Inside the School Silicon Valley Thinks Will Save Education


Reposted from Wired:

If you are truly fed up with the school status quo and have $20,875 to spare (it’s pricey, sure, but cheaper than the other private schools you’ve seen), you might decide to take a chance and sign your 7-year-old up for this little experiment in education called AltSchool. Except it’s not really so little anymore. And it’s about to get a lot bigger.

Founded in 2013 by former Google head of personalization Max Ventilla, AltSchool has poached high level executives from Google and Uber. It’s got users—in this case, parents—applying by the thousands. It’s actually making money. And as of today, Mark Zuckerberg just became one of its largest investors.

AltSchool is a decidedly Bay Area experiment with an educational philosophy known as student-centered learning. The approach, which many schools have adopted, holds that kids should pursue their own interests, at their own pace. To that, however, AltSchool mixes in loads of technology to manage the chaos, and tops it all off with a staff of forward-thinking teachers set free to custom-teach to each student. The result, they fervently say, is a superior educational experience.

Read More…

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!


Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Educators everywhere!

Whereas, Memorial Day is a time to reflect and recommit to our common purpose; and

Whereas, an opportunity to define the future is within our grasp; and

Whereas, our current ways and means are not getting it done;

Be it resolved that this Memorial Day weekend we adopt a new professionalism as educators. It is the next step in transforming education.

To do so, we must:

  • Redefine “educator”
    Give up how we were trained and how we have allowed ourselves to be defined. Extract ourselves from this uncomfortable pigeonhole and align our efforts with the new age in which we live.  Yes we can keep those attributes which continue to serve children well. But everything else must go.
  • End the inertia
    Be the change, push the envelope, lead the transformation. No longer allow ourselves to be seen as impediments to progress. No longer allow outside interests to spin their version of our reality. Put ourselves in motion and stay in motion, serving as agents of change and advocates for the future.
  • Present our best professional selves
    Walk with a tall stature of lofty ideals. Proactively smile, engage, and seize opportunities. Stand elbow-to-elbow with decision makers and stakeholders. Model openness, transparency, and flexibility in our thinking, offering clear questions and straightforward answers. And keep the focus on children.
  • Divest ourselves from any influences that compromise our integrity
    Give up the entanglements preventing us from freely embracing education transformation. Be purely motivated to lead education without self-interest or influence from outside the profession, especially commercial interests offering enticements to increase their access to education dollars.
  • Exchange perceived security for professional growth
    Let go of the Industrial Age notion that stability is security. We can no longer be perceived as stewards of the status quo. Dare to look outside ourselves and discover the greater rewards of contributing to the education transformation already happening…. it is moving forward with or without us.
  • Model the values, skills and attitudes of the Information Age
    Talk the talk. Walk the walk. Build learning and leading communities. Demonstrate trust, risk-taking, experimentation, and innovation. Become proficient with a variety of digital tools that promote learning and productivity. Network with colleagues worldwide. In short, live the life our students live.
  • Define and inform the issues
    Fill the leadership vacuum. Be intelligent, strategic and well-spoken. Take back the issues surrounding education and own them. Insist on being at the table for substantive discussion. Push back on any agenda that runs counter to what we know is best for children. And do it with energy and passion.
  • See and believe in infinite possibilities
    It’s time to stand back and appreciate the big picture. We are in the human potential business, and human potential is an unlimited resource. Remember why we chose education as a profession and reclaim our ideals. Stop fighting for our slice of the pie and see the potential for a world full of pastry chefs.
  • Craft a dynamic, generative vision
    Delineate the issues, identify the solutions and take action. Make certain this new vision has the capacity to embrace all children as successful, contributing learners. Be sure it is inclusive of all stakeholders and their input. Wherever you see limits being put in place, break them down and be a champion for expanding the conversation.
  • Proactively build alliances
    Be seen as a connector in an age of connections. Partner with stakeholders at all levels, especially those who most challenge our thinking. Make alliances that serve the best interests of children and learning and the future. Be known as an uncompromising proponent of the promise and power of education transformed.
  • Build a new public education
    Achieve our ultimate goal of transforming education, coupling the long-standing ideals of a free public education with the opportunities of a global information economy. We may not know exactly what it will look like, or all the details of how it will work, but it is time to make it a reality.

