Featured Post

Fix, Don’t Discard MCAS/PARCC

This fall I had one on one conversations with many of our state's leaders and experts on the misplaced opposition to testing in gen...

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Google Stops Scanning Student E-Mail

Google will announce this morning that it’s scrapping its controversial policy of scanning student and teacher emails sent through Google Apps for Education and will no longer use the platform to deliver any advertising. Ads had been previously turned off by default, but school administrators had the option to turn them back on — and the terms of service specifically allowed Google to target ads to alumni still using Apps for Education after leaving a school setting. Until this morning, Google also scanned and indexed all email sent through the platform. That policy sparked anger among educators, parents and privacy advocates. It also sparked a federal lawsuit. So the company changed course.

— “Earning and keeping [customer] trust drives our business forward,” Bram Bout, director of Google for Education, wrote in a blog post announcing the new policy. “We know that trust is earned through protecting their privacy and providing the best security measures.” Bout said similar changes will roll out soon to Google Apps customers in business, government and other sectors. Bout will discuss the changes at a Google Hangout on Thursday at noon Eastern; he will be joined by the chief technology officer for a school district that uses Google Apps.

The chat will be accessible here: http://bit.ly/1iF2iiz.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Pearson in Trouble?

On April 3, 2014, Pearson PLC closed at 1008 on the London Stock Exchange, down from a 2014 high of 1365, which represents a loss in value of over 25%. According to a PSO Trend Analysis reported by Investopedia.com, Pearson had underperformed the S & P 500 index by 23%. Company President John Fallon acknowledged Pearson's financial problems in an online release on the company's website in January 2014 but attributed it to cyclical factors and a shift to digital platforms. However, financial page headlines suggest that Pearson, the publishing and "education" mega-giant, may be in more serious economic trouble than Fallon admits.
In February 2013, Bloomberg reported that Pearson PLC (PSON) "predicted operating profit will be stagnant in 2013 as it cuts jobs and spends more quickly to shift its education business to online from print . . . The stock fell as much as 6.3 percent, the biggest intraday decline since October 2008 . . . Education budgets remain tight and the business is shifting from print sales to digital subscriptions, Pearson said." In November 2013, in response to this and other developments, the Financial Express reported "Goldman Sachs cuts Pearson to neutral from buy, target cut from 1590p to 1530p."
Pearson's troubles continued and on January 23, 2014, Bloomberg announced "Pearson Declines Most Since 2002 on Digital-Expansion Costs." Ian Whittaker, a media analyst at Liberum Capital in London, argued "The real shock will be on restructuring" and he recommended selling Pearson stock.
On February 28, 2014, a Bloomberg headline reported "Pearson Plunges as Earnings Drop on North America Education." Pearson PLC (PSON) profits fell in 2013 by 5.9% and the company acknowledged "it wouldn't emerge from a difficult transition period until 2015 after earnings plunged last year on weak demand in U.S. higher education and restructuring costs." The company claimed "Pressure on its U.S. performance should ease from 2015 as curriculum changes take effect and college enrollments stabilize." It also argued that "Good growth in digital, services and emerging markets" would "partly offset by cyclical weakness in US higher education and school curriculum change in the US and UK." Meanwhile, in March 2014, Pearson announced lay-offs in its higher education division.
Pearson has been making a big push to expand its education, digital services, and testing programs in the United States and in Third World countries, but the problem may be that the company is way over-extended and cannot deliver on its promises. In February 2014, Pearson was selected by the University of Florida to maintain and promote its online undergraduate degree programs, but the partnership got off to a rough start when the director of the project resigned after three months. Pearson and the university were also criticized when it became public that Pearson required the university to pay cash up front on the project. Pearson stands to make $186 million over the eleven-year life of the contract. There was also at least an appearance of irregularity because Pearson had donated to a foundation established by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Pearson is also pushing online CourseConnect™ Early Childhood courses through Pearson's eCollege without evidence that early childhood education can best be delivered digitally without candidates actually working with children. In addition, there is no assurance that these classes will actually be accepted for certification by state education departments.
Pearson generates approximately 60% of its sales in the United States. In 2013, its North American Education division accounted for 55% of its operating profit and its International Education division (emerging economies) for another 19%. Pearson's Professional division, which provided 7% of the companies operating profit in 2013, is also heavily invested in global education, providing online testing and English language instruction. The company is worried that its U.S. market might sink because of declining college enrollment and resistance to Common Core standards and tests. Meanwhile profits at its Penguin Random House division declined by 20% from 2012 to 2103.
New York State is in the middle of collecting student teacher portfolios known as edTPA that will be evaluated by Pearson to determine if candidates qualify for teacher certification. But as of March 17, 2014, Pearson was still trying to hire people to evaluate the portfolios. Pearson was requesting that "scorers possess both strong pedagogical content-specific knowledge and experience in roles that support teaching and learning in the edTPA content area in which they are scoring," but had no procedure in place to evaluate the evaluators. The portfolios contain twenty minutes of video and as much as fifty pages of lesson planning and commentary, but evaluators were expected to complete their task in two hours and were being paid $75 per portfolio or $37.50 an hour if they work fast.
Pearson's financial hopes may hinge on its ability to corner online education in places like India where it is investing in "eduprenurs," for-profit start up companies that will compete for public education dollars. It has created Pearson Affordable Learning Fund, a for-profit venture fund, to meet what it describes as a "burgeoning demand for affordable education services in Africa, Asia and Latin America." The fund is active in eleven countries including Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Pakistan, Philippines, and Uganda. In testimony before the British House of Commons and in commentary on a BBC website, opponents of these low cost for-profit schools argue that they drain money and support from state run school systems that serve most students and if they prove unprofitable, they will disappear as quickly as they arrived. Pearson and its partners may make money, but if the public school systems are weakened, there will be long term negative consequences for people in these countries.
People in the United States may not be that concerned about what happens to public schools in India, Africa, and Latin America, but Pearson's push to expand its operations can also have a dire impact on education and community life in the United States. Currently Pearson College offers online business courses and degrees in the United Kingdom. In the United States. Pearson partners with over 200 colleges and universities providing online services and classes. Pearson's partners include prestigious institutions such as Teachers College Columbia University whose president is on Pearson's Board of Directors, and the George Washington University School of Business, state university systems in California, Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, New Jersey, Arizona, North Dakota, Texas, and Washington, private and religious schools such as Charleston Southern, Palm Beach Atlantic, and Indiana Wesleyan, and proprietary schools such as the University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, and Nova Southeastern University. A Pearson sub-division, EmbanetCompass, has a list of clients that include Adelphi University, Boston University, Brandeis University, and Northeastern University.
Pearson's EQUELLA digital repository system has helped to make possible the rapid nationwide online expansion of the supposedly not-for-profit University of Southern New Hampshire. In 2006-2007 (the only year I could find and before the colleges massive expansion), Paul LeBlanc, the college's entrepreneurial president who refers to students as "customers" was paid $350,000. Since then Southern New Hampshire, which advertises heavily on television, has become one of the five largest online nonprofit colleges in the United States. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, with Pearson's support Southern New Hampshire's College of Online and Continuing Education generated $73 million in revenue in 2011 and an estimated $100 million in 2012. Although it is technically a non-profit institution, its online program had a 41-percent "profit" margin in fiscal year 2011.
Eduventures, a marketing research company, estimates that about 200 nonprofit colleges and universities have partnerships with business service providers like Pearson and another 500 will form partnerships in the next two years. Pearson also recently sponsored an online learning conference to promote its products in Fort Worth, Texas.
Little thought is given to what happens if the online programs provided by Pearson undermine or even destroy the current United States college system. Entry-level professional careers at universities will disappear as professors are replaced by digital avatars. Thousands of small non-profit colleges may be forced to close which would have a devastating effect on the communities, families, individuals, and local businesses that depend on them. The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities has about 1,000 members and educate about 35% of American college students. They operate schools that are among the largest employers in Abilene, Texas, New Rochelle, New York, Adrian, Michigan, Graceville, Florida, Decatur, Georgia, Reading, Pennsylvania, Nashville, Tennessee, Morehead, Minnesota, Anderson, Indiana, Wilmore, Kentucky, Berea, Ohio, Brunswick, Maine, Eureka, Illinois, and Des Moines, Iowa. Pearson might make money, but what happens to everyone else?
I also have questions about whether a financially desperate Pearson may be creating demand for its products by making tests more difficult to deflate student performance. One of the reasons for the big push for Common Core and high-stakes standardized testing in the United States is supposed poor student performance on international tests like PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study). Pearson designs, creates, and sells Common Core aligned tests and curriculum in the United States and will be developing the frameworks for the OECD's landmark PISA educational assessment in 2015.
In a sense, the worse students do on these tests, the more desperate families become, the more politicians promote miracle solutions, and the more money Pearson will make.
So, is Pearson Education in serious financial trouble? We can only hope so!
American Girl® Doll, Pearson, and Common Core
Pearson is under attack for "product placement" in its Common Core ELA reading passages. On recent tests administered in New York State to students in grades 3 through 8, featured brands included Barbie, iPod, Mug Root Beer and Life Savers. Pearson spokesperson Stacy Skelly said neither Pearson nor New York State Education were paid for the mentions.
But the real marketing coup may be in the American Girl® Doll's backpack. For $28 an American Girl® Doll fan or his or her parents can purchase the school backpack set with an enVision Math workbook. envision Math, of course, is a Pearson product.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

