Creativity meets technology

 Innovation:Where Creativity and Technology Meet.

Innovation? Feds side with status quo

The same day President Obama called for innovative approaches to online education to save students’ money, the Justice Department told Altius Education, an innovator in online education, that it is under investigation.

New frontiers for charters in 2013

Innovation is the theme of the 2013 Hopes, Fears & Reality report by the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education. Are charter leads fully using their autonomy to experiment with new ways to teach? asks Robin Lake.

It includes:

Charters Branch Out: Do Moves Into Affluent Areas Signal an Important Trend? Jeffrey Henig of Columbia University explores the issues around the growth of charter schools in suburban and affluent neighborhoods.

Incubate For America? Ethan Gray of the CEE-Trust examines a new breed of organizations—charter school incubators—emerging in cities across the U.S., bringing some private-sector strategies to the charter school start-up scene.

Tech-Based Learning: The New Frontier for Charters? Michael Horn of the Christensen Institute writes about charter schools in California that have innovated through technology and asks what it will take for more to follow nationwide.

To Survive, Charters Cannot Ignore the Bottom Line.Marguerite Roza of Georgetown University urges the charter sector to get innovative about designing a more sustainable cost structure.

How federal rules block innovation

Federal education funding is supporting the status quo, argues a new Center on Reinventing Public Education report, Federal Barriers to Innovation. Authors Raegen Miller and Robin Lake focus on Title I funding for disadvantaged students and  IDEA funding for disabled students.

 The Title I comparability loop hole, for instance, prevents districts from adopting promising new technology–based school models. If a district has a high-poverty school staffed with inexperienced, lower-paid teachers, and an affluent school of the same size staffed with the same number of more experienced, higher-paid teachers, those schools are considered to have comparable staffing levels. The loophole masks the true educational costs of schools, reinforces a traditional compensation system that favors tenure and post-graduate education, and prevents districts from differentiating pay in strategic ways.

IDEA’s maintenance of effort requirement forces districts to keep spending money “without regard for its efficiency or effectiveness.” That blocks innovative teaching methods and technologies.

Instead, IDEA needs a “challenge waiver” system, Miller and Lake write.

Districts could be granted waivers for the 100 percent spending threshold on special education and related services “provided they furnish a coherent, strategic special education plan documenting the rationale for a lower threshold.” Such a system would encourage more data-driven decision-making, while random audits would ensure fidelity of implementation.

In addition, they call for “redirecting Title II funds (an amalgam of funding streams supporting ineffectual professional development and class-size reduction programs)” toward effective new instructional technologies.

Standards for quality of mind?

Marion Brady describes Eight problems with Common Core Standards (just to start with) on WashPost‘s Answer Sheet. Marc Tucker begs to disagree (he doesn’t really beg) on Ed Week‘s Top Performers.


Standards shouldn’t be attached to school subjects, but to the qualities of mind it’s hoped the study of school subjects promotes.

. . . The world changes. The future is indiscernible. Clinging to a static strategy in a dynamic world may be comfortable, even comforting, but it’s a Titanic-deck-chair exercise.

. . . The Common Core Standards assume that what kids need to know is covered by one or another of the traditional core subjects. In fact, the unexplored intellectual terrain lying between and beyond those familiar fields of study is vast, expands by the hour, and will go in directions no one can predict.

He adds: “No amount of schooling can effectively counter” childhood poverty, which is the main reason for poor school performance; the Common Core kills innovation and the standards will lead to “national standardized tests, tests that can’t evaluate complex thought, can’t avoid cultural bias, can’t measure non-verbal learning, can’t predict anything of consequence (and waste boatloads of money).”  Also, the standards will “standardize” minds. Finally, the goal of “success in college and careers” is “pedestrian” at best. “The young should be exploring the potentials of humanness.”

Tucker guesses that “qualities of mind” would include synthesizing material, analyzing, problem solving and writing. These are “grounded in the disciplines,” he argues.

 . . .  the core academic disciplines (the core subjects in the school curriculum) provide the conceptual underpinning for deep understanding of virtually everything we want our students to know and further, that learning does not transfer easily or well, or sometimes at all, across those disciplines. . . . Like it or not, if we don’t have standards for the disciplines, we will have no standards at all.

The world changes, Tucker concedes.But a solid foundation of knowledge will help today’s kindergarteners learn and adapt throughout their lives.

It is hard to imagine that, by some time next year, arithmetic will be obsolete, along with ratio and proportion.  Or that it will be unnecessary to be able to write a short essay that clearly and concisely expresses a few key ideas.  Or that no citizen of this country will need to know anything about the history of the development of freedom and the conditions under which it thrives and perishes. Or that the earth revolves around the sun . . .

The Common Core Standards don’t try to cover everything a teacher might want to teach or a student might want to learn, Tucker adds. The point is to “define a much smaller core that all teachers should teach and all students should learn.”

Should we focus more on poverty? OK, writes Tucker. But when there are no or low standards for low-income students, they’re taught less and learn less.

What Brady calls “innovation,” Tucker calls “chaos.”

Here is what the research shows about what happens when teachers are free to “innovate” in this way:  the teacher in any given grade, having incoming students who have been taught by many teachers, some of who have taught a given topic at length, others who have taught it only superficially, and still others who have taught it not at all, start at the beginning, at the introductory level for this topic. . . . Researchers, when asking students what they are doing as late as February, are told that, “we are reviewing last year.”

Bad tests? Nothing in the standards calls for tests to be designed badly, Tucker writes.

Standardized minds?

