Thursday, June 30, 2011

McGraw-Hill and 360Ed Partnered To Create A Spark

“Today’s world is very different from the world baby boomers like me grew up in.  Is it a wonder, then, that by high school, very often both good students and bad ones, rich ones and poor ones, don’t much like school?”
James Paul Gee – Author of What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy
 “Research and experience have already shown that games can be applied very effectively in many learning contexts, and that games can engage learners in ways other tools and approaches cannot.”
2011 Horizon Report

McGraw-Hill Education announced that Spark would launch in August for high school biology and Algebra I, with more math and science courses to follow. This was their most exciting announcement during ISTE Conference 2011.  Spark is a cross-platform compatibility software that uses the power of social networking, educational games, and mobility to engage students in learning content and developing critical thinking skills. Spark is a suite of online courses that provides access to McGraw-Hill content in a compelling and connected framework. It may be the best example of what online 21st century education is supposed to be about.

McGraw-Hill Education is a leading provider of educational materials.  They provide print and online solutions for schools - think standardized tests, textbooks, and online assessments.

McGraw-Hill Education chose to make the announcement in Philadelphia at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference 2011.  ISTE’s annual conference and exposition is thee source of excitement for education technology professionals each year.  The exposition consists of 500 global educational technology companies and organizations demonstrating their products and services to improve learning and teaching. Think of it as the Comic Con or E3 Expo of educational techies. I wish that I were there.

McGraw-Hill Education partnered with 360Ed to create Spark.  360Ed is famous for partnering with Florida Virtual School to create the first online video game (Conspiracy Code) that students may play to honestly and officially receive high school American History credits.  The sequel, Conspiracy Code: Mindbender is a full high school course for intensive reading.

In both Conspiracy Code and Conspiracy Code: Mindbender, students play the role of teenage secret agents Eddie Flash and Libby Whitetree on a mission to save the world from Conspiracy Inc., a powerful secret organization.  Students use avatars to follow clues and complete missions.  The SiTi learning management platform keep track of their progress and provide a host of social networking communication tools for teacher and students to communicate.  It’s reported to be fun with learning all the way.

360ED updated their next-generation learning management platform, SiTi, to better facilitate collaborative online education. SiTi provides the framework for any online course and is capable of delivering media-rich content with social networking and other interactive features. Students collaborate using chat, wall posts, messages, and announcements in a safe secure learning social network. 

Spark, much like Conspiracy Code, has advanced achievement and avatar customization systems that allow students to personalize their online experience and reward their achievements – like a video game.

Lee Sheldon, University of Indiana at Bloomington assistant professor, set the blogosphere on fire March of 2010 by replacing the use of grades with experience points for his Telecommunication Department game design courses.  He also repurposed assignments as quests, exams as fighting monsters, and writing papers as crafting. 

Online Game-based education is changing the face of education.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

At Times It Can Be Heartbreaking

“These are bills that Congress ran up.  The money has been spent.  The obligations have been made. …This is not a situation where Congress is going to say OK we wont buy this car and won’t take this vacation.  They took the vacation.  They bought the car.  And now they’re saying may be we won’t have to pay.”
President Obama – federal debt ceiling June 29, 2011

 “This budget means another year with California’s schools on financial life support. The risk of $1.75 billion in mid-year reductions, as well as $2.1 billion in added deferrals, will force some districts to make cuts that will harm our students and their schools.”
California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson June 28, 2011

Being a public servant by serving on the board of a local school district is an honor. At times it can be heartbreaking.

California has been projecting a $9 to $10 billion-dollar deficit in the state budget. Our esteemed state politicians who cannot pass a budget without the threat of their pay being withheld agreed to an overly optimistic one. Somehow they are now projecting that the deficit will not be so bad, but reserve the right to revise later if they are wrong. School districts need to submit their budget based on that budget by July 1st, except their three-year budgets need to balance.

Imagine being broke with a $9.00 bill that has to be paid and someone owes you $9.00. Imagine this same person explaining that they only owe you $4.00 because they are hoping that someone else might give them five dollars. Worse, they reserve the right to take an additional dollar from you if necessary. But you still need to pay the $9.00 bill. That is the condition of the California state budget and how it affects school districts.

