Friday, November 29, 2013


HOW MUCH ARE iPADS REALLY HELPING KIDS IN CLASSROOMS? - The drive to increase technology use in classrooms has many asking whether the investment is more fizzle than bang, and whether it’s too early to tell how wisely the money is being spent.

by R A Johnston, Education News |


Tuesday, February 5th, 2013   ::  The drive to increase technology use in classrooms has many asking whether the investment is more fizzle than bang, and whether it’s too early to tell how wisely the money is being spent. Education author Peg Tyre has investigated the use of iPads, one of the most popular classroom additions, in TakePart. [follows] She concludes that iPads in education may offer some new teaching techniques, but by themselves, they may not be better than traditional, cheaper methods.

The classroom used to be about chalkboards, textbooks, teachers speaking directly to groups of kids, and worksheets. The iPad can take any of these roles: but in which role is it most effective?

When iPads replace textbooks, they are perhaps least effective. Downloading an e-book to an iPad does the same thing that a textbook does, but one book is probably less expensive per year than the iPad. Tyre quotes another education writer, Lee Wilson, to the effect that textbooks may be about 20% the cost of iPads, and textbooks can be used many years in a row without electronic damage.

Substituting for the teacher may be among the iPad’s most effective roles. Of course, the teacher must record, upload or otherwise choose the material that the tablet presents. But once a lecture or film is on the tablet, the teacher can walk away while a group of students watches it. If the teacher only works with the students after they have learned the material presented on the iPad, she is using the “flipped learning” model in which her role is to explain, correct, and give mini-lessons as students work on projects or homework that responds to the lesson. Some schools have been using this model exclusively and can integrate technology like tablets effectively.

Tyre explains that there are other ways the iPads in schools can fill part of the teacher’s role:

Other schools, including a rapidly expanding chain of charter schools that serve low-income children, are employing what they call a “blended learning” model. It works like this: The classroom is broken down into small groups. Some kids work with a qualified, credentialed teacher, while others are shepherded to a computer room, where, under the watchful eye of a paid-by-the-hour supervisor, they zoom ahead or redo a lesson using interactive, adaptive software.

But all too often, administrators with dreams of kids using iPads in the classroom shell out thousands of dollars, only for the devices to end up not being used very much. Their capabilities are vast, but the actual materials developed for them are still limited to what’s on the market. It isn’t clear that iPads are a good use of most education dollars. At Florida’s recent educational technology conference, attendees heard about a start-up website that aims to create consumer reviews for and by teachers. EduStar hopes to allow teachers to tell how their tech devices are actually changing (or not changing) kids’ classroom experiences. Without real understanding of how a device can be used, schools can too easily fall into buying whatever is the latest fad or buzz.

Tyre reports that investment in education technology has soared in recent years.

In 2005, investors put about $13 million of venture and growth capital in the K-12 market. In 2011, venture capitalists poured $389 million into companies focused on K-12 education, according to industry analysts GSV Advisors, a Chicago-based education firm that tracks the K-12 market.

“Is it a bubble?” asks industry analyst Frank Catalano. “No, but there are signs it’s getting to be a bubble.”

Every new technology, from the radio to the early Macs and smart phones, has been touted as something that can be used to revolutionize teaching. And each generation has seen a few good changes come and go, for example as the classroom movie projector allowed students to see far more scientific and historical footage for themselves. But each generation also sees hopes rise and then be disappointed as education remains more or less the same. The jury is still out on whether iPads for education will be a success story or just another passing fad.

Are iPads and Other Classroom Gadgets Really Helping Kids Learn?

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Peg Tyre sheds light on the promise and perils of education technology.



By Peg Tyre, Take Part |


More teachers are bringing iPads into their classrooms, but do the tools really help kids succeed? (Photo: MCT/Getty Images)

January 31, 2013 For the last six years, the buzz about educational technology has grown deafening.

Schools across the nation are scrambling to figure out just how a new generation of technology—software and devices both in the marketplace and still to be developed—might better educate kids.

The experiments are far-reaching. Currently, there are roughly 275,000 K-12 students from 31 states who are taking classes online. School administrators all over the nation are handing out iPads and asking teachers and students to come up with new ways to learn with them. Some schools are experimenting with flipped classrooms, in which kids read or watch videos of a lecture for homework and work through problems or questions with an instructor during class time.

Other schools, including a rapidly expanding chain of charter schools that serve low-income children, are employing what they call a “blended learning” model. It works like this: The classroom is broken down into small groups. Some kids work with a qualified, credentialed teacher, while others are shepherded to a computer room, where, under the watchful eye of a paid-by-the-hour supervisor, zoom ahead or redo a lesson using interactive, adaptive software.

At another chain of charter high schools, kids sit in what resembles a call center, receive videotaped lectures and interactive lessons on a monitor, and get pulled into smaller, teacher-led groups to get a particular lesson refreshed or reinforced.

The purpose of at least some of this new technology is to make education—a sprawling, complicated enterprise—more streamlined, targeted and efficient. Rather than offer AP courses or a technical track, online classes can serve children at a small rural high school who want more enrichment, or students who find traditional academic learning not a good fit for them.

Founders of the rapidly expanding chain of Rocketship schools say when their low-income K-5th graders are fed a steady diet of computer-delivered lessons, technology “help(s) to make a child’s time in the classroom more productive because he or she will have fewer gaps preventing understanding, and Rocketship teachers will have more time to focus on extending children’s critical thinking skills.”

The idea embedded in much of the discussion about educational technology is that it can be cheaper than regular old bricks and mortar schools. Because kids spend so much time on computers, Rocketship hires fewer costly teachers per class than regular district schools. Simply equipping kids with iPads, school administrators believe, is a more cost-effective investment than spending millions on poorly written, quickly outdated textbooks.

Many teachers are embracing ed tech—blackboards and worksheets seem so last century. They are finding that using technology is altering, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically, the way they do their jobs. Others are finding their jobs eliminated altogether. Language classes, for instance, can go from flesh and blood interactions between student and teacher to online.  
All that enthusiasm among school administrators and school board members has reverberated on Wall Street, which is pouring money into the sector. In 2005, investors put about $13 million of venture and growth capital in the K-12 market. In 2011, venture capitalists poured $389 million into companies focused on K-12 education, according to industry analysts GSV Advisors, a Chicago-based education firm that tracks the K-12 market.

“Is it a bubble?” asks industry analyst Frank Catalano. “No, but there are signs it’s getting to be a bubble.”

Those who study education history called for caution as well. Every new wave of technology that has been tried in classrooms—radio, television, videocassettes, desktop computers and smartboards—has ridden a wave of enthusiasm, rapid adoption and, then, brutally dashed expectations. 

“First, the promoters’ exhilaration splashes over decision makers as they purchase and deploy equipment in schools and classrooms,” said Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University and author of Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classoom in an email to me. “Then academics conduct studies to determine the effectiveness of the innovation [and find that it is] just as good as—seldom superior to—conventional instruction in conveying information and teaching skills. They also find that classroom use is less than expected…Such studies often unleash stinging rebukes of administrators and teachers for spending scarce dollars on expensive machinery that fails to display superiority over existing techniques of instruction and, even worse, is only occasionally used.” (You can buy Cuban’s excellent book here.)

Troublingly, that cycle may have already begun. Rocketship has shown that kids are learning more than their counterparts at neighborhood schools, but their blended learning model is in flux. Computer labs, once outside the classroom, are being brought into the classroom and monitored by a skilled educator. And their partnership with a tech startup, which was coming up with software to aggregate student data and help teachers plan their lessons, has ended.

Parents and taxpayers, be cautious. We need to take care not to let hype overtake good judgment.

iPads cost school districts 552% more than textbooks

iPads in the classroom, too, are hardly turning out to be a panacea. Teachers in some schools use iPads to great effect. Most, not. And they are not likely to lead to cost savings. In a widely quoted blog post, Lee Wilson, tech watcher and President & CEO of PCI Education, calculated that once you consider the training, network costs, and software costs, iPads cost school districts 552 percent more than those old-school textbooks

You can check out his blog here. But in the meantime, I’ve lifted the cool chart he made showing just how pricy iPads turn out to be. (Thanks, Mr. Wilson.)

There are signs that Wall Street’s wild enthusiasm to finance the creation of the new Model T of educational technology may be cooling. Investment dollars in the educational technology sector is down from $389 million in 2011 to $305 million in 2012.

We should all hope that the next Nikola Tesla of education technology will soon emerge. And that schools like Rocketship, which are responsible for educating so many vulnerable low-income kids, succeed in getting their model just right. Meanwhile, parents and taxpayers, be cautious. We need to make sure hype doesn’t overtake good judgment.

  • Peg Tyre is the author of two bestselling books. She has written for The New York Times and The Atlantic. full bio
  • TakePart is the digital division of Participant Media, the company behind important films such as An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting For Superman, Food, Inc., Good Night & Good Luck, Charlie Wilson’s War, Contagion, The Help, and many others.


