Tuesday, September 29, 2009

EducationSector.org is worth a click

Do a search on Tom Toch and you'll learn about Education Sector www.Educationsector.org

Look at this online discussion planned for soon...

Online Discussion: School Choice a la Carte

October 7, 2009 - October 8, 2009
Featured Presenters:
Erin Dillon
Bill Tucker

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Currently, choice in education is generally limited to choosing aschool: Public or private school? Charter or neighborhood school? If grocery stores offered the same limited choices, shoppers would have to choose, for instance, among Whole Foods, Safeway, or Wal-Mart. But in reality, shoppers can (and do) patronize all three, making their decision based on their specific needs and the store's particular strengths. This way, shoppers are much more likely to get exactly what they need.

Learning is obviously much more complex than grocery shopping, but what if choices in education could be extended in a similar way?

Clayton Christensen's book Disrupting Class has gained much attention for its prediction that disruptive innovation will revolutionize how we educate students, much in the way iTunes has changed the music industry with its more customer-focused approach to delivery.

But while virtual education is likely to become a large part of the future of school choice, increased customization in education doesn't have to happen only online. There are endless possibilities to reorganize the delivery of education and to offer both students and teachers more choice and customization within the public schools.

Education Sector is pleased to host an online discussion October 7-8, 2009, to explore how new technologies and opportunities for learning are changing the context of education and to analyze whether educational choice can evolve beyond the current school-centered vision to offer greater customization for all students within a public system.

This discussion will feature: Education Sector's Erin Dillon andBill Tucker; Courtney Bell of Educational Testing Services;Julie Evans of Project Tomorrow; Curt Johnson of Education/Evolving and co-author of Disrupting Class; Brian Dixon, teacher and director of High Tech High's Flex program; and Tom Vander Ark of Vander Ark/Ratcliff Partners and former executive director of education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Learn more:

Get some facts at Edreform.com

Look at these facts published on www.EdReform.com


(Digest of Education Statistics 2008, Chapter 2, Table 87)


Elementary: 72,659
Secondary: 24,856
Combined: 5,202
Other: 4,209
(Digest 2008, Chapter 1, Table 5)


Elementary: 68,990
Secondary: 23,436
Combined: 5,984
Other: 383
(Digest 2008, Chapter 2, Table 94)

(The Center for Education Reform, February 2009)


Elementary: 22,870
Secondary: 2,930
Combined: 9,260
(Digest 2008, Chapter 2, Table 58)


Elementary: 6,360
Secondary: 1,080
Combined: 300
(Digest 2008, Chapter 2, Table 58)


TOTAL K-12 ENROLLMENT: 55,394,000

Elementary: 38,932,000
Secondary: 16,462,000
(Digest 2008, Chapter 1, Table 2)


Elementary: 34,221,000
Secondary: 15,078,000
(Digest 2008, Chapter 1, Table 2)

(The Center for Education Reform, February 2009)


Elementary: 3,447,230
Secondary: 859,800
Combined: 1,766,220
(Digest 2008, Chapter 2, Table 58)

TOTAL HOME SCHOOL ENROLLMENT: 1.5 million (estimate) or 2.9% (estimate) of America's school population
(1.5 Million Homeschooled Students in the United States in 2007, NCES, December 2008)


Elementary: 1,701,000
Secondary: 597,680
Combined: 104,120
(Digest 2008, Chapter 2, Table 58)



Elementary: 1,673,234
Secondary: 1,250,771
Unclassified: 256,391
(Digest 2008, Chapter 2, Table 65)

(Schools and Staffing Survey, 2003-04, NCES)


Elementary: 209,510
Secondary: 70,680
Combined: 169,630
(Digest 2008, Chapter 2, Table 58)


Elementary: 97,410
Secondary: 42,680
Combined: 9,860
(Digest 2008, Chapter 2, Table 58)

Now we can ALL be more specific and accurate in our use of statistics...

