Archive for the ‘Common Core’ Category

Social media has had an effect on almost every aspect of life in America. Like it or not, use it or not, agree with it or not, social media has changed the way we live our lives in America no matter what the generation is in which we reside. There are some aspects of our culture that are affected more. Certainly News, Entertainment, and Advertising are areas that all would agree have most dramatically been changed with the social media intrusion on our culture. The speed at which that change took place was accelerated by the quick adoption of strategies by those industries to harness the power of social media to advance their respective industries.

Now let us consider the education industry. There are still educators saying things like: We need to prepare our students for the 21st Century.” Students graduating for the last two years began their education IN THE 21ST CENTURY! The time for preparation has long past over a decade ago.

Social Media is a large part of the 21st Century, which is our present. Of course to understand and utilize social media to our advantage as educators, we need to call upon our knowledge of digital literacy. It is the very digital literacy that all educators will be held responsible to teach under the common core. Of course for educators to teach digital literacy and administrators to assess lessons on digital literacy, we must assume that our educators are digitally literate. The last thing we need to improve education would be illiterate educators.

What does it mean to be digitally literate? Trusting the ever-controversial Wikipedia, a product itself of social media, we have this: Digital literacy is the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies. It requires one “to recognize and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute pervasively, and to easily adapt them to new forms”.

Understanding the use of technology and teaching it is one thing, using it to advance educators and education is a step further. The idea of connecting educators digitally for the purpose of curating and sharing information, collaborating with other educators, creating lessons and methods for teaching and learning, discussing and exploring mandates and political edicts in a transparent way are all strategies that engage technology in a meaningful way for education. The technology has made what was never before possible, a commonplace occurrence among connected educators.

What is resulting from all of this seems to be different types of educators. Those who are digitally literate and using that literacy to learn and share with other educators. These are the connected educators. Relevance is a primary concern. They don’t want to read about change, they want to lead it, or at least be involved with it. They write blogs and Tweet rather than email. Those educators, who are somewhat digitally literate, but choose to be strictly consumers of information through technology are semi-connected educators. They want to be relevant, but are content with reading about what is relevant. They may use that information in face-to-face discussions. They read blogs and they email. The unconnected educator is more in line with the 20th century model of teacher. Access to the Internet is limited for whatever reason. Relevance in the 21st century is not a concern. Whatever they need to know, someone will tell them. If they email anyone, they will follow it up with a phone call to make sure it was received.

These are the results of the effects of technology on educators that I have observed.

These are just my musings that you may agree with, or dismiss at will. I do however travel in big education circles, and I do engage, and observe educators regularly about education as a profession and as a passion. I think many of my observations are more accurate than not.

October is going to be Connected Educator Month, #CEM. This initiative is so important that it is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Department of Education. I would urge all educators to take advantage of the sources, which will be provided to connect. Being a connected educator does not happen in a day. It is a mindset. It becomes a great part of who you are as an educator. It enables you to hone in on your needs as a learner. I could not recommend anything else more strongly. If there is one thing that could best advance educators and education, it is teachers and administrators becoming connected educators.


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Collaboration in education is not a new concept, but the idea of using social media for collaboration in education is relatively new considering the age of our education system. Technology has only recently provided the tools to make this possible on a large, even global, scale. In order to successfully engage in this most recent form of collaboration two things need to be understood; the use of technology, and its applications designed for collaboration, and the culture of collaboration among those using that technology. Our most effective education collaborators and thought leaders seem to have a thorough understanding of both.

Although sharing is the key element to collaboration there is more to it than just that. Feedback is important for additions and subtractions for improving ideas. If one is to be a successful collaborator then responding in some way to other educators becomes essential. Without responding, there is no collaboration.

Discussion of ideas is made possible on several applications; the most used source for professional exchanges is probably Twitter, followed by Facebook, LinkedIn, and then any number of Ning Communities for educators with their Blog and Discussion Pages. Commenting on Education Blogs is also another way to extend the collaboration, often in much more detail. Engaging in these practices will broaden the discussion of education among those who need the answers the most, the educators. Many education thought leaders are passionate about education and that passion is both needed and infectious. If educators just shared those passionate ideas with the people that they were connected with, we could have a movement. Never answer for the knowledge of another. You have no idea who knows what. Never assume everyone has heard about one subject, or another, or that they understand it in detail. Just pass along the information for them to decide.

What information is important? Certainly any specific information pertaining to your field of endeavor would be important especially to those who follow you from the same field. Additionally, you should share general information pertaining to Education, methodology, pedagogy, the brain, research and any innovative education ideas. These would come in the form of links to websites, articles, blog posts, videos, podcasts, graphs, and also any other tweets educators may be sharing. A most important contribution is the sharing of successes in the classroom. Your successes may spark enlightenment in a number of other educators. Your successful everyday practices may be innovative to others.

