testing stipulated under No Child Left Behind regulations. I believe that mandated high stakes testing of our children every year was one of the reasons our educational system was deemed inadaquet and I am prepared to replace funds lost by not complying with No Child Left Behind. Teachers will be expected to use diagnostic testing such as Measures of Academic Progress or other means of testing to help determine what individual children need. However, there will only be two test this state will require students to take. The first test will be given at the end of the eight grade to determine where individual students will go to further their education. Students who score high on these tests and show aptitude will be sent to academic high schools where they will be given coursework to prepare them for college and higher study. Other students will be sent to comprehensive high schools where they will learn vocational skills that will prepare them for work after high school, the military, or entrance into a technical college for further study in their vocational field. Later, these students will be expected to do work-study programs in which students will do coursework then go to work in businesses to gain valuable work experience. It was determined that this method actually lowered the number of school dropouts and reduced discipline problems because students now have incentives to work hard in school to achieve their academic and career goals. Our schools will provide a well trained workforce demanded by the businesses of our states. The final measurement will be a report all high schools will do on their students for up to five years after graduation. Things measured will be college or vocational college graduation rates, are former students employed in the vocation trained, how well are former students doing in the military. These reports will be used to not only measure the overall effectiveness of schools but determine if schools are meeting the specific needs or local businesses, colleges, and the military.
  6. Given the need to raise teacher compensation and the probable lose of federal money, revenue sources will be needed to fund this ambitious program. I have worked with businesses who have agreed to a raise in their taxes on profits. In return, state businesses will have direct input on skills and curriculum that need to be taught that will help them be competitive in a global market place and helps them lower their training costs. Also, businesses in this state will be given first opportunity to recruit top students whether it is in our high schools or state-supported colleges. This would be a win for our state because it keeps our best people at home. 
  7. Our state will continue to benchmark with school systems around the world. We will also continue to learn what school systems that are better than ours are doing to see if we can adopt it for our state to make it the best school system in the nation. When our goals are met, we be a state businesses around the world will want to come to.

The proposals I have just presented will not be easy, cheap, or quick in improving our school system but I am sure will bring the improvements we need as opposed to the measures that have been offered before. In the countries we studied, none did high-stakes testing like we do, treat our teachers the way we do, offer vouchers or charter schools like those that have been proposed. I do not want to have the discussions I had with the three businesses we lost anymore. To do that we need to consider education in this state an investment in our future instead of a short-term cost to be cut. I am reminded of how Ancient China determined one day that there can be nothing new learned and closed its doors as well as its minds. Then one day China paid the price as other countries used technologies invented by the Chinese but improved to virtually enslave it. Let use not become like Ancient China and close our minds as the rest of the world takes away our future. Thank you.

Should schools privatize technology?

Disagreementphoto © 2011 Michael Coghlan | more info (via: Wylio)
The annual Beaufort County Budget War is about to begin and this year's battle looks to be a near fight to the death if you believe the political rhetoric that is flying around the press and local blogs. Each year the school district has to submit its budget for the coming fiscal year to the Beaufort County Council for its approval. It seems the councilmen and women always kick the buget back to the school board with two words in big bold red letters: CUT IT! Despite the rhetoric, a compromise that will please no one will eventually be reached because both groups of politicians don't want to actually kill public education with an election year coming up. However, the reality is that school districts do need to look at what they need to fund and possibly cut. One thing that has not been mentioned too much, yet, is technology. There is a lot of people screaming that schools should be privatize, which would be a mistake, so they could run more efficiently. South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley wants to privatize school buses, another mistake based on my experience as a soccer coach. So why not get schools out of the technology business? How could education technology be privatized so school districts can save a few bucks?

