Friday, January 28, 2011

No Administrator Left Behind: Technologically Speaking

Administrators not engaging technology are not just in danger of becoming irrelevant, they are in danger of becoming living fossils. Engaging technology means exploring the potential of technology too, not just expecting it of teachers and students to do so. Recently, I stumbled across this video and it was a vivid reminder of just how fast our world is changing due to the Internet. Those who still hold on to the idea that the "Internet Is a Fad" are delusional. Both the Internet and its functions and uses are expanding phenomenally. My advice to fellow administrators: "Engage it, explore it, or you will be left behind." For those who are having a bit of a problem understanding how rapidly the Internet and its many uses are changing, here’s a visual reminder.

The statistics are truly overwhelming, and I honestly can't imagine that there are still school administrators who fail to see how the Internet is disrupting everything we do. I'm not concerned as much about students being left behind technologically. After watching this video, I'm more afraid of administrators being left behind.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How Would Carl Sagan Do in Your Classroom? Call for Authentic Learning for 21st Century

Recently, I began reading Carl Sagan’s book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.  At the beginning he writes of his school experiences. When I began reading that part of the book, I expected a tribute to some teacher who inspired him to the great heights he reached in science achievement. Instead he writes:

 “I wish I could tell you about inspirational teachers in science from my elementary or junior high or high school days. But as I think back on it, there were none. There was rote memorization about the Periodic Table of Elements, levers and inclined planes, green plant photosynthesis, and the difference between anthracite and bituminous coal. But there was no soaring sense of wonder, no hint of an evolutionary perspective, and nothing about mistaken ideas that everybody once believed. In high school laboratory courses, there was an answer we were supposed to get. We were marked off if we didn’t get it. There was no encouragement to pursue our own interests or hunches or conceptual mistakes.”

After reading Sagan’s comments about his experiences in school, I couldn’t help by ask a few questions:

  • Have high schools changed in any way so that a student’s experience of science, or math, or social studies is much different from what Sagan describes?
  • Are our high schools still stuck in time warps where memorization is the rule of the day, instead of students being actively engaged in the content?
  • Do we engage student interests in the curriculum we teach? Or are we so hampered by the mania of test scores, there isn’t time for this?
  • If they are fundamentally the same, how can we say we are preparing students for the 21st century?

Sagan goes on to say he didn’t have a teacher that inspired him to explore his passion for astronomy. Instead, he maintained his interest in science through all his school years by reading on his own, books and magazines on science fact and fiction. He pursued his insatiable  desire for learning science on his own. Sadly, he learned in spite of teachers more interested in having him memorize the Periodic Table of Elements and the physics of levers and mathematics of inclined planes.

This is not meant to be an indictment of science teachers. There’s enough blame for inauthentic teaching and reliance of rote memorization to cover all subject areas. It’s true. We are always going to have those students who learn in spite of what we do instructionally in the classroom. But I can’t help but wonder how many Carl Sagans have been turned off to science by the regimen of rote memorization and inauthentic learning experiences forced upon them over the years. Or, how many Shakepeares have turned away from writing because of having to write five paragraph essays. If we are truly sincere about education reform and moving teaching and learning into the 21st century, then no where should we find a budding scientist or writer suffering under the weight of inauthentic classroom experiences.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Five Things I’ve Learned about Blogging as a School Administrator

Learning to blog is an uphill process in which I engaged for the first time in the spring of 2008.  I honestly do not remember the name of the blog, but I established it without a purpose and without a focus. It was just to experiment with blogging. The kinds of posts I wrote on that blog were varied; they ranged from comments on books I was reading to opinions about education policy. I basically blogged for blogging’s sake, without any concern about audience interest. Naturally, I don’t know whether any one ever read it, because I did not look at any statistics. It truly was a blog for me learn how to use the blogging software and simply be able to say to others, “I have a blog.”

