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The Day that It Changed for Me

Bob Geary photo accompanying an IndyWeek article about the NC General Assembly's plans to divert millions of taxpay money from public education to private schools.

Some of you are aware that I am working on a new book.  I wrote about it here, in I Can’t Believe that I’m Doing this Again!  The initial intent of the book is to describe the history of educational technology, as I have witnessed it.  However, I won’t really know for sure what this book is about until I finish it.  Like all living things, it’s becoming…

Reaching the vicinity of 1994 has provoked a long forgotten memory, an event that convinced me that my days, in my cushy government (NCDPI) position, were numbered.

Here’s what happened.

The big thing in leadership circles at that time was Total Quality Management (TQM). It was developed by Edward Deming, at least partly during the post-war years helping Japan rebuild its economy.  I have shamelessly forgotten all of the tenets of this movement, as with all of the improvement schemes of the 1990s. But TQM was really big thing at NCDPI, as the Associate State Superintendent, Henry Johnson, had recently attended a set of workshops. So inspired was he, that hire the consulting firm and required the entire instructional services staff to attend.

I do not remember the name of the firm that delivered the workshops, nor the name of the little woman who led them. I just remember that she came in about every other week, with two or three young minions in tow, prepared to change the way we did things. Although we felt that we could better use the time, we also recognized that we could alway improve our services.  So we came with learning and self-reflection in mind. What we didn’t expect was to have our steady-enough legs swept out from under us.

It was near the end of the day of the third or fourth session, when she asked us, “Who do you work for?”

We said, in unison, more than a hundred of us, “The Children of North Carolina.” She looked a little puzzled, and then repeated the question, “Who do you work for?” We looked at each other, our turns to be puzzled. Some people, hesitantly called out, “Communities of North Carolina?” “Parents of our students?” “The schools of North Carolina?” “The teachers in the schools of North Carolina?” ..after each attempt that little lady would repeat,

“Who do you work for?”

Our frustration turned to horror when she blurted out, “You work for your General Assembly (legislature)!”

We, in instructional services, had all come to the Department of Public Instruction because we were educators. We were not there working jobs. We had missions. We believed that we were contributing to a better world by serving the education of our children. The North Carolina General Assembly was viewed, most often, as a barrier to our work, restricting us with budget cuts, politically motivated dictates, and the effects of increasingly blaming teachers and NCDPI for what these politicians called, “Failing schools.”

Horror probably best describes how we felt when she told us that we worked for the General Assembly, and even more horrible was the sudden realization that she was right. The job of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction was to enforce and support the laws passed by our law-making body.

That was the day that I realized that I would be doing something else, sometime soon.

I Take this kind of Disappointment Personally

I take this kind of disappointment personally. I should have done more.

I voted.

I also voted with my checkbook, writing checks to my candidates’ campaigns – probably more than was fair to my family.

But, my checks can’t compete with those from millionaires, billionaires and huge corporations.

The sad thing is that according to exit polls, most Americans seem to side with the positions of Democrats’ on many of the actual issues.

Yet this election was not about issues.

This election was about volume. ..and volume is $bought$ before the voting begins.

This election happened in dark rooms where checks were written, adding zero after zero, with the expectation that the writers would soon be legally freed from many of the consequences of acting to add many more zeros to their bank accounts.

I wonder now if this was the intent of our “Founding Fathers.”

Two Reasons I Won’t Use My Typical Opening Today

For the last several years, I have been opening my keynote addresses by describing something that I’ve learning in the last 24 hours. It was usually something that I’d run across on my iPad (Flipboard), or a conversation I’d had, or some other striking something that caught my eye.  Today, it would likely be the Olkaria IV Geothermal Power Plant just brought on line in Kenya with the assistance of Germany’s continued development of green energies.  I first learned about the plant from the Kenyan cab driver who took me from the St. Louis airport to my hotel yesterday.

But no story today.  The first reason is trivial though not insubstantial.  It’s time.  I’ll only have 45 minutes for my opening talk.  It’s usually closer to an hour.

The second reason is more important.  It is my audience; school librarians, students of library science, and supporters and administrators of school library programs.  I’m not launching into a demonstration of personal learning because librarians and their libraries are almost entirely about person learning.  Their patrons explore, examine, experiment and discover – in much the same ways that we all conduct our essential learning outside of school.

These authentic learning experiences are way to rare in the classrooms of our schools, and this is due not to the best intentions, reflections and inventiveness of our teachers.  It is my country’s continue obsession with market motivated and industrial methodology of public education.

