Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fixing a Bothersome Evernote Sync Error

Have you been receiving the message “Sync failed due to error on client side” when your desktop Evernote application fails to sync? While it does not stop the other files from syncing, receiving message over time is annoying. It is most likely due to one note that is causing a conflict with the desktop and web versions of the software. The fix is relatively easy, though I discovered after uninstalling and re-installing the Evernote desktop client.

1. First locate the note that is causing the sync failure. You can’t do this directly, but you can indirectly. If you click on the “Activity” button at the top of the Evernote desktop application, a list of recent activity appears. Look for “sync errors” in that list. It will indicate which note has had a sync error.

2. Export the note to your desktop by using the “Export” feature under “File.” Be sure to export the note as a ENEX file.

3. Once export has been done, delete the note with the sync error from the Evernote notebook. Sync your Evernote desktop app by clicking on the “Sync button.

4. Import the deleted note back into your Evernote desktop application by selecting the import function under file. Re-sync your account and all should work.

Evernote Desktop Interface

Race to the Top Damage Assessment: A 21st Century Principal's Perspective

When the 2012 PISA scores were released, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared the American Education system “stagnant.” He said the results were “straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation.” Whether or not that’s true is debatable. What is not debatable is how the Obama Administration, Secretary Arne Duncan, and the US Department of Education have repeatedly used data like this to manufacture an educational crisis that only their remedies can fix.

Duncan's Department of Education and President Obama even released a report, not independently created mind you, to declare how successful their Race to the Top program has been. In a USA Today article "Obama Report Claims Success for 'Race to the Top'" Duncan even had the audacity to say, "The most powerful ideas for improving education come not from Washington, but from educators and leaders in states throughout the country." This statement is just not true. The "ideas to improve education" are coming directly from Washington, because under his Race to the Top and NCLB waiver system, they APPROVE what states are doing, which means they are the ones having the ultimate say. Arne Duncan has proved once again, he's a much better politician at bending the truth than being an educator. He even praised North Carolina for its "reforms" when more than half our teaching force is leaving and the flow of new teachers has slowed to a trickle. Both President Obama's Department of Education and our North Carolina government have done an excellent job of creating the most unattractive teaching environment in the nation. It is incredible that Duncan would declare my state, North Carolina, as one of the leaders in education reform when conditions in the classrooms and schools have never been worse.

But set aside all the "Race to the Top stretchers" coming from Arne Duncan and the Obama Administration. Let me tell Secretary Duncan what his policies have done to the schools.
  • Schools are more than ever focused on teaching to the test, and what’s worse, it matters not what the quality of the test is. Any old test will do as long as it provides numbers. It is one thing to use data to inform instructional decision-making; it is quite another for politicians, policymakers and educational leaders to invent tests of dubious quality and use that data to brag about their own success. In addition, the test-centric school system culture fostered by Arne Duncan's policies have forced schools to devote inordinate amounts of time to test-prep. In North Carolina, schools take whole days to subject students with ACT prep activities with hopes that such measures will help increase their scores. This test-centric school culture has created an educational environment where the only thing not-negotiable is the "test." Testing and accommodating the record number of tests in North Carolina drives over half of our decision-making.The last days of the semester and the school year are devoted entirely to testing and nothing else.
  • Teachers are leaving the profession in droves, and those that stay are morally dejected. Race to the Top has fostered an atmosphere in education where the objective is to raise test scores at all costs. I have not heard a single teacher say he or she entered the profession to “raise test scores.” All teachers, including myself, entered teaching out of love for content area, love for teaching and helping kids. When that content area is reduced to test content, out the window goes the content we love to teach, and when a teacher is forced to only see a student as a test score and their potential to improve their evaluation, then how could someone possibly want to teach in those conditions.Race the Top combined with our anti-teaching North Carolina government has simply accelerated the exodus of teachers from the classroom.
  • Far fewer teachers are entering the profession. I recently attended a job fair at a university in our state. There was a time when one would expect to talk to many prospective secondary science, math, social studies, foreign language, English, career and technical education teachers. This year, I could count the number of secondary teachers I spoke to on one hand. While our North Carolina legislature and governor can certainly take some blame with their anti-public education legislation, this massive lost of interest in teaching began before their law-making activities. What the US Department of Education doesn't get is that when the focus of teaching becomes raising a test score, all else becomes irrelevant. The truth is, few people want to enter a profession that is driven by test scores. I can’t say that I blame them.
  • More and more parents are getting tired of all the tests we subject their children too, and they are starting to fight back. More and more around the country parents are pushing to allow them to have their children "opt out" of testing. This growing opposition to testing is getting stronger. There was a time when educators used test scores in sane ways, not insane, such as determining student promotion or to decide whether a teacher is doing his or her job. No Child Left Behind began this intense focus on testing and Race to the Top has only only magnified that focus. It is not surprising that there is a growing crescendo of discord from parents about all the testing. Yet Arne Duncan and our state department of education turns a deaf ear.
  • Because so much money is being spent on testing, many other areas of the budget have declined over the years. Sure, state leaders will point out that testing costs so little in comparison to other educational needs, but I have never heard an educational leader say, "We're cutting the fourth grade end of grade tests this year due to lack of funding." The testing budget is simply accommodated no matter what. Schools no longer receive professional development budgets. Textbook funding is not even enough to purchase a class set of books anymore, even if we wanted to. Computer systems and software are aging and there is little funding to improve these. In North Carolina, policymakers never starve their testing budgets, but they don't mind cutting funds from teacher assistants and classroom supplies. Race to the Top has focused budgets even more intensely in testing at the expense of other budgetary items.
Race to the Top and Arne Duncan have done more to make teaching and being an educator one of least attractive professions. Its test-centric policies are driving teachers out of the profession and forcing prospective teachers to choose other careers. Duncan's Race to the Top, fueled by false crisis education rhetoric has had such a negative impact on education it will take years for the system to recover after Duncan and Obama leave office.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Principal Walk-Throughs a Waste of Time? Maybe So