In the summer of 2008, I became principal of a middle school, and I was looking for a way to provide my staff at that school with a weekly memo that provided them with ideas for the classroom, words of encouragement, and dates to remember. My first issue was a paper version. It seemed to be wasteful, so I decided to establish a blog for my staff. I started out posting once a week. I did well for the first three weeks, but the pressures of trying to be a school administrator and all the tasks that entails prevented me from being able to post each week, so I cut back to every other week, at least until that too became a hassle. Having the time to post and to gather ideas to post were problematic, so I eventually cut back to about twice a month.

When I left that middle school to take my current job as a high school principal of a 21st century school, I decided to create a blog that  focused entirely on advocating for technology in the schools, teaching, and public education. Hence, The 21st Century Principal blog was born. During the course of a year, I can say I have grown as a blogger and increasingly have become fascinated with this technological tool. What are some lessons I have encountered during these three years? I’m sure there are much better bloggers out there with maybe different advice, but here’s my five big blogging lessons I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way.

  • You have to have a purpose for your blog. Well, actually you don’t. If you’re satisfied with just posting your thoughts on the web, and you don’t care who reads it, then blog away. But, to attract readers, you have to have a purpose and a focus. Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett in their book Problogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six Figure Income call this having a focus, niche blogging. You have to find a niche. While I’m certainly not into blogging for a six-figure income, it makes sense. A blog needs to focus. Yet, that focus can’t be too narrow because then you limit the number readers who would be interested in your posts. That tension between focus and topic span is key.
  • You have to post when you have something to say. I’ve read others who say you have to post at least every day, twice a day, or even several times a day. Honestly, if I was a professional writer and not a school administrator and educator, I might be able to post multiple times a day. I think I’ve found a much simpler rule. I post when I have something to say. I don’t post when I have nothing to say. I don’t harass myself all day with statements, “I’ve got to do a blog post today.” If something comes along in my reading or during my experiences of the day that I think is a blog topic, I post.
  • Just like emails, when you create a post under the heat of passion, it’s sometimes better to save it as a draft before posting. There have been times I have read an article about education that gets my temper flaring. I write a scathing post, post on the blog, then I have second thoughts and pull it down because it sounds like I’m belittling others and not focusing on the issues. Now, if the post is one that I feel emotionally charged about while writing it, I save it as a draft before posting it. Some of those posts are still there and most likely will not be posted live in their current form because I honestly do not like their tone. The beauty of blogging is that I can write a post and save it as a draft and think about whether it is really something I want the world to see.
  • You have to be wary of blistering and emotional political posts. I have posts that that often err into politics and controversy, so this one is pretty hard for me follow at times. Still, the purpose of my blog is not entirely political, so there are times when I have to steer myself away from purely political. As you can tell from some of my posts, I do not do that well sometimes. Still, the purpose of my blog is not just to rain down sarcasm and nastiness on those to whom I disagree. There are bloggers who do that much better than me. I try to control the impulse to be sarcastic and scathing with, as you can see, varying degrees of success.
  • You look for topics by reading RSS feeds, visiting news sites, watching the Twitter stream, and doing your job. I subscribe to over a hundred RSS feeds from a countless number of blogs and news sites. While I do not read everything, I do scan through these each day, reading those that are of interest. These often sow the seeds for my topics. I also visit favorite news and opinion web sites. Often, an idea for a blog post sprang from a news story I found on CNN’s web site or our local newspaper web site. Watching the Twitter stream is in some ways like a thermometer. It takes the temperature of those I follow by allowing me to see what they’re responding to and commenting on. There are times when a simple Tweet turns into a blog post. Finally, I often share ideas and gems from my own reading. As a voracious reader, I keep a notes file on each book I read. Sometimes these turn into ideas for blog posts. While I’m no expert on blogging, I have found blog posts in the most likeliest and unlikeliest of places.

For me, at least, learning to blog, has been a process and it still continues. I make if very clear, I’m no professional. I honestly don’t ever know whether my last post is even going to get a reaction. Sometimes the ones I put the most energy into, are the ones that seem to get ignored. That, of course, has been true of writing before the web even existed.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why Should School Administrators Blog?

