A Nation in Decline

North Carolina anxiously awaits its grades. State law (General Statute 115C-83.15now (2013-2014 school year) directs the State Board of Education (my former employer) to award each of the state’s public schools a grade, A-F.  80% of the calculated score is based on standardized test scores.

This is, to this citizen, further evidence of the arrogance of North Carolina’s pompously conservative law makers.  Is their goal, to improve the state’s public schools, when there actions are designed to make it easier for parents to judge their community schools at the same time that they continue to cut staff and instructional materials?  

An October 2013 NC Policy Watch article itemized the effects of state’s education budget (2013-2014), as reported by 34 local mostly conservative news outlets in 34 NC towns.  Among other degradations to North Carolina children, the cuts totaled the loss of 364 more teachers, 901 more teacher assistants and $8,226,774 for textbooks and instructional materials.

By coincidence a publication just released by the Southern Education Foundation reports that students in American schools, who qualify for free and reduced lunches, now outnumber those who do not. 51% of U.S. public school students are low income children.  Of North Carolina’s Students, 53% are low income, and to our south, 58% of South Carolina and 60% of Georgia public school students are low income.

I especially appreciated the statement made by SEF Vice President Steve Suitts.

“No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low income students simply a matter of fairness…  Their success or failure in the public schools will determine the entire body of human capital and educational potential that the nation will possess in the future. Without improving the educational support that the nation provides its low income students – students with the largest needs and usually with the least support — the trends of the last decade will be prologue for a nation not at risk, but a nation in decline…”

Marimuse Interview

In 1993, while I was working at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and exploring the educational potentials of the, then emerging, Internet, I ran across an intriguing and inspiring summer project being conducted at Maricopa Community College in Phoenix, Arizona.

With the local school district, they invited a diverse group of students who would be entering fourth, fifth or sixth grades (all at-risk of failure) into a MUD  or Multi-User Domain.  Essentially, a MUD is a text-based virtual environment.  Think SecondLife  where the environment is read about, instead of seen graphically.

This particular MUD was empty, flat asphalt.  These students, some of whom you couldn’t get to write their names in a classroom, were challenged to create a virtual city in the MUD, by learning a simple programming language and describing its buildings, parks and their own virtual homes, in all their richness, with words.

You can read what Howard Rheingold had to say about the project here.

At the end of the project, I invited a number of the organizers and volunteers to a virtual office I was maintaining at MIT’s MediaMOO, where my avatar was known as Peiohpah.  There I interviewed the team about their experience. I had acquired a virtual video camera, which recorded the exchanges.

Here is a portion of that interview played back on Pei’s TV.

[on Pei's TV]      ***********************************
[on Pei's TV]      **   C a m p   M a r i M U S E   **
[on Pei's TV]      **  An Interview with the staff  **
[on Pei's TV]      **      of the first virtual     **
[on Pei's TV]      **         Computer Camp         **
[on Pei's TV]      ***********************************
[on Pei's TV]
[on Pei's TV]      . . . the camera pans left to right over
                 Pei's Studio
 
