Archive for June, 2012

What is Success? Not What We Measure Now….

June 30, 2012 Comments off

Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary, an article in today’s NYTimes, grapples with the question of how we define “success” in our country today. The second paragraph frames the question:

I wonder if there is any room for the ordinary any more, for the child or teenager — or adult — who enjoys a pickup basketball game but is far from Olympic material, who will be a good citizen but won’t set the world on fire.

The article is full of probing questions with no east answers, like:

How do we go back to the idea that ordinary can be extraordinary?

How do we teach our children — and remind ourselves — that life doesn’t have to be all about public recognition and prizes, but can be more about our relationships and special moments?

“You make a lot of money or have athletic success. That’s a very, very narrow definition. What about being compassionate or living a life of integrity?”

Inculcating values like accepting one’s limits, accepting a second place finish, and aspiring to the accumulation of positive relationships instead of the accumulation of things or status… well… they just don’t gibe with the competitive system in place in our social order… and especially with the competitive system in place in public education. If you think our schools do not reinforce competition, look at what gets recognized and reinforced.

The solution to this is NOT to give trophies for participation: the solution is offered by psychologist Madeline Levine who is quoted at length in the article:

Most people, she said, have talent in some areas, are average performers in many areas and are subpar in some areas.

The problem is that we have such a limited view of what we consider an accomplished life that we devalue many qualities that are critically important.

The solution, then, is twofold: make it clear to students that they aren’t all going to be soccer all-stars, honor roll students, and accepted to top tier colleges to help them make millions of dollars… but they must strive nonetheless and understand that they can possess critical qualities that schools don’t measure. Being kind or compassionate doesn’t lend itself to a mathematical metric that generates a means of sorting or ranking students… so it isn’t viewed as important from the child’s perspective…. But EVERY child can be kind and compassionate no matter how good they are in sports, how well they do in class, or how much money they make. THAT is a lesson schools should be teaching children.

Privatization in the Sunlight in FLA

June 28, 2012 Comments off

the Miami Herald reports that Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, is taking steps to make sure that the $47 billion in private contracts issued by the State of Florida are thoroughly vetted… not by regulators or elected officials, but by the 19 million people who live in Florida.

This is an interesting twist to regulatory oversight… one that on first blush seems eminently reasonable but with some reflection raises a lot of questions. First, WHO in the public is equipped to review a bid for services like the provision of technology services to a large enterprise like, say, the State Board of Education?  And who in the public is capable of understanding some of the state of the art legal terminology included in contracts? Who in the public has the TIME to review all of these contracts? And last, but not least, who does the public report their concerns to and how can a member of the public be confident their concerns have been addressed? As state, local and federal governments eliminate regulators and replace them with “citizen auditors” these questions need to be asked and answered in advance.

Parenting for the Elite

June 28, 2012 Comments off

The title of this post is that of a Forbes article by Helaine Olen, an article, a portion of which contrasted child rearing in the Amazon with that in the United States… and article that recalled the movie Babies and the first section of Herrnstein’s controversial article on intelligence that appeared decades ago.

I watched the movie Babies  a few weeks ago. It is an unscripted documentary that follows the live of four children in the first years of their life: a child in the African plains; a child in Mongolia; a child in Tokyo; and a child in San Francisco. The movie shows how these babies are nurtured by their parents, the food they eat, their daily routines, and their first steps in the world— literally and figuratively.

I read the Herrnstein article, that dealt with the role genetics plays in IQ, when it first came out and recall that one point Herrnstein made about intelligence at the outset of the article was completely lost in the ensuing debate. He noted that a Native American’s definition of “intelligence” would involve a completely different set of skills than OUR definition of intelligence. Visual acuity, tracking animals, and recalling lengthy stories passed on from generation to generation would be valued more highly than the manipulation of symbols that is our basis for measuring “intelligence”.

Olen’s article focuses on the issue of parental expectations. Is it more important to do chores around the house or to get high grades in school and build a resume that will get you into an elite college? The article implies that there are two tiers of parenting occurring in this country: the “elite” tier to prepare students for the meritocracy and the “survival” tier for those kids who are not guided at all by their parents.

(We are in) a world of parenting, if not for the one percent, maybe the five to ten percent. It is the world written about by Chris Hayes in Twilight of the Elites, where children are prepped to be members of the meritocracy, that benign sounding name for the ruling classes, which has gone from instrument of democratization to self-perpetuating mechanism within a generation. And the meritocracy, in this view, is no benevolent mechanism but, rather, a place where arrogance and belief in one’s own basic goodness allows people to indulge in all sorts of bad behavior, since, after all, they are an elite and whatever they do is right and correct. It’s all about me.

It’s clearly NOT the world of the Amazon, Africa, or Mongolia… nor is it a world that values the skills needed by the Native Americans.

Olen concludes her article with this paragraph:

Our parenting reflects both our society and what we want for our children. And in the world of upper class parenting, we’re looking to perpetuate the elite. Let the peons go pick up the socks – even if they are the parents… Whatever we are doing with our children, raising citizens who can participate in a democracy is not it.


Title I Needs a National Standard

June 28, 2012 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an article by a parent decrying the fact that her child’s school, PS 9, has 59.1 percent of its students on free and reduced lunches,  just under the NYC Title I threshold of 60 percent. As a result, PS 9 is losing $360,000 in federal funds and, consequently, losing teachers.

Here’s what the parent doesn’t know (and the article doesn’t point out):

  • The 60% threshold is a NYC standard, NOT a Federal standard
  • There are districts that have NO schools with 60% free and reduced lunch counts that get Title I money
  • Until a few years ago, there were affluent districts with pockets of poor children who received Title I funds— funds that “followed the child”
  • Even WITH the Title I funds to supplement their school, PS 9’s per pupil spending will be well below that of the affluent suburbs that surround NYC.