In reflecting on my one year anniversary with this blog, I was just wondering if there’s anything I can add to the argument that administrators should be blogging. Because of my sixteen years in the classroom as an English teacher I love blogging. I have always been a journal-keeper and closet writer, and I reluctantly admit I’ve always wanted to publish. Blogging has given me that outlet. Still, if I were going to convince other administrators to blog, what would be my selling points? Based on my personal experiences I can only currently offer the following:

  • Blogging is another node in the Professional Learning Network. Posting on a blog has allowed me to connect with other administrators and educators. For example, after a recent post on providing students wireless access, I connected with a principal in British Columbia, a director of technology in New York, a media specialist in Australia, and an assistant superintendent in Wisconsin. Blogging provides still another way to connect with educators globally.
  • Blogging is a way to share ideas with other educators and get ideas in return. As a formal teacher, I have always treasured those professional development activities where teachers sit across the table and share what they do in their classrooms. Some of the best teaching ideas I stumbled upon came from those sessions. Now, as an administrator, I can share my ideas blogging, and often I will receive a comment or an email from a fellow administrator leading me to their ideas.
  • Blogging is a way engaging others in discussions about topics that matter to you.  By posting on topics of interest, a user can engage a potential global audience in a discussion on that topic. The ability of readers to leave comments makes it possible for others to engage in that world-wide education conversation. For example, I once posted my thoughts about Secretary Duncan’s Race to the Top initiative. That post invited others to post their thoughts, resulting in a conversation about the merits and drawbacks of the initiative. Blogging is an excellent way to engage others in global conversations about education.

I’m sure there are many other reasons to blog. For me, blogging is another way to be a part of something for which I am passionate, public education. Perhaps some of you can offer some more reasons why administrators should blog.

4 Ways to Get An Administrator Engaged in a Twitter PLN

Earlier, I posted 4 of my own reasons why school administrators need to get connected to Twitter. Once they are connected, the next question is how to help them engage in its use? Sometimes, this is not an easy task because so many believe that once you have a Twitter account established, then the job is finished. This is simply not true. To foster the development of a Twitter PLN and connections to others, there is more work to do. Technologists, teachers, and administrators trying to get other administrators to truly engage in the use of Twitter might consider doing the following things to get them truly engaged in its use.
  • Help them find and connect to fellow administrators and educators who are prolifically engaged in the Twitter conversation. This can be difficult because just connecting to massive administrative or educator lists found on sites like Twibes may not yield solid connections. You can use these sites as a starting place, but administrators just dipping into Twitter  need quality connections not quantity. For their Twitter PLN to become dynamic and truly profesionally useful, teaching them how to be selective about followers will go a long way. Help them find administrators and educators who share solid ideas and resources and who use Twitter to engage in the global education conversation.
  • Help them find their “Twitter Voice.” One of the important ways to grow a vibrant Twitter PLN is to post updates. If you are going to use Twitter to engage education colleagues globally, you’ve got to post. This means you have to have a Twitter voice; those in your PLN have to hear you. Teachers and technologists who want to get their administrators engaged in using Twitter need to help them find that voice by guiding them in posting. Encourage them to post ideas they’ve gleaned from professional learning and personal tidbits of wisdom rather than what they had for lunch. Teach them to compose and post a variety of Tweets such as:
    • Resource Sharing Tweets: These can be links to online resources, titles of books they value, or conferences they’ve found effective. Sharing is what Twitter is about.
    • Quote Tweets: I read a great deal and keep a list of quotes from all my reading. Occasionally, one of those quotes just seems to be an excellent item to share, especially in the middle of an educational issue conversation I’m following.
    • Opinion Tweets: These can be your own opinions on educational issues or other issues being discussed in the media. Or, you can post other opinions. Most often these Tweets invite discussion or comments from the Twitter PLN.
    • Responses to Other Tweets (Mentions): These are personal reactions to what others have posted. This is as important as posting original Tweets if Twitter is actually to be used to engage in the global conversation about education.
    • Question Tweets: These are questions about issues and problems that invite responses from those on the Twitter PLN. There is nothing wrong with posting an thought provoking question and inviting responses.
  • Help them set up and use a Twitter client. The web version of Twitter is perhaps not the best way for administrators to engage in using Twitter. I am partial those clients like Tweetdeck that allow users to set up multiple columns. For example, I can follow my regular timeline, my mentions, my #edchat stream, and administrators list all at once. Teach administrators how to use these kinds of clients so that they can use them to effectively follow their PLN. Otherwise, following the Tweet stream may be more problematic.
  • Help them to understand that quantity of followers and those who they are following is not the most important. Instead, show them quality Twitter users to follow. Make recommendations to them, but not too many. A quality Twitter PLN is dynamic and almost a living thing. There’s no need focus on statistics such as followers. Focus instead on getting connected with the best contributors to the global conversation about education.