Let the word go forth from this place (my blog!) and time (Memorial Day!) that there is important work left to be done…that we as educators resolve to claim for ourselves a new professionalism!

AltSchool Raises $100M to Build Microschools


Reposted from IndustryWeek:

Tech industry leaders including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have raised $100 million for an education initiative aimed at “reimagining” schools from the elementary school level. The San Francisco-based AltSchool announced Monday the latest funding came from the venture capital groups Founders Fund and Andreessen Horowitz with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation led by Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla. Other contributors included Omidyar Network created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and venture investor John Doerr.

“From SpaceX to Airbnb to Oscar, today’s strongest entrepreneurs are creating technology-enabled models to transform some of the oldest and most established industries in the world. We believe the time has come to reimagine education,” said Brian Singerman of Founders Fund. “The US education system has remained largely unaltered for decades. AltSchool has the audacious vision and scalable solutions to accelerate truly transformative change in the education space.”

AltSchool calls itself “a collaborative community of micro-schools that uses outstanding teachers, deep research, and innovative tools to offer a personalized, whole child learning experience for the next generation.”

Read More…

Read/Listen to the NPR interview/podcast on AltSchool here.



Caring makes all the difference in the world. Not a mood or an attitude…caring is a way of being. You either care or you don’t. It’s easy to care when something is important to you. But how about caring when it’s important to someone else? How about caring when there’s nothing in it for you, because it makes the world a better place? Caring is courageous.

Caring does not turn on and off. It doesn’t only count when it grabs your attention. It doesn’t matter just when you feel like it. It is something that can be seen from within regardless of the moment or the motivation. You either genuinely care or you don’t. It is more than feeling…it is action. Talk is cheap; caring leaves no doubt.

Caring3In order to be caring you have to have thought through what you are all about. You know why you are here…why you are in education…and why you make the choices you do. You have come to terms with what you can control and what you can’t…and you understand that even in the worst of circumstances you make a difference simply by caring.

How do you instill caring in your core? You have understanding, acceptance, empathy, compassion, perspective and a strong sense of who you are. You refrain from reaction to what is happening around you and thoughtfully respond in helpful ways. When all else fails, you simply seek to understand. Caring is the constant when all other variables conspire to make you act out of self-interest. Caring keeps you focused on what’s important.

You know that feeling of comfort when you are interacting with someone who cares…you feel reassured and you are willing to trust just a little more. You feel secure. You can focus on what’s important. Caring inspires caring in others; it brings out the best in all of us. Caring is contagious.

Caring4Caring is positive. It does not accept selfishness or the status quo. Caring does not make you a better person…it makes you make choices that make you a better person. It will not transform you all at once, but it will transform your life over time. Do not care about those things that reinforce negativity. That’s not caring…that’s rationalized resentment. It takes no effort to be cynical.

It takes effort to care. It requires discipline. Apathy is easy; you have to consciously catch yourself when you start to give into it. Over time, caring becomes habit…a part of you…you care about the right things for the right reasons and something happens…you are no longer controlled by things that drain you of your potential to make a positive difference in your life and in the lives of others.

When caring is in your core, life becomes easier, doors open for you, and you find fulfillment. Why? Because people recognize caring in others Worthwhile people respond to caring and want to experience it with you. These kinds of caring connections lead you to opportunities and possibilities you cannot find when you are mired in self-interest. Caring is born of gratitude.

