A Choosy Mom on Choosing Schools

Karla Phillips

After spending many wonderful years in our church preschool, it was time for my daughter to transfer to public school. As any mom can attest to, this can be an emotional time. When you have a child with special needs, it can be unnerving. I have spent a great portion of my professional career advocating for school choice, but the truth of the matter is that the decision-making process is not for the faint of heart.

As school choice continues to expand across the country, there has been a lot of discussion exploring how and why parents make the choices that they do. As Liz Wimmer points out, it’s not as simple as we would like to believe. And in a school-choice rich state like Arizona this is important information.

What we continue to discover is that there is a discrepancy between what school choice advocates and researchers think are the most important factors and what is actually driving parents’ decisions. Education reformers have hoped and quite frankly assumed that academic achievement or test scores would be the primary motivator but we know now that it is not the case.

A similar issue arises in the special education community. Parents frequently ask my opinion of schools for their children with special needs and typically they want to know what kind of services and programs they have.

They usually don’t like my answer. “I don’t know I’m not taking my daughter to get serviced. I’m looking for a great school.”

Okay, to be honest, I’m intentionally trying to be antagonistic when I say that but I really am trying to make a point. Fortunately, some new research from the Arizona Department of Education has vindicated me.

A recent Raising Special Kids newsletter explains that,

The Arizona Department of Education examined three years of statewide testing data to find the schools where students with disabilities improved academically year after year. Through onsite visits with districts and charter schools, data collection and evaluation methods were used to examine what schools were doing to consistently improve outcomes for students. The goal was to identify key strategies to share with other schools and parents to improve outcomes for more students. It turns out that every high-performing school had six traits in common.

  1. High Expectations.
  2. Highly Effective Teaching Strategies.
  3. Data Driven Decision Making.
  4. Students Are Provided with Reteach and Enrichment Activities.
  5. Students with Disabilities Receive Core Instruction in the General Education Classroom
  6. Effective Leadership.

Aha! Just as I suspected. A good school is a good school for all kids. Please notice that the schools are not described as those with the highest test scores or rankings but those where the students with special needs were improving every year.

I certainly do not want to minimize the need for parents to ensure that the proper services and supports will be in place for their child or even that the personal priorities or preferences of the family are met. This is why I have long supported school choice with a robust menu of options for families.

I have long theorized that there is a School Choice Hierarchy of Needs akin to Maslow’s.


A single, working mom can’t choose a school across town if there is no transportation or aftercare regardless of how much the school excels. Similarly, although federal law requires all schools to provide special education services to all qualified students, parents know that the scope and quality of those services can vary dramatically.

Finding and choosing a good school is no easy task, especially if you have a child with special needs. Recent literature bears this out and I can certainly testify to it.

But I want my fellow parents in the trenches of IEP meetings to remember that our children are students first and a diagnosis second. While it is important that our children are safe and provided the services and supports that they need to succeed, it is just as important that the school have the six qualities listed above because all of our kids deserve a great school.

For additional resources on choosing a school, see:

This blog is part of our Smart Parents series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. For more information about the project, see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning as well as other blogs:

Karla Phillips is Policy Director at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Follow her on Twitter @azkarla.

To My Son’s Future Teacher

My son saw his first snow last winter. He stuck his little face straight up in the air and squealed with delight when he felt the cold, soft flakes against his skin. The white, feathery bits swirled around and then slowly floated down towards his outreached hands against the backdrop of deep grey, Texas skies. His eyes filled with pure wonder at the sights, sounds, touch, and taste of it all.


There in that moment I thought about you, his future teacher. I thought about all the pressures, requirements, and agendas you are bombarded with. I thought about the big tests and the consuming reality of preparing for these snapshots of my child’s supposed learning. I thought about how you might even be told to ignore what you (and brain research) know(s) about how my son learns best.

I thought about the precious and fragile gifts I see in my child today: pure wonder, joy, and curiosity. And I’d like to tell you from my perspective, as a parent, as a former teacher, and current learner, what I think really matters.

1. Believe in my child, beyond what you can see

Believe my child can do more than remember the order of the planets and recite the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Believe that he can think in new ways, even if you haven’t seen it yet. Believe he can grow and not be defined by last year’s teachers’ notes or those darn pink and blue cards that sum up a year of behavior with numbers or stickers or pluses and minuses. I want you to be a downright crazy idealist when it comes to what my child can do. You might be surprised when he rises to the challenge.

2. Believe in yourself, beyond what you think you can learn

Believe in your ability to meet his needs. Learn new strategies when something just isn’t working. I’m not sure where we internalized the lie that teachers should know everything, but it is just that–a lie. I’d much rather you realize and model the value of on-going curiosity and growth in your own life, and watch the beautiful overflow of passionate learning spill into your interactions with my son and his peers.

3. Stop playing school

Have you ever thought about the fact that my son’s birthdate, an arbitrary number on the calendar, determines when he is deemed ready for multiplication or solving chemical equations? I want you to question everything: Does my son need to sit in a desk in a row? Does he need to raise his hand to respond? Is this whole thing really working? If the answer to that last one is no, then stand up and change it. I’ve got your back.