If we as educators made collaboration a common practice among all educators there might not be a need for a common core. Collectively we are all smarter than we are individually. Our common core would be developed by the connection and collaboration of educators. Educators could address their own concerns and professional development without interference by politicians and profiteers. It does require that we become involved in connecting with other educators in a supportive, respectful, collaborative way. Better education for students will be the direct result of better education for our educators.

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Whenever I attend an education conference, which I am doing with great frequency these days, I do so as an educator with an educator’s eye, and an educator’s attitude. It is through that lens that I view education conferences either as a conference for the education profession or the education industry. Sometimes conferences are a combination of both. An easy distinction is that the industry side is made up of the business side of education, while the profession side is composed of classroom educators. Of course the most effective conferences are a balanced blend of both. It is that balance that eludes so many conferences.

This balance in education conferences is also what we should seek in professional development. Instead of making it about the bells and whistles of the applications, we should ask the educators about their goals and methods and then see if that can be enhanced by technology. If the educator has an established  goal and an established method that can be made easier and more efficient, and more effective with technology, most educators will move toward that technology addition. The alternative way to do this is to have an administrative commitment to the technology and then to tell teachers to work it into what they do in order to make curriculum better. If teacher acceptance and cooperation is required for success, I think one method might work better than the other.

SxSWEdu 2013 was different from many other education conferences. There was no vendor floor. There were no booths to pursue. There were still tchotchkes, but they were given out at sessions or special events at various sponsored suites used as workplace spaces or meet-up lounges. I was told that the attendance was in the area of 5,000 attendees with one-third of that number representing educators. The few educator speakers who attended were of the very best education has to offer. There were fewer educators however than those speakers provided by the education technology industry.

I attended one workshop by a featured speaker that I thought was described as gaming for learning. Of course this idea of gaming in education is getting a great deal of attention recently, so with my educator lens in hand, I attended the session. The bulk of the session was about a history and development of specific computer generated games, as well as a strategy for working them into education. Monetizing games for education was also mentioned. The topic of learning as it relates to gaming was never the focus or was it barely mentioned. Again it was a business perspective, which is great for the industry folks in attendance, and there were many.

Finally, the time for the closing keynote approached. People began lining up 90 minutes before the designated time. Bill Gates was speaking to represent the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation. Many educators have strong feelings both pro and con about the Gates involvement in education and his influence on education reform. That however was not the issue here. He was at SxSWEdu to give an inspiring education speech. He chose to speak at the start of the allotted time and then bring on a panel for questioning to end his session. I was ready. I positioned myself directly next to the only microphone set up for audience questioners. The Microphone stand actually touched my chair. It was the perfect spot.

The Gates speech for me lacked passion or even enthusiasm. A highlight came as he extolled the almost national acceptance of the Common Core State Standards. He put a giant emphasis on his point with a huge map of the United States with all of the accepting CCSS States brightly colored-in and the non-conforming states in a drab beige color. Of course the audience began to snicker and chuckle when in the center of this display the most prominent of the beige outcasts stood out as a huge section of the map. It was Texas, the very state we were all seated in. The irony grasped and tickled the audience, but it ignored Bill who did not seem to get it.

Bill’s address came to an end and he then introduced his panel. The part that assaulted my educator lens at this education conference was the fact that he introduced his panel as three outstanding CEO’s. It was more business people addressing educators about education. He chose to bring them out and individually question them one at a time. The questions were prepared as expected, but even the follow –up questions from Bill in response to their answers were wooden and staged. The Panel included: InBloom CEO Iwan Streichenberger, Dreambox Learning Inc. CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson, and for the Charter Schools, Summit Schools CEO Diane Tavenner.

Toward the end of the presentation I was mentally preparing to step up to the microphone that was standing at attention by my side. As Bill asked the last wooden question however, something sudden and unexpected happened. I looked down to my phone to tweet out a quick comment to the twitterverse, and as I looked up from the tweet, Bill and his friends were GONE! They literally ran off the stage. NO QUESTIONS FOR YOU! I was dejected all the way to the airport. I was a little lifted when I saw that the flight had Wi-Fi. I connected up and started seeing posts about the Gates Keynote already popping up. The first one I read referred to Gates inspiring the crowd and receiving a standing ovation. I was there and saw little inspiration, and absolutely no ovation. The only standing was when the panel fled the stage and the audience stood in confusion of the abrupt ending.