K-12 education makes up about 30% of the state budget. In the past it has taken 60% of the cuts. Even if there are no further cuts to education, a downward revision of the state budget will ruin the tight budgets of local school districts.

Local school districts receive funding from three sources: federal, state, and local. On average for the past ten years school districts receive 79% of their funding from the state, 13% from the federal government, and 8% locally. The percentages change according to neighborhoods. For example, a school district in an affluent neighborhood, such as, Beverly Hills Unified may receive 70% of their funding from the state, 4% from the federal government, and 26% locally. A school district in a much less affluent area, such as, Adelanto Elementary School District, may receive 86% of their funding from the state, 10% from the federal government, and only 4% locally. Between the two districts and compared to the state average, Adelanto School District is more dependent on state funding.

Then there are two types of funding: restricted and unrestricted. Restricted funds are monies with stipulations and regulations attached to them. In other words, they have to be spent only on what they have been designated to fund. Unrestricted funds (a.k.a. general fund) allow more flexibility. Most of the general fund is designated for salaries and benefits. In the Adelanto School District 81% of the general fund is designated for salaries and benefits.

Now we must include unfunded or underfunded mandated costs. Unfunded mandated costs are federal or state required programs that receive no funding for them. Districts are required to comply with these mandates but must pay for them from the general fund. Special education, English as a Second Language (ESL), and refitting school buses to be better for the environment are examples of unfunded or underfunded mandated costs. In the Adelanto School District, they encroach about 13% of the general fund. The remaining 6% of the general fund is used to pay for utilities, after-school programs, enrichment, and such other purposes.

It is clear that cuts in education and reduction of overly optimistic state budgets hurt the quality of education for our students. California already has the worse teacher to student ratio in the nation. California already spends less per student than other states. California’s state budget has a $9 to $10 billion-dollar deficit. The Adelanto School District, in turn, will have almost a $1.9 million dollar deficit next school year. This deficit is projected even though there have been major cuts to the budget. Good hard working employees are paying the price of this ruined economy through unpaid furloughs, reduction of hours, and layoffs. No one is exempt; teachers, librarians, clerks, aides, counselors, administrators – no one.

It gets worse. California solves its cash flow problem by passing it on to local school districts. To keep cash on hand, the state withholds the release of funds to the counties that are to be distributed to the local school districts. The local school districts must then borrow money to make payroll. The Adelanto School District is projecting a need to borrow $9 million dollars. It will cover its deficit and have a cushion to make payroll when the state does not release funds.

The federal job stimulus plan is meant to help states float through the economic crisis with as few layoffs as possible. This one time use it or lose it grant is not meant to supplant state funding. In other words, the influx of cash from the federal government with its own deficit problem cannot be deposited in a bank account to earn interest. It cannot be used to release funds from one program to be used on another program. It can only be used for purposes like buying back unpaid furloughs days and returning laid off employees. But it is not enough to prevent furloughs and all lay offs. And it can only be used once.

The choices presented to school board members and employees are painful. Agree to unpaid furlough days and reduction of pay for fewer or no layoffs, or agree to no furlough days and reduction of pay at the cost of more layoffs.

The same politicians at the state and federal level that cannot manage a budget and stoop to push their agenda at the cost of a child’s education and a public employee’s job – want to dictate to educators on how to teach a child. Honestly, do we really need to refit school buses to be better for the environment during an economic crisis? Has No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top worked to improve education?

I am promoting a radical change in education. Different from public charter schools, we need to privatize public education without the use of public funds and without charging tuition. We now have the technology to create hybrid online schools with learning centers that can better meet the needs of students. I would like to explore that idea. Finding the right combination of instruction, management, and structure for sustainable funding and accreditation will be a challenge, but I no longer want to look to politicians for solutions to problems they helped to create.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Headlines Shared On My Twitter June 28, 2011

Carlos Mendoza III

Ektron Continues Momentum in Web Content Management, Marketing Optimization and Social Software Deployments at Leading Educational Institutions via PR newswire

Learn It Live Adds New Professional Educators Extending its Reach to Global Learning Audience via PR Newswire

Demand for Online Learning Increases as More K-12 Students Deem it "Essential" via PR Newswire

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Monday, June 27, 2011

What Does It Profit A State To Sell Its Soul?

