A boyhood dream has come true. I was interviewed by California School Business Magazine!

I certainly sized the opportunity to pull no punches. I left no myth behind.  Perhaps a few school business administrators will think differently about some of their decisions in the future.

A PDF of the article is linked below. I hope you enjoy the interview and share it widely!

Edtech Expert Discusses the Revolution in Computing

On October 12, 2012, MSNBC host and former West Wing writer, Lawrence O’Donnell, dedicated his “Rewrite” commentary to the sorts of changes he believes would make presidential debates more informative, thoughtful and effective.

Once you endure the first few minutes of a clip from the fictional West Wing, O’Donnell makes a quite compelling case that the current debate format favors superficiality over substance and is a poor predictor of a candidate’s success as President of the United States. O’Donnell is making the case that the President must be deliberate, collaborative and well-informed. The pop-quiz format of the debates reward memorization and superficiality.

In school terms, the debates measure the wrong things and focus on inauthentic tasks. This misdirects resources and distracts teachers from sound pedagogical practices.

I won’t tell you O’Donnell’s recommendations, but most if not all could be applied to matters of curriculum and assessment. You should watch for yourself!

You may be able to watch the video here or here if you’re using a dopey iPad.

In the words of the great political philosopher, Popeye the Sailor Man, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more.” On the same day that the Obama Administration refused to stand for clean air by not even enforcing the clean air standards of the George W. Bush administration, I received an email from the campaign asking for my money and labor for his re-election.

Full disclosure:
I am a Liberal considerably far to the left of the President. In 2008, he was my 5th choice during the Democratic Primaries. However, once he defeated Senator Clinton, I became an enthusiastic Obama supporter. I donated money and traveled to Washinton D.C. to attend his Inauguration. Although I believed that he was politically naive with few coattails or allies in Washington, I was optimistic. That hope triumphed over what I knew about his hostility towards teacher unions as expressed in my September 2008 article, “First We Kill the Teacher Unions” and my horror at Arne Duncan’s nomination as Secretary of Education, “Obama Practices Social Promotion.”

Getting the President’s Attention
The President’s base is having a heck of a time having their concerns heard or respected by the Obama White House. The “punch a hippie strategy” might work as a political tactic, but not at the expense of increased asthma suffering by children or the survival of the American middle class.

My possibly inconsequential act of dissent was unsubscribing from the Obama political mailing list. Perhaps, the White House political team will take “the base” more seriously if a large number of political supporters sever their ties to the re-election campaign. So, I just unsubscribed and I urge others to do so as well, even if you plan to vote Obama as I do in November 2012.

I only had a small text field in which to express my reasons for unsubscribing. My comment is as follows:

The President’s weakness in negotiating with the GOP House, attack on public education, refusal to march with Wisconsin workers, capitulation on environmental regulation, continuation of questionable interrogation techniques, escalation in Afghanistan, support for soldiers of forture and refusal to fight for qualified nominees like Elizabeth Warren makes me quite unenthusiastic about either donating to his campaign or volunteering my time.

If you too wish to express your dissatisfaction and unsubscribe from Obama’s mailing list, click here.

Please donate to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and/or the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee!

Happy Labor Day!

During these dark days of American history in which politicians, media figures and billionaires of every persuasion are vilifying teachers and turning classrooms into joy-free Dickensian sweatshops concerned with little more than raising test scores on deeply flawed standardized tests, there is one candidate running for higher office who knows better and has been an on-the-record proponent of progressive education for decades.

In fact, when Governor Jerry Brown (now California Attorney General seeking re-election to a 3rd term as governor) nearly beat Bill Clinton for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination, he made headlines for carrying a laptop with him everywhere. During his last term as governor of California in the 1980s, Brown was known to give away copies of Seymour Papert’s seminal book, Mindstorms: Computers, Children and Powerful Ideas. I’m told that the Governor kept a pile of copies in his office.

I look horrific!

I met Governor Brown once and a profoundly candid and interesting conversation about teaching, learning and education policy with him. He’s a very smart guy, with great instincts, pure motives and a remarkable commitment to public service.

A few hours before Governor Brown debates his billionaire job and budget-slashing opponent, Meg Whitman, I decided to find the blurb “Jerry” wrote for the hardcover edition of Papert’s classic book, The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer.

In my opinion, this is the most important book about learning now and in the future published over the past 25 years. It is a scandal that more educators have not read it. Jerry Brown has and wrote the stunning and prescient endorsement below.

