Just when you thought Presidential expectations could not be lower, Mr. Bush announced “Childrens Do Learn.”

“As yesterday’s positive report card shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured,” he said.

Riding on the coattails of CBS’ new program, Kid Nation, I’ve been mulling about ideas for my very own “reality” show about education.

Read the complete article here from The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate.

OK, once again I’ll be the skunk at the garden party.

Lots of people, including David Warlick and Wes Fryer, are all sorts of excited about the latest web-based tool, Animoto. Animoto takes a pile of digital images, runs them through a seizure-inducing random sequence of transitions and cheesy late-night television infomercial video effects and places a generic “techno” soundtrack underneath. With the click of the mouse you have created an incredibly annoying piece of content-free eye-candy. Voila!

Animoto is undoubtedly a cool piece of programming, but my head will explode if someone tells me that it has educational value (you know because it has everything – 1) It’s easy 2) It’s free and 3) It’s on the Web.) Neil Postman (author of Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business) must be rolling over in his grave.

The power of digital video is in democratizing publishing and providing a potentially infinite audience for your thoughts. It’s a medium newly available to layfolks. Eliminating the learner and learning from the creative process, just because you can, worries me.

David Warlick’s post about Animoto offers some caution about the tool’s appropriate use, but then he goes on to suggest that his daughter use it “to get attention — generate some curriosity (sic).” Will 30 seconds of video really help? Why must we be entertained at all times? How much time should a teacher spend setting up the classroom hardware so that the “lesson” may be opened up with an Animoto video?

Animoto lets you create meaningless PowerPoint-like slideshows without all of that pesky, editing, creativity or thinking. I won’t even mention the discipline, knowledge and sense of history required of artistic expression. Did I mention that Animoto is easy, free and on the web?

Hey, maybe I’m wrong. The Animoto web site tells me that Steven Seagal is a user.

Note: I wrote the article below two years ago. In light of Eli Broad’s takeover of the United States government and Kanye West’s latest outrage, I thought it was worth another look. It’s just too bad that Barack Obama is willing to take policy advice from the friend of a jackass.





Bill Gates and Eli Broad can’t revolutionize public education alone. They need a posse. Realizing that they needed to appeal to more than billionaires and ex-Governors Ed in ’08 teamed up with another education policy expert, rapper Kanye West.

You may have heard by now that bad boy billionaires, Bill Gates and Eli Broad, are kicking it together. They invested $60 million (lunch money) in the Strong American Schools Project, also known as ED in ’08. They hope that this charitable non-profit organization “will catapult the need for improved public education to the top of the 2008 presidential candidates’ agendas.”(Heszenhorn, 2007) One can hardly criticize an effort to get presidential candidates discussing critical education issues, but it is unclear if Gates and Broad should be steering the agenda.

It is disingenuous that Gates and Broad are investing $60 million just to inspire spirited debate.

“One complication, however, is that ED in 08, isn’t just pushing candidates to have some real education agenda; it also wants them to support a specific trio of policies: more learning time for students, common academic standards across states, and tying teacher pay to things like subject specialty, performance, and working in high-poverty schools.” (Education_Sector, 2007)

Gates and Broad have very specific educational beliefs and track records in American schools. Gates pushes small schools while Broad is much more pernicious in the way he spends money to influence urban education policy.

“He says urban public schools are failing and must adopt methods from business to succeed, such as competition, accountability based on “measurables,” and unhampered management authority—all focusing on the bottom line of student achievement, as measured by standardized tests.

Broad wants to create competition by starting publicly funded, privately run charter schools, to enforce accountability by linking teacher pay to student test scores, and to limit teachers’ say in curriculum and transfer decisions.”(Mcintosh, 2007)

These efforts can have a negative impact on the quality of education they hope to improve. In the new book, Letters to a Young Teacher, Jonathan Kozol points out how the small school movement is exacerbating school segregation and suggests that Gates spend his money offering incentives for suburban districts to welcome urban students, complete with transportation.(Kozol, 2007) Classroom teachers and school administrators know well how the calls for business models, accountability and standardized testing has turned schools too many schools into joyless sweatshops.