The emphasis of much of the conference, to me at least, was on data and content delivery. I guess they can be viewed as commodities and, as such, they are easily measured and more conveniently priced. After all, it is about the business. As an educator I tend to lean toward content creation, and formative assessment. Learning is not so easily measured and requires feedback and reflection and sometimes correction, or at least a restatement. After all, it is about the learning

None of what I have mentioned is meant as a negative, but rather just observation. People should understand the make-up and culture of conferences before committing whatever little time and money is available to them in today’s climate. Education is about learning, but it requires more than a slate and chalk to get it done in a technology driven society. If we are to really benefit from these conferences, we may need more education as an education profession and an education industry.

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I read a post recently talking about education leaders coming from teachers. That, in my experience, is a very difficult transition for really dedicated classroom teachers to make. They are too often consumed with doing what is needed to be a great classroom teacher. Even when professional education organizations recruit leaders for their own organizations on the state, or national levels, teachers from their ranks often cannot get enough release time from their individual schools to serve in the high-time-demanding positions required to move up the ladder of leadership in those organizations. Often times, administrators, or education consultants move into these organizational leadership positions.

I am not saying that Administrators are poor leaders, or bad people. I am pointing out that they have a unique perspective and often one not close to that of a classroom teacher. YES, there are exceptions, and every administrator reading this post probably sees himself, or herself as such an exception. The point here however is that, in many instances, the further away from a classroom that an Education leader gets, the less the leadership becomes about education and the more it is affected by other influences.

It is understandable how this change in perspective happens. Moving from the decisions about learning to the decisions about building management, staff management, budget management, public relations, labor relations, teacher observations, schedule maintenance, community relations, Board meetings, and political considerations as a focus to lead a school or district is a shift from learning considerations being the focus. Such is the stuff of administration, and understandably there is little time left for much else. It is no wonder that the average career lifespan in a district of an administrator is less than three years. Of course administrators leaving buildings and districts after such short periods of time complicates things even more in a negative way for a variety of reasons, but that requires another post.

Next, we need to consider the influence of technology on our leaders. Data is King. Administrative decisions can now be more easily made and numbers can be tallied in the blink of an eye. We can call it researched-based decision-making, because we have the ability to easily quantify things. We have the all-powerful numbers. The question facing our leaders would be what things to quantify. Do we have the right numbers answering the right questions? What should we be assessing and how do we do it? Does assessment always require testing?

Who gets to make up the questions becomes key. Our politicians are concerned with elections and they will be driven by whatever the popular sentiment is, whether or not it is based in fact, or if it has an impact on learning. Our business leaders will be driven by whatever is profit bearing, whether or not has any bearing on learning. Then we have the media leaders who are driven by both the leaders of politics, as well as the leaders of business, and of course popular sentiment will drive the entire bus with all on board.

There are many things that are wrong with our education system, which cries out for leadership and change. Of course the greatest negative influences on education, which are often overlooked, come from the outside. Issues like poverty, security, safety, nutrition, health, and family support are some of these issues. That is all further complicated by political interference, as well as a mythology built around learning, motivation, and real assessment of learning. How are these measured? How will any core curriculum or standardization change these factors of influence? Non-educators claiming enough knowledge about education constantly legislate, and mandate many things that prove to educators to be counter productive to learning. Why is this met with such little resistance from educators? A better question might be why have educators been quiet about their objections?

Why were educators removed from the national discussion on education? How did education leaders allow this to happen? Who stood up for education?

Ask educators today where they stand on standardized testing and compare that answer to the national agenda. I believe they will be diametrically opposing positions. Who are the education leaders that allowed this to get so far from where we should be going? I wish I could point to the leaders standing up for education. I wish we could point to specific people directing the reform movement beyond just Diane Ravitch, Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and Michael Bloomberg. Those are the voices that have a platform, but how many have an education portfolio of experience?

I know the standout leaders of connected educators who speak out on many issues. I know Keynote speakers and education authors at National and statewide Education Conferences who regularly express many of the same the same concerns. They all seem to be cheerleaders for the cause of education, but have not found a way to lead educators. Is it the lack of leaders or the lack of access to a medium to get the message out?

“Why is this post filled with so many unanswered questions?” is a question that a leader should answer. Who steps up for education? Where are our leaders? What medium do we use for the educator’s voice? Politicians, business people and media people always have access to media and the public audience. Educators after being demoralized in too many cases are limited and seem to be far less inclined to speak out about needed reforms in education.  But then again, even if politicians, business people and media folks were to manage their own industries and get out of education, who will step up to fill the void? Who are the real educators who will lead the real reform for education?