Tom vander Ark is spot on when he advocates "Tech" in classrooms

The guy who wrote the foreword of THomas Toch's 2003 book (High Schools on a Human Scale : How Small Schools Can Transform American Education)
by Thomas Toch, Tom Vander Ark (Foreword by) has a quote in the NY Times school issue: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/magazine/27toolssidebar2-t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

Thomas vander Ark recommends School of One where "each student has a daily 'playlist’ tailored to their instructional level, interests and learning style. The school blends online learning, small group sessions and tutoring." He believes that "most high-school students will do most of their learning online" by 2020.

I recommend a search of Tom vander Ark's work and especially his blog www.EdReformer.com. (The web site www.edreform.com is operated by the Center for Education Reform and is worth a visit, too). ...vander Ark's recommendations parallel Dr. Fischler's www.TheStudentistheClass.com blog.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

You can be a mentor.

Visit a school and ask to sit with a class.

Tell students how school is related to your work.

Proceeds from the sale of this booklet support the work of small schools.

VisualAndActive.com ResolveToHeal.com BuildingInternationalBridges.org

Critical thinking: Randi.org Snopes.com Check out a rumor before passing on something that you heard. “Let’s all boycott one gasoline company and that will force the company to reduce prices.” (Oh, yeah?)

This booklet is a political document. Like Thomas Paine’s Commonsense, this booklet has the potential to spark in the reader a spectrum of emotions and feelings. Take our irritation, annoyance, outrage, and put it to use in a local school or by writing to or visiting a local school board. Let the following words inspire us, move us, impel us to reflect on what our past inaction has done to our schools. What have we left undone, what have we left to the experts (who maintain schools in the same condition as the 1950s)? What action could we take today to move schools toward their higher potential? What schools could we visit to become inspired (CHADPhila.org in Philadelphia, High Tech High in San Diego, Mavericksineducation.com)? How can the words of Postman, Hetland, Gardner, Yuzenas, Pink, Reich, Friedman, Fischler (TheStudentIstheClass.com), Littky (MetCenter.org and BigPicture.org) and others inspire us to change what we can change? Let’s visit VisualandActive.com and click on “Readings” to find more ways to inspire teachers and school administrators. Here are some samples:

A good education is the next best thing to a pushy mother (Charles Schultz). Learning is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never fear and never dream of regretting (T H White). The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows (Sydney Harris). Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance (Will Durant). I think everyone should go to college and get a degree and then spend six months as a bartender and six months as a cabdriver. Then they would be really educated (Al McGuire). The mind is not a vessel that needs filling but wood that needs igniting (Plutarch).

In short, Littky’s work is not a “revolutionary” method. Littky copies what tutors have been doing for millennia --- know the student, shape the curriculum to match the student’s strengths, find experts to train the student, push the child with rigorous material that makes sense to the student.

Why not call Dennis Littky’s office? 401 752-3442. Ask why a “student-centered environment” must be in a small school to achieve the results that we are all seeking.

“Education is everybody’s business.”

Dennis Littky

This booklet is dedicated to the friendly and confident students and teachers at Met Center who gave me a warm welcome when I visited on 30 November 2005. They spent hours answering my questions about their school.

Comments ?? send your messages to VisualandActive@gmail.com

What can we do to improve schools?

What is Next?

What can each of us do to turn big schools into small schools?

What can each of us do to help small schools become stronger?

Just keep asking those two questions. The answer will come.

We can help small schools succeed.

Become a mentor. Small schools need adults to come into the school and to listen to questions from students. As a mentor, your role is easy: Make sure the students you talk with are given something unconventional. Give them a role model.

What Can We Do? Let’s get going…

1. Visit a middle school. There is one task that a teacher can’t do or pay for: Getting an adult to speak with a small group of students in a class and to answer their questions. Your time will spark something in the brains of the kids. A teacher can’t always make that happen. You can. You are a mentor.

