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The History of the Future of Education Technology

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    My boyfriend Kin Lane, "the API Evangelist," and I gave this morning's keynote at InstructureCon. So yeah, I had to go on stage after MC Hammer opened the event last night. Tough act to follow. But I didn't cuss. Below are our slides and a rough version of what I said...

    It is quite strange for me to be standing here, giving the keynote this morning. For one thing, it’s too damn early, and I can’t think of any appropriate MC Hammer jokes to make about education and can’t touch-iness.

    For another – and this is the biggie – it’s the first time that Kin and I have been asked to share the stage, and for reasons that I hope our talk will make clear, I think it’s fairly significant – not just for our relationship, but for Instructure to have recognized the important overlap in our work. Me: a writer about education and ed-tech, someone who cares about open learning, learner agency. And him: the API evangelist, someone who pays close attention to opening data, infrastructure, technologies, and the ways in which these reshape our business and political practices.

    But it’s also very strange for me to be up here because I’m not a fan of the idea of the learning management system. I’m also known to be pretty tough, in general, on education technology startups. Take, for example, the headline I wrote when Instructure launched in 2011:

    “Why I’m Not That Excited About the New LMS Instructure”

    One of the things I often harp about in my writing is the lack of knowledge about education – its histories, its theories, its practices – among many startup entrepreneurs. True, many say that their decision to pursue an ed-tech company because they want to “make the world better” or to “fix education.” But many will also tout the negative experiences they’ve had with ed-tech as students. And frankly that’s often code for the bad experiences they’ve had with an LMS. Indeed, that’s why, year after year, startups are launched that claim to “rethink” or “disrupt” the LMS market even though very, very few do. Instructure may be the exception that proves the rule.

    And honestly, I can appreciate their dissatisfaction. Like most people who’ve been to school or taught school or worked in education in the last 15 years, I too have a long list of frustrations stemming from my LMS usage. But for me, these frustrations weren’t simply my “user experience” as a teacher or as a student. It wasn’t about missing features or a clunky interface. It wasn’t about downtimes. These frustrations stemmed from my usage of – my love of – the Web at large and my belief in open learning, open source, and open access.

    When I first started teaching as a grad student in the late Nineties, my university hadn’t yet adopted an LMS. All students, faculty, and staff did however were given access to Web storage and hosting. I downloaded a free copy of Claris Home Page, learned a little HTML, and made all my syllabi and course hand-outs available online.

    I did so at the time mostly out of convenience. Even as a novice instructor, I’d already grown weary of students coming into class during the second week of term asking for another copy of the syllabus. And as I was a novice instructor, one that was teaching a class that many, many novice instructors – not just on my own campus, but all over the world were teaching – the freshman writing requirement College Composition – it just made sense to me that I’d post everything on the Web so that others could see what I was doing. I sorta hoped others would do the same, so that I could learn from them, so that I could re-mix and reuse their handouts and adopt their course ideas in turn.

    But all that changed when the university adopted a learning management system.

    We were encouraged to move all our course content there, post all our syllabi and all our handouts there, conducts all our chats there, manage our grades there. And that was the big sell that IT had for us instructors – the learning management system would link to the student information system so that you could retrieve your roster at the beginning of the term and export your grades at the end of the term.

    The LMS was, I think it’s fair to say, designed merely as a Internet portal for the student information system. This was the late Nineties after all. And so it’s not surprising that this particular learning management system looked a lot like the Internet portals of its time period and acted like a “walled garden” for online educational content. Instead of pointing to resources and services outside the wall, the LMS would buy the services and bring them inside.

    This approach suited the desires of many university administrators – those who wanted to keep access to content to only those enrolled and tuition-paying students. And it suited technology of the time.

    But that technology – Internet technologies writ large, but Web technologies in particular – has changed tremendously over the past decade and a half.

    I’ll turn it over to Kin to talk about that history…

    [Kin spoke here about the history of APIs and what APIs do.]

    So the technology enables this. Cloud. Commerce. Mobile. Social. Data portability. Interoperability. Sharing.

    The technology makes it possible for us to no longer live in those desktop-bound, Internet portals of the Nineties. Our LMSes need no longer look like or, god forbid, work like AOL, where you got the warning message any time you tried to go outside the walled garden.

    But I still think education struggles culturally, not just technologically, with some of these very “warning message” issues. In many ways, the Internet portal of the Nineties remains a comforting model to those who don’t believe that educational content like syllabi and handouts should be freely and openly available on the Web. The Internet portal of the Nineties remains a comforting model to those who believe that the Web is dangerous and there are predators and trolls just waiting to steal your intellectual property or hijack your forums. The Internet portal of the Nineties remains a comforting model to those who believe that students’ work should be private, shared only with the instructor-of-record. The Internet portal of the Nineties remains a comforting model to those who believe that they are in charge of a learner’s online experience – that they can dictate where learners go, what they see, what they read, and at the end of the semester, they control when access to all that goes away.

    Recently, Stephen Downes – one of the originators of the MOOC and one of the people I admire most in open learning – commented that he thought that Coursera was the last gasp of the educational walled garden, noting with some irony that even the learning management systems have recognized that they cannot and should not seal themselves off from the rest of the Web.

    The technology of APIs allows the LMS to be much more than a Internet portal or a walled garden. APIs allow it to connect to other apps, allow the movement of data between applications (not just between the LMS and the student information system), allow embedding, enable social learning, enable mobile accessibility, allow us to offer badges through the Mozilla Open Badges infrastructure, and so on. The technology of APIs fosters the creation of platforms whereby third-party app developers can build on top of larger tech companies’ systems.

    But a final word of caution about platforms to bring this full circle and to make the argument once again that we need both a technological and a cultural shift in education.

    Kin and I have spent a lot of time talking a lot lately about the OAuth and OpenID specifications. I realize that might sound anywhere from too geeky to too sad. I’ll add here: he’s been talking about these as authentication and identity technologies; me, I am more likely to think of these as metaphors.

    OAuth and OpenID are the open technology standards that allow users to be authenticated with certain websites. OAuth, for example, lets a user grant access to their digital resources on one site to another site. The classic example perhaps: you can sign up for an app using Facebook Connect so that you don’t have to supply a username and password.

    Often when developers sketch out these specifications, they’ll represent the exchange of data between the three legs — the platform, the app provider and the user as some describe it, or the server, the client and the resource owner — as an equal relationship. Lots of arrows that map out the requests and the movement of data. But it’s almost always drawn as an equilateral triangle or a circle — as though the relationship there between the platform and the application and the end-user is balanced. But it’s not.

    The platform owner wields a great deal of power and controls a great deal of data and makes many decisions that impact users immensely. This is why everyone in Silicon Valley wants to build or become a platform.

    And after a while, platforms start looking less like the open Web and more like Internet portals and walled gardens once again.

    The portal, as my friend Jesse Stommel said yesterday in his workshop, isn’t about silos or reservoirs. It isn’t about closing the door for learning. It’s about opening it.

    How do we move forward with our education technologies in such a way that we think about our responsibilities to sharing, the accessibility, to mobility and most importantly to the use – to the learner?

    How do ensure that we think critically about the technologies we adopt? Because while we must take advantage of modern Web APIs in order to offer data portability and interoperability and mobility, we also need to think about the culture that matters for us in education. And we must examine how that culture dovetails with a Web-connected future, whether we like it or not. We must ask ourselves, ask our institutions, ask our instructors and ask our students: how can these technologies serve that open connected accessible interoperable future, so that we don’t find ourselves trapped in something that’s just the latest version of AOL.

    Thank you.

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  • 06/22/13--00:00: On (Not) Missing ISTE 2013
  • I’m skipping ISTE this year. And I’ll confess: for the first time since I quit working at ISTE, I’m fairly relieved to not be going.

    I made the decision in part because I’m working hard on my book, and traveling costs too much – too much time and too much money.

    I’d initially planned to make it just to Steve Hargadon’s Saturday unconference (the event formerly known as EduBloggerCon) on Saturday – it’s always my favorite day of “the show” – but that didn’t work out. (More details to come on Monday regarding why.)

    I am, of course, sad that I’ll miss the opportunity to see old friends and meet new ones. That is always the biggest draw for me of any event: an opportunity to connect face-to-face and learn from the folks I am connected to and learn from online. And ISTE has been, for many years now, the one place I can be sure to regularly run into people.

    Lots of people.

    ISTE usually attracts around 12,000 attendees, including several thousand exhibitors. I can’t help but think about that exhibitor-to-teacher ratio – about 1:3 or 1:4 – particularly in light of my deep dissatisfaction with SXSWedu, where the ratio felt almost reversed. But even 1:4 isn’t such a great makeup if you want the focus to be on “learning” and not on “tools,” let’s be honest, and it’s no secret that ISTE (the conference and the organization) relies heavily on corporate dollars.

    For a (short) while, I’d hoped that education startups would provide an alternative to the Pearsons and the Prometheans that dominate the sponsorships and exhibit floor and would forge a different sort of relationship with the educators in attendance – one that involves listening, not selling to teachers. I’m much less optimistic these days, not just because Pearson (via Learn Capital investment) owns a financial stake in so many startups, but because I see many young companies following the same conference marketing practices as established ones: booths, giveaways, parties.

    But who can blame them, I guess. These practices have become standard at ISTE. Attendees expect and look for the freebies, sometimes with little regard for the quality, the utility, the data portability, their privacy, the pedagogical implications.

    Microsoft, for example, is handing out 10,000 “free” Surface RTs to attendees. And by midday Saturday as I started writing this, there were already photos shared on Twitter of the line of those waiting to pick it up. I do wonder how many have read the reviews for the device (largely negative) or have thought critically about the data they’re agreeing to sign over in exchange for it. I wonder too, how just a few weeks after news broke of the NSA’s PRISM project and tech companies’ cooperation with building an infrastructure for spying on us, after Bill Gates’ pronouncement that he plans to spend millions to equip every classroom in the country with video cameras, after all the handwringing about inBloom and its massive data grab, that educators could be so exuberant about Google Glass.

    I don’t get it. I mean, I try. I recognize the powerful allure of the education and technology industries’ myths. But right now, I’m happy to skip ISTE as I’m busily trying to write all my observations and frustrations and fears out in book-length form.

    Don’t get me wrong: I like teachers that push teaching and learning with technology forward, and many in attendance at ISTE do just that. But I’m disappointed – increasingly so – that concerns about rampant tech consumerism and solutionism go largely unrecognized. I’m troubled that data portability, ownership, and privacy aren’t a core part of the ISTE (or larger ed-tech) conversation. My session proposal on this topic – Terms of Service 101 – was rejected, hardly a surprise since the popular sessions are always a variation on the “Top 5000 Apps You Can Use in Your Classroom” theme.

    Always. Every year.

    All this strikes me as a signal there’s a major problem at the core of education technology as we (commonly) know it, one that isn’t simply the fault of the companies churning out their products (although I’m happy to put a lot of the blame there) but is also a result of the flaws in teacher training and in professional development. It's a reflection, more broadly, of our cultural fascination with the shiny and the new. And no doubt, it’s a problem exacerbated by many technology and education technology blogs, where every app and every tool is equally newsworthy and nifty.

    The theme of this year’s ISTE conference is “forging a learning frontier” – with little reflection on the imperialist legacy intertwined with such an analogy, I’d wager (but that’s a separate blog post). Yet it feels like, in many ways, we’re retreading the same education technology landscape that we have been for decades.

    For over 30 years now, ISTE has offered a strange and often unsettling combination of the old and the new. The same, old problems of student engagement and attainment, for example, alongside the newest tools that promise to enhance or expedite these. And yet, as year-after-year the old problems remain, no matter which new tools are adopted, we should probably consider there’s something awry with the formulation. Something deeply, deeply awry. We should talk about it -- and talk about it loudly. We should recognize too that much of the “newness” of "the latest and greatest" that's celebrated at ISTE is a function of the planned obsolescence built into much of the technology and education industry – there’s always an update or an upgrade to procure, a latest edition to buy, a new (and well-lobbied for) policy mandate to fulfill.

    Always. Every year. And by design.

    So if I miss ISTE this year, I think I can be pretty safe in assuming it’ll be pretty darn similar -- with slight variations in color and layout, of course -- when the conference moves to Atlanta in June 2014. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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    Happy 40th birthday to the distance learning pioneer, Open University!

    Policies, Politics, and Procurements

    The Board of Education for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the US, has approved a $30 million contract with Apple to buy iPads for students in 47 schools. As part of the Common Core Technology project, iPads will cost $678 (higher than the normal price because it includes a case and pre-loaded software, including some from Pearson). Education professor Larry Cuban weighs in with some important critical questions about the plan, noting that no journalists called him for a comment. But hey, Apple issued a press release, so there ya go. This is phase 1 of a $500 million plan to equip every kid in the district with a device.

    Florida’s Miami-Dade County School District approved a $63 million plan to lease computing devices to its students, part of its plan to go entirely make sure every student in the district has a laptop or tablet by 2015.

    US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says that the administration will offer some flexibility to states so that they can delay tying students’ performance on the new CCSS exams to teachers’ evaluations.

    School officials at Stonybrook School in New Jersey have threatened to suspend 12-year-old Danica Lesko, who is hearing impaired, if she uses sign language to communicate with her friends while on the school bus. District officials say signing is a “safety hazard.” I’d add that it might well prove a legal hazard for the district, as Lesko’s parents say they might file a lawsuit over violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    The Law

    The US vs Apple trial wrapped up this week, with the Department of Justice attorney Mark Ryan arguing that this was a simple antitrust case, with Apple engaged in e-book price-fixing. PaidContent’s Laura Hazard Owen has more details on the closing statements from the DOJ and Apple. The verdict could “be weeks or months,” she says.

    Former college basketball star Ed O’Bannon and his lawyers have asked a federal judge to turn his lawsuit against the NCAA into a class action suit, representing potentially thousands of current and former student athletes. O’Bannon’s suit is challenging the ban on student athletes receiving compensation for their work and, according to the AP, demanding “that the NCAA find a way to cut players in on the billions of dollars earned by college sports from live broadcasts, memorabilia sales, video games and in other areas.”

    Still no decision from the Supreme Court on Fisher v University of Texas at Austin, a closely watched case about affirmative action in university admissions. So tune in next week!


    Facebook-owned Instagram added short-form video this week, attempting to rival Twitter’s Vine. WTF does this have to do with education, you might ask? Well, check out Krall Academy and its six-second-long math instructional videos. I mean, it’s clearly a “game changer.” If you can learn anything from a 10 minute Khan Academy vid, just think of how much more efficient learning from a Krall Academy Vine could be!

    On Saturday, The New York Times published a story on data security, pointing to problems with Edmodo’s practices (namely its failure to provide SSL encryption, something that meant data could be intercepted). The company responded, saying that while it does offer SSL for schools that ask for it, it will turn on SSL for all users starting July 15.

    Sesame Street has added a new Muppet to its cast: Alex, the first to have a dad in jail. As the Today Show notes, “According to a Pew Charitable Trusts report, one in 28 children in the United States now has a parent behind bars – more than the number of kids with a parent who is deployed – so it’s a real issue, but it’s talked about far less because of the stigma.”

    The free Web-based graphing calculator Desmos is now available as a free iPad-based graphing calculator. (iTunes link) One of the great features: offline support.

    News Corp’s education wing Amplifyannounced a slew of games that will be playable on its own devices, as well as on iOS. "“Our games are like nothing you’ve ever seen,” according to CEO Joel Klein. “We’re not designing homework here. These games will improve learning not because kids have to play them in school, but because they want to play them in their own free time.”

    The HathiTrust, a consortium of institutions focused on preserving digital scholarship, has partnered with the DPLA“to expand discovery and use of HathiTrust’s public domain and other openly available content.” This will make the HathiTrust the DPLA’s largest “content hub.”

    Digital portfolio startup Pathbrite announced it’s struck a partnership with the e-transcript company Parchment, meaning that users will be able to integrate their transcripts into their Pathbrite portfolios.

    The popular photo-messaging app Snapchat (the messages you send “self-destruct” after a few seconds) has updated its iOS app so that those under age 13 aren’t simply barred from signing up but are sent to “SnapKidz” a version of Snapchat that includes an interface for taking snaps, captioning, drawing, and saving them locally on the device, but does not support sending or receiving snaps or adding friends.”

    PressForward, an open-access, Web-based scholarship platform from the good folks at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, launched the beta version of a WordPress plugin that will provide an RSS reader for collaborative editorial work.

    Instructure officially launched its Canvas App Center during its annual developer conference. The App Center, which was announced earlier this year, lets teachers, administrators, and students easily add third-party apps to their LMS.

    Engadget reports that Microsoft is offering its Surface RT tablets to schools for $199 (more than half off the $499 retail price). The discount runs ’til August 31st “or while supplies last.” (Snicker.)

    Blackboardannounced its plans to integrate Mozilla’s Open Badges into its LMS, so that instructors can offer students badges for assignments and course completion.

    OCLC– the Online Computer Library Center, a library research and cataloging organization – announced its first private sector partner this week: Redbox. The two will sponsor a pilot program that will include arts festivals, concerts, and outdoor movies for 5 local libraries. More details via The Library Journal.