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I recently got into a discussion with my friend Errol St. Clair Smith, Executive Producer at BAM Radio Network on the effect that technology has had on the news media. Many of the old tried and true guidelines of journalism have been forever changed with the 24-hour news cycle, as well as, news on demand. There is also the ability of anyone to publish at anytime and have the capacity of communicating tolarge masses with the click of a enter button (return button for Apple Folks). This has had a vast and yet-to-be-determined effect on not just the media, but our entire culture as well. The computer is now the Publisher. The smartphone is the video cameraman. Woe has been the newspapers and magazines that had failed to heed the call.

As educators we tend to only consider the effects of technology in Education. Technology has always moved us forward with many industries and professions falling by the wayside. Where have the blacksmiths gone? How many shopping center parking lots have one-hour photo processing booths? When was the last time a college student walked the halls of the dorm trying to borrow a portable typewriter to finish a paper? How many surgeons can operate today based on scalpel skills alone? How many factory workers have been replaced by mechanical Robots? This list could go on for several pages of text, but I will end it here, hoping the point has been made.

Almost all industries and professions have been at the very least affected by tech, and at most, some industries have been eliminated as a result of it. Where does that leave education and educators? I have often said that the biggest myth in education is that computers will someday replace teachers. Now in some respects, I am not so sure it is still a myth. There is the often-quoted expression any educator who can be replaced by a computer should be. I am not sure that the best of teaching may survive at the hands of ill-informed legislators. I am definitely not a conspiracy theorist. There are however, a number of efforts taking place in legislatures around this country that may have a profound effect on the way we deliver education.

There are any number of initiatives going on that, taken as single events, may be non-threatening, or even having a positive effect on education. The combination of these initiatives however, may have a profound effect on the way we deliver education.

Some states have now passed legislation requiring a percentage of education be delivered in a blended form. Blended learning is a combination of delivery of instruction using the classroom and the computer. There is legislation allowing Charter schools to circumvent many of the restrictions of public education. There is the movement to increase class size in every state. Even more troubling, most recently one state is considering legislation to remove certification requirements of teachers.

Looking at all of those pieces as a whole, there seems to be emerging a possible threat to end Public Education, as we know it. States can create an atmosphere where kids can be placed in charter schools with few restrictions using computer-driven education, directed by non-certified technicians, delivering education to hundreds of kids, maybe in a single class, who do not even need to be physically present in a school. All of which was made possible through state legislation. It is cost cutting and might address the tax concerns of many.

We do not want to start a movement for educators calling for a Rebirth of the LUDDITES. We do however need to have educators be educated on the need to understand and use technology as a tool for learning in an environment that supports it. Professional Development must be continual and supported by districts. Educators are the professionals of Education and representative of some of the very smartest people in our country. They should not need to look to politicians and business people to determine how best to educate our children. However, if educators relinquish their relevance, they may be eliminating their profession. Educators need to be in the discussion of education as relevant, educated, informed advocates. I believe this can best be accomplished by being connected and collaborative through technology. We can make it work for us, or surely it will be turned against us.

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We are preparing our students for life. I hear so many educators use this sentence when asked, what is the purpose of education? Many years ago I believed that to be true as well. Maybe many generations back it may have been true. In consideration of all that I observe, even with some great innovation,  and a whole bunch of technology integration that is taking place in so many schools across the country, I don’t believe “preparing our students for life” is the focus or goal of education today. The real irony is that school for kids is real life, a fact often overlooked by educators.

The most obvious reason this is not the case is that we don’t have a clue what the future holds for our children. We will have them in public schools for 13 years. Try to envision what it was like looking backwards to the world as we knew it then. 1999 was quite a different world. We had scarcely a clue of what to expect to find in 2012. The only way to prepare kids for life was to make adjustments every step of the way. The education system does not favor on-the-fly adjustments. The education system needs to weigh, deliberate and consider each and every change. It must all be research-based and research takes time. Education is not ahead of the curve in incorporating technology in learning, it continues to play catch up.  A technology-driven society does not allow the luxury of catching up. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

Content in past decades was slow to change. Even as advances were made in science, history, geography, and literature, the world itself moved at a slower pace, so time and change were less critical. We had a print media that was driven by time sensitive events, but the time was stretched out by print deadlines. Textbooks were relevant for longer periods of time. Today, whole countries that were in existence a short while back have changed names boundaries, populations, and cultures seemingly overnight. Our outdated textbooks that we continue to use cannot hope to keep up with the rapid change of the world today. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