WA loses Waiver, forced back to old NCLB

Washington state will once again have to comply with a long list of provisions in No Child Left Behind, now that the Education Department has revoked its NCLB waiver, Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote state officials.
“I appreciate that transitioning back to NCLB is not desirable, and will not be simple,” Duncan wrote. To aid in the transition, he attached an 11-page document of NCLB rules that will take effect in the state starting with the coming school year.
Among the most significant: Washington state will lose flexibility in how it spends much of its federal Title I money. Significant chunks of that funding will now have to be dispersed to private vendors to tutor struggling students. The state will also have to notify parents in low-performing schools that they have the right to transfer their children to stronger schools — and it will have to provide those children with transportation, again using federal funds. The waiver revocation will also hamper the state’s efforts to direct funding toward the schools it deems most in need of a boost. Instead, it will have to follow federal guidelines for which schools merit priority status.

The loss of the waiver also means that Washington will be required to resume measuring schools’ progress using the old AYP measuring sticks. NCLB also requires the state to have 100 percent of students proficient in math and reading by this year; by that metric, nearly every school in the state will be labeled a failure.

Top 10 US Libraries

The Institute of Museum and Library Services announced winners of its top honor for libraries and museums today, the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. Winners include public libraries, an aquarium, and a botanic garden.This year’s winners are:

  1. • Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn, N.Y.
  2. • Chicago Public Library, Chicago, Ill.
  3. • Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, Las Vegas, Nev.
  4. • Mid-Continent Public Library, Independence, Mo.
  5. • Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, Conn.
  6. • North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh, N.C.
  7. • Octavia Fellin Public Library, Gallup, N.M.
  8. • Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, Norman, Okla.
  9. • The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Ind.
  10. • Yiddish Book Center, Amherst, Mass.

Personalized PD

Personalized learning communities, strategies and tools for educators in the digital era
Personalized learning is on the rise for learners in our schools. Redesigned schools include personal learning plans, playlists of content tailored to fit each learner, adaptive curriculum, and access to learning anytime and anywhere.
That's great for students but what about teachers? Where's the personalized learning, the carefully constructed playlists, the pitch-perfect material that fits their grade level and subject needs and interests?

