Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Devil and Daniel Johnston

Just watched The Devil and Daniel Johnston. It is brilliant, perfect, and utterly exhausting. It was a little confusing to Jennifer, as I inflict so many documentaries, rockumentaries, mock-umentaries, fictional stories about real rock bands, true stories about fake rock bands, etc., etc., it is pretty much impossible for her to tell which end is up. And in particular, in this movie they don't really give you enough extended exposure to Johnston's music to tell if his talent is real or a put on.

One side note worth mentioning is that Johnston is pretty much from the first cadre of kids who could document their own lives from an early age, and he did so quite thoroughly, so it provides some extra value if you like to think about what kids today will feel like looking back from 2040 on their own little mediated creations.

We also watched Control a couple weeks ago, which is a biographical (but not documentary) film about Ian Curtis of Joy Division. It is good, but the source material isn't as compelling. When you kill yourself at 23, there isn't that much story to tell. One of the more peculiar things about this is that the actors play the music in the live performances, to good effect. Their sound is just not that difficult to reproduce, yet, on the scale of musical correctness, they score an exceptional 323.75.

Speaking of musical correctness, I should note that I caught a performance at The Middle East a couple weeks ago that reached astronomical heights of correctness -- Getachew Mekuria with The Ex & Guests (i.e., three other horn players (can you call a clarinet a horn?)). I mean, the most obvious reference points would be John Coltrane fronting The Velvet Underground, both of which have musical correctness scores over 360. Probably Albert Ayler with Sonic Youth is slightly more accurate. Playing Ethiopian war chants. With a dancer, who sometimes wielded a very large knife. Did I mention I was right up front for the whole set? It was a frickin' Gesamtkunstwerk. Actually, I guess you can just watch some from YouTube to get your own impression:

Good Thing We're Living in The Era of Hyper-Empowerment

Another update on the state of our democracy from Glenn Greenwald in St. Paul:

As the police attacks on protesters in Minnesota continue -- see this video of the police swarming a bus transporting members of Earth Justice, seizing the bus and leaving the group members stranded on the side of the highway -- it appears increasingly clear that it is the Federal Government that is directing this intimidation campaign. Minnesota Public Radio reported yesterday that "the searches were led by the Ramsey County Sheriff's office. Deputies coordinated searches with the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments and the Federal Bureau of Investigation."

Today's Star Tribune added that the raids were specifically "aided by informants planted in protest groups." Back in May, Marcy Wheeler presciently noted that the Minneapolis Joint Terrorist Task Force -- an inter-agency group of federal, state and local law enforcement led by the FBI -- was actively recruiting Minneapolis residents to serve as plants, to infiltrate "vegan groups" and other left-wing activist groups and report back to the Task Force about what they were doing. There seems to be little doubt that it was this domestic spying by the Federal Government that led to the excessive and truly despicable home assaults by the police yesterday.

So here we have a massive assault led by Federal Government law enforcement agencies on left-wing dissidents and protesters who have committed no acts of violence or illegality whatsoever, preceded by months-long espionage efforts to track what they do. And as extraordinary as that conduct is, more extraordinary is the fact that they have received virtually no attention from the national media and little outcry from anyone. And it's not difficult to see why. As the recent "overhaul" of the 30-year-old FISA law illustrated -- preceded by the endless expansion of surveillance state powers, justified first by the War on Drugs and then the War on Terror -- we've essentially decided that we want our Government to spy on us without limits. There is literally no police power that the state can exercise that will cause much protest from the political and media class and, therefore, from the citizenry.

Beyond that, there is a widespread sense that the targets of these raids deserve what they get, even if nothing they've done is remotely illegal. We love to proclaim how much we cherish our "freedoms" in the abstract, but we despise those who actually exercise them. The Constitution, right in the very First Amendment, protects free speech and free assembly precisely because those liberties are central to a healthy republic -- but we've decided that anyone who would actually express truly dissident views or do anything other than sit meekly and quietly in their homes are dirty trouble-makers up to no good, and it's therefore probably for the best if our Government keeps them in check, spies on them, even gets a little rough with them.

After all, if you don't want the FBI spying on you, or the Police surrounding and then invading your home with rifles and seizing your computers, there's a very simple solution: don't protest the Government. Just sit quietly in your house and mind your own business. That way, the Government will have no reason to monitor what you say and feel the need to intimidate you by invading your home. Anyone who decides to protest -- especially with something as unruly and disrespectful as an unauthorized street march -- gets what they deserve.

Isn't it that mentality which very clearly is the cause of virtually everyone turning away as these police raids escalate against citizens -- including lawyers, journalists and activists -- who have broken no laws and whose only crime is that they intend vocally to protest what the Government is doing? Add to that the fact that many good establishment liberals are embarrassed by leftist protesters of this sort and wish that they would remain invisible, and there arises a widespread consensus that these Government attacks are perfectly tolerable if not desirable.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

One That Worries Me...

...about the possibility of President Palin is not just that she'd have to go toe to toe with, say, Vladimir Putin, but that she'd inherit McCain's batshit crazy State and Defense departments, and she'd be completely dependent on them and probably as unable to control them as Rice has been in the Bush White House. It seems highly unlikely that she has her own foreign policy people to fall back on. Somehow a having a rash, warmongering staff running completely out of control on its own seems even scarier than, well, a rash, warmongering president (with a likeminded staff). Either way, we'd be in trouble.

The New Business as Usual

Glenn Greenwald:

Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city, involving teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets. Last night, members of the St. Paul police department and the Ramsey County sheriff's department handcuffed, photographed and detained dozens of people meeting at a public venue to plan a demonstration, charging them with no crime other than "fire code violations," and early this morning, the Sheriff's department sent teams of officers into at least four Minneapolis area homes where suspected protesters were staying. [...]

There is clearly an intent on the part of law enforcement authorities here to engage in extreme and highly intimidating raids against those who are planning to protest the Convention. The DNC in Denver was the site of several quite ugly incidents where law enforcement acted on behalf of Democratic Party officials and the corporate elite that funded the Convention to keep the media and protesters from doing anything remotely off-script. But the massive and plainly excessive preemptive police raids in Minnesota are of a different order altogether. Targeting people with automatic-weapons-carrying SWAT teams and mass raids in their homes, who are suspected of nothing more than planning dissident political protests at a political convention and who have engaged in no illegal activity whatsoever, is about as redolent of the worst tactics of a police state as can be imagined.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

This Raise Brought to You By the Broad Foundation

One thing that hasn't gotten a lot of attention about this proposal to "give mid-level teachers (in the Washington DC public schools) who are paid $62,000 yearly the opportunity to earn more than $100,000 -- but they would have to give up seniority and tenure rights" is that, Chris pointed out to me:

The two union members said Rhee wants to use donations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Broad Foundation, in part, to pay for the raises and bonuses. Officials from the Gates and Broad foundations would not comment on proposed future funding.