Caring5If you’re happy with your lot in life, this message is not for you. But if you know in your heart that you are settling…struggling…searching for something better…caring is the key. It is a selfless way of being…a way to operate in your personal life…your professional life…with those closest to you and with complete strangers. Cynicism wants you to believe you can’t afford to care. I’m here to suggest that you can’t afford not to.

Caring is a way of being. Begin where you are. Care about what is good and right and self-affirming and let everything else go. You will look back one day and realize you have been transformed…because you chose to care about more than yourself.

How Should We Rebuild the U.S. Education System?


Reposted from Forbes:

Anybody else tired of having to be “boundlessly and annoyingly skeptical” about the reforms advertised as fixes to bad public schools?

A good education is worth investing in—that has always been true. To get some perspective on what a quality learning experience could look like, and how we can turn that vision into reality, I reached out to a few people who are fighting to build a better education system here in the United States and asked them these three questions:

  • Why are schools in the United States failing their students?
  • If you alone had the power to do so, how would you fix the U.S. education system?
  • What does your “dream school” look like?

Read More…

A New Approach to Designing Educational Technology


Reposted from Slate:

Neuropsychologist David Rose spent years helping kids with learning disabilities participate in school by creating digital textbooks with pop-up graphics, text to speech, flexible fonts, and other customizable features to fit individual needs. The books were so engaging “that traditional books started to look relatively disabled by comparison,” says Rose, co-founder and chief education officer of the Center for Applied Special Technology outside Boston. Not just textbooks. The crew at CAST felt that traditional lesson plans built around print were leaving too many kids out, frustrating some students while boring others.

So they flipped their approach. Rather than help individual students plug back into the classroom, they set out to transform the classroom itself. They built software and digital tools to pack lessons with flexibility, offering every student multiple ways to learn and to express that learning—including print, speech, graphics, music, and interactive games, among others. They called their new mission “universal design for learning,” and a movement was born. Spurred by the rapid advance of computers and broadband Internet in schools, UDL initiatives have sprung up in nearly every state in the last five years.

And now, Rose and his team have concluded that the most pervasive learning disability in schools, and the No. 1 challenge for UDL, isn’t physical or cognitive, it’s emotional—turning around kids who are turned off by school.

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Shifting the Culture in Learner-Centered Environments


Reposted from CompetencyWorks:

In 2012, the Maine Legislature passed into law LD1422, An Act to Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy. The key element of this legislation is the transition to a standards-based educational system in which graduation from a Maine high school is based on students demonstrating proficiency. The policy was set, but what does it mean to a district and school to ensure their students are proficient? What had to change? I’ve worked in one district that has undergone the transformation and I’m currently working in another that has started their transition to a proficiency-based system. Each one began by transforming the culture to a learner-centered approach. In both districts, consultants from the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition, a division of Marzano Research, provided us with training and resources to aid in our implementation of this challenging work.

It starts with fully embracing the fact that students learn differently. As we put our beliefs that learners learn in different ways and in different time frames into practice, we began taking bold steps toward creating a meaningful, personalized learning experience for each child. Early on, we gleaned the importance of including all stakeholders, including community groups, students, staff, and parents, in thinking and talking about a culture of learning. We hosted many conversations about our current cultural reality and reflected on needed changes moving forward. Our essential question, “What does a successful learner in the twenty-first century look like?” guided us through a lengthy process of discussions, gathering, and then analyzing the data from our various stakeholder groups. Once our district shared vision of “Preparing respectful, responsible, and creative thinkers for success in the global community” was established, teachers found innovative ways to make this statement have meaning and relevance for our learners at both the school and classroom levels. I have seen teachers incorporate our vision in creative ways, such as student-created posters, songs, and chants.

These conversations and collaborative processes around culture became the roots that grounded us. Once these cultural roots took hold, we could add other essential nutrients to start growing our personalized, proficiency-based system of learning. I believe that taking the time to fully develop our shared vision in the beginning has been a significant factor in the progress students have made with their academic learning goals. This shift in culture allowed us to establish positive learner-centered environments, where our students became more engaged and had increased ownership of their learning pathways.