2cents smf: These two articles are almost a year old – but put into perspective, they came out at the same time as the Deasy  administration’s headlong rush into the Common Core Technology Project/iPads for All implementation began. I would’ve shared them earlier with 4LAKids had I found them earlier. My bad.

A lot has changed in the almost-a-year. We’ve learned a lot. But not enough.

And the underlying premise, that parents and taxpayers – and educators – should be cautious and not be overcome by the hype has solidified. The message that the annual cost of technology-driven curriculum+instruction delivery is far higher than textbook-driven methodologies has been ignored or skipped over – put in the “parking lot” for later discussion. To be solved in later years, in future budgets – by other school boards and different superintendents. Paid for by the same taxpayers …but in other tax bills.

I am an early adopter. I want to believe that this investment in Educational Technology Infrastructure is a good idea. If spending the money will make a real difference we should spend the money. My doubt is more of the wisdom of the investor – looking for a quick-fix magic bullet – than that of the long term investment in the education of Los Angeles’ schoolchildren.

As originally proposed the LAUSD CCTP was to roll out in a single year: A one billion dollar Information Technology upgrade that would - I think/I’m not sure – be the biggest/most expensive public sector IT  investment in the nation – excluding the  Department of Defense  and the NSA. 

When LAUSD was in the peak of our building program, building 130 new schools, we were hard pressed to spend $1 billion in a year!. And,as a colleague on the Bond Oversight Committee points out:  That investment created jobs in the local economy with an economic multiplier effect - and new schools that stand to last.  Investing in iPads creates profits in Cupertino and jobs in Chengdu and tablets that last three years. If there’s a multiplier effect it’s a feature in the Calculator app.

That urgent rush has slowed the CCTP to a three year program. But the scope – an iPad for every student, teacher and administrator in the District – remains the same. And almost a year later – when the program was originally scheduled to be nearly complete – most of the questions aren’t just unanswered …they are unaddressed.

And finally/ironically – the second article is from Participant Media. Being a Hollywood Progressive by address+inclination I feel entitled to identify my fellow travelers. Participant brought us “An Inconvenient Truth” – but they also brought us “Waiting for Superman” (co-produced by Philip Anschutz’ ‘Walden Media – who also brought us: “Won’t Back Down”). They are capable-of+motivated-by-profit to be the propaganda arm of ®eform Inc, The Billionaire Boys Club and the Hollywood/Silicon Valley elite.

In this article they sing the praises of Rocketship Charter Schools. But even they are humming the lyric: “Slow down, you move too fast….”

Just sayin’.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


A revamping of California school funding sends more dollars to districts with the neediest children, but it may give the districts too much flexibility.

Editorial By The Times editorial board |

School funding

Ponderosa Elementary School in Anaheim has spent extra money trying to boost the academic achievement of its large number of students who are low income and still struggling with English. (Los Angeles Times / January 11, 2013)

November 29, 2013  ::  This year, Gov. Jerry Brown pushed through a new formula for funding public schools, a simpler and fairer approach designed to drive more money to students disadvantaged by poverty or a lack of English fluency. The change is expected to help the state's neediest children for decades to come.

But Brown's noble concept will be undermined if the funding is used by schools as an unrestricted bonus rather than as money with a mission. The legislation that revamped education funding was unfortunately vague on how the money should be used, leaving the details to the state Board of Education. And the draft regulations that came before the board this month were woefully lacking. When final regulations are approved, they should make one thing clear: Needy students are the reason for the extra funding.

Under Brown's plan, school districts will receive a base payment for each student. But because disadvantaged students need extra services to close the achievement gap — preschool, tutoring, specialized teachers and other programs — districts will receive an additional 20% of the base for each low-income or nonfluent student. On top of that, there is a "concentration" payment for districts in which more than 55% of the students are disadvantaged.

But how should the money be spent? The draft regulations provided districts with three options: spend more money on disadvantaged students; provide more programs for them; or raise their achievement. The latter two options include no requirement that all or most of the new funding be spent on needy students, and the rules are so lax that schools could call even minor improvements "more programs" or "higher achievement." Say, for example, that a fifth of the students in a district are disadvantaged. Under the draft rules, if administrators spent all the extra funding on teacher raises, middle-class students would be receiving more of the benefit than needy ones. If those students' scores rose even slightly, the district could claim it had fulfilled the requirements of the third option.

Brown has made clear that he wants the state to avoid dictating expenditures to school districts. To some degree, he's right: Districts should have the flexibility to make their own decisions and the freedom to innovate. Perhaps musical instruments would most help low-income students, or more counselors or on-campus healthcare. It is also inevitable and appropriate that some of the new money will end up helping other students as well; if a school adopts a new reading program for the low-income students who make up most of its population, that program must of course be offered to all students.

But state officials need to add some teeth to their good intentions. Under the funding law, districts must submit plans for using the new money to the county departments of education. To win approval, those plans should concentrate spending on the students for whom it was intended.


By Valerie Strauss Washington Post The Answer Sheet |

November 27 at 9:27 am  ::  “No one really cares, do they?”  That is one of the reasons for why No Child Left Behind won’t be rewritten, according to a new report [follows] on what “education influentials” think will happen in the world of education.

Actually, a lot of people care, because it affects what happens in classrooms to children, but, apparently, it’s not too much of a concern to enough members of Congress, which was supposed to rewrite No Child Left Behind when it expiredon Sept. 30, 2007.

(The expiration date doesn’t mean the law actually expired. Congress passes laws with the intent that they will “expire” after a certain period of time, most often five years, a deadline that is supposed to force Congress to update and/or fix them. But if Congress doesn’t get around to it, the law stays in force, so while almost everybody in education knows NCLB is desperately flawed, it still is affecting public schools. The Obama administration has given waivers to some states from the most onerous mandates of NCLB, but it set its own questionable conditions in exchange for the waivers.)

Education organizations have been sending letter after plea to Congress asking lawmakers to reauthorize the law, and committees have done some work on it, but nothing comprehensive has been accomplished, and it would be a stretch to say much progress has been made.

The latest Education Insider, put out monthly by Whiteboard Advisors, a policy-oriented consulting practice, is based on the opinions of people identified as being in the know about Washington and education policy. They include, according to the Whiteboard Advisors’s Web site, “current and former White House and U.S. Department of Education staff, Congressional leaders, state school chiefs, and leaders of major trade associations, think tanks, and advocacy groups.”

The November report says, among other things, that nearly 80 percent of those surveyed “agree or strongly agree that most education policies are primarily designed for urban and suburban school districts and are often poorly suited to rural districts,” and that neither NCLB nor the Higher Education Act will be reauthorized before 2015.

Here are some of the comments made about why NCLB won’t be reauthorized any time soon:

• “Harkin won’t be gone from the Senate until 2015.”

• “No one really cares, do they? Is anyone looking to invest the political capital to get the job done?”

• “Requires getting members of Congress in a room and actually talking. Not any time soon.”

• “Mid‐term elections and no one is budging not even to give Harkin a legacy piece of legislation.”

• “Higher education will be the focus of the next session; there is no political will to move ESEA.”

• “Is never an option?”

• “No path to consensus with Harkin and Duncan in the picture. They can’t let go of Washington mandates and controls.”

• “Because the Senate is the Senate.”

• “Cubs could win a World Series first.”


November 2013 Education Insider: Tracking Measures, Rural Education, and U.S. Department of Education Political Appointees


Whiteboard Advisors

November 25, 2013   ::  This month's Education Insider report focuses on our usual tracking measures, rural school districts and rural education, and political appointees at the U.S. Department of Education. Among the highlights:

  • Insiders give the same approval ratings to the PARCC and SBAC Common Core assessment consortia, indicating a slight increase in PARCC approval and a steady rating for SBAC. For the first time ever, over 50% of Insiders think that both consortia are on the “right track."
  • 78% of Insiders agree or strongly agree that most education policies are primarily designed for urban and suburban school districts and are often poorly suited to rural districts.
  • Insiders do not think that the Higher Education Act will be reauthorized anytime soon, and they do not believe that the appointment of Ted Mitchell, a former professor and college university president, as Under Secretary for Education will have any impact on the timing of reauthorization.
  • Insiders generally do not think that U.S. Department of Education nominees Ted Mitchell, Jim Shelton, or Massie Ritsch will run into confirmation trouble. Those that do are divided as to whether the trouble will come from the left or the right.

Nov 2013 - Education Insider (Tracking Measures - Rural Education - ED Appointees)_0


By Stephanie Simon- |

November 27, 2013 05:06 AM EST  ::  Arne Duncan brought the most ambitious reform agenda in years to the Department of Education — and a determination to use every lever of power to accomplish it.

The results were stunning: In barely a year, more than 100 state laws were passed to open public schools to competition and set tough new standards for students and teachers. Duncan won allies on the right and the left, becoming one of the few Cabinet members with bipartisan support.

