Wonking the Edu-Wonks

Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch is a thinker and writer about Education without any need for reelection or selling standardized testing or programs to help student pass standardized tests.

She speaks the truth to the motley crew of Education (and I do use that term loosely) experts. The dialog going on in Washington between the Democrats and Republicans is ludicrous, and Diane debunks the foundations on which it is based, item by item, in a research-based, data-driven way.

Every teacher should take the time to watch this video. Take notes. These are our talking points in the war of ideas taking place in Education policy. These are our marching orders.

I’ve become a big fan of Diane Ravitch. Expect to hear more from her.

Fast Forward through the first 10 minutes of introductions, and start listening when you see Ravitch.

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch
New York University
82 Washington Square East
New York, New York 10003
E-mail: gardendr@gmail.com


Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (New York: Basic Books, 2010).
Buy/read more about this book:

How To Build A Meeting

150 or so technology teachers gather once a month for a meeting … an old fashioned, analog, meeting.

Announcers announce announcements (which were sent out in email beforehand). Managers manage.  Specialists present their specialities.  Pointers point at points with pointers. Counterpoints are made.  Facsimiles of discussions are had.

Askers ask questions.  But in the active engagement of an analog meeting, many times no answers are available. “That’s a great question, and I’ll look into it, and get back to you.”

Days later, a singular answer is delivered to a singular asker. But we all did get to hear the question posed, and that is certainly something. But what? I don’t know, I’ll have to look into it and get back to you.

One of my cohorts, a jocular and intelligent fellow, posed the idea of USING the technology we are teaching to somehow facilitate the meeting. “It has to be better than sitting around a table while people shamelessly check their email and rudely interrupt the presenter?” he said.

Heresy you say? Perhaps. But if one believes less in a religion that worships the gods, than in one that feels sorry for them. (I mean, they created all this, and can’t possibly feel good about it.) One might venture to noodle on such a concept.


A little like ‘build a bear’ shops found in malls across the country, there should be some structure (or the children wouldn’t be able to start), but enough freedom (so when they are done they feel like a creator).

Here’s one way, using a wiki.

(For those technology teachers among us worried about new technology, see a multitude of wikis done by 2nd graders on wikispaces.com)

1) Create an “Agenda Page” (a central directory page) for the upcoming meeting (perhaps months in advance).

2) Create “Issue Pages” for each item on the agenda. (Hyper-link from the Agenda item to it’s corresponding Issue Page and back to the Agenda page)

3) Anyone involved in the meeting could create an agenda topic and corresponding issue page prior to the meeting.

4) Anyone could add their questions, thoughts, ideas, solutions to issue pages.

The value of this would be as follows. The meeting would be about things of interest to the people attending the meeting. They came up with them. Most of the hard questions and issues would have been hashed out, discussed, answers researched and delivered, all before getting together at the meeting.

The meeting itself would be shorter, more on point, more poignant to the participants.


Pros: You already know how to use this technology.

Cons: Information is not collected, not key-word search-able, information does not get compiled into a group edited document, it is more like confetti–scraps of errant information floating without structure and no good way to search it. Heck even Microsoft is talking about getting rid of this Outlook public folder technology in the next few years.

Solution: Put an RSS feed on the wiki so all changes are sent via email to the outlook public folder at which everyone is used to looking. Remove write privileges for everyone so the only way to “post” in public folders is to add or alter the wiki. Eventually, everyone will start using an RSS reader and the Outlook Public Folders will have no use and go away.

Life After Wiki: Then, all the information collected in the dialog will truly be collected and key-word-search-able available ongoing in a quickly reference-able format for when one needs the information sometime in the future, or not.

This would be using the technology we are trying to get teachers to use in the way we are trying to get them to use it.

Snow Hangover Planned

There is a proposal to our School Board that recommends extending the school day for a half hour from March 8, 2010 to June 21, 2010 and converting the April 12th teacher workday to a regular school day for the kiddos.

This was my facial expression upon hearing that proposal ...

I can’t begin to tell you what a negative impact that will have on learning, with the students, parents and teachers in psychological free-fall after the storm. We still can’t park, and folks can barely drop off and pick up their kids.  I can assure everyone, absolutely NO learning will take place during that 30 minutes at the grade school level.  Kids below the age of 12 are maxed out in school as it is.  They are burned out by 3pm.  It will tire out the students and teachers and reduce teacher planning time.  The additional last half hour to make up for snow-days will just be baby sitting to cross off a bureaucratic check box.