It's all coming. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The push-back to Common Core skeptics starts

4/23/14 11:10 AM EDT
State superintendents said today that the heated rhetoric and controversy around the Common Core State Standards doesn't  reflect what's actually happening in the classroom.
At a panel discussion hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers, New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera said that when she visits classrooms, teachers love the Common Core. Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery agreed.
"When I pick up some of the morning newspapers and I see that there's bedlam all around, that things are coming apart at the seems, I wonder what schools this is happening in," Lowery said.

Skandera said talk of delaying the standards only becomes apparent when accountability gets involved. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Parent activist Leonie Haimson on inBloom demise

Parent activist Leonie Haimson said she hopes today’s announcement that inBloom in part because of a backlash against concerns over student privacy will prompt more consideration for parental concerns.

“Hopefully, today’s announcement that inBloom is closing its doors will make government officials, corporations and foundations more aware that parental concerns cannot be ignored and that they must stop foisting their ‘solutions’ on our schools and classrooms with no attention given to the legitimate concerns of parents and their right to protect their children from harm.”

CEO Iwan Streichenberger said in an open letter today that the database, fueled with $100 million from the Gates Foundation, would “wind down.” It appears to have lost essentially all prospective clients.

Although Haimson was pleased with the news, she said she fears the decision will not have any lasting effect and that parents still have plenty to worry about regarding their children’s information. “The statement issued by inBloom’s CEO … makes it clear that those in charge still have not learned any lessons from this debacle.

The fervent opposition to inBloom among parents throughout the country did not result from ‘misunderstandings’ but inBloom’s utter inability to provide a convincing rationale that would supersede the huge risks to student security and privacy involved.”

She said parents’ fight for student privacy is just beginning, and that work will continue on this front.

“We will continue to work with parents throughout the country to see that the federal government returns to its original role as protecting  student privacy, and recognizing the parental right to notification and consent,  rather than furthering the ability of for-profit vendors and other third parties to commercialize this data,” she said.

inBloom to End

I have made the decision to wind down the organization over the coming months.

From: "iwan.streichenberger@inbloom.org" <iwan.streichenberger@inbloom.org>
Date: Monday, April 21, 2014 10:19 AM
To: "iwan.streichenberger@inbloom.org" <iwan.streichenberger@inbloom.org>
Subject: inBloom Update for Our Friends and Partners

Friends and colleagues:

In 2011, an alliance of educators and state leaders, non-profit foundations, and instructional content and tool providers formed the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC). The vision of that group was simple: create a resource that allows teachers to get a more complete picture of student progress so they can individualize instruction while saving time, effort and precious resources.

I signed on to the project in November 2012 to lead inBloom, the non-profit corporation that is the SLC’s successor. I joined because I passionately believe that technology has the potential to dramatically improve education. My belief in that mission is as strong today as it ever was. Students, teachers and parents deserve the best tools and resources available, and we cannot afford to wait.

Over the last year, the incredibly talented team at inBloom has developed and launched a technical solution that addresses the complex challenges that teachers, educators and parents face when trying to best utilize the student data available to them. That solution can provide a high impact and cost-effective service to every school district across the country, enabling teachers to more easily tailor education to students' individual learning needs. It is a shame that the progress of this important innovation has been stalled because of generalized public concerns about data misuse, even though inBloom has world-class security and privacy protections that have raised the bar for school districts and the industry as a whole.

The use of technology to tailor instruction for individual students is still an emerging concept and inBloom provides a technical solution that has never been seen before. As a result, it has been the subject of mischaracterizations and a lightning rod for misdirected criticism. In New York, these misunderstandings led to the recent passage of legislation severely restricting the education department from contracting with outside companies like inBloom for storing, organizing, or aggregating student data, even where those companies provide demonstrably more protection for privacy and security than the systems currently in use.

We stepped up to the occasion and supported our partners with passion, but we have realized that this concept is still new, and building public acceptance for the solution will require more time and resources than anyone could have anticipated. Therefore, in full alignment with the inBloom Board of Directors and funders, I have made the decision to wind down the organization over the coming months. It wasn’t an easy decision, and the unavailability of this technology is a real missed opportunity for teachers and school districts seeking to improve student learning.

I want to thank you for your partnership in our endeavors and look forward to speaking with many of you in the coming months.

Kind regards,

Iwan Streichenberger

Chief Executive Officer

Friday, April 18, 2014

KY School Personalized Learning Ends Drop Outs

How a District Ended Student Dropouts with Personalized Learning


Kentucky Supt. Roger Cook shares what sets Taylor County School District apart

Imagine, if you can, a school where students do not have specific teachers assigned to them, nor do teachers have specific students on their roster.
Imagine a school where students come each day with a list of standards to work on and accomplish--right when they walk in the door. They can go to the teacher of their choice in order to accomplish the completion of these standards. Or, they can do them on their own in any setting they wish, as long as they maintain accomplishing the minimum amount of standards in a minimum amount of time. Some students, for example, may work individually in the media center not having to go to any classroom.
And last but not least, imagine a district at large where the dropout rate is at zero percent.
In this type of environment, students would come and go as they please, but would be required to prove the successful completion of work and pass assessments to demonstrate understanding.
Sound crazy? Not to educators in the Taylor County School District in Campbellsville, Kentucky. In fact, that is our district’s ten-year plan.
I am in my ninth year of promoting performance-based education, and my excitement about personalizing learning for students based on their mental capacity, rather than chronological, age is at an optimum level. In the Taylor County School District, we have created a self-paced, anytime/anywhere learning environment and our students are accelerating through their courses at a rate they choose.