But the agenda he began to advance in 2009 has now hit serious roadblocks, highlighting the limits of federal power over education. States are balking at reforms they pledged to implement in exchange for grants and waivers from federal law. An unprecedented $5 billion intervention in the nation’s worst schools has yielded incremental results, at best. A noisy opposition to Duncan’s reforms has emerged — and it only grew noisier this month when Duncan dissed “white suburban moms” for opposing the new Common Core academic standards because the tough tests made their kids look bad.

(WATCH: Arne Duncan sorry for 'white suburban moms' remark)

To top it off, there’s no clear evidence that Duncan’s prescriptions are boosting student achievement, though his backers say it’s still too early to tell.

Duncan still has plenty of ambition; he’s taking up several bold — and controversial — initiatives aimed at transforming higher education. Yet as his signature K-12 programs hit speed bumps, his legacy as a reformer is very much up in the air. Among the ways his reach has been limited:

— Duncan shrewdly dangled incentives to convince all but four states to adopt common academic standards meant to raise the bar for students. But he has no power to force states to adopt associated tests that the federal government has spent $350 million to develop. At least seven have dropped out and others are on the fence; analysts fear that without the tests as a common yardstick, states will be free to quietly lower the bar that Duncan has tried hard to raise.

(Also on POLITICO: Full education policy coverage)

— He successfully prodded states to start holding educators accountable for increasing student test scores in hopes of raising the caliber of the teaching corps. Yet Washington has no sway over how principals rate teachers on other factors — and in state after state, the new systems have yielded the same results as the old, with some 95 percent of teachers rated effective. Other states, meanwhile, haven’t even finished designing the new evaluation metrics or merit pay programs they promised Duncan.

— Even his latest campaign, a PR push to bring more elite college graduates into teaching, shows the inherent limitations on Duncan’s power. He has called for years for school districts to pay their best teachers six-figure salaries — yet he has no way to make that happen, and very few districts have adopted such lavish merit pay scales.

Duncan has been creative in exercising federal power. He dispensed billions in grants under the Race to the Top program and dished out exemptions, known as waivers, to the No Child Left Behind law to states that followed his prescriptions for reform.

(Sign up for POLITICO’s Morning Education tip sheet)

The goal, spokesman Stephen Spector said, was to push states to take “aggressive” steps that will raise student outcomes in the long run. He said much has been accomplished despite the limitations on the department’s authority — limitations that he termed appropriate, given that education has traditionally been a state and local responsibility.

Genial, earnest and very tall — he played professional basketball overseas — Duncan has been a highly visible member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet. He’s traveled to 48 states so far, holding town halls, talking with teachers and pressing governors of both parties to get serious about education. Aides say he never slows his pace.

Duncan has “gotten more done than any secretary in recent memory,” said Charles Barone, policy director of Democrats for Education Reform.

Critics, however, say his strategies have been shortsighted, even naive. States are backing away from promises they made to secure grants and waivers; just this month, Arkansas said it couldn’t stick to its timetable for improving student performance or raising the quality of its teaching force. In most cases, the secretary has little leverage to make states uphold their pledges. In a ritual that strikes even some bureaucrats as absurd, he has begun granting waivers to his own waivers.

“In 2009, Arne was the new sheriff in town, with big boxes of ammunition and a shiny new gun,” said Frederick Hess, an education analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Now, it’s later in the movie and he’s all out of bullets and he’s trying to scare states by shaking a stick at them.”

(PHOTOS: Obama’s second-term Cabinet)

States are rebelling in part because of a frustration with perceived micromanagement from Washington. Duncan has often said that he aims to be “tight on goals but loose on means,” but state officials have a hard time squaring that with his department’s prescriptive approach to reforms, such as its insistence that graduation rates count for 20 percent, rather than 15 percent, of high school ratings in Arizona.

“There’s been a mistrust of states wanting to do the right thing,” said Christopher Koch, the Illinois state superintendent. His is one of just a handful of states that has not received a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, in his case because Illinois law requires that tough new teacher evaluations be phased in a year slower than Duncan would like. “We’re a bit frustrated,” Koch said.

Spector, the Duncan spokesman, said the department “has worked hard and steadily to be a good partner with states and districts, offering them as much flexibility as possible to be creative and innovative.”

Indeed, this month, the department responded to states’ complaints about heavy-handed federal oversight by giving them more autonomy. But in a sign of the fraught politics of education, the move was promptly blasted by civil rights groups that fear Duncan is easing up too much and compromising gains for poor and minority students.

Perhaps the most volatile issue is the Common Core, which was initiated by states but which the Obama administration has avidly promoted. The academic standards, now rolling out in classrooms nationwide, have drawn fire from both the left and right. Duncan has described the opposition as silly, but he’s in a tough spot: The more he defends the standards, the more he adds fuel to criticism that the federal government is interfering with local decisions on education.

Duncan’s relationships in Congress also have grown testy. At first, Republicans loved his Race to the Top program, with its requirement that states compete for federal dollars, but many on the right now chafe at Duncan’s tendency to get things done by “executive fiat,” as Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) has said.

The criticism might be quieter if there were clear indications that Duncan’s aggressive approach on K-12 education was driving up student achievement.

But the signals are mixed.

Tennessee, which the administration heaped with praise and cash for adopting Duncan’s priorities early on, showed strong gains this year on the standardized tests widely regarded as the nation’s report card. But Delaware — the only other state to win the first round of Duncan’s Race to the Top competition — lost ground compared with the national average.

Kentucky, one of the first states to fully implement the Common Core, also slipped back. Duncan says Kentucky has improved on other metrics, like the percentage of students who are well-prepared for college.

Some of the jurisdictions that have been most aggressive about expanding charter schools — another key Duncan priority — did very well on the national test, especially Washington, D.C., and Florida. But others did not, most notably Louisiana, which has aggressively implemented the reforms Duncan has championed and has transformed New Orleans into a charter school showcase. (White suburban moms aside, perhaps the biggest gaffe of Duncan’s tenure was his 2010 pronouncement that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.”)

Duncan takes pride in a steady increase in national graduation rates and a big jump in the percentage of African-American and Hispanic students attending college.

But his ambitious $5 billion investment in the worst public schools in the nation has yielded only modest gains, as the secretary himself acknowledged last week. The department set out four acceptable turnaround strategies and funded them in 1,500 schools; proficiency rates have actually declined in about a third of the schools and edged up only modestly in many of the rest.

“There’s never been a secretary of Education with this much power,” said Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of education history at New York University. “Is it good for kids? I would say — and I would underline this a million times — we have no idea.”

Many reform ideas have bipartisan support, Zimmerman said, but the politics have raced ahead of solid evidence in many cases.

Duncan’s allies push back hard against that interpretation. Some reforms will take time to bear fruit, they say, and others might not be implemented perfectly. But they give him enormous credit for jolting a sclerotic system with new ideas.

“It’s fascinating to watch a lot of armchair quarterbacking” about Duncan’s competitive grant and waiver programs, Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said. “People never want to critique money that goes to prop up the status quo.”

While Duncan has been most visible in the world of K-12, he has also shaken up the world of higher education and is aiming to do much more.

Duncan helped the president beat back proposals by Republicans to slash Pell Grants for low-income college students; the number of students on Pell Grants has soared. He simplified the college financial aid form. And he expanded programs meant to ease the student debt burden, like income-based repayment plans for loans.

In one of his more ambitious efforts, Duncan tried to crack down on for-profit colleges that left many students deep in debt with no marketable skills. The courts blocked that regulation, known as “gainful employment,” so the department is now trying again, through a tortuously slow rule-writing process.

Duncan is also pressing a novel proposal affecting all colleges, public and private. Duncan aims to to rate each campus according to metrics such as how many low-income students they serve, how much debt their graduates carry and how much their alumni earn. He has talked about tying federal aid to those metrics.

Some college presidents are on board, hopeful that publicizing such ratings will force colleges to hold down costs and focus on meeting students’ needs.

“These reforms are badly needed and long overdue,” said F. King Alexander, chancellor of Louisiana State University.

Others, however, resent the notion that it will take the “federal government coming, swooping in” to set colleges’ priorities straight, said Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University. “The assumption that we don’t care is really where they start,” she said, “and that’s very offensive.”

For his part, Duncan expressed his frustration with the endless sniping and second-guessing in a speech at the National Press Club this fall. He lamented the “alternative universe” inside the Beltway where “the perfect becomes the enemy of the good” and politics “becomes a paralyzing force that props up the status quo.”

And he conveyed the urgency that aides say pushes him daily to drive change.

“Our children,” Duncan said, “have only one chance for an education.”

Politico: Arne Duncan’s Ambitious Agenda Hits Speed Bumps

By dianeravitch | Diane Ravitch's blog  |

November 27, 2013   ::  Stephanie Simon describes the political minefields that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has run into as he seeks to remake American education.

She does not mention that Duncan’s program dovetails with No Child Left Behind, which is now widely acknowledged to be a failed approach.