  1. Take Google up on their offer for Chrome netbooks: Google wants to get their new cloud-based Cr48: Disabling boot verificationphoto © 2010 Jamal Fanaian | more info (via: Wylio)
    operating system into the mainstream by offering schools a sweet deal. For $20 monthly subscription, each student would receive his or her own netbook running the Chrome operating system with all of the software added on. Even better, the subscription also includes all hardware and software upgrades. With this deal you could possibly cut down your Instructional Technology staff and forget having to purchase software such as Microsoft Office per user. There are potential savings of thousands of dollars there alone. Would schools be willing to switch to Google Docs and other cloud-based applications? Some computers would be needed to do tasks such as MAP testing or other assessments. However, if schools actually jump on these deals the NWEA would migrate over to Chrome just to keep its customers. The school wireless network would also have to be maintained or even strengthened because if it goes down the netbooks don't work.
  2. Cloud-based applications: If schools don't want to get into bed with Google totally they could keep their computers and just go with the cloud-based applications. The savings would be in software alone because the computers would need people to service them as in-house or contracted technology staff. Also, networks would need to be larger to allow the machines to work or at least go to the Internet for the applications.
  3. Open-source: Similar to cloud-based because it can be had for next to nothing. Even the operating system, Linux would be open-sourced. While this sounds good on paper, it can be a nightmare trying to support on network systems. I have seen one open-sourced software disappoint students when they tried to run it on the network system. Flashing screens come up as the computer crashes. This would require more staff to service and maintain the network and we are not talking security issues here.
  4. Parents provide the equipment: Maybe it is time for schools to tell parents they may have to purchase either computers or mobile devices and let the schools save those hardware and software costs. All the schools have to provide is the Internet as they would in the Google Chrome deal. Actually, schools could entice AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint to put up towers near the schools so the devices could receive a 3G or 4G signal and schools don't need the Internet that much. Just a small network for services. Of course the telcos would have to have an education plan for all that data being iPhone 4 Bumper + Universal Dock w/o Adapterphoto © 2010 Yutaka Tsutano | more info (via: Wylio)
    used. or they could setup wifi hotspots. All maintenance would be the responsibility of the parents who would make sure their children take care of those expensive devices. All the schools would do is require hardware and software standards each student brings whether it is tablets or netbooks. Schools could just upload textbooks so students would have them. The textbooks would delete themselves at the end of the school year. Some might say classroom management would be a nightmare.

Well here are some options for Instructional Technology to do its part for cutting school budgets while providing quality education experiences for students. While some of these ideas might work, each one is not a magic bullet to save education. Would schools be better off passing technology to outside parties? If you have any other ideas to save money through technology I am all ears.

The Burden of Higher Education on Students (Infographic)

Student.com shared this infographic that shows both the rising cost of a college education and the rising amount of debt college graduates have when they graduate. However, students are willing to take on this debt because they still believe a college education is the path to better paying jobs in the long-term. Fortunately, this faith the students have is well founded even if it may take a little longer to get there after paying off those college loans.

Another interesting detail is that most college students are borrowing money and/or working to pay for college. I worked nights in a hospital to pay for my college education but needed loans for my masters degree and will probably have to do both whenever I decide to get that doctorate I have been squawking about for years. Why has it not happened yet? I have a high school sophomore and my family will have to be making these financial decisions and on a teacher's salary that won't be easy.

Student Finances: Young, Broke and Determined
Courtesy of: Schools.com

How well is your state treating you (infographic)?

The folks at Certification Map created this infographic in their blog about the how much states have cut their education budgets in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years along with its impact in certain states. It is interesting that five states (including my native South Carolina) cut their education budgets by more than 10% in and 13 others made some form of education budget cuts in 2008-2009. That number jumped to 14 in and all but nine states made some form of education budget cuts in 2009-2010. Certification Map claims that states have cut over $15 billion 2010 from 2009. It will be interesting to see how much more will be cut in 2010-2011.

 

Teacher Certification
Brought to you by Teacher Certification Map and MAT@USC | Masters of Education

 

Let the Gamification Begin

 

photo © 2009 Erin! Nekervis | more info (via: Wylio)
A few years and a few less pounds ago I belonged to a gym that had, what I thought, was a brilliant way to get people motivated to come to the gym and exercise more. The gym sponsored contests which had members do various tasks in the gym for some kind of reward. One example had members keep track of the number of minutes they exercised. Once a member reached a required number of minutes they were given a t-shirt. Another contest tracked the number of miles a member walked, ran, elipitaclled (okay, I made this word up), or biked. The member was given a toy car he or she moved from Bluffton to some destination with those arriving alive also receiving a t-shirt. Along with myself, many other members killed themselves in that gym not to get fit and healthy but to get the blasted t-shirt. Those shirts became badges of pride by those who put forth the blood, sweat, and tears required to get the reward. Instead of becoming fit, what happened is gym members were motivated by receiving the t-shirt reward. The term for this is gamification which is defined as "the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications". Gamification is being used more in the tech world as a way to attract people to websites to achieve multiple hits on the page. This is usually done as a marketing tool or a way to attract "eyeballs" to advertisements to a site.

