Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Free Math Workshop in Pennington, New Jersey

ALOHA Mind Math is conducting a free Abacus based Math workshop for children 5 to 12 years old on Sunday, January 10, 2010, at 2:00 pm. ALOHA is an after school Math program to increase Focus, Concentration, Visualization and Attention Span. visit


108 Straube Center Boulevard, Suite I-20, Pennington, NJ 08534

Email: pennington@aloha-usa.com or Call 1-732-821-0240

Saturday, December 26, 2009

PENNINGTON: Straube gives $25K to center for teens

Grant to be used to establish the Straube Learning Center within the proposed Hopewell Valley teen center
Thursday, December 24, 2009 1:36 PM EST
By John Tredrea, Staff Writer / Packet Publications, Princeton, NJ

Support to the tune of $25,000 has been given to a plan to start a teen center in the Valley.

The Straube Foundation has awarded a $25,000 grant to the Hopewell Township Youth Advisory Board. Accepting the grant on behalf of that board will be the Hopewell Valley Education Foundation.

Established several years ago, the township Youth Advisory Board confers with township government on issues pertaining to young people. Made up of Central High School students and mentored by township resident Kim Bruno, the Youth Advisory Board has been working for several years on planning a teen center with the intent of locating it near Hopewell Valley Central High School.

The grant is to be used to establish the Straube Learning Center within the proposed Hopewell Valley teen center.

”The learning center is an important part of our idea for a teen center,” explained Youth Advisory Co-Chairwoman Molly Haggerty. “The proposed teen center will encompass a variety of activities that will include educational, recreational as well as health and wellness classes.”
The Straube Foundation is based in the Straube Center — a Pennington complex including offices, stores and an independent school (the Cambridge School) — and other facilities.

Ms. Bruno said the Youth Advisory Board’s goal is “to create a teen center that will focus on fostering the healthy development of Hopewell Valley’s teens in the areas of social and emotional functioning, academic enrichment and recreational activities. An essential component of the Teen Center will be a learning center that will be used to support homework assistance, tutoring and educational classes.”

Ms. Bruno said the Youth Advisory Board is seeking possible sites for the center.

The learning center the Straube grant will fund would equip the teen center with “computers, tables and desks to create a positive learning environment,” Ms. Bruno said. The grant also will be used to fund educational programs that make use of the computers, she said.

The Straube Foundation is a federal government-approved nonprofit charitable organization established by Win Straube in 1995 for the purpose of finding and publicizing ways of obtaining quality education at little or no cost.

The teen center will be a place where Hopewell Valley youth can meet to spend time with their peers and participate in recreational and/or educational activities. It also will provide an opportunity for teens to explore new interests or to get help and advice from their peers.

”One of our goals was to have a place where teens could do homework,” said Sara Ricker, co-chairperson of the Youth Advisory Board. “We envision high school National Honor Society students tutoring middle-schoolers with homework and other academic needs.”

The Hopewell Valley Education Foundation has agreed to accept the grant on behalf of the teen center. The aim of the Education Foundation, established about 20 years ago, is to enhance the educational experience in Hopewell Valley schools through the identification and development of community partnerships and resources. Supporting ongoing educational needs for students in an after-school environment provides an educational experience that will strengthen students’ academic success, Foundation members believe.

”The Hopewell Valley Education Foundations is very excited to be the funding conduit for this grant,” said foundation President Randee Tengi. “We look for programs that extend typical learning environments and believe that the Straube Learning Center will do just that. Working with the Straube Foundation and Youth Advisory Board is a perfect example of the kind of community-based relationships we seek to develop in support of enrichment programs and activities.”

The Youth Advisory Board has surveyed its peers on the idea, visited other teen centers and made several presentations to local elected officials resulting in the formation of a task force to develop their concept. The Task Force is investigating a location for the teen center that would be within walking distance from Central High School and Timberlane Middle School.

”We want to call it the YAC, which stands for Youth Activity Center, and have it provide many things to different teens,” explained C.J. Sevilla. “It could include recreational activities like soccer, basketball and football, classes on art, music, self defense or nutrition and general health and wellness as well as educational classes.”

The Youth Advisory Board has reached out to other community members for their help with this project. The partners include the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance, the Hopewell Valley YMCA, local municipalities and the Hopewell Valley Regional School District.

Community foundations like the Education Foundation and the Recreation Foundation also have joined in support of the teen center.

The Recreation Foundation of Hopewell Valley recently expressed their support with a grant of $15,000 for the teen center.

”The Youth Activity Center is an excellent example of the community coming together to solve an issue,” said Kim Bruno, adult advisor to the Hopewell Township Youth Advisory Board. “We are proud to have the Straube Foundation join us in our efforts to provide a center that is designed by teens, for teens, and appreciate their generosity with this grant.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Learning for Free Online: The OpenCourseWare Movement

Submitted by G.A. Admin

Learning Online
The internet is giving birth to a revolution in learning that is changing the way we educate ourselves in and beyond the classroom. E-learning initiatives such as OpenCourseWare (OCW) projects are aimed at making university-level course materials available online at no charge whatsoever. The driving philosophy behind this project is parallel to that of open-source software; by making education accessible and open to everyone, we can ultimately increase innovation and share the global benefits. The OCW movement was spearheaded by MIT’s OpenCourseWare program in October of 2002, which continues to offer OCW course materials under the Creative Commons license.

The OpenCourseWare Consortium is one of the major contributors to the OCW movement which partners with educational institutions to extend the reach and impact of opencourseware, ensures the long-term sustainability of opencourseware projects, and fosters the development of additional opencourseware projects.

For organizations looking to share knowledge online, Utah State University has released a free open-source content management system that allows you to develop and manage an open access collection of course materials.

Since 2002, a number of universities across the world have created OCW projects, here are a few:

North America
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Carnegie Mellon
John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Irvine
Utah State University OpenCourseWare
Tufts University OpenCourseWare
Capilano University OpenCourseWare (Canada)

China Open Resources for Education (NGO)
Japan OpenCourseWare Consortium
United Nations University (Japan)
Tokyo Institute of Technology OpenCourseWare
National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (India)
Korea University OpenCourseWare
National Chiao Tung University (Taiwan)
FETP OpenCourseWare (Vietnam)

ParisTech Libres Savoirs (France)
Grenoble Ecole de Management (France)
OpenCourseWare Universia (Spain)
Universidad de Sevilla (Spain)

Latin America
Universidad de Monterrey (Mexico)
Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Learning by Doing

The oldest and easiest way of learning is not via instruction in a classroom setting, but by observation and copying. That’s how babies learn such complicated things as walking on two legs, and languages. The human mind is programmed this way. It works extremely well, given a chance.

The original intent of classroom teaching was economies of scale and increased efficiency in spreading knowledge among larger numbers of people. Teachers in lecture halls are a rather modern introduction of production line techniques in the learning environment, of exerting power over the learning subjects, through regimentation of practice and thought.

Before modern classroom teaching was introduced, there was the family’s or the tribe’s “telling story” time, which meant parents, siblings, and friends sharing their experiences. By design, humans’ receptors for learning are automatically set on full absorption when they are listening to, maybe watching, shared experiences, or whatever the story is being talked about tonight. If we need to be instructed, an additional effort on our part is needed, i.e. that we WANT to learn about the subject and pay full attention. It’s a lot more exhausting, too.

It seems that we’ve come a long way since then, in fact full circle.
Paradoxically, that one-to-many teaching method in a controlled setting via regulated procedures has become a purpose in itself, a self-perpetuating education machine which is run at tremendous cost, forever rising. While technology has advanced to the point where the dissemination of information costs are exorbitantly low, and still dropping.

Of course, to be utilized, we need to give up cumbersome classroom teaching and replace it with individual teaching and learning relationships which can, essentially, go from any place to any location in the world, including one’s home, tent or under a tree on the beach. Yes, learning can be that easy and inexpensive for almost all forms of learning, up to and including Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Far removed from studying Einstein’s theories, but as a practical example, I suggest that, if you are so inclined, you have a look at a less than 100 seconds movie clip of my popular “Tai Chi Win” course, which in its entirety consists of 150 movements and takes up to 53 minutes, depending on the exercising speed. As a side benefit, if you were to practice Tai Chi every day, your body and mind will be put in close-to perfect balance, steeled against the stress onslaughts of the day.

Again, merely as an example of how easy it is to learn from individual demonstration and individual participation, you can download free of charge how I am doing my Tai Chi Chuan form, slowly. All you need to do is follow along. Not a single word is spoken. No directions are given. Nobody talks at you. There is no one trying to sell anything. The presentation is for you alone, from me alone. You can just watch, enjoy, follow along if and when you wish, come back to it and play it again. Learning and practicing was never easier. Coming to you from Hawaii with Aloha! By Win Straube

P.S.: The purpose of this story is not to create interest in learning tai chi, but to realize that in this time and age any form of teaching can and truly needs to come back to the method which works best: Learning by observation and copying. Also that nowadays this is possible at vastly reduced cost compared to what presently are thought of as conventional teaching methods. Yes, if you can, do pick up a copy of QGE=A Quality Generic Education is the Answer, University Press of America, 2007, for keys to the solution.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Three-Year Solution

How the reinvention of higher education benefits parents, students, and schools.