Today, I stumbled an interesting article from Education Week I feel I must share and comment upon. The article, "Principals Pressed for Time to Lead Instructional Change" by Leslie Maxwell, adds an interesting wrinkle to the focus on principals getting into classrooms and conducting walkthrough observations.

Apparently, if you're doing it to raise test scores, you might be wasting your time. Here's some interesting points from the article:

  • "In a study published late last year in the journal Educational Researcher, researchers found that the amount of time principals spent on a broad range of activities related to instruction was not associated with gains in student performance, as measured by standardized tests."
  • "Walkthroughs were negatively associated with student performance, especially in high schools."
Apparently, the study and this article make some important points about principals and using classroom observations and walkthroughs to improve instruction.
  • First of all, I have always thought this to be true, though there are those who think differently: Principals must be teachers themselves. I would add that they must have extensive classroom experience to even credibly coach another teacher to improve classroom practice. The idea that someone who has not taught or who has little classroom experience coaching teachers makes little sense. School leaders must have more than a textbook knowledge of teaching and learning to even hope to help someone improve instruction.
  • Secondly, like any strategy employed to improve instruction, none will work in isolation. There is nothing magical about a principal's presence in the classroom that is going to make teachers get better. As the article indicates, for classroom walkthroughs and observations to work, there needs to be follow-up and coaching as well as feedback. Improving teaching and learning takes a broad approach with a range of strategies.
Perhaps the real answer lies in what Michael Fullan, the author of the new book The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact. He argues that the whole problem lies with the currently defined role of "principal as instructional leader." It just doesn't work because trying to improve teachers one at a time is a time-wasting approach. Instead, principals should be "Learning Leaders" or "Lead Learners." In that role, according to Fullan, principals should work to develop community and collaboration. They should work to develop the expertise of the whole group, not focus on one teacher at a time.

This study once again illustrates how education so many times gets things wrong. There is no one single strategy for improving teaching and learning, despite what all the vendors and snake oil salesmen selling such wares tell you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

5 Ways to Be a Skeptic in Today's "Reformy" Educational World

“Good skeptics change their minds, according to the best evidence available. There is just one thing to be loyal to here, reality.” Guy Harrison, Think: Why You Should Question Everything
In a time of education reform peddling and of vendors selling wares claiming that this program increases student achievement and that this program will improve graduation rates, what serves an educational leader well is to be a strong skeptic. As Guy Harrison says in his book, our loyalties should lie with reality. It should not lie with friends who have left education and are now selling some latest educational ware. Our loyalties do not lie with unquestioningly listening to latest edict that comes down from the federal government as the answer to all of our school’s educational shortcomings. Our loyalty does not lie in unquestioningly implementing unfounded programs and practices. Our loyalty should lie with demanding that all of the above be demonstrated with scientific proof and reason that what they claim is true.

