Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Diane Ravitch on No Child Left Behind NCLB

About twelve years ago, as I became more interested in school policy and began reading education policy books and articles, I ran across the work of Jeanne Chall and Diane Ravitch.  And my passion for education reform was born.  Ravitch, especially, just made so much sense in her criticisms of the field of public education.  And she was not willing to sugarcoat anything to protect teachers or any other special interest.  That critical eye led her to her work in the Bush administration and her initial support of No Child Left Behind.

In recent years, however, Ravitch's views have changed, and she is not afraid of changing her mind.  Despite a lot of criticism, Ravitch has some very sound arguments against the current state of education reform.  If you haven't Diane Ravitch's criticism of No Child Left Behind, you should consider her ideas.  In countless articles and speeches, Diane has exposed the problems of high stakes testing and free market reform efforts led by groups such as the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation.  Ravitch published an extensive expose of the issue in her book - The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermined Public Education.

For a more succinct version of her criticism, check out this piece published on the NEA website.  I ran across this link while reading Darren's post at RightOntheLeftCoast.  Darren is not a fan of Ravitch - though I'm not exactly sure why.  Regardless, Ravitch has a lifetime of credibility in education and education reform.  And even if you don't agree with all her points, she is definitely worth reading and her views are worthy of respect.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Print Newspapers - The Cost and the Benefit

My bill for the Denver Post came the other day ... and it truly knocked me back a bit.  Seven days a week for fifty-two weeks came to the - arguably reasonable - price of $206.00.

It was tough to take only because of the dramatic increase in the past ten years.  When I first moved to Denver a decade ago from St. Louis, I could not believe my good fortune.  The Denver Post was available daily for the year at a cost of less than fifty bucks.  That's an incredible deal for excellent news and commentary delivered daily to my driveway.  The once-proud St. Louis Post-Dispatch (the paper of Joseph Pulitzer) was much less of a paper for much greater price.  And the Denver Post was thriving in a city with competition from the Rocky Mountain News.

Alas, the Rocky eventually folded, and I had great hope for the Denver Post, as it could now pick up a considerable readership, which it did.   Many people carried on with Denver Post, and the paper continued to put out a rather extensive daily offering of excellent news and commentary with great features and excellent service.  Sadly, I didn't even notice the drop off at first.  A few columnists like Diane Carmen and Jim Spencer parted from the Denver Post.  And the Saturday paper, followed by the Monday and Tuesday editions became ever slightly thinner.  The op-ed pages at least three days a week became simply the ed pages - as it moved from a fold out to just one page.

More columnists left - or took early retirement - and the number of ads seemed to increase daily.  The stories became harder to find on the page.  And I began to hear of people canceling their subscriptions.  "Say it ain't so," I begged and pleaded, as I knew we couldn't afford to lose the Denver Post to the Rocky's fate.  But more people were reading online, more claimed they had no time for the daily paper, and others switched to the Wall Street Journal or New York Times delivered via the mail.  But what about the local news, I wondered.  How will they get info on local issues and votes?  Alas, that doesn't seem to be a concern for too many people these days.  And even I wince at the price.

But we need our daily newspapers, and I won't let go.  Admittedly, I have signed up quarterly at this point, as I can't bring myself to shell out the big bucks.  But it's still way less than a dollar a day.  And the Denver Post - still with all the changes - is a great city newspaper.

So, I will still sit contentedly in my kitchen in the morning, waiting for that comforting "smack" on the driveway.

But for how long?  Oh, for how long?

Monday, May 28, 2012

More on College-for-All Failure

"It's time to ditch the college for all crusade" opines Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post, joining the growing chorus which acknowledges the inefficient folly that has become our universal college access experiment.  Of course, an op-ed writer like Samuelson is going to look at the basic economics of this, conceding the values and benefits while exposing the myth of the universal bachelor degree.