    Pixar’s Monsters University hit theaters. (Here’s the Geek Dad review.) I have no idea if there are MOOCs in this movie, and frankly kids, I’m afraid to ask.

    The Kaplan EdTech Accelerator has named the 10 startups that are joining its inaugural program. See the press release for details.


    “Two Sunflowers Move into the Yellow Room,” although widely attributed to William Blake, is not the work of the 19th century poet. And librarian Thomas Pitchford, who’s done some sleuthing on the poem’s origins, is “now in the process of contacting websites to try to overturn what has become a widely established belief that this is a work by Blake,” reports the BBC.


    “The provosts of Big 10 universities and the University of Chicago are in high-level talks to create an online education network across their campuses, which collectively enroll more than 500,000 students a year,” reports Inside Higher Ed. According to a position paper, the provosts are keen to build their own online learning network and eschew some of the for-profits that are offering online courses and MOOC platforms.

    The British MOOC platform FutureLearn is no longer just a British MOOC platform, as Australia’s Monash University and Ireland’s Trinity College (along with the University of Edinburgh) have joined.

    On Tuesday, Tiffin University in Ohio announced it would be teaming up with Altius Education to offer a 3-credit MOOC for $50. But just one day later, the university said that the deal was off “due to concerns over accreditation.”

    The University of Toronto has shared data and research on its Coursera MOOCs: a report on demographics and an overview of its evaluation plans.

    P2PUshares the data on its recent “Data Explorer Mission” MOOC: how many signed up, what sorts of interactions various groups had, what worked and what didn’t, and so on.

    Technion-Israel Institute and Tel Aviv Universityjoin Coursera.

    EdX is partnering with the IMF to offer the latter’s training coursers in macroeconomics and finance via its MOOC platform.

    EdX also boasted this week that it’s reached the one-million student mark, “meaning it’s one-thousandth of the way to its goal of educating one billion people,” says the Harvard Crimson. (Actually, I’d say that having one million people sign up means that one million people have signed up. Not sure it says much at all about educating them.)

    Funding and Acquisitions

    McGraw-Hill Education has acquired adaptive learning software maker Aleks Corp. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Stratasys has acquired the 3D printing startup MakerBot in a stock deal worth $403 million, reports Techcrunch.

    Follettannounced the creation of a $50 million “Follett Knowledge Fund, a capital funding source for new technologies that have the potential to improve and even disrupt the way educational content is delivered and consumed.” Disrupting delivery and consumption. Sigh.

    The ed-tech video startup Mobento has raised £1.1 million in seed funding, reports Tech City News.

    There are lots of ongoing education-oriented crowdfunding projects that you can invest in: Black Girls Code, Library For All, and several campaigns on the new IncitED platform.

    “Research” and Data

    The National Council on Teacher Quality and U.S. News & World Report released a report on the quality of US teacher colleges. According to the AP, “The nation’s teacher-training programs do not adequately prepare would-be educators for the classroom, even as they produce almost triple the number of graduates needed, according to a survey of more than 1,000 programs.” But there were many concerns about the report, for as Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond writes, “NCTQ’s methodology is a paper review of published course requirements and course syllabi against a check list that does not consider the actual quality of instruction that the programs offer, evidence of what their students learn, or whether graduates can actually teach. Concerns about the organization’s methods led most schools of education nationally and in California to decline to participate in the data collection.” You can read a round-up of coverage on the report here.

    Only one in three parents reads bedtime stories to their children every night, according to a survey by Reading is Fundamental.

    Rosetta Stone is no replacement for in-class learning,” according to a study published in the most recent issue of the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages’ Bulletin. More details via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    The Chronicle also reports on an article “Scientists Popularizing Science: Characteristics and Impact of TED Talk Presenters,” which found that giving a TED Talk did not increase the number of one’s scholarly citations.

    Lest I appear to be mocking The Chronicle, I should say “kudos” for its launch of the PhD Placement Project, an effort to crowdsource what happens to those who obtain PhDs. Are they on the tenure track? Are they adjuncting? Are they working outside academia? The project was inspired in part by Chronicle columnist William Pannapacker’s call for more openness about PhD programs’ job placements.

    And in a much-cited NYT interview this week, Google’s senior VP of “people operations” Laszlo Bock says the Internet giant has been revising how it recruits and hires people: “One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation. Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything.”


    The National Science Foundation has given the College Boarda $5.2 million grant to fund the creation of AP Computer Science Principles. (The first exam in the new subject will be offered in 2017.)

    Oops. New York continues to struggle with testing as the city says that the electronic grading of the Regents exams, done through McGraw-Hill, have had some “serious glitches.” The delay has threatened the graduation status of students, reports Gotham Schools.


    The Reclaim Open Learning project, a combined effort of the Digital Media and Learning Hub at UC Irvine and the MIT Media Lab, is sponsoring an “innovation contest.” More details here. (Disclosure: I am a judge.)

    Instructure announced the winners of its LTI App Bounty contest – a reward created for those third-party developers who integrated with LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) so that their apps could function across any LMS. Winners included AspirEDU, Ayamel, BigBlueButton, CloudTime, Code Embed, QuestionPress, StudyRoom, and Tandem. (Disclosure: I was a judge.)


    NYU gives “star professors” loans for summer homes in “East Hampton, Fire Island and Litchfield County, Conn., in what educational experts call a bold new frontier for lavish university compensation,” says The New York Times. “Bold”? Yeah, that’s not really the word I’d use to describe this.

    Meanwhile, a bipartisan coalition of senators is working to prevent the interest rate from doubling on student loans as of July 1. The compromise would actually increase borrowing costs, so I’m not sure how this is a win for students. But hey kids! Study hard and become a professor at NYU! That seems like an awesome gig!

    Image credits: The Noun Project, Flickr user Kinchan1

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    52:365 - Rainerbow

    The Law

    In a 7–1 decision, the Supreme Courtissued a ruling on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, sending the affirmative action case back to a lower court. More details about the decision and how it will (or won’t) change university admissions at Inside Higher Ed.

    The Supreme Court has declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in a 5–4 decision in United States v. Windsor. As The Chronicle of Higher Education. notes, the ruling will have a major effect on education, including changes to financial aid for married gay couples.

    In a 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court issued a decision on University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, ruling against Naiel Nassar who said that the university had retaliated against him after he complained of discrimination. More details via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    The Supreme Court ruled 5–4 in Vance v. Ball State University, finding that a company is only liable for workplace discrimination under Title VII when that discrimination happens at the hands of a supervisor, “someone with the power to take ‘tangible employment actions’ (like hiring, firing, etc.) against the victim; someone who merely directs the day-to-day activities of a worker does not count,” writes SCOTUSblog.

    The First Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered that Boston student Joel Tenenbaum pay $675,000 in damages for sharing 30 copyrighted songs illegally.

    Launches and Upgrades

    The non-profit Common Sense Media has launched a new tool for teachers called Graphite that will share ratings on education apps and websites. The ratings include grade level, subject area, platform, price, and teacher reviews. (There’s still a huge gap here in addressing Terms of Service and data ownership issues of education products.)

    In a press release that mentions “open” 37 times, Pearson unveiled its OpenClass Exchange, “a significant expansion to its open and free learning environment, OpenClass.” The new feature links to OER. Wowee.

    Pearson also announced the names of the startups that will participate in its new accelerator program, Catalyst for Education: Spongelab, VLinks Media, ClassOwl, ActivelyLearn, Full Stack Data Science, and Ace Learning Company.

    Microsoftannounced that later this year it will launch “Bing for Schools,” a way to “tailor the Bing experience for K–12 students by removing all advertisements from search results, enhancing privacy protections and the filtering of adult content, and adding specialized learning features to enhance digital literacy.”

    The lesson marketplace BetterLesson is partnering with the NEA to, according to the BetterLesson blog, “to build the first educator-created body of knowledge around effective teaching.” You’d think educators would have done created a body of knowledge about good teaching by now, but hey.

    Techcrunch reports on the launch of Ranku, a new startup that will be a “Yelp for universities.” “Its site lets you browse different programs, and compare their price, online interface, and performance of graduates. The TechStars-backed Ranku wants to bring transparency to the sketchy business of choosing a digital education.”

    Both Apple and Google have announced new features for their mobile devices that could make these easier for schools to manage: Android management and iOS7 features.

    LearnBoost, a startup I chose as one of my favorites back in 2010, has pivoted away from education and towards file-sharing. More details on the startup, now called CloudUp, via Techcrunch.

    Downgrades and Closures

    Bitmaker Labs, a Canadian learn-to-code startup, has shuttered its doors temporarily, following an investigation by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities. The MTCU is tasked with regulating vocational schools, but Bitmaker Labs hadn’t registered with it, something the Ministry discovered after reading a positive review of the startup in the Globe & Mail. Heather Payne, the founder of another Canadian programming education startup HackerYou, weighs in“on education and regulations and innovation.” (Update: Brad Deguid, Ontario's Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, has just tweeted that the folks at Bitmaker Labs are "back in action." Good, swift government action. See? It is possible.)

    The math tutorial company Virtual Nerd sent an email to users this week announcing it was shutting down at the end of the month. It says that its “portfolio of products and services has been acquired by Pearson Education. This exciting news means many of Virtual Nerd’s innovative features and high-quality instructional videos will reach an even larger audience.” Um. “Exciting.”

    Barnes & Nobleannounced that it will cease making its own versions of the color tablets. It will still produce the black-and-white Nook, but the news sure doesn’t sound good for the bookseller.

    MOOCs, MOOCs, MOOCs, SPOCs, and Stuff

    A back-and-forth between UC Santa Barbara professor Christopher Newfield and Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun this week. Newfield penned an op-ed for Inside Higher Ed about the costs (and lack of savings) of the Georgia Tech/Udacity partnership. Thrun responded on the Udacity blog, charging that the analysis was “misleading.” And Newfield responded in turn, this time on the Remaking the University blog, noting the series of retrenchments in MOOC rhetoric. “…Though we shouldn’t expect a company CEO to protect the public interest, we can and should expect it of public officials. After 18 months of MOOC-promises of a cost revolution, the public discussion of MOOC budgetary detail boils down to one intrepid reporter, Ry Rivard, who got the spreadsheets through a public records act request, one professor who spent hours thinking about them, and one company executive who replied.”

    “In 2012, edX reinvented education. In 2013, the edX learning sciences team is charged with reinventing education, again.” Now hiring programmers.

    The European telecommunications company Orangesays it will launch a francophone MOOC platform later this year.

    IIT Bombayhas joinededX.

    According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, a recent survey finds the public isn’t paying attention to MOOCs (despite all those “shares” of NYT op-eds by Friedman and Brooks too, eh). “While an overwhelming majority of respondents to the survey said they were familiar with online education in general, only 22 percent said they were familiar with MOOCs, and only 4 percent said they were very familiar with them.”

    Moody’s Investor Servicessays that offering MOOCs could boost a university’s credit ratings. Earlier this year, the ratings agency called into question universities’ revenues (and hence their ratings). Moody’s was investigated in 2011 by the Justice Department for its ratings actions during the recent mortgage crisis, so I don’t know about you, but I totally trust what they have to say about education’s financial viability.

    According to the Harvard Crimson, HarvardX will offer 11 new classes this fall, including some that will be open only to Harvard students. The school is calling these “SPOCs” – “small, private online courses.” 

    News Corp’s education wing Amplify is also offering a MOOC-that-isn’t-a-massive-open-online-course. It’s calling its AP computer science offering a “MOOC Local," and while there's currently a free trial this will eventually cost $200 per student per year.

    Clearly it’s time to add a MOOC subdomain to your site, folks, to join those at and See also and, none of which (sorry guys) can hold a candle to

    Politics and Policies

    Student loan rates will double on Monday – from 3.4 to 6.8% – because Congress thinks its July 4 holiday is more important than actually governing. Good job, team.

    In an attempt to help curb childhood obesity, the US Agriculture Department updated the nutrition standards for food that schoolchildren can purchase outside the cafeteria – in vending machines, snack bars, and school-run stores. According to The New York Times, “foods sold in schools would have to contain more whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and leaner protein. Food high in sugar, sodium and fat would not be allowed.” Textbook content high in sugar, sodium and fat is still permitted.

    The UC Regents have approved a new company – called “Newco” for the time being – that “promises to further privatize scientific research produced by taxpayer-funded laboratories…would block a substantial amount of UC research from being accessible to the public, and could reap big profits for corporations and investors that have ties to the well-connected businesspeople who will manage it.”

    Oregon State University has adopted a policy that “requires faculty members to make their scholarly articles available for free through the digital repository ScholarsArchive@OSU.” The school boasts that it “the first university, public or private, in the Pacific Northwest to adopt a university-wide open access policy, and one of the first land grant universities in the nation to do so.” Go Beavers!

    Funding and Acquisitions

    The digital publisher Inkling has raised $16 million, reports San Francisco Business Times. This brings the startup’s investment to around $33 million.

    Jason Griffey has launched a Kickstarter for LibraryBox 2.0, a library-oriented version of the PirateBox project. (I covered the earlier version of Griffey’s project last year.)

    ConnectEDU, which offers services to help students make the transition to college and to career, has raised $5.5 million in funding.

    Edu data analytics company Civitas Learning has raised $8.75 million in funding, reports GigaOm.

    Edsurge reports that the Danish startup Labster“which has a 12-person team, which raised 3 million Danish Kroner ($525K) seed funding in 2012 has raised $1 million in grants and non-equity support from the Danish Business Innovation Foundation, the Danish Ministry of Science and corporate sponsorships.”

    The Gates Foundation has handed out a number of new grants this month. Among the largest education grants: the Fayette County Public Schools ($840,000), the National Association of State Boards of Education ($800,000), the Council of Chief State School Officers ($799,825), Teachers United ($650,723), and Athabasca University ($402,555).

    The Apollo Group, which owns the giant for-profit University of Phoenix, released its quarterly report this week, revealing that “third-quarter earnings plunged 40 percent as fewer students enrolled. The University of Phoenix’s enrollment fell 17 percent to 287,500 students. New student sign-ups dropped almost 25 percent, to 38,900. The company’s shares slid more than 5 percent in after-hours trading.”

    From the HR Department

    Jesse Stommel, currently the Digital Humanities Program Director at Marylhurst and the director of Hybrid Pedagogy, has accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin Madison as an advocate for lifelong learning and the public digital humanities.

    According to OLPC News, a site that tracks updates about the One Laptop Per Child project, several key staff have left the OLPC Foundation, including its CTO, lead software architect, and director of learning.

    The Obama Administration has selected its second round of Presidential Innovation Fellows. Working for the Department of Education on various data projects are James Sanders and Garren Givens. (I’ll be headed to DC too as my boyfriend, Kin Lane, has been named a PIF as well. He’ll be working for the VA.)

    The Welsh education minister, Leighton Andrews, has resigned following a string of “embarrassing incidents”, which included being spotted holding a protest sign outside a school slated for closure – a school his policies had slated for closure. Awkward.


    Googleannounced the 15 finalists of its annual Science Fair, along with the winner of its Science in Action award. The latter was won by Elif Bilgin from Turkey as the winner for her work using banana peels to produce bioplastics. She will receive $50,000 and and a year’s worth of mentoring from Scientific American.

    “Research,” Data, and “Data Magnets”

    The OECD released its latest “Education at a Glance” report this week. Inside Higher Ed has a write-up on some of the findings in the 480+ page report.

    Stanford University’s CREDO has released another study of charter schools in the US. (PDF) While the report did find that charter schools have improved over recent years, they’re still on par with public education: 25% of charters did better than nearby public schools at teaching reading, while 19% did worse, and the rest – 56% – were about the same. In math, 29% of charters performed better, 31% performed, with about 40% the same as public schools. EdMedia Commons has a roundup of the coverage from various news outlets.

    Statistics superstar Nate Silvertakes a look at changes in college majors, partly as a response to a recent NYT op-ed lamenting the decline of the English major. The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann also weighs in on English majors, pointing to their low(er-ish) unemployment rates.

    Inspired by the Adjunct Project, a crowdsourced effort to track the pay of university adjuncts, comes GradPay, a survey about graduate student working conditions. Working conditions are learning conditions, let’s not forget.

    The Cleveland Plains Dealer has published the names and “value added measurements” of teachers in Ohio. The move is controversial, not simply because of privacy issues but because of concerns about the accuracy of this measurement of teacher performance. But as Plain Dealer Assistant Managing Editor Chris Quinn says, it’s public information and “the people of Ohio have paid for this.”

    The Pew Internet and American Life project has issued its latest report on “Younger Americans’ Library Habits and Expectations.” Among the findings, “three-quarters (75%) of younger Americans say they have read at least one book in print in the past year, compared with 64% of adults ages 30 and older.”

    The personal data of some 47,000 student teachers-in-training at Florida State University was accidentally leaked earlier this month during an insecure transfer of information to a new server.

    The Department of Education released data from School Improvement Grant (SIG) schools for the 2010–11 school year, including information about student and teacher attendance.

    And continuing its push for more transparency around college costs, the Department of Education also added more data to its College Affordability and Transparency Lists, including information on which schools have the highest tuition and which ones’ costs-of-attendance are rising the fastest.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “kids apps are data magnets.” “A Wall Street Journal examination of 40 popular and free child-friendly apps on Google’s Android and Apple Inc.’s iOS systems found that nearly half transmitted to other companies a device ID number, a primary tool for tracking users from app to app. Some 70% passed along information about how the app was used, in some cases including the buttons clicked and in what order.” Stricter restrictions about this practice will go into effect July 1 with updates to COPPA.