I got to wondering if gamification would work for education on a large scale. The economist in me says that people do respond to incentives. Instead of grades, students who achieved certain levels of mastery or proficiency would earn rewards which would be tracked. Achieve mastery in all the levels of a unit then a larger reward is given. Achieve mastery in a number of levels of unit mastery then receives a larger reward. I have seen teachers do something similar with something as simple as candy (much to the chargrin of teachers who later greet students hyped up on sugar). Our school is trying disciplinary measures which students collect points or signatures based on behaviors such as doing classwork, meeting dress code, and behaving in class. Those students who receive the required number of points or signatures are eligible for priviliges, participation in special activities, allowed to go on field trips, etc....There are also negative rewards such as demerits which punishes those who score too high on total board. In the movie Freakonomics, at risk students at a Chicago area high school were paid for good grades each quarter with a bonus given to a student who won a lottery at the end of the school year. Unfortunately, grades did not go up overall but was there too much time between pay days? I wonder what would happen if students were paid every week or every other week?

Would students, conditioned to working toward a goal by demonstrating prior knowledge or performing learned tasks to get an instant reward when they play their video games, do the same if given similar instant rewards for learning in school? I have heard this argued at conferences and in blogs or articles. However, many students have told me school for them is boring because they are forced to sit down, be still, listen to someone attempt to give them knowledge that has no practical meaning for them because it will help them in some distant future they (and we) cannot comprehend. Given this uncertain outlook, is it any wonder students are not motivated? Perhaps educators should add gamification with its quick and relevant rewards for success to help motivate students to achieve more in the classroom. Why not get the local movie theater to give movie passes or a local restaurant give free meals to students who beat their targeted goals on Measures of Academic Performance or other test predictor assessments?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Decline and Fall of the United States is Education Related

I read an article from Salon titled "How America will collapse (by 2025)" which the author, Alfred McCoy, tells of scenarios which lead to a rapid decline of American power replaced by China. The decline and fall of the United States as a dominate global power seems to be a forgone conclusion now. The United States' own government even marks the end at sometime in the middle of this century. This is not comforting if a government is predicting its own decline. The article goes through various scenarios which lead to a more rapid decline than others expect. These include a continued dependence on oil, costly military adventures which don't work, loss of technological leadership, and economic leadership. The bottom line is almost every scenario involves problems in our educational system that does not produce citizens that can meet the challenges the author presents.

The first scenario is the loss of leadership in technological innovation. The article cites the fact that the United States is not producing enough adults with university degrees much less in science and engineering. This means countries like China and India will have an upper hand in technology innovation which will continue to fuel their economies as they roar past the United States. The second scenario is the United State's continued dependence on foreign oil. According to the article foreign oil accounts for over 66% of our energy consumed. If oil producing countries want to cripple the U.S. economy then all they need to do shut off our supply. This time, China will be very willing to purchase oil and play nice politically with oil-producing countries. Not enough effort is being placed to find energy alternatives that are cheap and renewable. Other countries are doing more than the U.S. in finding alternative energy sources. Whoever finds this first will dominate the world. After 9/11 finding renewable energy should have a Manahattan Project or Moon mission type of national urgency. Yet, we are not producing the scientists needed to undertake such a project. Finally, the author tells about how the U.S. military is becoming more reliant on unmanned, robotic or cyber weapons to overwhelm potential enemies with little cost in life. The problem is these weapon systems need to be invented, built, and protected by technology specialists our country is not producing in the education system. The result, China launches a massive cyberattack that renders our defense capabilities useless because of sub-standard computer systems and not enough experts in anti-cyberwarfare. The U.S. could lose a war in a matter of minutes.

Throughout the history of the United States, the country has always prided itself for rising to meet the challenges other countries have thrown at it. Perhaps the dominate superpower is over relying on this ability when a crisis comes. However, a crisis must be met with decisiveness in a matter of seconds as opposed to months or years in the past. One thing the United States did have to meet its challenges is an educated workforce that could overcome any obstacle with creativity and determination. Does our educational system provide workers who could undertake the challenges like World War II or the race to the Moon? Would a cyberattack by China or anyone else be enough to wake the slumbering giant that crushed Germany and Japan? Would the giant be able to respond before it is too late or not at all? Can the United States place its national future in the hands of today's students given the state of education? Please let me know what you think.