2. Record yourself and post the video on youtube. Send the link tovisualandactive@gmail.com. Let students hear your answers to: What do you remember from school?

What did you do to learn to read? What did you like to read?

What books or articles or magazines do you recommend others to read? Tell us about an article that you read recently.

What did you learn in school that you really value today?

What did you learn outside school that you use in your life today?

Do you remember a teacher’s name? Tell the camera the name of that teacher and why that teacher sticks out in your memory.

3. Become a phone mentor. One phone call per day. Just five or six calls each week.

4. Ask to become a mentor to a class. The best teacher is a facilitator who allows mentors (adults who are not teachers) to talk with and listen to students..

5. Read some of these books:

A Whole New Mind and Free Agent Nation by Dan Pink

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and anything on snopes.com
Studio Art by Lois Hetland

The Big Picture by Dennis Littky

Visit these sites:

The StudentistheClass.com by Abe Fischler

Bigpicture.org metcenter.org for Dennis Littky’s work

WhatDoYaKnow.com by Dennis Yuzenas

http://www.pz.harvard.edu Project Zero’s site at Harvard university for continuing education, click on “products and services” and join the mailing list. Ask your child’s teachers and principal to subscribe to learn what’s new and effective.

Search on Youtube:

“Yuzenas visual” “Littky Small” “Abe Fischler”

Send coments to VisualandActive@gmail.com

Three reformers (who believe in education and public schools)

The work of many school reformers deserves more attention. Here are three more pioneers:

a) Abe Fischler, one of the guys who created distance learning for universities. He has a blog called TheStudentistheClass.com. He proposes putting 70 students in a large computer room, the students work with computers and three teachers circulate around the room. It’s called Computer Assisted Instruction and it can change the way information is delivered to kids, freeing the teachers to be advisors, counselors, facilitators and keen observers.

b) Lois Hetland. She works with Howard Gardner, the guy who created the Multiple Intelligences theory. Either she or Gardner should be put on TV to reinforce what they’ve been saying for 25 years: Students learn in different ways and ought to be tested in different ways to accurately measure their performances of understanding. You can learn more by looking at her book “Studio Thinking” about the importance of Arts in Education. http://www.amazon.com/Studio-Thinking-Benefits-Visual-Education/dp/0807748188 Her website is pzweb.harvard.edu/PIs/LH.htm

c) Dennis Yuzenas, middle school teacher and edu-tainer. He brings digital books into class on disks and asks his students to re-write the textbook. His website WhatDoYaKnow.com stimulates students to look at the ways that history is distorted and revised through time. His computer-assisted instruction methods can be found on youtube (search “Yuzenas visual”).

What would Ben Franklin say about the opportunity that Littky offers each of us?

On the final day, as the last delegates were signing the document, Franklin pointed toward the sun on the back of the Convention president's chair. Observing that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising sun from a setting sun, he went on to say: "I have often ... in the course of the session ... looked at that sun behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun."


Answers to the board work (in previous posts): sand box, long underwear, reading between the lines, man overboard! Anyone familiar with middle school students will recognize the joyous love of humor. How can school be reformatted to keep the humor and build relationships?

Bravo: send questions and comments to visualandactive@gmail.com

Can smaller schools reduce violence and incidents of bullying and other dangers?

News Item: Student fatally stabbed

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (WSVN) -- Juan Carlos Rivera, 17, a 10th grader at Coral Gables High School, died as a result of a confrontation with another student on campus.

School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho addressed concerns of violence on school campuses. "Unfortunately, I think it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prevent a random act of violence," he said.

So far, class has not been in session for more than a month and it has proved a bad start to the school year. Guns have been found on campuses just last week and yesterday. On Monday, a 14-year-old boy at Madison Middle School in Miami-Dade showed off a gun he had in his backpack, which a teacher confiscated without incident.

Last Friday, Miami-Dade Schools Police arrested three students, two from Westview Middle School and one from North Miami Beach Sr. High, for bringing guns to schools.