Individualizing learning plans for students

Our students do not receive a cookie cutter education. Rather, students receive Individual Learning Plans truly tailored to their interests and their career paths.
Individual Learning Plans, or ILPs, are collections of coursework that allow students to self-pace, enhancing their ability to choose a college/career pathway by the time they have reached high school level.
To create ILPs, our administrative team sits with each Taylor student each year to look at the courses they have taken, what their college/career plans are, and select courses for the next year that will best prepare them for that future. Take a student who is interested in a medical field: he/she will take preparatory courses, while English teachers plan opportunities for the student’s writing to be geared towards that field of study, and social studies teachers provide opportunities for a historical look into the medical field.
As one of the first four Kentucky Districts of Innovation, we have been given the freedom to truly adjust the coursework to meet the needs of each student. The technology we use allows us to be able to individualize the coursework for each student.
For example, many of our students finish their core requirements by the end of their sophomore or mid-term junior year, and then spend their remaining high school years earning college hours through our virtual charter school, dual credit programs or our many advanced placement courses. 
Additionally, through our partnerships with universities like Campbellsville University and Western Kentucky University, and other schools, students have access to every course offered anywhere in the United States.
We have had up to 300 elementary school students bussed to our middle school to take upper-level course work. We have over 500 high school credits earned at our middle school each year, and we are graduating many seniors as mid-term sophomores in college. Students are able to complete course work 24 hours-per-day, seven days-per-week and 365 days during the year.
Bottom line? Students are not restricted by how many courses they are allowed to attempt or when they can take the courses.

Going beyond the classroom

Additionally, many other programs offered to our students in the district through local enterprises and businesses give them real-world experience. Students work directly with an adult to learn a "trade," which provides them with the chance to decide if they like the field enough to pursue it after high school.
For example, we have over twelve student enterprises many of them connected to technology. We have iPad Central where our students work and repair iDevices, iPhones, iPads or other technology for our school and our community we are working to become a certified Apple Technician Center.
For the business-savvy students, we have T-Bay, an off shoot of EBAY where we take items from the community and sell those items keeping 40% of the profits for our students and giving the owner 60%.
We also have a KROGER store, Gift Shop store, an Aviation Program where our students are earning their pilots licenses and building their own airplane. Student catering service called Cardinal Catering where we prepare food and sell to the community.

The teacher’s role

Self-pacing isn’t all about the students. With an expanding digital toolbox--complete with a 1:1 iPad roll out for students working on ninth through twelfth grade content--opportunities to personalize learning for all students are allowing teachers to think way outside the proverbial box.
Teachers are using technology to flip their classrooms and to video their lessons so students have access to the curriculum twenty-four hours a day, every day. We have developed entrance and exit examinations for each content area so students can take the exams whenever they have finished a course. When content is successfully completed, students receive their credits and are allowed to move on to the next subject.
But tech isn’t always successful without expectations. All Taylor teachers have four rules to live by within our school district:
  1. No one is allowed to fail a class
  2. Teachers are not allowed to give zeros
  3. No one is held back from accelerating if guidelines and criteria to be accelerated are met
  4. No one is allowed to drop out of school. It should be noted that the Taylor County School District has had five continuous years of no drop-outs.
The bottom line is simple: Taylor County doesn't give up on kids--not a single one! These four tenets serve as the challenge to find best practices that meet the needs of all learning styles. Those students who thrive in a self-paced environment literally move through the content knowing they will be supported with an arsenal of alternatives.

Impact and looking to the future

While there is still much work ahead of us, we are already seeing results. Our students are staying in school--and graduating! Currently, Taylor County Schools has had a zero-percent dropout rate for the past five years, and the 2013 graduation rate was 100%. Taylor County is categorized as a Proficient/Progressing District under the Kentucky Department of Education rating scale, and our CCR (College and Career Readiness) rate continues to rise and is above the state average.
But we aren’t just thinking about the present. Currently, we are in the process of building Kentucky’s only Pre-K through grade 12 performance-based education campus where students will be able to walk around a wagon wheel shaped building set up to accommodate the classes and teachers of their choice.
I will deliver my sixth National School Boards Association presentation in New Orleans this spring. And as a result of doing those presentations, we are having visitors come to us from all over the United States to visit and see our many initiatives.
We welcome anyone to visit us on line at www.taylor.kyschools.us or you can arrange a visit if you would like to see our school in action.

AltSchool - CBE

The One Room Schoolhouse Goes High Tech

| April 17, 2014 |

A grade-schooler's desk at AltSchool.
A grade-schooler's desk at AltSchool in San Francisco.

Silicon Valley startup model meets progressive education.

In the heart of the tech boom, where new innovations always hold the promise of the perfect solution, a new private school in San Francisco is prototyping its first class this year. Armed with a team of engineers ready to build the necessary tech tools, the school is an experiment of sorts, attempting to capture the personal nature of the homeschool experience within the community of a modified school setting.

AltSchool hasn’t officially opened yet — it’s operating a pilot class of 20 students ranging in age from kindergarten to fifth grade in a storefront located in a formerly industrial part of town that’s now lined with new lofts. Its founder and CEO Max Ventilla is a former Google executive and comes to education with a Silicon Valley solutionist mentality. Ventilla is attempting to build a model that caters to each child’s interests, while providing opportunities for group work and collaboration.
“We really believe you can teach anything through the interests of a child,” Ventilla said. “So if there’s a student whose passionate about dolphins or medieval knights or the moon, that’s the lens they can use to learn about salinity or ethics or politics or history or estimation. And that’s actually very similar to how we parent.”

Ventilla doesn’t believe that kind of teaching can effectively take place in a large school building with a lot of bureaucratic culpability. At AltSchool, each classroom will be its own unit, and as it grows to multiple locations, will be housed in spaces the size of commercial storefronts in different parts of town. Each classroom will be given the flexibility to change and shift as the teacher sees fit and in reaction to the needs of families attending the school.

