yummy strata 08.07.09

Education Politics

President Obama unveiled what Techcrunch describes as a “radical education plan” that “could finally disrupt higher education.” Once you stop laughing your ass off at this breathlessly ludicrous headline (remember when the same author said that the Udacity/San Jose State deal would “end higher education as we know it”?), feel free to take a closer look at the actual details of the President's plan for higher education, which include “pay for performance,” a new ratings system that would be tied to federal financial aid, more competency-based credits, more technology, less regulation and other things that sound a heckuva lot like what’s been happening in K–12 for years now and (SHOCKING I KNOW) a lot like the Gates Foundation’s ed reform agenda. Considering that Congress seems more obsessed with voting (again) on repealing Obamacare, these plans seem likely to move forward only with executive, not legislative, action.

Meanwhile, more students than ever before receive federal financial aid, reports Politico’s Libby Nelson. About 41% of all undergrads take out loans, and about 41% receive Pell Grants.

Head Start has eliminated services for some 57,000 children as a result of the sequester, according to the Washington Post. As they did with the delays in air travel caused by the sequester, businessmen and politicians responded to this news in furious outrage, demanding that the government rectify this situation immediately and make sure that the country’s low-income children all had access to preschool. (Except no. They didn’t.)

The Obama Administration has granted NCLB flexibility to Pennsylvania, bringing the number of states who’ve received the waiver to 41 (plus DC).

Teachers in Tennessee face losing their teaching licenses if they do not boost “student achievement,” in a new measure approved by the state’s board of education. “For a third of K–12 educators, the measuring stick would be the standardized state exams given to students,” writes the Wall Street Journal’s Stephanie Banchero. “The remaining teachers, such as those in art or physical education, would be judged on other measures, such as portfolios of student work.” Although these sorts of measurements of “achievement” are controversial (politically, statistically), US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expressed his approval for the plan.

The Maine Equal Rights Center has announced its plans to start a signature-gathering campaign for a ballot measure whereby folks could vote on whether or not to pull the state out of the Common Core.

Education and The Law

The for-profit Career Education will pay $10 million in a settlement with the state of New York over its misrepresentation of data about its graduates’ job placements. More details via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Boy Scouts of America has served the Hacker Scouts with a cease and desist letter for the latter’s use of the word “scout.” The Hacker Scouts is an Oakland-based non-profit that helps support the maker movement through STEAM education and community-building.

Although a recent court decision decreed the “I ♥ Boobies” bracelets were okay for students to wear and that banning them violated their First Amendment, a court in Indiana this week passed down the opposite decision, upholding a school’s ban on the bracelets.

Schools and Surveillance

Andrea Hernandez, a Texas high school student who was suspended last year for refusing to wear a school ID that had a RFID chip embedded in it, will return to school this fall, reports Wired. Hernandez unsuccessfully sued the school on religious and privacy grounds, but the district has since abandoned the RFID-tracking program. It does however, have “200 cameras monitoring the campus.”

Upgrades and Downgrades

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asked this week if “connectivity is a human right?” launching, as part of his company’s mission to “make the world more open and connected,” a new organization,, to bring the Internet to those in the world without access to it. UC Berkeley grad student Jen Schradie has a wonderful response in which she thoroughly trounces the “Silicon Valley ideology” driving the announcement, which certainly seems much less about humanitarianism and much more about monetizing a new market.

It’s the time of year for the Beloit Mindset list, which Beloit College publishes each fall to characterize the “mindset” of incoming freshmen. But even better, I’d say, was the unveiling of the Benoit Mindlessness site this week, “dedicated to the mockery and eventual destruction of the Beloit mindset list.” Also fairly awesome: the #2170BeloitMindset hashtag on Twitter, with such gems as “the planet earth has always been uninhabitable.”

The first 7 “Steve JobsSchools” have opened in the Netherlands. These schools boast 1-to–1 iPads. More details via Education for a New Era, the organization behind the schools, or via just about every Apple fan-blog.

Y Combinator, one of the best known and most successful Silicon Valley startup incubators, held the Demo Day for its summer cohort this week. There were three education-related companies pitching their wares to investors: a school survey app Panorama, “robot buddy” maker ixi-play, and how-to-learn-to-code-Ruby-on-Rails-in-less-than-one-month company One Month Rails.

LinkedIn is opening up its service to high school students, lowering its minimum age requirements to 13 (in the US; 16 in many other countries). The company is making the move to coincide with its launch of “University Pages” to help students learn more about and connect with various colleges.

Balefire Labs announced the launch of its educational app review site. The company says it’s the “only service that provides objective reviews—not subjective like most—based on scientifically validated evaluation criteria.” Make of that claim what you will, particularly as the app review market gets increasingly crowded, some boasting they contain teachers’ (subjective) reviews.

Google looks to be getting into the online tutoring business with the launch (of sign-ups) this week of Google Helpouts. It’s not clear yet how Google will vet those who want to offer their services via Google Hangouts this way. Google will take a 20% cut of fees.

On the heels of a the Surface giveaway at ISTE, the slashing of the prices of these devices for schools, and the $900 million inventory write-down on them in its fourth quarter reports, you can almost sense the desperation at Microsoft here. And this week, the company said that schools that sign up for its Bing for Schools initiative can earn credits towards free Surfaces. Listen, if no one wants these things, please don’t try to offload them onto schools, okay?

The organization and collaboration tool Stixy is closing its doors at the end of September, a little reminder that choosing a “free tool” isn’t always the best option.