Condensed version of article by Lamar Alexander NEWSWEEK
Published Oct 17, 2009, from the magazine issue dated Oct 26, 2009
Alexander, now a U.S. senator, was U.S. education secretary for George H.W. Bush, president of The University of Tennessee, and governor of Tennessee.

Hartwick college, a small liberal-arts school in upstate New York, makes this offer to well-prepared students: earn your undergraduate degree in three years (six semesters) instead of four, and save about $43,000—the amount of one year's tuition and fees. A number of innovative colleges are making the same offer to students anxious about saving time and money. The three-year degree could become the higher-education equivalent of the fuel-efficient car. And that's both an opportunity and a warning for the best higher-education system in the world.

The United States has almost all of the world's best universities. A recent Chinese survey ranks 35 American universities among the top 50, eight among the top 10. Our research universities have been the key to developing the competitive advantages that help Americans produce 25 percent of all the world's wealth. In 2007, 623,805 of the world's brightest students were attracted to American universities.

Colleges like Hartwick are rethinking the old way of doing things and questioning decades-old assumptions about what a college degree means. For instance, why does it have to take four years to earn a diploma? This fall, 16 first-year students and four second-year students at Hartwick, located halfway between Binghamton and Albany, enrolled in the school's new three-year degree program. According to the college, the plan is designed for high-ability, highly motivated students who wish to save money or to move along more rapidly toward advanced degrees.

By eliminating that extra year, three-year degree students save 25 percent in costs. Instead of taking 30 credits a year, these students take 40. During January, Hartwick runs a four-week course during which students may earn three to four credits on or off campus, including a number of international sites. Summer courses are not required, but a student may enroll in them—and pay extra. Three-year students get first crack at course registration. There are no changes in the number of courses professors teach or in their pay.

In April, Lipscomb University in Nashville also announced a three-year option, along with a plan for veterans to attend tuition-free and make it easier and cheaper for community-college students to attend Lipscomb. Lipscomb requires its three-year-degree students to take eight semesters, which means summer school is required. Still, university president Randy Lowry estimates that a three-year-degree student saves about $11,000 in tuition and fees.

The three-year degree is starting to catch on, but it isn't a new idea. Geniuses have always breezed through. Judson College, a 350-student institution in Alabama, has offered students a three-year option for 40 years. Students attend "short terms" in May and June to earn the credits required for graduation. Bates College in Maine and Ball State University in Indiana are among other colleges offering three-year options. Later this month the Rhode Island Legislature is expected to approve a bill requiring all state institutions of higher education to create three-year bachelor programs.

Changes at the high-school level are also helping to make it easier for many students to earn their undergrad degrees in less time. One of five students arrives at college today with Advanced Placement credits amounting to a semester or more of college-level work. Many universities, including large schools like the University of Texas, make it easy for these AP students to graduate faster. According to the U.S. Department of Education's most recent statistics, about 5 percent of U.S. undergraduates finished with bachelor's degrees in three years.

There are drawbacks to moving through school at such a brisk pace. For one, it deprives students of the luxury of time to roam intellectually. Compressing everything into three years also leaves less time for growing up, engaging in extracurricular activities, and studying abroad. On crowded campuses it could mean fewer opportunities to get into a prized professor's class. Iowa's Waldorf College has graduated several hundred students in its three-year-degree programs, but is now phasing out the option. Most Waldorf students wanted the full four-year experience—academically, socially, and athletically. And faculty members will be wary of any change that threatens the core curriculum in the name of moving students into the workforce.

"Most high governmental officials who speak of education policy seem to conceive of education in this light—as a way to ensure economic competitiveness and continued economic growth," Derek Bok, president emeritus of Harvard told The Washington Post. "I strongly disagree with this approach." Another risk: the new campus schedules might eventually produce less revenue for the institution and longer working hours for faculty members.

Adopting a three-year option will not come easily to most schools. Those that wish to tackle tradition and make American campuses more cost-conscious may find it easier to take Trachtenberg's advice: open campuses year-round. "You could run two complete colleges, with two complete faculties, in the facilities now used half the year for one," he says. "That's without cutting the length of students' vacations, increasing class sizes, or requiring faculty to teach more." Simply requiring one mandatory summer session for every student in four years—as Dartmouth College does—would improve his institution's bottom line by $10 million to $15 million dollars, he says.

Just as a hybrid car is not for every driver, a three-year degree is not for every student. Expanding the three-year option or year-round schedules may be difficult, but it may be more palatable than asking Congress for additional bailout money, asking legislators for more state support, or asking students for even higher tuition payments. Campuses willing to adopt convenient schedules along with more-focused, less-expensive degrees may find that they have a competitive advantage in attracting bright, motivated students. As George Romney might have put it, these sorts of innovations can help American universities, long the example to the world, avoid the perils of success.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thomas Friedman on Entrepreneurial Education

Thomas Friedman, "The New Untouchables," New York Times, October 21, 2009, courtesy Scott Tilden

Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive. Therefore, we not only need a higher percentage of our kids graduating from high school and college — more education — but we need more of them with the right education.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Internet Archive Opens 1.6 Million E-Books to Kids with OLPC Laptops

Condensed version of 10/24/09 article on Xcomony.com by Wade Roush, chief correspondent

All 1.6 million books digitized so far by the Internet Archive, the San Francisco-based non-profit dedicated to the universal sharing of knowledge, will be available free to children around the world who have laptops built by the Cambridge, MA-based One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC), Internet Archive director Brewster Kahle announced today at the Boston Book Festival in downtown Boston.

Kahle said the announcement capped a year-long collaboration between the Internet Archive and the OLPC, which was founded by MIT computer scientist Nicholas Negroponte. “

The little green laptop, called the XO, “makes a really good reader,” said Kahle, an MIT-educated computer engineer and entrepreneur who co-founded the Internet Archive in 1996.

The Internet Archive operates 20 scanning centers in five countries, where hundreds of workers are manually scanning books from public and university libraries, mostly public-domain works for which the copyright term has expired. It collects these books at its Open Access Text Archive. It also makes them available to people in developing nations via a network of satellite-connected print-on-demand “bookmobiles.”

Now the books will also be available to the roughly 750,000 to 1 million schoolchildren in developing countries who have XO laptops.

“We set a date of this meeting, a year ago, to say let’s get our books in really good shape,” Kahle told Xconomy after the panel session. “We were first going to do it in PDF, because the screen is a really a beautiful screen, but we found that if we were really going to make it work for people in developing countries—if you want to get this to kids in Uruguay—then having a 10-kilobyte file beats the heck out of a 5-megabyte file. So we went and converted our books such that it would work. And the One Laptop Per Child guys went and made it so that those worked well on the XO. They are working very hard to make it so that kids can search on and find those books, and one million six hundred thousand now will be available to the one millions users of the One Laptop Per Child. We’re really psyched about that.”

He drew an explicit contrast between these approach and the more closed and controlled e-book sales models being forwarded by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other distributors. But getting new, copyrighted books onto platforms that don’t provide strict digital rights management protections is still a tricky business proposition—so for now, the book sharing arrangement between the Archive and OLPC is restricted to free, public-domain books.

The Straube Foundation encourages you to...

... get your virtual library card: http://www.archive.org/account/login.createaccount.php

... volunteer to help scan books: http://www.archive.org/about/archivejobs.php#vol

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bureaucrat U

Daniel L. Bennett, administrative director at the Center for College Affordability & Productivity in Washington, D.C. This article was published in Forbes Magazine, July 13, 2009 and has been condensed for this blog.

Pay the teachers, not the administrators.

College tuition increased by 6.6% a year over the past decade, a rate that is approximately 2.4 times that of inflation. One big cause: the bloating of university bureaucracies. Between 1997 and 2007 the administrative and support staffs at colleges expanded by 4.7% a year, double the rate of enrollment growth. The burgeoning army of college bureaucrats defends this extraordinary growth as necessary to provide consumer-oriented students with an expanded breadth of noninstructional services. Yet this obfuscates the underlying mission of colleges to produce and disseminate knowledge. It is time for higher education to go on a diet.

The ballooning of college administration has resulted in a sharp decline in labor productivity at colleges during a period of technological advancement that has improved productivity in most other industries. It has also occurred at a time when students are getting less for their money: Instruction has shifted from full-time professors to underpaid and overworked adjunct faculty. Three-fourths of new instructor jobs created over the past 20 years have been part-time positions. If the employment trends of the last decade are sustained, then administrative employees will outnumber instructors at four-year colleges by 2014.