[on Pei's TV]  A cozy corner with two comfortable sofas
               arranged for conversation in front of a large
               picture of a schoolhouse. Curiously, the
               walls of the schoolhouse appear to be
               transparent. There is a copy of Tuesday's
               *New York Times* on an end table.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila smiles at the camera
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "I'm here with a few friends today
               to talk about a project that they have been
               involved in this summer, Camp MariMUSE.  I
               call them friends although I have never met
               them face-to-face, and don't even know the
               sounds of their voices.  Yet I have
               profoundly enjoyed their companionship by
               interacting not only with their words, but
               with their imaginations, and -- most
               importantly to this interview -- with their
               innovation."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei turns to the rest of the group.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "Hi, Pei"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon  looks toward Pei, pleased to be
               here.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "Why don't we start with my guests
               introducing them selves."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Woody waves to TV land
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K giggles
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila says, ""I am Lila on the MariMuse, a
               volunteer for the project.  I am a student
               at Phoenix college, a returning student"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon says, "I am Billie Hughes aka Avalon
               on MariMUSE.  I worked with the team that
               first brought Muse to Phoenix College."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei senses that another member of the
               MariMUSE team is looking for them and
               disappears suddenly for parts unknown.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila waits for Pei to return
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "I am Miss-K on the Muse, and
               Susan Oram in RL (Real life) -- the school
               librarian at Longview Elementary School. "
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei has arrived.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad materializes out of thin air.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "Hi Wlad!"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Woody says, "I am Rod Brashear, Woody on
               Marimuse.  I am a student at Arizona State
               Universtiy-West and also work for the
               Arizona Department of Education.  I
               volunteered to be involved with the Longview
               project."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila waves to Wlad, and thinks she has seen
               him before ;)"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "Hi, Wlad"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "Wlad, would you introduce
               yourself?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "Hi, and I am Jim Walters.  I
               work at Pheonix College and am intensely
               interested in this medium."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "Is that everyone?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila thinks that is all for the moment,
               Platoon will join us later"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "Thanks"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon turns toward Pei,anticipating a
               question."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei reads from his clipboard, then faces
               Avalon.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "Avalon, would you begin by
               explaining how Camp MariMUSE came to be?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon says, "Wlad and I were in the library
               one day when the Dean walked in.  We were
               excited about what Muse was doing for our
               college students.  She suggested we do a
               summer camp for kids."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon says, "We jumped at the chance and
               the rest is history."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "Avalon had heard a rumor that
               Joanne, the principal at Longview, might be
               supportive of a technology linked proposal.
               So we set out to meet with her."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Woody says, "wlad and Av planted a seed and
               didn't realize how big the tree would be.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila says, "...and still growing!"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "it's rather like falling into
               the rabbit's hole with Alice."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei grins with understanding
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila laughs at the rabbit hole analogy
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "So it began as an environment for
               college student?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "We did try to start with the
               basis that it could accommodate learners of
               all ages."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "But college students were the
               group we began with because that was the
               group we had access to."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon says, "We tried it first with our own
               students, but always dreamed of a huge one
               room school for learners of all ages."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "The dream is starting to come
               true, isn't it?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila nods agreement
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "We took some risks in bringing
               in some of our own students, then to try to
               offer a class entirely in this environment."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei turns to Miss-K.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "Miss-K,  Could you describe some
               of the landmarks of MariMUSE that your
               campers saw when they first entered the
               MUSE?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Woody notices sweat on the brow of Miss-k.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila hands Miss-K a tissue
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K smiles sickly!
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei reaches over and touches Miss-K's hand!
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "Well, we went to Lady
               Starlight's castle first. "
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei's eyes widen with excitement.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "We also visited some of the
               places the first group of campers had
               created.  Also, Some of the campers spent
               quite a lot of time in an amusement park."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "A couple of the volunteers had
               created a space station that was the initial
               home of all the Longview campers."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "Tell me about the students who
               participated in Camp MariMUSE?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Woody says, "Do you want a feel for what
               they were like in RL, when they entered the
               room?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, “Yes!"

[on Pei's TV]  Avalon sits back listening to those who were
               with the children the most to talk.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "Well, it was quite a mixed
               group of children.  Our school is very
               multi-ethnic and those groups were
               represented at the camp."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon looks at Miss-K remembering just how
               diverse the group really was.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila remembers being surprised at the young
               ages.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "The kids were all going into
               the fourth, fifth or sixth grade.”

[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "The children who attended were
               children who were definitely at-risk for
               failure in school either because of their
               back grounds or skills.  They were chosen by
               the teachers at Longview on the basis of who
               we thought might benefit the most. "
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "The first day of camp was an
               exciting day.  Students had heard exciting
               rumors and were very eager, with a bit of
               confusion and trepidation, to come to a
               college and work with the MUSE."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Platoon materializes out of thin air.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Platoon says, "HI Pei, sorry I interrupted"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "Platoon, my man! gime five!"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Platoon ^5's Pei
 
[on Pei's TV]  Platoon sits back and listens
 
[on Pei's TV]  Woody says, "The first couple of days the
               children were very quite and shy.  After the
               comfort level was attained the kids were
               conversing in the muse and RL with real
               excitement and interest"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "They seemed very young, and shy
               and seemed to be wondering why they were
               here, but then they got started began having
               fun."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K nods.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "How did the students first
               approach the text-based virtual environment?
               What was their early reaction?”