It was about the last straw for Jabez Stone. “I vow,” he said, and he looked around him kind of desperate −"I vow it's enough to make a man want to sell his soul to the devil. And I would, too, for two cents!”
Stephen Vincent Benet – The Devil and Daniel Webster

Bess, it’s Joe. I’ve come back. I’ve done a terrible thing. I sold my soul to the devil so the team would win… so the Yankees would lose. I thought it would be worth it, but it wasn’t. You’ve got to help me.
Douglas Wallop – Damn Yankees

There isn't enough money left in the Race To The Top grant to dangle in front of cash strapped states to accept federal take over of public education - so U.S. Education Secretary Duncan will dangle waivers instead. Salvation from the ticking time bomb of No Child Left Behind will serve as the new incentive for states to surrender control of public education to the federal government.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was the bipartisan legislation that was going to finally bring the changes needed to improve education. The visual and performing arts were going to be placed in the same footing with math, science, and reading. States were going to establish standards that clearly spell out what students needed to know and be able to do at their grade level by the end of the school year. And, based on the standards, new curriculum was going to be written and the achievement gap between groups of students would be closed.

We were naive. Instead of standards-based education, we were given test-based education. Schools, districts, and whole states became judged by multiple-choice norm-referenced standardized tests given once a year. Schools, districts, and whole states that didn’t meet the test cut off score faced punitive measures. So, to avoid punishment, states lowered their standards and schools taught only what would be on the state test at the expense of all other standards.

The test cut off score set by NCLB is raised every few years with the final goal of all students (100%) will be proficient in reading and mathematics by the year 2014. It is now at the point where about 80 % of schools are not expected to make the next cut off score and may face punitive measures. They desperately want a waiver from the cut off score.

No Child Left Behind was up for reauthorization in 2007. Many of the problems with this legislation could have been fixed then. Instead legislation was passed to authorize public funds to be used for a competitive grant called Race To The Top (RTTT). Race To The Top is No Child Left Behind on steroids. To compete for hundreds of millions of dollars cash strapped states had to agree to stipulations that surrendered control of public education to the federal government.

The ultimate goal of Race To The Top is to wrest control of public education from states, local control, and from unions. I really wouldn’t have a problem with any of this if I believed that direct federal control of public schools would be an improvement. I don’t. I believe that federally control public education will have the same quality as federal government issued peanut butter and cheese.

In two rounds of competitive grant application writing, hundreds of millions of dollars were awarded to eleven cash-strapped states, plus the District of Columbia. Most of the other states, in the application process of chasing the RTTT grant money, had to agree to stipulations that surrendered control of public education to the federal government (standards, testing, evaluations, employment, policies, reform, and how public monies can be spent).

Now there is not enough money in the Race To The Top grant to induce states to sell more control of public education to the federal government. A waiver of the next No Child Left Behind test cut off score is the new carrot dangled in front of states. To apply for this waiver states would have to agree to not yet specify stipulations that are aligned with Race To The Top.

U.S. Education Secretary Duncan readily admits that federal government legislation has dumb downed standards, narrowed curriculum, and is “creating a slow-motion train wreck for children, parents and teachers." So, why do we want more federal control over public education?

The federal government take over of public education through purse strings, No Child Left Behind, and Race To The Top legislations is not going to be an effective means of reforming public schools. Different from charter schools, we need to privatize public education without the use of public funds. We now have the technology to create hybrid online schools with learning centers that can be paid for with ads and commercialism and not cost parents tuition.

This approach will save states and the federal government billions of dollars they can no longer afford anyway. It will free educators to radically transform education to meet the needs of 21st century society without the bureaucratic interference of government. The current school system is too broken to be fixed. And we don’t need federal government support or approval to create this new system.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mocking Teachers

"Isn't the principal a dummy!" said a boy to a girl.
"Say, do you know who I am?" asked the girl.
"I'm the principal's daughter."
"And do you know who I am?" asked the boy.
"No," she replied.
"Thank goodness!"
There is a hot debate raging on Twitter and Facebook. Do students have the right to mock their teachers online? Education Week is holding a forum discussion on this question.  I encourage everyone to participate.