    ISTE “News”

    ISTE unveiled a new logo and branding at its 2013 conference and took a formal position on the Common Core State Standards in a press release that included an infographic. According to one investor blog, the top conversations at the event involved the Surface RT giveaway and Google GlasseSchoolNews wrote up its list of “10 Engaging Ed-Tech Booths.” Edsurge's coverage included startups’ parties. Good grief, some weeks the disruptive innovation is just too much to handle.

    Image credits: Nomadic Lass, The Noun Project

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    Law and Politics

    An update to COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, went into effect July 1. The FTC says that the new language strengthens privacy protections, but as I noted when the update was revealed last year, it certainly reflects lobbying from the technology industry, particularly when it comes to contextual advertising, which sites can use to collect data without parental permission.

    A Superior Court judge has ordered well-known school reformer Paul Vallas be removed from office for failing to comply with Connecticut state rules requiring him to take a school leadership course. Vallas, who started as the superintendent of the Bridgeport Schools in 2012, is not qualified for the position, ruled Judge Barbara Bellis.

    Oregon is exploring a plan that would reshape how students in the state would pay for college. According to The New York Times, “the Oregon Legislature approved a plan that could allow students to attend state colleges without paying tuition or taking out traditional loans. Instead, they would commit a small percentage of their future incomes to repaying the state; those who earn very little would pay very little.”

    Google won an appeal this week, as the Second Circuit Court threw out the ruling by Judge Denny Chin that had allowed the Authors Guild to claim class action status in its suit against Google’s digitization efforts.

    Oklahoma’s state Superintendent Janet Barresi announced that the state will not use the tests being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the new Common Core State Standards testing consortia. Among Barresi’s concerns: schools’ technological readiness for the computer-based assessments. (Oklahoma was one of several states that had major problems with online testing this year.)


    In an email to students enrolled in his Finance MOOC being offered on the Coursera platform, Michigan professor Gautam Kaul said that he would not give out the correct answers on assignments. “If this were a one-time class, we would have considered posting answers. It will however be very difficult for us to offer this class again if we have to keep preparing new sets of questions with multiple versions to allow you to attempt each one more than once.” Inside Higher Ed’s Ry Rivard and Colorado State University professor Jonathan Rees also weigh in.

    Florida governor Rick Scott has signed into law a bill that would encourage schools in the state to use MOOCs for credit. As Inside Higher Ed explains it, “The bill Scott signed allows MOOCs, under certain conditions, to be used to help teach K–12 students in four subjects and also orders Florida education officials to study and set rules that would allow students who have yet to enroll in college to earn transfer credits by taking MOOCs.”

    Google has released the latest version of its MOOC software Course Builder. New features include a WYSIWYG question editor (so you don’t need to use Javascript to build a course).

    Schoo, a Tokyo-based MOOC platform, has raised 152 million yen (approximately $1.52 million) in funding.

    Launches and Upgrades

    I’ve refreshed some of the content in the Hack Education Ed-Tech Guide. The site runs on GitHub pages, which means (I hope!) you can easily contribute a resource and/or fork the project.

    Fujitsu and MIT Announce First-of-its-kind Breakthrough Higher Education Learning Platform,” reads the press release on a “navigation and simulation technology [that] solves challenges of online learning systems” through “learning nuggets.” Some days, the ed-tech jokes just write themselves.

    McGraw-Hill has launched “Common Core Achieve,” which it describes as “the first fully adaptive study program for adult learners who are preparing to take high school equivalency tests.”

    Downgrades and Closures

    Inside Higher Ed reports that Indiana’s statewide two-year college system, Ivy Tech Community College, might have to close up to 20 of its 76 campuses due to funding problems.

    According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the City College of San Francisco will lose its accreditation a year from now. The college has some 85,000 students, and it would be the largest school ever to lose accreditation. More details via Inside Higher Ed.

    Textbook publisher Cengage Learning has filed for bankruptcy. The New York Times has the Chapter 11 filing for your perusal.

    The animation-creation site Xtranormal is closing its doors, discontinuing subscriptions and services as of July 31, 2013.

    Investments, Mergers, and Acquisitions

    Online gradebook Engrade has raised $5 million in a Series B round of funding, reports Techcrunch.

    Edsurge reports that New York City-based LightSail Education has raised $1 million. The startup makes literacy tools for tablets.

    A new contender for the education startup with the worst name, Clusterflunk, has raised $100,000 in seed funding.

    peerTransfer, a company that facilitates education-related payments for international students, has raised $6.4 million.

    Yahoo has acquired Qwiki for around $50 million, reports Techcrunch. Qwiki was once hailed as “the future of education,” allowing users to create storytelling videos.

    Renaissance Learning, maker of Accelerated Reader, has acquired the e-reading platform Subtext.

    Publishers Penguin and Random House have completed their merger. The new company will be called Penguin Random House, not – unfortunately – Random Penguin.

    According to The Huffington Post, Michelle Rhee’s lobbying group StudentsFirst has missed its fundraising goals. During its 2011–2012 fiscal year, “StudentsFirst raised $28.5 million, more than tripling its $7.6 million fundraising the previous year. During that period, the group’s political 501(c)(4) arm raised $15.6 million and spent $13.4 million. Rhee herself drew a salary of about $300,000.”

    From the HR Department

    Disgraced former CIA director David Petraus is doing a stint as a visiting adjunct faculty member at CUNY this fall, and according to Gawker, the university is paying him $200,000 for a three-hour-a-week gig. “The University is in the process of fundraising for this position,” says CUNY.

    The University of New Mexico has concluded that a controversial fat-shaming tweet sent by evolutionary psychology professor Geoffrey Miller in June – that if PhD students “didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs” then they “won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation – was not part of a research project as Miller had claimed. The university’s Department of Psychology and College of Arts and Sciences have begun a disciplinary inquiry into Miller’s conduct.

    “Research” and Data

    According to a survey conducted by the National School Supply and Equipment Association (NSSEA), public school teachers spent $1.6 billion of their own money on classroom supplies during this school year. The average of those surveyed: $485.

    The Pacific Standard examines research recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that finds that “teens who have a classmate die of suicide are more likely to consider taking, or attempt to take, their own lives.”

    Purdue University professor Rey Junco appeared on NPR’s Tell Me More to discuss some of his latest research about college students’ usage of social media: “what I found here, is that the power dynamics that we see in education, generally, are replicated online. So these digital inequalities that we see very early on in education, with students from lower socioeconomic statuses and areas being encouraged to use computers differently than their higher socioeconomic status peers, is clearly replicated here on Facebook, as well.”


    The PanelPicker is open for SXSWedu 2014. You can submit your session proposals through July 26.

    ISTE has released some of the numbers from its recent conference, including lots of details on use of its WiFi infrastructure. (6,825 concurrent devices – up 400 from last year.) Attendance early in the week clocked in around 13,100, with 4,510 exhibitor personnel also present – that’s roughly one vendor for every 3 attendee.


    Engineer, inventor and visionary Douglas Engelbart died this week. Engelbart gave “the mother of all demos” in 1968 in which he introduced the mouse, video conferencing, hypertext, hypermedia, revision control, and a collaborative real-time editor.

    Jeffrey McManus, the founder of the learn-to-program company CodeLesson, passed away yesterday. Jeffrey was funny, fearless, and incredibly thoughtful about how he was building his education startup – thoughtful about the business and thoughtful about the instruction. My heart goes out to his wife and kids.

    Image credits: Su Neko, The Noun Project

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    Happy 16th birthday to Malala Yousafzai, who addressed the United Nations today on the subject of education. Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban less than a year ago for her activism about girls’ education. (The transcript of her speech is here.)

    The MOOC, the Campus Tsunami, and Sharknado

    Coursera announced this week that it’s raised another round of funding: $43 million from the International Finance Corporation (the investment arm of the World Bank), Laureate Education (a for-profit education company formerly known as Sylvan Learning), GSV Capital, Learn Capital (of which Pearson is its largest limited partner) and Yuri Milner, Russian tycoon (formerly with the World Bank). “We hope it’s enough money to get us to profitability,’’ Coursera founder Daphne Koller told The New York Times. “We haven’t really focused yet on when that might be.’’ The Forbes article on the investment hints loudly at an IPO.

    Blackboard Announces New MOOC Platform,” writes The Chronicle of Higher Education, but it’s not really clear based on the article how this will be different than its CourseSites offering. Other than in that ever-important branding, of course.

    The Chronicle reports that not a single student at Colorado State University-Global Campus has signed up for MOOC-for-credit. (Students there can purportedly pay $89 for a proctored exam, “compared with the $1,050 that Colorado State charges for a comparable three-credit course.”) The deluge of students wanting to acquire cheaper credits – is “not happening as quickly as we had hoped,” says Chari Leader Kelley, vice president of LearningCounts.

    I feel compelled to throw in a Sharknado reference here after a truly WTF week of education news. Because nothing signals the coming “campus tsunami” like television, sharks, hype, and "science." Or something.

    Non-MOOCed Degrees and Accreditation

    The University of Phoenix will not lose its accreditation or be put on probation status as a regional accreditor has simply put the university (along with Western International University, also owned by parent company Apollo Group) on “notice.”

    The University of Wisconsin system’s “Flexible Option” program has earned approval from its regional accreditor, reports the Wisconsin State Journal. The competency-based program is aimed at working adults and lets them use prior experiences and test out of classes.

    Law and Politics

    Apple has been found guilty of colluding with publishers to fix e-book prices. Publishers had already settled with the Justice Department in the case. A hearing on damages is set for August 9, although Apple says it plans to appeal the decision.

    Despite some indications earlier this week that a deal was in the works, it appears as though the US Senate has failed to reverse the rise in interest rates on student loans. Fail.

    Representative Steve Stockman (R-Texas) has introduced a bill this week that would block federal funding for schools that enforce rules that punish students for playing with imaginary weapons. Because clearly education is broken and someone should fix it.

    The final version of the new national curriculum for English schools was published this week. The curriculum includes 5-year-olds learning fractions and programming. “According to a Whitehall source: ”Three-dimensional printers will become standard in our schools – a technology that is transforming manufacturing and the economy. Combined with the introduction of programming, it is a big step forward from Labour’s dumbed-down curriculum.’" Zing. (Scotland does not have a national curriculum, in case you’re curious. But they do have a Wimbledon champion. Take that, England.)

    From the NSBA’s Legal Clips blog: “A unanimous three-justice panel of the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that a police officer’s seizure of an eight year-old elementary school student for the purpose of scaring that student so another student would confess to theft was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The panel, having found that the student had been seized for Fourth Amendment purposes and that the seizure was unreasonable, concluded the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity because it was clearly established law that it is unreasonable for a police officer to seize a student for the purpose of intentionally frightening him in order to induce another student to confess.” This had to go to court?!?

    Surveillance and “Security”

    “Kids lose their school IDs but they don’t often lose their eyeballs,” reads the headline of the CNN press releasearticle on schools that are increasingly turning to iris scanning for IDs. “‘Imagine a world where you’re no longer reliant on user names and passwords,’ Eyelock CMO Anthony Antolino told CNNMoney. ‘If we’re going through a turnstile and you have authorization to go beyond that, it’ll open the turnstile for you.’” Imagine we stop thinking about schools as places with prison-like security and turnstiles.

    The latest revelations from The Guardian (and Edward Snowden) detail Microsoft’s collaboration with the NSA to circumvent encryption of messages and files. Enjoy your Surface tablets, ISTE attendees!

    The news is a little old, but worth noting nonetheless: the Gates Foundationhave bought a 3% stake (worth £110 million) in the security firm G4S. The company, known for its bungling of its London Olympics security contract, also supplies services for Israeli prisons and military checkpoints in the West Bank.

    The New York Times reports that schools that are considering allowing employees to carry concealed weapons are facing higher insurance rates, with some insurance providers threatening to drop coverage altogether. “More than 30 state legislatures introduced bills that permit staff members to carry guns in public or private schools this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.”

    Launches and Upgrades

    Versal launched its online learning platform this week, one it describes as “an open publishing platform for anyone to create interactive online courses - no coding required.” It’s also launched a foundation to support educators and non-profits with grants ($1,000 to $25,000) to create “forever-free,” openly-licensed courses. “Versal’s killer app is something it calls the ‘gadget’ tool,” reports ReadWrite, which wins for the headline-of-the-week: “Online Learning Is Broken, And Versal Wants To Fix It.” (I thought online learning was going to fix broken brick-and-mortar education, but it’s hard to keep everything straight.)

    Acrobatiq, a company spun out of Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative, says it will launch in August to offer “customizable courseware, learning analytics capabilities and consulting services to educational institutions looking to improve learning outcomes for students.”

    The credentialing company ProExam has launched “ProExam Vault,” a Web-based platform that will issue and store digital badges. (The new product conforms to Mozilla’s Open Badges Infrastructure.)

    Math education startup Motion Math has released its latest iOS game, Questimate, which as the title suggests involves asking questions and making estimates.

    The Chicago Public Libraryis opening an Innovation Lab and a Maker Space at the Harold Washington Library Center and will “offer access to a variety of software such as Trimble Sketchup, Inkscape, Meshlab, Makercam and equipment including three 3D Printers, two laser cutters, as well as a milling machine and vinyl cutter.” Awesome.

    The language-learning and Web-translation startup Duolingo has released an iPad app. More details at Techcrunch.

    Responding to some recent speculation about the organization’s staffing, OLPC says that the XOTablet will launch on July 16 “exclusively at Walmart.”

    Orbit Software, which makes software to manage schools’ transportation needs, says it’s partnering with Pearson to make student transportation data available in the education giant’s student information system Powerschool.

    There’s been lotsof talkpost-ISTE from teachers saying they’re not rock stars. Indeed, they’re not. Or at least that’s the message from the Broad Center and ActivatED, which have made a video series showcasing “Education’s Rock Stars” that includes investors, policy wonks, reformers, and industry insiders.

    Downgrades and Discounts

    Amplify is slashing prices on its tablets, down from $349 to $299.

    Microsoft is slashing the prices on its tablets, down from $499 to $199.

    Funding and Acquisitions

    Pearsonhas sold the National Transcript Center (NTC), its student records and transcript business, to the education company Hobsons. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Financially struggling business school Thunderbird School of Global Management is selling its campus to Laureate Education, reports The Wall Street Journal. (See the Coursera funding news above for more from Laureate Education this week.)

    Warren Buffetthas given $2.6 billion in Berkshire-Hathway stock to the Gates Foundation. Ah, philanthropy.

    TSL Education has been acquired by the private equity firm TPG Capital LLP for $600 million. TSL’s best-known product is TES (Times Education Supplement) Connect, which serves as the platform for a partnership with AFT for its ShareMyLesson product.

    Pandodaily reports that data analytics startup BrightBytes has raised $2.5 million in Series A funding.

    The Next Web reports that Blikbook, “a Quora for higher education” has raised $1.3 million. Investors include Leaf Investments, Delta Partners’ Bank of Ireland Start-up and Emerging Sectors Fund, Enterprise Ireland and existing investor Forward Investment Partners.

    From the HR Department

    Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security, will be stepping down in August to take the helm of the University of California system. “UC officials believe that her Cabinet experiences –- which include helping to lead responses to hurricanes and tornadoes and overseeing some anti-terrorism measures – will help UC administer its federal energy and nuclear weapons labs and aid its federally funded research in medicine and other areas,” says The LA Times. I’m torn between making another Sharknado reference and noting how handling terrorists is apparently a plus when handling students and faculty.

    Long-time Blackboard engineer George Kroner is “switching sides,” so to speak, leaving the LMS giant to join the University of Maryland University College.


    Congratulations to the winners of this year’s Imagine Cup, Microsoft’s student engineering competition. Among the winners, Ana Ferraz from Portugal, who built a “low-cost and portable prototype that can save the lives of people requiring blood transfusions in emergency situations by determining a patient’s blood type in five minutes.”

    “Research” and Data

    According to USA Today, “More than 260 colleges and universities in 40 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have students who are more likely to default on their loans than full-time freshmen are to graduate, an analysis of federal data shows.”

    Research by economists Kevin Rask of Colorado College and Amanda Griffith of Wake Forest University has found that perks like fancy dorms and fitness centers have little effect on students’ college choices. More details via the Hechinger Report.

    In honor of Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the UN today, The Guardian’s Data Blog writes today about girls’ access to education worldwide. And, as always, the data is available for you to download and analyze yourself.

    Image credits: SyFy, The Noun Project

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    Remember in January when Udacity and San Jose State Universityannounced a pilot program where the latter would offer college credit for classes offered by the former? Remember how Techcrunch said it would “end college as we know it?” Well, there’s MOOC-egg on some faces this week as SJSU plans to “pause” the effort, citing the poor performance of enrolled students. “74 percent or more of the students in traditional classes passed, while no more than 51 percent of Udacity students passed any of the three courses,” according to Inside Higher Ed. It’s worth noting that SJSU students taking edX classes, which are offered in a “blended” rather than “online-only” setting, seem to be doing better than those in traditional classes.