The Miami-Dade school system is also no stranger to fatal stabbings at their schools. On Feb. 3, 2004, at Southwood Middle School, Michael Hernandez, 14, stabbed his friend Jamie Gough, also 14, to death in one of the school's bathrooms.

The most recent fatality on a school campus occurred in Broward County. On Nov. 12, 2008, then 15-year-old Teah Wimberly admitted to shooting and killing her friend Amanda Collette, also 15, at Dillard High School in Miramar.

"I understand the frustration," Carvalho said about the recent violence at local schools. "The fact that it happened here today, the fact that it happened once in Broward last year, the fact it happens across the country, it's a lesson for all of us."

Despite these recent scenes of violence at local schools, Carvalho said, there is no safer place for children to be when away from the care of their parents. "It should be noted that schools, in my opinion, is the safest place for kids to be," he said. (News report by wsvn.com)

Extremely difficult to prevent? Oh? The stabbing in Coral Gables High School would have been less likely to take place in a smaller school. We taxpapers sit by while our education tax revenues are spent in “big box” schools where bullies are freer to roam.

School reformer Dennis Littky writes, "The best way to create a positive school culture is to start by creating a small school [under 400 students]. Research has shown that small schools are safer and easier to secure. A large public school system might spend more than $50 million annually on school security" (p. 67). Why not start by making the schools smaller? For more information about the importance of “number of kids in the school” (instead of “number of students in a classroom,” contact Big Picture Learning, Dennis Littky, info@bigpicture.org 325 Public Street, Providence, RI 02905, Phone: 401.752.3442

Each of us comes to school reform through a different avenue. Search “Dennis Littky” on
npr.org and you'll find the April 2005 interview. Perhaps you will come to see, as I have, that school reform starts with us, not with "them."

Send comments to VisualandActive@gmail.com

What does Dan Piink say about schools?

See Daniel Pink’s discussion of changes in education in his book, Free Agent Nation, chapter 15:

Whenever I walk into a public school, I'm nearly toppled by a wave of nostalgia. Most schools I've visited in the 21st century look and feel exactly like the public schools I attended in the 1970s. The classrooms are the same size. The desks stand in those same rows. Bulletin boards preview the next national holiday. The hallways even smell the same. Sure, some classrooms might have a computer or two. But in most respects, the schools American children attend today seem indistinguishable from the ones their parents and grandparents attended.

(Pink asks, “How many other places look and feel exactly as they did 40 years ago?” He goes on to discuss the history of mass education. He ends with the following points.)

In the future, expect teens and their families to force an end to high school as we know it. Look for some of these changes to replace and augment traditional high schools with free-agent-style learning -- and to unschool the American teenager:

* A renaissance of apprenticeships. Traditional high schools tend to separate learning and doing. For centuries, young people learned a craft or profession under the guidance of an experienced master. This method will revive and expand to include skills like computer programming and graphic design. Imagine a 14-year-old taking two or three academic courses each week, and spending the rest of her time apprenticing as a commercial artist.

* Teenage entrepreneurship.
Most teens have the two crucial traits of a successful entrepreneur: a fresh way of looking at the world and a passionate intensity for what they do. In San Diego County, 8 percent of high school students already run their own online business.

* A greater diversity of academic courses.
Only 16 states offer basic economics in high school. Expect a surge of new kinds of "home economics" courses that teach accounting and basic business skills.

Most politicians think the answer to the problems of high schools is to exert more control. But the real answer is less control. In the future, our teens will learn by less schooling and more doing.
(Dan Pink, Free Agent Nation.)

Send comments to Steve McCrea visualandactive@gmail.com

There is no “one set of knowledge.”

Here’s a quote from Dennis Littky’s book (The Big Picture):

There is no “one set of knowledge.”

