Monday, February 14, 2005

All F'ed Up

You said something that made me think in an earlier post:

I have to say that with all the research and data that's out there on education, it's truly amazing that it continues to be as f***ed up as it is. Anyone who can actually figure out how to make it effective, efficient and meaningful can probably take over the world, since the concept of 'educating' is at the very heart of all cultures, and always has been.

What else has a lot of research and has gotten nowhere? Is the reason it hasn't gotten anywhere because of the inbreeding you talked about (which I admit I haven't read yet)?

Is the goal for education to be effective, efficient and meaningful? Is there any education out there that fits all these criteria? Is the problem that it's not scalable?

It's just amazing that with the amount of research that education is not better. Would they accept this kind of mediocrity in science or business? Why is it that they accept it in education?

Can't really think about these things now, and maybe some of them are answered in the last post, but they're all things to think about. Another question is what lies at the center of the educational problem? I doubt highly that it's the lack of communication amongst principals. In fact, I wonder if such communication would even improve things. It seems to me that the speed that education moves at may be at the heart of this issue. If your administrators and teachers won't accept technology, how are they expected to teach children to think in a world engulfed in it?

Just some thoughts, more to come. But now I have to go out for Valentines Day.

The future

I'm pretty fascinated by the direction this conversation has taken. I believe we spoke, at some point, about asking for a futurist's perspective, and the more I think about it, the more I want to envision what schools will be like in 25 years or so. Among other thoughts meandering through my mind is the whole issue of bringing public school administrators in from other fields. Bloomberg really took some heat for doing this in NYC, and the jury is still out on how successful this management approach will be, but one thing is certain: change has occurred quite rapidly in the NYC school system in the last four years, and that, in and of itself, represents a significant change.

I believe that once public school systems are forced to pull teachers and administrators from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, not just education, it will have the potential to break the old paradigm wide open.

Traditionally, no one but those with a background in teaching has ever gone into educational administration. Most educators believe this is the only workable option; their argument is that if you haven't been there (i.e., in the classroom) you can't possibly understand the subtleties and rigors of educating our children. While I don't mean to wholly discredit this perspective, the fact is, virtually everyone has 'experienced' the classroom -- in fact, many classrooms -- it's just that they've experienced them as students rather than as teachers. Some might say an educated student's perspective is as valid as that of a teacher, perhaps even more so when the student's view is recent and fresh, while the teacher has been in that same classroom, doing pretty much the same thing, for a decade ... or two ... or three.

My point here is that there is almost a problem of inbreeding in education and educational administration, a problem that I believe exacerbates the notorious weaknesses of our schools of education. What you end up with is this endlessly perpetuating genetic flaw, with little or no opportunity to infuse any fresh genetic material.

As aforementioned, historically, educators have been reluctant to pay attention to anybody from outside the field who wants to have a say in policy decisions. Yet if nothing else, allowing some people who have been trained in organizational management come in and take over the human part of managing a school could bring a whole new range of skills to the table, not the least of which would be to expose career educators to different ways of looking at things.

Now, as long as unions continue to hold sway in the world of public school education, things seems unlikely to change. But we cannot ignore the fact that there aren't enough people who want to go into education to fill the jobs of all the retiring baby boomers. Early evidence has shown that most young people who are pulled into education from other fields (in other words, people who did not major in education in college) are unlikely to stay with teaching for more than about 5 years. The consistent infusion of 'new blood' may not break the paradigm, but it should at least rattle the cage. What is more, combined with the possibilities inherent in distance education, it seems likely that new definitions of 'teacher' and 'classroom', and therefore, 'education', will emerge.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Ah education, ah culture, ah wilderness!

You raise excellent questions, which I will attempt to answer briefly. But keep in mind that the answers will vary by school, district, and state. State DOE’s really set the tone for their schools, and even more so now that so much is tied to standardized tests, which vary dramatically from state to state. Willard Daggett of the International Center for Leadership in Education put it this way,

In its effort to move public education towards a more rigorous and relevant standard ofachievement for all students, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 remains a work in progress. While the end goal is, and should remain, to have 100% of American students proficient in English, math, and science, the legislation does not define what “proficient” means. Hence, although the concept of proficiency itself – the minimum achievement a student must exhibit to be deemed proficient – is fairly constant among states, each state has complete autonomy in defining what that minimum achievement level is. The result is a great deal of variation among states in the level of achievement and learning necessary to be “proficient.”

If you want more background on this subject, Princeton Review published Testing the Testers 2003: An Annual Ranking of State Accountability Systems. Rand also did a study on this whole NCLB, leadership and accountability concept in 2003.