Nor does she mention that Duncan’s tenure in Chicago, where he honed his present ideas about reform, was unsuccessful.

Duncan is generously praised by the hedge fund managers’ group Democrats for Education Reform.

But critics call him out for micromanagement:

Critics, however, say his strategies have been shortsighted, even naive. States are backing away from promises they made to secure grants and waivers; just this month, Arkansas said it couldn’t stick to its timetable for improving student performance or raising the quality of its teaching force. In most cases, the secretary has little leverage to make states uphold their pledges. In a ritual that strikes even some bureaucrats as absurd, he has begun granting waivers to his own waivers.

“In 2009, Arne was the new sheriff in town, with big boxes of ammunition and a shiny new gun,” said Frederick Hess, an education analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Now, it’s later in the movie and he’s all out of bullets and he’s trying to scare states by shaking a stick at them.”

So many other questions are unasked:

Did his efforts to replace the principle of equity with the strategy of competition for federal aid makes any sense?

Why did a Democratic administration accept the ideology and strategies of its Republican predecessors?

How could Duncan say he wants to raise standards for teaching while giving $50+ million to Teach for America?

What have been the results of Duncan’s unprecedented support for shifting public dollars to privately managed charters?

Why has Duncan been silent as more and more state legislatures enacted anti-teacher legislation?

Why has Duncan been silent as more and more states authorized vouchers?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Scott Shackford| Blog |

They're not out for the holidays; they all have court hearings.

Credit: Rsinner / / CC BY-NC

Nov. 27, 2013 11:10 am  ::  Los Angeles Unified School District has stumbled upon a revolutionary concept in disciplining young schoolchildren: Maybe don’t treat them the way the police department treats parolees? That is to say, LAUSD is pulling back on responding to common child misbehavior with police citations. From the Los Angeles Daily News:

Starting Dec. 1, elementary and some middle school students in Los Angeles Unified will no longer receive police citations for most misbehavior.

According to the new policy, Los Angeles School Police will refrain from writing criminal citations for infractions such as fighting and writing on desks, instead turning students to school officials for campus-based punishment that is more in line with their age and nature of the violations.

“This is an important step, but it also raises concerns that there is more to be done,” said Manuel Criollo, director of organizing for the nonprofit Community Rights Campaign, an L.A. group that has lobbied for the decriminalization of many school-based offenses. “Some of this should be common sense, and the next thing is to expand it in the middle schools. Thirteen- and 14-year-olds should also be covered by this.”

This “new policy” smells remarkably old actually, like how schools handled discipline when those of us who are adults now attended school. Officials have finally realized that treating students like criminals discourages them from doing things like attending school (important, because that’s how school funding is determined):

The directive from LAUSD Police Chief Steven Zipperman asks school-based officers to look at misbehavior of students under the age of 13 as a teaching opportunity rather than a reason to hand out citations that could discourage them from attending class altogether.

If a ticket is issued, officers should have an articulated reason for doing so, as well as the permission of a supervisor. The policy does not cover possession of contraband.

The Community Rights Campaign calculated that school police have handed out more than 4,700 citations to students under the age of 14 for the 2012-13 school year.



AP from KPCC |


Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angel

Krista Kennell/AFP/Getty Images | Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.

November 27th, 2013, 9:48am  ::  A Los Angeles judge has ruled that parents can proceed with their own claims of emotional distress related to abuses at Miramonte Elementary School, where a third-grade teacher was accused of spoon-feeding children semen in what he called "tasting games."

The Daily News reports attorneys of the children and their parents hailed this week's ruling.

Los Angeles Unified School District has argued it is immune from liability to the parents under a state statute that limits the responsibility of government agencies. The court disagreed.

Dozens of families are suing, arguing district officials failed to protect their children from harm.

On Nov. 15, former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt pleaded no contest to committing lewd acts on children and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.


Judge: Miramonte parents claims can move forward along with childrens’

The Los Angeles Unified School District has paid out nearly $30 million in claims over alleged molestation at Miramonte Elementary School. (AP Photo)

By Brenda Gazzar, Los Angeles Daily News |

11/26/13, 7:37 PM PST | Updated: 1 hr ago  ::  Parents of children involved in the Miramonte Elementary sex abuse scandal can proceed with their own claims of emotional distress as their children proceed with claims of emotional distress, negligence and sexual harassment, a judge ruled Monday.

Attorneys of the children and their parents hailed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shepard Wiley’s ruling Tuesday as a major victory, while Los Angeles Unified officials downplayed its significance. Some of the kids and parents will be going to trial on April 1.

“This is such a monumental victory right now for both the kids and the parents,” said Pasadena-based Attorney Brian Claypool, who is representing 14 kids and 23 parents in a civil case. “We feel the district has been stalling and stonewalling us and delaying and doing everything they can to stop us from getting our day in court, and finally we have this ruling that validates this profound trauma that these kids and parents continue to endure.”

Sean Rossall, a spokesman for LAUSD’s Office of General Counsel, said the judge ruled only on the “presentation” and not the actual merits of the cases.

“There are still actually a number of opportunities where these cases can be dismissed in the process in the coming months,” he said. “Throughout this process, our goal has been to resolve these claims in a way that is respectful to the students involved, and we are still committed to that.”

On Nov. 15, former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt pleaded no contest to committing lewd acts on children and was immediately sentenced to 25 years in prison. Berndt, of Torrance, admitted to charges of feeding unwitting children his semen by the spoonful and on cookies in a “tasting game,” as well as putting cockroaches on their faces. Most of those 23 cases covered incidents that spanned 2009-11, although some occurred in 2005, according to the charges. Berndt was arrested in January 2012, after an investigation that ran more than a year.

Dozens of families are suing Los Angeles Unified, arguing district officials failed to protect their children from harm. The district has paid out nearly $30 million and racked up some $2.5 million in legal fees to settle 63 cases. The cases of more than 65 students and at least 70 parents remain unresolved.

The district has argued it is immune from liability to the parents of the allegedly abused victims under a state statute that limits the responsibility of government agencies. However, the court rejected Monday the district’s interpretation of the law, maintaining that school districts are vicariously liable for the abuse committed by their employees and may be sued by the victims as well as by their parents, said attorney Thomas Moore, whose firm is working with attorney John Manly to represent 30 children and 35 parents.

“(Superintendent John) Deasy has publicly acknowledged that harm was done to the parents and said the district is committed to resolving the claims of victims and their families, but simultaneously the district’s lawyers have aggressively tried to deny the parents their day in court,” Moore said. The judge’s ruling Monday “upholds the parents’ right to bring these claims.”

Rossall said the district still believes its own position is “supported by law,” adding that they’ll evaluate their options “at every opportunity in a way that’s respectful of students and families involved but also balances our obligation to be stewards of taxpayer resources.”

Because the court is allowing the plaintiffs to proceed on sexual-harassment claims for the children, they are now able to request punitive damages against the individual defendants — including Deasy and two former Miramonte principals — and seek a majority of attorneys’ fees should they prevail in trial, Claypool said.

Attorneys for the families say district officials were on notice about Berndt’s misconduct as early as 1991 or 1992 and ignored repeated complaints. They also say Deasy, who joined the district as deputy superintendent in June 2010 and took over as schools chief in April 2011, did not notify parents of the investigation into Berndt until the news broke of his arrest in January of last year.

District officials have said they removed Berndt from the district in 2011 as soon as they learned of the allegations and that they followed police instructions not to discuss the case to avoid compromising the investigation.

The district has since adopted a policy that requires parents be notified within 72 hours when an employee is removed for misconduct.

Monday’s ruling empowers the parents to continue with their lawsuits against the school district since it ignored prior warnings about Berndt’s conduct, said South Pasadena Attorney Luis Carrillo, who is representing 23 kids and 14 parents. “The district never protected their kids, and as result, the kids are suffering. When the kids are suffering, the parents are suffering,” he said.

The children’s claims for sexual harassment, which will also move forward, serve to strengthen their case against the school district, Carrillo said, which means “we have more arrows in our quill.”

  • Staff Writer Barbara Jones contributed to this report.


2cents small ….if it is a $5 billion market, Apple/Pearson has already nailed 10% of it with their deal with LAUSD!

by Preeti Upadhyaya , Technology Reporter- Silicon Valley Business Journal  |

Updated: Nov 26, 2013, 1:37pm PST  ::  Next year, K-12 schools across the United States will begin implementing Common Core State Standards, an education initiative that will drive schools to adopt technology in the classroom as never before.

That’s prompting a scramble among Silicon Valley’s hardware, software and networking providers to grab as much of the $5.4 billion K-12 learning market as possible. Apple, Google, Cisco and a swarm of startups are elbowing in to secure market share. The sector is expected to more than double in size to $13.4 billion by 2017, according to GSV Advisors, a publicly traded venture capital firm.

