ISTE Follow-Up 21: Superintendent blogs (THE PUSH 2014)

The Push 2014If you were asked to nominate a very short list of superintendent blogs for central office administrators to read / subscribe to, what would you share? Please submit to the list! (there’s a form at the end of this post)

What are some excellent superintendent and central office blogs that P-12 school leaders should be reading? Please contribute, see the responses, AND share this post with others so that we can get the best list possible.

What superintendent blogs would you recommend? Please share w/ others so we get a great list! #edadmin #edtech

Thanks in advance for helping with this initiative. If we all contribute, we should have a bevy of excellent subject-specific blogs to which we all can point. Please spread the word about THE PUSH!

[Next up: Education policy / reform]


What is THE PUSH?

We are working together to identify excellent subject-specific blogs that are useful to P-12 educators. Why? Several reasons…

  • To identify blogs that P-12 educators can use to initially seed (or expand) their RSS readers (e.g., Feedly, FlipboardReeder, Pulse)
  • To facilitate the creation of online, global (not just local) communities of practice by connecting role-alike peers
  • To create a single location where P-12 educators can go to see excellent subject-oriented educational blogging
  • To highlight excellent disciplinary blogging that deserves larger audiences
  • To learn from disciplines other than our own and get ideas about our own teaching and/or blogging

We are looking for blogs with RSS feeds – particularly from P-12 educators – not sites to which we can’t subscribe. This is an effort to update the awesome but now heavily-spammed list we made 5 years ago!

The lack of evidence supporting the use of student test scores to rank teachers is staggering

Jason Glass said:

For a policy that practically every public school system in the nation is pursuing, the lack of evidence to support [the] effectiveness [of using student test scores to rank and evaluate teachers] is staggering. The number of high-performing education systems that use such an approach: zero. The number of peer-reviewed scientific studies that support this approach: zero.


The declining economic value of routine cognitive work

Workforce data show that U.S. employees continue to do more non-routine cognitive and interpersonal work. [Note: these data tend to be fairly similar for most developed countries, not just the U.S.]

Fewer and fewer employment opportunities exist in America for both routine cognitive work and manual labor, and the gap is widening over the decades. Unless they’re location-dependent, manual labor jobs often are outsourced to cheaper locations overseas. Unless they’re location-dependent, routine cognitive jobs are increasingly being replaced both by cheaper workers overseas and by software algorithms.

What kind of schoolwork do most American students do most of the time? Routine cognitive work. What kind of work is emphasized in nearly all of our national and state assessment schemes? Routine cognitive work. For what kind of work do traditionalist parents and politicians continue to advocate? Routine cognitive work.


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Some information from Autor & Price (2013) that may be helpful…

  • Routine manual tasks – activities like production and monitoring jobs performed on an assembly line; easily automated and often replaced by machines; picking, sorting, repetitive assembly (p. 2)
  • Non-routine manual tasks – activities that demand situational adaptability, visual and language recognition, and perhaps in-person interaction; require modest amounts of training; activities like driving a truck, cleaning a hotel room, or preparing a meal (pp. 2-3)
  • Routine mental tasks – activities that are sufficiently well-defined that they can be carried out by a less-educated worker in a developing country with minimal discretion; also increasingly replaced by computer software algorithms; activities like bookkeeping, clerical work, information processing and record-keeping (e.g., data entry), and repetitive customer service (pp. 1-2)
  • Non-routine mental tasks – activities that require problem-solving, intuition, persuasion, and creativity; facilitated and complemented by computers, not replaced by them; hypothesis testing, diagnosing, analyzing, writing, persuading, managing people; typical of professional, managerial, technical, and creative professions such as science, engineering, law, medicine, design, and marketing (p. 2)

Which schools are the true ‘miracles?’


Let’s imagine that we lived in an era in which change was occurring incredibly rapidly. An era in which our information landscape was undergoing drastic transformations into new, previously-unimaginable forms. An era in which our economic landscape was destroying rock-solid, stable livelihoods due to threats from geographically-distant workers and/or devices that replaced not just human labor but also human cognition. An era in which our learning landscape was creating unprecedented powers and possibilities but also significant disruptions to deeply-entrenched institutions. An era which required ‘just tell me what to do’ learners and workers to be more autonomous and self-directed, that demanded that they be more divergent and unique rather than convergent and fungible. An era in which a premium was increasingly placed on adaptability, creativity, critical thinking, and collaborative problem-solving – all at a pace never seen before – just to make a basic living.

In this imagined era, would the ‘miracle schools’ touted by the media, policymakers, and educators be the ones that prepared kids to be successful on individually-completed, standardized assessments of low-level learning?

Image credit: Two of the tiny workers, U.S. National Archives

Cutting off our nose to spite our face just posted an article on how New Jersey school districts are creating very restrictive social media policies for their adult employees because of new legislative edicts. Here is the comment I just left there:

I wonder if the districts’ policies for employees also include no handwritten notes to students, no face-to-face discussions at church or at the mall or in the grocery store, no landline phone calls, etc. These districts already have policies prohibiting inappropriate communication with students. Why not just make sure those policies include electronic communications and be done with it rather than create special policies that demonize technology and highlight to kids how irrelevant we adults are? Why are we penalizing the 99.9% of teachers and students who will use these tools appropriately for the 0.1% of those who won’t? We don’t do this in other areas of discipline. We’re cutting off our noses to spite our faces…

We’re unknowledgeable, we’re afraid, and/or we need control. As a result, we’re discouraging adult educators from connecting with and forging relationships with youth. I think that’s dumb, particularly when the statistical prevalence of such incidents is so incredibly infinitesimal.

What do you think?

