We hold these truths . . .

From Mario Kart to the classroom

Video Games Like Mario Kart and World of Warcraft Could Be Making Their Way Into Classrooms, writes Georgia Perry in The Atlantic.

Some top game designers are high school or college dropouts, writes Perry. They were bored in school. They’re experts at engaging players. 

GlassLab, a joint effort by Electronic Arts and the Educational Testing Service (the SAT people) pairs commercial and educational game designers to create games kids will want to play. Use Your Brainz is based on the popular Plants vs. Zombies. It adds a tracker to assess players’ problem-solving skills.

Games are great at assessment, says Richard Culatta, the director of the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology.

They assess their players constantly—that’s how they determine when a player is ready to move to the next level. Similarly, feedback is provided instantly in games; unlike having to wait a week for a grade on an assignment, students playing a game can, say, look at the top of the screen and see a bunch of cartoon hearts letting them know how many lives they have left.

Another major challenge facing American education, according to Culatta, involves “[holding] students—almost like a surfboard—right on the wave of their ability.” In other words, schools often struggle to give them tasks that they are capable of doing but for which they also need to work and stay vigilant.

Games do this expertly.

The DOE, the National Science Foundation and foundations such as Gates and MacArthur are spending “upwards of $100 million to promote educational gaming,” writes Greg Toppo in The Game Believes In You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter.

Nearly three-quarters of K-8 teachers use digital games as a teaching tool, according to a 2014 study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

How does a teacher figure out which education apps are worth trying? asks Kaycie Gillette-Mallard on EdCentral. Putting the Education in “Educational” Apps has advice on how to evaluate apps.

What proficiency education looks like

RPA students prep for a wilderness and first-aid elective.

RPA students prep for a wilderness  elective. Photo: Deborah Fallows

Deborah Fallows looks at an Oregon high school that lets students build their own education.

At Redmond Proficiency Academy (RPA), “students have great liberty to choose the classes they want, even to show up at class or not, to find a groove of learning they’re comfortable with, and to have their success be measured in terms of proficiency or mastery for the content and skills,” writes Fallows in The Atlantic.

Students who need to make up work can use January and June terms, while those who are on track can pursue electives such as wilderness preparedness and “remote first aid,” to the science of breadmaking.”

George Hegarty, who taught in high schools for 15 years before coming to RPA, explained how a student might reach proficiency.

Students who struggle with their ability to construct thesis-based arguments about a novel, poem, or play in an English class have taken walks with their teachers and shared their ideas and analyses of the texts while the teacher took notes. The teacher, then, sits down with the students and helps them see the structured nature of their thinking, and helps them convert the notes into an outline for a paper.

This process highlights that education follows a growth trajectory rather than a “one and done” pass or fail mentality, and we have found that it encourages … students to immerse themselves in particular subject areas rather than simply “survive” Humanities classes.

It takes “about 10,000 percent more individual attention” than in traditional schools,  says Hegarty.

Shakespeare vs. progressive education

Shakespeare can’t survive the progressive, multiculturalist principles taught in teacher education, writes Mark Bauerlein, an Emory English professor, on Minding the Campus.

English teacher Dana Dusbiber refuses to teach Shakespeare because he’s too old, white, male and European, she wrote in the Washington Post.

She’s not some oddball, writes Bauerlien. Dusbiber learned in education school that students need to see their race represented in what they read. She was taught that “the past is irrelevant or worse,” that contemporary literature is “more real” than the “authoritarian” classics.

Shakespeare endures in the classroom on aesthetic and cultural grounds that progressivism refuses.  It casts aesthetic excellence as a political tool, the imposition of one group’s tastes upon everyone else.  And it marks the culture at whose pinnacle Shakespeare stands (the English literary-historical canon) as an outdated authority.

Progressive education can’t admit that “Shakespeare is central to our cultural inheritance,” concludes Bauerlein. “If progressivism reigns in secondary and higher education, Shakespeare, Pope, and Wordsworth are doomed.”

One application opens up choice


Cincinnati parents camped out to enroll their children in a popular magnet school.

In Waiting For Kindergarten, a Cincinnati parent told the story of the 16 days he spent camping out in a tent to get his child into an elite magnet school.  Eventually, tents in front of Fairview-Clifton German Language School “filled the entire hillside each night.”

There’s a better way to manage school choice, writes Alexander Russo in the Washington Monthly.  Most magnets and charters hold lotteries to decide who gets in.  Often parents have to attend meetings, fill out multiple applications on paper and meet “a dazzling array of deadlines.”

Savvy parents have an edge.

Unified Enrollment is making it easier for parents to apply.  “All schools — district, magnet, and charter — operate under one timeline, one form (or website) and one lottery.”

A handful of cities already have it: Denver, DC, Newark, and New Orleans. NYC has it for high schools only. A handful more like Baltimore and LA have streamlined their process but stopped short of a fully unified system.  I’m told it’s being contemplated in Cleveland, Indianapolis, Oakland, Camden, and Detroit.

The benefits of a streamlined system are obvious. Before it created the unified system in 2011, there were 62 different forms and application deadlines in Denver. Now there’s one form, one date, and parents rank their preferences so that schools don’t have to go through an extended waiting period while parents figure out what they’re going to do.

However, it’s hard to get everyone on board, writes Russo. “Chicago and Philly both tried and failed to get it done, blocked by a variety of factors including angry parents and reluctant charters.”

