Friday, March 30, 2007

Crashing No Teacher Left Behind

I crashed Deborah Meier's opening keynote honoring Ted Sizer at Brown's No Teacher Left Behind conference last weekend. It was good to see some old friends and show off Vivian. I got a little misty when Bil and Kurt both talked about how they live in Providence because of Ted Sizer, and I thought "I do too!" Jennifer attended the rest of the conference, which she seemed to enjoy, while I took care of Vivian.

I didn't get a chance to buttonhole Deborah and tell her I've been enjoying her new blog. I particularly liked yesterday's post, "Fighting to keep public schools public":

The reason I care so much about science education is that science is not only a tool for improving our technological capacities, but it's a way of thinking that is essential for all modern day citizens of the world. It's not dogma, even good dogma, although as too often taught today it is hard to distinguish it from dogma or a magic show.

What you and I like about it, I'm sure, is that it rests on is an approach to seeking the truth about a great many questions (but not all) that helps us live together despite very great differences on matters of great importance. And that "approach"—the habits of mind underlying its approach—holds value for all our academic disciplines, as well as those we live by daily. We tried to systematize them at the schools I was associated with in East Harlem and Boston. Those 'habits" are what we need to be arguing about, because "habits" take years to develop, and are hard to slough off. From my standpoint that's what we set aside those K-12 years for, because the ones I had in mind are the habits of democracy and won't just appear because we send kids to school. They are my "ends," by which I set my "means." Such "ends" do not have to be the same for us all, but they sure need to be publicly acceptable.

Ah, yes, that's the stuff. I'll take that over a torrent of Friedman-isms, exhortations about the "ethical use of information," warmed-over futurism, and weird conservative relativism any day.

Hold Those Purchase Orders! $200 Laptops Coming Soon To US!?

After a long series of rumors and false-starts concerning distribution of the OLPC "$100 Laptop" (now known as the "XO") in the US, the Financial Times reported today that Quanta, manufacturer of the XO, will market a low cost commercial laptop in the developed world. The hardware will be based on the XO, and since the XO's software is all free software, it will be available in the commercial laptop. Presumably a version of Windows Embedded will also likely be an option.

One thing this highlights is Quanta's confidence in their XO prototypes and process. I was able to spend some time with an XO last month at PyCon, and the laptop is physically impressive. It feels like it is going to work. On the other hand, the reality of the processor and memory restrictions sink in a bit; it seems likely that Quanta will be more willing to bump up the processor and memory a bit than OLPC is planning to do. A processor with a level two cache would be nice, for example.

Quanta don't do any retail sales at all right now that I'm aware of. If they do any it isn't in the US. I would guess that they'll do something very minimal and low-cost for sales and marketing, such as only offering limited configurations through a web site.

Regardless, this is big, big news, which is likely to turn the educational technology market upside down over the next five years. I can't wait.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Urban Schools Could Be Worse

One line which has stuck in my craw lately, and I can't remember the source in the ed-policy blogosphere, was essentially "urban schools couldn't be worse," as in, we might as well try "X" because nothing could be worse than what we've got. This is a failure of imagination. It is easy to picture situations even worse than they are now. Here's one real world example to get you started:

Escambia Charter near Pensacola made about $200,000 by hiring out students to clean roadsides -- and the school falsified attendance records, course schedules and grade reports. Even though the school pleaded no contest to grand theft, it remains open.

Which is not to say I'm in favor of the status quo, or against charters. I'm just saying, things could be worse.

Wye Zone Integration Server

I've started working in earnest on Wye, a free SIF Zone Integration Server. It is the successor to TinyZIS. The prime factor in the architectural choices that went into TinyZIS was making sure I wouldn't get bogged down before I got started. I stuck with things I already knew, and it was a major accomplishment for me to keep it fairly simple.

