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“Long-overdue technological revolution” under way in education: The Economist


A revolution is under way:

At its heart is the idea of moving from “one-size-fits-all” education to a more personalised approach, with technology allowing each child to be taught at a different speed, in some cases by adaptive computer programs, in others by “superstar” lecturers of one sort or another, while the job of classroom teachers moves from orator to coach: giving individual attention to children identified by the gizmos as needing targeted help.

In theory the classroom will be “flipped”, so that more basic information is supplied at home via screens, while class time is spent embedding, refining and testing that knowledge (in the same way that homework does now, but more effectively).

The promise is of better teaching for millions of children at lower cost—but only if politicians and teachers embrace it.

So says The Economist in its current issue.

The British-based news weekly takes a global look at what its headline writer calls “e-ducation.” What it finds is mostly hopeful. (“Used properly, edtech offers both the struggling and the brilliant a route to higher achievement. The point is to maximise the potential of every child.”)

But it also notes that “edtech will boost inequality in the short term, because it will be taken up most enthusiastically by richer schools, especially private ones, while underfunded state schools may struggle to find the money to buy technology that would help poorer students catch up.”

[That passage underscores the importance of  Innovations for Learning’s mission: We work in America’s largest urban — read “cash-strapped” — school districts as a nonprofit seeking to make tech-based education in the primary grades as available as possible.]

It’s an excellent overview, showing the impact of a phenomenon that has started in America and spreading across the world. It’s well worth your time.  Here’s the full version.

Illustration: The Economist


Gallup leader: To improve schools, build on strengths

Most of the talk about American education has it backwards.

We are way spending too much time and attention focusing on the negative.  If we want to move our schools forward, we have to start playing to our strengths.

So says the head of Gallup’s education work, Brandon Busteed.

“Gallup has spent decades studying the behaviors of the most successful Americans,” Busteed writes in the Huffington Post.

“Among our biggest findings is this: No one ever became successful trying to fix his or her weaknesses. In fact, successful people do the exact opposite; they spend their time building their strengths, trying to become great where they are already good.”

Gallup has found that confidence in America’s public schools is at an all-time low of 29 percent in 2012, a plunge from the high of 58 percent in 1973.

Americans used to talk about their schools as the best in the world, and with good reason, Busteed writes. But now we focus more on the system’s weaknesses, criticizing teachers, pointing to gaps in test scores, complaining about scant resources.

It’s gotten so bad that we have popularized a term for what we’re doing right now, calling it an “education reform movement.” Reform may be one of the least inspiring and least motivating words in the English language. And we’ve attached it to our education system.

What should we do instead?

We need to spend every moment of our time focusing on — and replicating — what makes our schools and colleges great. For example, the best teachers are great at seeing each and every student as unique, getting to know him or her, and caring about what makes each learner tick. They build relationships with their students and their students’ families and communities.

Nothing about standardized testing, for example, enables that. And yet, all of our focus on fixing education in the U.S. today revolves around standardized testing and trying to fill students’ knowledge deficits.

Busteed points out that Gallup polls show that only 1 percent of Americans give public schools a grade of A. But when asked to grade the school their oldest child attends, 37 percent give those schools an A.

“This disparity has amazingly helpful and hopeful implications,” he says. “When we know our schools and our teachers, we like them because we are able to see all that is good about them. When we think about education more generally, we tend to focus on what we’ve heard about what’s wrong.”

As an example, Busteed takes a look at New Technology High School in Napa, Calif. It’s a place that puts the emphasis on technology and project-based learning. Teachers make the effort to find out a student’s strengths and passions, then assign students to teams to work on projects meant to get the most out of those attributes.

“We each have a unique set of talents,” Busteed writes. “America is strong in more than 311 million ways. Let’s not try to fix weaknesses. We are allowing weaknesses to get in the way of our strengths. The second we start thinking of America as a strengths-based nation is the second we start winning again.”

Read Busteed’s refreshing essay here.


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.

“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.

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