Getting Administrators to set up a Twitter account is only a first step, and just doing that is not going to get them engaged in using it. Instead, Twitter-savy technologists, teachers and administrators need to help them begin the process of getting engaged in a Twitter PLN. This means providing them with a level of guided practice until they become engaged in their own Twitter PLN.

Two Administrative Take-Aways from Daniel Pink’s Book Drive

In an age when there’s so much debate about merit pay, test scores, and accountability, I ask myself the question: What can I learn from Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us that I can take directly back to my school and put into practice? I have reread Pink’s book with this lens, and here’s some of my thoughts.

As a school leader if I rely on carrot-and-stick motivational schemes, I will not get the organizational results I seek. If school leaders are waiting for states to implement bonus pay schemes to solve their problems, they will be disappointed. Pink outlines in his book seven deadly flaws to using carrots and sticks: 1) they extinguish intrinsic motivation, 2) they diminish performance, 3) they crush creativity, 4) they crowd out good behavior, 5) they encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior, 6) they become addictive, and 7) they foster short-term thinking. As a school principal, everyone of these side effects is the opposite from that which I would like foster our school culture. I want teachers and students to be intrinsically motivated: that’s called high engagement. I certainly do not want diminished performance, creativity crushed, and good behavior crowded out by a fixation on “what’s-in-it-for me thinking.” A school where cheating, shortcut taking, and a focus on short-term thinking will hardly take our students into the 21st century. Administrators would do well not to turn to carrot-and stick motivational schemes to foster higher performance.

Instead of relying on carrot-and-stick motivational schemes, as a school leader, I need to foster a high performance culture that values and emphasizes autonomy, mastery, and purpose. What this means in practical terms, as a school leader, I can’t view my staff as pawns in a scheme to get the best test scores. Students aren’t raw materials that to which we as educators add value to by pouring knowledge into their heads. For my school, I would much rather have staff focused on the work rather than “what’s-in-it-for-me.” In addition, my job as principal is create a culture where teachers and students pursue “mastery as an asymptote” as Pink calls it. This means the joy of working comes from pursuing mastery because it is elusive. Finally, as school leader I need to keep our purpose out front. This means keeping purpose maximization, the educational needs of our kids, at the center of what we’re doing.

In the past year, there has been a great deal of debate about what reform should look like, and we who are passionate about kids and education need to be involved in that debate. But even in the midst of that debate I feel these two principles from Daniel Pink can transcend all those reforms. While all those who call themselves education reformers fight over the scraps from the Kings table, as school leaders we can focus on making our schools places where everyone is engaged in education, not worrying about “what’s in it for me.” Schools can be places where autonomy is prized and is the rule, where the push for mastery is the goal, and the purpose is educating our students.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

4 Reasons Administrators Need to Get Connected with Twitter

I have repeatedly tried to sell Twitter to my fellow administrators, but it is an uphill battle. Mention the words “social media, blogging, or Twitter” and it seems they either want to race on to the next topic, or their eyes glaze over and I’m fairly sure they’re not hearing what I’m saying. I’ve been tweeting for almost three years now, and I am continually amazed by what it allows me to do. For those of you who might be trying to convince your principal or other administrators about the usefulness of Twitter, here’s some things that I’ve found useful with the micro-blogging tool during the past year.