The big goal for Wye is to write something that can easily be packaged and included in Edubuntu, K12LTSP, and the OLPC server, so I have to be very disciplined about creating dependencies. The main technologies I'm using are Apache, mod_python, SQLite, and SimpleTAL (templates). I'll be heading to the Ubuntu Education Summit in Spain at the beginning of May, and I'm hoping to have this in good shape by then.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Overexposed in Providence

There is a little article about my work on SchoolTool in the Providence Business News this week. Also, there is an article on the Grays in Rhode Island Monthly, which is not online yet (or at Borders), but apparently there is a picture of me umpiring a game last year (we take turns filling that role).

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Journey Into the Mind of Vicki Davis

Only the Cool Cat Teacher could open a post on bi-partisan cooperation by illustrating the importance of smashing your enemies while they are too weak to resist.

And what's up with this?

The fact that the scientific community seems to be unable to tolerate differing viewpoints whether it is global warming or the discussion concerning a divine entity bothers me. If a theory is a theory, it is disputable by definition and in fact must be disputed to keep the democracy alive. So now, theorists want to claim theories are fact, when in fact, they are still theories.

The "scientific community" has no opinion on the "divine entity." That question is outside the scope of science. That the globe is warming, however, is a fact, proven through observation.

Am I the only one who actually reads this stuff?


So Will goaded me into looking more closely at Karl's famous "Did You Know" powerpoint. I'll just hit a few points here.

First up:

20. If you took every single job in the U.S. today and shipped it to China . . .
21. China would still have a labor surplus.

Nobody really knows if this is true or false. The American work force is around 146 million. The CIA says "From 100 million to 150 million surplus rural workers are adrift between the villages and the cities, many subsisting through part-time, low-paying jobs," and that seems as good a guess as any. So it could be true in the abstract. But even if it is, what impression is that supposed to leave on the reader? If China still has over 20% unemployment after this decade or so of massive growth, that's not impressive. That's scary.

29. According to former Secretary of Education Richard Riley . . .
30. The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004.
31. We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . .
32. Using technologies that haven’t been invented . . .
33. In order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.

Here is the Bureau of Labor Statistics prediction for the 10 occupations with the largest job growth, 2004-14:

Retail salespersons Registered nurses
Postsecondary teachers
Customer service representatives
Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners
Waiters and waitresses
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food
Home health aides
Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants
General and operations managers

Here's the 10 detailed industries with the largest wage and salary employment growth, 2004-14:

Employment services
Local government educational services
Local government, excluding education and hospitals
Offices of physicians
Full-service restaurants
General medical and surgical hospitals, private
Limited-service eating places
Home health care services
Colleges, universities, and professional schools, private
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services

These are all jobs that exist, that solve problems and provide services that won't be going away any time soon.

This one is probably my favorite:

40. In 2002 alone Nintendo invested more than $140 million in research and development.
41. The U.S. Federal Government spent less than half as much on Research and Innovation in Education.

Karl picked that up from David Warlick, whose original quote is as follows:

In 2002, Nintendo alone invested more than $140,000,000 (USD) in research and development. That same year, the U.S. Federal Government spent less than half that much on Research & Innovation.
David provides this cryptic attribution:

“FY 2004 Budget for the United States Government” U.S. Department of Education U.S. Department of Education. 27 Apr. 2003 <>

The fact that Karl narrowed the scope from all research and innovation to just research and innovation "in education" indicates that he realized there was a problem with David's quote. The NSF alone spent 4.8 billion in 2002, or over 30 times what Nintendo spent. Even in education, the Ed Department budget shows $385 million in "State Grants for Innovative Programs" . Frankly, I can't figure out where Karl and David got their numbers. David's footnote is not very helpful.

Last one:

65. Predictions are that e-paper will be cheaper than real paper.

"Predictions are?" They just are? This one, quite frankly, is a good test at the end to see just how much you've managed to suspend disbelief. The idea that a sheet of e-paper (that is, a lightweight, flexible electronic display) would be cheaper than a piece of regular paper is absurd. Wouldn't whatever nano-tech magic you're imagining would produce the e-paper be able to make regular paper even more cheaply? Plus, it defies basic economics. E-paper would always cost more because people would be willing to pay more for it.