I also want to note up front that, as with everything else, there are an endless number of education-related websites. It turns out that a number of these offer some sort of networking option. These include:



Private Schools Principals’ Academy (CA):

There are more, but as usual, as I looked around, I went off on a few tangents and discovered a number of sites and organizations with which I was unfamiliar. It’s a couple hours later now, so more specific answers to your questions will have to wait. I have to say that with all the research and data that's out there on education, it's truly amazing that it continues to be as f***ed up as it is. Anyone who can actually figure out how to make it effective, efficient and meaningful can probably take over the world, since the concept of 'educating' is at the very heart of all cultures, and always has been.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Some Thoughts and Lots of Questions

Just to make this easier to organize, I'll number.

1. First I think I need a better understanding of the role of the principal and the assistants. What powers do they have? What decisions do they make? How much comes down from the BOE?

2. I don't think I really understand this: "This is a source of huge frustration for dedicated administrators who really need to develop strategies for handling it. (This is one of the key advantages of the relatively new 'small learning community' trend.)" Can you explain?

3. What are actual principal's issues? What would the agenda of meeting be if it a principal were consulted?

4. Where are new principals coming from? How much experience do they have? How old are they? Can we get demographic/psychographic information on them? It would also be very helpful to know their online/computer habits.

5. How do you envision this social network? How could it help them work on common problems?

Alright, let me give you a little bit of stuff that I know about. I think the big problem with social networks generally are that they're not local enough. I believe for them to be successful they need to be grounded in either space or interests. Take a look at 43 Things, for example, which allows people to list a goal and then they essentially create a group-blog where they can discuss this goal. I think this is an interesting way to organize things. I also recommend reading up on tagging, which is all the rage at the moment. (Check out this article that specifically mentions 43 Things and tagging.) I'm not sure how to implement it, but it's a very good way to organize information. I think we need to think about these things:

1. Will principals actually use this?
2. What features do principals want?
3. What are the problems with the current system of networking? Why would online be better?

I'll check out some social networking sites, let's thing good and hard about this stuff. Once we give it some more thinking, we should start talking to some principals. Also, if there's a principal organization and you could find out about getting data from them it would be great.

social network for school principals

The isolation of school principals is a classic issue, but one that has taken on new urgency with the impending retirement of so many baby boom school administrators. Several issues are at play here:
1 - There's only one principal in a building. Even when a principal has assistants, more often than not, there's so much work to do that everyone has distinct responsibilities. In other words, even within a particular school, all administrators are not likely to be on the same page -- only the principal is responsible for the big picture.
2 - Unlike in business, there are very few middle managers, just the AP's noted above, and sometimes department heads, who generally split responsibility for things like budget management, scheduling, student discipline, staff evaluation, custodial work, etc, etc, etc. As a result, schools are notorious for not having a cohesive vision for teaching and learning. When teachers close their doors, you often have to take it on faith that they're adopting the new initiatives in which they've been trained. This is a source of huge frustration for dedicated administrators who really need to develop strategies for handling it. (This is one of the key advantages of the relatively new 'small learning community' trend.)
3 - While districts may provide opportunities for principals to work together, they are usually rushed affairs, with little time set aside for dealing with principal's issues. It is the rare district that even consults principals on the agendas for these meetings.
4 - The growing shortage of principals is making it more and more likely that those moving into these leadership roles will have less and less experience.
5 - While all this is happening, there is more and more pressure for schools to be 'accountable.' In the final analysis, that often means that principals will end up being held responsible for students' failure to meet learning standards set by their state's DOE.

There's more, but I don't have time to get into it right now. The bottom line is that I think principals need a way to use the net as a support system -- perhaps through some variation of a social network that lets people working on common problems, whether its making sure a new learning initiative is being implemented, or figuring out how to increase professional development without infringing on teacher contracts, or dealing with a teacher that really needs to retire ... there are countless common issues out there.

So there you are -- where do we go from here?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

New Home:

My new home is, go check it out. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Jon Stewart on Larry King Live

Read the transcript here.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

Stewart on Nader: "But I do think there are some -- I think that conservatives for Nader is probably equal in size to the group retarded death row inmates for Bush. Maybe two on each side."

Stewart on bombing as geography education: "Absolutely. I didn't know Kabul was the capital of Afghanistan until we started bombing it. And I thought to myself what a great fact. If we would haven't gone to war there, I certainly wouldn't have known that. And I think, for the kids today, it's important for them to learn geography. And I think, in an as violent a way as possible."