In his book, Think: Why You Should Question Everything, Guy Harrison offers a useful framework for being a skeptic when it comes to those making outrageous claims about anything. As the late Carl Sagan once wrote, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and any educational resource salesperson or educator pushing a pet program, saying definitively that their product or practice raises test scores, needs to provide evidence to that fact, and testimonial quotes from another school district leader or teacher is not sufficient.

Harrison offers all of us a thinking approach to question those who approach us with these kinds of claims. He encourages us to utilize the scientific process when we “bump up against weird things in everyday life,” and I must say that in my 24 years in education, I've seen some pretty weird and outrageous educational claims.

Here’s Harrison’s steps to exercising skepticism toward extraordinary claims and my own suggestions for how it would apply in a school leadership role.
  • Ask questions. According to Harrison, asking questions is critical. We should not passively accept what we are told by policymakers, politicians and even educational researchers making claims. Educators are notorious for sometimes being sheep and avoiding asking the tough questions. As Tienken and Orlich state in their book, The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myths and Lies, "Education professionals have a history of not asking why." Being educated, you would think educators would explode with questions in the face of educational claims, but too often they fall prey to arguments of authority or because someone has 90 years experience as an educator, as if that's somehow a substitute for real proof. Sometimes the right question, according to Harrison can derail the most invalid claim. Being an educator-skeptic doesn't mean you are being disrespectful. It means you are being loyal to reality and not to an idea, policymaker, boss, or friend.
  • Observe. This is something educators sometimes don’t do well either. We need to do as Harrison suggests and “look and listen with deliberate effort.” When some policy or educational practice is implemented, and even before, we should observe it for how it works and how it affects others. Our job as educators should never be guardians of the latest educational fad or program. The burden of proof isn't on us; it's on those who push the practice. We shouldn't be marshaling evidence to defend someone else's practice. We should be willing to simply look at the evidence and decide for ourselves whether it is working as it should. And, as advocates for children, we should be willing to speak up when practices harm children and learning or are a waste of resources.
  • Research. Harrison reminds us that “If you look for it, it’s not difficult to find credible information about most claims.” We should do our own “fact-checking.” As educators most of us have experience with research and how its conducted, so you would think we would demand that information we receive about a product or practice have the best scientific support and rationale. Take the claims about using value-added measures  in teacher evaluations and how it can increase student achievement. There’s no research to support that claim no matter where you look. Intuitively it makes sense, but those who advocate for its use in teacher evaluations don’t have an ounce of support for the practice, yet we've implemented it across our entire state as well as others. Educators owe their students and themselves to conduct research about claims made from outside education and from above and within.
  • Experiment. So many things we do in education are obviously not subject to scientific experimentation, after all, try telling parents at your school that you’re experimenting with their kids and see how far that gets you. It’s just not ethical sometimes to perform blind studies on our students. But, that does not mean that we can’t look at the research and see if someone has examined a practice or reviewed its effectiveness to see if there is any basis in the claim. We only need to look at the effects of policy on our kids and teachers to see how it is working. We can also engage in our own case studies and collect information from those who experience the program or practice. That is data too, and perhaps the best data because it tells us how a policy and practice is affecting our students and staff locally. We should constantly study how policy and practice affects what we do.
  • Share ideas and conclusions with others. As Harrison points out, this is a “great way to get feedback from people who may know more that we do about a claim.” We aren't trying to debunk or discredit. We should be trying to get at the truth. We should share how policy, practices, and products actually are working in our schools.
As Harrison points out, “Smart and honest people are sincerely wrong all the time.” The person pushing the latest education reform initiative or a new instructional approach certainly may be sincere and honest. Their intentions may be saintly; they want to do what’s best for kids. But that does not mean we give them a pass due to their saintly intentions. In the end, the obligation for proof should ideally fall in the laps of the sellers: those pushing new educational products, new policy, and new practices. But, when such proof or support will not stand up under the scrutiny of questions, observation, research, experimentation, our obligation is still with reality and our students.

Harrison definitely makes clear what can happen to unsubstantiated claims when he states, “Only hollow beliefs tremble when confronted by reason, and only false claims collapse when skeptical thinking is applied.” In an age when new reforms and approaches are being flung in our direction at light speed, skepticism should definitely be in our leadership toolbox. We owe to ourselves and our students to subject all claims to reason and thinking.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Perhaps It's Time to Let Go of RSS Reading: No Reliable Replacement to Be Found

Is it time to give up on RSS Feed Readers? Since the demise of Google Reader, I have been scrambling from one alternative to another, trying to find the same reliability of service I had with Google Reader. I have tried Feedly and Newsblur, only to be gravely disappointed with bugs and malfunctions, especially with my tablet applications. Perhaps it’s time I let go of my wanting to read reliable RSS feed information. There just doesn’t seem to be a reliable product available for those of us who are used these services in order to stay connected to the most current news stories.

