$125,000 to help strengthen student-adult relationships

The National Association of Secondary School Principals is inviting proposals from public middle and high schools serving large numbers of low-income students and/or underrepresented minorities (40 percent or more of the student body) to apply for a $5,000 grant to implement a special initiative aimed at building better relationships among adults and students. Projects awarded grants will seek to implement recommendations stemming from two publications: Transitions and the Role of Supportive Relationships, the 2004-2005 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, and Sent to the Principal: Students Talk about Making High School Better, a project of What Kids Can Do.

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Wireless phones and airtime to help schools install computer and phone

The Wireless Foundation initiates and oversees philanthropic programs that utilize wireless technology to help American communities. The Wireless Foundation created ClassLink to help with the challenge presented by U.S. classrooms do not have a telephone, and by the many schools are unable to install computer and phone lines due to aging buildings and the danger of asbestos. Through ClassLink, Nokia and CTIA wireless carriers donate wireless phones and airtime to public schools nationwide in order to accelerate learning through an application process.

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Global competitiveness: Does the data match the rhetoric?

In era where world figures from Bill Gates to President Bush have expressed concerns about the state of American education, suggesting that a trend of substandard student performance might eventually strip the United States of its status as a world economic power, some in education have begun to question the accuracy and pessimism of such forecasts.

Amid charges that U.S. students are losing ground to their academic counterparts in other industrialized nations, author and researcher Gerald Bracey told attendees at the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) Conference in San Dan Diego Feb. 25 to use caution when believing what they see and hear in the papers.

In his book Setting the Record Straight, Bracey, an associate for the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, sets out to debunk what he calls “the myths” surrounding education and global competitiveness. Though the nation’s current education system leaves a lot to be desired, he says, there is very little evidence that America is in danger of losing its place as a world economic leader.

So what’s with all these doom and gloom scenarios you’ve been reading about in the press lately? More than anything, Bracey says, it’s a question of misinterpreting data.

“Sometimes you have to see the data … and you have to make the rhetoric match the data,” Bracey told the morning audience.

Citing results from a battery of highly-publicized national and international academic indicators, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress, more commonly called The Nation’s Report Card; TIMSS, short for Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study; and PIRLS, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, Bracey said what is perceived by the media as a decline in the performance of U.S. students is the result of our tendency as a nation to misread, and misunderstand these data.

Though these sorts of tests provide a broad representation of student populations in several nations, he said, the results often fail to account for important variables such as poverty, demographics, and the academic standing of students. For example, where U.S. schools might test a broad cross-section of students, other nations might decide to test only their most academically accomplished students, making it difficult to provide realistic comparisons of academic proficiency.

And there are other variables, too, he said. Researchers also have to take into consideration the fact that different nations have different definitions and interpretations of terms used to describe student progress such as “mastery” and “highly-skilled.”

As an example of this disconnect, Bracey cited a popular statistic used to feed the perception that colleges in developing nations such as India and China are churning out more high-quality engineers and other technical graduates than modern U.S. institutions.

Though these and other developing nations are no doubt making strides to become more competitive, Bracey said, the perception that the U.S. is struggling to keep up isn’t necessarily true.

Though reports have said that China pumps out as many as 650,000 engineers a year and India 300,000, compared to a mere 60,000 from U.S. institutions, Bracey said, the reality is that students graduating from academic programs in developing nations often don’t enter the workforce armed with the same high-quality skills as U.S. graduates.

In some countries, he said, what might amount to a bachelor’s degree might not even qualify as an associate’s degree at a comparative U.S.-based institution.

Bracey said students who might call themselves engineers in China and India would probably be classified as basic “technicians” under current U.S. standards.

“It doesn’t translate well,” he said of the comparison. The reality is that “[U.S. schools] are doing much better than their critics say, and, in some cases, are doing much, much better than they ever have,” he said.

Though schooling no doubt is a necessary ingredient for successful human development and growth, Bracey says how well students perform in the classroom isn’t necessarily the best indicator of a nation’s economic future.

“Education, as it turns out, is not nearly as important to economic competitiveness as educators would like to think,” Bracey told the audience. Rather, he says, more in-depth research from international organizations such as the World Economic Forum place a greater emphasis on other elements, including physical infrastructure, security, efficiency, human capital, market size, health, and perhaps most importantly, innovation.

When you take these and other factors into consideration, as researchers for the World Economic Forum did as part of its 2005-06 “Global Competitiveness Report,” Bracey said, evidence shows that, despite widespread criticisms, “The United States remains the most competitive nation in the world.”