Samuelson cites the importance statistics regarding how many people have college degrees of any kind - about 40% - while explaining that barely 3 in 10 jobs in this economy actually need a degree.  The greater myth of college degrees is the over-rated value of of the bachelor degree.  Certainly, many jobs in the tech field these days can be accessed with community college programs and associate degrees.  That is certainly true in health care.  And there is no denying the benefit of college degrees during the past century or so.  America's prosperity has certainly aligned itself with the progress of moving from a population of 5% college degrees to nearly 40%.

But the college-for-all myth has become the college-for-all fiasco.  And Samuelson cleverly aligns this misguided policy with the same misguided belief that every American can and should be a homeowner.  Everyone from higher ed guru Diane Ravitch to researchers Arum and Roska - who wrote Academically Adrift - have clearly exposed the problems of promising and expecting college-for-all.  It's inefficient and unnecessary.  Hopefully, some of our policy makers inside the Beltway read the Washington Post each weekend.

Did you hear that, Arne Duncan?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Coursera, College, and the On-line Learning Revolution

Skyrocketing college costs are clashing with the ever-increasing demand for college degrees, and everyone from parents to college presidents are wondering what's going to give.  Certainly, the demand for college degrees won't lessen, as employers will continue to rely on them as screening systems, and no nation wants to see its educational credentials lessen, as they are the benchmark for success and high standards of living.  And neither colleges nor governments have revealed any ability or even intention to decrease costs.  However, there may be another way, as the university system is being subverted from within.  It's all beginning with a neat little start-up called Coursera.

"Welcome to the college revolution," writes Thomas Friedman in the New York Times this week, as he analyzes the increasing trend of online education.  Notably, colleges like Stanford and MIT have begun putting their entire curriculum and syllabi online, granting access to the information to all, if not granting the actual degree.  That may change, though, or at least morph into a new credential with the offering of certificates of completion from universities.  That is the brainchild of Andrew Ng, computer science professor at Stanford who taught his entire class last semester to 100,000 online students.  This idea lead to the creation of a Coursera, an organization funded by venture capital which is devoted to offering university education, or at least certifications from major universities.  Coursera, which can be found and accessed through, is offering full courses and certificates of completion from Princeton, Michigan, Penn, and Stanford.

This revolutionary idea is what Vincent Carroll of the Denver Post calls "the online challenge to college costs."  Carroll joins Friedman and David Brooks of the New York Times in revealing and promoting hope for greater university access at decreased cost through the use of internet classes.  Now, certainly, this idea isn't new.  The University of Phoenix has been offering such courses for decades - though with questionable results and far less credibility than Michigan or the Ivy League.  And from Coursera, the certificate will be every bit as valuable as the Phoenix degree for much less cost.  While there will always be demand for actual seat space at the major universities - and there is little doubt about the added value of sitting among colleagues in a classroom learning - Coursera as an idea may grant the necessary access to counter the emphasis on degrees which are increasingly a financial burden first.

And, who's to say that if a person can complete all the necessary coursework for a degree, he is any less qualified for a job as an accountant or attorney or engineer or computer technician or financial adviser.  Of course, as I've noted before, let's keep the doctors and nurses on campus with some hands on training.  For there are many skills and experiences that Coursera simply can't replicated online.  However, the on-line changes to education are exciting and filled with potential, even as the kinks in the road must be ironed out through trial and error.  For a more thorough examination of the situation that led to the rise of Coursera, as well as alternatives to the issue that preceded Coursera, you must also take the time to check out Anya Kamenetz's book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education.  Kamenetz's book, which followed her timely debut work Generation Debt, offers a thorough analysis of the higher ed paradigm - and paradigm shift.  Her website is worth checking out as well.

Look for more and more talk of Coursera, which might be able to do for higher ed what Sal Khan and the Khan Academy have done for all education.