[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "On the first day, I heard
               whispers of, "This is dumb."  By the end of
               the first session, all the campers agreed it
               was about the coolest thing they had ever
               done.”

[on Pei's TV]  Lila recalls the excitement of the children
               when they left for the bus, how anxious they
               were to come back the second day."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila recalls how quickly the children became
               conscious of correct spelling"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "I had worried that the ones who
               couldn't keyboard might become discouraged
               and quit, but they just hung in and their
               skills kept improving."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "Even this morning some kids
               were asking about getting back on the system
               so they wouldn't lose their keyboarding
               skills."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "Those of you who were volunteers,
               how did you assist the campers and what sort
               of impact did this experience have on you
               personally?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Platoon says, "My best the very best
               experience I had was when I started paging
               some of the campers and ask them if they
               need help...and they responded where are
               you...and i said that I am kinda far away
               from you...they couldn't imagine that "
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lady Starlight materializes out of thin air.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Platoon says, "I thought that was so cool to
               have to convince them that I am about 20
               miles away from them”

[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "She was having difficulty with
               him being in the same virtual room with
               her."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila says, "To build on Platoon's comments,
               one child initially refused to believe a
               volunteer was really in California."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei smiles
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lady Starlight says, "And another looked for
               a volunteer in the disk drive."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad ecalls one student looking in the disk
               drive slot trying to see Angus."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei laughs and laughs and laughs
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila laughs at the remembrance
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "What, exactly,
               did the MariMUSE campers do on a daily
               basis?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Woody pulls out his muse curriculum daily
               guide.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "every day the students were
               asked to complete a journal entry.  They
               also wrote at least one article per week for
               the newsletter.  They were also responsible
               for doing some creating in the MUSE."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad recalls some of the homework and how
               serious the students were about getting
               together their descriptions and setting
               their character names.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Azure_Guest says, "What amazed me was that
               they were so unwilling to leave for break."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Woody adds that they felt three hours was
               too short of a day on the muse.
  
[on Pei's TV]  Lila says, "Do you remember how Ginji would
               go home, make her sister help her research
               so the cave could be exactly what she
               wanted?
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "At the end of the first week,
               the students were wanting to come in over
               the weekend..”
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lady Starlight says, "They were all very
               proud of their work."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "Ginji wears her Phoenix
               College t-shirt often."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon says, "Above all, we learned that
               this medium was exciting to students, it
               captivated them despite its text-base.  And,
               they could handle the coding.  They were
               reading and writing for 3 hours a day,
               thinking and problem solving, and loving
               it."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Woody says, "It taped the intrinsic
               motivation of all the persons connected to
               the program.  Students Teachers, and
               volunteers."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei nods.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "Have the kids come back to school
               yet?  If so, what are they saying about the
               MUSE now?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "Everyday I am asked, WHEN can
               I come back on line?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "The children are eager to get
               back on-line and are stating that they have
               projects to work on, and they really want to
               check their mail."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "I called all the MUSE kids
               into the library this morning and they were
               all talking at once.  They did not want to
               leave to go back to class."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon says, "We believe we are just seeing
               the tip of the iceberg.  We believe we are
               on the wave of the future.  This medium is a
               window to a new way of learning."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon looks at Miss-K remembering the child
               who said, “You don't think I am stupid, do
               you?”
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "The kids are so proud of the
               NY Times article.  They all want copies of
               it."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "How did the parents react to Camp
               MariMUSE?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "We had an enormous turn out on
               the parent day.  We were amazed.  The
               parents are especially proud of their
               children.  I think it raises their self-
               esteem too."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila says, "Many parents had to take off
               work, with no pay, to attend any function to
               which they were invited.  Such as
               graduation"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "Some even rode over on the
               school bus to be here."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Woody says, "When the parents first met with
               us, PC volunteers and Wlad, There was a very
               small turn out.  After the camp was over
               there was almost 100 percent parent
               participation."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila says, "Running Wind's parents went to
               great lengths to attend graduation, they
               VERY proud of him and his accomplishments."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "And parents who had never heard
               their children talk about what they were
               doing at school were getting rave reviews
               and daily updates on the camp activities."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon says, "We invited the superintendent
               who was amazed at the children's creativity
               and the amount of writing they did.  We also
               invited state representatives who felt the
               excitement.  And we had parents who knew
               their kids were really excited about and
               successful with learning."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "On graduation day, it really
               felt like one big family celebration."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad laughs remembering how he helped
               Running wind entertain two of his
               younger relatives.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon says, "Remember, this was only a 3
               week camp.  All of this happened in 3 short
               weeks."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila shakes her head, and says, "Hard to
               believe we did all that in 3 weeks."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei 's heart is full!
 