Superman Doesn't Help Bullies

Waitin for Superman moviephoto © 2010 Wesley Fryer | more info (via: Wylio)
Recently our local theater screened Waiting for Superman and enticed local educators to see it with a discount. I got my ticket, tasteless overpriced popcorn, overpriced drink and settled in to see what the hype was about. Well, I had to get back up to go complain about the volume before I could relax and watch but not necessarily enjoy the movie.

I watched how the filmmakers followed five students along with their parents wanted to go to various charter schools because for one reason or another their local school was a "Failure Factory." The problem each family had was there was not enough room in the selected schools. To solve this problem the schools held a lottery to determine who entered the next school year and who did not. The film went on to highlight problems in education. Most of the problems I agreed with such as the failure of No Child Left Behind, too much bureaucracy taking away money from classrooms, and maybe teacher unions possibly stifling innovation. The idea of charter schools sounds like a good one when run properly.

What I did not care for was the constant bashing or indifference the filmmakers gave the teaching profession as a whole. Yes, they constantly said most teachers were doing a great job but that was before showing teachers doing acts of incompetence over and over again. Usually this was being done in league with unions who were portrayed as bastions of the status quo. What audiences did not see were students who want to be disruptive. Even better, these students have no stable home life to speak of or their parents excuse away their child's behavior instead of dealing with it. Audiences also did not see parents who try to bully teachers into giving their child a grade that was not earned instead of listening to why the child may have got the grade to begin with. Audiences did not see how bureaucratic procedures in the name of improving education actually take time away from helping children. Audiences may have seen bad teachers playing cards or reading a newspaper in a special room waiting on a disciplinary hearing but did not see teachers working at home into the night grading papers or preparing lesson plans with no overtime pay. Speaking of pay, I did not see one teacher in the movie use his or her own money to pay for classroom supplies because the school cannot provide them. Finally, in the movie each lottery showed hundreds, maybe around a thousand at the most hoping for a seat in a charter school lottery. It would have been more telling if there were thousands of families trying to get those few seats for the upcoming school year.

All throughout the movie other audience members were reacting at times the filmmakers wanted an emotional response. Usually it was when teachers were made to look bad or the poor children who only want to learn were denied that opportunity because of some incompetence or indifference. I wanted to scream "They are not telling the whole story!"  Author P.J. O'Rourke observed in his book "Parliament of Whores" that the drug problem in this country could end tomorrow but there is a lack of will in our society to take the steps necessary. I believe the same observation is true in education. Until our society gets serious about education reform things will continue as they have been. A professor in my teacher training told us that education is like a big, fat dinosaur. You can push in certain areas and only the fat will move a little but the whole dinosaur will not move an inch. Only when everyone is pushing together will things change. That means everyone needs to understand the problem as a whole. When that happens we won't need Superman.

S is for Supermanphoto © 2007 Gareth Simpson | more info (via: Wylio)

The 20X Prize

I was listening to the latest episode of the Freakonimics Radio podcast and how competition is used to drive innovation. The examples were Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight, the X-Prizes given to achieve various goals, and the United States Department of Education's Race to the Top competition. Google's 20% time was also mentioned. In the 20% time, employees are expected to use 20% of their work week to develop independent projects that would be innovative and help the company. Gmail is an example of a successful 20% project. The podcast talked about how such initiatives could help solve education's problems.

I thought "why not"? Let's have an X-Prize competition at the school or district level to stimulate innovative ideas! Cash prizes could be given to those who develop programs that raise student achievement. Winner take all, no points for second place! Winners at the school level could compete at the district level and, possibly, the state level. The rules could look something like this:

 

  • Winner must demonstrate an increase of student achievement on state standardized tests. 
  • The winning idea must be cross-curriculum. 
  •  The winning program must be trainable. 
  •  The winning program must be sustainable. 

 

 The 20% proposal would give teachers time to develop ideas to increase student achievement. Teachers submitting a proposal could be excused from staff meetings, duties, and/or staff development with the understanding that is time given to work on the proposed project. Projects are presented to a pannel who allow projects to continue with development or end them. This could be done in a TED-type forum to allow discussion. Financial rewards are give to ideas that are adopted.

The purpose Of these two ideas is to tap back into teachers' creativity which seems to be getting lost in the era of stanfardized testing. Education will have to be fixed from the ground up. Solutions will need to be creative to actually work. The two ideas I outlined above could help on these two accounts. Both ideas would generate thousands of ideas and most of them will not work. However, it could allow the two or three ideas to rise to the surface. What do you think? Let the games begin!