Friday, July 11, 2014

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

“Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week” Jay-Z 

As some have heard me say, I’m not a big fan of “impossible.”  I do not believe anything is impossible.  OK, maybe at 46 it might be impossible for me to ever dunk a basketball, but few things fall into that category.  When we discuss the achievement gap, I sense impossibility in what I read more than I sense what may be possible.  I hear experts talking about how it’s impossible to close the achievement gap.  I understand.  It seems daunting.  However, I have great disrespect for impossible and know for certain that closing the achievement gap is possible.  We just have to decide to do it.  Things aren’t going to get better on their own.  In fact, through inaction, they will continue to get worse.

A few months ago I read a intriguing article in the New York Times by David Brooks (The Opportunity Gap) about some major differences between how rich kids and poor kids are being raised.  At one point in the not so distant past, the differences weren’t as stark as they are today.  What I took away from the article is if we are serious about providing opportunities to children growing up in poverty, we are going to need a surge of early education solutions for both pre and after school programs in disadvantaged communities.  It is possible.

Just a few decades ago, there wasn’t a significant difference between how parents with college degrees and parents with high school degrees raised their children.  Today however, college educated parents are investing a lot more in their children’s education, especially in the early years, and of course, parents with high school degrees haven’t been able to keep up.  

I’m old enough to remember the concept that working class parents were more “fortunate” than white-collar parents when it came to family life because they were able to spend more time with their children.  I remember the notion that parents who were “blue collar” or “working class” had a family advantage.  In other words, they might not be rich, but they were able to spend more time with their kids. On the other hand, “white-collar” jobs came with a widely understood assumption that the responsibilities of those roles meant you would be sacrificing family time.  In fact, the data shows working class parents spent more time with their kids than those white-collar parents. 

Today, this concept is not only no longer true, it’s been dramatically reversed.  Today, college educated parents spend an hour more with their children than working class parents do, especially in the first three years of life, when it counts the most. 

Rich parents are not only spending more time with their kids, they are spending more money.  According to the Times article, over the last 40 years high income parents have increased the amount they spend on their kids’ enrichment activities, like tutoring and extra curricular activities, by $5,300 a year (adjusted for inflation.)  Low income parents, who obviously have a problem investing at the same level in their children, have been only been able to increase their extra expenditures by just $480 a year and if my own personal experience is an example, even that $480 is a immense sacrifice.  It usually means something else isn’t being purchased or paid for.

There is also evidence that in the early 70’s, kids from the bottom income bracket participated in almost the same number of activities as kids from the upper income bracket.  Today, it’s not even in the same ball park.  Rich kids are twice as likely to play sports after school.  They are much more likely to participate in non sport activities like theater, social clubs, yearbook team, volunteer programs, etc.  They are also more likely to attend religious services and participate in religious programs. 

The disadvantage can literally be heard.  Children in middle and upper class families hear an average of 15 million more words than children in working class families.  Children of families on welfare hear 30 million less words.  By the time a child is 4 years old, there is an 18-month to two year academic gap between a poor kid and a rich kid.

What we invest in early education will say a lot about how serious we are in trying to close the achievement gap.  I believe in education’s power to provide opportunities to our children living in poverty.  However, it gets a lot harder to make this a reality if children are coming into our schools so far behind.  

In order to make sure education disrupts poverty, we need a surge of services and programs to unlevel the playing field when and where it counts the most.  We need to start early in a child’s life.  We need to make sure kids aren’t coming to school already at a disadvantage.  This is a solvable problem, one which we must and can take action against.  It is possible to close the achievement gap.  We just have to decide if we are going to close it or not, and then own up to the decision we make.  Impossible is just justification for not taking the right action.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Is this the most exciting time in education history?

"It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine."


The potential for innovation and new solutions to deliver education has never been so high.  Traditional learning models, like those many of us grew up with, are being transformed.  It seems every few months a new idea for learning is being introduced.  In just the last few years, we’ve seen examples such as, distance learning, blended learning, personalized learning, and flipped classroom models take off.  Many in the education world believe we’re just getting warmed up!  I am optimistic because the capabilities technology and the web deliver are creating powerful tools that will continue to advance and become more readily available to everyone. 