Broad runs academies in which he “trains” school principals and superintendents, presumably like you would train seals if you wanted them to use Excel and focus on “measurables.”

Does Mr. Broad really want schools run with the virtues found in real estate development, the field where he made his money? How much low-income housing has Broad built? Real estate quality has as much to do with school quality as any other factor. Have Broad’s companies received tax abatements as incentives for development? If so, that money comes directly out of the tax base funding public schools.

Politicians are already programmed to say, “We need to pay teachers more, but hold them accountable.” They say that in their sleep. Gates and Broad are already victorious, except for privatizing public schools.

Gather the Peeps

Gates and Broad can’t revolutionize public education alone. They need a posse. Who better to hire to direct their efforts than Governor Roy Romer? Romer was so effective as the Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District that upon his retirement the district replaced him with someone possessing no qualifications whatsoever.

Realizing that they needed to appeal to more than billionaires and ex-Governors Ed in ’08 teamed up with another education policy expert, rapper Kanye West. In between drinking Cristal, feuding with 50 Cent and busting mad rhymes, West has had time to formulate a profound educational insight. Kids should go to school. Frankly, he may have spent more time creating his post-Katrina statement, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.”

Here’s some more wisdom from Mr. West…

We breakin’ up again,

We makin’ up again,

but we dont love no more,

I guess we f**kin’ then.

Have you ever felt you ever want to kill her,

and you mix them emotions with tequilla.

And you mix that wit’ a little bad advice,

on one of them bad nights.

Yall have a bad fight,

and you talkin’ bout her family her aunts and sh#t.

And she say, “Muhf**ka yo mama’s a b^tch!”

You know, domestic drama and sh@t.

All the attitude.

I’ll never hit a girl, but I’ll shake the sh&t outta’ you.

But imma’ be the bigger man.

Big pimpin like jigga man. (Lyrics from Bittersweet by Kanye West)

We Need More Leaders like Kanye West

I just received an email from Ed in ’08 Executive Director Mark Lamkin with the subject “Kanye West Gets It.”

“Sunday night I watched Kanye West’s killer performance on the MTV video music awards, and now I’m watching the number of views climb for his new public service announcement for us here at the ED in 08 campaign.

Kanye West has made it. He has achieved the kind of success in his chosen field that we all wish we could achieve, and with a new album dropping today, he isn’t showing any sign of slowing down.” (Press release email from Ed in ’08 – September 13, 2007)


In a 2007 tirade riddled with expletives, Kanye said he should have won the prize for his video “Touch The Sky,” because it “cost a million dollars, Pamela Anderson was in it. I was jumping across canyons. If I don’t win, the awards show loses credibility,” Kanye said. (AP)

That Kanye West is quite the role model.

Wow! We educators sure are lucky to have an infantile, petulant and misogynistic rapper on our team. I guess that’s how Gates and Broad roll.

I guess the best we can hope for is that Gates, Broad and West will pop a cap in TAKS scores.

Put your hands in the air and wave ‘em like you just don’t care!


Sidebar: Read what Diane Ravitch, member of the Koret Task Force of the Hoover Institute and former Reagan Asst. Secretary of Education has to say about The Broad Prize.


References:

Education_Sector. (2007). Schwarzenegger speaks. Schwarzenegger speaks. Retrieved May 4, 2007, from http://www.quickanded.com/2007/05/schwarzenneger-speaks.html.

Heszenhorn, D. M. (2007, 4/25/07). Billionaires start $60 million schools effort. New York Times, p. 21.

Kozol, J. (2007). Letters to a young teacher. NY: Crown.

Mcintosh, D. (2007). Schools “Broad” Agenda. Schools “Broad” Agenda. Retrieved 32.26, from http://www.wweek.com/editorial/3226/7507/.