The Chromebook is increasingly being tested by K-12 learners, who will explore its keyboard's absorbant qualities through milk and juice box spills.

Common Core guides educators as to what students should know in English and math by the end of each grade level. Technology will play a large role in evaluating student success, encouraging use of more devices in the learning process.

Chris Ratcliffe - The Chromebook is increasingly being tested by K-12 learners, who will explore its keyboard's absorbant qualities through milk and juice box spills.>>

“The advent of Common Core is a change for schools, and change is great for startups,” said Karen Lien, director and partner at Imagine K12, a Palo Alto-based startup incubator and investment firm focusing on K-12 education. “The chance for major tech companies and startups to get in is pretty exciting.”

For Cisco, the opportunities in the classroom fall into three major categories: The core infrastructure in schools (routing and switching technology), collaboration technologies that allow professional development for teachers and other staff and finally, the data center needs of large education institutions.

“We work with schools to help them figure out how they’re going to implement technology against the Common Core,” said Renee Patton, head of Cisco’s U.S. public education sector team. “We help schools figure out how many classrooms will be tested at a time, and how many students will be connected to the web at any given time. We help schools figure out the gaps they currently have, and then we’ll engage Cisco Capital or our grants team to help them with financing if that’s necessary.

Patton said the trick for schools to maximize their returns on technology investments is to multipurpose the devices and systems they purchase. For example, the school district in Paradise Valley, Ariz., is using Cisco’s telepresence technology to provide an AP calculus class across 10 schools. There weren’t enough students at each individual school to warrant hiring an AP calculus teacher, but the ability to reach all the students at once with video technology allowed the district to offer the class.

The telepresence systems are also utilized by teachers and staff outside of school hours, Patton said, explaining that teachers at different schools can connect with each other to discuss curriculum or exchange advice, and administrators can use it for staff meetings or teacher in-service days.

Cisco’s competitors in the space include other networking companies like Juniper Systems and Avaya.

Cisco’s networking and infrastructure offerings allow schools to conduct large-scale deployments of hardware across classrooms, which is where providers like Google and Apple fit in.

During Apple’s most recent earnings call, CEO Tim Cook trumpeted the Mac maker’s control of 94 percent of the education tablet market (in the U.S.) and said the company earned more than $1 billion in revenue for the first time in the education sector.

The company, which did not respond to requests for an interview, sold 640,000 iPads to the Los Angeles Unified School District over the summer. It hasn’t gone completely smoothly. The rollout of the devices was recently delayed, with administrators citing concerns about the structure and cost of the contract with Apple.

Another concern: The ability of schools to manage the distribution of devices to tens of thousands of students. Along the way, some students learned to hack their way around access controls on the tablets.

There were also concerns that the Common Core-geared software embedded on the iPads from Pearson, the publishing giant that has long dominated the education market, was nowhere near ready for deployment.

The deployment and manageability of device distribution in classrooms is one of the biggest hurdles to integrating tech into schools, said Rajen Sheth, director of product management at Google, Apple’s biggest competitor in the education sector. The Mountain View-based company announced its education-focused app store, Google Play for Education, just this month.

“Google devices are deployed very easily,” Sheth said. “They basically go from the delivery truck to students with no IT intervention. You have to make it such that these devices are very easy to maintain.”

Sheth said Common Core standards are opening up opportunities for a much broader range of content and learning tools than were previously available because developers are easily able to align their products to the guidelines.

“Typically, only the largest providers (Pearson) were able to create content across states,” Sheth said. “Now, if I’m a 7th grade algebra teacher, I have a choice of apps, textbooks and videos to help teach the subject. That helps us at Google guide teachers in using technology too.”

Sheth said the most important thing to consider when deploying technology in classrooms is that it has to be goal-oriented.

“Tech in the classroom is great, but the technology by itself isn’t very effective,” he said. “When you start with goals and think about how you’re going to re-orient your teaching model to utilize technology in the classroom, it works much better. When you just throw devices in the classroom and teachers don’t know what to do with them, they either become a distraction or just end up not being used.”

One school district working closely with Google to bring devices to students and teachers is in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey. Joel Handler oversees the deployment of technology as it aligns with Common Core standards for 7,400 students.

“We’ve been a Google apps district for three years, and we brought Chromebooks into classrooms as a side bar thing, so if you wanted to use it, it was there,” said Handler. “It caught on well for literacy classes to collaborate on documents, and that’s where we saw it becoming more popular as a general collaborating tool.”

Handler said that today, the school district has distributed 900 Chromebooks to students in grades 5-12, and has deployed 3,000 Nexus 7 tablets to K-4 students.

The laptops and tablets, which have been leased from Google for the life of the devices, are intended to help fulfill the district’s three technology goals: Collaboration and publication of digital content, globalizing the curriculum (virtual field trips, etc.) and asynchronous learning (giving students the ability to learn at their own pace and convenience.)

The school district began with a pilot program, using both Apple iPads and Google Chromebooks in classrooms. Handler said he went with the Chromebooks because he saw students consistently collaborating in classrooms with the laptops, whereas the tablets were good at reinforcing individual concepts.

“If we didn’t have the Chromebooks, we would have said, ‘That’s awesome,’” Handler said. “But in Chromebook classes, students were always collaborating. They just totally embraced Google docs and the whole app infrastructure. That really drove it home.”

Handler said his goal for the next year is that all students in grades 5-12 will have a Chromebook, while all kindergarteners through fourth graders will get a Nexus 7 tablet to themselves.


Commentary By Arun Ramanathan |EdSource Today |

Arun Ramanathan

November 27th, 2013  ::  English is my second language. I spent the early part of my life in India speaking my native tongue. When we immigrated to the West, I went to school to learn English.

Arun Ramanathan>>

After some early struggles, I have reached a fair degree of proficiency in the English language. I can now write blogs for EdSource Today, reports on educational inequities and letters to the State Board of Education. But there are still some things I have trouble doing.

I can’t spell worth a damn. My handwriting has been described as Martian hieroglyphics. And, like many English learners, I tend to mix metaphors and muddle catch-phrases.

This is an unfortunate problem for someone like me who loves idioms and metaphors. For example, for years I thought the saying was “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him think,” which was very confusing for me and the folks who heard me say it.

My new favorite idiom is “penny wise and pound foolish.” It’s about putting short- ahead of long-term gains. And it’s an apt description of the education establishment’s stance toward the proposed regulations for the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).

Administrators, school boards and teachers unions, joined by prominent superintendents, support a set of regulations that would give them free rein with the funding, including the supplementary dollars generated by high-needs students. In public, they argue that they need this flexibility to better serve these students. But behind closed doors, many of them, including some of those superintendents who portray themselves as champions of poor children, are desperate to use this funding to “offset their structural deficits.”

In plain language, this means that districts want dollars generated by high-needs students to pay down salary, health benefit and other debts. Some of these wounds are self-inflicted, such as LAUSD’s decision years ago to provide lifetime health-care benefits to their employees and families. Others derive from districts’ failure to respond to external factors such as declining student enrollment. District leaders are similarly frank about wanting to use the funding to “make up for the sacrifices of their employees” in the bad times. Roughly translated, this means giving everyone a raise.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with districts giving across-the-board raises or trying to improve their balance sheets with the base funding generated by every student. But I have a hard time understanding why districts should be allowed to use the additional funding generated by low-income students, English learners and foster youth for these purposes – especially when the law says that this funding must be used to improve services for these students.

Of course, superintendents promise they will take care of their high-needs youth after they handle their structural deficits. But that’s already the status quo. In good times and bad, poor kids always get the short end of the stick. These services are the first things to be cut and the last things restored – even during the heyday of categorical funding. Instead of long-term investments in intervention and support services necessary to close achievement gaps, districts use short-term patches such as philanthropic giving, external grants with expiration dates (SIG, QEIA, etc.) and other more troubling routes such as identifying a student as disabled.

In contrast, the supplementary and concentration grants offer the real possibility of sustained investments in early intervention and ongoing services for underserved students in their schools. That promise, expressed by the governor and others, is why so many of us in the civil rights community supported the new funding formula.

This gap between the rhetoric that promoted the LCFF and the reality of its implementation is the proverbial elephant in the room. Complete flexibility with this funding means that nothing will improve in the schools and classrooms that serve California’s highest-needs students. This may be penny-wise for certain superintendents and Sacramento interest groups, but it is pound-foolish for California’s educational system  and the new funding formula itself.

We all know that a few years from now, Proposition 30 will expire along with the funding it brings into our state’s coffers. Even with Prop. 30, we are still far from the national average for per-pupil funding. Fixing this will take a unified effort from a broad range of interests. But the current fight over the LCFF is splitting the very stakeholders essential to the success of that future initiative.

Further, this fight is exposing racial and class divisions in our education system. The demographic composition of our state has dramatically changed over the last 20 years. But that change has not been reflected in the ranks of educators or the education establishment. The interest groups supporting the proposed LCFF regulations do not reflect California’s ethnic, linguistic and racial diversity. On the other hand, the groups opposing total flexibility are representative of its communities and students. The distrust emerging from this divide over the new funding formula will impact its implementation at the local level and linger for years to come.