I don't know if any more information than that has subsequently come out (I can't find it easily if it has), but if that's still the plan, it has some rather shocking implications. The DC government would be handing all the contributing foundations a virtual veto on their education policy for at least the next five years, the ongoing capacity to trigger a fiscal crisis in the District at their whim.

Five years, the proposed term of the contract, is a long time to our new power philanthropists. They have a short history, but they've already established a clear pattern of packing up and leaving when things don't go their way, including when the citizens of a city don't vote the way they like, or when democratically elected officials don't see things their way, or when the top down reforms they've imposed simply fail.

Five years is a long time to an urban superintendent. Do you really think Michelle Rhee will still be DC superintendent in 2013? Really? If so, she'll be an outlier among her peers. When she leaves, will the money go with her? It has happened before. Who will get to choose her successor? The District or the foundations?

Mayor Fenty is currently quite popular (I gather), but if I'm reading Wikipedia correctly, he'll be up for re-election before this contract would be up. What happens to the money if he loses the election?

Five years is a pretty lengthy term for a contract, but overall, the one group here for which five years is not a long time is the union. The union and most of its members will still be around in five years. Imagine, if you will, that this contract works flawlessly. The two-tiered system is adopted, the majority of teachers take the high-wage, high-accountability track, the foundations kick in their share, and everyone is happy. Do you think the foundations are going to keep this up forever? Really? They're just going to give DC teachers millions in cash in perpetuity? That does not sound like a safe bet to me.

Look, I agree with Barack Obama and lots of teachers, including strong union teachers, that in the long run we need to move to making a new professional compact that includes higher pay and increased accountability, but the devil is in the details. Trying to pull this off with sketchy funding that would literally sell out the autonomy of DC municipal government is a bad idea. Trying to do it in the context of teacher bashing and union busting tactics isn't going to work either. This is a transition that has to be based around trust.

The Plane of Core Knowledge

My sense that rhetoric about Core Knowledge is slightly unhinged from reality was reinforced by a perusal of their list of K-8 schools, which features... the Providence Public Schools. While I can understand why they'd like to take credit for the stunning successes of the PPSD, I think they mean the slightly more posh Providence Academy.

Also, I'm just unfamiliar with this type of practice they like to rail against:

The students became experts at spotting an author's "purpose," an exercise that's a staple on state tests. But the text they were asked to decipher was often a meaningless story — what Perlstein dubbed "random knowledge" — rather than real-world information about, say, ancient Egypt or the Civil War — building blocks for understanding today's world.

Really? People do that? Why? It certainly isn't progressive education as I understand it. Bad test prep, perhaps, but whose fault is that?

Looking at their website, they really seem more excited about phonics than knowledge. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

And the later grade lesson plans, which I can relate to my own experience more easily, seem, well, not that unusual, although it is also unclear if they got the "learning styles don't exist" memo; e.g., an activity from the second lesson I looked at, an 8th grade lesson on the Cold War:

D. Procedures/Activities 1. Review reading from previous day. Answer any questions 2. Gather the class outside around a slight down hill slope. (This can also be done with a tub of water, a wide board, and some clay.) Using a pitcher, pour the water down the incline, and ask the students what they see. Responses will vary. 3. Now using some dirt or clay create some barriers or walls and then pour the water down the incline. Again ask the students what they noticed. 4. Back in the classroom, discuss the differences between the two different pours. Guide the discussion towards the United States policy of containment. The United States felt that if communism was allowed to move freely, it would take over what ever it wanted, but if the spread of Communism was obstructed, like the wall of dirt or clay, it would have to fight to take over an area, or even leave it be. 5. Give the students information on the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan (orally). Explain that these were attempts to stop the spread of Communism. 6. Have them read Chapter 5 in All the People and write a short response essay connecting the building of barriers to attempts of the US to stop the spread of Communism.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

OLPC: Not Actually Dead

Daniel Drake:

The most amazing figure is the amount of traffic that comes from Uruguay, a country where we have now delivered 100,000 XO laptops (a recent milestone which hit national media in UY in a big way). Approximately 60% of the wiki traffic originates from Uruguay, 10,000+ visits per day, almost all of which is going to the Activities page. A contact at LATU has confirmed that these visits are actually children downloading activities and spreading the word, not a script or something.

This is huge. Loads of Uruguayan children are discovering the huge range of available activities and experimenting with them, every single day. If you’ve written an activity and listed it on that page, it is almost guaranteed that a lot of children have tried it.

Apparently KIPP Hasn't Gotten the Memo About Learning Styles Not Existing

Ariyanna Agnew raises her hand, along with all of her new KIPP teammates (the school doesn't use the word classmate). As they learn the school's strict behavior rules, they also discover that learning isn't all about listening. Later, in another class, they learn their multiplication tables by singing rhymes.

"Six, 12, 18, 24, 30, 36, 42, 48, 54, 60, 66, 72, how do you do? How do you do?" they sing.

Meanwhile, outside in the parking lot, social studies teacher Mike Brown is leading 24 kids on a virtual expedition across the Bering Straits land bridge.

Kids tentatively walk across chairs and stand at attention when Brown explains how the Native Americans walked from land that is now Siberia to Alaska. "They found the New World because they were hungry. And that's how Native Americans came to America," said Brown.


I probably would have tried to jam in something about Cindy McCain using her non-profit as a conduit for her prescription drug addiction (the Keating 5 scandal was very stressful), but really, it is perfect as is.

An open-source testing system?

Swift and Change Able interviews Delaware’s Associate Secretary of Education Robin Taylor (via SD):

CB: One criticism in many states is that the assessments drive instruction, rather than the other way around.

RT: That may be true. But when the assessments are aligned to the standards, it is a seamless system. In Delaware we have been very deliberate about not being vendor-driven. We invested a lot of time and money up-front to ensure that our testing system worked for us rather than vice versa. It was expensive in the beginning. But you get what you pay for. [...]

CB: What do you think has to be done to improve state accountability and assessment systems in all 50 states?

RT: States need to leverage resources. For example, let’s share test items. We have to find a way to get away from off-the-shelf testing products or custom developed assessments that are cost prohibitive. Test vendors are driving us, and driving up costs as well. States need to take ownership of assessment systems and learn from each other.

CB: An open-source testing system?

RT: Exactly. We also need to do more to compare U.S. students internationally. Right now we are working very hard to have our students participate in PISA (Program for International Student Assessment). Andreas Schleicher presented here last year and we were quite impressed with the data. Delaware is interested in making sure that our students have the skills and knowledge that will allow them to be productive citizens in a global economy.

CB: Do you know if Senator Biden is familiar with your success? What would you hope for him to tell his boss, Barack Obama, about education policy, if they are elected in November?

RT: Yes he is, as are all of our Congressional delegation. We have excellent two-way communications with both Senators Biden and Carper, and Congressman Castle. We share what is happening in Delaware schools with them and they seek state and local advice on national education issues. We often have briefings and meetings with them and their staffers.