Coursera, coming up.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Better Slots for the Next Food Network Star

OK, I love Guy Fieri and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.  Pretty much everybody does - or at least the real foodies do.  Guy is immensely entertaining, and he knows food.  He is the textbook case for the contest that is the next Food Network Star.  And when Guy was named the next Food Network Star, he rode his fame to the top with numerous shows culminating in Triple-D.  In fact, if I am not mistaken, Guy struggled a bit in the early days before hitting his stride with Diner, Drive-Ins, & Dives.  And, of course Guy's Big Bite is an excellent show is well - one that really showcases his cooking knowledge.

But the Food Network is doing a disservice to their other new Food Network Stars with the saturation of Guy-Food-TV in the prime time hours.  Guy Fieri and Triple-D is literally on all the time, and while he is certainly entertaining, I would love to see some other new Food Network Star veterans being given the opportunity to develop their brand.  For example, Jeff Mauro - or The Sandwich King - deserves some prime time exposure to develop what is arguably one of the best Points of View and new-brand shows to ever come out of the next Food Network Star.  It was the perfect niche with a great tagline - and the Food Network could certainly market a show on sandwiches - even several shows - with a big personality like Jeff the Sandwich King.

But he's buried in the Sunday morning line-up.  Just like Arti Party.

Either one of these shows could have developed into a more popular show given the right time slot.  But, while I turn the Food Network on regularly in the evenings, I rarely remember to flip on the TV on Sunday morning when I'm enjoying my breakfast, cup of coffee, and the Sunday paper.  It seems like Sunday morning would be a place you'd send a show to die - like a kill committee in Congress.  And why would the Food Network go to so much trouble to craft new shows around popular new culinary voices, and then stifle their opportunity to grow.  The Food Network should seriously consider giving the last Food Network Star - Jeff the Sandwich King - a slice of Guy Fieri's time.

Make sure the Food Network Star actually gets a chance to become a star.  Bring The Sandwich King to prime time.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Who Will Be the Next Food Network Star - 2012

On the show that brought us celebrities such as Guy Fierie and Jeff the Sandwich King, the Food Network premiered its latest season of Food Network Star - however, this time there is a twist.  Foodie icons Bobby Flay, Giada de Laurentiis, and Alton Brown have formed teams of five potential food stars, and they will compete against each other as they nurture their teams and individuals toward the ultimate prize - a show on the Food Network and status as the next Food Network Star.

Clearly, coming out of tonight's two hour premiere and competition, Bobby Flay has the most talented team with the greatest potential for victory.  Michelle - the spiky haired, nose-pierced, large personality - seems like an early frontrunner.  And it was evident from her initial interview with Bobby when she had the banter down, the ease in front of the camera, and the ability to flat out cook.  His team is skilled and confident and cool - all the qualities we'd expect from Team Bobby Flay.

Alton Brown's team was every bit as quirky as he is, and while they mostly seem to be eccentric chefs with a point of view, Alton also made the early mistake in his team choices, as his team member Christy was the first to be sent home.  And, that was the right choice, for she really had no clue what she wanted to be in front of the camera.  Sadly, she turned off the judges with her anger about America's poor nutritional health, but her idea - being "Fed Up" - was actually a great POV.  I can just imagine a more positive and free spirited personality being able to sell America on "being fed up with poor quality food and the belief that healthy can't be delicious."  She could have been the voice to say "Let's get Fed Up, America!  And let's make it taste great while we do."  Shame.

Giada clearly has the weakest team - and I was a little put off by her choices, as she seemed far more interested in being popular with her team than in leading them.  She seemed to pick the guys that fell all over her and wooed her ... and that was a little inappropriate.  Obviously, Josh almost left the show tonight, and will leave it very soon.  He is rather crass and somewhat cheesy, and I believe the only reason he made the team is because he seemed cool when he jumped up on the table.  Giada fell for some real cheap thrills with that one.  Hopefully, other team members can pick up the slack.