During this time of transformational innovation, it is critical we keep our focus on learning and not on technology.  We have to make sure we aren’t just automating education, and/or making it more efficient.  Turning a textbook into a etextbook or moving from delivering a lecture in a class to delivering a lecture on video are examples of what I mean. 

I am passionate about education because I know first hand that education can be the silver bullet for millions of children and their families living in poverty.  Education has the potential to break the cycle of poverty in just one generation.  I believe this because like countless others I’ve met throughout my journey, I am living proof.  

The worry I have is that the education I received isn’t suitable for the world we live in today and not nearly suitable for the world we are constructing.  It’s an absolute certainty that students are going to need more advanced skills.  For example, we often talk about collaboration and global competency skills.  Today, we can work with anyone, anywhere in the world but our schools are still treating students as individuals who must work alone.  What would you do if you were a teacher and two students walked up to the front of your class, handed you a test, and said, “We did this together!”  Why is collaboration cheating? 

We need to make sure their learning experiences provide them the relevance and engagement they need as they build the skills for the future. It’s more than just building digital citizenship skills; they need to become digital leaders. 

In order to make this a reality, we need to focus on three key areas.   

First, we need to make sure schools have adequate broadband access.  We would never run a school without lights or heat.  For many schools, Internet access is considered a “nice to have” commodity, not a necessity.  Yet our education system is preparing students for a world where the Internet is ingrained into higher education, business practices, and our daily lives in general, a world where many of the latest teaching tools run on the web.  

Second, we need to leverage the power and prevalence of the web as we create new learning models.  Most students nowadays are growing up with the understanding that the web is where they go to get the knowledge and resources they are looking for.  By recognizing that how we learned is different than the way our children learn, school leaders can take advantage of the habits this tech-literate generation have developed.  This became painfully clear to me when my daughter and I were buying her a ukulele when we visited Hawaii a couple of years ago.  As we were leaving the store, I noticed instruction books and DVDs on how to play the ukulele.  I asked my daughter if she wanted to pick some up so she can learn how to play (after all, that was how I learned).  She looked at me like there was something wrong with me.  Of course, she doesn’t need an instruction book or DVD.  She is going to learn by watching YouTube videos.  As educators, we are starting to understand the impact the web can have.  Videos, web applications, interactive content, and collective pools of knowledge make the world’s information accessible from multiple devices 24 hours a day seven days a week.  

Third, we have to put tools in the hands of teachers and students so that they can access the rich content of an ever-expanding web.  School administrators need to choose devices that not only give students and faculty access to that content, but that are also pain-free and easy to use.  The devices have to be near invisible so that the focus remains on the teaching and learning, not the technology.  What school leaders need is to think about is what happens when you go from having 30 computers in a classroom, to 30,000 in a school district.  How you scale and how you manage the technology is a critical part of planning how to integrate it into the curriculum.  Just as important, we have to let teachers develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities to take advantage of these tools.  Today’s teachers are the ones who are going to create the new learning models we will use for generations to come!  Great professional development has never been so important.

This is an exhilarating time in education.  I know if we continue to be innovative and open to new ideas, education can be the silver bullet it was for me.  I am looking forward to watching the traditional model expand into engaging and relevant methods that will prepare our students to live in what is becoming the most stimulating and exhilarating time in history!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Guest Blog: Elaine Casap: Hybrid Schools

Technology has changed the way American society functions. Today we do research by using Google, learn about the news on Twitter and connect with people on Facebook. The world’s information can be available within seconds and anybody can access it. Location isn’t an obstacle anymore, the Internet is available almost anywhere. With technology being overbearingly powerful why hasn’t America’s education system changed? The education system has barely changed in the last fifty years and in most cases it has worsened. This is due to the lack of technology in the classroom. When technology is integrated in the classroom it is likely the technology is being misused. 