But, as he pointed out, that doesn’t necessarily mean the current education system has students headed in the right direction. “If nothing else, I think No Child Left Behind is destined to fail simply for its sole reliance on test scores,” Bracey added.

When trying to determine whether a child is equipped to become a productive member of a global economy, he said, a test built to measure how well someone comprehends a particular discipline or skill says little about their ability to contribute to society.

What these standards-based tests can’t measure are those rare, intangible qualities such as resilience, persistence, endurance, enthusiasm, and humility, he saidall attributes which are liable to affect how a student copes with the stress and uncertainty of day-to-day life.

An outspoken opponent of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Bracey called the oft-criticized law “a one-size-fits-all approach to education” and said its focus on testing and standards is likely “moving us in the wrong direction.”

Not unlike other critics, Bracey believes NCLB is misguided in that it seeks to measure the progress of students by focusing on grade-level achievement, rather than tracking the individual progress of students through the school system year over year.

Links:

American Association of School Administrators
http://www.aasa.org

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Implications literacy: a new way of thinking about technology

Do you have concerns about the dangers of global warming? Does the rising cost of energy in this country scare you? Are you worried about the increasing amount of jobs being outsourced to overseas companies? Are you unconvinced our nation’s education system is doing its part to prepare today’s students for the challenges of the 21st century?

If you’ve ever found yourself pondering any of these questions, you’re not alone, world famous author and futurist Joel Barker assured attendees gathered in the San Diego Convention Center for the second day of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) National Conference on Education Feb. 24. But don’t despair, he said. Thanks to the rapid evolution of technology, answers to these and other pressing economic and cultural concerns might be nearer than you think.

Don’t believe him? That’s probably because, like most educators, you’re so consumed with the challenges of the present day that you haven’t had time to think that far ahead.

But you should, he said.

“Technology is going to be the primary driving force of the 21st century,” predicted Barker, whose new book Five Regions of the Future explores the emerging concept of “implications literacy.” As educators, “you need to prepare yourselves and your students” for “a new way of thinking about technology,” he said.

As the term suggests, “implications literacy,” states that in order to use technology effectively, everyday users–including teachers and students–have to understand not only how a particular technology works, but what its uses are, and, more importantly, how a certain device could be deployed to address a range of societal needs, from global warming, to healthcare, to the economy.

The first step, according to Barker, is to establish a set of definitions–“a new lexicon” that more appropriately describes the role technology will play.

“It is imperative that we become more precise in our descriptions of what these technologies actually do,” Barker explained. “We have to better understand the implications if we want to know how [technology] can help us.” Rather than speak about technology in general terms, Barker wants people to begin thinking about technology like they would an ecosystem, where different “sets” of technologies work with and feed off each other in much the same way living organisms of the Earth evolve in their own natural environments.

Barker calls this new evolution in thinking “TechnEcology.” The idea contains five main sub-categories, or regions, for technology innovation. Depending on how one views the use of technology, he says, every person in the world likely fits into one of these five regions.

  • The Super Tech Region: Technology users who favor this region believe that technology and technological materials are in such abundance that they should be used for everything, Barker said. In short, Super Tech is the belief that technology is so proficient that it will eventually replace our need for natural resources.

  • The Limits Tech Region: In contrast to advocates of super technology, Limit techies believe “efficiency is beautiful,” explained Barker. In the Limit Tech Region people believe in using everything “as thoughtfully as possible.” Such an approach could lead to the invention of new light-bulbs built to conserve energy or advanced vaccines that would prevent people from ever getting cancer. In theory, he said, the idea behind limit technology is to eliminate a problem by creating a solution that delays or neutralized the threat ahead of time.

  • The Local Tech Region: Technology advocates who adhere to this approach strive whenever possible to use the resources available in their immediate locales, he said. For instance, houses would be built from a particular wood and fuels and other power sources would be produced from whatever resources were immediately available. The idea, Barker explained, is that the resources in your immediate community are likely the most reliable because, like people, elements are a product of their surroundings.

  • The Nature Tech Region: This region describes any technology that is naturally of the Earth. In the future, Barker said, advocates of nature technology expect to see everything from diesel-producing trees to hydrogen-producing bacteria.

  • The Human Tech Region: This region refers to all of the technologies and remedies manufactured naturally by the human body, Barker said. Whether you’re a scientist investigating the medicinal benefits of laughter or a researcher interested in the genetic implications of symmetry, there are plenty of mysteries about the human body that remain as yet unexplored, he said.

    No matter what region of technology you subscribe to, Barker said, the key is for teachers and students to understand how each might be used in the future to solve a variety of new and longstanding problems, from disease control and prevention to increased economic production, energy consumption, and communications.