And in the true spirit of a startup, the school’s ethos is to “fail fast” and pivot — change direction — when necessary.

“We take as one of our primary objectives the constant innovation of the platform and what’s happening in the classroom,” Ventilla said. “If it’s taking us a year to change things that needs to be changed, we’ve failed.”

While the school is using Common Core as a guideline for its teaching standards, students aren’t grouped by grade level. Rather, students move through activities based on their skill and are broadly grouped in age ranges that include transitional kindergarten, “youngers,” “olders,” and middle school.

“We don’t think there’s such a thing as a grade,” Ventilla said. “Kids are at different levels across their academic and non-academic trajectories and it’s about creating an environment of peers, people that push them, people that are good influences, but also people that they can be friends with and have intellectual peers.”

This is not a new concept, of course. Champions of competency-based education have been advocating this model for years, and Brightworks, a school that opened a few years ago just a few miles away that’s focused on project based learning uses the same premise. In that way, it’s less a brand new innovation and more of an amalgamation of different models borrowed from Montessori, Waldorf, homeschooling, and different education theorists, as evidenced by the books scattered around the school’s office — Finnish Lessons, The Smartest Kids in the World, 5 Minds for the Future, How Children Succeed.
Another borrowed idea applied to AltSChool is the School of One model in New York. Students at AltSchool work from an individual playlist the teacher puts together that’s keyed to his or her interests. The teacher can keep track of student progress on a dashboard, ensure the tasks have been completed, and adjust activities depending on how students are progressing. For example, recently, AltSchool teacher Carolyn Wilson assigned a video about California’s delta to one student, paired with questions about how water moves through the system.
“We’re not trying to make existing schools work better. We are trying to actually advance a new model of a school.”
“He moved it to the ‘done’ column, but it wasn’t done, so I told him he was turning me into a screaming monster,” Wilson said. When she checked his work and saw he hadn’t finished, Wilson tagged that assignment with a screaming monster icon and a note to the student telling him to go back and answer the questions and complete a reflection.
In addition to the individualized playlist, students are engaged in group projects that require them to work together and collaborate. “We’re developing tools and processes that allow us to build on the individual passions of one child, but we still continue to frame the group experience and to find things that everyone will engage in,” said Wilson, who’s a long time educator. She described a student project while learning about the broad theme of San Francisco’s historical and cultural geography of San Francisco: They started by painting a mural of the city together, arguing and compromising over what should be included. After visiting a museum that describes the environmental factors that created San Francisco Bay, the students painted another mural based on their new understanding.
During a recent visit to the pilot classroom, a group of six students with mixed ages sat on the floor listening to a teacher lead a group discussion, then migrated over to an art project with watercolor paints a few feet away in the same room. In this one-room schoolhouse, bookshelves are lined with books for kids of different reading levels, tables are set up for groups of three or four kids with workbooks, computers, and headphones, and a comfortable daybed with a blanket sits against one of the wall.
There are times in the day when students are working on independent projects and skills tailored to their skill level, interests, and needs. “We expose them to a lot of different things and then sit back and observe, listen to what they say, watch what really excites them, and then build on that and ask questions that go deeper,” Wilson said.
The first AltSchool class is in a storefront space in a loft building.
The first AltSchool class is in a storefront space in a loft building.
AltSchool is fundamentally a for-profit technology start-up, recently announcing $33 million dollars in venture capital funding. Slightly less than half of its current staff — a total of about 25 people, including teachers — are computer engineers. Despite the techy underpinnings, technology isn’t all that visually present in AltSchool classrooms the way it is in many schools with one-to-one programs or at a charter network like Rocketship, according to AltSchool staff. But technology is a pervasive part of this model behind the scenes.
“If you look at how learning gets personalized in most schools out there, it’s by sticking a kid in front of a screen,” said AltSchool Chief Technology Officer Komal Sethi. “That’s because it’s easy. That’s not how we think about it.” Tech tools help students track their assignments, document their work, and allow teachers to stay on top of each student’s individual lesson plan. “We want the real-world, project-based learning to happen, we just want to be able to see that it’s happening,” Sethi said. And to that end, AltSchool classrooms are being videotaped and recorded in an effort to capture classroom moments that the teacher might have missed. “We’re basically trying to say, what can we observe that’s going on to help the teacher do the things she already does,” Sethi said.
The engineering team is working to build technology that will allow teachers to bookmark moments when the class gets particularly loud, for example, so they can go back to that moment and see if something needs to be modified in the instructional practice, or if there is a particular incident to observe later.
“That’s a moment when something happened that the teacher wanted to keep so she could go back and see what happened that allowed this breakthrough,” Ventilla said. He also believes parents will be grateful for having a video recording of breakthrough academic moments in their children’s lives, like when they first learn to read. The school’s engineers are working to create sensors sophisticated enough to pick up on students’ facial expressions and then send a signal to the teacher’s dashboard. He said the sensors would potentially help teachers know when a child is struggling, even if she’s in another part of the room. It’s meant to give the teacher another set of eyes.
This model flies in the face of many student data privacy concerns surfacing recently regarding collecting more data on students. The school and its developers keep the raw video and audio data for two years before trashing it, but can save particular moments to share with teachers or parents for much longer.
A student-created mural of San Francisco Bay.
A student-created mural of San Francisco Bay.
AltSchool plans to launch officially next fall with several modular classrooms around San Francisco and surrounding cities, as well as in Silicon Valley at $19,100 per year. “Our model is attractive to families who know what they want educationally and come to us to have some of the logistics taken care of without having to reinvent the school,” said Anna Cueni, the school’s director of operations.
In addition to running schools, the company will be designing software for teachers’ needs. “Every one of our engineers spends time directly in the classroom, collaborates directly with students, and many of them actually teach during part of their week,” Ventilla said. Teachers and developers work together to design tech tools that meet specific classroom needs.
So far, developers have created the software that makes student playlists, the audio and video replay system that allows teachers to bookmark important moments in the classroom, and have made a weekly parent summary tool that makes it easy for teachers to curate and share insights about students each week. This close collaboration could create products that other schools find useful and eventually might license.
“We’re not trying to make existing schools work better,” Ventilla said. “We are trying to actually advance a new model of a school.” That said, if a charter network wanted to begin a whole new set of schools based on the AltSchool model, Ventilla wouldn’t be opposed. But he said the model would not work in a traditional large school building with a centralized administration and little flexibility.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Banning chocolate milk backfires

