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Blogs of the Week

November 06, 2012 4 min read
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Social-Media Exchange Tests AFT President

Wow, users are a tough crowd. That’s a realization the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, probably had recently.

For several hours—while traveling on a bus through Florida—Weingarten participated in an Ask Me Anything thread on the popular social news site. She answered questions on everything from the Common Core State Standards (which she called “a big opportunity”) to absent-teacher reserves (“I tried to close the ‘Rubber Room’ several times”) to her salary (around $360,000, or 3 1/2 times what she could have made as a teacher in New York City). She also faced numerous accusations that she was dodging, cherry-picking, and “spouting talking points.”

One user chided: “Don’t shake the bee’s nest if you’re allergic.”

President Barack Obama paved the way for political figures to get involved on Reddit when he participated in an similar Q-and-A on the site in August. So it makes sense that the social-media-savvy Weingarten would give it a shot as well, though one participant questioned that decision, saying, “Something tells me you should have thought twice before scheduling a [Reddit session] with real people in the public under this sort of anonymity. Who are not following a script and represent a disillusioned, more cynical than optimistic point of view... Welcome to Reddit!”

If nothing else, the discussion offers a look into what a mostly young, seemingly well-read, and engaged cross section of the population thinks about teachers’ unions and education. While the site tends to attract liberal users, this particular conversation had an anti-union bent.

—Liana Heitin


Grant Application Sparks Rural Ed. Collaborative

Some school districts won’t win money from the U.S. Department of Education’s competitive-grant programs, but simply going through the application process has helped jump-start initiatives.

Five rural Tennessee districts were part of a much larger group of 54 rural districts in the state to apply for a federal Investing in Innovation, or i3, grant. They won’t know whether they won until sometime this month, but five of those districts decided to form a new professional-development collaborative, the Tennessee Valley Learning Network. The network is open to educators in five counties in southeast Tennessee.

“If we get the grant, we will have to form pockets of collaboratives across the state, so we decided, ‘Why wait on the grant?’ ” said Jared T. Bigham, the executive director of the Tennessee Rural Education Association. “We can leverage existing resources and start supporting each other now. This is the first of what we hope will be a movement of collaborative generation across the state.”

Bigham cited purchasing power and grant applications as two additional areas the five districts could work on together in the future.

Joe Wood, a senior director for the Columbus, Ohio-based Battelle for Kids, worked with the Tennessee districts on their federal i3 application. Wood and Bigham decided to reach out to the five rural districts to form this collaborative.

The districts have on average 3,500 students each, so together they serve about 28,000 students. Their goal is to pool existing resources to support one another’s professional-development efforts.

Each system identified a key area where it was strong and could offer help to others, such as Common Core State Standards, value-added growth, formative instructional practices, or professional learning communities, Bigham said.

They’ve used videoconferencing to coordinate professional-development sessions across districts, Bigham said.

—Diette Courrégé


Flood-Ravaged Bangladesh and Its Floating Schools

This is an incredible school redesign story.

In Bangladesh, 20 percent of the country goes underwater each year. Severe flooding prevents students from attending school for a good portion of time. In any given year, dozens if not hundreds of schools are destroyed. Even more schools are shut down because kids cannot get to school.

In “Easy Like Water,” filmmaker Glenn Baker shares the inspirational story of how a community came together to build solar-powered floating schools. Not only can students attend school year-round, they can take part in digital learning.

“Showing people overcoming adversity with do-it-yourself innovations and old-fashioned courage, the film has universal appeal to anyone looking for inspiration in these challenging times,” Baker said in an interview with the Asia Society. “Many people feel helpless about the climate-change issue, and the subject usually invokes images of victims in developing countries. ‘Easy Like Water’ turns that stereotype on its head: It shows citizens in a poor Muslim country taking charge of their destiny. And it shows how climate change is our mutual challenge, as citizens of a planet where the skies and oceans are all connected.

“This story will show audiences their actions and voices can make a difference,” he said. This story compelled me to think—and I hope you, too—that design thinking and community support can go a very long way in helping schools. American schools have great challenges, too, and access to a good education is certainly big one.

What can we do with a little ingenuity?

—Anthony Jackson

A version of this article appeared in the November 07, 2012 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week


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