Hm... if only there was some federally funded entity connected to the Department of Education that could create the infrastructure for such work...

The trick here is being able to simultaneously be critical about various incarnations of the "standards movement" but also recognize that it would be a very good idea to switch to a more open model, to create an accountability system that is itself accountable, less expensive, and more open to bottom-up innovation.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that proponents of national standards are, as Senator Biden might put it, "literally" advocating that Delaware discard the 15 years worth of successful work described above. That may seem like a clever gotcha point to outsiders, but to the people who actually do the work, it is very, very real.

Finally, this:

RT: We began planning our assessment and accountability system back in 1997. And, our content standards were adopted by the State Board of Education in 1995. The standards and assessments, including cut scores, were revisited and alignment was checked again in 2005 to allow for adjustments. We believe and value continuous improvement so reviewing policy decisions such as these is part of that process.

It would be interesting to compare what was being said in Rhode Island in 1995 to what was being said in Delaware. I suspect it would be exactly the same strategy. The differences are in the execution. Rhode Island and/or Providence have gone through, I think, two sets of standards and three different assessments since 2000, and I don't get the impression that 1995 - 2000 was a particularly consistent period either. And perversely, from my point of view, NCLB has added to that churn.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Elgg, Apparently Back on the Rails, Or, There are Second Acts in Free Software

Dave Tosh points out that not only does Elgg still exist, 1.0 came out recently, it's winning awards, and doing quite well. Indeed, the pattern of making an initial splash, running into problems, retrenching and coming back a few years later is fairly common in software development (see also The Mozilla Project). Certainly SchoolTool has gone through a similar progression in a similar timeframe (although we're still behind them), and I assume at this point most people figure we've irretrievably run off the rails as well. Since I don't think anything other than a few good releases by us will change that impression, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about changing it in the immediate term.

Anyhow, in the case of Elgg, my original comment, that "their model went off the rails almost immediately" was not completely unsubstantiated. As I recall, Elgg was started around 2004 explicitly as open source social software for learning and schools (perhaps the former more than the latter). This was right when the momentum for educational blogging was getting rolling and many of us hoped Elgg would provide the right platform for the job. Before too long, there was a lot of noise from the Elgg team that open source for education was not working out for them as a business model, people I know who use the software complained about a lapse in support and development, developers seemed to be dropping out of sight, and ultimately Elgg was, I gather, retooled and remarketed as a more general purpose social networking application.

Which is fine by me, as long as it is still open source, and, in particular, people like Jim Klein can hack on it to do what they need at their schools. It is exactly the kind of collaboration I want to see.

In Real Life, In Real Schools, Continuity Matters

Anna at Feministe:

At my school, a small public high school in Brooklyn, New York, well over half of the teachers at the school are Teaching Fellows, and, at least in the three years I have been at the school, the longest any of us has stayed (yet) is three years. A few of us are starting our fourth.

And this sucks for our students. I mean, it really, really sucks. It sucks to come back to school and have to have yet another first-year-teacher as a teacher. It sucks to have six different advisory teachers in four years (the case with my old advisory). It sucks to have no continuity from year to year. It sucks for the ninth grade math teacher you really liked to disappear by the time you are in eleventh grade and wanted to ask for some extra help before the PSATs. It sucks to slowly get the impression that teaching anywhere else, or doing anything else for a job is better than staying here and working with you. It sucks to get abandoned year after year after year by young, enthusiastic teachers who saw teaching in the inner city as something great to put on that law school application.

The Reality of Tech in Schools

Dan outlines the problems you actually run into in many high schools:

4. Our mobile computer lab a) comprised just fifteen laptops, and b) was available for check-out only once a week, c) if that.
5. Kids lost work. I had them send their Excel files to themselves and then download the attachment the next day. Trouble was kids sent old files to themselves or they named files computer arsenic like "<<xxxx….davidsfeltronz!!!….xxxx.xls>>" which put both Excel and Gmail into simultaneous cardiac arrest.
6. I overestimated my students' computer fluency. Name it: locating saved files, opening programs, using a trackpad, using modifier keys, sending e-mail. These tasks all required constant, patient re-explanation. Missed that mark by a country mile.
7. None of them had used Excel before. Ever. Many didn't have it at home. One triumph of this project — recognized by a lot of students — is that my kids are now somewhere in the top quintile of Excel users. This will doubtlessly prove useful again in their lives — not in the when-will-we-ever-use-this-in-real-life? sense, like they won't be able to find food or shelter without Excel, just that it will open up a lot of interesting opportunities.

If you don't understand this, most of what you write about ed-tech policy is fantasy.

Also, the proposition that we can solve this problem by spending more money while following the same IT strategies that got in this already expensive mess is an even greater fantasy.

You are also delusional if you don't think that it is a grave problem that high school students can't do the above.

Who Am I? Why am I Here?

Chris Blow on World of Warcraft:

Blow believes that according to WoW, the game's rules are its meaning of life. "The meaning of life in WoW is you’re some schmo that doesn’t have anything better to do than sit around pressing a button and killing imaginary monsters," he explained. "It doesn’t matter if you’re smart or how adept you are, it’s just how much time you sink in. You don’t need to do anything exceptional, you just need to run the treadmill like everyone else."

"You don’t come away from WoW with that in your head, but that comes through subtly and subconsciously," Blow added. "It’s like advertising and brand identity. People identify with their activities – same thing with games, people are products of their origins and their environments. We’re giving them these environments and helping to determine what they’re going to be."

An Indirect Route to School Reform

Nat Torkington:

I now agree with Kevin—if something's critical at college level, high schools will want to teach it and teach it well.

I would argue that this may be true insofar as popular college textbooks may influence high school textbooks (and given the number of other design constraints on high school texts, I'm dubious), but generally high school teachers don't know what is being taught in colleges, even in their own discipline. Even if you're a recent graduate, how generalizable was your personal experience? Maybe this is more true in the humanities than sciences, but even the sciences would definitely change over time.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Meanwhile... We Won?!

I've been known to give Andy Carvin a hard time, but he does occasionally come up with a bombshell nobody else in the ed-tech blogosphere has picked up on (later... I see Tim Stahmer picked up on the story via the BBC, but his cynicism is so thick it is hard to see through it).

The College Opportunity and Affordability Act, which was signed into law this month by Bush, has a section which does the following:

Establishes a National Center for Learning Science and Technology (the Center).

Establishes in the Treasury the National Center for Learning Science and Technology Trust Fund, the amounts of which may be used for: (1) supporting precompetitive and applied research development and demonstrations, and assessments of prototypes of innovative digital learning and information technologies and the components and tools needed to create them; (2) supporting the pilot testing and evaluation of those prototype systems; (3) encouraging the widespread adoption and use of effective innovative digital approaches to learning; and (4) supporting innovative digital media education programs for parents, teachers, and children.