4. Value curiosity over compliance

Learning is messy. Learning doesn’t always look civilized. Curiosity and student interest don’t usually fit inside a pre-packaged curriculum.

What do your actions show my son that you value most? Are you so busy telling him to be quiet, or get in line, or hurry up, that you miss the caterpillar he is crouched around, trying to help it across the sidewalk?

Please don’t show my son that school is a place for compliance over curiosity. It isn’t about coloring inside the lines. And here is a-not-so-secret-secret, my son’s future employers agree. Our world needs more creatives than cogs.

Do we want well-behaved students or world-changing students?

5. Value process over product

I know it is a lot more work to get out the rice bins, water table, and gallon containers to let him explore capacity for himself. I know water might spill and those grains of rice are killer to clean up when they overflow and find their way into every nook and cranny. But I really care about the experience and so does he.

My son needs to touch and feel and shake and sort and measure. My son needs to stomp and jump and run and fall and dust his knees off. My son needs to ask questions and read about things he loves and write about moments he treasures. He needs to persevere through a challenging problem and experience the satisfaction of finding an answer not because the answer is the point, but because of the learning he is constructing along the way.

So, let my son create without a bunch of rules and a model product. I know it feels like everyone else has the perfect cookie cutter wall displays. I know it feels like all the other classrooms look Pinterest-perfect. But does his model flower need to look exactly like all the others? What does this prove my child can do anyway? Follow directions, conform, copy. I want more for him. I think you do too.

If they all look the same, then you’ve got a recipe, not creativity.

6. Adopt a posture of experimentation

If my son can’t try something and fail at school then where can he?

Nurture a culture of thinking where my son can develop the thinking dispositions of a scientist and an entrepreneur as he explores and experiments and figures things out. You can be a model of this every day as you innovate, iterate, and learn alongside him. I don’t want him to be afraid. Maybe he won’t take on the same fear of failure most of us adults have because all he knows is that failure is part of the learning process.

7. Make room for him in the curriculum

Right now it is the color red and giraffes. Next week it might be dinosaurs and things with wheels. Help my son see himself in the curriculum. Talk to him about what he is interested in, what he wonders, what he wants to find out.  Design learning that takes him into account and makes information accessible. Take the time to respond to his questions, or provide a place for him to explore them on his own. Show him that learning isn’t confined to the time and space of the classroom or the scope and sequence–and guide him where to go when he is hungry for more.

Right now it is easy to see with fresh eyes as he explores the world around him. Everything is new, everything is a first. Everything is a surprise. He is never bored, because the world is incredible and it is his to discover. Maybe that is part of why he is such an exceptional learner right now.

With your help we will see the same look of wonder when he devours a good story, writes a killer poem, comes up with a new way to solve a problem, or combines two chemicals. I need you to partner with me and protect the precious, fragile gift of wonder because it is the key to learning and it is really hard to get back once it is lost.

This blog is part of our Smart Parents series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. For more information about the project, see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning as well as other blogs:

Modeling Good Work

After a season of testing, it’s easy to lose sight of the larger aims and ends. Howard Gardner, in Frames of Mind, reminds us “Education is inherently and inevitably an issue of human goals and human values.”

Reading, writing, and problem solving are important but Gardner suggests we should be helping young develop in five dimensions:

  • Disciplined mind has mastered a craft or profession;
  • Synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in valuable ways;
  • Creating mind breaks new ground—and stays one step ahead of computers and robots;
  • Respectful mind tries to understand these others and seeks to work effectively with them; and
  • Ethical mind considers how citizens can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all.

Frames of mindGood work. Of the last dimension, he said, “I’d like to live in a world characterized by “good work”: work that is excellent, ethical, and engaging.”

Gardner suggests that modeling is essential, “Children see whether their parents take pride in their work.” He hopes young people see ethical behavior in how they approach play and serve as citizens.

The most memorable thing about my childhood was the weekends spent working in urban mission churches (like the one pictured where I spent a decade of weekends). I’m sure this was part of a personal faith response by my parents, but it became evident in my teens that it was central to their parenting plan—and a counterbalance to a suburban lifestyle. They wanted me to spend time in diverse communities, to see poverty, and experience the rewards to service. They wanted to model good work.

My parents paid attention to what Gardner calls horizontal supports—they shaped my peer groups in their school choices, church attendance, and curfew management.

My dad, a neurosurgeon, got me as job as an orderly at a rehabilitation center so I could get a better picture of his world. I remember wheeling a patient to the operating room and seeing him pacing in front of an x-ray. The weight of the job was evident on his face. I better appreciated that on a good day someone lived, on a bad day someone died.

“From an early age, of course, young people are influenced by what they see around them, what is rewarded, what is written about, what is ignored or disparaged,” said Gardner.