1. I’ve connected with other educators across the world. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to so easily connect with an administrator in New Zealand or Germany. I have been able to exchange ideas with teachers and administrators in British Columbia, Korea, and India. I have been able to discuss merit pay, school vouchers, and other policy issues with state leaders. Twitter gives users, and especially administrators, the ability to connect world-wide and to engage in the global conversation about education.

2. I’ve been able to engage in education discussions and conversations with individuals well beyond my own community. For example, through Twitter, I have had post exchanges with Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I have had the pleasure to discuss education reform with leaders of state education organizations. Twitter gives administrators the ability to connect with leading experts and scholars in education.

3. I’ve collected an enormous list of bookmarks and links on all facets of education. Part of the effectiveness of Twitter is getting connected to the right people. As my own PLN has grown, so has the storehouse of resources I’ve been able to gather. Twitter gives me as an administrator an endless stream of resources to help me do my job, and to share with my teachers.

4. My connections to those in education continues to expand. As I get more and more connected through Twitter, the potential for learning more from other educators grows. When a teacher from Australia recently messaged me with an idea on how she deals with student engagement in her classroom, I was able to help one of my own teachers with that same struggle. Twitter transforms users into global learners, and makes school administrators globally connected administrators.

For those technologists out there trying to convince administrators to get connected, you might sum up my four advantages to using Twitter this way: 1) Global connections, 2) Expert Connections, 3) Resource Connections, and 4) Organic Connections. Keep trying to get those administrators connected. Once they see the above advantages, they’ll be sold.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

100 Top School Administrator Blogs at

Here's a list of "Top 100 School Administrator Blogs" compiled by These are the administrators and administrators' organizations that have engaged in the education conversation through blogging. I follow most of these daily. For an administrator looking for a starting point, you may want to begin with this list.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Giving Students Wireless Access to Use Personal Computing Devices

Earlier this fall, I posted 5 Considerations for Allowing Students to Use Personal Computing Devices on School Wireless Networks, which was a quick summary of considerations for administrators contemplating providing students with Wifi access in their buildings. Recently, I’ve received some comments and emails from various school systems who want to know more about how we are providing that access. Some even want to know how we dealt with administrative and IT department reluctance to let go of the “control” that comes with allowing students to use their own computers and technology devices. It’s really quite simple, the control we feel by requiring students to use school district technology is quickly becoming an illusion. As technologies continue to evolve, we are going to have to to be more progressive and realize that such control is gone.

As students begin to use smart phones more and more, our battle to control what they bring into our schools is lost. These smart phones that provide mobile hot spot access give students Internet access that we have no way to control. Then there’s the mobile Wifi devices. While these are not currently in wide spread usage, I expect as prices come down, you’ll see students using these to access the web, thereby bypassing the school’s network entirely. Add the fact that whole cities are offering citywide Wifi, and you have yet another control issue. If your school happens to be located within a city, you have to consider how you’re going to “control” students’ access to this network.

The real issue is how can we maintain students’ safety and network security, not control over what technological devices they use in our schools. We can effectively help students be safe while accessing the Internet and maintain network security by using a strong combination of hardware-software solutions and simple monitoring by staff. A well-written procedure or policy outlining Guidelines for Student Access, Consequences for Violating AUPs, and Disclaimers can help guide schools in providing wireless access to students. I explained more about these in my earlier post here.