Originally published Thursday, September 13, 2007 in The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate
By Gary S. Stager, Ph.D

Originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of District Administration Magazine

A challenge for school leaders
By Gary Stager

There’s some serious thought behind the Frappuccino. It is no accident that people are willing to pay over four bucks for a cup of joe and that the average Starbucks customer visits eighteen times per month. Ever see a Starbucks go out of business? Of course not. Starbucks has grown from 1,000 to 13,000 stores in a decade, with 27,000 more planned for the next five years.

Starbucks is an unqualified success. Right? Not so, according to a corporate memo sent by founder and CEO Howard Schultz on February 14:

Over the past ten years, in order to achieve the growth, development, and scale necessary to go from less than 1,000 stores to 13,000 stores and beyond, we have had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have led to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, what some might call the commoditization of our brand.

Many of these decisions were probably right at the time, and on their own merit would not have created the dilution of the experience; but in this case, the sum is much greater and, unfortunately, much more damaging than the individual pieces. For example, when we went to automatic espresso machines, we solved a major problem in terms of speed of service and efficiency. At the same time, we overlooked the fact that we would remove much of the romance and theatre that was in play with the use of the La Marzocca machines. This specific decision became even more damaging when the height of the machines … blocked the visual sight line the customer previously had to watch the drink being made, and for the intimate experience with the barista.

Schultz also complained about the stores feeling “sterile and cookie cutter” like, losing “the warm feel of the neighborhood.” Starbucks’ merchandise is “more art than science,” he said. The menu addition of hot breakfast sandwiches has allowed cheese to burn in the oven and overpower the essential aroma of fresh coffee.

Such attention to detail is the reason customers love Starbucks. Schultz based the company on a desire to combine gourmet coffee with Italian café culture. Starbucks stores are your “third place.” There’s home, work and Starbucks. It’s the American pub. Their products are carefully designed to tell a story about lifestyle or the exotic lands where your drink originated. Their motto is that “geography is a flavor.”

This scenario has everything to do with the state of public education. The change in course Schultz advocates acknowledges that the attempts by Starbucks to homogenize, or in school parlance, “teacher-proof,” their processes for short-term gains may have destructive long-term consequences. Is our quest for multiple-choice miracles and reduction of children into aggregated data destroying the educational experience? If so, what will you say in the memo to your “partners”? What is your school’s story?

Since 2004, 25,000 “partners” have graduated from an optional Coffee Master course in which they learn to discern the subtleties of regional flavor with rituals similar to wine tasting. Distinctive aprons and business cards honor their learned expertise. How many teachers in your district have business cards?

Schultz stated boldly that Starbucks’ “problems are self-induced” and that success is “not an entitlement.” He concluded, “I take full responsibility myself, but we desperately need to look into the mirror and realize it’s time to get back to the core and make the changes necessary to evoke the heritage, the tradition, and the passion that we all have for the true Starbucks experience.”

Will you have the courage to lead a change in course, or will the stench of burnt cheese waft through your corridors?


Dr. Gary S. Stager, gary@stager.org, is senior editor of District Administration Magazine and editor of The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate.


Legendary author and child advocate, Jonathan Kozol, explains to The Huffington Post why he is fasting over No Child Left Behind.

This morning, I am entering the 67th day of a partial fast that I began early in the summer as my personal act of protest at the vicious damage being done to inner-city children by the federal education law No Child Left Behind, a racially punitive piece of legislation that Congress will either renew, abolish, or, as thousands of teachers pray, radically revise in the weeks immediately ahead…

…The only member of the Democratic leadership I have been unable to get through to is the influential chairman of the education panel, Senator Ted Kennedy, who, one of his colleagues told me flatly, will ultimately “call the shots” on this decision. I’ve asked the senator three times if he’ll talk with me. Each time, I have run into a cold stone wall. This has disappointed me, and startled me, because the senator has been a friend to me in years gone by and has asked for my ideas on education on a number of occasions in the decades since I was a youthful teacher and he was a youthful politician.

