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November 02, 2009 3 min read
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Another Inconvenient Truth

The director of the Academy Award-winning film “An Inconvenient Truth” wants his upcoming documentary to fuel the same sense of urgency for improving education that his earlier one did for raising awareness of global warming.

In the preview of “Waiting for Superman,” screened at the Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age forum at Google headquarters last week, director Davis Guggenheim takes a dramatic and emotional look at how low-income students and families in the District of Columbia navigate the public school options. It paints a bleak picture of the U.S. education system, particularly its failure to serve the most at-risk students and communities.

Those kinds of communities are familiar to the forum’s main speaker, Geoffrey Canada, the president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Canada thinks the film will put the power of the media to work to make people care about the failures, and the potential, of education for addressing societal problems.

“I cried each of the three times I’ve seen this film,” he said.

Canada gave an impassioned speech about the need to turn the nation’s attention toward improving public education and invest in a radical shift in direction that provides quality educational opportunities for all students.

For Canada, having access to technology is as basic as having access to books. —Kathleen Kennedy Manzo


Honey, I Shrank Detroit

The Detroit public schools’ enrollment campaign may have encouraged a few more parents and students to say, “I’m in,” but a significant number continue to vote with their feet, leaving the troubled district behind.

The $500,000 effort even brought two high-profile appearances by actor and comedian Bill Cosby (who has a doctorate in education) to support the cause.

While the district’s campaign netted about 40 more students for the official state count than the projected 83,777, that number is still a drop from the estimated 93,457 students enrolled in Detroit schools last year—the first year since World War I that the district had fewer than 100,000 students.

In the final push, a recruitment team is being paid to hit the streets and look for students eligible to return. Those workers will get a $100 bonus for every student who comes back and can be fully counted for state funding purposes. With the recent cuts in Michigan’s K-12 education budget, the cash-strapped district will need every penny to educate its students. —Dakarai I. Aarons


Can You Hear Me Now?

Teachers are 32 times more likely to experience voice problems than are other professionals, Science Daily reports, and the risk may be even higher for female teachers than for males.

The Web site reports on results from a study by the National Center for Voice and Speech, the findings of which were scheduled to be presented last month in San Antonio at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. As part of the study, Eric Hunter, the center’s deputy director, and his colleagues equipped teachers for 14 days with a voice dosimeter, a device that captures voicing characteristics such as pitch and loudness rather than actual speech.

The authors found that female teachers used their voices about 10 percent more than males—and talked louder—when teaching.

Making matters worse, the women were also less likely to give their overworked voices a rest at home. They talked 7 percent more than the men at home.

My guess? Most of these teachers were probably busy mothers as well. —Debra Viadero


Little House on the Digital Prairie

If you are not familiar with the show “Little House on the Prairie,” it’s about a homesteading family in the late 1800s in Minnesota. One particular setting on the show was a one-room schoolhouse where students ranged from kindergarten through grade 12.

Fast forward to “cloud computing” (storing data and applications on the Internet rather than on a desktop computer). The Internet, it can be argued, has become the one-room schoolhouse of this generation. Consider the fact that educators are constantly being reminded to differentiate their instruction—to make modifications and accommodations so that the playing field is leveled for the variety of learners within one classroom. The Internet can serve as a tool that allows students to explore what they need to learn, at a pace and level that suits them as individuals.

It is no secret that education is going through a transformation because of technology. It is likely that within 20 years, because of the Internet and cloud computing, we will go back to the one-room schoolhouse. —James Yap & Teresa Ivey

A version of this article appeared in the November 04, 2009 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week

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