One interesting point from early in the show is Alton's statement that he is looking for a teacher's view.  He doesn't simply want cooks or personalities - he wants "a teacher ... someone to teach him how to cook."  In his auditions, he asked the applicants to "teach him to make Bananas Foster."  Truly, to be a Food Network Star, cooks have to be teachers, and they must have a teacher's view.  They must, in an engaging and enthusiastic manner, present information and skills in such a way that students will feel entertained and empowered - even inspired - to undertake a task they find intimidating.   That's the beauty of the Food Network Star, and that's the magic of a teacher's view.

For a more comprehensive view of the show, make sure to check out Matt's FoodNetworkGossip blog

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why Johnny Hates Football

Why might Johnny hate football?

It hurts?  It's dangerous?  It's no fun anymore?

The violence of football has taken center stage in an unprecedented way in the last year or so.  Between the lawsuits by former players alleging long-term disabilities to the suspensions related to the bounty program by the New Orleans Saints to the recent suicide of Junior Seau - who joins a list of former NFL players plagued by depression to the point of early death - football is in the crossfire for becoming our guiltiest of pleasures.  Watching incredibly large and athletic men smashing into each other intentionally at high speeds has replaced baseball as our national pastime.  But many cultural critics are having second thoughts.

The national dialogue is beginning to rise above the din of smashing shoulder pads, and many are questioning whether the sport has gone too far.  From Malcolm Gladwell and Buzz Bizzinger debating why college football should be ended to ESPN analysts discussing the issue almost nightly, the question of how to deal with our fascination with hard hits on the gridiron are becoming uncomfortable.  What to do about the violence?  How guilty should we be about our guiltiest pleasure?  We know it's a dangerous game, and we expect it to be.  But we like it, and these men are on the field by choice.  And, of course, despite the concerns raised by tragedies like Seau's suicide, aren't the majority of former NFL players functioning and as healthy or healthier than the general population?  Certainly, the analysts in the booth are not suffering from early onset dementia.  And some research has even asserted that former NFL players outlive and are healthier longer than the average man.  Could be.  Makes sense in many ways.

Most recently, John Kass of the Chicago Tribune weighed in with an indictment of the sport, claiming "U.S. football is doomed."  Kass wonders whether parents may begin asking, "Is football worth it for my child?"  At least one national sports analyst has stated publicly he will not let his son play football professionally, or, if I'm not mistaken, even beyond the high school level.  His professional gut tells him that the risk of playing football at the highest level is simply not worth it.  I know it's not a question for me.  While my son is athletic and quite successful in baseball, basketball, and running, he has shown no interest in football.  In fact, his youth hoops coach is also a football coach, and he's begged my son to play for a few years.  But we tell him, "Coach, he's not interested."  Our boy doesn't like getting bumped into and tackled.  Pushing in the lane for a rebound is enough for him.

And, I'm glad.  Having grown up in a soccer community, I was never that interested in football.  Though when my friends went out for football during high school I was tempted.  My mother had a fit, reminding me of a childhood friend who passed away at the age of twelve on the football field.  It can be that cruel of a sport.  And as kids get bigger and more athletic, it only gets more dangerous.  They are, it seems, as a friend once told me "our gladiators."  And, something about that makes me uneasy.  The pressure for success on the sports field has become a serious societal force.  And it's a key ingredient in why, more and more these days, "Johnny Hates Sport."  And that's sad because the athletic field is a source for so much good in the lives of young men.  Many great lessons can come from the football field, and we may have lost some of that as concerns about health rise.

Something has to give.  And it can't only be the helmet and shoulder pads.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Barefoot Running in Shoes

I run barefoot ... but I wear shoes while I do it.

Several years ago, I became fascinated by and caught up in the rise of barefoot running.  It was inspired - mostly - by the publication of Chris MacDougal's fascinating non-fiction narrative Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super-Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.  MacDougal's theories on and investigation into "barefoot running" was truly engaging investigative journalism on par with with the work of Eric Schlosser or Thomas Freidman.  And sales of Born to Run were aided by a timely and often-emailed New York Times article which also sang the praises of running "the natural way."