To truly resolve our education funding issues, we must convince the majority of California voters to make personal investments for our schools in the form of broad-based tax increases. The establishment should remember that “low propensity voters” from our highest-needs communities were crucial to the passage of Prop. 30 and will be similarly important to the success of any future initiative. The failure to appropriately spend LCFF funding will invariably be used to undermine any future argument for increased funding for schools. Misuse of supplementary funding will actually give that argument real credibility.

Lastly, the roots of any new reform are shallow. Building broad public faith and support during the early stages of implementation is essential. That will not happen for the LCFF with this level of dissension, even with the governor’s veto pen to protect it. The logic of the new funding system runs counter to the natural instinct of legislators to create dedicated programs for students. That instinct will not dissipate in the coming years, particularly if the LCFF does not result in any benefits for high-needs students. To secure the governor’s legacy on LCFF over the long term, it must result in visible changes in California’s education system, down to the school and classroom level.

I was an advocate for the LCFF. I want to see it succeed. The education establishment may get their wish for weak LCFF rules from the State Board of Education. But this will be a Pyrrhic victory for them and the LCFF and produce painful conflicts at the community and school district levels. Given the short- and long-term stakes, it would be far wiser if the education establishment and the civil rights community came together and constructed a reasonable compromise on the new regulations that truly balanced flexibility and equity. That would be penny- and pound-wise for both the adults in our education system and the children and communities they serve. After all, as the old saying goes, “a house divided against itself on the LCFF cannot stand.”


Arun Ramanathan is executive director of The Education Trust–West, a statewide education advocacy organization. He has served as a district administrator, research director, teacher, paraprofessional and VISTA volunteer in California, New England and Appalachia. He has a doctorate in educational administration and policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His wife is a teacher and reading specialist and they have a child in preschool and another in a Spanish immersion elementary school in Oakland Unified.


Capitol Alert

Sacramento Bee Capitol Alert:



November 26, 2013  ::  Top Democrats in the Legislature have poured cold water on proposed regulations to carry out the landmark overhaul of the state's school-funding formula.

Suggesting that the draft rules are "inconsistent with the intent and letter" of the Local Control Funding Formula law enacted in June, Monday's letter to Board of Education President President Michael Kirst calls for changes that would provide "required state guidance to ensure that funds allocated for the neediest students are spent for their benefit."

"If statutory changes are needed to realize the promise of the of the LCFF, we are prepared to make them," concluded the letter from Assembly Speaker John A. PĂ©rez, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, and the Democratic leaders of education and budget committees in both houses.

The Local Control Funding Formula, championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, aims to target more state money at English learners, students receiving free meals and foster children. The formula was part of this year's budget package, but lawmakers left the regulatory details up to the state Board of Education. The state board took testimony earlier this month and is scheduled to adopt final regulations in January to carry out the formula.

Brown champions the concept of "subsidiarity" and has said that local school officials are in the best position to decide how to use the money to best help students.

Some civil-rights and school-reform groups, though, want tighter rules to ensure that the money is actually spent to help the neediest students.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg talks with students at Health Professions High School in Sacramento on October 28, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall


Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle |

Brian Borsos, special education specialist from the S.F. school district office, substitutes at Guadalupe Elementary School. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Brian Borsos, special education specialist from the S.F. school district office, substitutes at Guadalupe Elementary School. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Updated 10:16 pm, Tuesday, November 26, 2013   ::  More than 600 San Francisco teachers and classroom aides skipped school Tuesday to extend their Thanksgiving holiday, leaving district officials scrambling to find enough qualified adults to watch over students.

Officials called in every available substitute to cover the open classrooms but fell dozens short, requiring more than 100 central office staff members with teaching credentials to fill in for the day.

Across the San Francisco Unified School District, 432 teachers were absent - that's about 12 percent of the district's 3,700 teachers - with the vast majority calling in sick or taking a personal day. A few were off for bereavement or training, according to district data.

An additional 179 special-education and preschool aides also took the day off. Almost 10 percent of teachers were also absent Monday.

It seems to have been an only-in-San Francisco problem, with teachers in other Bay Area districts reporting to work as usual.

"It does create a sense of frustration when we have these kinds of numbers that happen for no apparent discernible reason other than it's a day before a holiday," said Superintendent Richard Carranza. "Yeah, it's a little disappointing."

On average, about 7 percent of teachers are absent each day, with the rate spiking to about 9 percent most Fridays.

'It's a tricky dilemma'

At John Muir Elementary in the Western Addition, seven of the school's 20 teachers were absent, with five substitutes and one central office worker covering for them. One position, an extra teacher who works with small groups of struggling students, went unfilled for the day, said Principal Christopher Rosenberg.

"It is not a typical day," Rosenberg said, adding that it also wasn't an easy one.

High absentee rates, especially around holidays, aren't unusual, he added.

"It is a tricky dilemma to balance the rights of employees to have personal days and sick days and the need to provide quality education to children every day of our already short school year," Rosenberg said. "I would love for the district and union to come up with a really good long-term systemic solution."

Technically, the teachers and teacher aides had every right to take the day off.

No need to seek permission

Under their labor contract, they get 10 days of leave per year, seven of which can be used as personal days rather than illness.

That means instead of calling in sick, they can schedule the personal days at will - and they don't have to ask permission, said Dennis Kelly, president of the local teachers union, the United Educators of San Francisco.

And there is no cap on the number of teachers who can take any particular day off.

"This is the first time we've been notified there was an issue in any year," Kelly said. "We don't know if there's a sudden spike this year."

Last year, the absentee rate on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving was 9.9 percent - this year it was 11.7 percent - district officials said.

Other districts didn't seem to have the same problem Tuesday.

In Berkeley, there was "nothing out of the ordinary" in terms of the teacher absentee rate, said district spokesman Mark Coplan. In South San Francisco and San Carlos, district officials also reported no unusual absentee rates.

Oakland Unified and several other districts have avoided the potential for a high absentee issue by creating a weeklong holiday for Thanksgiving.

Carranza and Kelly said they will be looking at the issue.

District officials have suggested a change to the school calendar so students and teachers get the whole week off - a schedule increasingly common in districts up and down California.

"My concern is over what quality of instruction are kids getting today," San Francisco school board President Rachel Norton said Tuesday morning. "If it's too much to expect people to work during this abbreviated week, maybe we need to look at changing the calendar."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


NY Times: Technology in Schools Faces Questions on Value

By MATT RICHTEL, New York Times |

Jim Wilson/The New York Times: Students using an interactive whiteboard, part of an ambitious technology plan in the Kyrene School District in Arizona.

Published: September 3, 2011 | CHANDLER, Ariz. — Amy Furman, a seventh-grade English teacher here, roams among 31 students sitting at their desks or in clumps on the floor. They’re studying Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” — but not in any traditional way.

Grading the Digital School
The High-Tech Gamble: Articles in this series will look at the intersection of education, technology and business as schools embrace digital learning.
Schools Seeking Results from Tech Spending
  • To hear from more experts, and to share your own predictions for the future of technology in the classroom, visit the Bits blog.

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Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Molly Siegel and Christian Dedman, both 7, worked together with a laptop during a class in the Kyrene School District in Arizona.

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Jim Wilson/The New York Times

At Kyrene Aprende Middle School, students took their final exam last May. The district has invested roughly $33 million in technology.

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Jim Wilson/The New York Times

At the start of the school year, Amy Furman tries to inspire her students at Aprende Middle School to write. “I start with pens and pencils,” she says, but computers help the students edit their thoughts and work.

In this technology-centric classroom, students are bent over laptops, some blogging or building Facebook pages from the perspective of Shakespeare’s characters. One student compiles a song list from the Internet, picking a tune by the rapper Kanye West to express the emotions of Shakespeare’s lovelorn Silvius.

The class, and the Kyrene School District as a whole, offer what some see as a utopian vision of education’s future. Classrooms are decked out with laptops, big interactive screens and software that drills students on every basic subject. Under a ballot initiative approved in 2005, the district has invested roughly $33 million in such technologies.

The digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer, wandering among students who learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices.

“This is such a dynamic class,” Ms. Furman says of her 21st-century classroom. “I really hope it works.”

Hope and enthusiasm are soaring here. But not test scores.

Since 2005, scores in reading and math have stagnated in Kyrene, even as statewide scores have risen.

To be sure, test scores can go up or down for many reasons. But to many education experts, something is not adding up — here and across the country. In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

This conundrum calls into question one of the most significant contemporary educational movements. Advocates for giving schools a major technological upgrade — which include powerful educators, Silicon Valley titans and White House appointees — say digital devices let students learn at their own pace, teach skills needed in a modern economy and hold the attention of a generation weaned on gadgets.

