Digital Learning

Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City, is no friend of charter schools. He’s been clear, for instance, that if he steps foot in City Hall, Bloomberg’s policy of not charging them rent would be stopped and frisked. In response, 17,000 parents, students, and teachers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on Tuesday in support of charter schools and Bloomberg’s education policies. For a particularly good summary of the issue, take a look at Daniel Henninger’s piece in the Wall Street Journal. For our analysis, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

North Carolina and Los Angeles have both encountered problems with their high-profile tablets-for-students programs. In North Carolina, around 10 percent of the 15,000 devices distributed have reportedly been defective, leading the state to suspend the program. And in L.A., some enterprising students managed to hack the tablets’ security filters (score for teenage resourcefulness—send them all to programming class!), leading officials to disallow taking the tablets off-campus—and boding ill for the program’s future after the school board reviews it later this month. While there’s no denying that tablets are the way of the future, there’s clearly some fine-tuning to be done.

Michael Brickman, Fordham’s national policy director, made it to NBC’s annual Education Nation wingding earlier this week. Here’s what he had to say: “The speakers were clearly top-notch. While the format...

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The hacker edition

In this week’s podcast, Mike and Brickman talk tablet woes (and praise teenage hackers for their healthy disrespect for authority), charter support in NYC, and the research on voucher effectiveness. Amber tells us about PISA for geezers.

Amber's Research Minute

OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills by OECD (OECD Publishing, 2013).

Like many, I first became aware of Sal Khan and his Khan Academy when I watched his 2011 TED Talk and was blown away. I immediately jumped onto the site to begin trying practice problems and watching videos in mathematics, the financial crisis, and history. What wowed me most about the site, however, were not Sal's video lessons. Many of those are good and quite informative and instructionally sound as far as they go, but they are also sometimes kind of rudimentary and not always super engaging.

What I loved more was how the site tracked and encouraged student growth and then allowed teachers to monitor that progress. The potential seemed huge for use in traditional or flipped classrooms, yet Khan Academy was offering it all for free.

Since 2011, Khan Academy has grown by leaps and bounds—and seems to have gotten better, too. It's expanded its badging features (more on badges here) to reward students not only for mastering specific knowledge or progressing through lessons but also for being persistent or helpful to others through the site's rich coaching tools. The site also recently added a version in Spanish. Khan’s lessons are now part of multiple pilot programs in real-life classrooms. The academy has built an outstanding computer-programming site—and even has videos with Lebron James asking math and science questions. You may have seen recent TV ads promoting its partnership with Bank of America on financial literacy.

Perhaps the most impactful new feature, however, is the site's reorganization—just in...

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If you were surfing the web in mid-2004, you were almost certainly using Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser to do it. Despite frequent concerns over its security, stability, and speed, this single tool for viewing content online was then used by more than 95 percent of Americans using the internet.

Shortly thereafter, and with the help of a crowd-funded, full-page ad in the New York Times, a small non-profit named Mozilla quickly began to erode Microsoft's market share with its new, open-source Firefox browser. Today, even though Internet Explorer remains the default software on the still-ubiquitous Windows operating system for personal computers, only about one in four web users browse with it, while many millions now use Firefox along with Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome.

Today, Mozilla is undertaking a new challenge that, along with other recent technology-driven trends, has the potential to radically transform how Americans get educated and find work. The project is called Open Badges, and it might someday replace the résumé, the job search, and even education as we know it.

Classrooms are but one of many settings in which learning occurs, but demonstrating the sum total of what you know and what you can do on a college or job application often means turning over a transcript with little more than course titles and letter grades. Open Badges is a platform that allows anyone earn credentials by completing coursework or learning new skills in formal to quite informal settings. Badges are typically competency-based and tell potential employers exactly...

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Challenge their children or watch them depart

What high-quality digital learning looks—er, sounds—like

Always a bridesmaid edition

Mike and Michelle join the WaPo in decrying the DOJ’s anti-voucher antics and debate who’s worse: private school parents or those who settle for failing schools. With Amber off saying “I do,” Dara takes over the research minute with a tale of unfair teacher-pension policies.

Amber's Research Minute

Better Pay, Fairer Pensions: Reforming Teacher Compensation by Josh McGee and Marcus A. Winters, Center for State and Local Leadership, Civic Report No. 79 (New York, NY: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, September 2013).

Opt-Out or Cop-Out? A Debate on 'New' Accountability Systems

Growing numbers of parents, educators, and school administrators are calling for a local "opt-out" from state tests and accountability systems.

Is this opt-out a cop-out? Or would students benefit from a system that their own teachers and principals devised? Should all schools be offered an opt-out alternative, one in which they propose to be held accountable to a different set of measures? What about opt-outs for high-achieving schools or schools with good reason to be different? Would such a system move us toward or away from the goals of the Common Core? As for charter schools, must they continue to be tethered to uniform statewide accountability systems? Or should we rekindle the concept of customizing each school's charter and performance expectations?

