Virtual Stanford course draws 58,000

So far, 58,000 people in 175 countries have signed up for a free-, no-credit, online course in artificial intelligence, one of three pilot classes by Stanford computer science professors.

The online students will be ranked in comparison to the work of other online students and will receive a “statement of accomplishment,” reports the New York Times.

Introductory courses in database software and machine learning also will be offered.

The three online courses, which will employ both streaming Internet video and interactive technologies for quizzes and grading, have in the past been taught to smaller groups of Stanford students in campus lecture halls.

. . . How will the artificial intelligence instructors grade 58,000 students? The scientists said they would make extensive use of technology.

In place of office hours, they will use the Google moderator service, software that will allow students to vote on the best questions for the professors to respond to in an online chat and possibly video format. They are considering ways to personalize the exams to minimize cheating.

“I personally would like to see the equivalent of a Stanford computer science degree on the Web,” Dr. (Andrew) Ng said.

Dr. (Jennifer) Widom envisions allowing smaller colleges to supplement locally taught classes with online Stanford classes.


Ha-Ya or community college?

It’s 2020. Harvard and Yale announce their merger. Ha-Ya’s new president, “tiger daughter” Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, pledges to slash tuition to attract students. Shanghai University is buying Princeton. Stanford is shedding its undergraduate division to focus on law, medicine and business schools.

Instead of attending a high-cost bricks-and-mortar college, debt-averse students are taking online courses, studying with freelance professors and using a portfolio of test results, essays and reports on activities to qualify for jobs without a college degree. It’s Jane Shaw‘s fantasy of the future of higher education.

It all started, Shaw writes, on May 28, 2010, when “Your Money” columnist Ron Lieber wrote about  Cortney Munna, a graduate of New York University who owed $97,000 in student loans and works for a photographer earning $22 an hour.

All it requires to become reality is an accepted way for people to certify what they’ve learned.

On Community College Spotlight: Where should collegebound students go in the fall: Harvard or their local community college?

Is a college degree worth the debt?

Boise State can learn from Boise State

Higher Ed Watch’s Academic BCS, which ranks the top college football teams using academic indicators, shows Stanford as number one and Boise State as number two.

Boise State’s football players are more likely to graduate than non-athletes, notes Ben Miller on The Quick and the Ed.  Boise State’s graduation rate is only 26 percent, compared to 52 percent for football players.

. . .  though the black football players do have lower graduation rates than the white members of the team, their 43 percent completion rate is still 20 percentage points higher than the figure for white males at the school overall.

. . . The academic accomplishments of the Boise State football team should provide instructive lessons for the school overall. The university should take a look at the various tutoring and other academic supports given to football players to see which ones could be adopted for the general student body.

The top-ranked football team, Auburn, ranks 20th in the Academic BCS with second-ranked Oregon at 21st.

Scores rise at Stanford school — too late

Stanford New School’s charter elementary posted much higher test scores in 2010. But signs of improvement came too late.  The three-year-old elementary in East Palo Alto, run by Stanford’s School of Education, was closed in April for poor performance and classroom management problems by the Ravenswood City School District board.

Start-up schools take a few years to get off the ground, Dean of Education Deborah Stipek told the Palo Alto Weekly.

“If you look at many charter schools, the first few years don’t look that great — and then there’s often a jump.”

East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS), run by Stanford’s former partner, Aspire, posted low scores in its early years, Stipek said. It’s now the top-performing public school in East Palo Alto with consistently high test scores, despite serving an all-minority, low-income student body.

Stipek complained, with justice, that the Ravenswood board had a conflict of interest. By closing the Stanford school, the K-8 district reclaimed 150 students, boosting revenues.

The Ravenswood board kept open the Stanford-run high school, which was started nine years ago. Its scores remain quite low, especially compared to Aspire’s fledgling high school, Phoenix. Why did the board keep it open? Well, East Palo Alto students are much more likely to earn a diploma and go on to college (usually community college) if they go to the  Stanford charter instead of  Sequoia Union High School District schools. But it’s also true that closing the high school would send students and revenues to Sequoia, not to Ravenswood. The K-8 district had an incentive to close the elementary school but not the high school.

Stanford charter elementary will close

A Stanford-run charter elementary school will close in June. Citing poor academic performance and behavior issues, Ravenswood trustees voted 3-1 to deny a one- or two-year extension for the nearly four-year-old East Palo Alto Academy Elementary, which has more than 200 students. (I wrote about the school’s problems here and here.) The Stanford-run high school was offered a charter till 2012 or till another sponsor takes over.  The local high school district, Sequoia Union, already has said no.

More time wouldn’t help the elementary, said Superintendent Maria De La Vega.

It was a “stunning rebuke” to Stanford’s education school, reports the Palo Alto Weekly.

Stanford’s heavy hitters — including the high-profile Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who headed President Obama’s education transition team — were kept waiting for hours and not asked to speak.

Trustees had a financial incentive to close East Palo Alto Academy Elementary, the Weekly notes. Ravenswood’s budget problems will be eased significantly by the return of Stanford New Schools’ 200 elementary students.