When Google decided to let go of Google Reader, I honestly did find myself lost, without a reliable connection with those blogs that I follow on a regular basis. Google Reader was one of the first applications I accessed after booting up my computer each morning. Now, I do not find the same reliability in the same RSS feed reader offerings. The problem from my perspective is that there has not been a reliable RSS feed reader to step forward since Google Reader’s demise. I tried Feedly for a period of time but its bugs regarding the display of feeds drove me crazy. Then, I tried NewsBlur, even paying for a subscription because I was impressed with my trial runs. Unfortunately, the iOS app through my iPad has made RSS feed reading so miserable, I am on the verge of giving up being able to read RSS feeds forever. It has crashed multiple times, to the point I am entirely unable to use the app.

This all leads me to my final question. Is it time for us to give up hope on relying on the RSS reading experience altogether? There just doesn’t seem to be a reliable product that makes RSS reading easy any more. Maybe RSS feed reading is a fossil of the past. Perhaps it is time to give up on the expectation that we can use this technology to collect that information that we want to read.

My experiences with the constant bugs and crashes of Feedly and Newsblur have made me think that perhaps it is time to give up the hope of finding a reliable RSS feed reading experience? I have been able to let go of other technologies that have become obsolete. Perhaps RSS feed reading has outlived it’s usefulness too.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lesson Learned from My Attending the 2014 NCTIES Conference

The North Carolina Technology in Education Conference is one I look forward to attending every single year. There are tons of things to learn and a gaggle of educators to connect with. It is very difficult to leave each year without learning something you are dying to try out upon your return to your school. There are also always those unintended lessons you learn by attending and participating in the concurrent sessions too. In the classroom, we call that the "hidden curriculum." Today, as I prepared to present during a concurrent session, I was hit hard, right between the eyes with this "hidden curriculum."

The hidden lesson NCTIES 2014 taught me this year was simple: No matter how much care you take in planning your presentation, you can't prepare for everything. I knew that before I presented obviously, and being an "Old Dude" as my wife affectionately refers to me, I've know it for quite sometime. Yet, I had a powerful reminder today. No matter how carefully you prepare, something unforeseen is probably going to happen. Today, it did.

At NCTIES 2014 this year, I planned to try to use my Apple TV device to air-play my presentation and to demonstrate apps from the iPad. Issue one was discovered when I found that I inadvertently forgot my Apple TV remote at home. Without the remote, an Apple TV device might as well be a paperweight and or a brick to throw at someone. But I recovered, because with plan B, I had enough HDMI cables and an iPad display adapter along with my laptop to carry on.

When I arrived in my concurrent session room, I immediately began setting up. I connected my iPad and the display worked. I connected my laptop, and it too worked. I began connecting devices to the WIFI, and immediately noticed the WIFI connection I needed was not to be seen. I could not even select it to connect because it wasn't even visible after refreshing and wishing for it to magically appear. I even tried two or three others connections, hoping that one would work, but still I found no internet connection. There I stood in front of a group of educators with a prepared presentation saved in Google docs, and a plan to review Chrome extensions and iPad apps but no Internet connection. While I did have the foresight of downloading the presentation to my desktop, so much of my plans involved demonstrating apps and extensions that required working with the Web, my whole presentation was really in jeopardy. After all, if my presentation is all I had, the participants could download that, and I was no longer needed.. The problem was major: I had no Web access, and the WIFI connection I was told to use was not even visible as a choice.

Most would have panicked at this point, and I would probably have ten years ago, but age has a way of providing perspective, so I did not panic. Through my ongoing mindfulness and Zen training I was reminded of what Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg once wrote: "Life is just as it is despite our protests." Strange that these words came to me, but they did, and they reminded me that I had no reason to panic, to be angry, or to get frantic, even though my plans A, B, C, and D were apparently for naught. Life was just not working as I intended, but it was as it was despite my own protests!

After fiddling with cables, phantom WIFI connections, and standing there dumbfounded, I was caught in thoughts about how I should carry on, when a fellow principal offered the use of his Hotspot connection so I could continue the presentation.