Perusing the careers section of the Chronicle of Higher Education recently, I noticed that Georgia Southern University has an opening for a recreation therapist, the University of Florida an opening for a director of multicultural and diversity affairs, and the University of Maryland, College Park openings for a coordinator of off-campus student involvement and a director of fraternity and sorority life. Will educational outcomes improve with the addition of positions such as these? I fervently doubt it.

Trends in spending make it clear that institutional priorities have shifted, as resources have been reallocated from classroom instruction to paper pushing. According to a recent report from the Delta Cost Project that uses U.S. Department of Education data, between 1995 and 2006 spending growth on student services and administration outpaced growth in expenditure on instruction by a multiple of 2 at the private research colleges, 1.75 at public research colleges and 3.2 at public master's degree granting colleges.

Did you know that an academic dean at a doctoral institution receives a median salary of $190,000 (plus generous fringe benefits) or that the median salary of an assistant dean is above $116,000? The College & University Professional Association for Human Resources found that last year senior administrators recorded a third consecutive year of 4% pay increases and a twelfth consecutive year of pay increases above inflation. Nearly 10% of the 425,000 administrative and support staff employees at 272 research institutions earned a salary above $100,000 last year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Higher education is engaged in a spree of empire-building that will be a burden on the public purse. The recession has provided some restraints on cost-increasing behavior at colleges; many schools have announced unpaid furloughs and staffing cuts. This is a good start, but my guess is that the train will pick up steam again once economic recovery stabilizes.

All we need are students and parents willing to vote with their feet when it comes to choosing a college according to value. This can happen only if more information about colleges is made publicly available in a digestible manner, something that the establishment vehemently opposes.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Teacher Turns 'Crazy Idea' Into New School

Condensed from an article by Thom Patterson posted on CNN.com, September 9, 2009

"I have a crazy idea": Those five words changed a simple meeting of school officials into the realization of Kim Ursetta's dream.

Ursetta, then president of a local teachers' union, blurted out those words 18 months ago during a meeting in the office of Denver, Colorado's, schools superintendent.

The other officials in the room leaned in as Ursetta leaped into a sales pitch that would turn an ordinary day into a highlight of her career.

"I want to start a new kind of school," she said, a union-sponsored public school led by teachers, not a principal.

"I started talking about 21st century skills and wanting to prepare our kids in math and science, especially our low-income and ethnic minority students," Ursetta said. "We've been doing schools the same way in this nation for 150 years, so if we don't step up, then nothing is going to change."

Superintendent Michael Bennet -- now the state's freshman U.S. senator -- did not say no to the idea, and Ursetta walked out the door "excited" and "shocked."

She immediately started "pulling together a group of teachers to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and ask how you would do a school differently."

Three weeks ago, Ursetta's dream became a reality, as Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy opened its doors to 142 kindergartners and first- and second-grade students in Denver's mostly low-income, largely Hispanic Athmar Park neighborhood.

A board-certified, 16-year teaching veteran, Ursetta, 38, believes the lack of teacher flexibility ranks among the top barriers blocking the nation's children from receiving the best education possible.

As a teacher at traditional schools, Ursetta said she and her colleagues weren't allowed to change the order of their lessons.

Two of the school's 12 teachers take on administrative duties as "lead teachers," performing the traditional role of a principal.

Although they follow school board-approved curriculum and standards, instructors can easily rearrange lessons to "make better sense for the kids" -- making better connections between different subject matter, Ursetta said.

Sometimes, for example, it makes sense to group Ursetta's kindergarten students with first-graders working on the same subject.

"You normally would have to ask permission to do that," she said. "But here, we just do it. We're able to try different things to teach them instead of just following a script."

The lack of quality school leadership is a big reason that experienced teachers leave their schools, Ursetta said. "Studies show when you take accomplished teachers and allow them to have a leadership role, that's when they see the most success. Scores just soar. That's how we're focused here."

Friday, September 11, 2009

NYT's Steve Lohr on Online Education

Steve Lohr, a New York Times reporter, posted this account of online education on August 19, 2009. Note how it emphasizes online learning's potential for teaching collaboration...

Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom
By Steve Lohr

A recent 93-page report on online education, conducted by SRI International for the Department of Education, has a starchy academic title, but a most intriguing conclusion: “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

The report examined the comparative research on online versus traditional classroom teaching from 1996 to 2008. Some of it was in K-12 settings, but most of the comparative studies were done in colleges and adult continuing-education programs of various kinds, from medical training to the military.

Over the 12-year span, the report found 99 studies in which there were quantitative comparisons of online and classroom performance for the same courses. The analysis for the Department of Education found that, on average, students doing some or all of the course online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile. That is a modest but statistically meaningful difference.

“The study’s major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing — it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction,” said Barbara Means, the study’s lead author and an educational psychologist at SRI International.

This hardly means that we’ll be saying good-bye to classrooms. But the report does suggest that online education could be set to expand sharply over the next few years, as evidence mounts of its value.

Until fairly recently, online education amounted to little more than electronic versions of the old-line correspondence courses. That has really changed with arrival of Web-based video, instant messaging and collaboration tools.

The real promise of online education, experts say, is providing learning experiences that are more tailored to individual students than is possible in classrooms. That enables more “learning by doing,” which many students find more engaging and useful.

“We are at an inflection point in online education,” said Philip R. Regier, the dean of Arizona State University’s Online and Extended Campus program.
The biggest near-term growth, Mr. Regier predicts, will be in continuing education programs. Today, Arizona State has 5,000 students in its continuing education programs, both through in-person classes and online. In three to five years, he estimates, that number could triple, with nearly all the growth coming online.

But Mr. Regier also thinks online education will continue to make further inroads in transforming college campuses as well. Universities — and many K-12 schools — now widely use online learning management systems, like Blackboard or the open-source Moodle. But that is mostly for posting assignments, reading lists, and class schedules and hosting some Web discussion boards.

Mr. Regier sees things evolving fairly rapidly, accelerated by the increasing use of social networking technology. More and more, students will help and teach each other, he said. For example, it will be assumed that college students know the basics of calculus, and the classroom time will focus on applying the math to real-world problems — perhaps in exploring the physics of climate change or modeling trends in stock prices, he said.

“The technology will be used to create learning communities among students in new ways,” Mr. Regier said. “People are correct when they say online education will take things out of the classroom. But they are wrong, I think, when they assume it will make learning an independent, personal activity. Learning has to occur in a community.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What the College Rankings Won't Tell You

Thanks to Scott Tilden for passing along this article and making us take a closer look at “what you get for the money” when choosing your college or university.

New website and report grade universities on education, not reputation

WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 19, 2009)—How much will it cost? How is it ranked? And how hard is it to get in? Many college guides and rankings answer these questions. But there is one question that none of them even ask: What will students learn?

A new, free website for parents and students,
WhatWillTheyLearn.com, does just that.

Launched today by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni,
WhatWillTheyLearn.com will be featured in a full-page ad in U.S. News & World Report’s 2010 college rankings, which are released tomorrow. The website evaluates colleges and universities based on their general education curricula: the core courses aimed at providing a strong foundation of knowledge.

WhatWillTheyLearn.com assigns each institution a grade from “A” to “F” based on how many of the following seven core subjects it requires: Composition, Mathematics, Science, Economics, Foreign Language, Literature, and American Government or History. Only a handful get A’s.

“Employers are increasingly dissatisfied with college graduates who lack the basic knowledge and skills expected of any educated person,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. “If our students are to compete successfully in the global marketplace, we simply can’t leave their learning up to chance. As it is, thousands are paying dearly for a thin and patchy education.”

Mel Elfin, founding editor of U.S. News & World Report's college rankings, praised the website as “an invaluable and unique additional resource for parents.” “By focusing on what students are getting in the classroom, this new resource highlights what in the long run is far more important than the name of the institution on a graduate’s diploma,” said Elfin.

ACTA simultaneously released a printed
report on general education, also entitled What Will They Learn?, which grades 100 leading colleges and universities in the same manner as the website. The low marks received by many institutions show students are graduating without math, science, and other fundamentals and underscore the urgent need for parents, students, and policymakers to focus on what colleges expect of their students.

How do the 100 colleges and universities fare?
• 42 institutions receive a “D” or an “F” for requiring two or fewer subjects.
• 5 institutions receive an “A” for requiring six subjects: Brooklyn College, Texas A&M, UT-Austin, University of Arkansas, and West Point. No institution requires all seven.
• Paying a lot doesn’t necessarily get you a lot: Average tuition at the 11 schools that require no subjects is $37,700. At the 5 schools that get an “A”, it’s $5,400.
• “Flagship” state universities do a
markedly better job with general education (average grade of “C”) than the top liberal arts colleges and national universities (with an “F” average) while charging much lower tuition and fees.