MOOCs and Anti-MOOCs

Coursera announced this week that it’s named, Lila Ibrahim, a venture capitalist from the startup’s lead investor, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byer, as its first President.

Coursera has added another university partner: the University of Zurich, which will offer Computer Science for Economists in German.

Describing itself as a “distributed open collaborative course” or DOCC, “Feminism and Technology” is probably more connectivist MOOC than the “anti-MOOC” headlines about it (or even the organizers) recognize. More details on this course via Inside Higher Ed.

According to a survey by CarringtonCrisp, “fifty per cent of employers would not consider recruiting someone who had studied for their degree wholly online.” Other findings suggest that students are “suspicious of MOOCs,” although less so about online education in general. The (Pearson-owned) Financial Times, in reporting this “research,” calls it a “blow to MOOCs.”

Vanderbilt’s Derek Bruff has written up his university’s “lessons learned” from its MOOC initiative, including completion numbers for the courses and key observations like “open content is our friend” and “the cognitive diversity seen in MOOCs is far greater than in closed courses.”

Funding and Acquisitions

The practice-your-grammar startup NoRedInk has raised $2 million from Google Ventures, Social+Capital, Learn Capital, Charles River Ventures, and NewSchools Venture Fund. According to Edsurge, the funding will be used to postpone charging for the product.

KinderTown, an app store for parents, has been acquired by Demme Learning. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez has more details on what the acquisition will mean for the startup and its offerings.

Edsurge reports that Oddizzi, a London-based startup that creates geography resources, has raised £310,000 in funding. Investors include former-Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino.

Collegefeed, a startup that helps connect students to potential employers, has raised $1.8 million in funding. Investors include Accel Partners.

From the HR Department

In a blog post yesterday, Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt announced an update on the company’s product strategy. But the bigger news: Ray Henderson, the company’s CTO, head of Academic Platforms, and President of Blackboard Learn, is stepping down (up?) from his day-to-day role at Bb to become the director of the company’s board. His blog post on his “new gig” is here.

Maine’s Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen has announced he’ll retire on September 12 in order to take a new job with the Council of Chief State School Officers. Bowen has been a controversial figure, helping pass a law to allow charter schools in Maine and to grade the state’s public schools. (A story by the Portland Press Herald’s Colin Woodward on Bowen and Maine’s education reform efforts won the George Polk prize earlier this year.)

Nat Torkington, a former editor at O’Reilly Media and prominent member of the open source community , has joined the education startup Hapara. (Hapara helps schools optimize their Google Apps installation.)

“Research” and Data

Depending on your education politics, there were (probably) poll results that made you smile this week, as the AP, PDK/Gallup, and Education Next all released their survey numbers, all with slightly different takes on what folks like and dislike about education, standardized testing, the Common Core, and more. The Huffington Post’s Joy Resmovits examines the polls’ various and sometimes competing findings.

More research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project on teens and privacy. This one examines their use of mobile apps and the steps teens take to keep their location and other information private.

The Computer Science Teachers Association has released a report about CS teacher certification in the US, which finds only two states (Arizona and Wisconsin) require teachers to be certified or licensed to teach computer science.

Lots of facts and figures in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Almanac of Higher Education 2013”: what professors make, what colleges cost, what students think about digital textbooks, and more.

The Departments of Justice and Education and the RAND Corporation have conducted research finding that prison education reduces recidivism. “On average, inmates who participated in correctional education programs had 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who did not,” according to the press release. Um. Duh.

According to students in Dan Anderson’s math class, Double Stuf Oreos do not contain double the “stuf” – just 1.86 times as much as the regular cookies. Nabisco disputes the findings, and the Keebler Elves were unavailable for comment on whether math or magic or marketing was the better way to rate a cookie.


The “Panel Picker” for SXSWedu 2014 is open for voting (just in case you hadn’t noticed from the pleas on Twitter).


ACT scores have slipped to the lowest in five years. “The high school class of 2013’s composite average is down 0.2 points from 21.1 last year, and English and reading scores (averaging 20.2 and 21.1) are down 0.3 and 0.2 points, respectively,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

Advanced Placement classes failing students,” reads the headline in Stephanie Simon’s Politico story on AP enrollments and scores. “Enrollment in AP classes has soared. But data analyzed by POLITICO shows that the number of kids who bomb the AP exams is growing even more rapidly. The class of 2012, for instance, failed nearly 1.3 million AP exams during their high school careers. That’s a lot of time and money down the drain; research shows that students don’t reap any measurable benefit from AP classes unless they do well enough to pass the $89 end-of-course exam.”

The University of Oregon’s Yong Zhao reports that China has proposed new education reforms, which include “no standardized tests, no written homework, no tracking.” More details, and a link to the proposal, via his blog.

Bravery and Care

I’m grateful for all the brave and caring people who work in schools all over the world, many of whom commit acts of heroism every day when helping learners build their lives. But a particularly heartfelt thanks goes out to Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper at the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy Elementary School in Atlanta, who talked to a gunman for over an hour and prevented him from shooting teachers or students at the school. A recording of her 911 call is here. Also making headlines this week was news that the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore had spent $59,800 on bulletproof whiteboards. And ok. Whatever. Buy some armor for your classrooms. But let’s not forget that, sometimes, the very best thing you can do during a crisis is be calm, be brave, be caring, be human.

Image credits: Flickr user timlewisnm and The Noun Project

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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