Authorizes the Director of the Center to award contracts and grants to colleges and universities, museums, libraries, public broadcasting entities, similar nonprofits and public institutions (with or without private partners), and for-profit organizations.

This is nice enough, but here's the interesting part:

    (i) IN GENERAL- The research and development properties and materials associated with any project funded by a grant or contract under this section shall be freely and nonexclusively available to the general public in a timely manner, consistent with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Education.
    (ii) EXEMPTION- The Director may waive the requirements of clause (i) with respect to a project funded by a grant or contract under this section if--
      (I) the Director and the Board (by a unanimous vote of the Board members) determine that the general public will benefit significantly due to the project not being freely and nonexclusively available to the general public in a timely manner; and
      (II) the Board issues a public statement as to the specific reasons of the determination under subclause (I).

I'm no lawyer, but the obvious interpretation of the above is that the federal government is going to be funding (i.e. asking for $50,000,000 in fiscal year 2009, only a fraction of which would actually go into development, but still) ed-tech research of development, the results of which (not withstanding the big exception clause) will be released to the public domain (or, for software, a permissive open source license might be more appropriate).

Aside from the obvious "more and better free software" benefit, this is, to my knowledge, the first US government agency with a mandate to create free software. They're going to have to come up with some coherent policies and practices around this work.

If they can get this right, it may be an important precedent in subsequently dragging NSF out of the 1950's, getting big foundations to think differently about their K-12 programs (and perhaps get the implementation details correct when they're trying to do the right thing), reboot state and local ed tech strategies, etc. The potential leverage becomes a bit more apparent, once you see several overlapping multi-million dollar commitments, loosely coordinated but all contributing to an interconnected infrastructure of free software for schools.

Given the legislation as written, "getting this right" should be feasible, but will likely require some consistent, organized lobbying and pressure. The Federation of American Scientists apparently get the credit for most of the relevant language in the bill, but their track record on open source doesn't look too great (open source, not, not), so expecting them to go to bat for your freedom seems like a bad idea. The academic Learning Sciences community has repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to sell out for the spare change between the sofa cushions in a Redmond staff lounge, so they'll probably write free software if that's what the people writing the checks tell them to do but again, don't trust that they're on the side of the hypothetical users of their software.

So, it is crucial that the free and open source software community get enough sympathetic and well-informed people on the board (like, one for starters) and in the organization to see that the spirit of the law is implemented undiluted. Ideally, we'll have some lobbying help from our putative friends like CoSN, ISTE, IBM, Red Hat, etc., but again, their track records are mixed. I can't think of a single time any of them really went to bat for open source in K-12. That's why we've got to have the community organized.

More on this to come...


    (a) Establishment- There shall be established, during the first fiscal year for which appropriations are made available under subsection (c), a nonprofit corporation to be known as the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies, which shall not be an agency or establishment of the Federal Government. The Center shall be subject to the provisions of this section, and, to the extent consistent with this section, to the District of Columbia Nonprofit Corporation Act (sec. 29-501 et seq., D.C. Official Code).
    (b) Purpose- The purpose of the Center shall be to support a comprehensive research and development program to harness the increasing capacity of advanced information and digital technologies to improve all levels of learning and education, formal and informal, in order to provide Americans with the knowledge and skills needed to compete in the global economy.
    (c) Funding-
      (1) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS- There are authorized to be appropriated to the Center such sums as may be necessary for fiscal year 2009 and each of the five succeeding fiscal years.
      (2) ADDITIONAL FUNDS- The Center is authorized--
        (A) to accept funds from any Federal agency or entity;
        (B) to accept, hold, administer, and spend any gift, devise, or bequest of real or personal property made to the Center; and
        (C) to enter into competitive contracts with individuals, public or private organizations, professional societies, and government agencies for the purpose of carrying out the functions of the Center.
      (3) PROHIBITION- The Center shall not accept gifts, devises, or bequests from a foreign government or foreign source.
    (d) Board of Directors; Vacancies; Compensation-
      (1) IN GENERAL- A Board of the Center shall be established to oversee the administration of the Center.
      (2) INITIAL COMPOSITION- The initial Board shall consist of nine members to be appointed by the Secretary of Education from recommendations received from the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, the majority leader of the Senate, and the minority leader of the Senate, who--
        (A) reflect representation from the public and private sectors;
        (B) shall provide, as nearly as practicable, a broad representation of various regions of the United States, various professions and occupations, and various kinds of talent and experience appropriate to the functions and responsibilities of the Center;
        (C) shall not be in a position to benefit financially directly from the contracts and grants to eligible institutions under subsection (f)(2); and
        (D) may not be officers or employees of the Federal Government or a Members of Congress serving at the time of such appointment.
      (3) VACANCIES AND SUBSEQUENT APPOINTMENTS- To the extent not inconsistent with paragraph (2), in the case of a vacancy on the Board due to death, resignation, or removal, the vacancy shall be filled through nomination and selection by the sitting members of the Board after--
        (A) taking into consideration the composition of the Board; and
        (B) soliciting recommendations from the public.
      (4) COMPENSATION- Members of the Board shall serve without compensation but may be reimbursed for reasonable expenses for transportation, lodging, and other expenses directly related to their duties as members of the Board.
      (5) ORGANIZATION AND OPERATION- The Board shall incorporate and operate the Center in accordance with the laws governing tax exempt organizations in the District of Columbia.
    (e) Director and Staff-
      (1) DIRECTOR- The Board shall appoint a Director of the Center after conducting a national, competitive search to find an individual with the appropriate expertise, experience, and knowledge to oversee the operations of the Center.
      (2) STAFF- In accordance with procedures established by the Board, the Director shall employ individuals to carry out the functions of the Center.
      (3) COMPENSATION- In no case shall the Director or any employee of the Center receive annual compensation that exceeds an amount equal to the annual rate payable for level II of the Executive Schedule under section 5313 of title 5, United States Code.
    (f) Center Activities-
      (1) USES OF FUNDS- The Director, after consultation with the Board, shall use the funds made available to the Center--
        (A) to support research to improve education, teaching, and learning that is in the public interest, but that is determined unlikely to be undertaken entirely with private funds;
        (B) to support--
          (i) precompetitive research, development, and demonstrations;
          (ii) assessments of prototypes of innovative digital learning and information technologies, as well as the components and tools needed to create such technologies; and
          (iii) pilot testing and evaluation of prototype systems described in clause (ii); and
        (C) to encourage the widespread adoption and use of effective, innovative digital approaches to improving education, teaching, and learning.
        (A) IN GENERAL- To carry out the activities described in paragraph (1), the Director, with the agreement of two-thirds of the members of the Board, may award, on a competitive basis, contracts and grants to four-year institutions of higher education, museums, libraries, nonprofit organizations, public institutions with or without for-profit partners, for-profit organizations, and consortia of any such entities.
        (B) PUBLIC DOMAIN-
          (i) IN GENERAL- The research and development properties and materials associated with any project funded by a grant or contract under this section shall be freely and nonexclusively available to the general public in a timely manner, consistent with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Education.
          (ii) EXEMPTION- The Director may waive the requirements of clause (i) with respect to a project funded by a grant or contract under this section if--
            (I) the Director and the Board (by a unanimous vote of the Board members) determine that the general public will benefit significantly due to the project not being freely and nonexclusively available to the general public in a timely manner; and
            (II) the Board issues a public statement as to the specific reasons of the determination under subclause (I).
        (C) PEER REVIEW- Proposals for grants or contracts shall be evaluated on the basis of comparative merit by panels of experts who represent diverse interests and perspectives, and who are appointed by the Director based on recommendations from the fields served and from the Board.
    (g) Accountability and Reporting-
      (1) REPORT-
        (A) IN GENERAL- Not later than December 30 of each year beginning in fiscal year 2009, the Director shall prepare and submit to the Secretary of Education and the authorizing committees a report that contains the information described in subparagraph (B) with respect to the preceding fiscal year.
        (B) CONTENTS- A report under subparagraph (A) shall include--
          (i) a comprehensive and detailed report of the Center’s operations, activities, financial condition, and accomplishments, and such recommendations as the Director determines appropriate;
          (ii) evidence of coordination with the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering in the Department of Defense, and other related Federal agencies to carry out the operations and activities of the Center;
          (iii) a comprehensive and detailed inventory of funds distributed from the Center during the fiscal year for which the report is being prepared; and
          (iv) an independent audit of the Center’s finances and operations, and of the implementation of the goals established by the Board.
        (C) STATEMENT OF THE BOARD- Each report under subparagraph (A) shall include a statement from the Board containing--
          (i) a clear description of the plans and priorities of the Board for the subsequent year for activities of the Center; and
          (ii) an estimate of the funds that will be expended by the Center for such year.
      (2) TESTIMONY- The Director and principal officers of the Center shall testify before the authorizing committees and the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate, upon request of such committees, with respect to--
        (A) any report required under paragraph (1)(A); and
        (B) any other matter that such committees may determine appropriate.
    (h) Use of Funds Subject to Appropriations- The authority to award grants, enter into contracts, or otherwise expend funds under this section is subject to the availability of amounts deposited into the Center under subsection (c), or amounts otherwise appropriated for such purposes by an Act of Congress.
    (i) Definitions- For purposes of this section:
      (1) AUTHORIZING COMMITTEES- The term ‘authorizing committees’ has the meaning given the term in section 103 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1003).
      (2) BOARD- The term ‘Board’ means the Board of the Center appointed under subsection (d)(1).
      (3) CENTER- The term ‘Center’ means the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies established under subsection (a).
      (4) DIRECTOR- The term ‘Director’ means the Director of the Center appointed under subsection (e)(1).