Modeling good work. If you agreed with Gardner that modeling good work was important, what would you do? I’ve seen and tried to use seven strategies:

  1. Take your kids to work.
  2. Engage your kids in community service projects.
  3. Discuss your work at the dinner table; let them hear you synthesizing the world and your work.
  4. Be more transparent about the bad as well as the good stuff that happens to help them appreciate grit and persistence.
  5. Let your kids see you learning.
  6. Make sure they see evidence of quality work product.
  7. Help them identify a mentor that models good work.

As work gets more complicated and work environments become more diverse, Gardner’s advice to model good work is more important than ever.

For more see:

Finishing the School Year Strong: They Deserve Your Best

Cue the Alice Cooper, and grab your yearbook signing Sharpie because school is almost out.  This is the time of year when teachers begin to ask critical questions, consult their learning networks for final feedback, and when it’s time to make reflections matter.

Trevor Greene is one EdLeader familiar with the end-of-year wrap. He currently serves as Instructional Leadership Executive Director at the Highline School District in the Greater Seattle area, and was the 2013 National High School Principal of the Year after generating results at Toppenish High School in eastern Washington. In this blog that first appeared on Trevor’s blog he reminds educators of the importance of this time of year.

Trevor Greene

Last month Tanguy Pepiot, a University of Oregon senior from France, built a healthy lead and thought that his victory in the 3,000-meter steeplechase was secure. His final kick slowed as he waved his arm, urging the crowd to celebrate with him, and he was clipped at the finish line by University of Washington’s Meron Simon. “I’m not proud of myself right now….” a dejected Pepiot said. “Next time I’ll just run the whole final stretch and celebrate in the victory lap.” The margin of victory was one-tenth of a second.

There is no “next time” in the education of our students, and those in high-poverty stand to lose the most when learning opportunities are not seized. I’ll always remember a student’s response when I asked if he was looking forward to the pending vacation. Without hesitation or self-pity he calmly stated, “I’d rather be here.” The message was clear – my reality was not his reality; school was preferable to home and learning trumped what waited for him over the break.

The author of Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell, tells us that the opportunity gap between poorer and richer students expands during summer vacation. This is affirmed in a December 2014 report, commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, which shows that, on average, students lose a month of learning time in math and reading during the long break, and this figure doubles for children in poverty. This knowledge makes it even more apparent that our bell-to-bell teaching approach must extend to the very last days of the school year.

We must combine high expectations and support thought the entire school year, and the post high-stakes testing time is ripe with opportunity. Take advantage of it and create experiences for students to extend their learning through the end of the year. The May 2015 ASCD Education Update lists the following ideas for finishing the year strong:

  1. Write Notes to Future Classes: Prompt students to “pay it forward” with notes and tips for future students on how to be successful in school.
  2. Help with Financial Plans: Partner with a local credit union to introduce high school students to the importance of saving and services available to them.
  3. Let Students Be Teachers: Have your students teach a class. Break them into small groups and provide support as they prepare to present on pre-approved topics.
  4. Create Student Videos: Partner students and have them outline, write, and film themselves for your class.  These can include what they have learned throughout the course, recreations of historic speeches, favorite memories, or even a student lesson…all of which could be uploaded and shown as exemplars to future students.
  5. Plan a Panel Session: Organize groups of students to research and present on a topic or debate pros and cons with another student panel.
  6. Have Students Evaluate Your Class and Work: Demonstrate that student voice is important and practice life-long learning.  Gather feedback on the course and seek feedback on what you can do to refine your craft.

One of the greatest end-of-the-year lessons can only be taught by example, as actions speak louder than words. As we live our professional standards each day and prepare relevant, student-centered lessons, we show students the following:

  • What we do is important
  • We value you and your time with us,
  • We know that you have strength and potential, and
  • We’re not going to give up on you.

These messages reaffirm our reasons for being in education, and, as we run our final stretch, our drive and commitment makes a difference to those who matter most.  It’s essential for all of us – teachers, principals, and district staff – to finish our year strong, as our victory lap occurs after all of our students cross the line…no matter where they place in the race.

Trevor’s work has also contributed to or been featured in these Getting Smart publications:

Trevor Greene is the Instructional Leadership Executive Director at Highline School District. Follow Trevor on Twitter, @TrevorLTGreene.

Smart Planet: 20 Inventions Boosting Global IQ

Technology and learning innovations are in the process of boosting global IQ. As they become less expensive and more widely available they will connect billions of young people to the idea economy. Following is a list of 20 “Smart Planet” categories where new tools are beginning to, or likely to, make a big difference in access to quality learning opportunities.

Five Foundational Technologies:

1. Search: Internet search is the most important learning tool ever invented.

2. Broadband: Internet access is becoming widely available.

3. Mobile devices: Phones have become powerful mobile computers and very affordable.

4. Ubiquitous computing: Powerful applications can run any device, anywhere anytime.

5. E-commerce: Payment systems power global commerce.

Five Building Blocks:

6. Learning platforms: Combine content management, assessment, tracking, and communication tools (see product reviews).

7. Personalized learning: Powered by learner profiles, adaptive assessment powers personalized learning pathways (see three school success stories); push notifications will power lifelong learning.