“With wit and insight, Seymour Papert demolishes the hierarchical, right/wrong logic behind the rush to national testing and commend-and-control education. Instead, he shows why “little schools,” cybernetics and the creative use of computers can revolutionize how Americans learn. Give schooling, he tells us, back to the grass roots by devising ways for parents and kids to take ownership of their own learning.”

– Jerry Brown, former governor of California (1993)

peter-garrett1In the current world of education policy, nothing succeeds quite like failure.

Traditionally, Australia’s newly elected Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, “should” be pro-teacher and public education, but in a strange twist of politics much like the way Obama treats public education, she too will do irreparable harm in the name of meaner tougher “reform” and greater accountability.

Gillard LOVES all of the failed educational policy fantasies of her buddy and mentor Joel Klein, Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools – merit pay, Teach for Australia, standardized testing, public reporting of deeply flawed teacher accountability measures, insulting and shaming educators.

Now, just like President Obama, Prime Minister Gillard has now pointed someone with dubious credentials to lead the nation’s schools. Arne Duncan played basketball for the Launceston Ocelots and other defunct Australian basketball teams and Australia’s new education minister is wait for it – Peter Garrett.

If that name sounds familiar, you may recognize Education Minister Garrett in this video.

Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper, The Australian, reports the following about Garrett’s appointment and qualifications.

THE minister pilloried for mishandling the $2.45 billion home insulation scheme, Peter Garrett, has been rewarded.

Julia Gillard has handed him the prestigious education portfolio.

Despite expectations Mr Garrett would be dumped from cabinet, he received one of the biggest promotions in the ministry, progressing from being an environment minister with diminished responsibilities to become Minister for Schools, Early Childhood and Youth…

The school sector was cautious over the appointment, with some concerned Mr Garrett’s environmental stance would align him with the Greens, who oppose government subsidies for private schools; others questioned his ability to manage the schools portfolio, given his problems with the home insulation scheme.

Opposition frontbencher Peter Dutton said he was “absolutely amazed” Mr Garrett had been rewarded. “He’s presided over deaths and fires in a program that probably has been mishandled like no other since federation,” he told Sky News.

Doesn’t this sound eerily like Arne Duncan being promoted to Secretary of Education after the spectacular job he did of “turning around” the Chicago Public Schools?

Further reading:

I’m writing this column because I’m embarrassed. Joe Hanson

Two recent issues of District Administration have carried columns by Gary Stager that have attacked aspects of the educational proposals/decisions of both presidential candidates.

As editor-in-chief, I feel that I erred in permitting publication of these two articles in the months before the presidential elections. The article in our August issue (Gary Stager on Kerry’s Education Plan) makes an argument against merit pay for teachers. That’s certainly a valid matter for discussion on our editorial pages. What does not belong are Stager’s comments such as, “… the Kerry proposal could suggest either a generous desire to increase teacher pay or a cynical scheme to pander to the electorate.” In another paragraph he paraphrases Seymour Sarason, “… members of both parties seem to increase in ignorance proportionate to their proximity to schooling decisions. After all, U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy co-sponsored No Child Left Behind.

In our October issue (Gary Stager on Direct Instruction), Stager condemns a reading program called Reading Mastery and its inventor, Sigfried Engleman. The article contains some strong arguments against the “controversial pedagogical approach” (although it fails to discuss it’s effectiveness or lack thereof.)

Unfortunately, Stager devotes most of his column to attacking President Bush: Unlike his wife, mother and Oval Office predecessors, this president had a more important agenda than demonstrating affection for children or for reading. The trip was part of a calculated campaign to sell No Child Left Behind. In what Michael Moore rightly observed as a photo opportunity, young children were used as props to advance the administration’s radical attack on public education. He goes on, Engelmann’s publisher is a textbook giant with ties to the Bush family dating back to the 1930s. … The publishers have received honors from two Bush administrations and they in turn have bestowed awards on Secretary Rod Paige. The same company’s former executive vice president is the new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, and continues with phrases such as The War on Public Education, single-minded test-prep factories and magical voucher.

When Stager asks, “Has fear replaced joy in your classrooms? President Reagan might suggest we ask ourselves, “Is your school better off than it was four years ago?,” he crosses the line between clever compendium and outright bias.

Stager writes a regular opinion column in District Administration. His opinions are his own. As long as he’s writing about educational matters, I’m delighted to keep running his arguments but we will make every effort to avoid running material from him, or anyone else, questioning the motives of elected officials or candidates.

I take full responsibility for running these two columns. Stager has been a valuable contributor to DA for about five years. I took my eye off the ball.

As always, we at District Administration value the open exchange of ideas about improving public education. I invite you to share your thoughts with me.