Many studies have been done on classrooms that use technology. The most effective way technology is used is when students individually do work with the teacher while utilizing technology. The most ineffective way technology is used in the classroom is when only the teacher uses the technology to teach with. In order for technology in education to be truly effective is when they are used together. There have been many instances where students learned on a whole other level because of the collaboration of technology 

 In the past couple years a new kind of charter school has been introduced to America. They are called hybrid schools, and they are on the rise. Hybrid schools have a curriculum that is completely online. Students learn everything based off a program and are able to learn at their own pace. Teachers still fulfill their teaching role but since they are not tied down with lesson plans and following the curriculum, they are able to give individual attention to students (Education Week). The schools still meet face to face every day. There are teachers on staff for the core subjects like: English, math, history and science. Instead of kids sitting down in a lecture the teachers meet up with small groups throughout the day and help them work with the lesson they are on (Education Week). Teachers are able to group students together based on assessments of the lesson the student is required to take. With this kind of learning experience students are constantly collaborating with each other, which is the most effective way to learn (Education Week). Hybrid schools allow students to have an ultra personalized education. Michael Horn, executive director of education at Innosight Institute agrees with the idea of hybrid schools, “our expectation is to educate every child successfully, then we need structure that is individualized and personalized. There is no way to do that in the way we have historically approached it,” (Education Week).

As a parent the idea of “online school” may be scary. Virtual school is ideal in some cases but it is hard for a parent to watch over their child. There is no secret that kids would rather choose not to work than work. That is why children have been sent to school for the last 200 years. So kids can receive an education and teachers can make sure they behave. This logic is what has allowed parents to work hours a day and not have to worry about the responsibility of their child’s education. Hybrid schools realize the importance of a formal structure for a child’s education. There is no denying that online only schools can lead to a lack of social interaction, which may be the most valuable thing about school (Education Week). Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School in Yuma, Arizona adapted hybridization. They understand the importance of technology in education and also the importance of social interaction. The school meets five times a week, like any other school. Except in the curriculum students utilize technology sixty percent of the day and have face to face time with teachers forty percent of the day (Education Week).

 One of the most successful Hybrid schools is, The School of One, in New York City (Good Magazine). Due to the hybridization every student learns at his or her own pace, there are no language barriers and no child falls behind. The entire school is organized to fit the needs of individual students (Good Magazine). The school provides eight separate programs, that means there are eight different ways the child can learn the curriculum. For example a child can be highly involved in collaborative group work and have little time involved with a teacher. Or a child can spend most their time with the teacher and a little time with individual work. Students are assessed everyday after they learn a lesson and through that assessment the teachers are able to see what works best for the student. The online program also has algorithms and these algorithms change if the student is having problems comprehending the lesson. The system will pick an entirely different way to teach the student. This could mean the student needs small group study; large group study, or maybe the student needs more visual teaching (Good Magazine).

A school like The School of One is revolutionary. The way our children are being taught through the public school system is wrong. America needs more schools like The School of One. With the tools being used in Hybrid schools, students are being more prepared for real life then ever before. They are learning how to utilize computers on their own, which is a skill set that is needed for the rest of their lives. The kids are able to learn at their own pace, allowing a child to never feel like they are not smart enough.

Realistically, the hybrid schools will never become the only method of education. However, there should be more research done to compare hybrid schools and public schools. With the data collected there could be real data to prove hybrid schools are better for the children. It would be ideal for the public school system to adapt some of the methods of hybrid schools. Public schools could start utilizing technology, teachers could recognize the importance of student collaboration and classroom sizes could become smaller. The public education should try to embrace some of the characteristics of hybrid school.

