Monthly Archives: September 2012

NBC puts education front and center

NBC is airing its third annual rendition of Education Nation, an ambitious exploration of what needs to improve — and what’s getting better — in American schools.

The network has been highlighting its findings across all its media platforms: broadcast TV, cable and the Internet.

A key event was a three-day summit in New York City, bringing together education experts, politicians and journalists. Here’s a good summary of what went on, from PBS’s John Merrow:

For me, the absolute hit of the two days was the 65 minutes on Monday morning devoted to “Brain Power: Why Early Learning Matters.” We were treated to four snappy, insightful and short presentations by professors from the University of Washington, UC Berkeley and Harvard, after which NBC’s chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, presided over a lively discussion about the educational implications of what we had just seen and experienced.

This hit home with many audience members because much of it was new and because the pedagogy modeled what all of us are arguing for in today’s schools.

As part of the project, the network is shining a spotlight on 10 schools or communities that are marking successes with innovative approaches to teaching — for example, an Arizona charter school’s approach to digital technology.

See NBC’s multimedia presentations about these 10 success stories here.

Tom Brokaw narrates a good overview of the NBC project here.

Kudos to the network for taking this important subject so seriously and for searching for answers as well as pointing out problems.

Check out the Education Nation website here.


Companies tap retirees as volunteers

Jackie Norris, Points of Light Corporate Institute
Source: SUNY Geneseo

More and more corporations are setting up volunteer programs for their retirees.

According to the New York Times, the programs offer retired folks a “ready-made placement service” and give the corporations opportunities for benefits such philanthropy, good will, and tax breaks. The non-profits that reap the volunteer services get the benefit of much-needed “trained and vetted expertise.”

“For a company, it’s not just the charitable thing to do, it’s also the opportunity to have a great group of brand ambassadors out there in the local community to build good will,” Jackie Norris, executive director of the nonprofit Points of Light Corporate Institute tells the Times.

Read more about this growing trend and see a list of websites that help retirees find volunteer opportunities here.

Trolling for reading tutors in corporate America

Dan Weisberg holds forth to attorneys and staff at DLA Piper in Miami.

Office workers: Can you give a half an hour of your time once a week to make a tremendous change in a child’s life?

That’s the pitch Dan Weisberg has been making in Washington, D.C., and Miami, asking professionals from major companies to volunteer for IFL’s TutorMate® program. IFL is looking for hundreds of people to commit to a weekly appointment, using a phone and computer screen, with a young student struggling to learn to read.

Weisberg, IFL’s national director of corporate alliances, conducted a meeting for about 24 people on Friday at the National Geographic Society in Washington.

He was aided by top staffers from the D.C. Public Schools, including Josephine Bias Robinson, who heads the district’s Office of Family and Public Engagement. The district is hoping to line up 500 tutors for this school year.

Robinson said the district has tried out a lot of programs — but IFL’s, which combines computer technology and one-and-one tutoring to raise reading skills in first-graders, stands out. She called it a “literacy solution in a box.”

The next day she wrote in an email that the district’s chancellor, Kaya Henderson, considers the program to be the “gold standard.”

On Tuesday, Weisberg took his pitch to two major law firms in downtown Miami: Greenberg Taurig LLP and DLA Piper.

Nikolai Vitti, Miami Dade Public Schools

At Greenberg, he got help from Nikolai Vitti, the Miami Dade Public Schools’ chief academic officer, who said he’d been bowled over by the good sense of the tutoring program.

“It’s usually hard to get people to volunteer in the schools because of their schedules and the Miami traffic,” Vitti said. “And when I saw this program, I thought it was a terrific way to go. It’s practical and efficient.”

The Miami Dade schools hope to be using IFL tutors in 30 classrooms in nine schools this year. In each classroom, teachers will select 10 students, those needing the extra help,  for tutoring — 300 students needing tutors in all.

Why 10 students per class? It’s easy for a teacher to single out two students per day for a 30-minute session, over a five-day week, without disturbing the rest of classroom instruction.

Weisberg’s plan is recruit at least 20 workers per company, but 10 will do in a pinch.  At most of the participating firms, management has agreed to let workers use company time to tutor.

“If the 10 tutors come from the same organization, so much the better,” Weisberg says. “The organization thus ‘adopts’ the classroom and feels like they have a shared investment in that room’s success.  Also, they can visit the room together at the end of the school year for a ‘Meet and Greet’ celebration with the kids.  This is a great team-building, morale-boosting event for employees.”

Weisberg tells his audiences, “We don’t recruit high school students, we don’t recruit retirees. This is a program for people who are working and who want to give something back to the community.” It’s specifically designed for people who don’t have a lot of time in the hours of a school day, yet want to do volunteer work.