[on Pei's TV]  Woody throws time out the door.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "Were there any real surprises?"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "It seemed like a magical
               time."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lady Starlight nods.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Lila says, "I was very impressed with the
               increase in global awareness."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "I was blown away by the
               research that the students initiated!"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon says, "One of the other teachers
               committed this week about how important it
               was for these kids to see the volunteers
               from the college working at their jobs,
               volunteering, and going to class.  It
               helped them see they could go to college
               too."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "It was a time of being
               completely accepted."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon grins at Miss-K.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Platoon  says, "it was a time of beeing
               equal"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K says, "Actually, I still get misty
               eyed about it. "
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon hands an embroidered hankie to Miss-K.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K giggles
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "What plans do you have for the
               future of MariMUSE?”

[on Pei's TV]  Avalon has been assigned to work on grant
               writing and assessment so we can continue
               and can learn as we proceed into the future.
               This is a major commitment from the college
               to a very important project.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Woody boogies about the future.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Wlad says, "By the 15th of September, we
               should have 12 terminals installed at
               Longview for the students to use.  There
               will be a 9600 baud modem line to the
               college.  We know that the equipment will
               work with that speed.  We want something
               that will work right away, so that we can
               get the kids back on-line."
  
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K squeals in delight
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei applauds
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K will never get anything done once
               those terminals are in!
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei rolls in the floor laughing
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon grins and grins and grins with
               excitement about the future.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K wrings her hands thinking of so much
               to do and so little time.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Avalon says, "We have very strong support
               from the Longview, Phoenix College and the
               district offices to continue and build on
               this."
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei looks at his watch and turns back to the
               camera.
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "Viewers...I am speechless!"
 
[on Pei's TV]  Miss-K smiles
 
[on Pei's TV]  Pei says, "Except to say that I am deeply
               moved by these people and what they have
               accomplished this summer.  It is impossible
               to know all the consequences of how they and
               the experiences they have provided have
               touched the lives of a handful of children
               this summer.  Or how the technologies and
               techniques they are pioneering will effect
               lives in the future.  But my bet is that it’s
               enormous.”

[on Pei's TV]  From MediaMOO, this is Peiohpah saying "good
               night!"

In re-reading this interview I was struck by four ideas.

  1. The campers were engage in self-directed learning, because they were doing something with what they were learning. 
  2. Their enthusiasm had nothing to do with slick graphics and booming sound effects. It was text. 
  3. The campers were working hard, though they might not have called it work. Students who are engaged in this type of learning experience often call it, “Hard play.” 
  4. There seems to be a direct relationship between learner-engagement and parent-engagement. 
  5. Young Learners need to see adults model meaningful learning.

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.

Our Greatest Missed Opportunity?

Apple IIe Computer

I’m working on my new book and just ran across this article, an ingenious project at Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools, here in North Carolina. Jim Tomberg, a teacher at the High School has received a grant from state and federal funds, to establish a software development course for his school. The funds were intended to promote unique and innovative projects in education.

The high school students in the project were to create original, documented (software) to the specifications of teachers in the elementary grades. Tomberg wanted the programmers to work closely with the students and teachers receiving the (software).