Hybrid schools are an ideal example of technology being integrated into the classroom. If enough parents see the benefits Hybrid schools have to offer the parents will demand it for their child. If there is enough demand then eventually the entire public school system will change for the better. Parents need to demand a better education for their child. A change can happen through the simple power of voting. Parents, don’t you want what is best for your child?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Abraham Lincoln was a Wimp

"You can not fail if you resolutely determine that you will not."
- Abraham Lincoln

Another critical skill students need to develop is the ability to analyze and assess information.  Information is coming at us at a pace many find overwhelming.  The quantity of global information grows at an astonishing speed.  For example, in just 24 hours, 2 million blog posts are written!  In the same time frame, enough information is consumed by Internet traffic to fill 168 million DVDs.  We send 284 billion emails every day.  It feels like most of those end up in my inbox.  Eric Schmidt has said he thinks it will take us 300 years to index and make all the world’s information searchable.  You can also look at the eruption of video creation.  YouTube, which is becoming an essential tool in the classroom, adds content at a rate that is hard to grasp.  Every minute, 72 hours of video is uploaded on YouTube!  That means that no matter how hard your kids try, and mine is trying very hard,  they will never be able to watch all the videos on YouTube. 

All the data I’ve seen suggests that most of us are, quite frankly, terrible searchers.  We just have to come to grips with that.  Most of us never developed the skills required to truly utilize the information of a digital world.  If you don’t believe me, you can go do an assessment and test your search skills.  However, I can save you time.  Trust me, you are not a good searcher.  If you don’t believe me, here is a quick self evaluation you can do to determine if I’m on the right path.

First, if you type a question mark into the search bar, you are a terrible searcher.  To go further, if you type a whole sentence in the bar, you are wasting a whole bunch of time.  If your search looks like this, “What was the date of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address?” instead of, “gettysburg date” the earth is spinning rapidly and you are wasting a lot of that spin!

Second, do you know what Command F (on a Mac – I don’t do Windows) does on a webpage?  Would you believe 90% of people have no idea what this time saving, search altering capability does?  Nope, I’m not going to tell you.  Why don’t you go search, “What happens when I type Command F on my Mac when I’m on a webpage?” 

My point is, if we are bad searchers, how are we teaching students to search?  How are we teaching them to make sense of information?  How are we teaching them to vet and dig deep into all the data available to us?  We need to help students build these skills.  Again, not necessarily as a separate subject, but more in what they do every day.  How can we incorporate technology, search and analytical skills to develop new engaging and relevant learning content for our students?

I have a confession to make.  I am a history and political junkie.  It feels good to get that off my chest.  The second part of that confession is that I have turned my kids into junkies.  This is especially true of American history and how politics coats and is engrossed in all our history.

A few Sundays ago, I was partaking in one of my favorite activities.  I was on the couch reading my paper copy of the New York Times (yes, I’ve been getting the paper Sunday times for as long as I can remember.)  I was reading their endorsement of Barak Obama.  I was summarizing the text to my daughter, who was sitting next to me (she was over to watch the Giants game with me – another one of my favorite activities, which makes me worried that so many of them involve my couch).  Her reaction was interesting but probably conventional wisdom, “well, of course they endorsed Obama. It’s a left leaning paper and they will always back the Democrat.”  She was also questioning the value of the endorsement, and if it would sway voters.  What a great opportunity to take a nose dive into history!

I asked, “well, do we know if that’s true?”  Also, have they always been right?  Has their endorsement meant anything?”  And so on, and so on.   We grabbed the laptop and started researching.  It wasn’t long before we were into some interesting material.  After we did the analysis of how many Republicans and Democrats the paper supported since they began this in 1860, and how many times they were right, we branched off into some really thought-provoking information!  We got into the first endorsement the paper ever made.  The New York Times endorsed Abraham Lincoln for President in 1860.  We found the actual text of the endorsement and all of a sudden we were in a time travel machine and found ourselves in the middle of what was happening in the country in October, 1860, more than 150 years ago!

We all learned history in a very linear and stagnate way.  First President Lincoln got elected, then he led the north in the Civil War, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves, the North won the Civil War, and then he was assassinated in a theater.  When you learn it that way, it feels like one thing lead to another in very logical way.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Easy access to technology and the web gives us this time travel capability.  The combination helps us get into what was actually occurring at the time.  So we read the endorsement and what did we discover?  That folks in 1860 were making things up as they went, just like we do.  That they had no idea what was going on or what would happen!  Theirs was a messy present and they were looking at a ambiguous future.  Slippery slope theories were in full effect!