I could go on, but I don't want to seem completely obsessive, and I do have other things I could be doing with my time.

What is particularly disturbing is that this piece has been so unquestionably picked up and promoted by people who spend a significant chunk of their time preaching about "information literacy" and such.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Future Problem Solving & Freakopolitics

I was amused to see an column by Mark Schmitt in this month's American Prospect about how reliant the Democratic policy apparatus has become on tax credits as an easy answer for every question:

If you start to read the policy proposals of the Democratic presidential candidates and the mainstream Democratic think tanks, you will quickly get the impression that, while Democrats see lots of problems, there's always just one solution: a tax credit.

John Edwards proposes an "American Dream Tax Credit" -- up to $1,000 a year for five years to help buy a first home. Barack Obama has a new tax credit to promote fatherhood. Outside of the candidates, competition for the tax-credit championship is fierce: The leaders are Senator Chuck Schumer's four-part "Middle-Class Opportunity Act," which has new child-tax credits, a new tax credit for college tuition, and a new credit for families caring for older parents; and the Hillary Clinton–linked group, Third Way, which offers some of the same, plus a new-baby tax credit. Everyone wants tax credits to encourage savings and energy conservation.

What's funny about this is that it is the exact same rut that Guy DiDonato, Heidi Zimmerman and Bob Maylock (?) and I got into on our Future Problem Solving team at Huntingdon Area Middle School, circa 1983.

How's that for teaching 21st Century Skills?!

My YouTube Debut

Brian Jepson corralled me at the bar after my talk last night at the Providence Geeks dinner for a quick three minute video interview recorded off his MacBook.

My actual talk went well. I wrote down about 40 topics ("Zope 3," "Calendars," "Hiring," "The Shuttleworth Foundation," etc) on 11"x14" cards and let the early arrivals pick out 20 or so that I'd actually talk about. I arranged them in a reasonable order and recruited someone to hold up the cards to lead me along. Given the particular combination of circumstances, it was an effective method.

Ed-Tech Advocates: Always Ready To Cast The First Stone

It is very safe for people working generally in the field of "educational technology" to place the blame for the state of ed-tech, and education in general, on things other than the technology. If the problem is, oh, I don't know, preservice training for teachers, or the traditional pedagogy of schools, or ineffective methods of professional development, it is quite easy for us to point and say "something must be done," when we've got little influence on these issues beyond the local level. If ed-tech won't work until these fundamental problems are solved, it will never work, or at least we will have permanent excuses for it not working.

I'm not saying we can't talk about the broader issues, but where should our focus be in terms of trying to create change? Don't we have more influence over technology and its implementation? There are huge problems at the core of ed-tech right now. We need inexpensive, durable laptops running operating systems designed for learning. We should demand that every university ed-tech research project, especially those receiving public funds, be released as free software, and built with free software. We must demand public processes and accountability for filtering policies and prohibit the filtering of political speech. I could go on, but that's three good ones to start on.

We should take care of our own discipline before looking for others to blame.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I'm Speaking Today at the Providence Geek Dinner

I've neglected to mention I'm speaking tonight (i.e., Wednesday, March 21) at the monthly Providence Geek dinner about SchoolTool, etc. I believe I'll be talking around 6:30. The whole thing runs roughly from 5:30 - 9:00. I've been much more anxious about this than I usually am for a talk, since I actually see these people fairly regularly.

Why I Think The Semantic Web Will Take A Really Long Time

Regarding Stephen's post on "Why the Semantic Web Will Fail." First off, since I've been slagging on predictions lately, I'd point out that I agree that Stephen has "a pretty good record" for public predictions. I mostly agree with his arguments about commercial vendors not being able to play nicely together in something as complex as the Semantic Web.