What If Our Roads Were Run Like This?

Photo by EFF

My wife and I are buying a house in the Shelby area, so that we can spend more time with both of our parents and have a larger place for family gatherings.  

We’re very happy with the house, except that we can’t get reconnected, the DSL line that the previous owners enjoyed.  I’ve spent many hours on the phone with AT&T  mostly on hold, or desperately trying to navigate their menu system, or listening to the scripts recited over and over again by the sales and support staff. The story seems to be that DSL is simply not (no longer) available to our house.

Time Warner will not serve the house, apparently because there are not enough houses on our street.  The next street over, more populated, has had Time Warner for quite some time.  

Being an early adopter of iPhones and iPads, I have been able to keep unlimited data plans on both of them.  

I also have an AT&T hotspot device that provides WiFi for me via a local cell tower, up to 5Gb per month.  So I went to the AT&T store last night to get its data plan upgraded to 20Gb.  It seems that the only way that I can change the plan on that device is by also changing the plans on my iPhone and iPad, giving up my unlimited data there.  AT&T seems more interested in providing less service, not more nor better.

We are probably going to go with a Verizon product that will provide WiFi and Ethernet, via a cell tower, 20Gb.

The reason I burden you with this is my wondering,

“What if our roads were handled like this, as a service to customers rather than citizens?”  

“What if there weren’t enough people living in my area to result in enough profit for the road company to lay a road?”

“How would my children get an education, if they couldn’t go to school?  How would I get my work done, if I couldn’t get to work?  How could we shop for essentials, if we couldn’t get to the store?”

You get my point.  Our Internet connection has become as important to us as our roads.  Yet service depends on the convenience and profitability to AT&T and Time Warner.  What’s worse is that North Carolina it is now agains the law for municipalities to establish and provide Internet service to its citizens, thanks to the hundreds of thousands of dollars of compaign contributions from the telecommunications industry.

So what do you think?

What Offends Me the Most!

Many of you know by now that I have, surprisingly, become a sports fan.  Although I played sports as a youngster, I’ve never been a fan of any sport, until recently – thanks to my son’s enthusiasm and nuanced knowledge of profession basketball and now soccer.  We hold season tickets for Bobcat (oh yeah, Hornet) games in Charlotte and we drive down regularly to pull for our favorite team (though I’m still getting my head around my team without Josh McRoberts).

Even though there are still aspects of sports fanaticism that bother me, only one thing truly offends me. It’s when the arena features, during timeouts, court competitions for attendees, sponsored by the “North Carolina Education Lottery.” It’s that name, Education Lottery, that sends needles through my soul.

It’s no surprise to the thinking citizens of NC, that our nine year old state lottery has done nothing to improve the state’s education – nor, in my humble opinion, was it ever intended to.  Even though our education budget, in dollars, has risen in the last three decades, its percentage of the states general fund has declined for the past 30 years, according to today’s WRAL.com article, NC education spending on decades-long slide.

In the 1980s, 44¢ of every dollar was spent on education.  Today only 37¢ goes to schools.  One would hope that a North Carolina Education Lottery would have at least slowed this decline, if not brought it to a haul.  But, in fact, the rate of decline has accelerate.  More than half (57%) of the 30-year decline occurred in just the last decade, since the Lottery’s passage in 2005.

The true effect (and intent) of the North Carolina Education Lottery is enabling an increasingly corporate-sponsored General Assembly to provide more tax relief to the state’s wealthiest and most privileged.

But what truly offends me every time I hear those four words, is how the lottery is perpetuating a myth, that in America, anyone can excel to the 1%, can reach a place of wealth, power and privilege – and therefore, we should all support any legislation that empowers, protects and advances the state’s (and nation’s) richest,

..and becoming a member could be as easy as a few dollars and the right set of numbers.

…and algebra is not required!

Browder, C. (2014, July 8). NC education spending on decades-long slide. WRAL.com.

Half the Teachers

A few days ago, I posted an article explaining “Why You Won’t See Me at ISTE ’14.”  In it I wrote,

I blame and accept the fact that experience that spans from TRS-80 to IOS has become a little less important compared to the creative energy of much younger educators…

This sentiment prompted an email exchange with an old friend, an educator whose years of experience span pretty much the same range of technological advancement as mine, “TRS-80 to iOS.”

Our discussion, however, had almost nothing to do with technology, but concerned the era in which we began teaching.