Editor-in-Chief
jhanson@promediagrp.com

Originally published in the Novembe 2004 issue of District Administration Magazine.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Dale Carnegie era is well and truly over. American republican democracy is at great risk when one party, the Democrats, hone their skills at winning friends and influencing people while their rivals employ the scorched earth techniques of birthers, tenthers, 9-12ers, deathers and the other racist paranoid fantasies of Fox News performers and their followers. President Obama acts at our collective peril when he behaves as if there is a new politics.

Bill Maher’s latest “New Rules” commentary, “Float Like Obama, Sting Like Ali.” Is quite important and timely advice for not only the President, but citizens (even teachers) concerned with more rational and compassionate civil society.

Read the text of Maher’s advice here.

Watch him give the same advice here.

Thus far, President Obama and his disappointing pick for Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, show little evidence of an education policy different from that of his predecessor. Of all the stupid ideas, distractions and crackpot educational fantasies being offered, teacher merit pay may take the cake. There seems to be a part of a politician’s reptilian brain hardwired to believe that teachers are deliberately suppressing the almighty student standardized test scores until the government awards them an extra buck a day.

I published the following article in the August 2004 issue of District Administration Magazine. You may note that bad education policies are bipartisan.

Kerry’s Education Plan


Raise test Scores – win a prize

I was horrified by recent news referring to U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s education platform. The newsflash reported that if elected president, Kerry would reward teachers for increased student achievement. The news media may have over-simplified a more comprehensive policy statement or the Kerry campaign may have distributed this bumper sticker slogan for its own purposes. Either hypothesis is plausible since there is so little thoughtful discourse on the status or future of public education.

In his book, Political Leadership and Educational Failure, Seymour Sarason reminds us that although we expect that our elected officials will be briefed by the best and brightest experts when concerned with issues of taxation, highway resurfacing or sewage, no such expectation exists for discussions of education policy. Members of both parties seem to increase in ignorance proportionate to their proximity to schooling decisions. After all, U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy cosponsored No Child Left Behind.

Taken at face value, reports of the Kerry proposal could suggest either a generous desire to increase teacher pay or a cynical scheme to pander to the electorate. While I’m supportive of dramatic increases in teacher compensation, merit pay is a mischievous idea that continues to plague public education.

Is the key to educational quality a tip jar for teachers?

In a Harvard Business Review article, Alfie Kohn states, “… at least two dozen studies over the last three decades have conclusively shown that people who expect to receive a reward for completing a task … simply do not perform as well as those who expect no reward at all. … Incentives [or bribes] simply can’t work in the workplace.”

You don’t have to agree with fuzzy teacher lovers like Kohn. The week of the Kerry announcement I read articles in Business Week and Business 2.0 stating unequivocally that incentive pay does not work in the workplace. W. Edward Demings opposes the destructive effects of merit pay as do Peopleware authors Lister and DeMarco. They detail how extrinsic rewards and performance reviews contribute to teamicide, the unintentional destruction of well-jelled teams. Most people believe they do the best job possible and reviews that merely reflect this fact lead to disappointment, lower morale and drive a wedge between colleagues. Even seemingly innocuous schemes like “employee of the month” do little to motivate excellent employees, but can increase resentment.

Countless psychologists have demonstrated how extrinsic rewards are unsustainable since the bribe must be continuously increased in order to maintain the same level of performance.

Making Enemies

Perhaps teachers are different. Could it be that they are more mercenary than Enron employees or waiters jockeying for tips? If it doesn’t work in industry, why is it constantly touted asthe cure for all educational ills? Merit pay is a ridiculous idea for improving teacher quality for a number of reasons. Let me share a few:

Teachers are not in it for the money. Remuneration is low on the list of reasons why people become and remain educators. While all teachers would prefer to earn more money, it is not a high priority.

Merit pay shifts all responsibility to teachers. Teachers would like to be treated more professionally and have their judgment trusted. Merit pay denies teachers autonomy through a top-down manipulation, yet holds them responsible for student performance.

Student performance is based on multiple factors. A good teacher can make a huge impact on the life and development of a student. However, human development is complex and learning is not merely the result of being taught.

Merit pay makes students the enemy. Linking teacher pay to test score increases invariably leads to teacher resentment of the very kids they are employed to serve.

Will Teach for Bonuses

The message implicit in political demands for pay linked to accountability is that teachers are failing to assist students until they get an extra food pellet. Demonizing teachers is so much easier than assuming responsibility for meaningful education policy.

According to his campaign Web site, Senator Kerry appears to offer a more comprehensive, less punitive vision for public education. Regardless of this November’s election results, I hope public policy will lead a serious national effort to benefit children without scapegoating teachers.