Besides the drive for recruits in D.C. and Miami, IFL hopes to line up 750 tutors in Chicago and 350 in Seattle for this school year. The organization is looking for smaller numbers of tutors in New York, Los Angeles, Oakland and Denver.

Here’s a video that shows TutorMate in action.

“You have to work harder and smarter and develop new skills faster”

Source: AP

Thomas Friedman has a  strong column in Sunday’s New York Times about the growing need, not just for people to become educated, but to continuously re-educate themselves.

The “old world is gone,” Friedman writes. “It is now a more open system. Technology and globalization are wiping out lower-skilled jobs faster, while steadily raising the skill level required for new jobs. More than ever now, lifelong learning is the key to getting into, and staying in, the middle class.”

He adds, “If we ever get another stimulus it has to focus, in part, on getting more people more education. The unemployment rate today is 4.1 percent for people with four years of college, 6.6 percent for those with two years, 8.8 percent for high school graduates, and 12.0 percent for dropouts.”

Want to succeed today? “You have to work harder and smarter and develop new skills faster.”

If today’s adults are finding it harder than ever to keep up with the modern-day workplace, think of the disadvantages facing today’s kids who are unable to read. How much less prepared will they be for the world that’s taking shape?

At a time when much of the electorate is focused on budget-cutting, we can’t lose sight of how crucial it is that our kids can read — and that they thereby have some fighting chance in today’s America.

Read Friedman’s column here.



Re-thinking required reading

Does reading the classics help to create lifelong readers?  Maybe not.

“The more satisfying reading is for kids, the more likely they are to continue reading as adults,” says Alleen Pace Nilsen, author of Literature for Today’s Young Adults, in the Chicago Tribune.

“They’re more likely to read with their children, more likely to take their children to libraries and more likely to view reading with long-term affection.”

The Tribune reports that a small but growing number of educators are pushing for more contemporary young-adult literature to be taught in high school English classes.

Creating lifelong readers requires more than simply introducing students to traditionally important works, Paul W. Hankins, an English teacher in Indiana, told the Tribune’s Heidi Stevens.

“It can’t be about converting reading into points,” he said. “Read this and pass this test and earn points. What we want is a reading conversation.”

Read the whole article here. (registration may be required)

National Teacher of Year offers lessons for newbies


With the school year getting underway, the 2012 National Teacher of the Year has some thoughts for new teachers.

Rebecca Mieliwocki, a seventh-grade English teacher from California, shares her pointers at  Read it here.

Our favorite:  “Collaborate like crazy. Great teachers are social, reflective, proud but not egotistical and always open to improvement.”

Sharpened new pencils are so 20th Century

Source: Griffin, via Fox News

Bulky backpacks? Textbooks that double as dead weights?

They’re being challenged by new technologies — gadgets such as the Powerbag, which will charge your smartphone, e-Reader and tablet while you’re in social studies.

Here’s a quick back-to-school checklist, courtesy of Fox News, on how the up-to-date student gets equipped for class in 2012.

See TeacherMate in action in Rwanda

Here’s a portrait of TeacherMate in action.

An organization called Edify, which says its mission is to “improve and expand sustainable affordable Christ-centered education in the developing world,” is using TeacherMate in a school in Rwanda.

The Imena Preparatory School has been using TeacherMate since June.

Gates Bryant, Edify’s director of education partnerships, recently sent us this update:

“TeacherMate has been an integral tool for setting up learning-centers within the classroom – effectively driving down the teacher:student ratio and providing a structure for more individual/small group attention.  We are cautiously optimistic about the pilot at this point and are looking forward to seeing post-test results in November. “

Edify produced this terrific video to show what’s happening at the Imena school:

Edify is now training teachers to use TeacherMate in two schools in Ghana.  It hopes to expand to more schools in Ghana and to start a TeacherMate pilot in the Dominican Republic.


Thanks for finding us.Executive Director

Our aim at Innovations for Learning is to make literacy education more effective and truly universal.  We develop technologies that excite students and extend the reach of teachers. And we create pools of  volunteers whose part-time efforts make real differences in young children’s lives.

This blog we’re launching has four main purposes:

  • To provide updates on our activities across the country and around the globe
  • To shine a spotlight on other individuals and organizations who are leaders in education innovation
  • To amplify the voices of those writing and speaking about positive change in education
  • To provide a window into the passion of many hundreds of people that have joined forces with us, either as volunteers, teachers, administrators, parents, staff, or supporters

Every person has a story. Multiple stories.

This blog is an invitation to story telling, with the purpose of engaging a worldwide community in the story we are most passionate about: how to improve education through new ideas.

What is your story? We are eager to hear it.

— Seth Weinberger
Founder and Executive Director

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