Which important subjects are not being required?
• Only 2 out of 100 require economics (University of Alaska-Fairbanks & West Point)
• Only 11 out of 100 require American government or history
• Barely half—53 out of 100—require mathematics

“This study demonstrates that our colleges and universities have abdicated their responsibility to direct their students to the most important subjects,” said Neal. “No eighteen-year-old, even the brightest, should have to determine which combination of courses comprises a comprehensive education. But most colleges are offering nothing more than a ‘do-it-yourself’ education.”

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is an independent non-profit dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability. Since its founding in 1995, ACTA has counseled boards, educated the public and published reports about such issues as good governance, historical literacy, core curricula, the free exchange of ideas, and accreditation in higher education. For further information, visit

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Crime the Schools Are Committing to Our Children

by Anthony Pellegrino, respected CNMI community leader, educator and founder of the Northern Marianas Trades Institute, also widely known as a highly successful entrepreneur in bottled water and aquaculture.

The new school term has begun. For many students it will be a nightmare. They know that they will be returning to a dreary day of sitting in a classroom struggling for five hours to read and to write. For them the printed word and the written word remain a mystery. As they glance around the room, they silently envy the other students that have little difficulty in those activities. These are the students that many teachers and school districts have written off as “school failures.” These are the students who cannot read and write on their grade level. But whose fault is it that they are in such a dilemma?

As these students approach the legal age of 16 for school drop-outs, they learn to tolerate abuse both silent and verbal heaped upon them from the teachers and fellow students. They realize that college is only a dream for them. Only poor paying jobs or welfare awaits them. Is it any wonder they feel frustrated and want to run away?

Other students who also have low reading and writing abilities somehow manage to get into a college. There they spend the first year or perhaps two years taking basic reading and writing courses before they are capable of tackling the regular curriculum. Does it have to be this way?

What if educators decided to wrestle with poor readers and poor writers when they first notice them in early childhood? Would it cost so much more money to train these students to read and write by the time they graduate from high school? Wouldn’t it be worthwhile spending extra time or a different approach to assist these slow learners? Is it better to worry about the majority of the students and forget that we are creating potential social dropouts and candidates for violence and welfare candidates?

All students study the same subjects in the same grade and are treated in the same manner. One size is supposed to fit all. But what if we sorted out the slow learners and gave them extra attention? Keep the same five hours but change the courses to fit the individual student’s ability. When a student shows difficulty in reading or writing, change the approach.

Instead of forcing the student to take the usual English course, he should be placed in a remedial class. The same should be done when the student shows a lack of writing ability for his age level. Instead of feeding him a block of knowledge that the curriculum spells out, deviate from it and concentrate on his deficiency. Would we feed the body the same food and medicine when the child is sick? No, we would adopt the food and medicine to fit the illness.

I am not trying to tell professional educators how they should teach or what they should teach. But when a student is not grasping the basics of reading and writing, why do educators insist that the one size must fit him or he is cast aside? Don’t they realize what they are doing to the student? They are silently branding him as a loser in life.

We should judge educators on their success rate of how many students can really read and write, not on how many students they pass along. With all the new technology and with new teaching techniques, educators must eliminate or at least minimize the number of poor readers and poor writers. This achievement should be the true measure of success for any school system.

To solve the problem, extra money is not needed, extra teachers are not needed, extra space is not needed. What is needed is a determination by the school staff to eliminate or at least greatly minimize poor reading and writing habits of slow learners. It is a matter of arranging classes and schedules. Make the system flexible instead of a rigid one based on one method must fit all.

I strongly feel that the elementary and middle grades are to be used to teach how to study and how to read and write. Only when a student reaches high school should facts and concepts be taught. Instead too many schools insist on trying to make students absorb meaningless facts without the ability to read and write about them.

How gratifying it would be if more students were motivated to read and write instead of being shoved along because the system demands it. When will educators realize the crime they are committing by allowing students to go through their system without the ability to read and write? Think of all the minds they are wasting! Think of all the future social problems they are creating by not correcting these problems now!

In conclusion, if educators are truly interested in improving the education of children, educators must develop new ideas to remedy these chronic problems. They must motivate slow learners to improve their writing and reading abilities.

To me the phrase: No child left behind—means he or she must be able to read and write on his grade level. By the time the student leaves high school he must be fairly proficient in those two skills. Forget teaching useless facts. Teach skills of reading and writing and the facts will come later with meaning.

Stop wasting young minds! Stop condemning students to failure in life! A student saved is a potential contributor to our society. Where there is a will there is a method!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Attitudes toward autism have gone through many changes. In my first twenty years as an occupation therapist, I had two clients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They were considered exotic birds, their rocking, spinning and hand flapping were called “self-stimming,” and their behavior was blamed squarely on the coldness of their “refrigerator moms.”

Now, these once atypical children are common in my caseload, and self-stimulating behavior is more accurately acknowledged as self-calming. Instead of being blamed, their moms are honored for their ability to cope with their sensitive children.

The jury is still out on the cause of autism, but what is apparent is that the brains of these children process information differently. Now that we understand the plasticity of the brain, modern therapies are aimed towards helping these children connect the dots in ways that other children do so they can better fit into our world.

There are even people nowadays who propose that children in the spectrum and with sensory processing disorders (SPD) are more advanced rather than less than their peers. A growing awareness of autistic savants, with genius mixed into their social differences, adds some muscle to that theory.

It’s an interesting thought. I think of Reggie, one of “my” kids. I was watching him blow bubbles recently and saw him mesmerized by the way the light refracted off the iridescent bubbles. If you really pay attention, bubbles are amazingly beautiful and Reggie was just as delighted and appreciative of the fortieth bubble blown as he was of the first. (Talk about being in the present moment!) Reggie’s ability to notice details also makes him the only one in his pre-school class to know the names and sounds of every letter in the alphabet. I envy his contentment in solitary play and not seeming to care or notice what others think of him.

What would it be like if kids like Reggie were just seen as one in a variety of human possibilities? I won’t be surprised if sometime in the not too distant future, it might be considered "cool" to be autistic or to have unique ways of processing the world. Terms such as Sensory Processing Differences will be used instead of Disorders and we all will learn to be sensitive to our needs and how to regulate and calm our systems.

Meanwhile, we parents and therapist and friends who love these children can make them feel welcomed and find ways to help them acquire needed skills. One way will always be playing. Play is the brain’s way of learning and our way to enjoy our lives and to give love to each other. Daniel Tammet, an autistic savant whose skills may make "Rainman" look like he had memory problems, points out in his book, Born on a Blue Day, that what made his childhood miserable were the children who couldn’t accept him as he was, but what made his development flourish was his parents who did.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Khadijah Williams, 18, overcomes a lifetime in shelters and on skid row

By Esmeralda Bermudez, condensed from the Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2009

Khadijah Williams stepped into chemistry class and instantly tuned out the commotion.

Quietly, the 18-year-old settled into an empty table, flipped open her physics book and focused. Nothing mattered now except homework.

Around here, Khadijah is known as "Harvard girl," the "smart girl" and the girl with the contagious smile who landed at Jefferson High School only 18 months ago.
What students don't know is that she is also a homeless girl.

As long as she can remember, Khadijah has floated from shelters to motels to armories along the West Coast with her mother. She has attended 12 schools in 12 years; lived out of garbage bags among pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers. Every morning, she upheld her dignity, making sure she didn't smell or look disheveled.

On the streets, she learned how to hunt for their next meal, plot the next bus route and help choose a secure place to sleep -- survival skills she applied with passion to her education.

Only a few mentors and Harvard officials know her background. She never wanted other students to know her secret -- not until her plane left for the East Coast hours after her Friday evening graduation.

"I was so proud of being smart I never wanted people to say, 'You got the easy way out because you're homeless,' " she said. "I never saw it as an excuse."

"I have felt the anger at having to catch up in school . . . being bullied because they knew I was poor, different, and read too much," she wrote in her college essays. "I knew that if I wanted to become a smart, successful scholar, I should talk to other smart people.

"Khadijah was in third grade when she first realized the power of test scores, placing in the 99th percentile on a state exam. Her teachers marked the 9-year-old as gifted, a special category that Khadijah, even at that early age, vowed to keep.

She finished only half of fourth grade, half of fifth and skipped sixth. Seventh grade was split between Los Angeles and San Diego. Eighth grade consisted of two weeks in San Bernardino.

At every stop, Khadijah pushed to keep herself in each school's gifted program. She read nutrition charts, newspapers and four to five books a month, anything to transport her mind away from the chaos and the sour smell.

In 10th grade, Khadijah realized that if she wanted to succeed, she couldn't do it alone. She began to reach out to organizations and mentors: the Upward Bound Program, Higher Edge L.A., Experience Berkeley and South Central Scholars; teachers, counselors and college alumni networks. They helped her enroll in summer community college classes, gave her access to computers and scholarship applications and taught her about networking.