Our Hero:  In steps the newly minted president of the local union who points out the law clearly states if the Governor declares a state of emergency (which he did) the law says the school board can request a waiver from the state Board of Education.  A fact oddly missing from the proposal memo, in part, titled “Key Points.”  I mean, I would call that a “Key Point,” wouldn’t you?

The union is urging everybody (parents and teachers) to contact their School Board representative and tell them how this decision would impact them. I say, why the heck not.

10 Strategies for Any Problem

1. Avoid

Doing nothing about something, is doing something. Do something else, clean the kitchen, back-up your data, do errands…(This gives you time to do the other nine strategies.)

2. Think

Sit back and think about the issue, just let your mind go…

3. Research

Look up stuff, go through your old projects, but avoid Google if it takes too long to find anything useful…

4. Collect

We all have lots of stuff; there must be something in there that is waiting to be used…

5. Sketch

Drawing is great, even if you have no talent. Just visualizing the simplest things makes them come alive…

6. De-construct

Take the problem apart, look at the parts and then put them back together…

7. Transcend

What larger thing is the problem a part of…

8. Perspective

What does your perspective on the problem add or detract, and the perspectives of others…

9. Connections

What can the nature of the connections between all the parts tell you about the problem…

10. Act

Sitting on your duff never got anything solved…

Education Loses a Lioness

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”-Winston Churchill

Karen Gerstner is leaving a school district outside Washington, D.C.. She had a “small” job, as central office manager for the elementary Information Technology Resource Teachers.

She did what many in central offices don’t. She told the truth. She spoke truth to power. She advocated for “reason” and “rationality” and “helping students” even when it wasn’t popular to do so.

Other central office types have told me, “Oh, she would have gotten much farther if she hadn’t ruffled so many feathers.”

Really! That’s how you measure success? Not bothering people? That’s the wider problem with modern Education. We promote people who wear nice sweaters, have expensive readers, and don’t say anything to anyone that might mean anything, thereby ensuring they don’t say anything anyone might find objectionable.

Karen was different. If something was wacky, she would raise her hand and point it out. A radical idea, I know. But a function greatly needed in Education. In private industry, malarkey doesn’t last long. It gets killed by people who are better than it. In Education, that’s not the case. The bull wins too much of the time.

Karen was one of the things that made me think there was hope. She was the Jiminy Cricket at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Someone to say, “Now Hold On Now!” Someone with enough gravitas to be listened to, and the chutzpah to call people on their bull.

I, for one, will miss her greatly. And hope someone else will step into the role of adult in a swirling sea of Educational Executives working more to cover their asses than doing their jobs.

I’m talking about Education in general. Of course, if you are an executive or work in a central office and are “good,” well then, you know I’m not talking about you in particular.

Other Duties as Assigned

Arriving to work in the am.

One of the many hats I wear is that of an Information Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT) at a Title One elementary school outside Washington, D.C.

It’s a little break-fix, a lot of training teachers how to use their tools in teaching and with the kids.

Jenny said yesterday she could never do my job because “the job description sucks.”

My response was, “Wait a second! There’s a job description?!?!”

I don’t mind. I like it this way. It’s more like the journalism career I had. My favorite job in news is working the editorial desk. Like any good job, being an ITRT it is defined by the person who fills it and the needs of the environment in which they work.

The mission statement is simple. “Get teachers and students using more technology to reach their goals.”

This means:

1)Everything’s got to work, 98% of the time.

2)And as a separate issue, Teachers have to trust everything is going to work 98% of the time.

3)Teachers have to work in a constructivist teaching model in which the students can bring their spectacular background knowledge in personal technology to bare on their learning. This means teachers taking the role of guide rather than expert.

4)Create professional development environments through which teachers use the technologies one wants them to use in the classroom.

Simple, n’est-ce pas?

Of course, to get working gear in this financial environment there’s a LOT of administrative behind-the-scenes shenanigans one has to paddle through.

Here’s the thing. The more the teachers start to use advanced technology in their teaching, the more there is to do. Small-minded people think ITRTs who work hard are “working themselves out of a job.” I’ve found it to be quite the opposite. Teachers learn to blog, then they learn wikis, then voicethread, and before you know it, they are Skyping with a classroom in another state or country using voicethread to critique one another’s art. Get 10 classrooms doing some version of this and the day of an ITRT is never slow.