    Inside Higher Ed’s Ry Rivard examines the deals signed between public universities and MOOC providers: “At least 21 universities and higher education systems in 16 states have signed agreements with Coursera, Udacity or edX without going through a competitive bidding process.”

    But hey, Georgia Tech and Udacity have announced the classes to be offered as part of their joint Online Masters in Computer Science.

    And it’s not too late to sign up for the philanthropy MOOC run by Warren Buffett’s sister, which culminates in helping Buffett decide how to give away $100,000. I guess they’re not using robot-assessments for this MOOC. Yay?

    Another indication, perhaps, that Coursera is becoming an LMS: the IMS Global Learning Consortiumannounced the MOOC startup is the newest member of the Common Cartridge and LTI alliance (this alliance supports standards used by the LMS industry for data interoperability).

    Speaking at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, Bill Gates said that MOOC providers should learn some lessons from the for-profit college sector in order to better support students’ success. “Because they are profit driven, the way they track students and see what’s going on” could be seen by MOOCs and public universities as a “best practice,” Gates argued, according to ECampusNews. LOLWUT.

    DC Politics

    The US House of Representatives has passed a revision to No Child Left Behind, the most recent and most infamous reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act signed into law by President George W. Bush. This week's newly-passed bill rolls back many of the accountability requirements of NCLB and transfers much oversight of the country’s public school system to the states. However, President Obama says he’ll veto it if it gets to his desk, so yeah... no ESEA reauthorization once again. More details in The New York Times.

    Senators have reached a deal to address student loan interest rates, which doubled on July 1. According to The New York Times, “Undergraduates would pay the 10-year Treasury note rate, 2.49 percent on Wednesday, plus 2.05 percent, with a cap of 8.25 percent, to protect them from inflation. Graduate students would pay the 10-year Treasury rate plus 3.6 percent, with a cap of 9.5 percent.”

    In related student indebtedness news, the outstanding debt on federal student loans on surpassed $1 trillionfor this time this week.

    Heartland reports that the Obama Administration might raise phone taxes (by $5/year), as the FCC looks to revise the E-rate program, in order to increase subsidies for K–12 broadband “because most schools cannot administer the computerized Common Core tests coming out in 2015.” Sounds like a winning rationale.

    State Politics

    According to emails obtained by the Associated Press, Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana and now president of Purdue University, sought to purge Howard Zinn’s writings from the state’s classrooms. “This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away,’ Daniels wrote in an email. ”Can someone assure me that is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?" Emails also show Daniels trying to cut funding to a program run by Charles Little, executive director of the Indiana Urban Schools Assocation, professor at the Indiana University School of Education, and a sharp critic of the then-governor.

    Utah State Senator Aaron Osmond, nephew of Donnie and Marie, is calling for the end of “compulsory education” in the state.

    Cooper Union Politics

    The student occupation of Cooper Union has ended. The students have been occupying the university’s president’s office in protest of its plans to institute tuition fees for the first time in the institution's history. Students have reached a negotiated agreement with the school, and among the concessions that the students won, "A working group of students, faculty, alumni, administrators, and trustees is to be established to ’to explore ways in which Cooper Union may revert to providing full-tuition scholarships for all enrolled students.’” More details via Angus Johnston.

    Universities and The Law

    Earlier this year, Wired journalist Kevin Poulsen had his FOIA request for Secret Service files pertaining to the late Internet activist Aaron Swartz denied, and after he filed a lawsuit to appeal, a judge ruled that the government had to begin releasing the files. But now, reports Poulsen, lawyers representing MIT have filed a motion to block the release of relevant documents.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the Penn State board of trustees has authorized $60 million to settle 25 personal injury claims by those who say they were sexually abused by former football coach Jerry Sandusky.

    Launches and Upgrades

    Jim Groom and Tim Owens have launched “Reclaim Hosting,” as part of a larger Reclaim Your Domain effort. Related to University of Mary Washington’s Domain of One’s Own initiative, Reclaim Hosting aims to help educators and students with their own hosting – “just one piece to the larger puzzle of how we allow people to easily feed their digital content back into a space they own and control.”

    Coming soon from the video game maker Valve: Pipeline, a site run by teenagers for teenagers who are interested in joining the video game industry. “Pipeline is an experiment to see if we can take a group of high school students with minimal work experience and train them in the skills and methods necessary to be successful at a company like Valve,” reads the nascent website.

    Ed-tech blog and listicle champ Edudemic is launching a video lesson site, which according to its partner Education Dive, will be a “Khan Academy for real-world skills."

    Downgrades and Discounts

    OK, I realize it’s a little catty to put this news item in the “downgrade” section. But whatever. See, the One Laptop Per Child XO Tablet is now on sale at Walmart for $149. No mention of constructionism, although the description does indicate that it offers “parental dashboards [that] track usage and learning styles, allowing parents to better understand their child’s development.” Ugh, “learning styles.” Kids, this is why we can’t have nice things.

    Funding, Earnings, and Acquisitions

    Digital textbook publisher Inklingannounced that it’s raised $16 million in a Series C round (bringing its total investment to around $48 million). Investors included Sequoia Capital, Felicis Ventures, Tenaya Capital, and JAFCO Technology Partners. The company also says it’s struck an agreement with Elsevier and Pearson (the latter is also an investor in Inkling) with the two publishers using Inkling’s Habitat publishing platform.

    Microsoft revealed its quarterly earnings this week for its fiscal Q4 of 2013. And on the heels of a price cut on its Surface RT tablets, Microsoft has posted a $900 million loss due to “inventory adjustments” with the tablets. Sorta puts the free giveaway of Surfaces at ISTE in a different light, no?

    The Next Generation Learning Challenges project has announced eight new recipients of $450,000 “breakthrough school model launch” grants and 30 recipients of $100,000 planning grants. These grants (and schools) focus on “personalized, competency-based, blended learning.”

    Grovo, an online education startup, has raised $5.5 million Series A funding. Investors include Greg Waldorf, former CEO of eHarmony. Greg Sands of Costanoa Venture Capital and Jeff Clavier of SoftTech VC.

    THE Journal reports that two education technology companies, Mimio and Headsprout, have been sold off by their parent company, Newell Rubbermaid, to the private equity firm Skyview Capital. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Khan Academy’s John Resig says that the organization will give its developers $5 a week to donate in turn to open source developers using the Gittip crowdfunding platform.

    From the HR Department

    Despite protests, the UC Board of Regents has approved Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano as the UC system’s new president. Napolitano will have a salary of $570K, along with a one-time relocation allowance of $142K.

    With another scandal looking to sideline him, former CIA director General David Petraeus says he’ll skip the $200,000 salary for teaching one class as an adjunct at CUNY. Instead, he’ll just take a dollar for the gig.

    Virginia Commonwealth University can boast two incredible educators in newly-appointed leadership positions: Gardner Campbell will become Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success. And Jon Becker will be Director of Online Academic Programs.

    “Research” and Data

    The Pew Internet and American Life Project have released more results from its survey of AP and National Writing Project teachers, this one on “The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing and How Writing is Taught in Schools.” Many of the results aren’t terribly surprising: “96% agree that digital technologies ‘allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience.’” Um. Duh. “91% say that ‘writing effectively’ is an ‘essential’ skill students need for future success.” Um. Okay. Nonetheless, there’s still plenty of handwringing about what digital tools do to the quality of student writing, but this is what made me sigh: 94% make their students do some writing by hand “because students are required to write by hand on standardized tests, it is a critical skill for them to have.”

    Yet another survey has found that students prefer to read academic-oriented material in print.

    A study published in the April-June issue of IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies contends that students do not learn best when watching videos before coming to class to work on hands-on projects. But when the order was reversed – hands-on experimentation, then reading or watching videos – students performed better. Now “the researchers advocate the ‘flipped flipped classroom,’ in which videos come after exploration and not before,” says the Stanford News.

    After 69 years, one of the longest running experiments found success this week, as Trinity College has managed to capture a “pitch drop” on video. “The Dublin pitch-drop experiment was set up in 1944 at Trinity College Dublin to demonstrate the high viscosity or low fluidity of pitch — also known as bitumen or asphalt — a material that appears to be solid at room temperature, but is in fact flowing, albeit extremely slowly.”

    The Boston School District has refused to release teacher performance ratings to The Boston Globe, the newspaper writes, which says in turn that it plans to appeal the decision. In previous years, The LA Times and The New York Times have both published similar data.

    Google has published some data about its 2013 Summer of Code, its summer program that pays CS students to work on open source projects. For the seventh year in a row, the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka has the most students participating in the program.

    Recently, Forbes boasted that “it only takes about 42 minutes to learn algebra with video games,” and this week , another PR piece says that a “Former White House adviser’s educational app improves math scores by 11% in an hour.” So it sounds to me like we’ve pretty much fixed math education. Good job, team!

    Non-MOOC’d Classes and Programs

    The climate science blog DeSmogBlog has obtained a copy of General Petraeus’s syllabus for his upcoming class at CUNY, “The Coming North American Decade(s)?” DeSmogBlog describes the contents as “Frackademia,” that is, “shorthand for oil and gas industry-funded research costumed as independent economics or science.”

    2U and the University of Berkeley have partnered for a new, online-only graduate program in Information and Data Science. More details via Information Week.


    The NCAA announced this week that it would not renew its licensing contract with EA Games, which has used the likeness of college athletes to market its various video games. The action comes in the midst of a lawsuit by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon who’s leading a lawsuit against the NCAA for using college athletes’ likeness without properly compensating them. There’s some speculation that by dropping ties with EA Games, the NCAA is concerned about its chances in the lawsuit, says The LA Times.


    Oakland city officials are moving forward with their plans to build a Domain Awareness Center, “a federally funded project to link surveillance cameras, license-plate readers, gunshot detectors, Twitter feeds, alarm notifications and other data into a unified ‘situational awareness’ tool for law enforcement.” Included in the project, data from the Oakland Unified School District.

    Northside ISD, a San Antonio school district, says it will no longer require students to carry IDs with RFID chips implanted in them. Last year, a student unsuccessfully sued the district over the tracking, claiming it violated her religious views. The chips were meant to track attendance, but the district now says that the program didn’t increase attendance enough to justify costs.

    The Campaign for Reader Privacy, a joint initiative of the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and the PEN American Center, issued a call this week to revise the Patriot Act and restore privacy protections that were stripped from libraries and booksellers.

    Image credits: Jezebel, The Noun Project

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    Sorry for the delay in posting this round-up of the week’s education news. I spent the week in Maine with family (my mom turned 70), with limited access to the Internet. As always, you can stay up on the blogs that I’m reading, via the News Elsewhere tab above or via this site’s “firehose” Twitter account.

    While in Maine I was also incredibly fortunate to spend an afternoon with my hero Seymour Papert. I shared with him not just the outline of my book, Teaching Machines, but also my review unit of the latest LEGO Mindstorms. Write-up forthcoming…

    Testing and Pricing

    The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) unveiled the costs of its Common Core tests in math and language arts this week: $29.50 per student. That’s more than what half of its member states are currently paying for standardized testing. More details via Ed Week’s Catherine Gewertz, who also looks at the price tag for the other testing consortium’s tests. She notes that PARCC “seeks to make the point that $29.50 isn’t a lot to spend on a test, noting that it’s about the same as ’a movie date”’ or ‘dinner for four at a fast-food restaurant,’" which isn’t exactly the analogy I think works best for arguing how we should spend education dollars, but what do I know.

    Education Politics

    Georgia became the latest state to back out of PARCC.

    Florida Senator (and potential Presidential candidate in 2016) Marco Rubio has come out against the Common Core State Standards, putting him at odd with former Florida Governor (another potential Presidential candidate) Jeb Bush.

    The Miami Dade Library System will close nearly half its branches due to budget shortfalls. And hey, good luck potential Presidential candidates from Florida running on an education platform!

    President Obama vows to “shake up higher education.”Oh, good.

    The USA Today reports that members of the House Education Committee are on the receiving end of a upswing in campaign donations from for-profit universities. (And in related news, committee members have put forward the “Supporting Academic Freedom through Regulatory Relief Act,” which will stop the Obama Administration from cutting off federal aid to schools with high graduate debt and low repayment ratios.)

    The North Carolina legislature reached a budget deal that would allow school vouchers beginning in 2014, that would end teacher tenure in the state, and that earmarks $5.1 million for Teach For America.

    The Chicago School District is laying off 2000+ employees, including about 1000 teachers.

    Education Company Press Releases

    Politico has launched a new “pro” education vertical with some awesome education journalists, including former Inside Higher Ed reporter Libby Nelson and former Reuters reporter Stephanie Simon. No word yet on the subscription price for the new service, which offers a daily round-up of education-related news, as well as more in-depth coverage.

    The California charter school chain Aspire has spun out a startup called Schoolzilla to help teachers make better “data-driven” decisions. More via THE Journal.

    Googleannounced it has partnered with Pearson, Wiley, Macmillian Higher Education, McGraw-Hill and Cengage Learning and will be bringing textbooks to its Google Play store next month. Wheeee.

    As part of Phase 1 of its recently signed deal with Apple, the Los Angeles Unified School District, will begin handing out iPads to students this fall, with all 640,000 students to receive the devices by the end of 2014. Wheeee.


    EdX President Anant Agarwal appears on The Colbert Report.

    The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas is offering a MOOC on data journalism, beginning August 12.

    7 Indian Institutes of Technology and a number of IT firms, including Infosys and Cognizant, are teaming up to offer MOOCs.

    Be sure to tune in to the WCET blog in the coming weeks for details on how ACE (the American COuncil on Education) has assessed five Coursera courses. (Kudos to Pat Book, ACE’s former Assistant Vice President, for authoring the posts and for encouraging this level of transparency about the accreditation process.)

    Non-MOOCs, College Sports, and For-Profits Colleges

    The Minerva Project, a for-profit education startup that says it aims to be a new “Ivy,” has partnered with Keck Graduate Institute and will launch the Minerva Schools at KGI with the first class matriculating in the fall of 2015. (I covered the school’s initial funding back in 2012 here.)

    Sports Illustrated reports that the Pac–12 conference’s presidents have sent a letter to the NCAA asking it to “engage in further, careful consideration” before allowing for-profit universities to become Division I members. While this issue is under consideration, the schools say they will not schedule games against for-profit (new Division I member) Grand Canyon University. Of course, it’s difficult to argue that college sports aren’t a hugely profitable business, so the sneering at Grand Canyon University is a little rich.

    Revenues, Funding, and Acquisitions

    Language-learning giant Rosetta Stone has acquired Boston-based startup Lexia Learning for $22.5 million. Lexia Learning makes literacy software, so it looks as though Rosetta Stone might be returning to its pre-airport-kiosk roots: selling software to schools. Or perhaps we’ll see more learn-to-read kiosks appear in malls and airports. I dunno.

    Pearson posted a report on its finances from the first-half of 2013: sales are up 5%. Its education division grew by 3%. Its education digital platform registrations up 19%. So far, it doesn’t appear that all these new education technology startups have disrupted Pearson yet. Hmm. Go figure.

    The Next Web reports that the class notes marketplace Flashnotes has closed a $1.5 million seed round of investment and has acquired a rival startup, Noteutopia.

    Edsurge reports that Ellevation, which offers ELL software, has raised $2.35 million in funding.

    From the HR Department

    Margaret Spellings, President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Education, will be taking over the president’s foundation and policy institute this fall, according to The Huffington Post.

    Lt. John Pike, UC Davis’s infamous “pepper spray cop,” is requesting workers’ compensation because he suffered psychiatric injury from the event.

    The Connecticut Supreme Court has decided that Paul Vallas can stay in office as Bridgeport’s superintendent of schools while he appeals a decision of a lower-court judge that ruled he was unqualified for the position and had to vacate it immediately.

    Nate Silver is leaving The New York Times for ESPN. Let me echo those who really hope he’ll write more about education testing.

    “Research” and Data

    Sallie Mae and Ipsos Public Affairs released a survey this week about the amount that families pay for college, finding that the amount “leveled off for the school year that ended this summer after falling between 2009 and 2012. For the most recent year, families paid an average of $21,178,” writes Inside Higher Ed.

    The OECD is weighing standardized testing higher education students around the world (because the whole PISA thing is working out so well, I guess). More details in The New York Times.

    How much time do schools spend on standardized testing? According to a new report by the AFT, “The grade-by-grade analysis of time and money invested in standardized testing found that test prep and testing absorbed 19 full school days in one district and a month and a half in the other in heavily tested grades.”

    Digital textbook provider Coursesmart has released its annual survey on digital textbooks and devices is out. Among the findings: 99% of students surveyed own at least one digital device, with 68% saying they use 3 or more devices every day. 79% of those surveyed say they’re using a digital textbook, up from 63% in 2011. More thoughts on the survey via The Digital Reader’s Nate Hoffelder.

    The UK Department of Education has released statistics on the number of students expelled from primary schools, prompting some newspapers to offer some hand-wringing headlines about bad students and bad teachers.. But The Guardian offers a more measured analysis, as well as the data you can download and explore yourself.

    College enrollment is down, and The New York Times is on it.

    Universities, Surveillance, and Security

    Stanford University says it is investigating a security breach of its technology infrastructure, and “as a precautionary measure, we are asking all users of Stanford’s computer system – that is, all those with a SUNet, or Stanford University Network, ID – to change their passwords.” More details via Techcrunch.

    MIT President Rafael Reif has penned an open letter to explain why the university has intervened in a FOIA case for more information pertaining to the prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz: “We are not trying to stop the public release of these documents. We are simply asking for the opportunity to look at them carefully so we can be confident that the proper redactions have been made, so that releasing them does not pose a risk to MIT employees who became involved in the case in the course of simply doing their jobs.”

    Dissertation Publishing

    The American Historical Associationissued a statement this week on the embargoing of history dissertations. It “strongly encourages graduate programs and university libraries to adopt a policy that allows the embargoing of completed history PhD dissertations in digital form for as many as six years.” To do otherwise would spell DOOM! for young scholars. Or something. So much for the move towards more open access publishing, eh? Rick Anderson, Mills Kelly, Timothy Burke, William Cronon, Sherman Dorn, Adeline Koh, Dan Cohen, and much of academic Twitter have weighed in.

    Image credits: Fred Watters, The Noun Project

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  • 07/30/13--15:15: Visiting Seymour
  • “In most contemporary educational situations where children come into contact with computers the computer is used to put children through their paces, to provide exercises of an appropriate level of difficulty, to provide feedback, and to dispense information. The computer programming the child.” -- Seymour Papert, Mindstorms

    Read Mindstorms. No, really. I insist. Step away from ed-tech until you've done so. Read Mindstorms, then come back and let's talk. (Amazon Affiliate link)

    I met the book's author, Seymour Papert, last week when I was in Maine and had the opportunity to thank him for the most important (or at least, my most favorite) ed-tech book, for Logo, and for all his work. It's been profoundly influential on my own.

    His theories and his writing demonstrate such passion for learning and curiosity and discovery, such belief in the intellectual agency and capacity of children, such an incredible vision for what computers could mean for education.

    It was really a special gift to get to spend some time with him.

    I visited Seymour with my little brother and our friend Boston College professor Damian Bebell, both of whom stop by to see him regularly. In fact, my little brother had accidentially left behind his "figure eight" device the week before. He'd brought it to show Seymour, to talk about the mechanics of tree climbing and tree descent, along with plans for the treehouse he's building with my nephew. No surprise, Seymour had been intrigued by the metal clip, and Fred had inadvertently left it behind.

    This time, Fred brought along the latest Mindstorms robotics kit (Disclosure: LEGO sent me a review unit, which I had shipped to Maine so I could elicit my nephew's feedback while I was visiting. A longer review, jointly written by him and me, is forthcoming.) We showed Seymour all the sensors and pieces and demoed a couple of the programs (which use a Logo-like language). Seymour poured over the manuals as Fred talked about my nephew's interactions with this, his first programming experience.

    The first program in this new Mindstorms set tasks you with instructing a robot to stop its forward motion when it gets to within 30 centimeters of an object. Fred talked about how my nephew (age 7) and niece (age 4) thought that the sensor that this program utilizes looked like eyes. Indeed, its behavior -- "seeing" then stopping -- seemed completely "eye-like" to them. So the two of them were curious if the robot could see sideways or only straight ahead, and they devised an experiment: a maze to test the robot's peripheral vision.

    A wonderful example of a constructivist/constructionist learning experience.

    There's a line in a 2011 Wired Magazine article about Khan Academy where Bill Gates calls constructionism "bullshit." It's a line that's stuck with me because it makes me so damn dangry, no doubt, but also because it highlights Gates' dismissal of established learning theories, his ego, his ignorance.

    And it highlights too, I think, the huge gulf between those like Gates who have a vision of computers as simply efficient content delivery and assessment systems and those like Seymour who have a vision of computers as powerful and discovery learning machines. The former does things to children; the latter empowers them to do things -- to do things in the world, not just within a pre-defined curriculum.

    The desire for automated teaching machines is, of course, the subject of the book I'm writing. And I was thrilled to have a chance to talk to Seymour about it.

    However, when I told him the book's title -- Teaching Machines -- and mentioned the name most associated with that term -- B. F. Skinner -- the room fell completely silent. And oh, how Seymour scowled.

    I should interject here, for readers who are unfamiliar, that Seymour experienced a terrible accident in 2006. While his mind is still brilliantly sharp, communication is a struggle.

    So when I say that I mentioned "Skinner" and that Seymour scowled, he really made it very very clear what he thought about the man and his theories. I quickly explained that my book would offer a critique of teaching machines, particularly behaviorist ones, and that I wanted to interrogate rather than simply advocate our push automate education.

    Seymour asked why I was so critical of ed-tech (a question I get a lot), and I said that because so much of what I see runs counter to what he wrote about in Mindstorms, so much seems to merely digitize (if not automate) old classroom practices rather than facilitate transformative ones. I then pointed to Damian and joked, "I blame the psychometricians," and we all had a good chuckle.

    That's probably the thing I'll remember most about my visit with Seymour: we laughed a lot. We laughed about this ed-tech time warp we're stuck in, where a book written in 1980 remains so relevant and so radical when it comes to computers and learning. I told him about my ride with Sebastian Thrun in the self-driving car, and we agreed, laughing, that the MOOC providers -- heck, everyone really, but particularly the ones who're making headlines these days with their claims of the latest education technology revolution -- desperately need to read Mindstorms

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    27:366(Y2) - Out for a Stroll

    Federal and State Politics

    Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s latest plans to reinvent public education with the aid of the business community will accelerate this fall with the launch of a novel program that lets high school students take classes from the private sector on the public dime,” writes Politico’s Stephanie Simon. What could possibly go wrong.

    California SB 520 is dead… for now. The bill “would have required the state’s 145 public colleges and universities to grant credit for low-cost online courses offered by outside groups, including for-profits companies,” writes Ry Rivard, but it faced overwhelming opposition from faculty who argued that the state was planning to “outsource student learning to for-profit companies that have not proven their courses can pass muster.”

    According to Politico’s new Morning EducationNorth Carolina has pulled out of inBloom. This just leaves New York, two districts in Illinois, and one in Colorado that are working with the $100 million Gates Foundation-funded data project. 

    The US House of Representatives has approved the student loan legislation that was passed by the Senate last week. Student loan interest rates are now tied to financial markets. Oh yay.

    The Department of Education has named the members of a panel that will rewrite its “gainful employment” rule, which was thrown out by a federal judge last summer but was initially meant to curb federal aid to colleges and universities with graduates with high debt-to-income ratios and low loan repayment rates. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, for-profits are “feeling outnumbered” in the composition of the panel.

    Florida State Representative Mitch Workman (R-Melbourne) claims that an AP History textbook, published by Pearson, has a “pro-Islam bias,” as it dedicates “36 pages to Islam and only several paragraphs to Christianity.” For its part, Pearson says that the 10th grade textbook covers the origins of Islam because Florida World History standards require it to do so and says that its 6th grade World History textbook, which covers early civilizations through the fall of Rome, discusses the origins of Christianity and Judaism.

    The Law

    MIT and JSTOR both released reports this week detailing their roles in the case of Internet activist Aaron Swartz. MIT said that it did not urge federal officials to prosecute Swartz for downloading documents and that it “remained neutral.” But it’s pretty clear to me at least that being “neutral,” particularly when accompanied by being silent, was being wrong.

    3 Penn State officials – former president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz, and athletic director Tim Curley – will have to stand trial on charges they were part of the cover-up of the child sexual abuses by former football coach Jerry Sandusky.

    Xconomy reports that the textbook publishing startup Boundless is close to reaching a settlement with publishers. Pearson Education, Cengage Learning, and Macmillan Higher Education sued the startup last year, claiming that Boundless’s free textbooks infringed on their copyrights. Boundless has always denied this, but has also changed its offerings since the lawsuit and the content in question no longer exists as a product.

    The Arkansas Attorney General issued a legal opinion this week, barring the state’s school districts from employing teachers and staff as armed voluntary security guards.

    Do students have to be Mirandized before they’re questioned? Kentucky's Attorney General is asking the US Supreme Court to weigh in.

    The Arizona Charter Schools Association (ACSA) has filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Education, seeking an injunction to prevent the department from recovering more than $5 million that it says it overpaid the schools.

    Your College Dollars at Work

    The University of Oregon has opened its new $68 million “Football Performance Center.” WTF, Ducks.

    The Center for Investigative Reporting has discovered that UCLA paid millions of dollars on luxurious travel and entertainment for administrators between 2008 and 2012. “Over the past several years, six of 17 academic deans at the Westwood campus routinely have submitted doctors’ notes stating they have a medical need to fly in a class other than economy, costing the university $234,000 more than it would have for coach-class flights, expense records show.” And that’s just the beginning…


    A group of 12 scholar-hackers gathered at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University for “One Week One Tool,” a week-long project to build a digital tool. The results: Serendip-o-matic, a “serendipity engine” that takes any text (an article, a song, a syllabus), extracts key terms, then offers similar results from a variety of online collections including the DPLA, Europeana, and Flickr Commons. “It’s not search, it’s serendipity.”

    Cognitive Kids has released the latest app in its “Ansel and Clair” series: Little Green Island, an educational game about pollution and the environment. (iTunes link, $3.99)


    The Old Reader, one of the many alternatives that people had turned to after Google shuttered its RSS reader, announced this week that it would be closing its doors to the public. Maybe.


    The personal data of some 72,000 University of Delaware staff – including names and Social Security numbers – were taken in a recent security breach.

    According to a report by the security firm Halock Security Labs, one quarter of colleges and universities transmit unencrypted student data. The big culprit: sending information via email.


    Coursera announced that it’s struck partnership deals with the University of New South Wales, University of Western Australia, and the University of Alberta. The latter will offer DINO 101, “the first Canadian MOOC to be offered with a transfer credit option. University of Alberta students can receive UAlberta credit either through the online course version (PALEO 200) or the in-class experience version (PALEO 201).”

    (Holy crap. Only one MOOC news item this week?!)

    Credits (Or Not)

    Billing itself as the residential, anti-MOOC, 2U announced this week that Southern Methodist University, Baylor University, and Temple University would be offering credits to their undergraduates who take Semester Online courses. The 3 universities will be “affiliate partners” in Semester Online, so they won’t be offering courses, just granting elective credits for courses offered by other universities in the consortium. More details via The Chronicle’s Steve Kolowich.

    Tiffin University has been ordered by its accreditor to halt enrollments in the online degree program Ivy Bridge that it offers with Altius Education. More via Inside Higher Ed. The program was a grant recipient of the Gates Foundation-funded Next Generation Learning Challenges. Altius Education has raised over $26 million in venture capital.

    Funding, Partnerships, and Acquisitions

    The test-prep giant Kaplan has acquired the test-prep portion of Grockit’s business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. The startup, which has raised almost $45 million in funding, will now rebrand itself as Learnist, its Pinterest-like site. “Selling Grockit gives us considerable runway without any dilution of shares,” founder Farb Nivi told AllThingsD.

    The Digital Public Library of America has received a $447,000 grant from an anonymous donor.

    The Walton Family Foundation has given $20 million to help Teach for America expand in LA.

    Pearson announced that it has made a $8.5M strategic investment in the English language learning platform, Voxy. The investment, which is part of Voxy’s Series B, brings the startup’s total investment to $16.5 million.

    And Pearson continues to wrap its tentacles around the education startup community, this week partnering with the DC-based incubator program, 1776.

    Copley Retention Systemshas raised a Series A round of funding, led by Mark Cuban. No details about the amount in the press release, but hey, Cuban’s the Dallas Mavericks owner and appears on the TV show “Shark Tank,” so I’m sure this is all great for the future of teaching and learning.

    Student response system Socrative has raised $750,000 in a seed round of investment, says Edsurge. Investors include True Ventures and NewSchools Venture Fund.

    The copyright management company SIPX has raised $4.0 million in Series B financing.

    From the HR Department

    Caine Monroy will be entering junior high this fall, and so he’s retiring from his cardboard arcade. But fear not, Caine’s Arcade won’t close.

    Investigative reporting killed the ed-reform star: Following reports by the AP that he’d ordered an accountability grade to be changed for one of his major donors while he was the head of the Indiana schools, Florida Superintendent Tony Bennett has resigned. A round-up of the news and responses via the EWA’s Emily Richmond.

    Mark Milliron is leaving his job as the Western Governors University-Texas chancellor to work full-time at his startup Civitas Learning. More via The Chronicle.

    Libby Doggett will fill the job of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning, reports HuffPo’s Joy Resmovits, who notes that the position’s been open for more than 6 months since President Obama said that expanding early childhood education would be a big priority.

    “After twelve productive years, the University of Strathclyde’s relationship with Cetis has now ‘reached its conclusion,’” writes Lorna Campbell. “The Cetis Memorandum of Understanding has been terminated and all Cetis staff at the university have been made redundant.” That affects Campbell, Sheila McNeill, and Martin Hawksey– three of the very brightest folks in ed-tech.

    Academic Research

    The University of California Academic Senatepassed an open access policy last week, “ensuring that future research articles authored by faculty at all 10 campuses of UC will be made available to the public at no charge.”

    According to a major “crack baby” study, poverty is worse for kids than moms who did crack cocaine while pregnant.

    Georgetown University released a report this week: “Separate and Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Racial Privilege.” More details on the report and its findings via Inside Higher Ed.

    Image credits: Nomadic Lass, The Noun Project

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    It's that time of year again for my back-to-school technology survey, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. (My coverage of teachers' favorites from 2010, 2011, and 2012.)

    Thanks in advance!

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    Þrúðvangr  [Explored!]

    Testing Sturm und Drang

    New York Fails Common Core Tests,” reads the Politico headline. “Test Scores Sink as New York Adopts Tougher Benchmarks,” says The New York Times. “New York State Stops Lying to Children – and That’s a Good Thing,” says Dropout Nation. So yeah, lots of sturm und drang this week as New York State released the results of how students performed on this year’s tests – tests that were aligned with the new Common Core State Standards. Fewer than a third passed.

    The Wyoming Department of Education also released the scores for its 2013 Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students this week. The proficiency rates declined across all grade levels and content areas when compared to the 2012 exams. This year’s exams were partially aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

    The Texas Education Agency has, for the first time, released sample questions from last year’s STAAR tests online. Texas is not part of the Common Core, for what it’s worth.

    Another victim of the sequester cuts: the National Assessment of Education Progress or NAEP. The Shanker Institute’s Matthew Di Carlo explains why this is bad news: “Although its results are frequently misinterpreted, NAEP is actually among the few standardized tests in the U.S. that receives rather wide support from all “sides” of the testing debate. And one cannot help but notice the fact that federal and state governments are currently making significant investments in new tests that are used for high-stakes purposes, whereas NAEP, the primary low-stakes assessment, is being scaled back.”

    Law and Politics

    Indiana Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz has acknowledged that grade manipulation did occur under her predecessor Tony Bennett, a darling of the education reform movement, who instituted a grading system for the state’s schools then pushed to have the grade of a charter school run by a donor changed from a C to an A.

    The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a Pennsylvania school district’s ban on wearing cancer awareness bracelets that read “I ♥ boobies” violated students’ First Amendment free speech rights.

    Philadelphia School District superintendent William Hite Jr said that the district might not open on time this fall unless it has assurances by August 16 that it will receive $50 million from the city.

    The Obama Administration approvedNCLB waiver requests for 8 California school districts. (California has not applied for a NCLB waiver and that these districts have been granted a waiver has been somewhat controversial.)

    Amazon, Kobo and Sony are petitioning the FCC, writes Laura Hazard Owen, “to permanently exempt e-readers from certain federal accessibility laws for the disabled, arguing that e-readers are barebones devices designed for a single purpose: reading text.”

    The National Science Foundation has cancelled its political science grant funding for the rest of the year, blaming Congress which passed a law requiring that political science research grants benefit either national security or the economy.

    The FDIC has notified Sallie Mae that it plans to penalize the student loan company relating to violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. More via The Chronicle.

    The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has filed a complaint with the FTC, charging that Fisher Price is making false claims about the educational value of its apps aimed at babies. “According to the complaints, the companies say in marketing material that their apps teach infants spatial skills, numbers, language or motor skills. But, the complaints claim, there is no rigorous scientific evidence to prove that these kinds of products provide those benefits.”

    Launches and Upgrades

    The file-sharing company Box unveiled a major education offering this week, integrating closely with several platforms (most tightly with Instructure Canvas) for its HTML5 document sharing and annotation tools. More via Information Week.

    The learn-to-code startup Tynker has launched a new product, akin to its school platform and curriculum, aimed at learning to code at home – $50 per student. More details via Techcrunch.

    Behaviorist app ClassDojo announced a new feature where teachers across a wholr school can track and reward their pigeons’ behaviors.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education covers a new online education marketplace Oplerno, which allows (adjunct? that’s the pitch of the story at least) to offer courses online.

    Google’s app store Google Playnow offers textbooks for rent or for purchase.

    Google is also rolling out a new feature in Search that will highlight in-depth articles alongside search results.

    Textbook publisher Boundless released a major update to its products this week, with premium ($19.99) textbooks, mobile apps, and what its calling “Boundless Learning Technology” to help students study the textbook material. More via GigaOm.

    Appleupdated its Terms and Conditions this past week to allow children under age 13 (the age decreed by COPPA, under which there are stricter restrictions on privacy) to open and manage iTunes accounts – as long as the Apple ID is associated with “an approved educational institution.”

    Follett is partnering with Random House to make the latter’s e-books available to K–12 libraries.

    Downgrades and Closures

    Wander, an app that began as a language learning app that pivoted towards photo-sharing and cross-cultural communication, will shut down on August 15.


    “The apocalypse has arrived,” says Stephen Downes, noting that the European enterprise software giant SAP is now offering a MOOC.

    The apocalypse doesn’t appear on the MOOC Map, an interactive map that lets you view the geographical spread of MOOCs from 6 providers (Coursera, Instructure, Blackboard, edX, FutureLearn, Open2Study). is launching its first MOOC, Moodle for Teachers. (“First,” that is, if you don’t count the very first MOOCs which were run on Moodle. But we don’t count those Canadian MOOCs, I guess…)

    The University of Maryland University College says that it will offer transfer credits to students who complete MOOCs (or more precisely, who “demonstrate learning” from 3 Udacity or 3 Coursera courses, ones that have been approved for ACE credit).

    Not MOOCs

    Berklee College of Music and Southern New Hampshire University are teaming up to offer “the nation’s first MBA in music business that is entirely online,” according to the press release.

    Howard Universityunveiled“Howard University Online,” a “partnership” with Pearson to offer online and blended courses.

    Beginning in the 2014–2015 schools year, Colorado Virtual Academy will split from K12, the for-profit online education provider that currently manages the school. According to KUNC, “COVA has struggled with poor academic performance in recent years amid questions about K12 Inc.’s management of school resources—including teacher understaffing.”

    Funding, Acquisitions, and IPOs

    Amazon founder Jeff Bezospurchased the Washington Post this week for a cool $250 million. The Washington Post Company will retain its ownership of the for-profit education company Kaplan (of test-prep and university “fame”), as well as its investment in Edsurge.

    Houghton Mifflin Harcourthas filed for an IPO, one year after the company emerged from bankruptcy.

    Student response system company Turning Technologies has acquired eInstruction, which according to Campus Technology, makes the “Insight 360 classroom instruction system, ExamView assessment software, and Mobi interactive whiteboards.”

    Robo-grader startup LightSide Labs has received a $25,000 literacy grant from the Gates Foundation.

    The Lumina Foundation has given a $2.3 million grant to a project that aims to standardize regulations for colleges, particularly online course offerings. More via The Chronicle.

    The investment bankers Berkery Noyes have published a report on investment activity in the education industry during the first half of 2013.

    From the HR Department

    The University of New Mexico has formally censured psychology professor Geoffrey Miller for his fat-shaming tweet. Miller will be barred from serving on graduate student admissions committees.

    The Florida Virtual School has laid off 177 full-time and 625 part-time instructors over the last two months, according to the AP. The layoffs are a result of declining enrollments, say the online school’s spokesperson.

    Florida should have fun filling its education positions. Last week, Superintendent Tony Bennett resigned. This week, it’s Frank Brogan, chancellor of the state university system, who’s leaving. He’ll be taking a similar role in Pennsylvania.

    “Research” and Data

    “The obesity rate among preschool-age children from poor families fell in 19 states and United States territories between 2008 and 2011,” say federal health officials.

    Students who transfer from community colleges into four-year programs with a degree or certificate under their belt are more likely to attain their Bachelors, according to a report released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (PDF).

    The New York Times has calculated the net worth of a college degree, and according to its math, Harvey Mudd College offers the best return on investment. The worst? The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Me, I kinda want Nate Silver's opinion on this...

    “Only 35 Percent of College-educated Workers Consider All or Most of What They Learned in College to be Applicable to Their Current Jobs, According to a University of Phoenix Survey.” That’s a real headline on a real press release that claims, among other things, that nearly 75% of adults have regrets about their education.

    But the best bullshit press release this week goes to USA Gold pencils which surveyed people about whether or not they think that students need to learn cursive. (The Common Core State Standards call for keyboarding in lieu of cursive instruction.) “Does Abandoning Cursive in Schools Write Off Our Children’s Future?” asks the press release, stirring up as much doom and panic as a pencil-sponsored survey can muster.


    ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, held its annual meeting in Chicago this week. The keynote speaker: former Florida governor Jeb Bush. A few lines from his speech: “Those vested in the status quo lash out with political and personal attacks. They hatch conspiracy theories about plots to destroy public education.”

    Science-Free Shark Week

    It’s Shark Week, the Discovery Channel’s week of shark TV programming. But the channel has faced some pushback this week as its kickoff show, Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives, was a mockumentary, one that claimed that the ancient shark is actually not extinct. Science education fail.

    Image credits: Emilio Kuffer, The Noun Project

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    2010/365/26 Turn the Machines Off

    The (Federal, State, and City) Politics of Education

    Philadelphia School District officials say that schools in the city will open on time now that the city has promised to come up with the $50 million the district says it needs. For a look at the struggles that teachers in Philly have faced over recent years, read the recap of recent school district history by Mary Beth Hertz.

    NCLB waivers are at risk in three states, Politico’s Caitlin Emma reports. Kansas, Oregon, and Washington are now considered “at risk” by the Department of Education as they haven’t sufficiently tied student performance to teacher and principal evaluations.

    But Maine, I guess, is behaving nicely as the Department of Education approved this week the state’s NCLB waiver request.

    Louisiana is boosting the funding for its new Course Choice program, which allows high school students to receive credits for classes taken from a variety of vendors, including for-profit companies. 4000 students have signed up so far.

    The Department of Education says it will reconsider changes it made to the eligibility for Parent PLUS Loans. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, denials for loans “shot up by 50 percent for parents of students at historically black colleges and universities,” which along with members of Congress, have asked the DOE to revisit the new rules.

    After closing a record number of schools, Chicago Public Schools is now requesting applications for new charter school operators for the 2014–2015 and 2015–2016 school year. Because "screw you," I guess

    New York City says it will issue scorecards on teacher colleges. Because "data," I guess.

    Two people were shot, one fatally, along the Chicago Public Schools’ “Safe Passage” route on Saturday. The “Safe Passage” route has been touted by city officials as a way for thousands of students to get to and from school safely, many of whom have been affected by the recent school closures in the city and will have to walk farther this academic year.

    South Korea is moving forward with its plans to use digital textbooks throughout the country. According to the Yonhap News Agency, the education minister says that “social studies and science textbooks are being developed for third- and fourth-year students of elementary schools and first- or second-year middle school students.”

    India has launched a national repository for open educational resources.


    City College of San Francisco’s regional accreditor is now in the same existential bind as the college, having been told by its overseer to fix several problems, pronto, or risk being stripped of power,” writes Inside Higher Ed’s Paul Fain. The Department of Education has reprimanded the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, stating that its sanctions against CCSF are “out of compliance.”

    The Department of Education has approved a competency-based degree program at the for-profit Capella University, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Tests and Grades

    The College Board is redesigning four of its tests to focus on the Common Core State Standards. Because of course it is. (David Coleman, architect of the CCSS is now the head of the College Board.)

    Pearson says that it released the wrong grades for 4000 students in Virginia. Ooops.

    Students at Chelsea High School in New York had to retake their Regents Exam as McGraw-Hill lost the original copies of the tests. They “fell off a back of a truck." Ooops.

    Good thing we don’t make any life or death decisions on these sorts of things, right? Oh wait...

    Georgia teen Anthony Stokes was initially denied a place on the heart transplant list Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta “partly because of his history of low grades and trouble with the law.” As news of the story spread, the hospital said it had changed his mind and had added Stokes to the transplant list.

    Superstars and Schools

    I’ve glossed over the recent Matt Damon and M. Night Shyamalan education hoopla here, I realize. Because good grief… But hey, Pitbull isn’t a movie star, he’s a record star. And he’s opening a new charter school in Miami. So party on!

    Education and The Law

    A federal judge has denied class action status in two lawsuits that are seeking to block the school closures in Chicago.

    Terms of Service

    According to Amazon’s Textbook Rental Terms and Conditions, students who rent textbooks via its subsidiary Warehouse Deals cannot cross state borders with their books, or they face being charged the full purchase price for the book. More on this silliness via Inside Higher Ed.

    Digital textbook app Kno has updated its privacy agreement and Terms of Service, and now reading this Amazon news, I’m going to have to take a closer look…

    Launches and Upgrades

    Khan Academy has introduced “Learning Dashboards,” which developer Ben Kamens calls the “biggest change to Khan Academy yet.” The dashboard tracks student progress and makes recommendations about what videos/exercises to work through next.

    NovoEd, a startup recently spun out of Stanford University that focuses on small group, social learning within online courses, announced several entrepreneurship classes taught by Kauffman Fellows Academy, Babson College, and Stanford University instructors. A full list of the classes is here.

    On the heels of Learnist and Educlipper’s efforts to be the “Pinterest for Education,” Pinterest has announced that it wants to be the “Pinterest for Education” and has launched a “Teachers on Pinterest” hub. The nerve!

    The Gettylaunched an open content program this week, making “roughly 4,600 high-resolution images of the Museum’s collection free to use, modify, and publish for any purpose.”

    Study Blue has added a feature called “Class Stats,” a new assessment tools for teachers to track how students are performing in their study sessions.

    Reclaim Hosting, part of the super-duper-most-important-education-initiative to help students, teachers, and schools “reclaim your domain,” is now live. More details (and a plea for some interim financial support) via Jim Groom.

    More former Zynga employees are getting into the education technology business, according to the gaming site Gamasutra, launching a development studio called Kidcore. Oh joy.

    Edsurge reports that ePals is launching a lesson plan marketplace. Because, hell, everyone else is.

    Funding, IPOs, and Acquisitions

    Textbook rental company Cheggfiled the paperwork for an IPO this week. Fortune’s Dan Primack raises some interesting questions about the filing, including the role that digital services might play in the company’s future.

    The online tutoring company InstaEDU has raised $4 million in Series A funding from Battery Ventures, Social+Capital Partnership, and other investors.

    According to Edukwest’s Kirsten Winkler, the Facebook-based study app has been “acqui-hired” by the education data startup Civitas Learning. Terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed.

    Twitter has acquired Marakana, a technical training company which it will use to run “Twitter University.” According to Techcrunch’s Ingrid Lunden, the startup had been assisting with Twitter’s Hack Weeks and will now will help offer “orientation classes for engineers, iOS Bootcamp, JVM Fundamentals, Distributed Systems and Scala School.”

    From the HR Department

    Startup Weekend Education has a new general manager, Mandela Schumacher-Hodge, TFA alum and founder of the education startup Tioki.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “more than half of [New York City]’s high schools are in violation of state regulations that require schools to employ either part-time or full-time librarians, depending on enrollment.” But the city’s asking for a waiver on that regulation.

    Under Secretary Martha Kanter will be stepping down, leaving the Department of Education where she’s served since 2009 and returning to academia.

    The University of North Texassays it plans to eliminate adjunct-taught classes over the next year, adding more full-time faculty.

    “Research” and Data

    US Representative George Miller requested data comparing ELL students’ learning at charter schools and public schools, and the GAO has responded by saying that the Department of Education doesn’t have good data to answer that question. About one third of charters, according to the GAO, do not indicate how many ELL students they enroll. It has recommended that the DOE explore if there are other gaps in the charters’ data reporting.

    The Pew Internet and American Life Project released a report this week on teens and online privacy. (PDF) It finds that teens rely on one another for privacy advice; just 9% turn to a teacher. Librarians weren’t even mentioned. Hmmm. What does this say about how schools are (or aren’t) helping students understand their digital identities?

    The NCES released four reports this week on US education data: characteristics of public and private elementary and secondary schools, principals, teachers, and library media centers.

    Edublogs’ Sue Waters has released the annual “State of Educational Blogging” report, which contains loads of interesting information about the numbers and the uses of blogging in and out of the classroom.

    According to research by University of Chicago grad student Christopher G. Takacs and Hamilton College professor Daniel F. Chambliss, “Undergraduates are significantly more likely to major in a field if they have an inspiring and caring faculty member in their introduction to the field. And they are equally likely to write off a field based on a single negative experience with a professor.”

    Teachers are known to spend a lot of their own money on classroom supplies, but according to a report by Share Our Strength, 63% of teachers report buying food for their classroom to help feed hungry students.

    Forbes has published a list of the most and least “financially fit” colleges in the US. Among those to which the magazine gave an A+: Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, Swarthmore. Among those with a D: Southern Virginia University, Oklahoma Christian University, and New York Institute of Technology.


    After decades of denying that it has surveilled Noam Chomsky, documents obtained by Foreign Policy reveal that the CIA did indeed keep a secret file on the MIT professor. Past tense. Because the FOIA shows that the file has been destroyed. So nothing to see here! Move along!

    Wireless baby monitors are pretty easily hackable, says Boing Boing, making it easy for anyone to peer into baby’s bedroom. Golly, I can’t wait ’til Bill Gates has his way and we have cheap-o cameras monitoring every classroom, eh?

    Image credits: Alan Levine, The Noun Project

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    yummy strata 08.07.09

    Education Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Education and The Law

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

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

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

    Schools and Surveillance

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

    Upgrades and Downgrades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    MOOCs and Anti-MOOCs

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

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

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

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

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

    Funding and Acquisitions

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

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

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

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

    From the HR Department

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

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

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

    “Research” and Data

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

    Bravery and Care

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

    Image credits: Flickr user timlewisnm and The Noun Project

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    Fun with pencils

    For the fourth year in a row, I’ve asked educators to tell me which technology they’re most eager to bring with them into their classrooms this fall. Hardware or software. A new technology, or just something that’s new to their classroom. And here are the results:

    2013’s Top 3 Tools

    1. iPad
    2. Google Apps for Education
    3. Smartphones

    Favorites from Previous Years

    1. Instructure Canvas
    2. Google+
    3. iPad

    1. Google+
    2. Edmodo
    3. iPad

    1. iPad
    2. Twitter
    3. Google Apps for Education

    Some Thoughts

    While this is by no means a scientific survey (I simply made a Google Form and tweeted a link inviting educators to participate) and the sample size is pretty small (77 responses), the results, particularly year-to-year comparisons of the results, are still pretty interesting. At the risk of reading far too much into things, here are handful of observations about this year’s survey:

    • Many of the respondents noted that their schools had recently adopted BYOD initiatives, and I think that “smart phones” was one of the most popular responses probably reflects that.
    • There seemed to be an increased excitement for devices in general – tablets (iPads and otherwise), e-readers, Apple TVs, and so on. Over a third of the respondents listed a piece of hardware as their “most anticipated technology.” But overwhelmingly, it's tablets that educators are talking about.
    • Nobody mentioned laptops.
    • The “Maker Movement” continues to penetrate the classroom, with many teachers excited to bring tools like Arduinos, Makey Makeys, and Raspberry Pis back-to-school with them. On the Web literacy side of making, Mozilla’s “Popcorn Maker” also earned some shout-outs.
    • Although there wasn’t a clear preference in the tool they’d use to do so, several teachers said they were looking forward to using screencasting tools to record videos to help supplement students’ learning. (One educator said that screencasting would be done by students for peer-to-peer instruction too.) Second in popularity to the trend of BYOD, then: “the flipped classroom.”
    • Last year, I expressed my surprise that Instructure Canvas – an LMS! – was one of the most anticipated tools. Although it wasn’t one of the top 3 responses, this year it’s the open source LMS Moodle that seems to be the most popular among respondents.
    • Despite strong interest in Google+ in 2011 and 2012, no one mentioned Google’s social networking site this year. Nobody mentioned Edmodo either. While it’s pretty fashionable to mock Google+ as a “wasteland” (true or not), Edmodo now boasts that over 23 million teachers and students have signed up for its product. So the absence of both is curious. Does the survey hint at our reaching “peak social” with ed-tech tools? Has social networking become so commonplace that it’s not something many educators are excited about?
    • Despite no mentions of Google+, Google did make a strong showing once again this year with Google Apps for Education one of the top responses. Google Hangouts and Android tablets were also named. Nobody mentioned Chromebooks. And nobody mentioned Google Glass. (Phew.)
    • As in previous years, the responses to the survey were pretty diverse, and the vast majority of the “most anticipated tools” mentioned were just mentioned once. This certainly reflects the growing number of tools available for teaching and learning, but it also highlights the challenges that startups (in particular) face in gaining recognition and market share.
    • It’s really a toss-up between Google and Apple for the hearts and minds and pocketbooks of educators, it seems. Nobody mentioned Microsoft.
    • Nobody mentioned MOOCs.

    Image credits: Flickr user Simon and The Noun Project

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    Seeing is believing...

    Education and The Law

    The New York State attorney general has filed a civil lawsuit accusing Trump University, Donald Trump’s for-profit business school, of engaging in a number of illegal business practices, calling the “university” an “elaborate bait-and-switch.” Business Insider has more details about the complaint, including the fact that the theme song to Trump’s show “The Apprentice” was played at the beginning and the end of each seminar.

    The Department of Justice has filed suit to block Louisiana’s school voucher law, arguing that “the first year of private school vouchers ‘impeded the desegregation process.’” More details in The Times-Picayune.

    The Department of Justice is also investigatingTiffin University and Altius Education to see if their partnership, Ivy Bridge College, violated federal financial aid rules. The university was recently ordered by its regional accreditor to stop offering associate degrees. Inside Higher Ed’s Paul Fain has a very thorough look at the accreditation and legal issues that the university and Altius Education face.

    Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nicholas Trombetta has pled not guilty to to “11 criminal charges related to alleged diversion of $990,000 in public educational funds to private uses.”

    President Obama has suggested that one way to make college cheaper might be to shave off a year of law school, cutting it down from three to two. No word from the administration if its recommendations for restructuring law school would include axing the study of constitutional law, but all things considered, you gotta wonder.

    The Politics of Education

    CSCOPE, a curriculum tool used in Texas schools, has come under fire from the Tea Party which accuses it of being a “Marxist indoctrination plot.” The Texas Observer has the story.

    If you’re looking for work as a teacher, you might not want to move to North Carolina as the state just ended tenure and pay raises for graduate degrees. But if you’re looking for work as a school superintendent, oh hell yeah North Carolina offers some great perks, along with a six-figure salary. The superintendent in Currituck County, for example, lives rent-free on school property, where her utilities including phone service are paid and $4300 was spent to put up a fence so that her 3 dogs could play and “not interrupt nearby school children.” More about the pay and perks from WRAL.

    The Department of Education has awarded some $28 million in grants to states to help cover some of the fees for low income students taking AP exams.

    Oh, Those Magical MOOCs

    San Jose State University and Udacity have released details about their summer pilot program, which just last month, was put “on pause” for the fall following grim results from the first trials. Now the results from the summer are being framed as “significantly better.” “Turns out,” writes Techcrunch, desperately insisting this initiative will “end higher education as we know it,” “the failure was premature.” Well, not really. What’s premature, I think, is comparing results from very different student populations and trying to convince us that things have improved. (“Magic formula” indeed.) I’ll echo Phil Hill here and say that we really need more transparency about this data.

    MOOC” (along with “selfie” and “bitcoin”) entered the Oxford Dictionaries Online this week. The definition provided: “a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people. anyone who decides to take a MOOC simply logs on to the website and signs up.” Tracing the origins of the word to MMORPGs, Stephen Downes notes the dictionary gets both the usage and the etymology of the word wrong.

    And by that definition, the UT Austin online class Introduction to Psychology that costs $550 to register for is not a MOOC. But that’s not stopping the professors and the press from invoking the similarity and calling it a SMOC, a synchronous massive online course. Ugh.

    Upgrades, Rebranding, and Pivots

    Wuzzit Trouble, a new math game from InnerTube Games, hit the Apple App Store this week. (Among the creators of the startup and the game: NPR’s “math guy” and Stanford math prof Keith Devlin.)

    Scratch 2.0, the new Web-based version of MIT Media Lab’s popular learn-to-program tool, is now available with an offline editor (in beta).

    Omeka, the open source online collections software from George Mason’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, hits version 2.1 and – woot! – now boasts an API too.

    Samsung announced its plans to make a Galaxy Tab“just for kids,” which according to Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez“will come pre-loaded with kid-friendly apps and games, a Kid’s Store, and parental control features that include whitelisting capabilities, time management features, password protected access, and more. Samsung will also offer an easy-to-grip Kids Case and, for drawing, a C Pen, which ships with the case.” No word yet on pricing.

    Pearson and Knewton are rolling out more partnered content, bringing – according to the press release) – “continuously adaptive recommendations to more than 400,000 students across subject areas including biology, anatomy & physiology, chemistry, physics, finance and accounting.”

    Edcanvas has changed its name to Blendspace.

    Inigral has changed its name to Uversity. It’s also moving away from Facebook where it’s had its “Schools App” since 2007.

    Funding, Mergers, and Acquisitions

    The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum has acquired a very interesting artifact for its collections: an app called Planetary. The app was released by the data design company Bloom, which shut its doors last year. More details on the museum’s plans for the software in the Smithsonian Magazine.

    EdCaliber, a Portland Oregon-based company that provides “instructional improvement software” has raised $500,000 in funding.

    New Schools Venture fund has invested in the literacy non-profit Readworks.

    Speakaboos, a startup that offers a subscription-based service for children’s books, has raised $6.2 million in funding. More details via Techcrunch.

    The for-profit Hondros College of Business is merging with Realty Continuing Education, which provides, um, continuing education for realtors.

    Edsurge reports that myEDmatch, a service that matches teachers looking for work with schools looking to hire, has raised $2.6 million in funding.

    Pearson has acquired the ADHD testing company BioBehavioral Diagnostics, which according to the press release, is “currently used in pediatric, neurology and psychiatry offices throughout the United States.” But golly gee, imagine how this could be integrated into textbooks and testing.

    From the HR Department

    Devlin Daley, one of Instructure’s co-founders, announced on Twitter late last week that he’s left the company. Phil Hill has some thoughts about what the departure might mean to the LMS.

    McGraw-Hill Education CEO Lloyd Waterhousesays he plans to retire at the end of the year, just 18 months after he took the company helm.

    New York City released data about teacher tenure in the city. “Of the total, 53 percent received tenure and 3 percent were denied it, effectively barring them from working in city schools. The remaining portion — 44 percent — had their probationary periods extended for another year,” reports GothamSchools.


    Red Burns, the founder of NYU’s influential Interactive Telecommunications Program, has passed away. She was 88.

    “Research,” Data, and Testing

    Another report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project: this one on home broadband. According to its findings, 70% of American adults have high speed broadband at home. 3% still go on line via dial up. And while the study is focused on adults, it is really important to keep these figures in mind when we think about learners of all ages and their (purported) access to educational materials online.

    The Washington Monthly has released its College Guide and Rankings, which include the schools it’s picked as the “best bang for the buck.” (Amherst College, for those keeping score at home.)

    Inside Higher Ed has released its annual Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology. It “finds significant skepticism among faculty members about the quality of online learning, with only one in five of them agreeing that online courses can achieve learning outcomes equivalent to those of in-person courses, and majorities considering online learning to be of lower quality than in-person courses on several key measures (but not in terms of delivering content to meet learning objectives).”

    New York City has made students’ test scores available to parents via an online interface, says The New York Times. It’s part of the Aris database system, a project that cost the city some $83 million and that “roughly 42 percent of teachers, assistant principals and principals did not even log on in each of the two prior academic years.” So letting parents have a peek at the data will totally boost those usage stats. Good work, NYC.

    The Tennessean takes a look at the test scores for the Tennessee Virtual Academy, which is run by the infamously awful K12 Inc. “Students at the Tennessee Virtual Academy, an online school run for profit, learned less than their peers anywhere else in Tennessee last year, data released by the state last week show, but efforts to crack down on the school have been delayed by heavy lobbying on its behalf.”

    Surveillance and Schools

    The Glendale Unified School District has hired Geo Listening to monitor the social media accounts of its 13,000 middle and high school students — updates to Twitter, Facebook and the like made both on and off campus. Says the company, “We monitor only public posts to social networks. We do not monitor privatized pages, SMS, MMS, email, phone calls, voicemails.”

    Students in the Lodi School District have fought back against the district’s plans to create a new social media policy that would make the students “submit to the school’s disciplinary authority for what they say on social networking sites, even off-campus on their personal time.” Among the types of speech the policy sought to ban: cyberbullying, liking or retweeting prohibited content, and subtweeting. After protests and pushback and letters of support from the Student Law Center, the district has dropped the policy.

    The FAA has temporarily grounded the drones that the journalism programs at the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln were using to shoot aerial photos and videos.

    And speaking of drones, Chicago Alderman George Cardenashas suggested that they be used along the city’s “Safe Passage” routes. Because nothing says you’re working hard to make kids’ walks to schools safer like missiles and militarization.

    College Sports

    College football kicks off this weekend, and just in time for the NCAA to deliver its sanctions against Aggie Johnny Manziel: he’ll be suspended for one half of one game for violating rule – not doing enough to stop folks from selling his autograph. If a student-athlete’s name or picture appears on commercial items (e.g., T-shirts, sweatshirts, serving trays, playing cards, posters) or is used to promote a commercial product sold by an individual or agency without the student-athlete’s knowledge or permission, the student-athlete (or the institution acting on behalf of the student-athlete) is required to take steps to stop such an activity in order to retain his or her eligibility for intercollegiate athletics. Unless of course, that individual or agency is the NCAA, EA Games, ESPN, the BCS, or Texas A&M. Then it’s totally okay to profit off of student athletes, I guess.

    Image credits: Flickr user Howard Dickins and The Noun Project

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    Education is Broken and Someone Should Fix It. (Oh Crap. "The Fix" is Broken Too.)

    Lego Zombie!If you were getting bored of the “education is broken” narrative, here’s a new one for you to play around with: the “education technology startup ecosystem is broken.” That might be one moral of the story that started to unfold late last week when David Cohen, co-founder of the startup accelerator TechStars, published a lengthy anonymous letter from a startup founder describing a “horrifying” experience with another (competing) accelerator program, one specializing in a particular vertical, and its managing director. Despite Cohen’s insistence that he’d scrubbed identifying details and changed the gender of pronouns, it was pretty clear to readers that the vertical in question was education, the incubator program New York’s Socratic Labs, and the director Heather Gilchrist. More Hacker Newsy sleuthing uncovered the anonymous entrepreneur and his startup too: Julian Miller and Learnmetrics. The story made it to Valleywag (good job, team! That’s a great sign for the sector). And while there were lots of “no comments” from those involved when the tech bloggers bit into the story, Edsurge did give Gilchrist space for an op-ed on “lessons learned from an alpha cohort.” I’m just glad we’re all in this “for the sake of the children.”


    UC Irvine will offer a MOOC in conjunction with the fourth season of its popular zombie show The Walking Dead. The MOOC, which will run on Instructure’s Canvas platform, involves several professors from different departments and will include topics on math, head-severing, and public health. Lo and behold, the future of education technology is, once again, television.

    The language in the headline is fascinating: “A Star MOOC Professor Defects.” That’s Mitchell Duneier, a sociologist at Princeton, now described by The Chronicle of Higher Education as a “conscientious objector” as he says he’ll no longer offer classes via Coursera. Duneier pulled out after Coursera approached him to license his content so that other colleges could use it. “I’ve said no, because I think that it’s an excuse for state legislatures to cut funding to state universities.”

    The UT Austin Intro to Psychology “SMOC” (synchronous massive online course, lol) has released an app for course members that “collects information about the user’s sleep, physical activity, sociability, mood, stress, and daily activities.” Because, hey, this is all one big higher ed experiment, right?

    Inside Higher Ed does some math, counting the number of female and male professors teaching MOOCs and finding that men still dominate the offerings: “8 of the 63 courses listed on edX’s website are taught by women, and an additional 8 are taught by mixed-gender groups. Of Coursera’s 432 courses, 121 feature at least one female instructor and 71 taught exclusively by them. Udacity lists 29 courses on its website, and while only two are taught by women, many of them were created by female course developers.” Pro tip: don’t read the comments on this story.


    Lego has become the world’s second largest toy maker, “after reporting a 13% increase in sales. It generated sales of $1.8bn (£1.2bn) for the six months to 30 June, up from the same period last year, overtaking US-based Hasbro.” (We'll pretend like there's an ed-tech angle here.)

    And we'll pretend there's an ed-tech angle here too: MicrosoftacquiredNokia’s device and services business this week. Although the education market wasn’t touted in Microsoft’s “strategic rationale” for the deal, Nokia does have several programs in the developing world that deliver educational content via mobile phone, and that's a market that many in the (ed-)tech industry have their eyes on. For totally philanthropic reasons, of course.

    Think Through Learning, maker of Think Through Math, has raised $5.6 million in Series B funding.

    JPMorgan Chasesays it will stop issuing student loans, arguing that “competition from federal government programs and increased scrutiny from regulators had limited its ability to expand the business.” Those pesky regulators.

    From the HR Department

    University of Phoenix President Bill Pepicello has announced his retirement (he says he’ll stay in his position until a replacement is found).

    The Politics of Education

    The US Department of Education released a draft of new “gainful employment” rules, designed to crack down on for-profit universities and vocational programs that leave students with heavy debt burdens. (An earlier version of the rule was thrown out by a federal court last year.) More details on the proposal via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    The Los Angeles USD has plans to shell out a billion dollars for their new iPad initiative that’ll (eventually) give every student in the district a device. But they forgot to budget for keyboards – “recommended for students when they take new state standardized tests” – something that could cost an additional $38 million. Oops.

    Maine governor Paul LePage has signed an executive order that “prevents Maine schools from adopting federally mandated educational standards.” We call this "appealing to the base," I believe.

    Launches and Upgrades

    I wouldn’t have picked it, but it looks like “lesson plan websites” and “edu content directories” are one of the hot ed-tech trends of 2013. Everyone is launching one, it seems. This week, it’s AT&T and GameDesk teaming up to launch Educade, “a revolutionary portal that meets the needs of teachers and parents everywhere by providing the largest online library of free, ready to use lesson plans paired with engaging and innovative learning tools.” And former Egghead CEO has launched LearnBig, a search engine/portal for educational content. Is the future of ed-tech a “portal” or “TV”? It’s so hard to tell!

    McGraw-Hill released an update to their online learning platform Connect. New features include “a proactive at-risk student notification tool and automation enhancements of routine classroom tasks.”

    Edsurge has details about Uncollege’s plans to expand from a collection of online resources to a year-long “Gap Year” program. “Hacking your education doesn’t come cheap. The one-year program costs $13,000 which covers the first three months of housing in San Francisco and travel and housing stipends for living abroad.”

    From the press release: “The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and College for All Texans Foundation have partnered with Pearson to work with two state institutions — Texas A&M University-Commerce and South Texas College— to create a competency-based learning Bachelor of Applied Sciences (BAS) degree in Organizational Leadership.” From The Chronicle: “The curriculum will be offered in seven-week sessions and can be completed as slowly or quickly as a student likes, he said. Each session will cost less than $1,000.” Hey! That's cheaper than Uncollege-ing!

    “Research” and Data

    The Brookings Institution has released a report titled “The Algebra Imperative: Assessing Algebra in a National and International Context.” And the battle over Algebra II wages on.

    Nielsen has released a survey on “connected devices” with details about students usage of tablets at school and at home. Among the activities students are using tablets for in the classroom: 51% say “searching the Internet,” but just 30% say “completing school assignments.”

    The US Census Bureau released data this week on school enrollments, covering pre-school through grad school. Headline-making news: college enrollments were down in 2012, falling by almost half-a-million from the year before. It’s worth noting that the number of Hispanics enrolling in college rose by 447,000.

    More education-related polling, this time from PACE and the USC Rossier School of Education on Californians’ thoughts on the state of education. (PDF) Related and worth reading, USC professor Morgan Polikoff’s “On Education Polls and Confirmation Bias” via The Shanker Blog.

    The U.S. News & World Report college rankings are due out next week, and Inside Higher Ed reports on some of the changes to the ways in which these are calculated. More details to come next week, but let’s let the hype start now.

    The Pew Internet and American Life Project has released a report this week on “Anonymity, Privacy, and Security Online.” Among the findings, “55% of internet users have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organizations, or the government.”

    And in related news, “Revealed: The NSA’s Secret Campaign to Crack, Undermine Internet Security.” Encryption is broken. Someone should fix it. Oh crap... Not this story again.

    Image credits: Debbie Ramone and The Noun Project

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    Science is Awesome

    36 years after it was launched, Voyager I has moved out of the sun’s reach and has entered interstellar space, the first human-made object to do so. I blame our failing schools. Oh. Wait.

    Science is Awful

    Pink slime. It’s back in school lunches.

    Massive Open* Online Courses (*Some Restrictions May Apply)

    San Jose State University has released its report on the spring pilot program it ran with Udacity. The NSF-funded research doesn’t really offer any surprises here: student “effort, measured in a variety of ways, trumps all other variables tested for their relationships to student success.” More analysis of the report from Inside Higher Ed, Phil Hill, and Michael Feldstein.

    Timed with an appearance on stage at Techcrunch Disrupt by Sebastian Thrun and California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Udacity announced the Open Education Alliance, a partnership with several tech companies, which has jack shit to do with “open education,” but hey, it’s co-opted “MOOC” so why not this phrase too.

    Google is "joining the “open Edx platform.” It’s not really clear what that entails – I mean, other than making “open” even murkier – as it says it will continue to maintain the open source code for its Course Builder software “but are focusing our development efforts on Open edX.” Slate calls the partnership a “YouTube for MOOCs,” so the comments section (“forums”) should be an awesome place to learn. See also:

    Coursera announced this week that it’s earned $1 million in revenue from its Signature Track courses. (The company has raised some $65 million in venture funding.) According to its blog post, “Over 70% of the students earning them already have a bachelor’s degree or higher.” One happy customer says that "The Verified Certificate boosts my credibility in my new role as CTO of a startup. We use gamification in our products for employee growth.”

    The HarvardX Neuroscience MOOC MCB80x is running a Kickstarter to raise funds so that students in the class will all get a “spikerbox,” a DIY neuroscience kit made by Backyard Brains. (I covered Backyard Brains here.)

    Peking University has joinedCoursera.