In 2000, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich wrote an article for the New York Times called “One Education Does Not Fit All.” In it, he railed against the use of standardized tests and courses as inconsistent with the new economy. I literally jumped out of my seat with joy when I read this part:

Yes, people need to be able to read, write and speak clearly. And they have to know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. But given the widening array of possibilities, there ‘s no reason that every child must master the sciences, algebra, geometry, biology or any of the rest of the standard high school curriculum that has barely changed in half a century. (Robert Reich)

There’s no reason to put education in standardized packages when our kids don’t come in those packages. Who wants a standardized kid, anyway? As a society, we embrace individualism and yet we seem to be OK with our schools becoming more and more standardized (Littky, pages 34-35).

WARNING: I have mentioned one of the key aspects of the Big Picture school to several teachers: “The advisor teaches all of the subjects.” I rejected this idea at first, but I have grown to accept it. The reactions of other teachers are:

“How can one person teach math, history, a foreign language, chemistry, biology, physics, and English Literature? Where is the rigor?”

“How can one teacher be good at all of those subjects?”

“I was terrible at (math, history, whatever). I would make a terrible advisor in that system.”

Two suggestions:

a) Is it so terrible for the student to sit with an adult who has a fear of math or science? If the student lacks a knack for algebra, who better to teach flexibility and optimism than an adult who failed algebra in 9th grade?

b) Let this idea sit with you for a while. It might appear impossible to convince a teacher’s union to encourage members to teach a spectrum of subjects instead of “their favorite” or “their special gift.” For some students, an English teacher who hates math might be the perfect adult to guide the student toward understanding quantitative reasoning. A science teacher who can barely write an essay might be the best writing coach for some students. Students needing additional rigor can be assigned to other teachers/advisors for specific needs. In short, The Big Picture method has pushed me to look at alternatives to “how I was taught.”


A COMMON OBJECTION to SMALL SCHOOLS: “Our schools are focusing on reducing class size, not schoolsize. We seek to provide a student-centered environment.”

RESPONSE: Let us emphasize the difference between being a student in a small school and being a student in a small class in a large school.

Bill Gates hammers the point of small schools, where kids feel safer and everyone knows your name. It doesn’t matter what size the “student-centered environment” is – when I walk out that classroom door, if I can merge into a sea of 800 or 1000 other bodies, then I’m not in a small school. I don’t get the small-school benefit that Dennis Littky writes about and that Bill Gates is pursuing with his foundation.

In short

1) Howard Gardner says that assessing actual understanding will cost a lot more that we currently spend on written tests (Intelligence Reframed, p. 167).

2) Littky says that mentors, exhibitions and learning through interests are needed to supplement the typical school textbook and testing

3) Robert Reich does not have much complimentary to say about standardized tests (see page 17 of this booklet).

How can this “Met Center” model be applied to middle schools? Or to traditional high schools?

n more hands-on learning

n more interaction with outside mentors

n introduce grading by narrative

n “one classroom schools” – one teacher for several subjects. (See WARNING below.)

n less emphasis on performance on a written test

n expand the standardized test to allow alternative ways of “performing understanding.”

Howard Gardner, developer of the Multiple Intelligences theory, makes it clear that there are many ways of learning, so there should be more than one way to assess a person’s mastery of a subject. Some people are inspired speakers and actors, but have a difficult time writing. Some people are good at building teams but do poorly when acting alone.

In the real world, these people are called “managers” (because they know how to delegate). They don’t have to know how to do everything well.

However, schools test students in a way that guarantees that most people who are good in one area are going to feel terrible about themselvesbecause they can’t perform up to a standard in another area. In the work place, employees don’t have to perform in a well-rounded way. That’s why there is division of labor in an organization.

As a math teacher, I’m impressed with the Big Picture’s philosophy and how the philosophy is put into action through the five pillars. The interview with National Public Radio (in April 2005) is particularly compelling and I recommend close listening to Dennis Littky. You can find this interview on the NPR web site, npr.org, and enter “Dennis Littky” in the search box. The links will take you to the April 25, 2005 interview. I used to “believe in” schools as large boxes that efficiently take in 1000 students and churn out young adults. Now I see that I learned because I was with an adult who spoke to me and a few other people who were also interested in what I was hooked on. As a tutor, I see students “get it” after three or four sessions because I take the time to find out what the student is interested in and we shift the tutoring sessions toward those interests.