The Title I funding raises several questions:

  • Should the Federal government be responsible for equalizing education spending or should the State?
  • IF the Federal government is going to play a role in equalizing education spending, shouldn’t it channel money exclusively to only those districts with high poverty levels?
  • IF the Federal government DOES limit Title I funds to the poorest districts, shouldn’t there be a federal standard for a “low income school”?

These questions don’t have easy answers… and because of that we continue to use Title I to “sort of” equalize education spending, to provide Title I funds to districts with poverty levels that are arguably NOT as daunting as those in the urban areas, and to provide Title I funds without strings attached that might change practices in terms of assigning low-income students to schools with middle-class demographics.

Sadly, this practice isn’t going to change any time soon, in large measure because it isn’t even talked about. If Federal dollars are going to be scarce and if those dollars are being appropriated in a fashion that is intended to leverage change (i.e. Race To The Top), why not allocate Federal dollars to those districts who make an effort to assign low-income students to schools with middle-class demographics. The most perverse result of NYC’s allocation formula is that it effectively rewards the segregation of low income students.

Supply Side Starvation

June 27, 2012 Comments off

A blog post in today’s NYTimes reports on a study released by the non-Partisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability indicating that states with high income taxes had higher growth rates over the past decade than states with no income tax…. proving that “trickle down” economics doesn’t work. Ralph Martire, the Executive Director of the Center was quoted in the linked article in Bloomberg as saying:

“Those who don’t believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny anymore, and actually look at facts and data, recognize that since supply-side economics has been implemented in America, the complete opposite of what supply siders had promised has occurred,”

So… starving the beast seems to also starve economic growth… at least economic growth as measured by median household income and per capita economic output. It IS possible, though, that those with the highest incomes fared better in those no-income-tax states… after all, the MEDIAN can drop but the top income can rise and the result might be no change in the MEAN income… I’m sure this study will be quoted in the coming months….

Categories: Uncategorized

Technology Vs. Democracy at UVA – Part II

June 27, 2012 Comments off

After a tumultuous couple of weeks, the governing board of the University of Virginia reinstated the President they summarily dismissed. The NYTimes article described the inherent conflict between those who want to run the school like a business and the forces for the status quo at the college:

The dispute exposed fears about the murky future of higher education at a time of deep cuts in state support and an intensifying debate about whether colleges should be run more like businesses. At the same time, expectations are high for a rapid transformation — through costly technology — to online instruction.

In particular, some members of the Board of Visitors, most of whom are business executives, appear to have been shaken by the way prestigious institutions like M.I.T., Stanford and Harvard have dived into the online realm, and wondered if the University of Virginia was being left behind.

Ms. Sullivan said she perceived the many threats to the university, but favored addressing them in a collaborative, incremental way, not the more aggressive, top-down approach favored by the head of the board, or rector, Helen E. Dragas, and the former vice rector, Mark Kington, who were the driving forces behind the president’s ouster.

I was just reading an excerpt from The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge describing the need for organizations to set visions that intentionally create discomfort, noting that when organizations cede to those whose emotional tensions run high they invariably lower their expectations. This desired “creative tension”, though, is arguably different from the creative destruction being wrought by technology… and those in the private sector, used to making decisions that devastate communities behind closed doors got caught up short when they tried to make radical change at a rapid pace in a public institution.

Unfortunately, public universities, like public schools, are being forced to play under a new set of rules. Just-in-time-on-demand video instruction makes customized instruction available quickly and cheaply and the combination of higher costs for college and lower employment rates and lower wages for graduates makes a lower price tag much more attractive. The forces for status quo won the battle… but they may want to think hard about their strategy for the war that lies ahead.

Union Funds On-Line Lesson Sharing… thanks to the UK

June 26, 2012 Comments off

EclassroomNews and the NYTimes  each featured articles late last week reporting on an initiative launched by the American Federation of Teachers that will allow teachers to share lessons with each other for free. Piecing the content of the two articles together can lead to some paranoid conclusions. The Eclassroom News article begins with the following lead:

Discussing education reform at Stanford University last year, the leader of one of the nation’s largest teacher unions decided to turn the tables and ask a question of the audience.

“You’re all technology people,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Could you actually help us?”

Weingarten said she received one call—from Louise Rogers, chief executive of TSL Education, a United Kingdom-based company that operates an online network that lets teachers around the globe access, review, and discuss lesson plans and other learning materials.

So… no US company called to offer help. Why? Well, here’s an excerpt from the NYTimes article:

Anyone who types “lesson plans” into Google will come up with millions of hits, with a variety of online resources at sites like, and

Some offer free material, while others, like, are sites where teachers sell lesson plans. Textbook publishers and other educational companies also operate Web sites where teachers can buy material.

So… US companies are looking to SELL lesson plans to teachers while the AFT was looking for a platform that would allow teachers to SHARE lessons.… and it took a partnership with a British company to make it possible. And what’s in it for the British Company?

TSL, which generates its revenues by selling teacher recruitment ads in its Times Educational Supplement and Times Higher Education magazines, started the Web site four years ago and has since amassed two million registered users in 197 countries.

Both TSL and the union have invested cash and staff time worth about $10 million combined in the American site. Louise Rogers, TSL’s chief executive, said that although the company would eventually want to make money from, teachers would always have free access to the material created by other teachers, as well as content from other partners including Sesame Workshop; WETA, the public television and radio station in Washington; and Student Achievement Partners, one of the architects of the common core standards that 45 states have agreed to adopt.

So TSL, the British partner, isn’t completely altruistic, but it sees a clear benefit in forming an alliance with the AFT while US technology companies, presumably, shied away from working with unions.