Some backers of this idea say standardized tests, the most widely used measure of student performance, don’t capture the breadth of skills that computers can help develop. But they also concede that for now there is no better way to gauge the educational value of expensive technology investments.

“The data is pretty weak. It’s very difficult when we’re pressed to come up with convincing data,” said Tom Vander Ark, the former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an investor in educational technology companies. When it comes to showing results, he said, “We better put up or shut up.”

And yet, in virtually the same breath, he said change of a historic magnitude is inevitably coming to classrooms this decade: “It’s one of the three or four biggest things happening in the world today.”

Critics counter that, absent clear proof, schools are being motivated by a blind faith in technology and an overemphasis on digital skills — like using PowerPoint and multimedia tools — at the expense of math, reading and writing fundamentals. They say the technology advocates have it backward when they press to upgrade first and ask questions later.

The spending push comes as schools face tough financial choices. In Kyrene, for example, even as technology spending has grown, the rest of the district’s budget has shrunk, leading to bigger classes and fewer periods of music, art and physical education.

At the same time, the district’s use of technology has earned it widespread praise. It is upheld as a model of success by the National School Boards Association, which in 2008 organized a visit by 100 educators from 17 states who came to see how the district was innovating.

And the district has banked its future and reputation on technology. Kyrene, which serves 18,000 kindergarten to eighth-grade students, mostly from the cities of Tempe, Phoenix and Chandler, uses its computer-centric classes as a way to attract children from around the region, shoring up enrollment as its local student population shrinks. More students mean more state dollars.

The issue of tech investment will reach a critical point in November. The district plans to go back to local voters for approval of $46.3 million more in taxes over seven years to allow it to keep investing in technology. That represents around 3.5 percent of the district’s annual spending, five times what it spends on textbooks.

The district leaders’ position is that technology has inspired students and helped them grow, but that there is no good way to quantify those achievements — putting them in a tough spot with voters deciding whether to bankroll this approach again.

“My gut is telling me we’ve had growth,” said David K. Schauer, the superintendent here. “But we have to have some measure that is valid, and we don’t have that.”

It gives him pause.

“We’ve jumped on bandwagons for different eras without knowing fully what we’re doing. This might just be the new bandwagon,” he said. “I hope not.”

A Dearth of Proof

The pressure to push technology into the classroom without proof of its value has deep roots.

In 1997, a science and technology committee assembled by President Clinton issued an urgent call about the need to equip schools with technology.

If such spending was not increased by billions of dollars, American competitiveness could suffer, according to the committee, whose members included educators like Charles M. Vest, then president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and business executives like John A. Young, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.

To support its conclusion, the committee’s report cited the successes of individual schools that embraced computers and saw test scores rise or dropout rates fall. But while acknowledging that the research on technology’s impact was inadequate, the committee urged schools to adopt it anyhow.

The report’s final sentence read: “The panel does not, however, recommend that the deployment of technology within America’s schools be deferred pending the completion of such research.”

Since then, the ambitions of those who champion educational technology have grown — from merely equipping schools with computers and instructional software, to putting technology at the center of the classroom and building the teaching around it.

Kyrene had the same sense of urgency as President Clinton’s committee when, in November 2005, it asked voters for an initial $46.3 million for laptops, classroom projectors, networking gear and other technology for teachers and administrators.

Before that, the district had given 300 elementary school teachers five laptops each. Students and teachers used them with great enthusiasm, said Mark Share, the district’s 64-year-old director of technology, a white-bearded former teacher from the Bronx with an iPhone clipped to his belt.

“If we know something works, why wait?” Mr. Share told The Arizona Republic the month before the vote. The district’s pitch was based not on the idea that test scores would rise, but that technology represented the future.

The measure, which faced no organized opposition, passed overwhelmingly. It means that property owners in the dry, sprawling flatlands here, who live in apartment complexes, cookie-cutter suburban homes and salmon-hued mini-mansions, pay on average $75 more a year in taxes, depending on the assessed value of their homes, according to the district.

But the proof sought by President Clinton’s committee remains elusive even today, though researchers have been seeking answers.

Many studies have found that technology has helped individual classrooms, schools or districts. For instance, researchers found that writing scores improved for eighth-graders in Maine after they were all issued laptops in 2002. The same researchers, from the University of Southern Maine, found that math performance picked up among seventh- and eighth-graders after teachers in the state were trained in using the laptops to teach.

A question plaguing many education researchers is how to draw broader inferences from such case studies, which can have serious limitations. For instance, in the Maine math study, it is hard to separate the effect of the laptops from the effect of the teacher training.

Educators would like to see major trials years in length that clearly demonstrate technology’s effect. But such trials are extraordinarily difficult to conduct when classes and schools can be so different, and technology is changing so quickly.

And often the smaller studies produce conflicting results. Some classroom studies show that math scores rise among students using instructional software, while others show that scores actually fall. The high-level analyses that sum up these various studies, not surprisingly, give researchers pause about whether big investments in technology make sense.

One broad analysis of laptop programs like the one in Maine, for example, found that such programs are not a major factor in student performance.

“Rather than being a cure-all or silver bullet, one-to-one laptop programs may simply amplify what’s already occurring — for better or worse,” wrote Bryan Goodwin, spokesman for Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, a nonpartisan group that did the study, in an essay. Good teachers, he said, can make good use of computers, while bad teachers won’t, and they and their students could wind up becoming distracted by the technology.

A review by the Education Department in 2009 of research on online courses — which more than one million K-12 students are taking — found that few rigorous studies had been done and that policy makers “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness.. A division of the Education Department that rates classroom curriculums has found that much educational software is not an improvement over textbooks.

Larry Cuban, an education professor emeritus at Stanford University, said the research did not justify big investments by districts.

“There is insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period,” he said. “There is no body of evidence that shows a trend line.”

Some advocates for technology disagree.

Karen Cator, director of the office of educational technology in the United States Department of Education, said standardized test scores were an inadequate measure of the value of technology in schools. Ms. Cator, a former executive at Apple Computer, said that better measurement tools were needed but, in the meantime, schools knew what students needed.

“In places where we’ve had a large implementing of technology and scores are flat, I see that as great,” she said. “Test scores are the same, but look at all the other things students are doing: learning to use the Internet to research, learning to organize their work, learning to use professional writing tools, learning to collaborate with others.”

For its part, Kyrene has become a model to many by training teachers to use technology and getting their ideas on what inspires them. As Mr. Share says in the signature file at the bottom of every e-mail he sends: “It’s not the stuff that counts — it’s what you do with it that matters.”

So people here are not sure what to make of the stagnant test scores. Many of the district’s schools, particularly those in more affluent areas, already had relatively high scores, making it a challenge to push them significantly higher. A jump in students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches was largely a result of the recession, not a shift in the population the district serves, said Nancy Dundenhoefer, its community relations manager.

Mr. Share, whose heavy influence on more than $7 million a year in technology spending has made him a power broker, said he did not think demographic changes were a good explanation.

“You could argue that test scores would be lower without the technology, but that’s a copout,” he said, adding that the district should be able to deliver some measure of what he considers its obvious success with technology. “It’s a conundrum.”

Results aside, it’s easy to see why technology is such an easy sell here, given the enthusiasm surrounding it in some classrooms.

Engaging With Paper

“I start with pens and pencils,” says Ms. Furman, 41, who is short and bubbly and devours young-adult novels to stay in touch with students. Her husband teaches eighth grade in the district, and their son and daughter are both students.

At the beginning of the school year, Ms. Furman tries to inspire her students at Aprende Middle School to write, a task she says becomes increasingly difficult when students reach the patently insecure middle-school years.

In one class in 2009 she had them draw a heart on a piece of paper. Inside the heart, she asked them to write the names of things and people dear to them. One girl started to cry, then another, as the class shared their stories.

It was something Ms. Furman doubted would have happened if the students had been using computers. “There is a connection between the physical hand on the paper and the words on the page,” she said. “It’s intimate.”

But, she said, computers play an important role in helping students get their ideas down more easily, edit their work so they can see instant improvement, and share it with the class. She uses a document camera to display a student’s paper at the front of the room for others to dissect.

Ms. Furman said the creative and editing tools, by inspiring students to make quick improvements to their writing, pay dividends in the form of higher-quality work. Last year, 14 of her students were chosen as finalists in a statewide essay contest that asked them how literature had affected their lives. “I was running down the hall, weeping, saying, ‘Get these students together. We need to tell them they’ve won!’ ”

Other teachers say the technology is the only way to make this generation learn.

“They’re inundated with 24/7 media, so they expect it,” said Sharon Smith, 44, a gregarious seventh-grade social studies teacher whose classroom is down the hall from Ms. Furman’s.

Minutes earlier, Ms. Smith had taught a Civil War lesson in a way unimaginable even 10 years ago. With the lights off, a screen at the front of the room posed a question: “Jefferson Davis was Commander of the Union Army: True or False?”