In the Rubber Room

In The Rubber Room, a feature-length movie, follows six New York City educators waiting in “teacher’s jail” to learn if they’ll be allowed to teach again.

Ed classes are too easy

Education Majors Are Too Easy, writes Cristina Duncan Evans, who teaches social studies at a Baltimore high school, in Education Week Teacher.

After graduating from an Ivy League college, Evans entered teaching through alternate certification. She earned a master’s degree in teaching and takes education courses to maintain her certification.

Her education coursework has been short on rigor and problem solving, she writes. Instructors often use exercises that treat teachers as though they were children.

“Too frequently instructors simply show teachers an instructional practice, have them play the roles of students, then move on to the next portion of the session,” Evans complains. There’s no debrief on what worked and why.

Too often I’ve come to the end of an education class and had practical questions about how the theory I learned was supposed to guide day-to-day interactions with my students. I took the state’s required literacy courses, but I didn’t know how to assign texts in a way that built both literacy skills and content knowledge until I began reading professional texts independently.

Teacher education programs’ low entrance requirements and unchallenging coursework are a turn off for high-achieving students, writes Evans. “When people who love learning don’t find it remotely appealing to study education, something’s wrong.”

Prospective teachers are misled about their preparation for the classroom by Easy A’s, concludes a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Videos improve teacher observation

Classroom observations can be stressful to teachers and burdensome to supervisors. Teachers often think they’ve been caught in their worst teaching moments, not their best.

The Best Foot Forward project at Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research analyzed the use of digital video to let teachers record lessons and choose their best to submit for their classroom observations

Observers provided time-stamped feedback aligned to specific moments in the videos.  That facilitated discussions with the teacher on his or her teaching.

Compared to a control group, the digital videos “boosted teachers’ perception of fairness of classroom observations, reduced teacher defensiveness during post-observation conferences, led to greater self- perception of the need for behavior change and allowed administrators to time-shift observation duties to quieter times of the day or week.”

Videotaping and teacher evaluation don’t mix, writes Anthony Cody. Teachers don’t trust promises they’ll control who sees the tapes.

MOOCs, which work best for educated people, could help teachers learn new skills, writes Derek Newton in The Atlantic.

A MOOC approach to professional development—having teachers watch and learn from other successful educators who are actually teaching—could help move these offerings past the status quo.

. . . “Being able to actually see teaching practices modeled—as opposed to just being lectured to on the concepts—is a game changer in professional development,” said Alvin Crawford, the CEO of Knowledge Delivery Systems(KDS), which provides interactive professional-development programming for teachers.

It should be much easier to watch good teachers teaching — perhaps to watch three good teachers try different approaches to the same subject.

Is your school’s namesake worthy?


Florida has more schools named for manatees than for George Washington.

Some want to rename the nearly 200 K-12 schools named for Confederate leaders, writes Robert Pondiscio. As a teacher of civics and history, he sees a teachable moment.

So here’s a challenge for every school in this country named after a president, military figure, athlete, civic leader or any prominent person: Commit the coming school year to a close examination of the life and work of your school’s namesake.

. . . Let (students) debate, defend or challenge the merits of their namesake – but from a position of deep, informed conviction.

. . . Agree that the current name must stand until or unless an alternative person – not a street, natural feature or other bland, inoffensive name like Valley View High – is chosen if the current honoree fails to pass muster.

It’s increasingly rare for public schools to be named for people, according to a 2007 paper by Jay Greene and colleagues.  It’s easier and safer to choose a name from nature. That’s why Florida has 11 schools named for manatees and only five for George Washington. Arizona has as many public schools are named for the roadrunner as for Thomas Jefferson.

“Unfortunately, such caution betrays public education’s civic mission,” Greene and his colleagues wrote. “To teach civics effectively, we have to affirm that democracy and liberty are superior to other systems of government and that the history of democratic societies – shaped by the leadership of people whose names we should know – reinforces this point.

Is there anyone we can agree to honor?

Bright kids can’t get ahead 

Why are American schools slowing down so many bright children? asks Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews.

He cites a new report by the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. It’s a follow-up to a 2004 report, A Nation Deceived.

Only nine states explicitly permit accelerating gifted students, while one state, Louisiana, prohibits it. “Sixteen states prohibit early entry to kindergarten.”

“The research shows that many biases against acceleration, such as the fear that children will feel awkward with older classmates, are unfounded,” writes Mathews. “But resistance to grade skipping still rules many schools.”

When I was in fifth grade, I tested at the 12th-grade level in reading. I’d accelerated myself by reading in class. But our district never skipped anyone — except for my sister. My husband also skipped a grade in Catholic school. He thinks his fifth-grade teacher wanted to get rid of him.

High schools offer a lot more acceleration options than in the past, including Advanced Placement and early college programs. I loved tracking, which started in ninth grade. Until then, I read a book a day.

Stanford’s Education Program for Gifted Youth, a distance-learning program designed to accelerate math students, has been replaced by a Core-aligned curriculum called Redbird, a parent complains. “This is an unfortunate development for mathematically gifted students,” writes Nicholas Tampio.

My daughter used EPGY to take algebra in seventh grade. She wasn’t mathematically gifted — just wiling to do anything to escape a “fuzzy” pre-algebra course.