We have research showing us different modalities of learning. We embrace differentiation in teaching. We strive for inclusion of all students to learn in a single teaching environment, while addressing individual strengths for learning. We talk about personalized learning for each student. We use individualized learning plans to maximize learning. We recognize that all kids are created differently. Even in consideration of all of that, we standardize their assessment. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

We hold up the innovators as models. Innovators are our 21st Century heroes. We encourage out-of-the-box thinking while restricting our teachers to in-the-box teaching and assessing it with in-the- box tests. We want our students to be innovative, but require them to be compliant with teaching methods of the past. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

Why do we continue to limit the learning time of our students in order to do test preparation?  How can we continue to insist that kids limit themselves with the cramming of content for a test instead of using their skills to get that content anywhere and at any time? How can we continue to prepare our students for a tech-driven culture demanding critical thinking skills and the ability to problem solve by assessing their content retention? We are not matching up the skills that our children will need in a future that we know little about to the education that we provide today?  Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

We cannot continue on the current path of education if we want to prepare our children for their future. Our children will not live in the world that we grew up in. We need to prepare them to be flexible, critical thinking, problem solvers. They need to be able to get beyond the limitations of their teachers and parents. Our kids are not empty vessels to be filled with content in order to pass a standardized test. Each day, as technology moves faster, that fact is driven home with more emphasis.  Will we ever be able to truly claim that we are effectively preparing kids for life?

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I was invited to attend the Annual Conference on Evidence-based Policy making and Innovation sponsored by the National Association of State Boards of Education. The conference was well planned with excellent leaders and speakers in each of the sessions. These were the very sessions the members of NASBE needed to consider the weighty decisions they need to make on policy required by their positions on their State Boards of Education. I was there as an observer and a blogger, and I was impressed by their genuine concern to do the right thing in education. It seemed that many members were at one time an educator.

A key session for me was the general session on the Common Core State Standards. The panel consisted of David Coleman, “The Architect of the Common Core,” along with Christopher Koch, Illinois superintendent of schools, and Jean-Claude Brizard, CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Brizard was replaced the next day, having nothing to do with this session; I am sure.

Coleman was the driving force of the panel. He was passionate in his presentation of the Common Core State Standards. CCSS is his baby. I am not in agreement with all aspects of CCSS, but I do see a need to provide some statewide guidance to what expectations or goals we have for our learners and teachers. The sticking point will always be the assessment of these expectations and goals.

The point of this panel, beyond the explanation of the CCSS, was the fact that all of the states involved will need to be Common Core compliant by 2014. They stated emphatically that CCSS will affect all subjects and not just math and language arts. It became obvious to me that they were really driving home the who, what, where, when, and most definitely, the why of Common Core. What was searing my brain, as I squirmed in my seat, trying very hard not to jump up screaming 20 questions all at once, was the obvious missing plan of how this is to be done. It cannot be done without teachers fully in support. Where is the professional development piece to all of this? The Common Core is planned and structured and handed to the states with the full support of the U.S. Department of Education. Where is the implementation plan beyond the deadline for compliance? Where is the plan and support for professional development for this grand scheme that will change American education?

There are many teachers in our education system who recognize the need for change in other districts, but they remain satisfied in what they do as educators in their own district. Their students are coming to school, doing work and getting jobs or going to college. According to the media and the politicians, the system is crumbling with no hope for repair, but that is not what educators see in many of their own districts. Why change if we don’t have to? Every educator learns early on that whatever change is being implemented now, if you wait long enough, it will go away when another idea comes along. The other big misconception is that the Common Core right now is only for math and language arts. It is not going to affect any other areas.

Many schools have bought into Common Core and are preparing their teachers for it. Some are doing a better job than others. There are other schools however, that may not be sharing the enthusiasm to be compliant by 2014. The failure or success of Common Core rests with the educators. It might have behooved the policy makers to have first considered an educator’s Common Core for professional development and support so that the very people who are most needed to support, enforce and teach under CCSS will be properly prepared. When it comes to professional development in education, there is little positive commonality. To be better educators, we need to be better learners.

A possible outcome is that if Common Core State Standards fails, it would not be assessed as a failure because it wasn’t a great idea. It will be judged a failure because American teachers never embraced it or supported it. If it doesn’t work, it’s the fault of the bad teachers. No one will look back at the implementation and ask, “How did we prepare our educators to implement this bold idea?” or “Where were educators ranked in the priority of the plan?”

Much of this came in great clarity and focus to me on the plane after I left the conference. The flight attendant was doing the in-flight instruction and got to the part where the oxygen masks come down. She said: If you are an adult with children, place the mask over your face first, and then you will be able to place the mask over the face of the child. If Common Core fails, what then?

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