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Striving for a Pedagogy of Empowerment


Reposted from the Digital Is Blog:

In the Introduction to Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks writes, “any radical pedagogy must insist that everyone’s presence is acknowledged.”(8) She describes the process through which we become self-actualized in the classroom. “Teachers must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students.”(15) And, it isn’t just that students should be empowered to show up as full selves, but that teachers must as well, in order to model, but also to show the kind of care for the work that only comes when we make ourselves at least somewhat vulnerable.

Connected learning boils down to risk taking in the end. To quote colleague Jade Davis from her recent DML blog post, “I think the biggest risk in connected learning is Not Trying.” Mostly, I find that co-learning is somehow linked to a kind of “life attitude.” When I became a mother, I realized quickly that everyday my children teach me myriad vital things. These brand new people, who have so little experience, are in many ways masters of what is significant in life. A truly wise person learns from every person he or she connects with in the most unforeseen moments. This is of course the soul of co-learning. And, perhaps it is also the seed of equity and justice. But, it is not necessarily easy to maintain this outlook, especially as we continue to navigate institutional demands, programmatic expectations, and expected outcomes.

So why all this talk of leaps and risks? I truly believe there is much at stake in what is considered here. Institutional change that matters must generate first from the heart of the learning communities we design. These co-learning steps we are taking together are indeed the seeds of a kind of personal growth that can play an important role in contributing to a healthy citizenry. The transformative force for equity and justice in society lies first in the way we come together to learn. In the ways we are educated lies a foundation for how we meet the world. Striving for equity in the classroom context will set a course for collaborating and negotiating — a habit that will certainly yield fair-minded moments in unforeseen futures. A connected co-learning model is essential not just for reimagining education, but more importantly, for realizing our democratic aspirations.

Read More…

Hello? I’d Like to Report a Hijacking!

Good morning! I love the start of a new day. Fresh and rested, looking forward to all the opportunities that may come our way. There’s nothing like it!


“Mee! Meep!”

Wait. What just happened? All my upbeat energy and good vibes just got hijacked! Hijacked by Standards. Assessments. Accountability. Funding. Contracts. Unions. Jobs. Rights. Protests. I call it the Roadrunner effect.

Fifty years ago Roadrunner cartoons were a staple of Saturday morning television. That fast little bird would race across the highways of the southwest and that scraggily coyote would keep chasing him with a napkin, knife and fork in his back pocket. We would watch, always knowing the outcome would be the same, but delighting at the ridiculous lengths Wile E. Coyote – a self-described genius – would go to try once again to catch that bird. We could see the landscape, we could follow his diagrams and read the signs, and oft-times there was no narration so we could even infer our own understanding of what we were watching…to the point where we cheered for the Roadrunner to get away.

Fifty years ago in that same window of time, schools were based in our neighborhoods. Teachers were respected as the instructional experts in their classrooms. Students came to class every day knowing their job was to learn. And parents knew their responsibility was to raise their children to be respectful and successful to the best of their God-given ability (watch an old episode of Leave it to Beaver….it really was the norm….I‘m not making this stuff up!). Did we have students with personal and family problems? Sure. Was society on the brink of huge social shifts? Of course. But we were all on the same page when it came to education. The relationship between a teacher and student was simple, clear, strong and direct. Nothing interfered with that.

“Mee! Meep!”

Why is this important to me this morning? Because fifty years later we have built ourselves such a bureaucracy on top of that very simple classroom connection, the simplicity has been lost. Like Wyle E. Coyote building an unwieldy series of contraptions in an attempt to catch that Roadrunner, layer upon layer of policy and mandate and legislation, including local and state and federal requirements, some tied directly to funding and many others completely unfunded, have created a tenuous tower of conflicting, competing expectations that compromise our focus and confuse our purpose as educators. In 1960 we were first in the world in public education. Today we are twenty-seventh (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, The proliferation of policies and programs over the last fifty years is inversely proportional to our world ranking; as our bureaucracy has increased, our effectiveness has decreased.