8. Blended: Combining face-to-face and online learning (see implementation guide).

9. Competency-based: Learners progress as they demonstrate mastery creating the opportunity for more rapid progress and degree alternatives.

10. Open Education Resources: Learning content and tools are increasingly available free and open.

Five Emerging Application Categories:

11. Early literacy: i-Ready from Curriculum Associates, Getting Smart Advocacy Partner, TeacherMate and Waterford Institute are differentiated reading supports.

12. Language acquisition: Ellevation for English language learners (ELL); Middlebury Interactive and RosettaStone for ELL and world languages (see paper).

13. Math: Challenging games like ST Math and adaptive systems like DreamBox prepare students for algebra and higher level math.

14. Decision support: Support for career and postsecondary awareness, selection, and application. Early examples include NavianceParchment, and Mytonomy (see report).

15. Assistive technology: Text to voice, dictation, magnification, and augmentative and alternative communication (ACC) technology help students express themselves (see blog for more).

Five World Changing Edu Formats:

16. Low cost elementary schools: Networks like Bridge International Academies are changing options and outcomes in Kenya for $5 per month.

17. Low cost high schools: To the low cost model, add blended learning and open content.

18. Technical training: Code schools like Andela in Nigeria and IMF sponsored technical training sites.

19. Business training: Spire, a learning organized based in Kenya, offers career training for university and postgraduate students to boost talent and leadership; this includes mentorship and career placement services.

20. Broad access HigherEd: Kepler University, a nonprofit startup in Rwanda, offers a quality American-accredited degree and a clear path to good jobs for thousands of students for around $1,000 tuition per year.

This blog is the first in an occasional series called #SmartPlanet where we will feature innovations in learning in developing and emerging economies. To contribute, email [email protected] with the subject line “Smart Planet.”

For more, see:

Classrooms of the Near Future: Environment Trumps Technology

Last week we talked with Victoria Bergsagel who shared the importance of learning environments, and classroom and school design. As educators and Edleaders navigate the shift to student-centered models and make decisions on tools and strategies, many are still looking for examples and information on what these environments actually look like. This blog that first appeared on labs.pearson.com shares examples, hurdles, an outlook on the future.

Nick Friedman

If you stop to think about it, the traditional classroom setup of students sitting neatly in rows with an instructor lecturing at the front of the room is really kind of absurd. Though the formalization might serve the instructor well by keeping order, it doesn’t exactly stimulate student inquiry or the free-flow of information exchange and engagement.

Who learns like that in every day life?

That question is at the heart of the movement towards a new teaching paradigm variously referred to by several names but perhaps most commonly as the classroom of the future. Broadly, it starts with reconfiguring the physical space of learning — students are clustered in small groups with a centralized teacher able to move through and around the room to provide personalized, direct instruction.

The goal is to shift the focus from the teacher to students to foster more peer-to-peer learning, promote group collaboration, and encourage critical thinking — all vital skills needed to navigate the globalized, 21st century workplace. Indeed, the right technology, correctly applied, can be integral to the classroom of the future.

In schools around the world, the paradigm has shown solid, quantifiable results. Yet, despite this — and the wow-factor of some innovative and showcase classroom designs — the transition to wider adoption seems to be dragging through treacle.

What’s taking the classroom of the future so long to arrive?

State of the Art

As cutting-edge as it may sound, discussions about the classroom of the future have been going on for decades. As early as the 1950s, educators were questioning the efficacy of the traditional row-by-row seating to educate the next generation of wage earners.

“Traditionally, classroom instruction has lagged behind society, development, and technology implementation by about 30 to 40 years,” says Kurt Richter, Ed.D.

Richter is an Instructional and Technology Specialist at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte’sCenter for Teaching and Learning (CTL). Among other efforts, the CTL trains their university faculty in cooperative learning techniques in two state-of-the-art model classrooms on campus. Each classroom features roundtables that seat up to nine students with three laptops each. Each table also has a monitor for projecting the laptop screens on to a whiteboard. A “faculty station” with a smart podium allows the instructor to select a student screen for projecting onto the monitors in the room.

“Just having computers doesn’t change the nature of instruction,” says Richter. “What you observe in these [model] classrooms is that the instructor has to teach differently because not every student is in his or her line of sight. Thus, you need to change the focus of your instruction to the groups [themselves].”

Environment trumps technology

In Australia, Professor Jill Blackmore, Director of the Centre for Research in Educational Futures and Innovation at Deakin University (Melbourne, Victoria), also has her eye on classroom setup. While serving on the planning committee for Melbourne’s award-winning Fitzroy High School in the early 2000s, Blackmore developed a keen interest in the way flexible spaces impact on student and teacher engagement.

“I’ve been researching school leadership and education reform over 30 years and it has become obvious that students and teachers are conscious as to the quality of their learning environment,” Blackmore says.