For schools, I'm just hoping for a semantic intranet, where data will at least be easily shared between applications licensed by the school and hosted on their own computers. Even that seems a way off, not only because of vendor greed, but because the fundamental process of moving to Semantic Web technologies is to take intelligence out of applications and apply it to data. If that distinction makes no sense to you, consider that one reason this hasn't taken off.

The problem isn't that we have to write different types of programs, but that we have to do less programming and more, um, ontology-making. Right now we at least have a sizable population of programmers in the world, but I'm not even sure what the title is of the people we need to write ontologies. "Information architects?" Wikipedia's description doesn't seem to fit.

The problem is, whenever I read someone's vision for school computing or computing in general for 10 to 15 years in the future, as each feature is described I usually think to myself, "You need the Semantic Web for that..." I guess that's the next level of predicion here. Before I die, I imagine I'll be able to say to my computer, "I want to see Bjork on her next tour." And it will take care of it. The question is, by what method will my agent perform this? Using techniques that are recognizably the "Semantic Web" or some entirely different method? Or will this not happen at all in the next 40 years?

Monday, March 19, 2007

I Cannot (Effectively) Argue With Someone Who Lives In An Entirely Different Universe

What I have learned from Mark Anderson's response (in the comments) to my mocking jab is that the discourse communities of Silicon Valley insiders and those of us who just live on the web are apparently entirely separate. Indeed, judging by his post, they've got their own internet, too.

For example, in explaining his prediction/concept of the "CheapPC," he writes:

AMD refers directly to the category as WorldPC.

Perhaps they do, or they did, but the word doesn't appear on their website, so I'll have to take his word for it. Perhaps Mark is referring to the now-discontinued PIC? Just to confuse things further, in 2001, he called the iPaq a "WorldPC," but those don't use AMD chips, anymore at least. Anyhow, I'll happily give him credit for popularizing the term "CheapPC" in spoken and printed discourse in Silicon Valley, since I have no way of proving otherwise.

Mark also writes:

Microsoft uses the term "CarryAlong" on its website trumpeting the new UMPC, a direct lift from my work.

Well, maybe they did, or maybe they do on the Secret Silicon Valley Insiders Internet, but they don't on the prole internet anymore, nor does it appear anywhere on the version of I've got.

What I find amusing about these predictions is that the common thread seems to be not very successful or popular products. The PIC is dead; the iPaq is alive but never became a hit. The UMPC's don't seem to be flying off the shelves, even though the product category should be well established, based on this quote of Mark's from 2001:

The last couple of months have seen a number of new products that look increasingly like a CarryAlongPC, a concept design we've been talking about in these pages for several years now. Since they seem to be hitting the streets at last, it seemed time to point them out as they passed by.

The big failure however, the one I actually care about quite a bit, is the failure of the Inkwell PC to materialize. You thought it was just around the corner in 2001:

Remember when I told you a few months back that Apple had just been the first out with a version of the SNS Inkwell computer? (I just love moments like these.) Let's let SteveJ tell it:

"We had a great education quarter, with significant YTY growth, and a great iBook quarter, shipping over 182,000 of our new wildly popular consumer and education notebooks."

SNSers have now watched two new SNS-inspired designs take off: the Inkwell, and the WorldPC (Compaq iPaq). They aren't perfect, but they're hitting their intended markets.


...we all like those big numbers (of potential Inkwell orders), which is the right place to start. And, as I noted last week, we like them even better when they are scheduled to come online pretty fast: not necessarily over ten years, but maybe over five.

Now, Apple has sold a few iBooks and MacBooks over the years to schools, to be sure, but we haven't seen the kind of mass adoption you've hoped for in an "Inkwell" computer. The cost hasn't come down enough; the battery life hasn't lengthened enough; the durability hasn't increased enough. In the six subsequent years, nobody has seriously tried to market a laptop in the US that's genuinely designed for the requirements of schools. That prediction of a five year time frame isn't looking so good

But enough picking on past predictions. That's too easy. Now that I have Mark's attention, I do have a substantive concern. Where is the Project Inkwell specification? eSchool News says it was "released" in November. Apparently that "release" was only to the alternate universe Mark inhabits, because on the internet I live in, it does not exist. I would love to know why it has not been released to the public, because it makes it kind of difficult to either constructively critique or advocate for something that is a secret.