Stewart on God: "Very angry. Loves the Americans. Very big. Wants us to have bigger cars. Wants us to have bigger cars and as a little goof on us has only made a finite supply of oil. It's very -- he's very funny. He's a trickster. Here's another little joke he did. He promised three different religions they were the chosen ones, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and then, funny, follow me, he put their holiest sites all in the same place. And then he backed away and he just wants to see who wants it more. That's what this is about. This is God going, hey, show me something, people."

Stewart on same-sex marriage: "STEWART: Same-sex marriage is a very difficult situation and I was freaked out by it too. You know that.
KING: Why?
STEWART: Well, until I found out that it wasn't mandatory, because I love my wife and I'd hate to have to leave her for a dude. So I didn't want that."

Stewart on the DNC: "CALLER: I just want to know what the shows plans are for covering the convention up in Boston.
KING: Yes, what are your plans?
STEWART: It's an excellent question. As a fake news organization.
KING: Correct.
STEWART: And the conventions obviously being a fake news event, we are the only ones on the same level. So we'll be covering it. We'll have extensive coverage."

Stewart on Kennedy's assassination: "Let me put it this way. When Kennedy died, I cried but for a completely different reason. I was tired and I'd just gone in my pants."

Stewart on 18-24 year-olds: "They're not, you know. I'm not worried about this next generation, believe me, the 18 to 24-year-olds. Those people that I've met, they're very smart. They're very engaged. The fact that they vote in the same percentages that we all voted at that age is fine."

Stewart on the news media: "I believe -- I believe what's happened is they've all become part of the same organism and no longer see themselves as an another. And by no longer being an other you have a stake, a sort of in the symbiosis of it and I think that's where the difficulty came. The idea, that they fear loss of access or promotion. Journalist have become stars. And your stardom is about who you can get, and by getting the right person you allow yourself to keep advancing and therefore, you can never -- then the power -- the paradigm has switched.
TV was better than the politicians in 1960. When it first came out and the politicians didn't know how to manipulate it. It was the Nixon-Kennedy debate. And Nixon went, I look great, what do you mean? I'm a little sweaty and pasty, but what's that going to matter?
And then politicians learned it how to manipulate the medium and manipulate new cycle and TV has never caught up, but they don't want to because they have no jeopardy. They're working for themselves instead of working for us anymore. I don't mean that in a bad way."

Stewart on his virginity: "KING: Hello.
CALLER: Yes. I happen to be at the commencement for William and Mary graduation where Jon received his honorary doctorate.
STEWART: Let me apologize right off the bat. Oh, is that.
KING: We wanted to hear the question.
STEWART: I just wanted to apologize because...
KING: Do you think she's going to be critical?
STEWART: I would think so.
CALLER: Oh, no, no, I have a very light and fluffy question to ask him.
KING: What is it.
STEWART: Light and fluffy. Jon, you said you lost your virginity in '81 and gained it back by appeal in '83.
STEWART: It was appealed by the woman, and it was -- the court awarded the virginity back '83, that is correct?
KING: Was that your question ma'am?
CALLER: That was my question. That is my burning question and where are the photos?
KING: OK, so you're saying commencement address they gave you an honorary degree. You said you lost your virginity in '81 and got it back...
STEWART: On appeal in '83. I fought it for two years, I fought it through all the courts all of the way up, but they said, the final in the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision, it was very close, party lines, saw my performance and said I'm afraid you still have your virginity."

Another interesting post on the Gmail marketing front

Here's an interesting poston Merodeando on the Gmail marketing campaign. Says a lot of what I said, but still some good points.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Ethnographic Blog Study

Reading Blog Research Issues on Many 2 Many got me thinking about the need for a serious ethnographic study on blogging. I'm sure it's already underway, but it might be an interesting proposition for a doctoral (or masters, I guess) thesis for me. What do you think?

3 Quick Responses

Before I even get into any serious responses to that post, just wanted to clear two things up.

1. I knew about Hotmail raising storage limits, they had already announced it: (one of thousands of articles on the subject, don't know why I chose that one, but it came up in a Google News search).
2. The book is called Dress Your Family in Courduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. Read the Sunday Times review here:
3. I don't remember you ever telling me to take that class (but that certainly doesn't mean it didn't happen).

Back to thinking. (But before I do that, one last thing. Check out this article from Forbes on the power of mass intelligence on Google. It's really great stuff and probably fodder for a future post.)