Read Kozol’s open letter: Why I am Fasting: An Explanation to My Friends

You may also read my two interviews with Mr. Kozol at:

Jonathan Kozol Takes on the World (January 2006)
Jonathan Kozol Speaks Out (September 2000)

Isn’t it time that we all spoke out?

The gentle giant is schooled on schooling.

One-on-one, Shaq is no match for the lunch lady!

Read my current column for District Administration Magazine here.


What if we could stop wasting our money on crap and really improve education?

Originally published in The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate

I nearly forgot that it was Labor Day until I walked into my local office supply superstore and was assaulted with memories of back-to-school shopping. As a kid, getting new cartoon pencils or bookcovers reduced the horror associated with another school year. As a parent, I resented buying materials the public school should provide and wasted too many brain cells trying to remember if “Trapper Keepers” were required or banned this year. The hole in my wallet resulted from satisfying the fetishes of teachers who (it seemed) each required a different color of ink, or no ink at all. Why should I have to remember which teacher required a spiral-bound notebook and which one required a looseleaf? Oh yeah, last year’s metal looseleaf binder is now verboten because a kid in Omaha figured out how to turn it into a radio so he could listen to the World Series during class.

Why must we engage in this orgy of consumerism?

Well, we don’t have to.

I know some of you must be thinking, “But Dr. Stager, how can my child possibly take a job away from an Indian student without my investment in glitter pens?”

We could work smarter and buy every schoolchild in America a personal laptop computer. The laptop is the protean device. At the most primitive level it’s crayons and pens and paint and calculator and notebook and index cards and protractor all in one package. However, the laptop performs all the functions of those tools better and in combinations previously impossible. The sum of the parts is greater than the value of the parts themselves.

Most importantly, traditional school supplies do nothing to make school more relevant or modernize the learning experience for today’s students. Pens, papers and notebooks reinforce educational practices of a bygone era and don’t require teachers to rethink their practice. Ubiquitous computing has the potential to change everything. With the money spent on school supplies why wouldn’t we at least try to make schools better?

You ask, “But Dr. Stager, doesn’t a laptop cost even more than a pair of sneakers?” Yes, a bit, but in most school districts a laptop costs less than your kid playing football (not including personnel costs). It has long been the case that the cost of a full-function multimedia Toshiba or Apple laptop – including bag, insurance and extended warranty – costs less per month, per student, than the cost of a trombone rental. We have long valued the investment in a musical instrument and schools know how to provide an instrument for a child who can’t afford it.

At the recent EDUCOMM Conference, Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation President & Founder Bruce Dixon presented a vision of how the complete student laptop package can cost less than $20/student per month today. I’ve long proposed that states could offer generous tax credits for parents who buy their children a laptop and relieve schools of the burden of being in the computer business.

Think I’m crazy? According to the National Retail Federation, Families with school-age children will spend an average of $563.49 on back-to-school merchandise – $18.4 billion in total. That’s the equivalent of between 18-20 million full-featured student laptops at current retail prices, before a volume discount. The National Retail Federation reports that the average student will spend $94.02 on school supplies. Add the cost of a calculator and the One Laptop Per Child Computer is paid for immediately. Chuck a few textbooks and we actually save money. Since laptop costs are usually amortized across three to four years, we could revolutionize education by next year’s back-to-school.


Photo by Vlada Lazerien – http://flickr.com/photos/alvarez/434514751/ – Creative Commons Non-commercial, attribution & no derivative works license.

The sessions I have selected to present explore the use of computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression. I will share video-based examples of students from 5-adult learning in remarkable ways with computational material and encourage you to reflect upon your own practice.

It is my sincere desire to add a unique voice and perspective to the important discussions about to commence in Shanghai. I look forward to learning with all of you.