The responses to Education Week’s forum discussion have been passionate, thoughtful, and quite revealing.  They have revealed a lot about how our nation views educators.  They have revealed a lot about the role of educators and their relationship with students. 

Adam Cohen, in a article, did a thorough job in defining the issue and explaining the cases ruled on in federal courts. He is a former member of the New York Times editorial board.  And he is currently a lawyer that teaches at Yale Law School.

Adam Cohen agrees with the rulings.  Essentially the rulings say that free speech allows students to be rude and mocking as long as they are neither threatening nor disruptive to educational activities.  Nonthreatening online mocking that is off campus and not during school hours is allowed.  The caveat, of course, is that the cases were about official school disciplinary action and not individual legal action for slander and defamation of character.

Cohen suggests that we accept these ruling as the price to be paid for living in a free country.

I’m going to handle it professionally - the comedic profession.  Below are some of my favorite jokes.

A child comes home from his first day at school. His Mother asks, "Well, what did you learn today?" The kid replies, "Not enough. They want me to come back tomorrow."

Teachers deserve a lot of credit. Of course, if we paid them more, they wouldn’t need it.

Teacher: Why does history keep repeating itself?
Pupil: Because we weren't listening the first time!

Teacher: Does anyone know which month has 28 days?
Pupil: All of them!

Teacher: Didn’t I tell you to stand at the end of the line?
Pupil: I tried, but there was someone already there!

Pupil: Should a person be punished for something they didn’t do?
Teacher: No.
Pupil: Good, because I didn’t do my homework.

An elementary school teacher sends this note to all parents on the first day of school. "If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at school, I will promise not to believe everything your child says happens at home.

Pupil (on phone): My son has a bad cold and won't be able to come to school today.
School Secretary: Who is this?
Pupil: This is my father speaking!

Teacher: You copied from Fred's exam paper didn't you?
Pupil: How did you know?
Teacher: Fred's paper says "I don't know" and you have put "Me, neither"!

Father: Why did you get such a low score in that test?
Son: Absence
Father: You were absent on the day of the test?
Son: No but the boy who sits next to me was!

A schoolteacher injured his back and had to wear a plaster cast around the upper part of his body. It fit under his shirt and was not noticeable at all. On the first day of the term, still with the cast under his shirt, he found himself assigned to the toughest students in school. Walking confidently into the rowdy classroom, he opened the window as wide as possible and then busied himself with deskwork. When a strong breeze made his tie flap, he took the desk stapler and stapled the tie to his chest.
He had no trouble with discipline that term.

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By Anthony Rebora on June 20, 2011

By Adam Cohen on Monday, June 20, 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

We Can Have Teachers Without Borders, Part 2

Serfdom is a legal and economic system. A serf is a laborer who has to stay in one area. Serfs were the lowest social class of the feudal society. Serfs were different from slaves. Serfs could have property. In most serfdoms, serfs were legally part of the land, and if the land was sold, they were sold with it.

Simple English Wikipedia

Serfdom – condition in medieval Europe in which a tenant farmer was bound to a hereditary plot of land and to the will of his landlord.

Encyclopedia Britannica Online

We're a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.

Salman Khan – The Khan Academy

Public education is provided for those that live within the boundaries of a public school. There are exceptions to the rule. Magnet schools and charter schools do not have the same boundaries limitation found in other public schools. For the most part, however, children are bound to the public school in their neighborhood. This is not a problem for parents happy with their neighborhood school.

It was a problem for Tanya McDowell, a mother arraigned in Connecticut for stealing a Norwalk public school kindergarten education for her five-year-old son. She was homeless at the time and used a fraudulent address to enroll her son in Brookside Elementary School. Apparently the education was worth more than $15,000 and its theft is a felony. Tanya was charged with first-degree larceny and if convicted may face up to 20 years in prison.