Friday, August 22, 2008

Admirably Succinct,

young Yglesias is:

The conservative approach to development is basically to say that if we have very low taxes, no regulation, and no public services then business will be booming. Progressives say, no, that creating an environment with a public sector that’s robust enough to provide first-rate infrastructure, high-quality education, and a healthy workforce will attract more than enough business opportunities to make up for whatever negative impact is caused by higher tax rates.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Here's a Crazy Idea, Write Software!

Compare these two statements:

a) The Social Media Virtual Classroom will develop an online community for teachers and students to collaborate and contribute ideas for teaching and learning about the psychological, interpersonal, and social issues related to participatory media. This digital learning space will both feature and analyze the use of blogs, wikis, chat, instant messaging, microblogging, forums, social bookmarking and instructional screencasts for teachers and students.
b) I'm going to introduce a tool set for teachers and learning. The Social Media Classroom is a free, open source online teaching tool.

When I, for one, read the first, I think, "Why the fuck does the anyone think Howard Rheingold needs $61,000 to create an 'online community?'" When I hear the second and watch the first minute or so of the video I think, "Thank god someone is finally trying trying what I've been calling for forever," (yes, elgg, but their model went off the rails almost immediately; still, good work, Jim).

To me, creating a "community" or "space" in no way implies "writing and releasing open source software." We've got plenty of the former and precious little for education in the latter.

Will can confirm that I've been telling him for years that $40,000 - $60,000, a teacher who knew what he wanted and a good free content management system would change the game if anyone could just scare up a grant. That we seemed to make it though several rounds of MacArthur grant making from a $50 million dollar pie without them spotting such a glaring need was more than a little dispiriting.

Hopefully the results will be good. This is all based on Drupal and hopefully will compliment DrupalEd. The only thing I have left to complain about at the moment is that the initial project summary was so uninteresting. Maybe the rest of the Digital Media & Learning Awards will also be pleasant surprises.

via Stephen.

Some Good News

Public School Insights:

Americans overwhelmingly believe that the next president should rely on education leaders, rather than political or business leaders, for advice about education. The current conversation among the education reform cognoscenti turns this preference on its head, in what Dan Brown has called the "de-Baathification" of education reform: The desire among many political and business leaders to pursue school transformation without input from, or respect for, the educators who must carry it out.

From the 40thAnnual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools

Never mind...

Sherman Dorn:

The most important news to come out of today's Kappan poll release [PDF] is not the responses to any of the questions but the sample composition: 65% women, 84% white, 50% aged 50 and older, 44% college graduates (and 71% with some college experience), 43% with incomes $50K and above, and 19% from the Census West region of the country. I skimmed through the questions with some interest, and then my jaw dropped on the last page.

Funny how it always seems less important to dig into the details of the studies you already agree with.

Post-PD Decompression

Jennifer came home Tuesday ranting from the day's professional development for regional history teachers, not surprisingly hitting some themes I also feature here periodically.

First, high school history teachers are still overwhelmingly and resolutely content driven. The way history is actually taught to the vast majority of students has little to do with conversations between academics and outsiders about how it ought to be taught, and pd, standards, etc. have almost no practical impact. If you're dissatisfied with aggregate history outcomes in the US, don't blame inquiry or progressive education. If you think focusing on content "first" works, you should have plenty of successful examples to point to.

This is part of why having people outside the profession like education reporters as part of an ongoing debate is so exasperating. If you're just looking at the public discourse, you'd probably imagine that the current state of play could be represented by a needle floating between "content" and "process" (or "critical thinking" or "inquiry" or whatever). First off, it can't be reduced to an either/or or zero-sum game, but even setting that concern aside, today in actual schools, that needle is pinned to the content side, even more than it has been historically. Advocates for "inquiry" (or whatever) aren't pushing a balanced needle to the extreme, and (with I'm sure a few exceptions) have no ambition and precious little capacity move the system from one extreme to the other. The game is to try to achieve some measure of a balance.