Until that time, I had gradually moved away from running and into more biking as I approached my forties and developed what the trainer at my school called bursitis, or more seriously a pre-arthritic knee. That didn't please me, but I had never been a passionate runner, and I truly enjoyed biking.  The problem with running was the mild discomfort behind the kneecap after a run, and the stiffness in the knee early in the morning, especially as I headed down the stairs.  I learned a few exercises and added the occasional rounds of MSM, glucosamine, and chondroitin to my vitamin regimen.  It was better in the summer and fall and worse during the winter and spring.  Of course, when I talked about running 5Ks and 10Ks like the BolderBoulder, our trainer shamed me with talk of his 85-year-old father speed walking the races.

And then I started reading Born to Run, and it made so much sense.  The anthropology and evolutionary biology behind his research was fascinating and convincing.  And the stories of the Stanford track team kicking off their complimentary Nikes during practice because they preferred running barefoot was intriguing.  Ultimately, the truth became clear - we've been running wrong.  Man is meant to run on the balls of his feet, but the rise of the running shoe industry had introduced the heel strike, which ultimately screws everything up.  In fact, our trainer even noted how my heel strike was contributing to my pain.  And we shouldn't have a heel strike.  If man is running naturally - like the way you would run if you were barefoot in the front yard and your toddler ran into the street in front of a car - he would be running on the balls of his feet.  It puts all the stress on the quads and the calves where it should be and completely off the knee joint where it shouldn't.

So, I began to change my gait.  And the knee soreness slowly faded away.

The rise of barefoot running has led to a new wave of products such as the Vibram Five-Finger Shoes.  And they are certainly popular.  Other shoes like the Merrells, Newtons, or various forms of Adidas offer a better running shoe style because they don't contain all the extra padding designed to offset heal strikes.  I'm personally a big fan of New Balance and always have been.  They work quite well for the barefoot runner.  It's not necessary if people are hitting on the middle to the balls of their feet and then lowering the heel to then push off with the calf for the next stride.  Ultimately, you should jog and run in the same gait that you sprint.  And no one sprints with a heel strike.

So, pick up Born to Run and give it some thought.  Then kick off the shoes, head out on the grass or a soft track, and give it a try.  It will definitely save your knees, if not your life.  And, in a teacher's view of running, it doesn't even matter if you keep your shoes on for your barefoot running.

Monday, May 7, 2012

National Charter Schools Week

Charter schools have been a fundamental force in education reform, especially in the last decade or so, and there is really no good argument against the model and its ability to effect change in many communities.  Thus, we should definitely take note of the rise of charter schools and praise the positive changes they have wrought.  And, of course there is no better time for a post on charter schools than this week which apparently - as I learned from Jay Greene's blog - has been named National Charter Schools Week.  This celebratory week is brought to us by the National Alliance for Public charter schools.  Of course, Jay Greene and the National Alliance clearly have a strong preference for charters, and many will criticize them for that bias.  However, the research on the success of charter schools - predominantly in urban areas - should not be discounted.  For, as always in a teacher's view, the point should be that "whatever works" is good policy.

Certainly, the randomized control trials (RCTs) have been quite revelatory in the benefits of charter schools, and they offer evidence to counter criticism of charters only succeeding by cherry-picking the best students.  Yet, that doesn't mean that charters don't continue to act and succeed based on the choices of motivated students.  That is, without doubt, the norm.  And there has been no example of a charter model being effectively applied to a neighborhood school whose students did not opt in to the model.  And, the case of Cole Middle School in Denver exemplifies the failure that results when that is attempted.  Despite the success of KIPP charters nationwide, the KIPP leaders and model failed when they were contracted to simply implement it in Cole.  And KIPP eventually backed out of Cole when the neighborhood rejected the model.  And, reform advocates must not discount the reality that only 20% of charters actually outperform neighborhood schools, while 20% perform worse.