When she enrolled in the fall of her junior year at Jefferson High School, she was determined to stay put, regardless of where her mother moved. Graduation was not far off and she needed strong college letters of recommendation from teachers who were familiar with her work.

This soon meant commuting by bus from an Orange County armory. She awoke at 4 a.m. and returned at 11 p.m., and kept her grade-point average at just below a 4.0 while participating in the Academic Decathlon, the debate team and leading the school's track and field team.

Khadijah graduated Friday evening with high honors, fourth in her class. She was accepted to more than 20 universities nationwide, including Brown, Columbia, Amherst and Williams. She chose a full scholarship to Harvard and aspires to become an education attorney.

She tried her best; she never smoked or drank, never did drugs, and she never put us in abusive situations. However, that was the best she could do.

She knows she was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to a 14-year-old mother. She thinks Chantwuan might have been ostracized from her family. She may have tried to attend school, but the stress of a baby proved too much. When Khadijah was a toddler, they moved to California. A few years later, Jeanine was born.

She has chosen not to criticize her mother. Instead Khadijah said she inspired her to learn. "She would tell me I had a gift, she would call me Oprah."

When her college applications were due in December, James and Patricia London of South Central Scholars invited Khadijah to their home in Rancho Palos Verdes to help her write her essays.

She won't be the first homeless student to arrive at Harvard.

Julie Hilden, the Harvard interviewer who met with Khadijah to gauge whether she should be accepted, said it was clear from the start that Khadijah was a top candidate. But school officials had to make sure they could provide what she needed to make the transition successful.

"I think about how I can convince my peers about the value of education. . . . I have found that after all the teasing, these peers start to respect me . . . . I decided that I could be the one to uplift my peers . . . . My work is far reaching and never finished."

In the last six months, she saw her mother only a few times and on Thursday tried to find her. Khadijah headed to a South-Central storage facility where they last stored their belongings.

Proudly, Khadijah modeled her hunter green graduation cap and gown and practiced switching the tassel from right to left as she would during the ceremony.

"Look at you," her mother says. "You're really going to Harvard, huh?"

"Yeah," she says, pausing. "I'm going to Harvard."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The up side of autism

I enjoy thinking of ways that people within the autistic spectrum help humans evolve. I know it's not your usual perspective but with the increasing numbers of children identified, you know they will have an influence on life. What are the good parts?

My experience with children who have ASD shows me that there are many sensory issues that negatively affect them such as noises that are too loud, transitions that are too sudden and textures that are too rough. I suspect that many of these same issues negatively affect us all but we have learned to ignore them. Ignoring them is not validating their existence. They still have their effect on us.

How else to explain our ability to live, for example among the noise pollution of a big city. The honking cars, screeching sirens, noisy jackhammers are all tolerated on one level but add to our unease and irritability on a more unconscious level.

Children within the Spectrum won't tolerate or ignore and might have a meltdown if the situation isn't changed. For example, we might go to a crowded restaurant and be slightly uncomfortable with the lack of elbow room or continual chatter. Instead of realizing the sensory source of our discomfort, we might, instead, see faults with the waiter or get annoyed with some aspect of the conversation when, really, the main issue is that we, too, are in sensory overload. Spectrum children will instead insist on leaving or just "lose it" until taken outside. They will eventually need to learn methods to help them cope such as wearing headphone or purposely choosing quieter environments.

The lesson is that we all would benefit from learning what our individual unique sensitivities are. Do we need more time in nature than we are getting? Would we be more comfortable in our bodies if our clothing were softer to the touch? Would we do better in a noisy crowd if we had on an ipod with comforting music? Do we need more time to ease into our day?

People within the Spectrum are learning to understand and honor their sensitivities and limits. Perhaps one of their contributions is that they are showing us that we need to do the same thing.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Using ‘Second Life’ opens up new world of communications to students

Condensed from “In Focus” The College of New Jersey Magazine, June 2009

Karen Cooper ’82, a doctoral candidate in instructional technology at the University of Central Florida, spoke on “How Technology is Changing the Way We Learn.” Cooper wasn’t on The College of New Jersey’s campus though - she was at home in Florida - and some of the NJ students were not even in a physical classroom - they were sitting in their dorms wearing pajamas and slippers. Cooper’s lecture took place in ‘Second Life’ online, 3D, virtual world.

In ‘Second Life,’ users design their own avatars and interact with other “residents” inside a user-created virtual realm. Although ‘Second Life’ looks like a video game - and many people use it only for recreational purposes - a growing number of educators are incorporating it into their pedagogy.

College of New Jersey instructor Yifeng Hu rented an “island” within ‘Second Life’ on which she built the virtual campus where her classes meet. During these in-world lessons, students can attend class inside a virtual castle or even atop the platform that floats above the island (in ‘Second Life,’ flying is as easy as pressing the “F” key on your keyboard). These virtual meeting spaces offer everything a real-world classroom would - for example, projector screens and video monitors that can be used by the instructor. But the in-world class sessions offer some distinct advantages, according to Hu.

“The interactive nature of ‘Second Life’ really helps the students become more engaged in the learning process,” Hu said. During an in-world class session, students can continuously ask questions and make comments via ‘Second Life’s live-chat feature. The students also use the chat feature to “reinforce and complement each other’s perspectives,” thus creating a more meaningful dialogue during classes, Hu said. An added benefit of using the chat feature, Hu discovered, is that “shy” students are more willing to participate in class discussions.

“They love it,” Hu said. “They’ve said to me several times, ‘We should have class within ‘Second Life’ all the time.’” Perhaps more importantly, she added, “When the learning process is more fun, it is also more engaging for the students.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

700 NYC Teachers Are Paid to Do Nothing

Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that's what they want to do.

Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its "rubber rooms" — off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.
The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues — pretty much anything but school work. They have summer vacation just like their classroom colleagues and enjoy weekends and holidays through the school year.

"You just basically sit there for eight hours," said Orlando Ramos, who spent seven months in a rubber room, officially known as a temporary reassignment center, in 2004-05. "I saw several near-fights. `This is my seat.' `I've been sitting here for six months.' That sort of thing."

Ramos was an assistant principal in East Harlem when he was accused of lying at a hearing on whether to suspend a student. Ramos denied the allegation but quit before his case was resolved and took a job in California.

Because the teachers collect their full salaries of $70,000 or more, the city Department of Education estimates the practice costs the taxpayers $65 million a year. The department blames union rules.

"It is extremely difficult to fire a tenured teacher because of the protections afforded to them in their contract," spokeswoman Ann Forte said.

City officials said that they make teachers report to a rubber room instead of sending they home because the union contract requires that they be allowed to continue in their jobs in some fashion while their cases are being heard. The contract does not permit them to be given other work.

Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, said the union and the Department of Education reached an agreement last year to try to reduce the amount of time educators spend in reassignment centers, but progress has been slow.
"No one wants teachers who don't belong in the classroom. However, we cannot neglect the teachers' rights to due process," Davis said. The union represents more than 228,000 employees, including nearly 90,000 teachers.

Many teachers say they are being punished because they ran afoul of a vindictive boss or because they blew the whistle when somebody fudged test scores.

"The principal wants you out, you're gone," said Michael Thomas, a high school math teacher who has been in a reassignment center for 14 months after accusing an assistant principal of tinkering with test results.

City education officials deny teachers are unfairly targeted but say there has been an effort under Mayor Michael Bloomberg to get incompetents out of the classroom. "There's been a push to report anything that you see wrong," Forte said.

Some other school systems likewise pay teachers to do nothing.

The Los Angeles district, the nation's second-largest school system with 620,000 students, behind New York's 1.1 million, said it has 178 teachers and other staff members who are being "housed" while they wait for misconduct charges to be resolved.
Similarly, Mimi Shapiro, who is now retired, said she was assigned to sit in what Philadelphia calls a "cluster office." "They just sit you in a room in a hard chair," she said, "and you just sit."

Teacher advocates say New York's rubber rooms are more extensive than anything that exists elsewhere.

Teachers awaiting disciplinary hearings around the nation typically are sent home, with or without pay, Karen Horwitz, a former Chicago-area teacher who founded the National Association for the Prevention of Teacher Abuse. Some districts find non-classroom work — office duties, for example — for teachers accused of misconduct.

New York City's reassignment centers have existed since the late 1990s, Forte said. But the number of employees assigned to them has ballooned since Bloomberg won more control over the schools in 2002. Most of those sent to rubber rooms are teachers; others are assistant principals, social workers, psychologists and secretaries.

Once their hearings are over, they are either sent back to the classroom or fired. But because their cases are heard by 23 arbitrators who work only five days a month, stints of two or three years in a rubber room are common, and some teachers have been there for five or six.