Banning chocolate milk from elementary schools can have negative consequences on children's nutrition as well as on sales in school cafeterias, a Cornell University study has found.

“When schools ban chocolate milk, we found it usually backfires. On average, milk sales drop by 10 percent, 29 percent of white milk gets thrown out, and participation in the school lunch program may also decrease,” reported Andrew Hanks, lead author and research associate Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. “This is probably not what parents wanted to see.”

The study examined 11 Oregon elementary schools and found that although kids were taking in less sugar and fewer calories, they also began giving up milk entirely, and as a result, consumed less calcium and protein.

Brian Wansink, co-author of the study, proposed changing the way regular milk is presented rather than banning chocolate milk.

“Instead of banning chocolate milk, make white milk appear more convenient and more ‘normal,’” Wansink said in a statement. “Put the white milk in the front of the cooler, and make sure that at least one-third to half of all the milk is white. We’ve found that this approach can increase sales by 20 percent or more."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New York Seeks an Alternative to inBloom

New York Seeks an Alternative to inBloom
Void opens around student-data analysis
Published Online: April 15, 2014
Published in Print: April 16, 2014
By Michelle R. Davis and Michele Molnar

Faced with determined opposition from a group of parents worried about student privacy, state officials in New York have ended their relationship with inBloom, a nonprofit organization that synthesizes and stores student data.

But rather than resolving the controversy, the public fight has left the state—and potentially other states and school districts around the country—with difficult questions about how they will go about collecting and analyzing data they regard as essential to evaluating, and improving, student and school performance, while also protecting sensitive information.

State and district officials have faced increasingly tough questions over the past few years from parents and privacy advocates about how student data are being collected and stored. And inBloom, based in Atlanta, has emerged as a prime target of critics despite some technology advocates' belief that the company's work is not unusual.

Federal Obligation

New York state education officials were scrambling to cobble together a system to synthesize student data after curtailing inBloom's work. New York state education officials were holding a series of calls with the leaders of its regional information centers, in hopes that these centers could instead provide systems to analyze and present student data to educators. The state is obligated to improve its use of data and make it accessible to teachers and parents under a nearly $700 million federal Race to the Top grant.

But questions remain about the centers' capacity to carry out that work, and about whether recent legislation approved by the state aimed at protecting student data would impede other efforts to crunch that information.

Negative publicity surrounding New York's partnership with inBloom, as well as a series of setbacks that had other states cutting ties with inBloom over the last year, may cause states and districts in other areas of the country to be wary of working with the company, observers said. But without inBloom, the public education sector needs to find an alternative way to analyze, share, and store student information, said Douglas A. Levin, the executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, or SETDA, based in Glen Burnie, Md.

"The needs of schools aren't going away," Mr. Levin said. "If you're not using inBloom, what are you using? There's a relatively small set of alternatives."

Search for Options

Late last month, state lawmakers made it illegal for the New York state education department to share student data with outside companies to collect and organize in a dashboard or portal for educators or parents. In addition, it required any data already provided to such companies to be deleted. This effectively ended New York's relationship with inBloom, a startup launched last year with $100 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. (Carnegie provides financial support for Education Week's coverage of entrepreneurship and innovation in education and school design.)

InBloom had faced a groundswell of opposition in New York in recent months from parents who filed a lawsuit, dismissed in February, arguing that hosting data in the cloud for use in real-time academic-progress reports flouted privacy and parental-consent laws; and from educators who worried that specific information about students—including their disciplinary records—was at risk of being made public.

Though the recent New York legislation bars the education department from contracting with outside companies for storing, organizing, or aggregating student data, the legislation does say that the state's Boards of Cooperative Educational Services could be tapped for that purpose. New York has 37 BOCES, which provide educational support and services to districts across the state. The BOCES also oversee 12 regional information centers, which focus on technological services for districts. Dennis Lauro, the executive director of the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center, said he has been speaking with state officials about the possibility of the centers' providing data analysis and dissemination for the state. "We're already responsible for a lot of the data, so we should be able to get geared up for it," he said, acknowledging, however, that this would be a much larger data project.

In an emailed statement, Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the New York State Education Department, said officials "will continue to explore and pursue alternate paths" to develop cost-effective data tools. "As required by statute, we will not store any student data with inBloom, and we have directed inBloom to securely delete the non-identifiable data that has been stored," Mr. Dunn said.

But the legislation has wider implications, said Paige Kowalski, the director of state policy and advocacy for the Washington-based Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of high-quality data in education.

"The clause that forces the end of the relationship with inBloom also prevents the establishment of relationships with other vendors that might provide other services around data," she said. "It prevents what the DQC would like states to do—which is move beyond data for accountability and toward dashboards and analytics to get something useful out of that data."

While the state department of education could continue to tap the BOCES or the regional information centers, it's unlikely the state would invest significant funding and manpower to ramp up these kinds of projects, she said.

Future Direction

So what does this mean for inBloom?

Adam Gaber, a company spokesman, said that inBloom continues to forge ahead with its mission to empower teachers and parents through data use. "We are definitely experiencing success in obtaining contracts with districts. We are making strong progress in that regard nationwide," Mr. Gaber wrote in an email.