Now that the presentation is over, what can I honestly say I learned from it? What are my own takeaways from my own session? Here's perhaps two points of the "hidden curriculum" I gained from my NCTIES presentation this morning.
  1. It's foolish to think we can prepare for every eventuality. That's not an excuse to avoid planning. We obviously should try to have alternate plans at conferences or in the classroom. But remembering that we can't plan for everything means we can let ourselves off the hook a bit when things don't go just as we intend them to go. Preparation yes, obsession with what went wrong no.
  2. Sometimes we learn more from what happens in the session rather than what someone says or does. We can turn every circumstance in life into opportunities for learning. But everyone knows that I am sure. Today, I was just reminded of that once again.
NCTIES 2014 has once again provided valuable learning and personal affirmation about why I became an educator in the first place. There's nothing like being in a room of like-minded educators who are passionate about technology and its place in our schools and classrooms, and a broken WIFI connection to teach you that.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2014 NCTIES Presentation: My Favorite Apps, Hacks, and Tech Tricks for Educators

As a teacher and now as an administrator, looking for shortcuts and easy ways to manage aspects of the job has become second nature. I must confess that I began my job as an educator when desktop computers were rare, and mobile phones were too large to really be considered mobile. I didn't even have a phone in my classroom in those days. The only thing that connected me to the office was a button that activated a buzzed through the school's intercom system.

The 21st century has brought forth so many apps and tools, it is easy to get lost in the technology. As a school administrator, teacher, and now a doctoral student, I have found some applications indispensable in my role as lead learner. This week I have the privilege of sharing my favorite apps, Chrome extensions, and open source programs with those who attend my concurrent session at the annual North Carolina Technology in Education Society Conference. I share my presentation below. I will confess, however, a portion of this presentation was from an earlier presentation I shared on Evernote earlier.

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

OpenEd: Free Online K-12 Educational Resource Site Now Includes Tablet Apps Too

OpenEd, which bills itself as "the Largest K-12 Educational Resource Catalog," announces the availability of public courses on its web site. Users can now publish any course they have created to the OpenEd community. Here are some of the most notable features of this online instructional resource.

  • Users can use courses already created and located at the site. 
  • The site offers the ability for users to search for the course they want. 
  • There are courses for every grade level in mathematics, language arts, and science. 
  • Each course offers every single Common Core Standard and they are grouped in logical topics.
  • Resources are assigned to each topic.
  • Start your own courses on the site as well.
  • Now with their iPad and Android app, students can enter a code for the course assigned by their teacher.
OpenEd also offers teachers over 1 million standard-aligned educational videos, games, and assessments, and all of it for free. Check out OpenEd for yourself here: OpenEd Web Site

OpenEd's Course Listing

Saturday, March 1, 2014

NC Should Hold Everyone for Pearson PowerSchool Implementation Malfunction Accountable

In two previous posts, "Pearson PowerSchool Disasters in NC and Tech Lessons to Be Learned From It" and "Update! Pearson Sees Most of NC Users as Satisfied with PowerSchool---Huh?" I outlined the major issues North Carolina public schools are navigating due to Pearson's malfunctioning PowerSchool software. Based on yesterday's Charlotte Observer, it seems now state education officials are trying to get money back from the partially failed one-year implementation of PowerSchool, (See "NC on Troubled School Data System: Give Us Money Back"). This is the least Pearson owes educators in the state of North Carolina.

What was also of interest in the Charlotte Observer article was the fact that there was at least one superintendent in this state who saw this "trainwreck" coming. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Heath Morrison reportedly "asked state officials to slow the timeline and help with local costs, but was refused on both counts." It appears that state policy-makers were bent on taking the Pearson discount to implement in one year, rather than trying to do what was probably expedient and implement more slowly.

At the end of the day, what is important is that both Pearson and the state officials who pushed through this rushed implementation be held accountable for their mistakes. We talk a great deal in education about holding teachers, principals, and even schools accountable in education, but when major mishaps like this Pearson PowerSchool implementation happen, few seem to talk or want to talk about holding those who rushed this accountable. It is refreshing to see that the state is now going to at least hold Pearson somewhat accountable for the mess their software has caused.

I would also suggest that those who decided to push this one-year implementation be held accountable as well. Pearson should also pay for all the lost time districts and schools have spent dealing with the mess their software has caused. In addition, Pearson should also be mandated to provide proper training for everyone. Just paying for the times their software was down does not take into account all the times their software may have been available, but was malfunctioning and unusable. Perhaps the state should seek a refund for that as well.

If accountability is good for the school level educators, then companies that sell our schools products, and those who direct the implementation of those products need to be held accountable too.