Blackmore says there has been significant investment in school buildings in Victoria that feature spaces that are flexible, connected, and facilitate use of mobile technologies while addressing different learning needs according to age.

“The trend is for [movable], well-designed and various forms of furniture,” she says, “and good use of natural light and air flow, and spaces with multiple uses that can be readily adapted.”

Meanwhile in England, an experimental classroom of the future sponsored by Pearson at London maker space Makerversity offers educators and other interested parties the chance to try out several ideas around the paradigm. Called the Pearson Lab, the adaptive space plays host to lectures, events, and workshops that anticipate the broader adoption of collaborative teaching, inspiring new approaches to the interaction of educators, students, technology, and hands-on learning environments.

Award-winning example

Back in the U.S., the Design39Campus (D39C) in San Diego, California, brings together the latest elements of the paradigm. Recipient of the 2015 “Innovate Award” by the Classroom of the Future Foundation, a non-profit that taps into private industry to create and support innovative schools, D39C opened its doors last August.

Inside the bright, open 1:1 classrooms, students utilize rolling whiteboard desks, which are reconfigured multiple times a day to accommodate different groupings and related curriculum. Patrick Dela Cruz, a Learning Experience Designer (LED) for a combined second- and third-grade class, works with five other LEDs in “pods” to serve the different groups . He says that students spend about four to six weeks in learning “modules” in which they investigate broad “essential questions” that cut across various curricula.

“Our pods consist of [instructors] with ‘super powers,’ says Dela Cruz, “or a greater skill set in a specific area.  My expertise focuses on educational technology, whereas a colleague has a writing background and another has a special education credential.”

Three hurdles to adoption

For all the promise of the classroom of the future, school officials must take into account several key issues to advance the cause:

1. Planning and foresight: Changing from a teacher-focused model to student-focused one is not just about reconfiguring desks and seats. To truly embed the model, it takes a top-to-bottom commitment to change — from school boards to administrators to teachers to parents.

A thorough plan for implementation goes a long way towards buy-in by all parties. That’s especially so when technology investment is part of the package. It’s incumbent on school officials to select devices and software that will not only serve classrooms now, but a few years out. Along with that challenging foresight comes a vast checklist of related considerations, including teacher training (in technology usage and/or pedagogy), evaluation of IT and support, stated academic goals and expectations, assessment of student home access to technology, and review of school Wi-Fi bandwidth.

2. Staffing needs: As with any new method, scepticism and resistance to change can slow things down. For veteran teachers in particular, incorporating principles of active learning that changes their role from the traditional “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side” can be unsettling.

“I don’t want to overgeneralize, but I think [it’s] a common trend that younger teachers have two advantages [over older teachers],” says Tom Arnett of The Christensen Institute, a U.S. non-profit think tank for incorporating “disruptive technologies” into public sectors such as education. “One is they are often more familiar with technology because they grew up with it. Two, they have less to lose because they don’t have all that experience and success in teaching a traditional way.”

3. Managed expenses: The price tag for converting to a classroom of the future that makes extensive use of technology can be costly. Federal funding can help with initial expenses, but maintenance and upgrade of devices and software also impacts on school budgets down the road.

The future is imminent

Despite the hurdles, the classroom of the future is on its way. Arnett points out that as more teaching colleges embrace the paradigm, more teachers will arrive in the workplace as disciples campaigning for adoption.

Bruce Braciszewksi, executive director of the Classroom of the Future Foundation, is optimistic as well. “I think we are almost reaching the tipping point now where schools are realizing across the board that you can’t avoid this [change in teaching],” he says. “This is how kids learn. It’s how adults learn now.”

Friedman_75x75Nick Friedman is a contributor to Pearson Labs’ Edtech Evolves guest writer series. Follow Pearson Labs on Twitter, @Pearsonlabs.

EdTech 10: Recentering for Students

As we reel from the inspiring launch of Preparing Leaders for Deeper Learning, Memorial Day Weekend, and having the last laugh at Deflategate, this week has been one for recentering.

With Team Getting Smart taking a step back to huddle for our annual retreat, our staff have been busy freshening up on our public speaking skills, leadership techniques, and how we function as a mission-driven organization.

This week’s news is about stepping back, reassessing, and reorganizing with results from reports, renewing funding for schools and libraries, and award recipients to boot.

Blended Schools & Tools

1. ♬ It’s a Blended, House♬. The Learning Accelerator, launched the Blended Learning Research Clearinghouse 1.0 to provide a summary of the implications from K-12 blended learning research to date, including historical evidence for personalized learning. Check Getting Smart research on blended here.

2. Outstanding Outcomes. New from New Tech Network (NTN) is the 2015 Student Outcome Report, the most comprehensive data produced to date on New Tech schools and students. For more on NTN, check our recent feature, Facilitating Systems Change.  