The company originally listed nine states as partners, but now has none featured on its website, and Mr. Gaber would not name any partners currently working with inBloom. Due to the controversy surrounding the New York contract, as well as previous partnerships in others states that faced opposition, "we are leaving it to customers to determine on their own when timing is best to reveal our work together," he explained.

Mr. Levin, of SETDA, said districts may now see the company as "tainted" and may be reluctant to move forward with inBloom because of "a perception or potential consequences."

But with all the investment in the company from the Gates and Carnegie foundations, Mr. Levin also said it's unlikely the company will close its doors anytime soon. "I suspect they have some time to figure it all out," he said.

Precarious Partnerships

Originally, inBloom listed nine states as partners, but now most have cut ties with the company:

Colorado: The state started a pilot project with inBloom in the Jefferson County school district, but in November the district’s school board cut ties with the company, thus ending the state’s contract as well.

Delaware, Georgia, and Kentucky: These states were listed as original partners with inBloom, but never made concrete plans to work with the company.

Illinois: The state is continuing to explore collaboration with inBloom, but not by sharing student data, said Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois state board of education. The state is looking at how inBloom tools might be used with Illinois’ own student-information database. Districts could have the option of using those tools if they choose to, Mr. Vanover said. The state’s largest district, the Chicago system, has decided it will not work with inBloom.

Louisiana: The state removed student data from inBloom last year. Student data are currently being stored in-house.

Massachusetts: An initial pilot project with the Everett public schools has been completed, and the state has no current plans to move forward with inBloom, said JC Considine, a spokesman for the state education department. He said he did not anticipate that individual districts would work with inBloom any time soon.

New York: The state recently severed its ties with inBloom and had its student information deleted from the company’s database, following pressure from parents and educators and legislation essentially barring the partnership.

North Carolina: The state initially chose a site for a pilot project, but district officials ultimately dropped out.

Source: Education Week

Vol. 33, Issue 28, Page 11

Study Shows Parental Involvement May Hurt Academic Performance

Parental Involvement Is Overrated

Most people, asked whether parental involvement benefits children academically, would say, “of course it does.” But evidence from our research suggests otherwise. In fact, most forms of parental involvement, like observing a child’s class, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework, do not improve student achievement. In some cases, they actually hinder it.

Over the past few years, we conducted an extensive study of whether the depth of parental engagement in children’s academic lives improved their test scores and grades. We pursued this question because we noticed that while policy makers were convinced that parental involvement positively affected children’s schooling outcomes, academic studies were much more inconclusive.

Despite this, increasing parental involvement has been one of the focal points of both President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and President Obama’s Race to the Top. Both programs promote parental engagement as one remedy for persistent socioeconomic and racial achievement gaps.
We analyzed longitudinal surveys of American families that spanned three decades (from the 1980s to the 2000s) and obtained demographic information on race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, the academic outcomes of children in elementary, middle and high school, as well as information about the level of parental engagement in 63 different forms.

What did we find? One group of parents, including blacks and Hispanics, as well as some Asians (like Cambodians, Vietnamese and Pacific Islanders), appeared quite similar to a second group, made up of white parents and other Asians (like Chinese, Koreans and Indians) in the frequency of their involvement. A common reason given for why the children of the first group performed worse academically on average was that their parents did not value education to the same extent. But our research shows that these parents tried to help their children in school just as much as the parents in the second group.

Even the notion that kids do better in school when their parents are involved does not stack up. After comparing the average achievement of children whose parents regularly engage in each form of parental involvement to that of their counterparts whose parents do not, we found that most forms of parental involvement yielded no benefit to children’s test scores or grades, regardless of racial or ethnic background or socioeconomic standing.

In fact, there were more instances in which children had higher levels of achievement when their parents were less involved than there were among those whose parents were more involved. Even more counterintuitively: When involvement does seem to matter, the consequences for children’s achievement are more often negative than positive.

When involvement did benefit kids academically, it depended on which behavior parents were engaging in, which academic outcome was examined, the grade level of the child, the racial and ethnic background of the family and its socioeconomic standing. For example, regularly discussing school experiences with your child seems to positively affect the reading and math test scores of Hispanic children, to negatively affect test scores in reading for black children, and to negatively affect test scores in both reading and math for white children (but only during elementary school). Regularly reading to elementary school children appears to benefit reading achievement for white and Hispanic children but it is associated with lower reading achievement for black children. Policy makers should not advocate a one-size-fits-all model of parental involvement.

What about when parents work directly with their children on learning activities at home? When we examined whether regular help with homework had a positive impact on children’s academic performance, we were quite startled by what we found. Regardless of a family’s social class, racial or ethnic background, or a child’s grade level, consistent homework help almost never improved test scores or grades. Most parents appear to be ineffective at helping their children with homework. Even more surprising to us was that when parents regularly helped with homework, kids usually performed worse. One interesting exception: The group of Asians that included Chinese, Korean and Indian children appeared to benefit from regular help with homework, but this benefit was limited to the grades they got during adolescence; it did not affect their test scores.

Our findings also suggest that the idea that parental involvement will address one of the most salient and intractable issues in education, racial and ethnic achievement gaps, is not supported by the evidence. This is because our analyses show that most parental behavior has no benefit on academic performance. While there are some forms of parental involvement that do appear to have a positive impact on children academically, we find at least as many instances in which more frequent involvement is related to lower academic performance.

As it turns out, the list of what generally works is short: expecting your child to go to college, discussing activities children engage in at school (despite the complications we mentioned above), and requesting a particular teacher for your child.