The nickname refers to the padded cells of old insane asylums. Some teachers say that is fitting, since some of the inhabitants are unstable and don't belong in the classroom. They add that being in a rubber room itself is bad for your mental health.
"Most people in that room are depressed," said Jennifer Saunders, a high school teacher who was in a reassignment center from 2005 to 2008. Saunders said she was charged with petty infractions in an effort to get rid of her: "I was charged with having a student sit in my class with a hat on, singing."

The rubber rooms are monitored, some more strictly than others, teachers said.

"There was a bar across the street," Saunders said. "Teachers would sneak out and hang out there for hours."

Judith Cohen, an art teacher who has been in a rubber room near Madison Square Garden for three years, said she passes the time by painting watercolors of her fellow detainees.

"The day just seemed to crawl by until I started painting," Cohen said, adding that others read, play dominoes or sleep. Cohen said she was charged with using abusive language when a girl cut her with scissors.

Some sell real estate, earn graduate degrees or teach each other yoga and tai chi.

David Suker, who has been in a Brooklyn reassignment center for three months, said he has used the time to plan summer trips to Alaska, Cape Cod and Costa Rica. Suker said he was falsely accused of throwing a girl's test sign-up form in the garbage during an argument.

"It's sort of peaceful knowing that you're going to work to do nothing," he said.

Philip Nobile is a journalist who has written for New York Magazine and the Village Voice and is known for his scathing criticism of public figures. A teacher at Brooklyn's Cobble Hill School of American Studies, Nobile was assigned to a rubber room in 2007, "supposedly for pushing a boy while I was breaking up a fight." He contends the school system is retaliating against him for exposing wrongdoing.

He is spending his time working on his case and writing magazine articles and a novel.

"This is what happens to political prisoners throughout history," he said, alluding to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "They put us in prison and we write our `Letter From the Birmingham Jail.'"

Associated Press, June 23, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

John Dewey and the School in Rose Valley

Not all education in comes from books or computers. Preschool education, I believe, is jeopardized by too much paper and not enough people. What children learn about interacting with people, in the early years, will determine their success as adults. Savvy parents -- if they can assemble a peer group for their child -- can create a community for their 2's, 3's, and 4's, but an organized community like a nursery school is the more likely option.

All three of my children had the opportunity to attend progressive nursery schools. The two youngest ones went to the School in Rose Valley, based on John Dewey's ideas, founded in 1929 by Margaret Rawson, a pioneer in the Orton technique for dyslexic readers. It has classes for 3-year-olds through sixth grade. We were not able to keep them at SRV beyond age 4, but the children -- and I -- treasure the SRV experience. If you are not familiar with the John Dewey concepts, see below. Waldorf Schools have similar values. Here is a link to how SRV builds community.

Those early years are so important. "Who takes the child by the hand, takes the mother by the heart."

******below an excerpt from an SRV newsletter

The School in Rose Valley in Moylan, Pa, is built on the Progressive philosophy. The principles that are used in planning curriculum were first named by John Dewey, a founder of the Progressive Education movement in the early 20th century. These principles are as relevant for 21st century learning as they were in their founding. There are seven:

  • Childhood is important in and of itself, children need to be allowed to be children, and school should be child-centered.
  • Learning is based on experience.
  • Learning should be active, engaging children in doing, experimenting, manipulating and constructing their understanding of the world.
  • Learning should capitalize on children's interests, so that they are engaged in the curriculum and motivated to learn.
  • Learning should be purposeful, involving meaningful projects and problems that facilitate the acquisition and retention of knowledge.
  • Learning should be a social activity, because children learn more and develop deeper understandings when they are working and engaging with others.
  • Children must learn to be critical thinkers who will continue to grow intellectually and morally throughout their lives.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Schwarzenegger: Digital textbooks can save money, improve learning

By Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of the State of California

Today, our kids get their information from the Internet, downloaded onto their iPods, and in Twitter feeds to their cell phones. A world of up-to-date information fits easily into their pockets and onto their computer screens. So why are California's public school students still forced to lug around antiquated, heavy, expensive textbooks?

California is home to software giants, bioscience research pioneers and first-class university systems known around the world. But our students still learn from instructional materials in formats made possible by Gutenberg's printing press.

It's nonsensical — and expensive — to look to traditional hard-bound books when information today is so readily available in electronic form. Especially now, when our school districts are strapped for cash and our state budget deficit is forcing further cuts to classrooms, we must do everything we can to untie educators' hands and free up dollars so that schools can do more with fewer resources.

In February, we helped schools weather this storm by freeing up categorical restrictions on spending, and we must continue making these changes so more dollars go directly into the classrooms.

That's why I am so excited about the digital textbooks initiative California just launched. Starting with high school math and science books, this initiative paves the way for easier access to free digital texts in California's schools. By frequently updating texts as they are developed, rather than continuing to teach from outdated textbooks, we will better prepare our students.

For example, many textbooks still describe television technology in terms of cathode-ray tubes, without even mentioning LCD or plasma screens that are being sold today. If California is to remain competitive in an increasingly global economy, this initial focus on math and science texts is critical.

These kinds of digital instructional materials are rapidly becoming available. Across the state and around the world, well-respected educators have designed customizable texts to meet the unique needs of their students. Federal grants have funded research that is free for public use. And now California has put out an initial call to content developers, asking that they submit high school math and science digital texts for our review. We hope the floodgates are open. We'll ensure the digital texts meet and exceed California's rigorous academic standards, and we'll post the results of our review online as a reference for high school districts to use in time for fall 2009.

California must take the lead on using 21st century technology to expand learning and serve our students, parents, teachers and schools better. Even in good economic times, state government should always strive to use taxpayer dollars to the greatest effect. But especially now, it is imperative that we find ways to do more with less.

Last year, the state earmarked $350 million for school books and other instructional materials. Imagine the savings schools could realize by using these high-quality, free resources. Even if teachers have to print out some of the material, it will be far cheaper than regularly buying updated textbooks.

If the clamor for digital music and online social networking sites is any indication, young people are the earliest adopters of new technology, and cutting-edge product options are cropping up as quickly as the latest Facebook fads. However, there are those who ardently defend the status quo, claiming our vision of providing learning materials to students for free would risk a high-quality education.

That's nonsense. As the music and newspaper industries will attest, those who adapt quickly to changing consumer and business demands will thrive in our increasingly digital society and worldwide economy. Digital textbooks can help us achieve those goals and ensure that California's students continue to thrive in the global marketplace.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is Governor of the State of California. He wrote this article for the Mercury News in San Jose, California. It was posted June 6, 2009

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Don't prop up failing schools

By Clayton M. Christensen and Michael B. Horn
Special to CNN June 2, 2009

Editor's note: Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen and Innosight Institute Executive Director of Education Michael B. Horn are the co-authors along with Curtis W. Johnson of "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns."

(CNN) -- Historically the federal government has been a small investor in the nation's education system. With the recent economic stimulus bill, however, this changed virtually overnight.

There is great danger in the sudden and massive amount of funding -- nearly $100 billion -- that the federal government is throwing at the nation's schools. District by district, the budgetary crises into which all schools were plunging created the impetus for long-needed changes.

The most likely result of this stimulus will be to give our schools the luxury of affording not to change. This is borrowed money that we're pumping into our schools, and it comes at a price. Charging education isn't changing it.

That our schools need to change should not be surprising. Just walk into your local school and enter a classroom. Odds are high that it won't look too different from a classroom from a generation or two ago.

Sure, there might be some computers in the back of the room and perhaps an interactive white board instead of a chalkboard, but chances are high that students will still be sitting at desks lined up in neat rows with a teacher at the front delivering the same lesson on the same day to all the students. This might be acceptable if society and the skills many people need to succeed in today's economy hadn't changed either, but they have.

While U.S. schools stand still, the rest of the world is moving forward, and this has a price tag -- not just for individual children, but also for the nation.

We urge the federal government to consider four criteria when creating new programs or grants for states and districts to help transform an outdated educational system into one fit for the 21st Century.

First, don't fund technology that simply shoves computers and other technologies into existing classrooms. We've spent well over $60 billion in the last two decades doing just that, and there is now overwhelming evidence that when we do it, the current unsatisfactory system co-opts the technology to sustain itself.

We should instead use technology funding to bolster new learning models and innovations, such as online-learning environments, to level the playing field and allow students from all walks of life -- from small, rural communities to budget-strapped urban schools -- to access the rich variety that is now available only to children in wealthy suburban districts.
Second, don't fund new school buildings that look like the existing ones. If the architecture of new buildings is the same as that of existing schools -- designed around teachers delivering monolithic, one-size-fits-all lessons to large batches of students -- it will lock students into another century in which the physical infrastructure works against the flexibility needed for student-centric learning.

Instead, invest in bandwidth as an infrastructure of change. The government has a productive history in investing in infrastructure that creates change and innovation -- from allocating land to those building the transcontinental railroad and the land-grant colleges in 1862 to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funding the creation of the Internet.
To allow all districts to realize the power of online learning to advance us toward a student-centric system, the federal government should help deliver broadband capabilities necessary not just for today's needs, where schools already lag, but also in anticipation of tomorrow's.