For me, it was a full 25 years before No Child Left Behind  standards-based teaching and punitive high-stakes tests stained the “art of teaching.”  Things were quite different in terms of the autonomy that teachers exercised in determining what and how their children learned – and some mediocre teachers, admittedly, took advantage of the freedom.  However, most, whom I came in contact with, used their academic freedom as a seedbed to create dynamic and effective learning experiences for their students.

For years I have felt that this-too-will-pass, that the arrogant belief that we can know and teach everything our children will need to know to be prepared for their future simply makes no sense, and that we would come to our senses.

Half of Teachers

But it occurred to me, during that email exchange, that more and more of the teachers in our classrooms today were trained to test-prep and have been indoctrinated to an education system based, more than ever before, on an industrial production model.

So I did some research and tinkering with a spreadsheet, and found that about half of the teachers in U.S. classrooms today have never worked in a school culture free from high-stakes testing.

To illustrate this, I made an infographic  that shows the decline in teachers who have experienced academic freedom and the rise in teachers who have always worked under the constraints of government/corporate standards.

To be sure, this does not mean that there aren’t young educators, today, who are courageously and creatively going beyond the regimentation that is the character of test-prep classes, nor that there aren’t older teachers who are happy to model their classrooms on mass production.  

But it does suggest a dramatic shift in the culture of our schools,

And perhaps,

An approaching point of no return.

About the Data:
I used a document from the National Center for Education Statistics  a part of the U.S. Department of Education (see below).  It featured demographic data about U.S. teachers, starting in 1987.  The table included gender, ethnicity, age, education, years of experience, and teaching levels and subjects.  I fairly easily imported the table into an OpenOffice spreadsheet and cropped it down to just the data on years of experience, starting with 1999.

To complicate things, the table included only data for every 4th year, 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011, which was not enough to plot the level of accuracy that I wanted.  In addition, the years experience were grouped, i.e. less than 3 years, 3 to 9 years, etc.  I searched further, but could not find any more complete data at the national level.  If you know of such a document, please comment below.

To fill in the blank years, I worked my OO spreadsheet so that it calculated trends from the 4 years and the experience ranges, and filled in the blanks, across and down, based on those trends.  Not a perfect solution, but the point of my infographic was to illustrate a trend, not precisely measure a phenomena.

Having such a seemingly rich data set enticed me to plot for other trends and anomalies, such as specific rises or declines in teacher numbers, indicating times of sudden influx of new teachers, or increased retirements or, and I hate to suggest the possibility, mass resignations.  Alas, it would take more completely accurate information to do such a thing, not just calculated trends.

Number and percentage distribution of teachers in public and private elementary and secondary schools, by selected teacher characteristics: Selected years, 1987-88 through 2011-12. (n.d.). Digest of Education Statistics. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_209.10.asp 

 

 

 

Public Education in North Carolina Deteriorates Further

My daughter just alerted me to a 10:42 AM article appearing on the WRAL.com web site, Lawmakers Propose Dumping Common Core Standards in NC.  

Not surprising.  

Sen. Jerry Tillman, c/o WRAL.com

The puppet-masters of the Tea party have effectively used the Common Core standards to create a flashpoint for generating emotional energy against government regulation.  North Carolina is not alone in struggling with the politics of CCSS, as several states have abandoned the Common Core – as a title.

But the arrogance of NC’s General Assembly demands that we go further.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said that other states, such as Florida and Indiana, had merely renamed Common Core in their repeal bills. Indiana, he said, “didn’t totally devolve itself from Common Core. This bill does that.”*

The clincher, and what provoked me to write this article, was that the proposed bill assigns the writing of a new, North Carolina curriculum to an “Academic Standards Review Commission,” which would be part of the state’s Department of Administration  not the Department of Public Instruction.

In an effort to find any logic in this, I found, not without difficulty, an organizational chart for the N.C. Department of Administration. Its offices include:

Motor Fleet Management Purchase & Contract State Construction
State Property Office Historically Underutilized Businesses Mail Service Center
Surplus Property Facility Management State Parking
Council for Women Human Relations Commission Commission of Indian Affairs
Youth Advocacy & Involvement Office Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation  

And, here it is…

-> Non-Public Education <-

 

Binker, M. (2014, April 24). Lawmakers propose dumping common core standards in nc. WRAL.

What’s Happening at Home

These are only a few of the accolades layer at North Carolina’s capital and surrounding Wake County.  So why are the county’s teachers resigning from their jobs in record numbers this year, a 41% increase over last year’s mid-year resignations, according to an April 17 article in the News & Observer.