If you stand back, I mean way back, and take a look at the big picture, education has changed as society as changed. And while there are all kinds of indicators we could single out, keep stepping back farther, striving to identify that one overriding variable that has fueled everything else. The social upheaval of the 60s and 70s? Nope. Step back farther. The affluence and excess of the 80s and 90s? Uh-uh, still too close to it. After sifting through the whole, entire, top-heavy, dysfunctional mess, what is left as a constant from 1960 until today? Hype. We’ve gone from seeing the coyote to being the coyote. And just like Wyle E., we keep upping the stakes in the unfounded belief that sooner or later we will defy our track record and be vindicated by success. This isn’t a continuous cycle of improvement…it’s a continuous cycle of superlatives: Newer. Bigger. Better. Faster. Stronger. Tougher. Smarter! And what do we have to show for it?

“Mee! Meep!”

We need to stop looking around for answers and start taking a look at ourselves. There are no victims here. We are willing (if unwitting) participants of our own choosing. American sports tout our winners as “world champions.” Meteorologists report every new storm system as an impending crisis. Our televisions have been taken over by “reality” programming to which (thankfully) none of our real, everyday lives can compare. Our public discourse has become so polarized entire news organizations are making profits telling a single faction of the political spectrum exactly what they want to hear. We have lost all objectivity and (apparently) we can’t wait to be fed our daily shameless share of sensationalism.

Billy Joel can proclaim “We didn’t start the fire….” I’m here to argue we did…and it’s out of control. Sure there is a brain stem response to chase the Roadrunner, but over time aren’t we supposed to collect enough experience to make better decisions than a fight-or-flight reflex…ideally before we find ourselves frozen in midair, looking downward, wondering how we got there, only to plummet as we  suddenly get a startling grasp on reality? Before we start printing up our own “Wyle E. Coyote – Super Genius!” business cards, let’s ask ourselves…do we really need to survive the terror of free-fall in order to smarten up?

Here’s the facts, as I know them:

  • Society has changed and requires education to change with it.
  • An era of legislation, funding and accountability measures have made education slide lower and lower in world rankings.
  • We can’t continue funding everything we’ve put in place the past fifty years.
  • Opportunities abound as economic shifts and technological innovations change the landscape.

But all we have to do is hear “Mee! Meep!” and we’re sucked right back into the culture of hype. What is the problem? Short attention spans? Inability to focus? An attention-deficit democracy?

Walter turns off the TV in an effort to refocus…

We can’t just blow it up Coyote-style, can we? So do we remove layer after layer of bureaucracy and all its trappings and return education to its rightful leaders in the classroom? And even if that’s what is necessary, can it happen overnight? Our culture of hype isn’t programmed for smaller, simpler, easier. How do we influence cultural values to make education a prized priority instead of a Rube Goldberg construction?

We have put ourselves in a precarious position. Do we see examplcoyote helpes that give us hope for where we can take education? Yes. Do we know how to get there? Maybe. Can we stop the hype-and-hyperbole hijackings and make it happen? I don’t see why not, focusing in on the peace and quiet of our own minds…the perfect environment for making good decisions and following through on them. There will always be Roadrunners. Accept it and get over it. Or order an ACME coyote costume and continue beating yourself up…for nothing.


Revolutionizing Education from the Ground Up [VIDEO 6:10]

“If there was a moment when our crisis in education hit critical mass it may well have been the date Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk went up on YouTube. In just 19 minutes his wry but eviscerating presentation gave voice to what so many of us are living through: our schools are failing to recognize creativity; we’re failing to prepare the next generation for the challenges that lie ahead” (Vanity Fair). Sir Ken’s new book Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education is scheduled to released April 21, 2015 and is available for preorder now.