If you would like a copy of our Procedure for Granting Students Access to Internet, just send me an email at I would be glad to send you a copy of our procedure.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

6 Ways to Stretch Your School or District Technology Budget

If your state is like mine, your district is facing massive budget cuts. Technology budgets are not likely to escape the knife either, but if we want to maintain being 21st century leaders in our schools, we need to find ways to get the most out of our technology dollars. Too often, administrators turn to cutting support staff and new technology purchases. If your district is like ours, the IT department already has a full plate. Cutting new technology purchases also can hamper innovation and experimentation. There are places to consider when stretching your Tech budget. Here’s my six suggestions for stretching your district or school technology funds.

1. Consider using open source software rather than purchasing more proprietary software. For example, instead of forking out 55 dollars for those new Microsoft Office licenses, just use Open Office instead. Or, just don’t purchase the 2010 Microsoft Office Suite. Honestly, I’ve used it, and there just isn’t enough added functionality to warrant an upgrade from Office 2007. School systems can save a great deal of money by getting rid of the thinking that every time a software comes out with a new version, it needs to be purchased.

2. Consider using cloud applications instead of desktop or server applications. Our school district saved considerably by switching to Gmail rather than using Microsoft Exchange and running our own server. Our Technology department is now free to focus on other issues rather than trying to keep an email server operating. Also, our system now has access to Google Apps, which reduces the need for many other applications.

3. Use In-district staff for technology staff development rather than looking outside your district. If your district is like ours, you have experts using technology in their classrooms. Instead of looking for expensive outside staff development, get your best tech savvy teachers and staff to conduct staff development sessions. Our school system did that very thing last summer and it was an amazing success.

4. Develop policies and procedures that allow students to use their own electronic devices in schools. Trying to maintain that all important student to computer ratio is an expensive undertaking. Many of our students already have the laptops and other devices. Consider providing them with wifi access so that they can use their own devices for Internet activities.

5. Use free or low-cost web 2.0 applications as much as possible. There are still tons of free and low-cost web 2.0 tools for use in the classroom. For example, there’s blogger for blogging and Edmodo is a great free social media solution. Even if you find yourself paying for a web 2.0 solution, they are still much cheaper than trying to find software to be installed on your district or school network. Take advantage of Web 2.0.

6. Use solutions like Dropbox to avoid having to purchase flashdrives and other data storage devices. I vote think that Dropbox is one of the best web products of last year. There is absolutely no need to use a flash drive or any other storage device as long as you use this product. Web products like this one are being introduced all the time, so it really pays to be aware of what is available. Look for any solutions that prevent having to purchase additional hard ware.

Obviously there are even more ways to stretch tech budgets. What do you see as some additional ways to keep your school and district on the cutting edge of technology for less money? Feel free to share.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Who Needs Microsoft Office Anymore? Another Way to Pare Technology Budgets

Let’s face the truth. There’s no reason to spend another dime on purchasing licenses and software for Microsoft’s Office Suite of programs. School systems have too many much cheaper options (like free or almost free) rather than continuing to purchase the popular office suite that most often includes MS Word, MS PowerPoint, MS Excel, MS Access, MS Publisher, and MS Outlook. School systems can save bundles by using other open source solutions or even cloud-based solutions. Here’s my three favorite replacements for Microsoft Office.

Open Office: An Open Source Replacement for Microsoft Office

For a complete and comparable Office Suite, OpenOffice will do anything that Microsoft Office will do. Well, it will do everything most of us need to do. Best of all, it’s free. It has a word processing program called Writer, a spreadsheet program called Calc, a presentation program called Impress, a graphics program called Draw, and a database program called Base. And, you can add the open source desktop publishing program, Scribus to replace Microsoft Publisher. Administrators would do well to look at OpenOffice instead of paying money for an office suite. For more information check out the Open Office web site. For information about Scribus, an open source desktop publishing solution, check out the Scribus web site.