The future is competency-based learning, according to this new, almost hour-long audio documentary from American RadioWorks—and that future is upon us. For generations, wealthy parents in the U.S. and abroad have employed private tutors to deliver individualized instruction to their children, thus recognizing and acting upon a truth long ignored by our school system: Not all children learn at the same pace or in the same way. In the past, tutoring has proved difficult to scale. But the creators of this documentary hail the Carpe Diem campus in Indianapolis and Moorseville Middle School in Moorseville, NC, for cracking the code with the use of modern education technology. Moorseville has a well-implemented “one-to-one” laptop initiative that seems to have played a role in the district’s complete elimination of a sizable gap in the high school graduation rates of its white and black students. The Carpe Diem schools have found a formula for student success in a more radical shift, largely replacing traditional classroom learning with computer labs and project-based group learning. Both Carpe Diem and Moorseville traded larger class sizes for fewer, more committed teachers, empowered to focus on individual students rather than providing basic instruction or grading simple assignments—most of which is done by technology, which also tracks student progress and allows students to learn at their own pace. The documentary makers remind us that technology is only as good as its utilization. The same might be said of competency-based learning. Nevertheless, a system that allows teachers to...

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A Chicago public school and public library will begin to share space on Thursday, breaking ground for a new “library-within-a-school” model that may be “copied and mimicked all across the city,” according to an enthusiastic Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Windy City’s schools and libraries have both seen financial troubles in the last couple of years. Library Commissioner Brian Bannon has clarified that proliferation of this model would be about “reducing storefront and leased space” and possibly result in moving libraries, not closing libraries. Gadfly likes efficiency and books—so hat tip!

The school-funding crisis in Philadelphia has reached the boiling point: After Superintendent William Hite issued an ultimatum stating that schools may not open in time if the district does not receive at least $50 million more in funding by Friday, August 16th, Mayor Michael Nutter announced that it would borrow the cash, apparently obviating that eventuality. Now that the district will be able to re-hire some laid-off staff members, the School Reform Commission—Philadelphia’s appointed school board—will vote on whether to suspend portions of state law to grant Hite the flexibility to re-hire for reasons other than seniority. The unions, naturally, are furious, but this appears to be the best possible outcome for students.

This week, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis asked the district’s Board of Education to stop approving new charter schools. The reason: Georgia’s Supreme Court has yet to decide whether Davis can withhold...

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This summer in Ohio has been oppressively hot and (for some reason) rainy. So for those who want to stay cool in the AC, or are looking for beach reading, here are several timely and insightful pieces that relate to education. Read on for our review of these reports and articles, and click on the links to access the entire article! -Angel Gonzalez

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Are Recent College Graduates Finding Good Jobs?

Aaron Churchill

We’ve seen the reports: the 22-year old, newly-minted college graduate—steeped in debt—who’s working at the corner coffee shop. But are these anecdotal reports worst case scenarios or are do they illustrate an emerging trend for college grads?  In a few charts, Richard Deitz from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York looks at what the U.S. Census Bureau and Labor Statistics data say about recent graduates and their employment. Deitz shows that while unemployment rates for recent grads are at a 25-year high, the unemployment rate of recent graduates (roughly 6 percent) remains lower than that of the general working-age population (8 percent).  Now, when it comes to underemployment, recent graduates are in dire straits, depending on their major. Nearly half (46 percent) of recent graduates are presently underemployed, a considerable increase compared to 2000 when roughly one in three recent grads were underemployed. Deitz also disaggregates un- and underemployment by college major. Those with leisure & hospitality and agricultural degrees were the most likely to be either unemployed or underemployed. And, yes,...

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Big Ideas Edition

With Mike beaching it in an undisclosed location, Dara and Daniela take on some big topics: If affirmative action were to end, how could colleges maintain diversity? Do teachers need convincing to use technology? All things considered, is college worth it? Amber charts a course to charter quality.

Amber's Research Minute

National Charter School Study 2013,” by Center for Research on Education Outcomes (Stanford, CA: Center for Research on Education Outcomes, June 2013).

GadflyAn Atlantic article by sociology professor Richard Greenwald examines Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education legacy, concluding that while the Big Apple’s education sector has certainly seen progress (graduation rates have increased 39 percent since 2005, for example, and Bloomberg has made a concerted effort to rebuild the decrepit physical infrastructure), there have also been setbacks (e.g., problems with test administration). Instead, the author suggests that Bloomberg claim the mantle of “recycling mayor”—or perhaps “alternative-transportation mayor” instead.

A survey of 200 Idaho teachers found that most don’t need convincing to bring educational technology into the classroom—they just need training. Eighty-four percent said the pros of ed tech outweighed the cons and that they are currently using or planning to use ed tech in their classrooms. However, 80 percent either didn’t know of social-media technologies like Skype and Twitter or employ them rarely or never—and only 21 percent of those surveyed employ games, simulations, or virtual laboratories in their classrooms on a monthly basis.

After accepting the New York City teacher union’s endorsement, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson is carefully constructing his stance on education policy. Due in part to the involvement of his campaign chairwoman, State Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch, he has fostered a relationship with charter advocates and Randi Weingarten. We’ll see how he handles this balancing act.

Chris Walters, a Virginia native and newly minted Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD, has...

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