News and Observer June 3, 2013

In a recent press conference, held at Underwood Elementary school, district leaders reported that  612 of the county’s 9,000 teachers have resigned during the current school year (that’s 1 out of 14 teachers).  By this time last year, only 433 teachers had resigned.  The most mentioned reason in the News & Observer article was money.  North Carolina is 46th in teacher pay.  Teachers in this state have received one raise since 2008.

The upcoming Speaker of the House, of the most arrogantly conservative state government in the country,” Paul Stam, wrote in an email message that, “There is nothing particularly alarming in this report, other than WCPSS cherry-picking numbers to fit its narrative.”

Stam mentioned an increase in teacher retirement as a big reason for the increased resignations. True that 142 of the 612 mid-year resignations were taking early retirement — experienced teachers leaving the profession.  

Where’s the good news in that?

Regardless of the claims of school officials, politics almost certainly played in to the press conference.  Teacher raises will be part of the General Assembly’s (re-election) business this term, even though the newly adopted state tax plan leaves little room for higher salaries for NC teachers.  Governor Pat McCrory (Rep) has proposed a $2000 raise for first year teachers, quickly touting the $200 million it will cost tax payers.

Underwood Elementary has lost five teachers this year.  Two had lost their homes to foreclosure and one was living on food stamps.

As we lose record numbers of experienced professional educators, the number of students entering the UNC system’s schools of education declined 7% in 2013.  Raleigh’s North Carolina State University expects 18% fewer enrollments this year in its school of ed.

There is simply nothing good about this –

..unless dismantling democracy-born public education is the plan of a conservative governmentsupported big business desire to turn our children’s education into a profit-driven market place.

Hui, K. (2014, April 17). Wake County sees ‘alarming’ increase in teacher resignations. News and Observer.

Welcome to 2024

in a sense, this presentation was a follow-up of a short story I wrote as a first chapter of a book I wrote in 2004, describing a middle school in 2014.

I’ve never had so much fun doing a presentation — that I had never done before. The fact that the 2024 version of myself had traveled more than 87,000 timezones to get to the NCTIES conference, and the jet lag that implied, took a lot of the pressure off.

The scenario went like this. My wife, children and granddaughter chipped in to buy my a trip back to 2014, to visit an old education technology conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. I walked into the session dressed as the eccentrically old geezer I am certain to become, limping with a cane, because of a self-defense class injury. I am toting my granddaughter’s book bag, which we will excavate to reveal clues as to what education becomes ten years from now.

I did a Q&A, fielding a number of quite interesting questions, for which the trickier ones, I was able to hide behind the FCC Commission on Cross-Temporal Communications Act of 2022, paragraph 14.

I was also honored to find Adam Bellow in the Audience and convinced him to take a selfie of us together, which I could pick up later from the Twitter archive, housed at archive.org.

 

My only regret was having left my notes back in 2024, so there was much that I forgot to include, such as, “If you want to party like it 2024, then you’ve gotta wear argyle socks.” You can write that down.

At first I was a little relieved that ISTE turned that presentation proposal down. Now I wish they’d accepted it. :-/

 

One more Challenge to the Geographically Deprived

After finishing up the last episode of Breaking Bad  Brenda and I applied ourselves to finding another moderate to long-running TV series to binge-watch, two episodes a night.  We were looking for another character-based crime drama, though nothing so emotionally stressful as BB.  Martin suggested The Wire and we gave it a try.  If it had been just me, I would have nixed the show after the first episode.

“What’s going on?”  

“What did he say?”

But, as is often the case, three episodes in to this series created by author and former police reporter, David Simon, and we were hooked.  Essentially, the show is about life, death, business and politics in neighborhoods that the rest of America would rather pretend aren’t there.  In the show, they are “the projects,” “the towers,” “the vacants,” “the east side,” “the west side.”

One of the aspects of The Wire that most impresses me is its portrayal of both good and bad, wisdom and near-sightedness, compassion and cruelty, loyalty and treachery on both sides of the criminal code.

But mostly, it’s about thriving in economically depressed Baltimore in the first years of the 21st century, facing drugs, disease, murder and gangster politics.

And, in season 4, a new evil threat emerges from Eric Overmyer’s scripts, reaffirming the futility of trying to rise out of the streets of east and west Baltimore.  You guessed it.  It’s the effects of high-stakes testing on the lives of children and their teachers.

I find it interesting that a major network, even if it’s a limited-view premium network like HBO, has placed, along side violence, disease, and dysfunctional government, the debilitating effects of an education system, based increasingly on bubble-sheet compliance.

keep looking »

Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
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Raw Materials for the Mind
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