Cloud-Based Replacement for Microsoft Office: Google Apps

While some might not have quite bought into the idea of moving to using Google Apps, our system has made the full conversion. We have Gmail for email, along with all the other Google Apps, including Google Docs. Admittedly, Google Docs’ word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and drawing software don’t have every single bell and whistle found in Microsoft Office, but these apps are  fully functional, and the sharing and collaboration possibilities make it even better for our uses in education. Throw in the Forms app, which I think is so easy to use and powerful, who needs Microsoft Office any more? I might also add, a school system can save thousands of dollars by choosing to use Google Apps, which is a substantial savings. For more information about Google Apps, check out the Google Apps for Education web site.

Another Cloud-Based Replacement for Microsoft Office: Zoho

I really can’t entirely attest to how much this particular solution would work as a system-wide solution, but I have used many of the apps personally. Anyone can set up and use a free account, but Zoho boasts that it offers discounts to non-profit institutions.  Zoho has productivity applications like a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software, but it also has much more. It offers users collaboration apps for chatting and document collaboration. In addition, it offers several business applications which might be useful in education settings. Zoho’s productivity applications are as functional as Google Apps. They might not have all the features of Microsoft Office, but if you really examine what you do with an application, I bet it will do everything you need to do. For more information about Zoho, just visit the Zoho web site.

I know there are countless other applications that are excellent candidate as replacements for Microsoft Office, but these are three that I have had the most experience with. Open Office offers a desktop office suite with the same functionality as Microsoft Office without the license fees. Google Apps and Zoho Apps give schools a cloud-based solution without ever having to worry about purchasing upgrades every three or four years. As administrators when we look at getting the most for our technology money, we need to look at alternatives to software like Microsoft Office. Perhaps it’s time we quit purchasing those expensive Microsoft Office licenses and use free or close to free solutions instead.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why the United States Poses No Competition to Singapore in International Education Race

I stumbled across an article entitled “Singapore Looks at Strengthening School System Further.” The country’s prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, states in the article that while his country performed reasonably well on the latest PISA assessments, they must keep up the efforts of continual educational improvement. Interestingly, he cited the reasons for this was because of stiff competition from “European countries like Finland and Asian giants such as Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, and Shanghai.” Notice there was no mention of worrying about stiff competition from the United States. Perhaps we’re too busy chasing educational fads and fashions and magical silver bullets to pose much of a threat to Singapore or any of those other countries at the top of the PISA list.

Ultimately, what was more interesting to me were the measures Singapore is considering as they try to strengthen their educational system, or rather the measures they were not considering. No where in the article is there mention of  1) increasing testing and accountability, 2) providing merit pay for teachers, or 3) privatizing education for the sake of competition. Instead here’s what Singapore is looking at:

  • Strengthening teacher-student relationships in secondary schools: They want to increase the level of social-emotional support for students and career guidance. What are we talking about doing in the United States? Bill Gates and Secretary Arne Duncan are talking about increasing class sizes which will make it even more difficult for teachers to provide levels of support for the students they teach. Also, our ed reformers want to dangle carrots in front of teachers so that they will work harder to increase student test scores.
  • Singapore wants to strengthen core skills in English and mathematics. How? Certainly not by doing what corporate education reformers are proposing by increasing the number of tests students take, and then tying teacher tenure and pay to those test scores. Instead, Singapore is looking to produce better instructional materials and provide “allied educators” to support teachers as they learn to teach and use these new materials. In other words, they are looking at improving teaching practice and professional development support instead of more tests and searching for bad teachers to fire.
  • They are looking at their investments in education including the levels of access to education because they note '”the widening income gap” in their country. What do our education reformers want to do? Secretary Duncan and the corporate reform crowd ignore our widening income gap and high poverty rate among children. Instead they are looking for “supermen” who can walk into classrooms and magically provide high test scores in the face of one of the highest rates of poverty among developed nations.

Perhaps Singapore’s prime minister is correct in not worrying about competition from us any time soon. There’s nothing to worry about because Secretary Duncan and his education reformers are looking for someone to blame (teachers and their unions), trying to find magic silver bullets (charters, more testing and accountability), and trying to de-professionalize education, while ignoring real issues like poverty. I would not worry about any threats from us either.