To make the entire project educational, Tomberg says he “let the kids make all the decisions. They organized the whole course.” They studied various brands of computers and decided what equipment to buy. Then they came up with the idea of doing a newsletter about their study – all composed on computers using word processing programs.

The (elementary) teachers who requested material did, however, retain complete control over the content of the programs. In every case, students spoke directly with each teacher to insure useful results in the classroom.

Sheila Cory, the districts computer coordinator is quoted saying, “The computer is (forcing) us to reexamine our goals in education.”*

If you’d like to read the article, you’ll have to dig up a September 1983 issue of Compute Magazine, page number 100.

In many ways, I think that we were more innovative and even forward thinking back before computers and the Internet became mainstream.

* Blackford, J. (1983, September). Computers in school: New approaches. Compute!, (40), 100. Retrieved from http://www.atarimagazines.com/compute/issue40/computers_in_school.php

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 

 

 

 

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.

But…

Wires
Will these wires be used to impose teaching or empower learning?

I’m happy about Obama’s ConnectED plan and the Broadband initiative, doubling e-rate funding.  Working in other countries, I know how uniquely special E-Rate is.  

However, I remain skeptical as to whether this program and its associated teacher-training will result in transforming education into the learning that’s relevant to preparing a new generation of learners, within a new information environment for a future we can not clearly describe.

If it happens, it will be because of what determined, creative and compliance-free classroom teachers do, not because of an emerging education industry.

Middle School 2014: A Future Fiction – Installment 4

Here is the 4th installment of a short story I wrote as the 1st chapter of Redefining Literacy in the 21st Century, written in 2004.  The setting is 2014. It starts here.

Copyright © 2004 by Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Reprinted with permission from ABC-CLIO, publisher of Redefining Literacy 2.0

Sally returns to her desk, picks up her tablet and glances at the attendance document that automatically appears, indicating that one of her B2 students is not present, but that he is on the campus. Attendance remains a political necessity, but teachers no longer have to call the roll since the campus proximity system knows the location of all students and faculty on campus by their nametag chips.

A series of checks also appear by the student names on her class roll, indicating that they have submitted their class assignments. Some checks indicate initial submission of the work, others indicate that submitted work has been reviewed by the teacher, reworked by the student, and re-submitted. One student name has no check by it, but one suddenly appears as she is scanning the list. She looks up at the youngster, who blushes and returns his attention to his tablet.

She touches with her finger the Send icon at the corner of her information appliance, and the short message, written earlier in the morning, is sent directly to Mr. Ball’s pocket tablet.

As Sean, the missing student, walks quickly into the room, shaking Ms. Crabtree’s hand distractedly and finds his desk, Sally announces, “As you know, today the Reptiles (“slither, slither” the members murmur at the mention of their team name) will make their presentation. I have to say that I am very excited about this presentation. Johann, Desmone, Alf, and Samuel have all worked very hard on their report, and I think you will learn a great deal from this presentation.”

Ms. Crabtree continues, “But before we get started, I want to mention that you have an assignment posted on your calendars. I want you to read a short story written by a teenager from Croatia. A2 read it yesterday, and we had some very interesting discussions about the story today. Mr. Johnson also contacted the author and she sent a video file, in which she explains why she wrote the story. You are welcome to access A2’s discussion and Nadia Kaufman’s video file from the school’s video archive.”

“Now, without any further adieu, I introduce to you, the Reptiles.”

 

The story continues here!

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.

Circuit Scribe, the new way to teach and use circuits.

This is one of the cooler products I’ve ever come across while looking for these videos. I’ve never really learned much about electronics or circuits, but I feel like this pen would be quite nearly the perfect tool to use to start to learn about that world. This thing could be invaluable to teachers of […]

Circuit Scribe, the new way to teach and use circuits.

This is one of the cooler products I’ve ever come across while looking for these videos. I’ve never really learned much about electronics or circuits, but I feel like this pen would be quite nearly the perfect tool to use to start to learn about that world. This thing could be invaluable to teachers of certain subjects in the future.

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