What if schools were “places to explore my interests”? Dennis Littky describes one path to making a classroom that facilitates discovery. The Big Picture: Education is Everyone’s Business. I hope you will take time to connect with this remarkable organizationà (401) 752-3442

Send comments to VisualAndActive@gmail.com

The Secret Behind the Met Center in Rhode Island

Text Box: The Met Center’s web site lists the following items:  a student-teacher ratio of 15:1,  high standards, and  strong family engagement.   Its hallmarks include  internships,  individual learning plans,  advisory, and  a breakthrough college transition program.  Metcenter.org

Hmm. It sounds like any other school. “High Standards” for most of us means “We use expensive textbooks and expect our students to do onerous homework.” At the Met, the standards are for rigorous work in the student’s area of passion.

“Advisory” for most schools might mean “we have a guidance department” and “we help students find possible careers.” In the Met, the advisory is the class and the classroom. The advisory appears to be the heart of the program. The advisory system links one adult to 15 students and that adult (the “advisor,” but most of us would call that adult the “teacher”) builds a three- or four-year relationship with the student. There are other teachers, but one advisor guides the student through a mix of subjects. The students look at issues in the advisory, focusing on quantitative reasoning (math), empirical evidence (the scientific process) and communication (language arts).

Confused? I was when I first heard of this school’s system. I thought, “How can one teacher teach all subjects?” That’s the wrong question. We should be asking, “In my school, how can a student get a sense of direction when he or she has to deal with at least 5 different teachers each year, 20 teachers through high school? Where is the common thread binding all of these subjects in the student?”

That’s the secret behind the Met. One adult cares about (focuses on) one student at a time. I know at least one school district that claims to teach “one student at a time.” The Met Center actually practices this.

Five pillars of Big Picture Schools

(as interpreted by a math teacher who visited The Met in Providence, RI, part of the Big Picture schools association)

1 Multi-year relationships -- The teacher stays with the same students for three or four years. The teacher teaches more than one subject. In the case of the Met, a high school in Providence, RI, the teacher stays with the students for all four years of high school.

2 The teacher is a facilitator. Teacher = Advisor = “how can I help you?” The teacher coaches the student to choose activities to cover skill areas (language skills, quantitative reasoning, etc.) rather than special subjects, like trigonometry, algebra or chemistry. One of the teacher’s prime activities is finding suitable mentors for the students.

3 Tests are by exhibition. A “stand up” demonstration of understanding is valued above a written test. The students take the state’s standardized tests and other written tests, but the school focuses on the exhibition, which is the product of at least nine weeks of work.

4 Learning through interests – the internships (set up with the teacher) are selected by the student. Academic learning is filtered through the student’s interests.

5 “I’m more than a letter in the alphabet.” Evaluations are made by narratives, not by a letter grade. The teacher can afford time to write two pages of narrative about each student during the grading period because the teacher has only 15 to 20 students to meet with over a nine-week period. (I observed an “advisor” who met with students throughout the class day, asking for updates on on-going projects. This sort of focus can come from a narrow focus of one adult on a small group of students.)

Text Box: The Met’s learning goals fall into five categories: personal qualities, communication, and empirical, quantitative, and social reasoning.  Empirical reasoning, the school explains, means to “think like a scientist: to use empirical evidence and a logical process to make decisions and evaluate hypotheses.”   Communication goals include: “to understand your audience; to write, read, speak, and listen well; to use technology and artistic expression to communicate; and to be exposed to another language.”  From the Met Center’s portfolio web site   www.whatkidscando.org/portfoliosmallschools /met/metintro.pdf

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