If you don't believe me, get in front of 50 randomly selected Rhode Island history teachers and talk to them about how they teach. Or visit their classrooms.

After talking about that for a while, Jennifer said, "And they showed us this fascist slide show. It had this crazy symphonic Riverdance music and all this stuff about China and India taking over the world." "Um... was it like, yellow lettering on a dark blue background?" Yes, Jennifer got to see Did You Know? She was happy I have a ready back catalog on the subject (Jennifer resolutely refuses to regularly read my blog, fearing, with some justification, I'd stop speaking entirely if she did). But seriously, I don't think Jennifer is the only teacher for whom Did You Know? derails conversation about school reform more than facilitates it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cutting Out the Middleman

Sylvia finds some numbers:

Besides being a long-held goal, another reason I decided to pursue writing a textbook is for the financial reward. Although I have published a few journal articles, (none of which are of any consequence), I have never received much psychic reward from doing so. And, at Southern Utah University for many years psychic reward was the principle reward to writing journal articles. But, textbook writing can be financially rewarding. For example, there are approximately 250,000 books sold each year in the Intermediate Accounting market with each book selling for approximately $100. Author royalties begin at 15% of the selling price, and through negotiation may be higher than that after certain sales targets are met. So, an author who has a 10% share of the market will earn $375,000 in the first year of a new edition of a textbook. The royalties in the second and third years of a three-year edition book decline to about 60% of the previous year, or $225,000 and $135,000, respectively, because of buy-backs. That is a total of $735,000 for the edition. Yes, writing a textbook can be very financially rewarding. (Currently, the leading Intermediate Accounting textbook has 60% of the market.)

OK. But if this is true, 85% of the cost of the textbook is not going to the author. We can figure out a way to give the author a fair shake, but it is really the textbook publishers who are offering very little in return for a huge markup. They are long overdue for a little creative destruction.

Another Concrete Example

There should be no doubt that projects like the "ancestory-based curriculum" Henry Louis Gates is working on should be released as a free cultural work:

GATES:  That's right.  Fifty percent of our black children are not graduating from high school.  Fifty percent.  That's every other black child.  So the situation is dire, and the condition is desperate.  We have to try any innovation we possibly can to reach these kids.  It occurred to me, given the response to "African American Lives"...  You know, everybody is responding to this series.  And why?  Because your favorite subject is what?  Yourself!

FreemancopyWEB.jpgSo why don't we use these same techniques to transform the way we teach history to inner-city black and brown kids--and science?  We will incorporate a unit, probably a six-week unit, in tracing our own ancestry in the history class.  Each week the kids will add another rung on their family tree.  They'll go home and interview their parents--where they were born, when they were born, and [they'll] collect family stories and share them with the class. Then the next week their grandparents, and then the next week their great-grandparents, and their great-great-grandparents.  Obviously, they won't be interviewing people who are dead.  But they will be gathering family stories about what people remember, as well as what they can turn up in the Census, the tax records, estate records--you know, whatever.  And it's marvelously interesting.

Given Harvard's support for open access publishing, I should be optimistic, but somehow, I am not!

Also, a good platform to let students publish the results of their research and easily access the work of their peers would be a very good thing -- particularly if the work and the curriculum were well cross-referenced and curated.

Via Public School Insights.

What's the Budget for Writing a Textbook?

To me, the key line in Free digital texts begin to challenge costly college textbooks in California:

Yet he turned down $100,000 to turn over his open-source textbook "Introduction to Economic Analysis" to a commercial publisher.

I know nothing about what professors get paid to write college texts, how the deals are structured, etc. Let's assume that $100,000 is a reasonable offer.

The point is not that in the future many other people will pass up $100,000 to write a textbook. The point is that there are lots of actors other than publishers who can pay a professor to write a text and release it under a free license, and $100,000 is not a lot of money to a state, country, large university or foundation.

I also found this quote from Bruce Hildebrand, the Assn. of American Publishers' executive director for higher education, to be amusing:

God bless anybody who has got the energy and commitment to put three, four, five years of labor in on a book and then give it away.

If that's what it takes to write a textbook, I'd want more than $100,000.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Too Much Safety & Liability: One Problem, Online and Off

I suspect I disagree with Philip K. Howard on many issues, but I agree with this the for this both online and off:

Safety is meaningful only in the context of other benefits and risks. Safety always involves trade-offs -- of opportunities, of scarce resources and, especially in the case of children's play, of learning to manage risk. The question is whether the trade-off makes sense. Soft rubber matting will cushion any fall. This is probably a good thing, at least in situations where children may fall on their heads. But rubber matting also gets hot.

There's only one solution. Someone on behalf of society must be authorized to make these choices. Courts must honor those decisions. Otherwise, the pious accusations of safety fanatics, empowered by the nearly universal fear of being sued, will guarantee a cultural spiral downwards toward the lowest common denominator.

The twist is, as Howard continues:

For America's children today, that means spending more than six hours per day staring at a screen. Is that the way we want our children to grow up?

If you look at it that way, maybe I don't want my kid using the computer in school all the time.

The answer, of course, is more freedom and diversity of activity both inside the school and out.

Via The Caretaker.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Open Source Curriculum and Action Research

Expanding a bit on my rationale for this, one less obvious opportunity would be changing the role of ongoing research and experimentation on established curriculum. What I mean by "curriculum" in this case extends from overall objectives through unit plans to individual activities, but is not strictly prescriptive and not necessarily a textbook. It also assumes that the overall approach of the curriculum is sound (if it isn't, there's not much to be done other than start over).

Currently. there is no technical or social mechanism, in the US at least, for a teacher (or school, or district, or state, or random university) to undertake research around a particular facet of a specific curriculum. I'm thinking of thorny problems like division of fractions. What happens if we use a certain kind of manipulative here? What about this piece of software? Sooner? Later? A little faster? Slower? The kind of things studied in lesson study.

There is lots of research around these issues, but the relationship between this research and actual changes in published texts is ambiguous at best. And, there is (as far as I can tell) little incentive for third parties to do research based around specific curricular implementations -- it is not your job to improve someone else's commercial product, and you can't redistribute a modified version, and I'm thinking of more finely grained research than would generate profitable stand-alone commercial products. Is there a market for supplements to commercial K-12 texts? I doubt it.

If we are talking about open curricular resources, however, everyone has more capacity and incentive to undertake, and particularly to publish, this kind of research, whether it is semi-formal action research by experienced classroom teachers, public employees in other administrative layers, university researchers, or other interested parties. There is an infrastructure for continuous, if not necessarily tidy and linear, improvement of curriculum. It would promote the ongoing development of already deployed curriculum to be approached as real science, not just commerce.

You're Doing It Wrong

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Whose Problem Is It?