Fish-barrel-shooter Greg Forster prints a Whitney Tilson e-mail:

Linda Darling-Hammond (along with Ravitch, Meier, and Kozol) is among the best known of your typical ed school, loosey-goosey, left-wing, politically correct, ivory tower, don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts-my-mind’s-made-up, disconnected-from-reality critics of genuine school reform.  (Forgive my bluntness, but I can’t stand ideological extremists of any persuasion, especially when kids end up getting screwed.)

LDH and Stanford’s Ed School decided to test their educational theories in the real world, starting a charter school in 2001 to serve the low-income, mostly-Latino children of East Palo Alto.  I credit them for this – in fact, I think EVERY ed school should be REQUIRED to start and run, or at least partner with, a real live school.

Stanford’s original partner, Aspire Public Schools, left after five years due to a “culture clash.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what happened when, freed of Aspire’s rigor and focus on the critical basics (like teaching children to read properly!), the ivory tower theories ran head on into the reality of East Palo Alto kids.  The results were easy to predict: the school fell on its face:

Darling-Hammond has blamed the students — many are English Learners — and the tests for the school’s failure, Tilson writes. But other schools are educating the same kind of students, including a K-8 charter run by Aspire.

This appears to be your classic “happy school,” a phrase coined by Howard Fuller to describe the most dangerous type of school – not the handful of violent, gang-infested high schools, but rather the elementary schools that are safe and appear ok: the students are happy, the parents are happy, the teachers are happy, the principal is happy…  There’s only one problem: THE KIDS CAN’T READ!!!

I’ve written a Pajamas Media column on this that should run soon.

Stanford's charter called 'failure'

It doesn’t get much more humiliating: A charter school run by Stanford ‘s Education School was denied a renewal of its charter and dubbed a failure for low scores and “ineffective behavior management.” Stanford New School, a K-12, is on California’s list of lowest-achieving schools, despite spending $3,000 per student more than the state average.

Ravenswood trustees voted 3-2 to deny the charter, but left open the door for a two-year extension — if the school works out an improvement plan with the district superintendent.

Stanford’s education professors, led by Linda Darling-Hammond, hoped the school would become a national model, when they started in 2001, reports the New York Times. Students come from low-income and working-class Hispanic, black and Pacific Islander families in East Palo Alto. Some are recent immigrants with limited English skills.

Stanford’s educators expected that with excellent teachers, many trained at the university, they could provide state-of-the-art instruction, preparing students to become “global citizens.”

But Stanford New School is posting lower scores than schools that teach similar students. In the all-minority Ravenswood district, which has many struggling schools, Stanford runs the lowest-scoring elementary school.

The high school is considered more successful because 96 percent of seniors are accepted to college, but “average SAT scores per subject hover in the high 300s,” reports the Times. That suggests most graduates are going to unselective colleges to take remedial classes.

Students receive a rubric of evaluations, not grades. High school students have one teacher/adviser who checks that homework is done, and when it is not, the teacher calls home. Teachers know students’ families and help with issues as varied as buying a bagel before an exam to helping an evicted family find a home. Teachers stay late and work weekends, and tend to burn out quickly — causing a high rate of turnover.

Stanford University provides summer classes, tutors and fund-raising by the football and women’s basketball teams. The medical school regularly sends a health van to the schools.

Perhaps students are learning things that aren’t measured by tests. They’re certainly not learning what is measured by tests: In 11th grade, 6 percent are proficient in English Language Arts, 0 percent in Algebra II, 9 percent in biology, 0 percent in chemistry, 6 percent in U.S. history.

The top-scoring school in the district is also a charter school. Aspire’s K-8 East Palo Alto School (EPAC) consistently outperforms the state average despite also serving an all-minority student body with many students from low-income Mexican immigrant families. (I tutored at the school for a year.) Aspire co-founded the charter high school with Stanford, but bowed out five years ago.

The two cultures clashed. Aspire focused “primarily and almost exclusively on academics,” while Stanford focused on academics and students’ emotional and social lives, said Don Shalvey, who started Aspire and is now with the Gates Foundation.

When I started the reporting that led to Our School, I planned to write about the Aspire-Stanford school, which was being organized. I went to school board meetings, talked with parents eager for a high school alternative, met some of the teachers hired for the first year, interviewed Shalvey and Darling-Hammond. However, I couldn’t get the access I needed — the inexperienced teachers didn’t want to deal with a writer hanging around — so I ended up at Downtown College Prep. I knew the Aspire-Stanford school was struggling in the early years, but I thought they’d adapt and improve. Instead, Stanford assumed sole control and created a K-12, while Aspire took its academics-first approach to EPAC.

Stanford charter school falters

One of the worst-performing elementary schools in California is run by Stanford University’s School of Education, reports the Palo Alto Weekly.

East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School, started three years ago, was reorganized with a new principal last fall. It ranks in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, according to the California Department of Education’s preliminary list. The school serves a low-income community that’s primarily Hispanic, black and Pacific Islander.