However, the charter model has great value for the entire educational system.  A teacher's view of charters would simply evaluate the effectiveness and commit to the idea whenever applicable.  If a charter model is doing well, it should be expanded.  If hundreds of students more than a charter's capacity commit to it, then districts should simply find a way to let them in.   Let the kids go where they want, and open the model in a new building - even in a school-within-a-school model if necessary.  Just allow the opportunity to succeed.  There's no argument against that.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Vocational Education Finally Gets Some National Press

In the tidal wave of attention paid to college these days - from college readiness to debates about the college-for-all mentality that is wreaking havoc public education - a few voices have been singing the praises and trying to promote a rational return to vocational ed for quite a while now.  Despite the misguided views of the Department of Education and Bill Gates, not everyone needs a four-year liberal arts bachelor's degree, even though higher education is not necessarily a bad idea for anyone.  Now, the issue may get some much needed national dialogue since Time Magazine has thrown the spotlight on it with the article Learning That Works by Joe Klein.

Among the more interesting points is the exciting developments in Career and Technical Education in Arizona.  From what Joe Klein sees, Arizona is leading the nation in developing career education through business-school partnerships, much in the tradition of the apprentice/guild model of old.  Arizona's stories of teaming school districts with local businesses is a success story in truly preparing students for the workforce, even as they hold on to the academics that people worry about when they cautiously discuss CTE.  Other insights from the article include revelations about careers and earning potential - for example, welders can make as much as $48/hour, and auto mechanics trained in computer science and automotive technology can be in demand to the tune of $100K/year.  Clearly, schools owe it to their students to put this information on the table.

A great follow-up to the idea of CTE, if you have never read it, is Matt Crawford's insightful treatise Shopcraft as Soulcraft.  At least that's a teacher's view of vocational education.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Should College Football Be Banned?

On numerous occasions - and blog posts - I've discussed and debated the ethical conundrum that is college football.  Particularly, issues of paying athletes and concerns about abysmal graduation rates and tax exempt status for universities based on an educational mission have taken center stage.  Now, as the national discussion heats up regarding the increasingly violent and dangerous nature of the NFL - coinciding with an incredibly rise in popularity - the issue has become prominent enough to generate serious discussion in American cultural circles.  To that end, Slate Magazine will be hosting a public event on May 8, when "Ideas Guru" Malcolm Gladwell and sports chronicler Buzz Bizzinger will debate the issue of "banning college football" with a couple sports columnists and former athletes who will defend the sport as integral to the culture of higher education.

Gladwell's interview highlights many important points in this debate, not the least of which is the violent gladitorial nature of the sport contrasting and conflicting with the general culture of academic achievement.  Certainly, it has become difficult to look past the weak excuses that university athletic programs have become when considering graduation rates of college football and basketball players.  And, while I have never been a supporter of paying college athletes, there is certainly some credence to the argument that these young men are simply hired entertainers who generate incredible revenue for their host schools.  In fact, Jose Nocera of the New York Times recently opined that perhaps college athletes - or at least athletes in the big two sports - should simply be allowed the opportunity to simply "major in football."  It's actually not a crazy idea - or at least not as crazy as it appears on the surface.

Clearly, college football is at its heart a big business, and the issue of providing an authentic college experience based on learning to work as a team and be a disciplined professional is nothing but a smokescreen that sports proponents use to defend an almost indefensible system whereby colleges and universities rake in huge revenue and prestige by showcasing the physical talents of a few young men on Saturday afternoons.  And, the organizations claim tax exempt status based on an educational mission that is obviously not the priority of the young men or the athletic departments.  However, the system is so massive and ingrained, it will be tough to rattle from its moorings.

Can't wait to hear the arguments Gladwell and Bizzinger are going to generate.