Third, don't fund the institutions that are least likely to change. Our research shows that institutions are good at improving what they are structured to do, but that transformative innovations that fundamentally change the trade-off between cost and quality -- disruptive innovations -- come from start-up institutions.

This means that there is a high probability that spending money on existing schools of education will only result in their doing more of the same, for example. Meanwhile, there are a host of disruptive training organizations that are providing comparable educators at lower cost, such as Teach for America, the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, and New Leaders for New Schools.

Alternative certification, including alternative programs from existing schools of education, has grown at a 29 percent compound annual growth rate since 1997. The government must embrace this and back the winners, not defend the old institutions.

Fourth, direct more funds for research and development to create student-centric learning software. Just a fraction of 1 percent of the $600 billion in K-12 spending from all levels currently goes toward R&D.

The federal government should reallocate funds so we can begin to understand not just what learning opportunities work best on average but also what works for whom and under what circumstance. It is vital to fund learning software that captures data about the student and the efficacy of different approaches so we can connect these dots.

Transformation of any existing system isn't an easy process, but ignoring the laws of innovation, although it may be perhaps politically expedient in the short run, will only make it more difficult.

When the federal government directs future funds toward education, having these principles in place will go a long way toward making sure we're not simply charging education, but that we have a fighting chance of changing it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn.

Monday, June 1, 2009

First General Motors, Next America

By Richard Miller
Author, “In Word and Deeds: Battle Speeches In History”

It was said once that what was good for General Motors was good for America. I would update that aphorism: what is happening to General Motors is happening to America. Some of this is a bitter necessity–but much of it will be very bad, brought on by the voting public’s collective refusal to face the consequences of our nation’s (and our own) increasingly reckless financial behavior over the past three decades.

The truth is that the president is just doing with GM what we, the people elected him to do: manage America’s decline and do it gently, painlessly, without seeming to abandon the old tropes of American Greatness.

First, about that which is necessary. The key word here is “deleveraging.” GM, like many other corporations, homeowners, and credit card borrowers simply incurred too much debt. Most of GM’s debt was self-inflicted–ordinary borrowing. But much of the most damaging debt was simply conspiratorial. Unions and management had few incentives to control the former’s spiraling wages, benefits and pensions while the latter had to avoid strikes and keep the machine running in order to earn its rich salaries and bonuses.

As for shareholders and bondholders, as long as GM played its own Ponzi game of being current on debt service, and as long as the stock rose in the general equity mania of the last generation, few asked many questions.  Meanwhile, the only market that really counted — the domestic auto market — had been shrinking steadily for GM since the early 1970s. And the government (us, of course) was fond of its CAFEs, EPAs, OSHAs and other regulatory burdens that it imposed on the company. It all added up to what you now see unfolding before your eyes.

And what is very bad about GM’s situation? The Obama administration, in the name of the public good but in the fact of political payoff, has paid billions and pledged upwards of $50 billion dollars to a company that has failed to raise one dime of private capital. And all this done without querying GM exactly what it will do differently to compete with Mercedes, Toyota or even Ford. Do you know what will be different? Please comment if you do because despite studying this GM for years, I don’t have a clue.

Now here’s the surprise: I don’t blame Obama one bit. Sure, he broke his campaign pledge against Washington “politics as usual” by giving us Chicago “politics as usual.” In this case Alderman Obama delivered to his ward bosses at the UAW. But the truth is that the president is just doing with GM what we, the people elected him to do: manage American decline and do it gently, painlessly, without seeming to abandon the old tropes of American Greatness.

We, the public, wanted to avoid the pain that the logic of our (former) economic and social system would have required of GM: file a non-government subsidized bankruptcy petition, and hope that the washed through assets would actually be acquired by some guy with a better idea on how to build cars.

“Too big to fail,” we said in our collective arrogance. Too much pain. Too many suppliers forced out of business, too many workers unemployed, too many pensioners struggling to survive on reduced benefits. All probably true, and all part of the economic logic that built this country. Brutal, yes, but when you see the pain that the Indians and Chinese are willing to bear in order to supplant us as world leaders, you may remember that it’s a price our ancestors bore when America was ascendant.
The truth is that as a nation, we’re no longer “up to it,” the “it” being the costs associated with world leadership. We, GM and America have entered our dotage. Obama isn’t the problem, he’s just a symptom. (And to demonstrate how non-partisan this is, remember that it was Republican Bush ‘43 and his trusty sidekick “Help U.S.” Hank Paulson who argued for Detroit’s first $25 billion as well as $700 billion in TARP funds. It was at that very moment that Old America was declared dead and gone by its elites. All Obama has done is turn up the volume on the same song.)

As a lifelong Republican, I’d love to bash the loyal opposition. But not this time. As a collective group we elected Obama to stop the pain. By making General Motors in effect a new department of the federal government, Obama, by deferring the pain to the Chinese government’s willingness to buy our bonds, has only done what we asked him to do.
Managing America’s decline–it’s only a secret inside this country.

from Fox Forum May 31st, 2009
Postscript by Max Paul:

What does this have to do with education?

GM shows that the skillful and hard knuckles political power applied to securing and maintaining personal and corporate income is not going to hold up against market forces in the long run. A good part of the American education establishment is similarly built and continues to build on politically obtained regulation and job protection, regardless of better education becoming available at lower cost. Not only for GM, America is not an island where the inhabitants can be forced to invest in yesterday’s products supplied at a dictated price forever. More and more, education is a global market. If the American GM-like attitude to “serving” it continues, also American education will lose more and more market share, not only overseas, but also at home. Other, better education providers, at far lower costs will make inroads. And they won’t be American.

GM should be a wake-up call to American education to, as President Obama says, “start fresh,” totally, with all those cost burdens removed. Unless that can be done, the present American Way of education will become the way of the past.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hugh B. Price on Inner City Education

Former National Urban League head Hugh B. Price told the Princeton Chamber yesterday that one of the strategies for improving education is to increase and enhance the opportunities for student recognition. Prizes, awards, parades – they matter more than we would think, he said.

Price has a five-year post as a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School, and he recently wrote a book on how the community can motivate children to succeed. We need to create the equivalent of the 4-H Fair in urban settings, where students create projects and get to display them, talk about them to adults, and win ribbons.

He cites the Educational Testing Service study on parsing education, that too often educators fail to consider the home environment. By age three the average child in a middle class Caucasian household has heard 500,000 words of encouragement versus 80,000 words of discouragement. A welfare child, of whatever race, will have heard 75,000 words of encouragement versus 500,000 words of discouragement.

In education as in sales, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Monday, May 18, 2009

“School’s OUT” - revisited

In fact, school as we know it is dead or quickly dying. American education - at an annual cost of $400 billion - has become a solid-gold life jacket: The longer we cling to it, the deeper it will sink us.

In his revolutionary book “School’s OUT,” Lewis J. Perelman shows [already in 1992] that instead of education, what we need is genuine learning: more, better, faster, cheaper.

In fact, there is a learning revolution taking place right before our eyes - and largely outside of school classrooms. A new wave of knowledge technology has put the access to enhanced learning at our fingertips. This “hyperlearning” HL technology can enable anyone to learn anything, anywhere, anytime, with grade-A results. And HL technology is getting rapidly cheaper and more powerful, while classroom teaching gets more steadily more expensive and unproductive.

The radical precept at the heart of “School’s OUT” is that hyperlearning does not represent an avenue for educational reform but a total replacement for conventional education, an essential new industry for any nation hoping to prosper in the next millennium; it is also “the greatest business opportunity since Rockefeller found oil.”

Among other items on the hyperlearning manifesto:

• Abolish the credential system that chokes progress and clouds our educational agenda.
• Push for the complete commercial privatization of the public education empire, probably the largest and last huge socialist economy on earth.
• Implement for learning at all ages the huge breakthroughs that have already been developed in the military and commercial sectors.
• Build the information superhighway network that can deliver hyperlearning to everyone.

An extraordinary synthesis of economic analysis and technological expertise, “School’s OUT” is the radical departure that will alter our thinking about learning forever; it depicts a future reality that is fast approaching and will overtake us ...

From “School’s OUT”
William Morrow & Company, Inc. N.Y., N.Y.
ISBN 0-688-11286-2

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Recommended by the U.S. Department of Education

“Learning to Learn” is the most effective student success program in higher education, recommended for national use by the U.S. Department of Education. The LTL college program has been adapted for use in public schools and corporations and is being modified for use by individual adult learners and home schooling families.

http://www.learningtolearn.com Marcia Heiman, Ph.D.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Play is a powerful learning tool. When children are playing and enjoying themselves, they naturally pay attention. It's easy to focus when you're having fun. That's why I use games when I want children to learn something. If I'm teaching a young child to recognize colors, for example, instead of pointing to colors on a chart, it is so much easier for her to remember colors if she throws a ball at all the red boxes and knocks them down. And, next, at all the yellow boxes. And, to make life simple, the boxes are just milk cartons covered in colored paper.