There is not a country that has consistently high student performance that does not have some form of student achievement standards.

Finally, Tucker defends the “pedestrian”  goals of career and college readiness, rather than exploring the “potentials of humanness.”

Fewer than 20 percent of any given cohort of students entering the ninth grade end up with a 2-year degree or certificate within four years of entering postsecondary education or getting a 4-year degree with 6 years of entering postsecondary education.  I’m all for the “potentials of humanness”, but the American people are hurting, the American standard of living is falling and the American economy is suffering because we are wasting the potential of our students by failing to give them the skills they need to make a decent living.

While I have concerns about Common Core Standards, I’d be a lot more worried about schools devoted to instilling “qualities of mind” and “humanness”  but no particular set of knowledge and skills.

BTW, here’s ACT on Rising to the Challenge of College and Career Readiness.

Test-crazy China seeks innovators

China’s education system turns out students who are great at memorizing but not at thinking, writes Helen Gao, who moved from China to the U.S. for her senior year of high school.

In 2010, an international standardized test found that junior high school students in Shanghai had outperformed their peers in rest of the world in math, science, and reading, beating the U.S. averages by a wide margin. . . . (The) nine-year compulsory education system, installed in 1986, has boosted the country’s literacy rate to around 92 percent (it was 67 percent as of 1980) and prepared millions of eligible young people for the rapidly expanding workforce. Now, however, as the economy shows signs of cooling, Chinese leaders are trying to engender more domestic innovation.

They hope to see an educated workforce, rather than toiling on factory floors or sitting in the cubicles of Western companies’ Chinese branches, found their own businesses or brands that will sell to domestic as well as international buyers. They want domestic moviegoers to stop purchasing bootleg DVDs of Western blockbusters, and for foreign viewers to start raving about Chinese films. But the nation’s education system, instead of channeling the youthful energy of China’s next generation, seems to be blocking it.

The gao kao, the college admissions test, determines students’ futures. It’s all multiple choice, Gao writes.
Chinese students spend years cramming for the big test, reports the New York Times.

. . .  new research by the workplace manager Regus shows that Chinese employers are now favoring graduates with internship experience, winning personalities and foreign language skills. Just 9 percent of employers, especially at large companies, now put educational background as the top priority in hiring.

That probably means acing the gao kao, getting into a prestigious university and offering experience, personality and language skills.

Creativity isn’t learned in class

Japanese visitors asked Fordham’s Mike Petrilli how the U.S. produces innovative leaders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.

It’s not a school thing, he replies. It’s an after-school thing. While Japanese adolescents are going to cram school, American kids are doing “sports, music, theater, student council, cheerleading, volunteering, church activities, and on and on.”

If you are looking for sources of innovative thinking, leadership and teamwork skills, competitiveness, and creativity, aren’t these better candidates than math class?

Or course, some “are just hanging out, smoking pot, getting in trouble, etc.,” Petrilli writes. But “some of these young people end up creating successful start-ups too!”

And then there’s the American parenting style. U.S. parents don’t teach their children self-discipline and delayed gratification, asserts Pamela Druckerman in Bringing up Bebe.

This, she suggests, fosters out-of-control toddlers and may lead to serious problems down the road, particularly for kids growing up in neighborhoods where community bonds have frayed.

On the other hand, by allowing our young to negotiate endlessly with us and stand up for what they want, we are also teaching them a form of self-assuredness. Treating little kids as equals might wreak havoc in the short term, but it’s possible that it creates non-hierarchical, confident, transformational leaders in the long run.

Certainly, Steve Jobs exemplified the brilliant brat, but I’m not sure that self-discipline and creativity are antithetical.

Critical thinkers who don’t criticize

NYC Educator headlines this Innovation in the Era of Evaluation.

Employers see higher ed as costly, stodgy

The nation’s higher education system is costly, unaccountable and unwilling to change, say business leaders interviewed for a Public Agenda report.

For-profit colleges whose students are eligible for federal aid charge 75 percent more than for-profits that don’t participate in aid programs, a new study finds. That confirms a theory that increasing student aid leads to increases in tuition.

Urban superintendents collaborate with charters

More than 20 urban districts have adopted a “portfolio” strategy, holding district-run and independent charter schools to the same performance standards, reports Hopes, Fears, & Reality, the Center on Reinventing Education’s 2011 charter school review.

In 16 cities, leaders have pledged to work together for student success by “creating common student enrollment systems, sharing facilities, equalizing funding, encouraging teachers and principals to share instructional strategies, and sharing responsibility for students with special needs.”

“Urban school superintendents across the country are realizing that a centrally delivered, one-size-fits-all approach simply is not viable, and that they need partnerships to bring in entrepreneurial talent and mission-driven teams,” writes editor Robin Lake.

Charters are expanding in rural areas, small towns and small states; and are serving a growing share of Hispanic and low-income students. Free-standing charter schools are growing faster than those run by charter management organizations.

Collaboration can sap charters’ ability to innovate, warn several analysts in the commentary section.

Don’t assume that practices and routines that “work” for one school will work everywhere, warns Rick Hess.

As I see it, the real power of charter schooling is that it presents “greenfield” in which new cultures and models can be established on fresh turf, rather than painfully injected into resistant, calcified systems. The closer charters start to work with existing districts, the more they seem bound to import norms, expectations, and routines from those systems.

Charter success 2.0 will require rethinking “long-held assumptions about the shape of teaching and schooling,” he writes.  “Linking charters more closely to entrenched systems threatens to make that process less likely.”