For example, in the endorsement, the paper writes:

“…there is a large class of men who have a vague but real apprehension that something terrible is to follow the election of a Republican President.  They fear that the South will be excluded by law from the territories, that slaves will be set free in the District of Columbia, that inter-state Slave trade will be prohibited, and a great variety of legislative encroachments on Southern rights will be perpetrated.”

In other words, there seems to be all these “real” but unfounded and silly worries that things in our country were going to change.  Nonsense says the editorial board at the New York Times.  They go out of their way to put to rest these unrealistic concerns.  The paper goes on:

“…whatever may be the wishes of the Republicans on these topics, they are not likely to have any opportunity to carry them into effect.”

They further go on to describe how the Democrats control congress and they would never let any of these actions take place.  They go as far as concluding that even if the Democrats lost the Senate (fat chance), the House is so strong that it’s the Democrats who are going to run things and make all the decisions.  Wow!  Really?  Boy did they call this one wrong huh?  Not only that, we were able to tie that directly to what’s going on today.  Does it matter who controls the House?  The Senate?  Can we bring about change no matter who’s in power in Congress?  The paper continues to make it’s point:

“It will not be easy…for Mr. Lincoln to do much mischief…He seems to us much more likely to be too good natured and tolerant towards his opponents, then not enough so.  Rail-splitting is not an exciting occupation.  It does not tend to cultivate the hot and angry passions of the heart…we have not the slightest doubt, therefore, that Prof. Lincoln will disappoint utterly the sanguinary expectations (of those that want change)…”

Sound familiar?  In other words, this Lincoln dude is a wimp.  Even if he had the House and the Senate, he’s still not going to do anything!  Don’t worry, nothing is going to happen.  This guy is a rail splitter, and we all know how ”those people” are.  I think they might have missed this call.  Talk about a dis!  We imagined what the board would say if someone suggested that Lincoln would be one of our greatest and most beloved presidents in our history, one we would build monuments to.  How hard would the laughter be?  Sound familiar?

So we dove deeper.  We read more about what was going on at the time.  The paranoia in the south.  The lack of conviction in the North.  We dove into the back and forth.  We used Google earth to look at the country in 1860 and where the strongholds were.  We saw where the battles took place and how many men died in the war.  We saw how the South was set up and where we thought they made some seriously bad calculations.  We learned about how the Navy was used by the north.  We listened to a audio interpretation of the Gettysburg address, in the pace and tone Lincoln would have read it.  We spent all afternoon talking about it.  We asked critical questions like, what would have happened if the south actually listened to the Times (several states in the south panicked after the election and without southern unity, declared their independence on their own.)  We compared it to what is going on today in our nation and in our politics.  How both sides lay out a vision of what’s going to happen to our country if we pick one guy over another.  What we learned is that history is a recording of chaos that only make sense in the aftermath, when all the dust settles.

That’s the power of technology and the web.  We can jump into a time machine and visit the past.  Not only so we can understand what happened, but also so we can learn how it applies to today and our potential future.  We also learned that the New York Times, even 150 years ago, has no idea what it’s talking about. 

It looks like Abraham Lincoln didn’t turn out to be so wimpy huh?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Well hello 21st Century, how long have you been standing there?

“21st century breakdown
I once was lost but never was found
I think I am losing what's left of my mind 
To the 20th century deadline…” 
- Green Day

I’m not a big fan of the phrase, “21st Century skills” and it’s used quite often in the education world.  For example, you might hear someone say, “We need to teach kids 21st century skills.”  You will also find, “We will need students to graduate with 21st century skills.” 

One reason why I don’t like the phrase is because I’m not really sure what century we’re in right now and that’s a little embarrassing.  I also don’t like it because it implies some set of skills students will need in the future.  I contend that students need these skills right now and they need to start building them as soon as they get to school.

You find variations of this list of skills in numerous places.  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills uses names like “learning and innovation” skills or “life and career” skills.  My friend Tony Wagner calls them “survival skills” in The Global Achievement Gap and includes elements like “critical thinking and problem solving,” and “effective oral and written communication” skills.  There isn’t just one correct list, they are all appropriate.  In my talks, I break them down into four themes (which of course include elements of all types of skills).  I call them communication, collaboration, problem solving, and analyzing and assessing information.  I’m not going to cover all four here (that would be a very long post) but I’ll start with the first one, communication.  I will follow up with the other topics in future posts, maybe in the 21st century!