Also, Mark, where you live is Willow a vampire?

More Useful Info On GMail for Education

The new page for Google Apps for Education site is actually informative (in contrast the previous one). The answers to the potential show-stopping problems I saw seem straightforward:

  • Ads: Optional.
  • Archiving to meet legal requirements: run everything in and out through a gateway you control that handles the archiving (keeps a copy of everything, even if the user deletes it from GMail).

So this means a school can't completely eliminate their in house email infrastructure, but it is limited to running the gateway & archive system, plus any additional filtering or monitoring the district might want to insert at that point. Besides, considering the legal liabilities in play (violating public records laws, etc.), I don't think you'd want to rely entirely on Google for archiving.

I'm focusing on GMail, because it just seems like running email in particular is an ever increasing drain (due to spam, etc.) with very little value-add for a district. Schools should focus on things more closely related to teaching and learning.

The Burden of Proprietary Software Maintenance

From Steve Hargadon's notes on his podcast with David Warlick: plug. The first classroom blogging engine--he built it in 2004 so that teachers could oversee the content. There are others now--to be honest, he would urge people to go to the others, because ClassBlogmeister was needed at the time but he hasn't really been able to keep it as current as he might like. He has 63,000 users on his service, which is free.

Wouldn't everyone concerned have been happier (including David) if he had released the code for ClassBlogmeister as free software three years ago? He's not making any money off it anyhow. He would probably have a few people helping him to keep it up to date and making improvements and fixes. He'd probably have more overall users but be responsible for hosting fewer of them himself. The only real drawback would be in taking some extra time to make it reasonably easy to install and set up for other people, but that's an up front investment that can pay off in the long run.

Take A Page Out of the MADD Handbook

This piece on BlogSafety that Will pointed to is pretty good, but it further reinforces my feeling that web safety advocates can still sharpen their warnings considerably. Right now, BlogSafety offers this up as one of six "tips:"

Avoid in-person meetings. Don't get together with someone you "meet" in a profile or blog unless you are certain of their actual identity. Although it's still not risk-free, if you do meet the person, arrange the meeting in a public place and bring some friends along.

This is far too wimpy. Based on the article referenced at the beginnning of the post, they should highlight one rule:

Do not meet in private with someone you only know from the internet. Ever. Period.

Like "Don't drink and drive," this has the advantage of focusing in on the precise behavior that causes the greatest risk to kids, and it has the virtue of not being a rule which is conditional on your age. You should never drive drunk no matter how old you are, and you should never invite someone you've only met on the net over to your house when nobody else is around, no matter how old you are.

I'm sure they'll end up on that message eventually, but it does seem to be taking a while.

Respect My Awesome Powers of Prediction

I need to write a post calling out Project Inkwell a little more forcefully, but in the meantime, let me point out a highly amusing quote from Project Inkwell Chairman of the Board, Mark R. Anderson (from his FiRe website):

Best known for his accurate forecasts of important technology market shifts, Mark has correctly predicted Steve Jobs' return to Apple, the advent of a series of major PC market shifts and re-designs (including the CheapPC, the CarryAlongPC, and the Inkwell PC), and a decade of yen/dollar ratios. His ten-year, publicly graded accuracy rate is over 90% (emphasis added).

Yes, well, we'd all have good accuracy rates if we got credit for predicting projects we run ourselves and which have never produced a single public product. Not to mention that the only person on the web to use the word "CarryAlongPC" is Mark. R Anderson. What is he predicting? His own ongoing production of marketing terminology?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sorry, Mom

I have been remiss in uploading new pictures of Vivian lately...