Comeuppance and Learning

This is a two part response: 1 - to your gmail post and 2 - to your libraries post.
1 - I got an email from hotmail today offering bigger and better service, exactly as you predicted. I haven't liked hotmail in a long time -- ever since they purged my files a couple of years ago in the apparent belief I had gone over my storage limit (entirely untrue, but the way!) A significant part of the frustration with them at the time was that they were so unresponsive to my attempts to contact them. I still believe they could have retrieved my files if they'd responded to my panicked e-mails in the first 24 hours, but they didn't, so they were lost forever ... and they never even apologized. That permanently changed my view of Microsoft. Now, even when I hear about the good things the Gates foundation does for schools and world health, I think more about the ulterior motives than the good deeds. A really smart marketing department understands this; hopefully, Google has a really smart marketing department. This also brings to mind the reference to Microsoft's failed stickering campaign in your Obey Giant article and the whole concept of authenticity in advertising and marketing. They just don't get it. I like to think they'll get their comeuppance (A great word that sticks in my mind from Orson's Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons" -- a smaller and far lesser known work than "Citizen Kane", but a gem.) But that's probably pretty naive of me.

2 - Your whole thesis on libraries, searches and connections brings me back to my research on brain science -- the 'grandaddy' of networks, if you will. It never ceases to amaze me that recent (the last 25 years or so) findings in this field have not turned educational theory on its ear, essentially because it proves that it's the physical process of making neural connections that make learning possible. In a nutshell, your brain make little webs that trap (a.k.a. retain) new bits of information. These can simply lodge there and basically get buried by other information, or they can be recalled when you've taken in a new 'bit', thus creating a link and making it easier to 'relocate' the old piece of information. The more links you create, the more likely you are to be able to access the knowledge (memory) in your neural network. You and Aaron used one of my books, "A Celebration of Neurons: An Educator's Guide to the Human Brain" by Robert Sylwester, for your high school science project on reading retention from paper versus reading from the computer. (You were always on the cutting edge!)

There's a great opportunity (missed) for a spider analogy in the above, which reminds me that I recently heard an interview on NPR with a best-selling author -- I can't recall his name, but his book's title is something about dressing your family in denim. Anyway, he's become fascinated with spiders and spends what sounds like a wholly unreasonable percentage of his leisure time catching flies for the spiders in his house. But I digress ...

'Back in the day' I was doing my thesis research on the net -- a brand new experience for me in '96 -- I couldn't get enough of following the tangents my searches would bring up. One of them was to learning histories, a concept developed at MIT's Center for Organizational Learning as a mean of effecting organizational change. I used it as my research methodology for my thesis (it's kind of an extension or action and ethnographic research.) When I did a quick search this morning, I noticed that not much seems to have been done with learning histories since the late 90's, but I did find a new book by Art Kleiner,one of the originators of the concept. I believe he was teaching a course at NYU while you were there -- I think I even encouraged you to take it ... but that's another story. Anyway, at a glance, I thought his site looked interesting:

Now, let's see if I can get this links thing down: gmail,connections,Obey Giant, marketing, Orson Welles, brain science, spider webs, education, learning histories (
links re brain science & education: neuro.html

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Gmail Toss-up

(This relates to: 'Gmail invitations a smart idea' as my own thinking on the subject).

There is a certain brilliance in Gmail's invite system. From a marketing perspective, they created a buzz around their product and allowed indivuals to promote for them. By opening the system to Blogger users first they were guaranteed to have a group of people who cared about the internet (most likely more than average). By bringing the invites out in cycles they were able to keep people interested and happy at the same time. The only question is how google will finish this performance. I read someone this morning suggest that it would be pretty funny if it were all an April fools joke and, in fact, they never opened Gmail to the public. This would mean that Yahoo! and Hotmail were forced to up their storage capacity to compete with an email system that only had a limited number of users. It certainly got Google a lot of attention. But seriously, what if Google never opened Gmail to the entire public? What if, instead of doing a giant 'grand opening' they continued their invite system? They would then control supply and demand and keep their name floating around. (Although right now it appears as though most people who want Gmail have it. Pretty much anyone very serious about the internet has already gotten an invitation and it has moved on to the mass public. When I go to a party and have three people mention Gmail to me the initial hype is officially over.) Anyhow, I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, but I do think it has been a fantastic strategy. They put a great product into the hands of people who care most about their computers and the internet and let them do the promoting for them. I know I have touted the advantages of Gmail to any number of people over the last few months and I will continue. It is far superior to most any email application I have ever used and I really enjoy. I have even been stingy with my invites, only giving them to people who I knew would be using Gmail as their main account (no one who just wanted to dabble in Gmail and stick with Hotmail was invited). This is exactly what Gmail wanted with their invites and they got it. We've been duped -- but we've gotten a great product out of it. So there's the toss-up.

Links: Marketing, 'Tipping Point', Gmail