The online discussion over proposed changes to college Computer Science curriculum recommendations has brought out lots of interesting nuggets. Like this one from Mark Guzdial:

I attended an NSF PI's meeting once where I met someone who was one of the "education experts" at the meetings of the AAAS where the "Science for All Americans" science curricular standards were drafted.  He said that the list of attendees were a who's-who of science. These experts thought through what all Americans should know about their fields, what the predeccessor knowledge logically was, and how that knowledge should be distributed across the years of schooling.  As these lists were being formed, the education expert noted that the lists for Third Grade (about 8 years old) and Eighth Grade (about 11 years old) were getting really long.  As he read the items more closely, he began to wonder if the majority of Third Graders could even handle these abstract concepts, in terms of developmental levels.  He raised these questions, and was met with a brick wall. "That's not our problem!"

Well, whose problem is it?  Do we just let the domain experts specify what ought to be learned, apart from the constraints of the amount being crammed into the curriculum and the student's development?  If learning scientists, educators, and psychologists should play a role, when should they play that role?  And if these experts conflict, who should win?

Note that if you're looking to expand your universe of blog reading, this is probably a more fruitful direction to go than, say, marketing blogs, even if you don't have a strong feeling (yet!) about how many hours of instruction should be devoted to functional programming languages.

Origins of Tuttle SVC

I've always been more concerned with experimenting than maintaining archives of my blogging, which I don't regret (a permanent public record has its drawbacks), but, for the sake of vanity, I do wish it were a little more apparent how long I've been doing this. I registered on September 9, 2002, and started blogging using some simple code I wrote myself some time thereafter. Before that, I had Radio Userland blog, which had some kind of identifying number in the URL. I wrote a lot on that over a relatively short period of time and then accidentally erased it. That would have been some time after ETech 2002 in May, which first focused my attention on blogging.

I first heard of "web logging" while driving around listening to The Connection on NPR in May of 2000. My first impression was that it was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard of, although at the time I must have already been reading Slashdot, which, arguably, is a weblog.

It would be, by the way, really interesting to listen to some of these archived radio shows on technology circa 2000. The Connection was way ahead of its time.


Last year my collaborator in letterpress scorecard manufacture, Dan Wood, invited me out to his family's annual party to work on their island retreat in Narragansett Bay. Much to my chagrin, I wasn't able to attend. Now that I've seen the article on the house in The New York Times Home & Garden section, I'm motivated to make next year's party by hook or by crook. Also, we'll need to make those 125th anniversary World's Champion scorecards.

via Sheila.

Just Wait 'til This Comes to Your Classroom

Jan Chipchase's current reports from Afghanistan are even more interesting than usual, like this low-tech pocket projector.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Synchronized Diving

Why is this on in prime time for the third day in a row?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

This is the Kind of Article Which Destroys my Productivity

In the interest of getting the next release of SchoolTool done, I may have to adopt a policy of unsubscribing from any blog that links to a column by Jay Mathews. But now that I've read the damn thing and thought about it lying in bed before and after falling asleep, read the background material, etc., I might as well spit out a brief post on the matter of "The Thinking Behind Critical Thinking Courses."

First off, there is no evidence the main topic of the article is a problem. Let's take it for granted teaching "critical thinking" as a skill separate from content knowledge is ineffective. Is there any evidence that this is taking place in schools? No. The article cites a book on the topic distributed to approximately 3% of the teachers in the US circa 1990. Small potatoes.

Beyond that, Mathews overshoots the conclusions his source material in a distinctly conservative direction.


Instead, as your most-hated high school teacher often told you, you have to buckle down and learn the content of a subject--facts, concepts and trends--before the maxims of critical thinking taught in these feverishly-marketed courses will do you much good. [...]

Willingham, like any good educator, still hopes for enlightenment even in his slowest students, like me. He provides tips for teachers who want to give critical thinking instruction a try: avoid expensive special programs, teach critical thinking only after students have absorbed sufficient content and don't reserve such lessons just for advanced students. (emphasis added)

What Dr. Willingham actually recommends is:

Thinking critically should be taught in the context of subject matter. (emphasis in original)

The difference between the two should be apparent to any teacher.

As an ed-tech addendum, Willingham's article is very relevant to those trying to promote things like "evaluating internet resources" as a separate skill -- really, just the online version of "critical thinking." The bottom line for me is that "critical thinking" is not an add on, it is the absolute end product of public education. The reason the state compels you to learn science is so you can think critically about science and make informed decisions as a democratic actor. Critical habits of mind should be fundamental to the cultural DNA of every school:

-The question of evidence, or "How do we know what we know?"

-The question of viewpoint in all its multiplicity, or "Who's speaking?"

-The search for connection and patterns, or "What causes what?"

-Supposition, or "How might things have been different?"

-Why any of it matters, or "Who cares?"

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Day in SchoolTool

Mondays are meeting days for SchoolTool, and this week's news and updates show things starting to come together as we approach the new school year and a new beta release.

In Vilnius, Ignas Mikalajūnas, with some help from Marius Gedminas, is through the hardest part of implementing a proper structure for school years and terms and will be checking that code in soon. This is the last large, potentially troublesome bunch of functionality that we need to add before the beta in October. Really, it is one of the first things that should have been done, but that mistake was made a long, long time ago. It feels like jacking up a house to add a new first floor. Seeing the end of this part of the project is a big relief.

In Arlington, Virginia, SchoolTool developer Alan Elkner, Programmers of Vilnius (POV) developer Justas Sadzevičius, Arlington student developers including Filip Sufitchi and Chris Carey, and assorted local teachers, administrators and techs got together for a CanDo development sprint, in anticipation of deploying this SchoolTool-based competency tracking application for 120 Virginia teachers later this month. By all accounts things went well, and the meeting illustrates the fairly complicated way our two projects are intertwined. In terms of money, the Commonwealth of Virginia paid for the developers this time around, Alan is an independent contractor who currently works full time on SchoolTool and CanDo, Justas is a co-worker of our lead developer, Ignas. This was Justas's first significant work on either project, but through POV were able to hook CanDo up with an skilled developer to fill in when they needed one on short notice, and we get another developer with SchoolTool experience, and Justas seems to have enjoyed it and impressed everyone in Virginia, so that ended up being a big win all around. Filip and Chris were among the student developers Jeff Elkner trained last year, in part with funding from Mark Shuttleworth and SchoolTool. They're doing high quality work now, making a good buck, and both have at least another year of school. Working closely with our professional developers over the past year has been a big part of their development. It is just about time to really document how we've done all this.

Figuring out how to make the relationship with POV work has been key. Having one full time programmer acting as lead developer, while still working within a small shop (rather than on his own as an individual) seems to be the right combination of flexibility (adding a developer when the schedule fits, having senior colleagues to go to for advice) and stability (commitment to POV as well as SchoolTool, possibility of organized succession if Ignas leaves the project, having local management to write the invoices, pay the rent and other non-programming tasks).