Or if I want an older child to learn how to spell the words on his spelling test, I lay down a shower curtain on which I have written all the letters of the alphabet and have him hop to the letters in his words. It's easier to remember that a word ends in a silent "e" if he has to leap all the way from the letter "n" to get to it. Muscles have memory, too.

Besides using games to develop cognitive and attention skills, I also use lots of games to teach motor skills. It matters if a child is good at recess so I want children to have good motoric skills such as balance, eye-hand coordination and muscle control so they can play all the games the other kids play. Social skills are learned through play.

Even self-esteem can be nurtured through games.

Imagine this self-esteem game. Say, everyone in the family or in the classroom has to come up with a movement that goes with their name. So, say, Susan comes up with Swaying Susan and everyone has to repeat "Swaying Susan", Swaying Susan" and move just like her. Susan gets to hear everyone saying her name (the most precious sound in the world) and imitating her movements. It can't help but make her feel noticed and feel special. And if Jumping Jessie and Twirling Tommy gets the next turns, everyone gets to feel good about their own unique and individual diversity.

But the hot new news right off the Neuroscience press is that not only does play focus and alert the mind, it also has a significant role in developing the brain. We are all born prematurely, as far as the brain is concerned. Our organs and our muscles are all fully developed at birth but just smaller than they will be. But the newborns brain has mainly the ancient brain stem whose job is to alert us if we are in danger and a cerebellum for movement and balance. The rest of the brain is made up of 100 billion undeveloped nerve cells (neurons) like a jumbled mass of electrical wires that aren't connected. As we have meaningful experience, we begin to connect these neurons to form patterns that let us know, for example, that a certain voice, a certain face and a way of being held means it’s time to nurse or our diaper is being changed.

Other sensory information helps us recognize Dad or the rough older brother or the dog. And each time these connections are made, patterns of understanding and awareness are formed in the brain that increase our complexity and intelligence.

Neuroscientists found out the significance of the role of joyful play through brain imaging. When they took pictures of children's brain right after they were engaged in an enjoyable meaningful multisensory activity, there were actual immediate changes in the brain. New synaptic connections between the neurons were actually visible in the brain scan and the brain had literally become more complex. There were no changes noticed in the brain imaging of children who had not been engaged, who had instead been watching television or not involved in an activity that particularly interested them.

To quote Stuart Brown, M.D., psychiatrist, clinical researcher, and the founder of the National Institute for Play,

"Neuroscientists, developmental biologists, psychologists, social scientists, and researchers from every point of the scientific compass now know that play is a profound biological process. It shapes the brain."

In brain-speak, stimulating experiences activate certain neural synapses and this triggers growth processes that consolidate those connections. Rich experiences, in other words, really do produce rich brains

So, not only is it smart to play games, games make you smarter!

The sad news is that synapses that are not activated progressively wither over time. Those 100 billion cells get pruned away through the "use it or lose it" principle

Even worse, while positive experiences can help brighten a child’s future, negative experiences can do the opposite. Deprived of a positive, stimulating environment, a child’s brain suffers. Stressful experiences also shape a child’s developing brain. When children are faced with physical or emotional stress or trauma, one of the stress-related systems “turns on” by releasing the hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol can cause brain cells to die and reduces the connections between the cells in certain areas of the brain.

Babies with strong, positive emotional bonds to their caregivers and enjoyable playful experiences in their lives show consistently lower levels of cortisol in their brains

Further proof is a study, completed at the Baylor College of Medicine, which showed that babies who had the chance to play often and who were held and touched often as infants, have larger brains with more neural pathways than children who received less playful attention and care when they were babies.

Play is essential to a child's development and children like to play. It is what they do and how they learn.

We parents are in the prime position to continue to enlarge our children’s brains through play. But, with work and other obligations and especially if we weren't played with as children by our parents, it may feel that we don't have the time or knowledge to add "playtime" to our over- burdened schedules.

This article hopes to show you that we don't need a lot of time or special equipment and that we all have within us a sense of play. The suggestions below will feel do-able and can be done with a moment here, a moment there and with no more materials than a good mood.

Try out some of these ideas for a spontaneous game or let them inspire you to do others. Your children will think they are just having fun, but you'll know they are making new synaptic connections!


For example, the next time you’re outside or are looking out the window together, notice the shapes of the clouds. You know this game. You’ve seen clouds that form dinosaurs and puffy headed crocodiles. Identify shapes together and make up stories about what the dinosaur is saying to the crocodile. If your experience is like mine, children, especially young children, don’t look at you and say “How would I know?” but instead look at you as if to say, “Dummy, why don’t you know—it’s obvious the dinosaur is about to eat the crocodile." At which point you point out the looming bear shape and ask, “So whose side is that bear on?” and the story and fun unfolds.


Or when you're outside sitting on the grass, pretend there is a little teeny sprite living there and figure out where that sprite would go to eat dinner or what would it use for plates and where would it go if it wanted to slide down something fun.


When you are going for a walk, even if it’s a walk you’ve done many times, play the game of “I see something new” and notice something you hadn’t noticed before such as the leaf shapes in the rod iron pattern around the neighbor’s mailbox. Or maybe you'll notice that the bush has flowers in different stages. There is a bud, another flower in full bloom and one going to seed. This could lead to a discussion about ages. How old is grandma? How old do you guess Barney or Big Bird. What is the age of that tree? That could lead to finding a tree stump and counting the ring.


Before you go outside, tape a piece of tape, sticky side out, around your wrists and take a moment to look around and adorn them with whatever you see such petals and leaves and pine needles.When you get home, cut them off and tape them up on the refrigerator to remind you of the fun exploring moments.


If your child isn't allergic to peanuts, take a second while the child isn't looking or is napping, to hide peanuts in their shells here and there in the house (or yard). Make some hiding places easy to see and some trickier to find to fit your children's skills. Challenge them to find the peanuts and to count how many they find.


Writing invisible letters on a child’s back or palm is a fun way to write a secret message and requires connecting the sense of touch with cognition.

Have your child sit with his back to you and a pad of paper and pencil in front of him. Using your finger “draws” a letter on your child’s back or palm. At the same time, your child draws on the paper what he thinks is being drawn on his back.

Keep writing letter by letter until a whole message is given. The message could be a clue to where a treat is hidden!

Take turns so you both get to experience what it feels like.

Have an older child play this game with a younger sibling as a fun way to help him learn his letters and grow his brain.


Sit in front of a mirror with your darlin'. You both have felt tip pens. Trying not to move, draw the lines you see starting with the shape of the head and then tracing the facial features.


If you are stuck somewhere waiting, for example, for a ride to arrive or a passenger to debark from a plane, make it more fun by playing a guessing game. Each person guesses how many cars will pass or passengers arrive before the wanted one happens. If you guess 10 and your little partner guesses 15 and you are both wrong. Guess again!


When the kids are bored but antsy with energy and quibbling with each other, here is a quickie that is guaranteed to direct their energies in a positive fun way while connecting their motor pathways

Take some shoes and lay them out in a straight line, about 6 inches apart (more or less depending on the child's age). Ask the children to start at one end and jump over each shoe. Then ask them to do the same thing in a variety of other ways such as jumping sideways, backwards, hopping on one foot or jumping over two at once. Let the children make up new ways. Maybe they want to jump and twirl in a circle. At the same time!

For a final triumph, pile all the shoes in a pile in a large cleared out space in the room. Tell the kids that this is not a pile of shoes (silly them to think that!) but is actually a huge mountain and they have to start from a distance away and run towards the mountain and then with one gigantic leap, make it over the top of the mountain to the other side.

It adds to the thrill if the others provide a drum roll--slapping their hands on the floor or on a table or on their knees as the next Leaper makes her run and then when that person is in the air, call out her name!

In essence, we parents are in the position to participate in our children's mental growth through the power of play. Let's enjoy!

Bio: Barbara is an pediatric occupational therapist and the author of Attention Games, 101 Fun Easy Games That Help Kids Learn to Focus (Wiley), Smart Play: 101 Fun Easy Games that Enhance Intelligence (Wiley), Self-Esteem Games, 300 Fun Activities that Make Children Feel Good about Themselves (Wiley), Spirit Games, 300 Fun Activities that Bring Children Comfort and Joy (Wiley), Extraordinary Play with Ordinary Things, Motor games with Everyday Stuff (Bright Baby Books) and soon to be released Playful Moments, 50 Spontaneous Games to Play with Your Young (Bright Baby Books) and Early Intervention Play: Joyful Games for Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder

Her books have been published in 7 languages.

See www.gameslady.com