3. New Record. Modernization of policies and and budget changes is making possible a record $3.9 billion in E-rate funds for schools and libraries. Great to see the FCC act in alignment with Modern Policy for Modern Learners.

Digital Developments

4. Students Soon to Sway. Microsoft’s presentation product, Sway, is now available to select qualified business and education customers. In a blog post, Microsoft’s Sway team announced the product will soon be available for teachers and students. This announcement is part of CEO Satya Nadella’s effort to make it clear that education is a high priority for the Redmond-based tech leaders.

Dollars & Deals

5. The Award Goes To. The winners of the sixth annual Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition was announced with winning ideas that included platforms to connect parents with teachers, apps to provide personalized lesson plans for students with special needs, and programs to keep low-income students on track to finish college.

6. New Boss. Pearson’s Family Education Network, including popular Poptropica, has been acquired by Sandbox Partners. “Engaging digital media and informal learning for kids are spaces we are hugely passionate about,” said Bhav Singh, Founder & CEO of Sandbox Partners.

Policy Pieces

7. O-H-I-O. On their new website, iNACOL highlighted Ohio House Bill 64, a bill that would provide funding for up to 10 pilot schools and districts with $250,000 per year to plan and implement personalized learning. Ohio is a leader in learning innovations when it comes to state funding.

Let’s Get Personalized

8. Chasing the Carrot. MindShift made the case that for a world in which the jobs increasingly require problem solving, critical thinking and creativity, autonomy, mastery, and purpose are essential for student motivation. We agree and go on to suggest that pull mechanisms are essential to boosting learning.

Teachers & Tech-ers

9. Results Are In. Scholastic and CCSSO released the results of a survey of the 2015 State Teachers of the Year. Top three impact opportunities: anti-poverty initiatives, early learning, reducing barriers such as healthcare.

Policy Piece

10. I’m Just a Bill. As part of the reauthorization of ESEA, language has been included in the Senate version to encourage the use of open educational resources through grants that the ESEA would make available to states.

For more EdTech 10s, check out:

Make End-of-Year Reflection Matter

Jason Lange

With the end of the school year quickly approaching, now is a vital time for school principals and administrators to begin their end-of-year reflections. A recent Harvard Business School study found that the most important part of the learning process is reflection. And taking the time to do so greatly impacts performance.

After all, you can’t look ahead until you’ve looked back. By taking the time to reflect, it’s possible for principals and administrators in leadership positions to set the stage for continuous improvement, determine what worked in the past year (as well as what didn’t work well), and ensure the greatest ultimate success for the school as a whole. It can start with personal reflection; then, it can transition into looking back and evaluating the action plans that were made at the start of the year for both the school and the district. How did you do? Did you meet the goals that were set?

As you prepare for your upcoming end-of-year routines, there are a few things you’ll want to include in the reflection process.

Take Stock From All Your Stakeholders

One important aspect of completing an end-of-year reflection is meeting not just with your school’s leadership, but also with teachers, staff members, and higher-ups (such as superintendents).  You might even consider leveraging one of the many school climate surveys to help create a better understanding of how your students or parents experience school.

Feedback is key for moving toward greater experiences and bigger improvements. Research shows that a continuous feedback loop leads to greater learning, so make it a priority to connect with teachers, staff members, students, and parents.

With staff and teachers, the best way to complete a reflection is to sit down with them in a one-on-one meeting. Most people deeply appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback, yet they don’t often have the opportunity to do so. To get the most out of these meetings, it’s helpful to send an email prompt or survey in advance to ask what each person sees as the biggest successes of the year and the biggest opportunities for improvement for next year.

Not only will this advance notice help your staff members structure their thoughts for the personal meeting, but it will also give you the opportunity to tease out any questions you might have. These meetings can be very productive for both sides because they inspire greater autonomy and allow great ideas to surface.

What about when it comes time to meet with the superintendent? This can be a daunting task for any principal or administrator, but it’s usually a constructive and positive meeting. In most cases, a superintendent will simply ask for input from the school leaders and want to be briefed on any proposed changes for the upcoming school year.

Finally, reflect on what it’s all about. At the 2014 ASCD Annual Conference, Dr. Russell Quaglia challenged teachers to think about what gets them out of bed and ready to work with children every day. Ask yourself whether you enjoyed the year. Don’t just focus on the parts that went wrong. Research shows that it’s crucial to reflect on the small wins, too.

Celebrate Your Successes

No matter what challenges you and your staff faced throughout the year, there are always bright spots to celebrate. And when you do celebrate it, make it very public.

Be sure to take a broader view of success. Your successes don’t have to revolve around test scores and benchmarks. Think about the goals set for the school and the progress you’ve made towards them throughout the year. Maybe your teachers made significant strides in incorporating more technology into their classrooms or successfully increased parent involvement over the year. Big or small, it’s important to recognize the accomplishments of your staff.

You can also take this time to let your staff recognize each other for times when individuals have gone out of their way to support each other. Not only do most people love the recognition, but it also helps reinforce for the rest of your team that there’s precedent and encouragement to support each other.