How we communicate has evolved over time and in the last 20 years, it has dramatically changed.  In the last five years, it’s just been transformed.  When she started college, my daughter and I had to have a communication meeting.  We were having so many misunderstandings and communication fails that we had to come up with a system to deal with the expectations we had for each other.  This wasn’t an issue when I was in college.   When I had to communicate with my mother, I had one choice with three potential outcomes.  I walked over to the hallway payphone to place a long distance phone call.  The first potential outcome was that she picked up the phone and I talked to her.  The second one was a busy signal, and I just hung up.  The third option was pretty much like the second one.  If she wasn’t home, the phone rang and rang, and eventually I hang up (she didn’t have a máquina). 

My daughter and I had a much more complex system to work through.  If it’s information she thinks I need but does not require immediate attention, she emails me (i.e., here are my classes and tuition is due next month.)  If it’s information she wants to share, wants feedback on, or needs my attention that day, she texts me (i.e., hey when you get a chance, let me know if we are going shopping this weekend, I need stuff.)  If she needs my immediate attention, she calls me and if I don’t answer, she follows up with a text (i.e., I need money in my account, I’m starving!)  And how does she find out where I am in the world at any given moment?  Yes, she checks my Google+, Facebook, or Twitter status.  By the way, for those of you who are “friends” with your kids, have you talked about expectations?  I am sure your daughter has given you the, “mom, please do not post any comments to my status updates” plea.  Have you set your communication expectations with your kid?  Are you going to wait until she posts a status like, “have to take my mother to her doctor’s appointment.  She is getting warts removed from her feet and I have to drive her.”  How we communicate matters and it will continue to be even more important.

I remember thinking about how communication was changing during my senior year in college.  You see, I was from the WordPerfect 5.1 generation.  I saw the new Windows 3.1 being adopted by the underclassmen and I was so thankful to be getting out of there!  I didn’t think I would be capable of managing the new communication expectations that were going to come with those new capabilities.  I was a dot matrix printer communicator, with lots of words and maybe a few tables.  I was an overhead projector presenter, where I would type big WordPerfect words and copy them onto overhead transparency paper.  I would hand draw pie charts with my trusty Sharpie marker.  I didn’t think that would be acceptable in the new Windows 3.1 world.

I assumed students would be required to have professional looking presentations with pictures and sound and other elements I didn’t have the skill set for.  They would be colorful and vibrant.  As this capability grew, I believed the expectations would grow more intense.  By the time my daughter was in high school, I thought she would be expected to have a live interview with the researcher she was writing about in the middle of her presentation.

The truth is we haven’t really raised the bar on communication and haven’t taken in all the technological and social changes that have taken place in.  Every semester, I am asked by a fellow professor (yes, I teach classes at ASU every couple of semesters) who teaches an MBA class at ASU.  Each semester, a group of students are assigned the Google business case and they are required to do a class presentation on it.  I sit in as their guest and help review their presentation and answer questions.  What happens during the presentation stopped surprising me many semesters ago because it happens every time.  This class of MBAs who are supposed to be the future leaders of industry takes the business case, regurgitates it point by point in 20 slides, each with six bullet points.  In other words, they present their WordPerfect made transparency paper on an overhead projector.  Talk about automating bad communication.

Our students need to effectively express themselves.  They need to learn how to write complete complex sentences.  They need to create original thought and learn how to share it in everything from full blown white papers through 140 character tweets.  They need to learn how to get effective feedback in various formats.  They need to learn how to take complex ideas and communicate them to multiple audiences, including considerations for global meaning and cultural differences.  They need to learn to communicate using varies media and develop strategies for how to send out effective targeted communication. 

These skills have to be built into the new learning models we are creating.  We don’t have to teach them as separate lessons.  It is about time that we raise the communication expectations of our students.