Do our findings suggest that parents are not important for children’s academic success? Our answer is no. We believe that parents are critical for how well children perform in school, just not in the conventional ways that our society has been promoting. The essential ingredient is for parents to communicate the value of schooling, a message that parents should be sending early in their children’s lives and that needs to be reinforced over time. But this message does not need to be communicated through conventional behavior, like attending PTA meetings or checking in with teachers.

When the federal government issues mandates on the implementation of programs that increase parental involvement, schools often encourage parents to spend more time volunteering, to attend school events, to help their children with homework and so forth. There is a strong sentiment in this country that parents matter in every respect relating to their children’s academic success, but we need to let go of this sentiment and begin to pay attention to what the evidence is telling us.

Conventional wisdom holds that since there is no harm in having an involved parent, why shouldn’t we suggest as many ways as possible for parents to participate in school? This conventional wisdom is flawed. Schools should move away from giving the blanket message to parents that they need to be more involved and begin to focus instead on helping parents find specific, creative ways to communicate the value of schooling, tailored to a child’s age. Future research should investigate how parental involvement can be made more effective, but until then, parents who have been less involved or who feel uncertain about how they should be involved should not be stigmatized.

What should parents do? They should set the stage and then leave it.

Keith Robinson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas, Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a professor of sociology and African and African-American studies at Duke, are the authors of “The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education.”
A version of this article appears in print on 04/13/2014, on page SR7 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Parental Involvement Is Overrated.

EdSurge: PD Padges

Charting the PD Waters With Badges

How one educator built her own badging system, transforming PD at her school and beyond

Although I love the freedom, flexibility and personalization of informal learning with my PLN on social media, I always felt that there should be a system for acknowledging that learning.
Badging for professional learning, now, seems an obvious solution. Badging itself has a long, rich history, even dating as far back as the middle ages. Throughout its history, badging has been used to guide, motivate and reward. But even just less than a year ago, when I started my journey into the world of digital badging, I had no idea myself how powerful it would be.
My journey into the world of digital badging started this year with a challenge from my principal Eric Scheninger. He asked me to develop a system that would familiarize teachers with Web 2.0 tools and related technologies. At the time, I was more focused on digital badges and eager to create a digital badge initiative for the students. I knew, however, that such a program would fall flat, as so many often do, unless teachers got to experience digital badging themselves.
It was at that point I decided to marry the two ideas into a digital-badge-based professional learning platform. The platform would kill two birds with one stone; provide professional learning opportunities for teachers and give them first hand experience with a digital-badge-based learning system. I was sixteen years into my own career as an educator. I had a firm understanding of what works in teacher professional learning and what doesn’t and I wanted to disrupt the system!

DIY Badging System

I had a vision, but I also had a steep learning curve to undergo in order to make it happen. I started with a company called Credly and a Wordpress plugin of theirs called BadgeOS. Credly, is a free web service for issuing, earning and sharing badges. Their free plugin BadgeOS instantly transforms a Wordpress website into a platform for recognizing achievement.
I knew I had found the solution and although I had only basic familiarity with Wordpress, I refused to let that stop me. I purchased our domain name, worlds-of-learning-nmhs in the hope that other schools might want a similar system of learning for their teachers and be able to substitute their own school name for nmhs (New Milford High School). By October I was ready and able to launch our badging platform.

How does it work?

Teachers (or anyone who wants to join) simply register on the platform. Members can then choose to learn about a tool from among the (growing) selection of badges I have on the site. Our badges include badges for mastering tools like Buncee, Padlet, and ThingLink, as well as a variety of other web-based tools.
To learn about the tool, I provide a purposely brief description of what the tool is. I also include a very short screencast which provides an overview of how to use each tool, a brief written description of how the tool can be used and how the tool can be seamlessly integrated into the curriculum through the Common Core.

Educators can earn the badge by then integrating what they’ve learned into their instruction in some way. Users can submit ‘proof’ to me that they have done so. Their evidence can include a URL demonstrating what they have done, a lesson plan, or even just a text description of how they or their students have used the tool. Upon receiving their documentation, I issue them a digital badge for their learning. I release a new badge every few weeks, as to not overwhelm teachers with too many choices.

Disruption Begins

After my very first tweet to promote the platform, I was thrilled to see that not only did teachers in my district join, but teachers from all over the country (and even some internationally) were joining.

A map of where participating teachers are located.
The feedback I received was tremendous. I was inundated with emails thanking me for developing such a system and also messages from educators and administrators asking me how they could develop a similar system.
At that point, I decided to give it all away. I offered my files for districts to install and personalize. Some districts expressed interest in integrating this exact badging system and others wanted to take this platform and use it as a springboard into badging in other areas. For example, online academy classes, information literacy skills, training library staff, and recognizing the digital achievements of students and staff in 1:1 initiatives.
In the words of one educator who contacted me, "I think your platform is exactly what my school needs to motivate teachers- especially those who would like to explore new technology in their classroom but are intimidated and don’t know where to start. I think it is a wonderful place to experiment with web-based technologies in a safe and welcoming space. This is such a great way to encourage and recognize the digital achievement of the staff."
This message, amongst the others, confirmed for me what I already knew - that teachers want to create their own professional learning path, that they want to learn anytime and anywhere, and that they want to receive credit for their informal learning.
Teachers in my district have also used the platform to recognize their own proficiency with technology tools and volunteered to share their knowledge by contributing their own screencasts to our platform. These teachers have earned Digital Leadership badges to recognize their efforts.
I think the badging system was so successful when applied to professional development because it is an informal learning system, it is a ‘safe’ place, free from administrators, for teachers to be able to learn, experiment and take risks.
I believe this platform works because it reflects the learning needs and wants of teachers, it provides a place for beginners to learn new tools as well as room for teachers to become more proficient with technology tools to showcase their knowledge and skills. Teachers who take the time to learn on their own time now have a way to be acknowledged for and to receive credit for that learning.