More here...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Another Bridge Burned

I've long considered that if all else failed, I might try to get a Ph.D. at the Epistemology and Learning Group at MIT. My new post at Ed-Tech Insider pretty much guarantees that won't happen, I think.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Technology That Won't Go Away

Miguel touches on one point about one-to-one laptop initiatives that I think is crucial:

Just because you add technology doesn't mean everything is going to fact, it probably won't and result in entrenchment of anti-technology perspective ("See? We had the tech and nothing happened."). (emphasis added)

Let's imagine how this would actually play out. Say you buy a laptop for every kid in the summer of 2007, and you get the expected three years out of them in an initiative that, on the whole, doesn't work out so well. Even so it really plausible to think that in the 2011 school year that you're going to go back to having 5 desktops in the back of every room and a computer lab on every floor? Even if you do, for how many more years is that plausible? Will you be still doing that in 2015? How long will you have to wait before you try again with laptops? 2030?

The fact of the matter is, it might take that long, if nobody will produce an economical laptop for US schools. The entire industry is pretty much sitting around twiddling its thumbs until that happens, but there is no sense of urgency (is Project Inkwell ever going to publicly release their apparently completed spec?). We need laptops that are cheap and functional enough that nobody thinks they will go away, that we can afford whether or not they are being used perfectly.

Excellent Presentation on Open Source Business Models

(via /.) This presentation by Brent Williams on open source business models is excellent, even from just reading the slides. It makes important points all the way through.

In a slightly related note, where'd Dave Tosh's blog go?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Tell Me This Isn't How NCLB Plays Out

  • now - 2008: no change.
  • 2008: Democrats take the presidency and increase their majorities in the House and Senate.
  • 2009: Democrats pass NCLB reform which increases funding but also vastly increases complexity and cost. Republicans vote against it for "watering down" parts of the law that were completely impossible and/or nonsensical from the beginning.
  • 2010: Republicans hang the increasingly unpopular NCLB around the Democrats neck and run against it and teachers unions and in favor of Federalism and re-establishing local control (and charter schools & vouchers).

Infinite Regression of Junk

On one level I think I'm sympathetic to Doug Johnson's "blogs : junk food :: books & journals : healthy food" analogy. I mean, I'm stuck a quarter of the way through a couple good nonfiction books, Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing In America and Off the Books: the Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, not to mention The Wealth of Networks, which is literally too thought provoking for me to read more than a couple pages at a time, or all four volumes of The Nature of Order, which will probably cause me to guiltily avert my gaze for decades.

However, the (nutritional) value of blogs varies by discipline. You can safely not read education blogs; they just aren't that good yet. And in my humble opinion, you can pretty safely not read anything being written today about educational technology.

On the other hand, if you're interested in web technologies, scripting languages, open source, XML, etc., you're well served reading blogs, and if you're not reading blogs, you're reading mailing lists, chatting on IRC, etc. You really don't need to read Communications of the ACM for this stuff. If you want to follow politics in the US, you should first and foremost be reading blogs; if you wanted to stay on top of the Libby trial, you needed to read Firedoglake.

But what really freaks me out about his post is the list of more nutritious alternatives he comes up with. It is all this political/institutional marketing crap reports from ETS, the Department of Ed, Educause, Cisco. I guess if you want to grow up to be a lobbyist or a librarian that's what you should have for breakfast, but it is pretty grim fare from my point of view. Even worse, grim and trendy.

When I read posts like this it is like I can hear the clock ticking in the writer's head... "We've been doing blogs for like two years now. Time to stick a fork in 'em and move on to The Next Big Ed-Tech Thing."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Downside of "Placing Your Bet"

The problem with "placing your bet" on school reform is that then if you say, for example, "we need more schools like High Tech High," then you subsequently are on the hook to explain this sort of thing, which is pretty much impossible if you're not an insider. Or explaining this if you're a Big Picture fan.