The public school funding must be different in Connecticut. In California the school would have gained more funding for the enrollment of this little child.

In California, much of the state funding for schools is based on student attendance. It is called the Average Daily Attendance (ADA). The actual amount received by schools fluctuate with the state budget, but based on a formula, it is roughly $6,100.00 per elementary student with perfect attendance. In a school year of 180 days, that comes out to be almost $34 per student day of attendance. It’s a little higher for high school students. [Compare that to the $15,000 price tag for a kindergarten education in Connecticut].

Attendance is very important in California. How can a student that does not attend school learn? Besides, local schools count on the ADA monies provided by the students in their boundaries. Not, of course, that it holds influence on suspensions, expulsions, and transfer requests. No, what is best for the student is what is considered important.

We do not live in serfdom. Our children are not serfs. Parents unhappy with the neighborhood school can wait in line or participate in lotteries for the opportunity to enroll their children (and their ADA) in a magnet school or charter school. Parents can even request permission through transfer request forms for the boon of enrolling their children in a different school.

Of course, school districts need to weigh what is in their best interests in granting permission to enter or leave their boundaries. Does the loss or gain of ADA outweigh the need to raise test scores? A tough question in an age of budget cuts and test score accountability.

Or parents can take their children to private schools.

Most parents, however, can’t afford the tuition of a private school. So, they are essentially stuck with the compulsory school attendance laws of our public school system.

Would a voucher system help? Not really. We don’t have a voucher system in California. And even if we did, vouchers do not work as the name implies that it should work.

A voucher system, unlike the ADA system, does give tax dollars back to the parents to shop for the best school for their kids. And one would think that tax dollars belong to the citizens that pay them. Unfortunately, tax dollars are taken from taxpayers and are then considered public money that belongs to the government. The government determines how vouchers can be spent – not parents.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is our best example of how a voucher program could work. Operating for 20 years, the debate over its benefits still rages. To some, the program performs no better than public schools. To others, the program is comparable to public schools at half the cost. Only approved private schools (approximately 100) may participate in the program. They must pass through a rigorous approval process and agree to many stipulations that essentially surrender their independence to the state. And there is a limit of 22,500 students that may enroll in a private school with vouchers during a school year.

The Washington Scholarship fund (Washington D.C.’s Voucher Program) is another example of how such a program could work, but it is being phased out. They will no longer accept new applicants. The program is over.

Online schooling, however, is making inroads to education.

Salman Khan, creator of The Khan Academy, is one of the pioneers blazing the trail. The Khan Academy is a not-for-profit organization seeking to change education by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere. Yes free. Yes to anyone anywhere. (Caveat: In this early stage, The Khan Academy is not an accredited school).

The Khan Academy had humble beginnings. It started with Sal helping his niece with math online. It now enjoys the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a $2 million award from Google and has already delivered more than 57 million free lessons. The concept is simple. They provide the video lessons online and you provide the learning – free for anyone anywhere.

Shai Reshef, the founder and President of the University of the People (UoPeople), is another pioneer in providing a free education through the Internet. The University of the People is considered to be the world’s first tuition free online higher education institution. (Same caveat: In this early stage, UoPeople is not an accredited school).

This non-profit organization has partnered with Yale, the Clinton Global Initiative, and several other organizations to grow and remain tuition free. The university does charge a $10 - $50 application fee and a $10 - $100 exam-processing fee. Their concept is also simple. They provide the curriculum and direct students to free online resources. The students work together online and with the guidance of volunteer experts learn the course objectives.

Tuition free online schooling outside of a charter school is still looking for the right model for sustainable funding and accreditation. Online charter schools are still the best choice for a tuition free education without the boundaries of regular public schools.

In the next posting, we will explore why some neighborhood public schools are better than other neighborhood public schools despite having the same government funding model. We will also explore other ideas developing in the 21st century to provide a tuition-free education for everyone without public school boundaries.

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The Khan Academy

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

The University of the People

Washington Scholarship Fund

The Washington Post – Why is Obama Killing Off D.C.’s Voucher Program?

Wisconsin State Journal – DPI: Students in Milwaukee voucher program didn’t perform better on state tests.