Set Next Year’s Plan in Motion

Armed with your staff feedback and your survey results, and coming off the fun of a good staff-wide celebration, you hopefully now have enough data to start thinking about what areas you want to focus on for improving next year. Are there any ways you can get a jump on these over the summer? Are there any teachers who are interested in taking on more leadership in key tasks or shepherding a new initiative that came up in your feedback?

Thinking through these types of questions and working to trigger the relevant conversations before the end of the year can help keep your staff engaged in creating the best learning environment possible — even through the summer. Additionally, the summer months leave plenty of time for more research or learning that might help smooth that eventual implementation or process rollout in the fall.

There’s a lot that goes into a productive end-of-year reflection among school leadership. By following these steps, however, you’ll be well on your way to improvements in the following academic year.

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Jason Lange
is the CEO and co-founder of BloomBoard. Follow Jason on Twitter, @jasonclange



Bloomboard is a portfolio company of Learn Capital where Tom Vander Ark is a partner.

Thinking, Fast and Slow: How We Process and Respond to the World

Remember your Econ teacher asking you to assume that people acted rationally? There are obvious limitations to that assumption. It’s not that people are irrational but their decisions are influenced by a complex mixture of memories and emotions, both conscious and unconscious. In Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman unpacks the research into human being’s process and respond to the world.

Kahneman draws a distinction between our automatic and involuntary response, System 1, and the controlled and reasoned operations of System 2 which, “Allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.” System 2 is, “Associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration,” and requires attention and is disrupted when attention is drawn away.

His Nobel Prize winning exploration of human decision making yielded several core insights:

“We are prone to overestimate how much we understand about the world and to underestimate the role of chance in events. Overconfidence is fed by the illusory certainty of hindsight.

“We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.

“The premise of this book is that it is easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than our own.”

System 1 runs ahead of the facts in constructing a rich image on the basis of scraps of evidence. Daniel writes:

“Jumping to conclusions is risky when the situation is unfamiliar, the stakes are high, and there is no time to collect more information.

“When System 2 is otherwise engaged, we will believe almost anything. System 1 is gullible and biased to believe, System 2 is in charge of doubting and unbelieving, but System 2 is sometimes busy, and often lazy.

“A lazy System 2 often follows the path of least effort and endorses a heuristic answer without much scrutiny of whether it is truly appropriate.”

System 1 is impacted by mood, “When we are uncomfortable and unhappy, we lose touch with our intuition.”

Our typical automatic response:

  • Infers and invents causes and intentions
  • Neglects ambiguity and suppresses doubt
  • Is biased to believe and confirm
  • Exaggerates emotional consistency
  • Computes more than intended
  • Sometimes substitutes an easier question for a difficult one
  • Is more sensitive to changes than to states
  • Overweights low probabilities
  • Shows diminishing sensitivity to quantity
  • Responds more strongly to losses than to gains
  • Frames decision problems narrowly, in isolation from one another
  • Is influenced by fluency, vividness, and the ease of imagining.

Kahneman warns against common thinking error:

  • Illusion. “We pay more attention to the content of messages than to information about their reliability, and as a result end up with a view of the world around us that is simpler and more coherent than the data justify
  • Causality. “Many facts of the world are due to chance, including accidents of sampling. Causal explanations of chance events are inevitably wrong.”
  • Anchors. “The world in our heads is not a precise replica of reality; our expectations about the frequency of events are distorted by the prevalence and emotional intensity of the messages to which we are exposed.”
  • Feedback. “The feedback to which life exposes us is perverse. Because we tend to be nice to other people when they please us and nasty when they do not, we are statistically punished for being nice and rewarded for being nasty.”
  • Past. “The illusion that one has understood the past feeds the further illusion that one can predict and control the future.”
  • Mind needs. “A simple message of triumph and failure that identifies clear causes and ignores the determinative power of luck and the inevitability of regression. These stories induce and maintain an illusion of understanding, imparting lessons of little enduring value to readers who are all too eager to believe them.”
  • Confidence. “Subjective confidence in a judgment is not a reasoned evaluation of the probability that this judgment is correct. Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it.”
  • Optimism. “The evidence suggests that optimism is widespread, stubborn, and costly.”
  • Keeping score. “The ultimate currency that rewards or punishes is often emotional, a form of mental self-dealing that inevitably creates conflicts of interest when the individual acts as an agent on behalf of an organization.”

Kahneman destroyed the credibility of experts in many fields by demonstrating that, “In every case [of low-validity environments]  the accuracy of experts was matched or exceeded by a simple algorithm.” He added, “An algorithm that is constructed on the back of an envelope is often good enough to compete with an optimally weighted formula, and certainly good enough to outdo expert judgment.”

He warns, “Do not trust anyone—including yourself—to tell you how much you should trust their judgment,” and warns, “Intuition cannot be trusted in the absence of stable regularities in the environment.”