Not that either of these cases are indictments of their respective models; it is just that things get more complicated when you move away from hand-waving generalities and truisms.

Getting the Author in Your Multi-Author Blog Feed

LeaderTalk seems like a promising group blog on education. They just need to straighten out their RSS feed template to include the name of the author of each post in the <author> tag. Otherwise, it is basically unreadable in a feed reader.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

School Reform: Place Your Bets

One reason I can still happily read blogs by principals, while just about any other blogs about education make me grind my teeth, is that principals, by their nature, have to have a concrete vision of what a school, or learning in general, should look like. They cannot simply criticize the status quo, belittle or ignore existing reforms and wonder about some still undefined perfect solution just over the horizon.

Similarly, one reason I think Will is "stuck," is because he has never been willing to place his bets on any existing model of school or education reform. Just like metal bands have pretty much maxed out the possibilities of "louder" and "faster," the territory on the "free" and "unschooling" side of education is well mapped out. Homeschooling is well-established in the US and growing. Same for virtual charter schools and elearning in general. Deschooling Society was written over 25 years ago; Summerhill was started in 1921; a "network of learning" is part of Christopher Alexander's original Pattern Language; etc., etc., ad nauseum. You've got The Big Picture Company, High Tech High, the good old Coalition of Essential Schools, KIPP, and charter schools and alternative programs of all sorts, some radical, some re-imaginings of more "traditional" approaches, scattered all over the country. Reading and writing workshop is old as I am, the Writing Project has branches everywhere.

My point here is not to point out yet again that there is nothing new under the sun. None of the aforementioned is the perfect school for 2050 or 2100, but certainly we should be able to at least have a conversation in terms of current reform models. We don't have to conjour images out of thin air, we can say things like, "we need schools like the Big Picture model, but including internships distributed out all over the world, not just locally" (I'd guess they've started doing this already, but I don't know).

And beyond that, at a certain point you just have to take your chips and push them onto a number. You have to be willing to say, "it may not be perfect yet, but I support the Big Picture model" or KIPP, or homeschooling, or whatever. Otherwise, this is just stemwinding.

OTOH, I simplify my consideration of the present and future of learning by disregarding the needs of the privileged. School reform for the wealthy is both vastly easier and harder than for the poor. It is easy because it is very difficult to genuinely screw up, i.e., end up with illiterate kids. It is difficult because the privileged are complacent, but you've got the resources to do just about anything (homeschooling is an option, for example). Here in the 'hood, in contrast, we've got all kinds of obstacles to overcome to get kids learning, but a greater willingness to take risks to do it, at least in the community, but at the same time, lots of more radical speculative options are clearly off the table, e.g., whatever happens in the school, there has to be a school building. The kids have to have somewhere to go. They can't be expected to stay home alone in their possibly unheated, lunch-less tenement, sitting in front of a computer monitor, or to be homeschooled by their parent who is illiterate in their native language and doesn't speak English very well.

I think if I was trying to figure out school reform for the wealthy, I'd feel like Will (which is not, btw, meant as an insult to Will).

Monday, March 05, 2007

Your Failed Business Model Is Not My Problem

I need to get back into the blogging groove since returning from PyCon (not to mention writing about PyCon...), and you'd think this post by Dave Tosh, entitled "Open source - only in an ideal world" would be enough to get my juices flowing, but Stephen covered it pretty comprehensively, and Dave's petulant response ("Downes’ post borders on slanderous") only makes him sound worse.

I've never quite gotten a feel for where Dave & Co. were going with elgg, and I don't understand what their business model is/was supposed to be, so I can't really criticize it in detail. It has always seemed to me that they were too interested in proposing a specific alternative model for education to suit the market of existing K-12 schools very well, but I assume they already knew that. I don't presume to know the first thing about selling software or services to universities or businesses. I do know that there are lots of Zope and Plone shops selling open source based services to universities such as Infrae in Rotterdam.