Can I Get an AMEN!?

From the Miami Sun-Sentinel:

"...board members on Tuesday told Notter to create a committee of teachers, administrators, parents and students to figure out how to prepare students for the state's high stakes test without hurting other classroom lessons. Notter also was instructed to reduce FCAT hoopla, meaning the pep rallies, banners and T-shirts, and cut back on test preparation for middle and high school students who already perform well on the exams."

Now how about for ALL kids?

Change or Die!

A scary premise - but a thought provoking one. I just finished this book by Alan Deutschman which begins:

"What if you were given that choice? For real. What if it weren't just the hyperbolic rhetoric that conflates corporate perfomrance with life or death? Not the overblown exhortations of a rabid boss, or a maniacal coach, or a slick motivational speaker, or a self-dramatizing chief executive officer or political leader. We're talking actual life or death now. Your own life and death. What if a well-informed, trusted authority figure said you had to make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think, act, feel, and act? If you didn't, your time would end soon - a lot sooner than it had to. Could you change when change really mattered? When it mattered most?"

Now - aside from having an extremely powerful lead that will make its way into many of my writing workshops - the entire book caused me to actually stop, put it down, and THINK about change. So - it took me longer to read than some other books I have picked up lately.

The author indiates that there are three "keys" to change:
1. Relate - you form a new, emotional relationship with a person or community that inspires and sustains hope.

2. Repeat - the new relationship helps you learn, practice, and master the new habits and skills you'll need.

3. Reframe - the new relationship helps you learn new ways of thinking about your situation and your life.

Now - before I lead you astray, let me warn you that there is one, itsy-bitsy piece of this book that directly relates to education. Instead - I found myself reframing the contents of the book to my experiences in education to test the "keys." But I found that in the instances when I have made a real change to my practice, the keys absolutely hold true.

Let's take my adventures into Web 2.0 tools. Summer 2006, I was a participant the High School's New Face conference put on by our regional BOCES. While I was a participant in the Engaging Students strand with Richard Strong and Harvey Silver, we also had the opportunity to have Will Richardson share his experiences at keynote speeches. Meeting and learning from these folks for three days in a retreat-like setting created the new relationship for me. We are not on a first name basis but hearing these folks speak and being able to interact with them and reflect upon my work and practice created that emotional relationship that provided me with hope again - that I really could make a difference. (If you doubt this - ask my colleagues who had to suffer through some pretty emotional bouts in the weeks following the conference.)

After that - I began to investigate the use of blogs and wikis as ways to engage teachers so that they, in turn, could engage their students. Many of the lessons from Richard and Harvey found their way into the tools that were shared by Will. I began to reach out and read other blogs, to cautiously post on the blogs of others, to share my thoughts and practice with teachers. It has been over a year now - and I can honestly say that my practice has changed to the point where I immediately see Web 2.0 connections to practice when I learn something new.

This has caused me to reframe my personal thoughts about learning and about building community. I work hard to share what I have created in the hopes of creating that same type of relationship with others. I think differently about the workshops that I offer and how they are developed. I am constantly driven by the question of what this means in educating our students for the new, flatter world and how it can be used to help build connections. Most importantly, it has helped me to find a personal center and to work to develop my writing skills.

I could think back upon my introduction to Communities for Learning (formerly known as CSETL) as another example of change in my practice that has followed the three keys. And my decision to no longer practice law and enter education. And the first time that I lost weight and became really, truly, physically fit (which has caused me to think about what I need to do differently to once again lose weight!) The keys make sense to me.

Which now leads me to these questions: If I am a teacher/leaders who wants to create the conditions for change, what am I doing to create relationships that inspire and sustain hope? How am I providing opportunities for others to learn and practice the skills they need? How I have supported others who are seeking to "reframe?"

Visual Empathy

Since Jenn seems to be in a visual display kind of mood lately (and I guess I am also over on Writing Frameworks) - I thought I would share an interesting concept in presentations. "Death by PowerPoint" is a phrase that rings true for me lately. In teaching a graduate level course on Curriculum Design, we ask the students to do Board of Education presentations to lend a touch of authenticity to the course. They have been so painful in the past, that I have taken to doing really bad presentations using PowerPoint to show what they should not do. I don't need to do my gig anymore as I have found this video that is far more entertaining.

But I am intrigued by a Daniel Pink article in Wired about Pecha Kutcha. Japanese for "chatter," Pecha Kutcha is an innovation of two architects which applies a simple set of rules to presentations: 20 slides, 20 seconds each. After that - no more, you're done.

It is an interesting concept and certainly causes the presenter to maximize what they put on a slide visually while minimizing the accompanying chatter. I really like this video by Pink, which attempts the Pecha Kutcha format, and also speaks about the power of empathy in the signs around us:

Data Dislay Tidbit

This came up on my RSS feed today and I've now watched parts of it three times - not because I'm really all that interested in GDPs and population, but because 1. I cannot get over how amazing the data display is, 2. I completely understand the guy's excitement and 3. he comes dangerously close to "Chicken, chicken" but just when he's about to go there, he deftly avoids it by making a personal connection. His presentation is very powerful and I do feel like I have a better understanding of micro-loans and how we can address poverty around the world. I love how he shared the disconnect between goals and means - simple, clear and how can you not love someone who says "the seemingly impossible is possible", although I'm not planning on ending any data sessions the way he ends his.

I want to figure out how we can make educational data tell such a compelling story. Take out environmental factors and add educational variables - picture student work samples on the GDP scale in place of the homes in India. Wow. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!

ASCD + New York Daily News - sound research = Cranky Jennifer

My husband walked in the door after a full day of technology troubleshooting and making scheduling changes at his school and had to listen to me to rant about an article I read today via the ASCD SmartBrief. Mid-rant, he lovingly reminded me that I have access to a blog. Now you, gentle reader, shall get to enjoy the full wrath of my rant. Because if you can't rant on your own blog, where can you?

Background: every day, the
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) sends out an e-mail called SmartBrief. According to ASCD's website:

ASCD SmartBrief brings you the K-12 education news that really matters. Our editors handpick key articles from hundreds of publications, do a brief summary of each and provide links back to the original sources. In other words, we do all the research...and you get the news you need, without the fluff.
This statement implies someone trolled the web looking for articles related to education. They ten pick key articles and e-mail a summary and link to a lot of educators (couldn't find the exact number on the ASCD site, please forgive my use of vague qualitative data to prove a point) The article that was picked as the lucky above-the-scroll article on September 7, 2007 is called: Daily News exam finds math scores up when difficulty rating went down. In fact, a version of the article title appeared in the subject line on the SmartBrief.

Let's set aside for the moment the difference between
causation and correlation. Let's ignore for a moment that the author is discrediting increases in scores that came about because of improvement in instruction and curriculum. I can even forgive Erin Einhorn for misidentifying p-value (it’s the percent of students who responded correctly to a question NOT “The easy score - called a Probability-value”) or assuring the reader that her conclusions are valid because . . . well, she say it is.
Three experts said The News' findings were valid.
34 kids were given the 2002 and 2005 test. They did better on the 2005 test. Therefore, it's an easier test. I think I'm going to try that approach in my dissertation. The paragraph following the quote above contains a statement from one statistician who talks about the significance of their study. The other two apparently wanted to remain confidential sources or anonymous statisticians. I just got a really big chuckle at the idea of statisticians skulking about in the shadows with copies of SPSS tucked furtively under their coats. Admit it. It’s funny.

What deflects my anger away from the author, besides silently sulking statisticians, is that in a
link below the article, the author quotes a researcher who candidly admits that p-value isn’t a good measure of the quality of a test. The author appears to have done some research. In the link, but not the main article, she correctly defines p-value and gives a solid example. Though, I’m baffled why she insists on calling p-value an “easy score”, state assessment "quizzes", and ignores completely the concept of standard setting when she writes:

Kids in New York get the same number of points for correct answers regardless of whether a question is rated easy or difficult. One way testmakers equalize exams is by requiring more correct answers on easier tests. If the 2005 test was easier than the 2002 test, that wasn't done. Kids needed 40 points to pass the 2002 test but only 39 points to pass in 2005.
All of the above transgressions can be forgiven. Quantifying learning is a messy business. Even our state education department acknowledges that standardizing testing has unintended consequences. Einhorn didn’t do a very thorough job exploring the whole picture (i.e. raw to scale conversion, standard setting) and has several glaring errors but Erin doesn’t write for a professional journal. She is writing for her fellow New Yorkers and answering questions (albeit incorrectly) for her readers and raising some powerful questions for us to ponder on the role of evaluation in education. So, Erin can be forgiven. She doesn’t speak for, or represent educators.

That honor, however, does belong to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. My wrath, which has tempered into crankiness, goes out into the blue void at the person who picked this article to be first. I have nothing personal against ASCD. I’m sure the organization is staffed by lovely people. I enjoy their books and journals. I haven’t been a conference yet but I look forward to attending one soon.

I am angry because a professional organization in my field sent its members to an article that is incorrect and misleading. If ASCD wants us draw our collective attention to current news on standardized testing, on the same day that the article was published in the New York Daily News, Gerald Bracey wrote a
piece in Education Week reminding educators to look at the bigger picture. (As the author of a book about statistics in education, I’d be curious about his response to Erin’s article.)

What would I have wanted instead? I would have been thrilled to pieces if that editor at SmartBrief had tagged the Daily News article and followed up a few days later to see the impact of the article – and trust me, there has been one. The editor would have found a
response from an angry parent, a blogger pleased that the conspiracy was finally being uncovered, a radio show dedicated to the topic, even Bloomberg and Spitzer got in on the discussion, and on the following day, another article from Erin herself calling for a massive external audit of our testing program. I have posted a link to the article on a data listserv that I belong to and am eager to see how people respond.

Edited to add: My anger completed dissolved to resignation when I re-read Erin’s follow-up article. I will sadly point toward the previously mentioned issue on
correlation and causation (this time with a British accent) and consider sending Erin an article about standard setting and post-equating but instead I think I’m going to grab my copy of SPSS and go sulk.

Edit #2: Now
ELA is under fire. *Sigh*

October 15 is Blog Action Day!

Hum. . . how to connect professional development and the enviornment? Any suggestions?

Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

No - I am not talking about Jenn's book reading/blogging binge. Grins! I am very jealous that (1) she was able to get through those professional books and (2) was able to post about them. Sadly- I am ready to make another Amazon book order and can only choose one.....

Instead - I am talking about something that has been the topic of recent posts from me lately, only I have never been brave enough to label what I was talking about here as "fear." Jeff Utecht does though - and offers a great challenge in a recent post:

"I have two more trainings coming up this next week, and the first thing I am going to ask all my teachers to do is to click on something they have always wondered about, always thought “What would happen if….”. I will be in the room to pull them out of the way if their computer explodes. But I want to try and bring them to a place that allows them to explore their machines, allows them for just a minute to be supported as they explore their new technology. We don’t explore enough, we know the programs we know and that’s what we know. As Educational Technology Leaders we must support teachers, parents, and students to expand there thinking on what computers can do. To, like this father, hold them up and all them to bang away for away and see what happens. Without the support they will never do it, they do not know this tool the way a 10 year old does, we are immigrants in a foreign land. We go where we are comfortable, where others like us go to gather: Word, Excel, Publisher." (Bolded text was done by me.)

Fear is a pretty strong word - but I think it nicely summarizes what we feel with these new technologies. And it isn't just the fear of having your computer explode in front of you or of losing all your data. It is the fear that you might be held accountable in some way for what you have written. I have read blog posts where folks have pulled their blogs and made them private because they did not have tenure or their administration did not like what they were writing and they could never be completely anonymous. And blogs where folks change their taglines to include a disclaimer that the thoughts contained do not reflect those of the district (although after reflection that tag was changed.) And at a recent workshop - a teacher asked how to word a disclaimer on a wiki that the sites they sent them to might lead to other sites that might not be "appropriate."

We work so hard in our region to take down the classroom doors, to promote reflection and collaboration, to learn and grow from the wisdom and experience of our colleagues. Technology seems to be the perfect fit for this - yet it also seems to be a tremendous barrier. Or is it?