The 30 students in the classroom held wireless clickers into which they punched their answers. Seconds later, a pie chart appeared on the screen: 23 percent answered “True,” 70 percent “False,” and 6 percent didn’t know.

The students hooted and hollered, reacting to the instant poll. Ms. Smith then drew the students into a conversation about the answers.

The enthusiasm underscores a key argument for investing in classroom technology: student engagement.

That idea is central to the National Education Technology Plan released by the White House last year, which calls for the “revolutionary transformation” of schools. The plan endorses bringing “state-of-the art technology into learning to enable, motivate and inspire all students.”

But the research, what little there is of it, does not establish a clear link between computer-inspired engagement and learning, said Randy Yerrick, associate dean of educational technology at the University of Buffalo.

For him, the best educational uses of computers are those that have no good digital equivalent. As examples, he suggests using digital sensors in a science class to help students observe chemical or physical changes, or using multimedia tools to reach disabled children.

But he says engagement is a “fluffy term” that can slide past critical analysis. And Professor Cuban at Stanford argues that keeping children engaged requires an environment of constant novelty, which cannot be sustained.

“There is very little valid and reliable research that shows the engagement causes or leads to higher academic achievement,” he said.

Instruct or Distract?

There are times in Kyrene when the technology seems to allow students to disengage from learning: They are left at computers to perform a task but wind up playing around, suggesting, as some researchers have found, that computers can distract and not instruct.

The 23 kindergartners in Christy Asta’s class at Kyrene de las Brisas are broken into small groups, a common approach in Kyrene. A handful stand at desks, others sit at computers, typing up reports.

Xavier Diaz, 6, sits quietly, chair pulled close to his Dell laptop, playing “Alien Addition.” In this math arcade game, Xavier controls a pod at the bottom of the screen that shoots at spaceships falling from the sky. Inside each ship is a pair of numbers. Xavier’s goal is to shoot only the spaceship with numbers that are the sum of the number inside his pod.

But Xavier is just shooting every target in sight. Over and over. Periodically, the game gives him a message: “Try again.” He tries again.

“Even if he doesn’t get it right, it’s getting him to think quicker,” says the teacher, Ms. Asta. She leans down next to him: “Six plus one is seven. Click here.” She helps him shoot the right target. “See, you shot him.”

Perhaps surprisingly given the way young people tend to gravitate toward gadgets, students here seem divided about whether they prefer learning on computers or through more traditional methods.

In a different class, Konray Yuan and Marisa Guisto, both 7, take turns touching letters on the interactive board on the wall. They are playing a spelling game, working together to spell the word “cool.” Each finds one of the letters in a jumbled grid, touching them in the proper order.

Marisa says there isn’t a difference between learning this way and learning on paper. Konray prefers paper, he says, because you get extra credit for good penmanship.

But others, particularly older students, say they enjoy using the technology tools. One of Ms. Furman’s students, Julia Schroder, loved building a blog to write about Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”

In another class, she and several classmates used a video camera to film a skit about Woodrow Wilson’s 14-point speech during World War I — an approach she preferred to speaking directly to the class.

“I’d be pretty bummed if I had to do a live thing,” she said. “It’s nerve-racking.”

Teachers vs. Tech

Even as students are getting more access to computers here, they are getting less access to teachers.

Reflecting budget cuts, class sizes have crept up in Kyrene, as they have in many places. For example, seventh-grade classes like Ms. Furman’s that had 29 to 31 students grew to more like 31 to 33.

“You can’t continue to be effective if you keep adding one student, then one student, then one student,” Ms. Furman said. “I’m surprised parents aren’t going into the classrooms saying ‘Whoa.’ ”

Advocates of high-tech classrooms say computers are not intended to replace teachers. But they do see a fundamental change in the teacher’s role. Their often-cited mantra is that teachers should go from being “a sage on the stage to a guide on the side.”

And they say that, technology issues aside, class sizes can in fact afford to grow without hurting student performance.

Professor Cuban at Stanford said research showed that student performance did not improve significantly until classes fell under roughly 15 students, and did not get much worse unless they rose above 30.

At the same time, he says bigger classes can frustrate teachers, making it hard to attract and retain talented ones.

In Kyrene, growing class sizes reflect spending cuts; the district’s maintenance and operation budget fell to $95 million this year from $106 million in 2008. The district cannot use the money designated for technology to pay for other things. And the teachers, who make roughly $33,000 to $57,000 a year, have not had a raise since 2008.

Many teachers have second jobs, some in restaurants and retail, said Erin Kirchoff, president of the Kyrene Education Association, the teacher’s association. Teachers talk of being exhausted from teaching all day, then selling shoes at the mall.

Ms. Furman works during the summer at the Kyrene district offices. But that job is being eliminated in 2014, and she is worried about the income loss.

“Without it, we don’t go on vacation,” she said.

Money for other things in the district is short as well. Many teachers say they regularly bring in their own supplies, like construction paper.

“We have Smart Boards in every classroom but not enough money to buy copy paper, pencils and hand sanitizer,” said Nicole Cates, a co-president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Kyrene de la Colina, an elementary school. “You don’t go buy a new outfit when you don’t have enough dinner to eat.”

But she loves the fact that her two children, a fourth-grader and first-grader, are learning technology, including PowerPoint and educational games.

To some who favor high-tech classrooms, the resource squeeze presents an opportunity. Their thinking is that struggling schools will look for more efficient ways to get the job done, creating an impetus to rethink education entirely.

“Let’s hope the fiscal crisis doesn’t get better too soon. It’ll slow down reform,” said Tom Watkins, the former superintendent for the Michigan schools, and now a consultant to businesses in the education sector.

Clearly, the push for technology is to the benefit of one group: technology companies.

The Sellers

It is 4:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. Mr. Share, the director of technology at Kyrene and often an early riser, awakens to the hard sell. Awaiting him at his home computer are six pitches from technology companies.

It’s just another day for the man with the checkbook.

“I get one pitch an hour,” he said. He finds most of them useless and sometimes galling: “They’re mostly car salesmen. I think they believe in the product they’re selling, but they don’t have a leg to stand on as to why the product is good or bad.”

Mr. Share bases his buying decisions on two main factors: what his teachers tell him they need, and his experience. For instance, he said he resisted getting the interactive whiteboards sold as Smart Boards until, one day in 2008, he saw a teacher trying to mimic the product with a jury-rigged projector setup.

“It was an ‘Aha!’ moment,” he said, leading him to buy Smart Boards, made by a company called Smart Technologies.

He can make that kind of decision because he has money — and the vendors know it. Technology companies track which districts get federal funding and which have passed tax assessments for technology, like Kyrene.

This is big business. Sales of computer software to schools for classroom use were $1.89 billion in 2010. Spending on hardware is more difficult to measure, researchers say, but some put the figure at five times that amount.

The vendors relish their relationship with Kyrene.

“I joke I should have an office here, I’m here so often,” said Will Dunham, a salesman for CCS Presentation Systems, a leading reseller of Smart Boards in Arizona.

Last summer, the district paid $500,000 to CCS to replace ceiling-hung projectors in 400 classrooms. The alternative was to spend $100,000 to replace their aging bulbs, which Mr. Share said were growing dimmer, causing teachers to sometimes have to turn down the lights to see a crisp image.

Mr. Dunham said the purchase made sense because new was better. “I could take a used car down to the mechanic and get it all fixed up and still have a used car.”

But Ms. Kirchoff, the president of the teachers’ association, is furious. “My projector works just fine,” she said. “Give me Kleenex, Kleenex, Kleenex!”

The Parents

Last November, Kyrene went back to voters to ask them to pay for another seven years of technology spending in the district. The previous measure from 2005 will not expire for two years. But the district wanted to get ahead of the issue, and leave wiggle room just in case the new measure didn’t pass.

It didn’t. It lost by 96 votes out of nearly 50,000 cast. Mr. Share and others here said they attributed the failure to poor wording on the ballot that made it look like a new tax increase, rather than the continuation of one.

They say they will not make the same wording mistake this time. And they say the burden on taxpayers is modest.

“It’s so much bang for the buck,” said Jeremy Calles, Kyrene’s interim chief financial officer. For a small investment, he said, “we get state-of-the-art technology.”

Regardless, some taxpayers have already decided that they will not vote yes.

“When you look at the big picture, it’s hard to say ‘yes, spend more on technology’ when class sizes increase,” said Kameron Bybee, 34, who has two children in district schools. “The district has made up its mind to go forward with the technologically advanced path. Come hell or high water.”

Other parents feel conflicted. Eduarda Schroder, 48, whose daughter Julia was in Ms. Furman’s English class, worked on the political action committee last November to push through an extension of the technology tax. Computers, she says, can make learning more appealing. But she’s also concerned that test scores haven’t gone up.

She says she is starting to ask a basic question. “Do we really need technology to learn?” she said. “It’s a very valid time to ask the question, right before this goes on the ballot.”

A version of this article appeared in print on September 4, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores.