Published Online: April 19, 2011
Published in Print: April 20, 2011, as Blogs of the Week

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| VIEWS | THE FUTURES OF SCHOOL REFORM

Schools Challenged to Use Technology Wisely

Educational transformation is coming, not because of the increasing ineffectiveness of schools in meeting society’s needs, but due to growing unaffordability of schools as we know them.

We can no longer support an educational system based on inefficient use of human labor. That includes lost opportunities to help students learn outside of classrooms. Many talented people not in the teaching profession would be happy to serve as tutors, mentors, and coaches for students, if our formal educational system provided training, certification, resources, and formal recognition of those roles.

Modern technologies provide ways of coordinating such a distributed system of learning/teaching, so that teachers can both benefit from and guide the efforts of others who help students learn outside of the school’s location and hours.

For example, collaborative media could help to coordinate between museum educators and both teachers and students. Teachers could use technology to make public the progression of curricular goals through the school year and the content/skills on which students need the most help. In turn, museums could gear their exhibits and activities to foster these types of learning, making special outreach efforts to students for whom school-based learning was insufficient.

Too often, I have seen educational technologies used to put “old wine in new bottles.” Now, if we seize the moment, we not only can have new wine—such as peer mentoring anytime, anyplace—but also can move beyond the “bottle” of the stand-alone school to lifewide learning.

—Chris Dede


| VIEWS | WALT GARDNER'S REALITY CHECK

Business and Education Don’t Mix

The abrupt resignation of Cathleen Black as chancellor of the New York City schools after only 95 days serves as a cautionary tale for taxpayers. I’m not talking about Black’s flagrant lack of educational experience. Instead, I’m talking about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s arrogant handling of the matter, which is emblematic of a larger issue.

From the time Bloomberg took office, he believed that business practices would transform the nation’s largest school system. As a result, he ignored advice and acted as if the school district were just another corporation that he headed. This approach allowed him to move quickly without having to build a consensus.

What should be apparent is that public schools are not public corporations. Teachers do not respond to the same practices as corporate employees. A wise leader understands the distinction. During my 28-year career teaching at the same high school, I worked under six principals. One was a former brigadier general in the Marines. He was very effective because he recognized that what works in the military does not work in schools. He never gave an order to teachers. Instead, he enlisted their cooperation. The adjustment must have been difficult for him, but he never showed it.

Reformers still don’t get it.

—Walt Gardner


| NEWS | SCHOOLED IN SPORTS

When Rules Fly in the Face of Sportsmanship

What does it take for a district to change its “mercy rule” for youth baseball teams? Two high school baseball teams in Texas found out the answer the hard way.

Lake Highlands High School blew out Dallas Samuell High School by more than 50 runs on March 8, bringing back memories of the 100-0 girls’ basketball game between two Texas schools in 2009.

Except, according to accounts from people at the game, Lake Highlands coach Jay Higgins pulled his starters, let his reserves play, and told his hitters not to move more than one base on a given play. Beyond that, he said, his hands were tied by the rulebook. It says the game has to go at least five innings to be official.

Since the game, the Richardson Independent School District has modified its mercy rule to say that games can now be ended if there’s a 15-run margin after three innings, according to the Associated Press.

Mark Cousins, interim athletic director for the University Interscholastic League (which oversees public high school sports in Texas), told the Associated Press there’s a provision in the National Federation of Baseball Rule Book that allows for a game to be called early if both coaches and the umpire agree. However, Cousins said that, to his knowledge, the rule had never been used.

—Bryan Toporek


| VIEWS | TEACHER IN A STRANGE LAND

Consuming Teachers

There’s a lack of moral integrity in some aspects of the consumer society: the denigration of public service, choosing price over community or novelty over excellence, disconnecting from commitment. And of course, this is the story in education, too:

—LIFO (or “last in, first out”), Michelle Rhee’s new boogeyman that’s theoretically destroying education.

—“Roundtables” of venture capitalists in education, meeting to decide how to hone media messages about teachers. For example: Wouldn’t it be better and cheaper if new graduates from our top colleges got those teaching jobs, kind of like competitive two-year paid internships? Or: Teacher tenure is dragging down student learning!

—School governance models that pay teachers for reaching specific achievement-data goals rather than teaching kids. Fail to reach your goals? We turn your school over to a charter operator—or pay you less.

We no longer feel bound to invest in our local schools—developing trust, working through thorny classroom problems with veteran teachers, building a cadre of effective practitioners over time, running for the school board as community service.

We’re education consumers now. We take what we need from education, and don’t trouble ourselves with those who haven’t figured out how to take advantage of the system. Their loss.

Who’s driving this school-as-marketplace, educator-as-entrepreneur movement? Who benefits?

—Nancy Flanagan

Vol. 30, Issue 28, Page 14

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