In many cases experts are just overconfident. In other cases, he writes

Errors in the initial budget are not always innocent. The authors of unrealistic plans are often driven by the desire to get the plan approved—whether by their superiors or by a client—supported by the knowledge that projects are rarely abandoned unfinished merely because of overruns in costs or completion times.

He warns leaders reviewing the plans to ask for an outside opinion to avoid a planning fallacy. Kahneman adds, “The people who have the greatest influence on the lives of others are likely to be optimistic and overconfident, and to take more risks than they realize.”

On winning the lottery, “People overestimate the probabilities of unlikely events.” But the opposite is true, “People overweight unlikely events in their decisions.”

Loss avoidance is one of human nature’s departure from rationality, “We are driven more strongly to avoid losses than to achieve gains.” It’s loss avoidance that, “Favors minimal changes from the status quo in the lives of both institutions and individuals.” Combined with a narrow framing of a situation, loss aversion is a ‘costly curse.’

In addition to bias, inconsistency plagues human decision making, “We have neither the inclination nor the mental resources to enforce consistency on our preferences, and our preferences are not magically set to be coherent.”

It’s how we remember things that matters most. He writes:

The experiencing self does not have a voice. The remembering self is sometimes wrong, but it is the one that keeps score and governs what we learn from living, and it is the one that makes decisions.” While the experiencing self does the living, it’s “the remembering self” which keeps score and makes the choices.

Kahneman concludes, “There is much to be done to improve decision making.” At one point in his career he decided that decision theory should be a curriculum taught in school. He launched but never finished a curriculum.

For educators, Kahneman’s work should expand our consideration of ‘critical thinking skills.’ We shouldn’t teach economics or statistics without discussion of how human beings interpret and use data to manage their affairs.


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Online Learning: The Lifeblood of GenDIY

As Mickey Revenaugh recently pointed out, access to advanced digital tools is a vital imperative for GenDIY. When it comes to studying STEM, online tools, communities, and resources are essential for students as they take control of their learning. For GenDIY, in most cases, connectivity is the lifeblood of learning. Many students suggest that internet access is a student right. “We need high speed internet access, devices, and up-to-date software in our schools, and we need it today,” said Erik Martin, Chief Editor of StuRights.org.

In this blog that first appeared on azscitech.org, Beth Werrell shares resources for GenDIY students looking to improve their STEM skills.

Online Resources to Foster Students’ STEM Interests at Home

Beth Werrell

More and more students who are part of Generation Do-It-Yourself—millennials—are charting their own education paths, working toward the careers they want in their own way. Some pathways for these GenDIYers include taking part in online or blended learning, pursuing dual enrollment, building their own brands through social media, and taking on internships that support their career goals.

One way DIY learners are diving into STEM-related topics is through online educational tools, resources, challenges, and forums. The Internet provides a vault of free online STEM-related resources to foster students’ interests. Here are a few ways your child can pursue STEM interests from the comfort of your home.

Make Learning Interactive

There is an abundance of online quizzes, games, and courses related to STEM online. These interactive tools can help children nurture their interests in any of STEM’s subcategories through problem solving, exploration, and innovation. MastersInDataScience.org has compiled a very comprehensive online resource guide for students based on their particular interests, goals, and age. The site includes a section for girls.

Enter Fairs, Contests, and Challenges

Location is no longer an issue for students looking to showcase their talents and compete against others in national and international STEM contests. Students can easily find unique challenges such as the Future City Competition, which allows students from across the country to design the future of cities such as Phoenix, Arizona, or fairs like the Google Science Fair, a worldwide science and technology competition for teams ages 13 to 18.

Join an Online Community

Thanks to online communities, students can collaborate with industry leaders and other students from across the country. Websites like Cogito.org offer online forums and opportunities to participate in interviews with scientists and mathematicians. Cogito also aggregates relevant news articles, blogs, and essays, and provides a database of academic programs and competitions.

Start or Find Clubs and Organizations

Students can find, participate in, and start clubs in their area using online networks such as the Arizona STEM Network or by consulting step-by-step guides on how to start a STEM club, complete with information about funding, activities, and more. Some online school students may also have access to school clubs hosted by their virtual school.

Create Home-Based Experiments

Household-friendly STEM experiments aren’t hard to come by online. Combined with the right curriculum, these can pique students’ interests in different STEM topics. These experiments can range in difficulty from kindergarten through 12th grade level. They can be as simple as creating a homemade Rube Goldberg machine or testing the effectiveness of sunscreen. This way, students can continue to hone their specific interests as their education becomes more advanced.

If you are looking for opportunities to further your STEM education beyond schoolwork, any of the resources mentioned above would be a great way to get started. There are opportunities everywhere, so take advantage of them and never stop learning!

This blog is part of our GenDIY project. To contribute a blog, ask a question, or for more information, email [email protected] with the subject “GenDIY.” For more information about the project see Tell Your Story: Do-It-Yourself Pathways From School to Career as well as other blogs:

Beth Werrell writes for the Virtual Learning Connections blog. Follow Beth on Twitter, .