    “This kind of thinking is mandatory for the 21st century,” he said. “The world is not going to wait for us. If we don’t get literate, we are not going to be able to play the game with the rest of the world.”

    But, as speakers and school leaders have said throughout the weekend, a shift in thinking–even one as radical as Barker’s–would mean little without the presence of solid leadership in the nation’s schools.

    “Our job is not to seek the recognition it is to do the mission,” California Education Secretary Alan Bersin told the audience in welcoming them to the conference.

    Not only is it important to “reflect on where we have been and where we are going,” he said, “but to have renewed faith in carrying this issue forward.”

    Calling education “the great equalizer” and the “cornerstone of our freedom” Bersin urged his colleagues across the nation “to stay the course” in their efforts to build stronger, more engaging public schools.

    At the Rochester City School District in New York AASA Superintendent of the Year Manuel Rivera said persistence and dedication are the keys to fostering effective change in schools. “If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last 15 to 20 years it’s never to compromise your values or principles,” Rivera said, adding “We need to believe in the value and worth of every single child who comes through our doors.”

    Links:

    American Association of School Administrators
    http://www.aasa.org

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    AASA: Leveraging the power of leadership to overcome adversity

    With a focus on harnessing the power of leadership to improve the quality of public education in the nation’s schools, thousands of school administrators from across the nation converged on the San Diego Convention Center Feb. 23, 2006, for the start of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) 2006 National Conference on Education.

    Calling the nation’s children “our most important resource,” AASA President David Gee said it’s time for school administrators everywhere to “stand up for public education–” and themselves.

    In an era where federal education spending seems poised to suffer its first cut in a decade and school leaders increasingly find themselves under fire for the academic deficiencies of students, Gee said it’s imperative that school administrators stand firm in their commitment to education and work together to “build bridges” that will help prepare students for the evolving challenges of life in the 21st century.

    When he began his term as president of AASA little more than one year ago, Gee said, he looked forward to heading to Washington and having an opportunity to work with national leaders and policy-makers in efforts to bolster the quality of education in the nation’s public schools.

    What he found instead was resistance.

    Lashing out at lawmakers on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, Gee said school administrators have become the scapegoats for a floundering school system–one where educators have been forced under sweeping reforms such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act to do more with less.

    “I’ve come to learn that cooperation and teamwork is simply not the case [in Washington],” he said of his experience working with lawmakers. “It’s either their way or the highway. I’m tired of [politicians] quoting inaccurate details … and distorting the facts. And I’m irate that my friends and colleagues are subject to this sort of abuse.”

    Accusing politicians of unfairly blaming school administrators for the deficiencies of the nation’s school children while refusing to provide the funding necessary to meet the demands of an education system anchored in accountability and fairness, Gee said, school administrators have but one choice: to overcome.

    And its fight, he says, that cannot be won without the presence of strong leadership, from the superintendent’s office to the classroom.

    Joining Gee in his call for stronger leadership in the nation’s schools, Donald Knauss, president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola North America, took the stage to encourage educators to keep working in the face of adversity.

    Knauss outlined five principles of leadership he believes ring just as true in the business of education as they do in the boardrooms of corporate America: integrity, curiosity, optimism, compassion, and humanity.

    Like all leaders, Knauss said, superintendents must harness their abilities, and the abilities of others, to create a culture of confidence, which ultimately, leads to success.

    “These are very challenging times,” Knauss told the audience, adding that even in the face of tough budget scenarios, increased regulation, and scrutiny from Washington, leadership can “make the difference.”

    “As leaders,” Knauss said, “we have a responsibility to drive optimism into our organizations–to drive optimism into our children.”

    Relating the work of school superintendents to the contributions of political, cultural, and scientific icons from Charles de Gaulle and Dwight Eisenhower to Louis Armstrong and Marie Curie, Knauss pleaded with school administrators to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk.”

    Remember, he said, “world-class leaders are also world-class learners.”

    The key is to stay positive, added Gee.

    “The legacy of every good school administrator should be that they leave their schools a little bit better than when they found them,” he said.

    The AASA conference runs through Feb. 26. Be to check back with eSchool News throughout the weekend for more live coverage from San Diego.

    Links:

    American Association of School Administrators
    http://www.aasa.org

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    Purdue uses data to help retain students

    Like many universities, Purdue University in Indiana uses a course management system (CMS) to extend classroom instruction to the web. Though the system can be, and is, used to conduct exclusively online classes, professors at Purdue more often use the scalable system to support and add value to traditional classroom activities by offering further instruction, quizzes, discussion boards, and other materials for more than 2,300 courses.

    But unlike their peers at most other schools, Purdue University officials are trying to use the regular reporting functions of their CMS to improve student retention, too. By measuring the amount of time students spend in web-based classroom activities and using other simple metrics provided through the software’s basic functionality, Purdue officials believe they have identified the strongest indicators of student failure.

    Officials have yet to turn their findings into a full-blown intervention program, but they’re optimistic that one could be on the way.

    About 90 percent of students at Purdue use the CMS in three or more classes, a number that Bart Collins, director of Purdue’s digital content and instructional development center, called “extremely high” when compared with most other universities.

    Collins said the university has analyzed some CMS student usage data from last year and has begun to examine the full range of usage data in the system. His department, in collaboration with Purdue’s admissions department, is planning to develop automated triggers that alert faculty and students to brewing problems long before they otherwise would have been noticed.

    “We’re trying to see how useful these data are for helping understand student factors that are important to the university,” Collins said. “Student retention is very important to universities.”

    Collins said the system has been good at measuring indicators that students are not working to complete their assignments. These data, he said, have proven especially useful as a predictor of student achievement when combined with student data already on hand that explain a student’s academic history. Such pre-enrollment indicators include any information the university has about a student’s scores on standardized tests, grades from high school and other previous institutions, and other information generally available to administrators.

    The standard student data are combined with the observational data gathered through the course management system to identify a student’s academic engagement relative to his or her peers. Though it might seem obvious that students who do their homework are more likely to achieve greater academic results than those who do not, administrators are excited about having some measurable–rather than anecdotal–way to account for that difference, thanks to observational figures pulled from the CMS.

    “By virtue of having real-time data that … function as an index of whether or not a student is really attending class” or doing what is required of him or her, the information can be measured to determine how likely students are to drop out, Collins said.

    “Are they logging in? Are they doing the work that their teachers want? You can get a pretty good idea looking at usage patterns. We’re learning how students are engaging the system relative to others in their class,” he said.

    The course management system used by Purdue is the Campus Edition provided by WebCT Inc., now owned by Blackboard Inc.

    Karen Gage, senior vice president of marketing for WebCT, said reports using these kinds of data can be pulled from most CMS software. She added, however, that “WebCT has invested development resources to make it easy to get these kinds of data on a regular basis.”

    Gage said her company is excited about the changing role the software is playing in the administrative life of the university.

    School administrators have had “lots of data about these indicators [of student failure] pre-term and post-term, but there has really been no opportunity to have an early-warning indicator [like the one Purdue is developing],” Gage said. “To have these kinds of data play into what people know about retention is really the big step forward.”

    Purdue’s Collins said administrators, as well as students, stand to benefit from such a system. Any intervention system that helps retain graduates, he said, improves the university’s standing–and that attracts more students.

    “We want to make a good-faith effort to ensure the academic success of the students that come here. That is the primary motive. It doesn’t help us for you to fail. We want you to be successful,” Collin said. “If there are simple things to do to help ensure your success, to all of our benefit, then we would like to do them. It’s often difficult until it is too late to know. You want to help the students when they need the help most.”

    He concluded: “Earlier [intervention] is better.”

    Links:

    Purdue University
    www.purdue.edu

    WebCT
    www.webct.com

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    Microsoft warns of “critical” security flaws

    CNN.com reports that on Tuesday, Microsoft warned of two critical security flaws that could let attackers use Windows Media Player or Internet Explorer to possibly take control of a computer. The Windows Media Player flaw makes it possible for a would-be attacker to use a malicious file to control the appearance of the player and launch other applications. The IE flaw would make it possible for an attacker to take total control of a PC. Microsoft has released security patches.

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    20 states ask for NCLB flexibility

    The New York Times reports that federal Education Department has agreed to review 20 requests to alter the way the No Child Left Behind Act measures student progress. The requests would allow states to judge schools by tracking individual students’ progress over time. At present, schools must measure progress in successive grades of students. For example, schools would have to compare this year’s crop of fifth graders against last year’s…

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    Study: Tech makes work harder

    Cnet.com reports that according to recent research, the average American gets two-thirds of their work done in an average workday, down from three-quarters in 1994. Experts say the biggest culprit in declining productivity is technology. Technology that is supposed to make work easier, has instead made it more complicated. Technology also speeds everything up and bombards workers with more tasks, like emails, instant messages, cell phone calls etc. 51 percent of workers feel productive at work, down from 82 percent in 1994…

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