Ten Things to Do with a Laptop – Learning and Powerful Ideas
A paper entitled, “Twenty Things to Do with a Computer,” was published in 1971 by Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon. Few of today’s schools, with or without laptops, satisfy the goals of that thirty-five year-old document. This keynote invokes the challenging vision of the earlier document, updates it and presents ideas for using laptops in ways that offer unprecedented learning adventures across K-12 and various subject areas. A broader vision of using computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression is equally appropriate for educators with one or one hundred computers in their classroom.

Way Beyond Web 2.0
Blogging is undoubtedly cool and has captured the imagination of many educators. It can even be an effective classroom tool. However, the irrational exuberance granted blogging and other Web 2.0 tools perpetuates the dominant view that computers are best used for research purposes and that learning is about information. This misunderstands the nature of learning and underestimates the potential of computing in the intellectual and creative development of children. Such thinking deprives students of rich opportunities to construct modern knowledge in a wide variety of domains. We must explore a more expansive role of computers in areas such as math, science and the arts where learning opportunities abound yet elude far too many children.

We best serve our students when we teach them how to solve problems we can’t even anticipate. This presentation will illustrate how the web may be used for rich authentic intellectual inquiry in order to solve sophisticated problems in an increasingly complex world. Teachers will be inspired to look for such opportunities in their daily lives and demonstrate how a good prompt or interesting observation can lead to sophisticated thinking. Recommended software environments will be demonstrated along with strategies for getting a greater return on investment out of school technology. Examples from actual K-12 classrooms will be shared. Bring your laptop to join in the learning adventure!

Papert Matters – Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas
Seymour Papert, often referred to as the “father of educational technology,” is arguably one of the most important thinkers of the past half-century. His work and ideas influenced Jean Piaget as well as the fields of artificial intelligence, computer science, mathematics, educational computing, learning and school reform. On a tangible level, Logo, LEGO robotics, constructionism, the $100 laptop, Hypercard, Squeak, Scratch, laptops for Maine students and many of the best ideas in educational technology were shaped by Papert’s vision of children constructing modern knowledge. This session presents just a few of Professor Papert’s most powerful ideas about children, computers and learning through his own words and rarely seen video. The presenter worked closely for Dr. Papert and was the principal investigator on his most recent institutional learning project. Educators new to Papert’s theories will be challenged to think deeper about learning. Veteran educators will be inspired to reinvigorate their practice and challenge the status quo.

On November 14-16, 2007 I will be speaking at The Learning 2.0 Conference in Shanghai, China. Alan November, Jamie McKenzie, Will Richardson, Wesley Fryer, Chris Smith and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach are also on the program.

The following is some information about me for people who might attend my presentations.

About Gary Stager, Ph.D.
Occupation: Teacher educator, journalist, speaker, educational consultant, editor, professor, Executive Director of The Constructivist Consortium
Turn-ons: Expertise, people committed to making the world a better place for children, social justice, jazz, NFL football, Aussie Rules football, robotics, programming, politics, passion, constructionism, books
Turn-offs: Standardized testing, empty rhetoric, adult non-learners, technology standards, doing nothing, instructionism
Clients: Disney, Universal Studios, Apple, Toshiba, Microsoft, LEGO, LCSI, Tom Snyder Productions, FableVision, Claris, Victoria (Australia) Department of Education and Training
Proudest achievement: Being part of the production team that won the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Recording of the Year: The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project – Simpåtico

Computers not only offer opportunities for children to learn things that we have always wanted them to learn, perhaps with greater efficiency, efficacy or even comprehension, but their real power lies in providing productive contexts for learning things that were impossible to learn just a few years ago. Computers are the material with which learners may construct modern knowledge.

Over the past twenty-five years I’ve been fortunate that hard-work and intuition have allowed me to be at the right place at the right time.