Thinking about charter schools

Stephen Dyer says:

I get and am sympathetic to the argument that kids need opportunities to escape struggling schools. And I have little problem with the few really excellent school choice options that are out there that genuinely do give kids opportunities to achieve their potential.

But when the vast majority of those opportunities aren’t any better (and are usually much worse) than the struggling school, and paying for these mostly worse options means the kids who remain in the struggling public school have far fewer resources with which to achieve, or the school to improve?

Well, I’m sorry. I just don’t get that.


What kind of learning environments do high-poverty minority students deserve?

Paul Thomas says:

The public narrative around KIPP is based on embracing an authoritarian and highly structured model for high-poverty and minority students. Public schools have failed high-poverty and minority students in terms of disproportionate discipline and academic policies, including expulsion, suspension, failure, and retention; it appears by the evidence that KIPP and other “no excuses” charter schools mirror those failures instead of alleviating them. The school-to-prison pipeline and the school-as-prison dynamic are key elements of the larger mass incarceration era; KIPP’s association with strict discipline, high attrition, and selectivity are problematic for those of us who wish to break those cycles.

Public and charter schools are experiencing an increase in segregation of students by race and class; KIPP appears to be a part of that troubling pattern, again not a solution.

[In] Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope, … she details how KIPP and the other “no excuses” charters do in fact practice the sort of discipline policies about which I am critical: (1) a strict discipline code that includes SPARK (Carr, p. 11) and SLANT (making and maintaining eye contact, shaking hands, and other highly regimented behavior demands on students), (2) the Bench as as shaming discipline technique (Carr, p. 23), (3) a demanding culture that stresses “no excuses” for teachers and students (Carr, pp. 42-43), focusing almost exclusively on minority students from poverty (and not being implemented in white or affluent schools), and (4) depending so heavily on structure and external rewards that students falter once they enter college and have those elements removed (Carr, p. 188).

KIPP, specifically in its relationship with Teach for America (see Waiting for “Superman” and Carr), contributes directly and indirectly to several harmful and inaccurate claims about teaching and education: teaching quality is primarily a function of being demanding and not of experience or expertise (although this appears true only when dealing with high-poverty minority students since white and affluent students tend to have experienced and certified teachers).


Ames High band: Modeling innovation, risk-taking, and feedback

I’m pretty impressed with the Ames High School band directors. Not only are Chris Ewan and Andrew Buttermore facilitating a great band program musically (250+ students who give amazing performances), they also are modeling instructional innovation and risk-taking with technology. When our district provided laptops for students, for example, they immediately jumped on the opportunity for band students to record themselves and then submit their digital files for review. Many students are using SmartMusic to help them practice and – even cooler – marching band participants now can see what they’re trying to accomplish on the field because they’ve been sent a Pyware video that shows them what it looks like from the perspective of those of us in the stands. [Next up, Ohio State!]

But I think the most enthralling thing they’ve done to date was a video that they showed us during Parent Night last week (feel free to pause at any time to get the full effect):

How do you help a group of incoming 9th graders realize what it looks like when they’re out of step? Put a video camera on the track at foot level, of course!


Imagine you’re a brand new band student… You’ve only been marching for a few days. You’re juggling learning new music with learning how to step in time. It’s difficult to see what everyone else is doing. Your opportunities for feedback are relatively limited in the large group. And so on. It’s easy to feel like maybe you’re doing better than you really are. Heck, you didn’t hit the student next to you today with your tuba, right? But the video doesn’t lie… “Wait, those are MY feet! And I’m not there yet.” And that other video from up in the stands that shows that our lines need work too? Also useful for helping me see where I fit into the overall picture…

Why do I like this video so much? Because it models creative ways to give kids feedback and because it uses technology to help students learn how to get better. As Chris Anderson noted in his TED talk, video often allows us to innovate more rapidly. Want your 9th graders to ramp up their marching band footwork as fast as possible? Show them – don’t just tell them – what it looks like…

How is your school using technology to help kids SEE how they can get better? (and, no, I’m not talking about ‘adaptive’ multiple choice software)

What would be your reasoning NOT to connect your students to the world?

Laura Gilchrist said:

Twitter allows educators to connect and interact with resources, ideas, and people from around the world. Twitter allows educators to share their stories – positive stories included. We need more positive stories because, I’m telling you, there’s a lot of good going on in our schools – good that doesn’t get shared. Those walls you see around you do not have the power to isolate you and your kids any longer.

My question to you: If you have in your hands a tool (phone, computer, tablet + Twitter) that, by just moving your fingers, can connect you, your students, and your communities to resources, ideas, and people from around the world – a tool that can empower kids and educators to learn, create, grow – why would you choose NOT to start using it? What would be your reasoning?


For our students, how often are academics and enjoyment the same thing?

Daniel Ching said:

Somewhere along the way, someone convinced American society that breadth is far more important than depth. That same person also convinced everyone that academics and enjoyment are two different things. In their minds, students should have their nose in the books, cramming for a big test, and praying that nothing weird happens to throw them off on the test day. This has come to be known as rigor. . . .

There is nothing wrong with research, reading a crazy amount of books (one of my favorite past times), and studying all night for a test. But when this kind of activity arbitrarily takes the place of hands on, practical, experience based learning, there is something wrong. It is no wonder our drop out rates are high in both high school and college. Kids have at least 13 years of the same thing over and over. We are still functioning on an industrial education model and an agrarian calendar that says, all students learn the same, curriculum should be separated into subjects that don’t intersect, and everyday should be broken up into periods that end and being with a bell. This model makes it extremely difficult to foster creativity, cross curricular work, hands on learning, and spontaneity.


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