Meanwhile, this week Alan is back in Philadelphia, working to hit his deadline to get some new features running at SLA. This is another kind of relationship we're experimenting with, where SchoolTool is essentially paying a developer to work for a local school. We meet, plan out some goals that make sense for the individual school and the project as a whole, then put Alan to work on them, with a good chunk of his pay dependent on meeting the schedule. The whole dynamic is a little weird, and you lose unity of command, but it is useful in exceptional cases, like when you happen to know an extremely tech-savvy principal and staff and an available developer living in the same city. It has helped us bootstrap things this year, but I don't know that it will go down as a best practice. We'll see how the rest of the year goes.

The main topic of conversation at Monday's IRC meeting was how to update our translation processes (on Launchpad, natch) to get ready for regular production releases. That is, we need to switch from just translating "SchoolTool" to translating specific versions of SchoolTool, how we transfer the old translations into new versions, etc. If SchoolTool is successful, we'll be able to point to this kind of infrastructure work as one reason why; if it isn't successful, doing this kind of infrastructure work before shipping a working application will be one reason why. But really, we can't avoid it. Specifically, Jeff Elkner found us an enthusiastic Zope 3 developer in El Salvador who was at yesterday's IRC meeting and is willing and able to run SchoolTool down there, so we really do need to get the translation story straightened out ASAP.

And that's the way SchoolTool is, as of August 11, 2008.

Four Things Policy Makers Ought to Do In Ed-Tech

Doug tagged me; I've pretty much got a canned answer.

Cultural Literacy


"Long-neglected PBR had no image," Walker writes. "It was just there. Scarce and cheap, it had few negative connotations beyond that it was a kind of blank canvas, where brand meaning could be filled in by consumers."


Doesn't anyone teach the classics anymore!?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Unboxed = Awesome

As you may have noted, I periodically pick on bloggers who write about school reform without seeming to know, well, much about significant school reform initiatives of the present and recent past. The flip side of the problem, which I also try to flog, is that the folks planning and working at innovative schools are generally fairly stingy with professionally useful (i.e., specific enough to be the basis of an external implementation of the idea) info about their schools, particularly on the web. I am, at least, sympathetic to the fact that the folks working in schools don't have a lot of extra time to do this kind of publishing.

So I am very happy to discover (and I'm afraid I'm getting worse at keeping mental track of which sources are pointing me to which resources) that the High Tech High Graduate School of Education has published the first edition of their new journal, Unboxed, in print and online. You can see the contents of the first issue more easily than I can describe them. Overall, the articles hit the sweet spot between theory and practice, to make this journal uniquely readable and useful to all teachers and administrators in progressive schools. It is very action research oriented; many or most of the authors are practitioners.

More like this, please.

Also, in the piece on blogging in the classroom, you'll find a link to the first blog by a High Tech High teacher that I've seen: School(ing).

Joe Start Award

I'm not really an awards person -- Black Flag never won a Grammy is pretty much all I have to say on the subject -- but sometimes these things come along by surprise, and at the right time. It has been a rough year for the Providence Grays, on and off the field. Everyone is suddenly getting older at the same time, and off-field traumas have switched from hangovers to one's child needing open heart surgery (which went well...). I've been plagued by minor injuries that kept me off the field much of the year.

So it was very gratifying that at last weekend's annual tournament Old Bethpage Restoration Village, the center of vintage base ball on the East coast, presented us with the first annual Joe Start Award, for "excellence in historical presentation and dedication to 19th Century Base Ball," as "Big Bat" said in announcing the award, "right down to their socks."

We also had a good weekend on the field, going 3-0-1 against quality competition. We always play well at Bethpage, where a dead balls, thick grass and an outfield that slopes uphill toward the fences favor aging but skilled teams.

Photo from Ray Shaw's 2008 Bethpage album. I'm pretty sure I dropped that one.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Widely Applicable Statement

Mark Guzdial:

Ian Bogost came up with the pithy statement that I've been thinking about for the last couple days: We don't want "less programming" for (Computational Media) students (compared to Computer Science students), we want "less seemingly-random programming." Yes! That's the problem!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Word to the Wise

If you aren't me, I don't think you can quite appreciate the number of conversations I have with people by email, phone, or in person about their "open source" educational project which, upon closer examination, turns out to not be open source at all. Beyond the technical definition of open source, I'm not really interested in "open source" projects which don't make their source readily available over the public internet.

Now, I'm not saying that people are necessarily doing this maliciously... usually they intend to release the code real soon now, and I know if you haven't planned your processes from the beginning to do this, it is a lot more difficult than you'd think.

But really, you can't imagine how many conversations of this type I've had over the past four years or so, and how rarely the code eventually appears. I've really lost my patience with this, and I'm afraid it shows in the tone of my responses lately.

The thing is, I really do want to see the code, because most of the code in school administration applications is crap, where crap is defined as not better than I can write myself, and while I might not be able to improve or completely understand your code, I can often quickly tell if it sucks, and if it does, I'm not interested in it, no matter what it does.

Generativity: the Essential, but Overlooked, Design Tradeoff in School Information Technology

The first of my two proposals for the K12 Open Minds Conference, to be held September 25-27 in Indianapolis, Indiana:

For all the incredible advances in computing and network technologies over the past 30 years, most ed tech veterans will admit to a certain nostalgia for the days of their old Apple II's. Not just because the field then was a new frontier, but because teachers and students had the freedom to explore and experiment on simple, robust machines that they controlled and maintained themselves.

Today, our networked systems are massively more complex, under constant threat from swarms of malware, encumbered by myriad legal mandates and liabilities, and the main conduit for mission-critical administrative tasks. We have responded to these demands by adopting corporate IT practices from industries like healthcare that provide some measure of security and reliability, but at the cost of what Jonathan Zittrain calls "generativity... a system's capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences." In recent years, forward-looking educators have routed around their loss of generative power by experimenting with "Web 2.0" technologies, but ultimately we need school-IT systems designed to accomodate and foster user-generated innovation.

Allowing generativity is not the only, or even the most important, priority in designing a school's IT infrastructure, but in recent history, it has rarely been a priority at all. In this session we will discuss what "generativity" means, why it is especially important for schools, and what we can do to bring it back into our IT.

If you've got any comments, corrections or suggestions, now would be a good time to make them.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving

Mark Bullen:

Kevin Ramsey studied undegraduate students at Texas Tech University and found that there was relatively high agreement with all but two of the seven characteristics of the millenial generation identified by Howe & Strauss (2003): special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving. [...]

But, more importantly, the generational characteristics that were used as the basis for this study are quite different than the ones that are most frequently used to describe this generation. In fact all of them, except perhaps team-oriented, are not that remarkable or distinguishing and certainly have little obvious connection to the notion that this generation has been profoundly affected by its immersion in a net-connected, technological world. Interestingly, the one characteristic that is most closely connected to the use of Internet technology (team-oriented) is the one for which students had the lowest level of agreement (less than half agreed with this).