    MOOCoW. Because someone had to do it.

    ISTE is running a MOOC. Well, it’s a STEM conference, but marketed as a MOOC. Because of course.

    HarvardX has released enrollment data for its courses, with 43% of participants coming from the US. More numbers and an interactive visualization via The Harvard Crimson.

    Karen Head wraps up her Chronicle series on the “First-Year Composition 2.0” MOOC she taught on the Coursera platform, with a look at what was “successful” and not about the course. An excerpt:

    “I don’t think any of us (writing and communication instructors) would rush to teach another MOOC soon. For now, the technology is lacking for courses in subject areas like writing, which have such strong qualitative evaluation requirements. Too often we found our pedagogical choices hindered by the course-delivery platform we were required to use, when we felt that the platform should serve the pedagogical requirements. Too many decisions about platform functionality seem to be arbitrary, or made by people who may be excellent programmers but, I suspect, have never been teachers.”

    Non-MOOC-Related College News

    Wake Forest University is joining Semester Online, the online education consortium run by 2U.

    Students at CUNY protested the first class offered by former CIA director David Petraus. (Video here.) It’s gonna be a long semester, General.

    South Carolina’s Converse College is cutting its tuition by 43%.

    Law and Politics

    Tamara Cotman, a school administrator in Atlanta brought up in charges relating to the school system’s cheating scandal, was found not guilty on Friday of influencing witnesses during a government investigation. This was the first case brought to trial in that investigation, one that led to the indictments of over 30 educators, including the school superintendent Beverly Hall.

    Sallie Mae has dropped its membership from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The conservative group works with corporations and legislators to write laws, primarily at the state level. More about ALEC and education here.

    From the press release: the California Community Colleges Board of Governors has voted to require that any works created under contracts or grants funded by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office carry the Creative Commons Attribution license that gives permission to the public to reproduce, distribute, perform, display or adapt the licensed materials for any purpose so long as the user gives attribution to the author."

    Negotiations got underway in DC this week for new “gainful employment” regulations. Inside Higher Ed has more on the proposals and rule-making sessions.

    The Department of Education has deniedTexas’s request to waive NCLB testing requirements of elementary and middle school students.

    The Department of Education told California that it couldn’t scrap its NCLB-mandated state testing system in order to field test the new Common Core tests. Arne Duncan has threatened to withhold funds if it does so. But the state legislature has moved forward regardless, passing legislation that would suspend standardized testing for a non-high-stakes test of new assessments.

    Lots of back and forth this week on whether or not former Indiana (and now too former Florida) schools head Tony Bennett has been exonerated in the grade-changing controversy that prompted his resignation. Or has he been drawn into another scandal?

    Bill de Blasio won the Democratic primary in New York City mayor’s race this week. His victory is being hailed in some corners as “full speed reverse on education reforms.”

    The SEIU has authorized a strike against the Oregon University system. The UO student union is calling for a student walk out in support. In its negotiations with administrators, the UO faculty union (different from the SEIU) is concerned that the university plans to “decouple academic freedom and free speech.” But, hey, the football team is 2–0 and that’s what really matters. Go Ducks.

    Surveillance and Schools

    The administration at Johns Hopkins Universityrequested that cryptography researcher Matthew Green take down a blog post he’d penned about recent NSA revelations. The university later apologized. More via ProPublica.

    Launches and Upgrades

    Apple held a press event this week. Blah blah blah blah new iOS. Blah blah blah gold iPhones. Blah blah blah fingerprint scanners.

    The non-profit CodeNow is expanding to the Bay Area, launching its youth programming classes there (as well as in NYC) this fall. Students receive 40+ hours of training, and those who successfully complete the program can earn a laptop. (I’ve written previously about CodeNow here.)

    Kaplan’s Ed-Tech Accelerator Program, run in conjunction with TechStars, had the Demo Day for its first cohort this week. VentureBeat has a look at the participating companies and their pitches.

    DHThis, sort of like Reddit but for the digital humanities, launched this week. Adeline Koh, one of its creators, has a write-up on the project in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez covers the launch of appoLearning, an education-focused app search and discovery portal from the folks at Appolicious. (Didn’t I note just last week that portals were a big ed-tech trend this year?!)

    The CK–12 Foundationunveiled several new features on its OER site, including reporting features to track student progress and an assignment creation tool that lets teachers “mix and match concepts from different subjects to create a single assignment.”

    Figshare has launched “Figshare for Institutions,” “a cloud-based repository that enables universities and colleges to host datasets, papers, videos, and other research outputs and make this content publicly available.” More details in the School Library Journal.

    Downgrades and Closures

    Y Combinator-backed tutoring startup Tutorspree is closing its doors “because we could not make it the company we wanted,” the founders write on their blog. PandoDaily’s Erin Griffith writes up news of the closure, suggesting that “Some in the ed-tech industry believe there was an investment bubble for early stage ed-tech startups and it has popped. General VC’s are not as eager to invest in early stage education as they were six to 12 months ago, several industry observers said.”

    And in “almost ready to close news,” there’s Dabble, an education startup that’s turning its struggles into a “30 Days of Honesty” blog series, detailing “their day-to-day struggles and personal doubts about running Dabble. Each day, they write openly about debates over raising prices so they can take a greater cut, asking readers for marketing tips and questioning how long they’ll feel comfortable committing to the company.” Mashable picked up the story, so hey, maybe there’s hope.

    Funding and Acquisitions

    The learning management system Desire2Learn has acquiredKnowillage Systems. Knowillage is the maker of the adaptive learning system LeaP, which according to the press release “uses language processing and analytics to determine gaps in a learner’s skill set and then provides the right tools, content, and techniques to address those areas of weakness.”

    TechVibes reports that Class Messenger, a messaging service for teachers and parents, has raised $1 million in funding from Scholastic.

    Mindsy, which aims to be the “Netflix of e-learning” has raised an £80,000 seed round, reports Techcrunch.

    The commenting system Livefyre has acquired the curation tool Storify. Please, don’t screw it up, guys.

    In un-funding news, Kentucky’s Centre College announced this week that a $250 million gift to the school has been withdrawn. Ouch.

    From the HR Department

    He’s been the acting deputy since April, but now the White House has officially nominated Jim Shelton as Deputy Secretary for the Department of Education. Prior to the DoE, Shelton worked for the Gates Foundation and for New Schools Venture Fund.

    Jeff Raikes announced his retirement as CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He says he’ll stay on board ’til a replacement is found. Hey guys, I hear Steve Ballmer will be looking for work soon…

    Following the departure of co-founder and CTO Devlin Daley, Instructure has a new CTO: Joel Dehlin.

    Gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer has resigned from his teaching position at Pasadena College following revelations that he’s had sexual relationships with several students. Good riddance.

    “Research” and Data

    Your Annual Reminder to Ignore the US News & World Report College Rankings.”

    A study released this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research was translated into headlines like this: “Tenured Professors Make Worse Teachers,” “Ad­juncts Are Bet­ter Teachers Than Tenured Professors,” and “Study Finds Students Learn More from Non-Tenure Track Instructors.” The study tracked cohorts of freshmen at Northwestern University, following their enrollment and grades after taking classes taught by non-tenure track instructors. The abstract doesn’t mention “adjuncts” at all, but golly gee look how the media spins the story.

    In other research news that just seems perfectly designed to be skewed for the sake of headlines – “Bad news for teachers, good news for Teach for America” – a new study compares the effectiveness of TFA and Teaching Fellow teachers. The study found that “TFA teachers were more effective than the teachers with whom they were compared. On average, students assigned to TFA teachers scored 0.07 standard deviations higher on end-of-year math assessments than students assigned to comparison teachers, a statistically significant difference.” Education writer Dana Goldstein has some useful thoughts on the research design and interpretations.

    Welcome to Harvard, Class of 2017.” According to a survey of incoming freshmen, 42% say they’ve cheated on their homework. 35% say they’ve had sex.

    The Open University has released a report on “Innovating Pedagogy,” which offers a look at 10 education theories, tools, and practices which it says “have the potential to provoke major shifts in educational practice, particularly in post-school education.” Among the 10: gaming, MOOCs, and badges.

    ProPublica looks at financial aid data from the Department of Education and finds that “from 1996 through 2012, public colleges and universities gave a declining portion of grants — as measured by both the number of grants and the dollar amounts — to students in the lowest quartile of family income.” Read the whole story.


    Congratulations to the winners of this year’s IgNobels! Among the winners, “‘Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beer Holder’: People Who Think They Are Drunk Also Think They Are Attractive” (which won the Psychology Prize) and “Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public, AND to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding” (who won the Peace Prize). The complete list of winners is here.

    NCWIT (the National Center for Women & Information Technology) will open submissions for its Aspirations in Computing award on September 15. The award is for “all creative coders, hackers, designers, & technical young [that is, high-school level] women.”


    On the heels of some pretty bad publicity, the education accelerator program Socratic Labs is launching a new initiative: “Edtext: Context for Solving Big Problems in Education.” The month-long event will bring together “New York educators, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and technologists to learn about the context of education needed for real innovation.” Tickets – for educators and for entrepreneurs – cost $1200, but “if selected for the Socratic Labs Accelerator Program in December, participants receive a full refund of the course fee.” Hrmm.

    It’s time for another round of “Twitter vs. Zombies,” an online version of the campus version of “Humans vs Zombies.” The game starts today, but it’s not too late to sign up and eat the brains of digital humanities professors. Um, digitally of course.

    In Memoriam

    Education professor and policy researcher Jean Anyonpassed away this week following a battle with cancer. Her Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work, which examines how the schools of different social classes educate students, is a must-read.

    Image credits: NASA and the Noun Project

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    Through today, you can download a Kindle version of Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez’s new book Invent to Learnfor free. You should do so. Really, you should buy the book. (Amazon Affiliate link) Hailed as the “bible” for bringing the maker movement into schools, I think Invent to Learn is the most important education book published this year, offering not just a vision of how “making” and “tinkering” could transform classrooms, but a practical guide for how to move school in a more constructionist direction – how to design better learning environments and projects, how to foster wonder and build capacity in children (and adults), and how to combat the drudgery of a standardized-test-obsessed school system.

    To call Invent to Learn the most important education book published this year runs counter, I realize, to many of the reviews out this week for Diane Ravitch’s latest, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. (Amazon Affiliate link) An education historian, Ravitch is one of the most prominent and controversial figures in education policy debates, and her 21st (!) book will no doubt be a bestseller as her last one was.

    The new book retreads much of the territory of that previous one, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (she really likes the titular colon, doesn’t she). The arguments of both books, this time made with less patience, more fervor: that “corporate education reform” is grounded in false claims about “broken schools,” something that in turn fosters efforts to privatize the US education system.

    “Your critics say you are long on criticism but short on answers.” Ravitch begins Reign of Error recounting an episode with the film critic David Denby telling her this while on a speaking tour for her last book. So this time, she says in her Introduction, she’s offering solutions not just criticisms.

    This is one of the weaknesses of the book, I think, something that gives it a structure that makes Reign of Error read like a long list of political talking points rather than historical narrative. I’ll admit I’m biased here when I say “skip the solutions!” as I’m working on a book that raises far more questions than it gives answers for. But I see great value in penning a detailed critique about “what’s happening” or “what’s wrong” without having to provide prescriptions for “what’ll fix it.” Unlike Invent to Learn, which as a guide must make very practical and doable suggestions, Ravitch’s book isn’t a guide and so doesn’t really succeed in fulfilling the conventions of that genre. It doesn't really work as "history" either. It’s more stump speech than scholarship.

    Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t as though I object to much of what Ravitch proposes here. Access to high quality early childhood education for all. Access to prenatal healthcare. Democratic control of schools. An end to high-stakes standardized testing. But I’m not confident these solutions get at the heart of what is wrong with our current education system – a system that, without a thorough diagnosis, feels as though Ravitch has written herself into a corner here to defend. Some of this defense is a nostalgia on her part for a pre-RTTT and NCLB-era education (nostalgia, as Deborah Meier points out, for an education that never existed for everyone). And some of the defense is her curricular conservativism too.

    Certainly the defensiveness is understandable if you see public schools as “under attack,” which Ravitch clearly does. She spends the first twenty chapters of Reign of Error countering the narrative that “schools are broken,” examining “the facts,” as she puts it, about test scores, graduation rates, the achievement gap, and so on and debunking many of the claims she ascribes to education reformers.

    Claim: Test scores are falling, and the educational system is broken and obsolete.
    Reality: Test scores are at their highest point ever recorded.

    Claim: The nation has a dropout crisis, and high school graduation rates are falling.
    Reality: High school dropouts are at an all time low, and high school graduation rates are at an all-time high.

    She makes her case by pointing to statistics – and alternative ways to interpret these statistics – about academic achievement that challenge the “failing system” story. And rightly so. “Education is broken” has become a powerful narrative over (at least) the last 30 years – not just in political circles but in casual conversation too. A 2012 Gallup poll found only 29% of Americans were confident in the public school system, for example.

    It’s worth scrutinizing closely this narrative, not only to examine its veracity or to investigate who benefits financially, but to ask why has it become so widely accepted. This, dare I say, would be a great job for a historian.

    “Public education is not broken,” insists Ravitch. “It is not failing or declining. The diagnosis is wrong, and the solutions of the corporate reformers are wrong. Our urban schools are in trouble because of concentrated poverty and racial segregation. But public education as such is not ‘broken.’ Public education is in a crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has destabilized it.”

    I hear this narrative of crisis quite often in ed-tech industry circles, and I don’t dispute Ravitch’s assertion of its power. Take the PandoDaily piece on “The promise (and refreshingly low hype) of online education,” for example: “High school and elementary school are broken. College is broken. There’s a major distribution problem that the Internet is finally poised to revolutionize, and there are renewed calls to rethink basic vocational training. There’s also money to be made in groups like General Assembly, teaching people to code and hobbyist sites that teach obscure, one-offs like knitting or photography.” Education is broken -- insistence, but no proof. This or that app will fix it -- never any proof. But the financial interests behind the argument are pretty clear.

    Or, they’re clear to me at least. But I think Ravitch is less successful in making these interests and connections clear to her readers, in many cases working with the assumption that they’ve already seen through “the hoax of the privatization movement.” She says in the first chapter of the book that we’re witnessing a “deliberate effort to replace public education with a privately managed, free-market system of schooling.” And maybe we are. But I’m just not sure that the rest of the book, focused as it is on refuting the “schools are broken” narrative, substantiates that claim. Not carefully. Not thoroughly. There’s lots of research here about the problems with TFA and charter schools and merit pay. But it’s sandwiched in between polemic.

    Of course it is. Debates about education reform have become increasingly acrimonious, and Ravitch is no exception to that. She is one of the loudest supporters of teachers in a political climate that is profoundly anti-teacher. She has become one of the fiercest critics of education reform in a political climate that is, at the major party level at least, almost unanimous in its support for it.

    But in her attempts to challenge the “schools are broken” narrative, I worry we’re left with the unstated reverse: “schools are fine” (or at least those schools that aren’t in high poverty areas). Even if we were to scrap high-stakes testing tomorrow and institute, as Ravitch calls for, “a full, balanced, and rich curriculum including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, geography, foreign languages, mathematics, and physical education,” I don’t think we can say “schools are fine.” Not if they remain coercive. Not if there is inequitable funding. Not if classrooms remain teacher-centered. Not if access to powerful computers and to the open Internet is denied. Not if students sit, grouped by age, in rows of desks and move from subject to subject when the bell rings. Not if students are mostly listening and rarely building.

    That’s where Stager and Martinez’s book Invent to Learn comes in as a manual for educators (and parents and principals) – one that could help reignite the progressive education movement and shift school into the hands of modern learners. That makes the book incredibly political, mind you, but the transformation it calls for isn’t simply at the level of policy. The change is pedagogical; the change is technological.

    It’s this last piece that, I admit, has frustrated me the most about Ravitch’s work. Again and again, she has called into question the value of technology in the classroom. And as Stanford education professor Larry Cuban recently observed, it will sadly be the Common Core State Standards’ mandate for computer-based assessment that finally – finally – puts computers in the hands of all public school students. But to resist that needn’t force us to insist “no tech at all.” Technology is neither good, nor evil nor neutral as Kranzberg's law reminds us. Yet the only mentions that technology warrant in Ravitch’s book involve its role in data mining and in cyber charters -- "evil." Surely, as we think about what school can and should be with the advent of the computing technologies, there’s much much more. The millions of page-views Ravitch touts for her own blog point to some of that.

    I don't think we do anyone any service by neglecting nuance around education technology – it’s neither wholly corporate enslavement nor wholly liberatory. Not our political allies. Certainly not our students. We must ask who promotes technology and who profits, sure, but also how is it used, for what learning objectives, and so on. The same goes for all our education practices. The same goes for all our learning spaces.

    This is why Invent to Learn matters. It matters as a defense of democracy, community, and learning in ways that Ravitch’s book, buried as it is in policy and polemic, cannot accomplish. Invent to Learn offers a vision of technology in the hands of learners and in the service of progressive education. And frankly, as much as she’s become an outspoken critic of reform and privatization (and certainly there is plenty of that in ed-tech), progressive education – learner-centered, hands-on, open-ended exploratory messiness – has never been Ravitch’s thing.

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