I first learned to program in 1976 as a 7th grader and led computer clubs and after-school workshops throughout high school. Then it was off to Berklee College of Music where I hoped to develop as a jazz musician. In 1982, I created one of the first computer camp programs for kids anywhere. Within a year I was leading professional development for teachers and soon after that I was the Director of Professional Development for a consortium of 150 computer-using school districts. I led and organized hundreds of teacher workshops and chaired the first seven New Jersey Educational Computing Conferences.

In 1985, I attended my first two Logo conferences, at Pepperdine University in California and at MIT. I was blown away by the level of creativity, passion, intellect and embrace of newcomers I found within the thriving Logo community. It was around that time that I first met Dr. Seymour Papert and I began consulting with Logo Computer Systems. Soon after LEGO TC Logo was released in 1986, I became one of LEGO’s consultants and evangelists. I led hundreds of robotics workshops for teachers and helped design subsequent products. Around 1989-1990 I helped the Scarsdale, NY Public Schools develop a collaborative online creative environment for project-work built in LogoExpress, a version of Logo that allowed collaboration via dial-up modem. (My first modem was purchased in 1983 and I was a member of Compuserve and Applelink for years until Apple sent us a bill for a bazillion dollars.) It may be Web 2.0 to others, but it’s like Web 25 to me.

In 1990, a boyhood dream was realized when I traveled to Sydney, Australia in order to present a paper at the World Conference on Computers in Education (I’ve since presented papers at the past for WCCEs). Many of my Logo friends (Seymour Papert, Brian Silverman, Mitchell Resnick and Steve Ocko) were also in Sydney for WCCE. Alan Kay was the opening keynote and Papert closed the conference. This was very heady stuff for the kid from Jersey.

I met great Aussie educators who knew of my work via The Logo Exchange and other publications. I count many of these people as my best friends to this very day. A multi-day pre-conference workshop prior to WCCE featured students and teachers from two Australian schools where every student had a personal laptop computer. This was extraordinary since I was a computing professional and neither I nor any of my colleagues owned their own laptops. The “laptop schools” embraced the technology as a way of turning schooling inside out and the best vehicle for realizing the ideals of Papert and other progressive educators. A 12 year-old girl and I spent a couple of days building a working fax machine out of LEGO during the pre-conference. By the time WCCE began, my mind was spinning and my life was forever changed.

Three weeks later I was back in Australia leading professional development at the world’s first “laptop schools.” I spent countless months in such schools over the next several years and have made approximately 30 trips downunder. My work has taken me to countless schools in every state and territory. I’ve also keynoted countless conferences in “Oz” including being the keynote speaker following Seymour Papert and Maine Governor Angus King at a 2004 conference to launch Apple Australia’s school laptop initiatives. My 1:1 efforts are chronicled in Bob Johnstone’s history of educational computing, Never-mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers and the Transformation of Learning.

I began teaching at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology in 1993. My colleagues and I began teaching online around 1995. In 1997, I proposed offering an online masters degree program. The Online Master of Arts in Educational Technology degree program began a few months ago and has graduated nine classes of leaders since.

Seymour Papert, referred to by many as the “father of educational computing,” invited me to join him in creating a high-tech alternative learning environment inside Maine’s troubled prison for teens. That work was the subject of my Ph.D. research and documents Dr. Papert’s most recent institutional research projects. That work has inspired me to work in disadvantaged schools with the most severely at-risk students in order to create models of alternative learning environments and advance my motto, “Things need not be as they seem!”

I’ve had the good fortune to be a collaborator in the MIT Media Lab Future of Learning Group. In that capacity, I’ve helped lead immersive one and two week-long professional development institutes for hundreds of Brazilian and Mexican educators. My work has taken me to six continents.

Since the late nineties, I have also been an education journalist and columnist. Close to 100 of my articles and papers may be found at http://www.stager.org.

In 2006, I launched The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate at http://www.districtadministration.com/pulse

My personal blog is at http://www.stager.org/blog