Stanford New Schools, a non-profit, runs the elementary and a high school, which is somewhat more successful but still posts below-average scores compared to schools with similar demographics. The high school does send 90 percent of graduates to college.

The elementary school hasn’t met expectations, Stanford Education Dean Deborah Stipek told the Weekly in December.

“In a lot of ways we’ve been very successful in the kind of emotional and family support, but our kids’ skills are not up to what they need to be. It just takes time to get things right.”

In petitioning for renewal of the elementary and high school charter, Stanford New Schools conceded, “We were not satisfied with our students’ achievement gains,” and pledged to redesign “all levels of our system, from governance and management structures to instructional practice and the use of data to drive decision-making.”

Stanford’s Education School has focused on secondary education, so perhaps they have  a lot to learn about running an elementary. I visited the high school when it was new:  Turning theory into practice was proving a challenge. I give Stanford credit for putting its reputation on the line.

Some East Palo Alto charter schools are thriving, including the very successful EPAC, where I once tutored.

Why some middle schools do better

An intense schoolwide focus on improving student academic outcomes characterizes higher-performing middle schools in California, concludes Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better, a Stanford and EdSource report.

At higher-performing schools, academic preparation was a “shared mission.” Schools typically set measurable goals, expected students and parents to share responsibility for learning, stressed early identification of and intervention for struggling students, and used data to monitor student progress and improve teaching.

Researchers interviewed principals, English and math teachers and superintendents in California.

'Suited for teaching' after all

Michele Kerr, who comments here as “Cal,” has earned a master’s degree from Stanford’s Teacher Education Program (STEP), despite threats to declare her “unsuited” for teaching.  FIRE has the links.

. . . Stanford tried to revoke Kerr’s admission after she voiced disagreement with “progressive” views held by STEP administrators, but FIRE intervened and resolved the issue. Kerr also was blogging about her thoughts and experiences as a future certified teacher. Stanford School of Education administrators demanded the password to her private blog and threatened to expel her for her opinions and teaching philosophy.

Kerr was told that her problems had nothing to do with her views, that other students found her domineering and intimidating. In an e-mail, she told classmates that “you are all fantastic, passionate, committed people who I think will make outstanding teachers.” But:

. . . if you are sitting in class privately seething because you feel that I or anyone else is derailing a conversation that you wish to go in a different direction, then you should reconsider your own priorities and values as a novice educator.  SPEAK UP.

Fight for the education you want. And if you don’t feel you should have to, if you’d rather complain to the powers-that-be in the hopes that the power will take care of an interpersonal problem, then how on earth are you planning on going out in the far more ruthless world of public education and effect any change worth mentioning?

She was told the e-mail was “intimidating” in itself.

WashPost columnist Jay Mathews, often a target of Kerr’s caustic comments, wonders why academics can’t tolerate independent thinkers.

Though the education school has no blogging policy, Kerr was reprimanded for her blog, which mentioned Stanford but not the high school where she was student teaching.  She “took down the blog temporarily, renamed it, eliminated all references to Stanford, and gave it password protection so that only she and a few friends could read it,” Mathews writes. That didn’t help.

After filing a complaint, Kerr got a new supervisor with whom she got along very well. She completed the program and was hired by a high school in the area to teach algebra, geometry and humanities.

T-shaped people

Tina Seelig, who teaches entrepreneurship at Stanford Business School, talks about the need for “T-shaped people” in a Mercury News interview

This means people with a great depth of knowledge in at least one discipline, like chemical engineering or biology, and a breadth of knowledge across many skills. Across the top of the T are a knowledge of leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship.

It’s no longer good enough to be an individual contributor where you have a clearly defined role. You need to be able to work across disciplines. The classes range from traditional business topics such as strategy, finance and marketing, but also focus on leadership, dealing with innovation and negotiation — the softer skills that are very, very important. So it’s about management and leadership.

“Failure is the secret sauce of Silicon Valley,” Seeling says.  She tells her students to write a “failure résumé” explaining their personal, professional and academic mistakes.

Every leader in every organization has made big mistakes. That’s why we hire people with experience — we want them because of their successes and for what they have learned from their failures.

Entrepreneurs “see the world as opportunity-rich, and see problems as opportunities,” she says.

When my husband interviewed for a job with Cisco CEO John Chambers, he talked about his failures in a start-up company. Chambers talked about his failures.  My husband got the job. Now he’s left Cisco and is starting a new company. Odds are it will fail. But maybe not.

Chinese students may be strong on technical skills, but they’re not creative risk takers, writes Randy Pollock, also in the Mercury News.

While teaching in China, he challenged his Chinese MBA students to brainstorm a business plan in two hours, giving them a restaurant chain as an example. He asked for originality.

In the end, five of the six groups presented plans for, you guessed it, restaurant chains. The sixth proposed a catering service. Why risk a unique solution when the instructor has let it slip he likes the food business?

Innovators need critical and creative skills in addition to technical knowledge, he writes.