Tag Archive: collaboration


Why Google+ Is an Education Game Changer – Education – GOOD.

I normally think that we overuse the term ‘game changer’ but having a Google+ account myself, I see the potential that Ms. Dwyer is talking about.  Google+ doesn’t completely eliminate inadvertent sharing of drunken party pictures with students, but it seriously makes it much more challenging.  I guess if you’re posting the pictures and sharing them while intoxicated, anything can happen.  At any rate, G+ could become a place where teachers and students share information about projects that the class is working on, collaboratively digest articles that are found on-line, and post videos to one another.  The idea of the hangout study group/office hours is also fascinating.  It’ll be something that I’ll be interested to see/read more about in the future.  -Ed

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One of my biggest laments in the debate of charter schools versus public schools here in Columbus, as well as Ohio in general is what about the kids?!?  When adults fight over the school system they often make a lot of fuss and mess over an ideological battle (by the way, I think that it is definitely important that we stop and think about this).  However, in Ohio we’ve become a bit entrenched in this debate.  There is great indemnity for charters by many in the traditional public world (it’s worth noting that in my travels and conversations with charter teachers and leaders that the same kind of vitriol isn’t reciprocated).

I work for a public charter.  We get the same per pupile funding as every other school in the state (in fact, that’s all we get).  We are a community school that is run by a community board.  We are not owned by a billionaire as 1 commentator noted in a comment title, but rather we are run by a lot of well-meaning, intelligent, compassionate, and responsible people.  I am proud to count myself as one of them and to work for one of the best charter management organizations in the state.

That being said (being done with my defensiveness) I welcome the day when we can work more creatively with the public schools in the region to better the education of ALL of central Ohio’s children.  We all have a strong desire to educate and better the lives of the students.  This is where we have a lot to learn from Denver, Colorado.  Rather than acknowledge the battle lines, they have sought creative and innovative approaches to bridge the gap and work together to benefit the students.  This has happened in Cleveland as well and it is time to look at this as a model for Columbus to consider.

Denver Public Schools works collaboratively with charter schools to provide school buildings and bond money for building facilities, and the district has worked collaboratively to create enrollment zones for families so that they can choose between both charter and public schools in their neighborhoods. The district and charter schools are currently working on finalizing a mid-year enrollment policy to share the burden of mid-year entrants into Denver Public Schools. Denver has been a leader in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation District-Charter School Compact work, which has commitments from 10 cities nationally to encourage greater collaboration and shared responsibility. It is a collaboration that, in the end, benefits all Denver families.

We are losing opportunities to educate students as well as we can by creating a fractured system where students can fall through the cracks.  By establishing better record sharing, sharing buildings and other resources (such as extra-curricular activities and the arts), collaborating on school (re)design, and sharing best practices we stand a chance of reversing the terrible educational trends that have gripped our city.  I am eager to engage in this kid of collaborative work and I am sure that there are folks in CCS (and the other central Ohio districts) who believe the same way.  -Ed

Link is here.

Why Denver Is a Model for Education in America

by Bill Kurtz, CEO of DSST Public Schools.  Good.  June 16, 2011

One of the central questions facing the education reform movement is the relationship between the growing number of urban charter schools and the large school districts that oversee public education in those same cities. This is a question that dates back to the beginning of the charter movement and one of its early supporters, Albert Shanker.

Shanker, the union boss of the American Federation of Teachers in New York City in the 1960s, and one of the intellectual fathers of the charter school movement, believed in a central premise: Charters would give teachers a vehicle to innovate in their craft and then share these innovations back into district schools. Both districts and charter schools have struggled to make good on this promise, largely because the relationship between charters and districts has suffered from political divisions, territorial control issues, and perceived “competition” between the two. Fortunately, this has been less true in Denver, Colorado over the last decade, where I lead DSST Public Schools, a growing charter management organization.

What is going on in Denver to make this possible?

In Denver, there is a shared commitment by the superintendent, school board, and charter leaders to provide every child a high quality public school, regardless of whether it is a charter school or a district school. This commitment has led to a sharing of resources, not competition for resources.

U.S. public school superintendents average two and a half years on the job and elected school boards frequently change their vision based on voter preference. Contrast that with Denver, where two superintendents over the last six years have provided stable leadership. Michael Bennet, now a U.S. Senator, and Tom Boasberg, who was then-Superintendent Bennet’s Chief Operating Officer, have offered a consistent vision that has led to sustained efforts to improve public schooling. The Denver Public School Board has similarly shared the singular vision of providing all kids with a high-performing school.

In addition, the larger Colorado community is committed to improving public education. With proponents such as former Governor Bill Ritter and current Governor John Hickenlooper, former state education Commissioner Dwight Jones, and state legislators like Peter Groff, Terrance Carroll and Mike Johnston (all Democrats, incidentally), Colorado has pushed for public education change through ground-breaking legislation. Legislation such as the Innovation Schools Act, which shifts autonomy to the school level from the district level, and Senate Bill 191, which requires the State of Colorado to use student achievement as the main measure in determining tenure, boldly put the interests of students above those of adults.

The result is that Denver Public Schools works collaboratively with charter schools to provide school buildings and bond money for building facilities, and the district has worked collaboratively to create enrollment zones for families so that they can choose between both charter and public schools in their neighborhoods. The district and charter schools are currently working on finalizing a mid-year enrollment policy to share the burden of mid-year entrants into Denver Public Schools. Denver has been a leader in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation District-Charter School Compact work, which has commitments from 10 cities nationally to encourage greater collaboration and shared responsibility. It is a collaboration that, in the end, benefits all Denver families.

When it comes to incorporating educational technologies into the high school, we tend to be conservative to the point of doing a disservice to the students’ education.  Schools appear to adopt a conservative attitude for many reasons, but chief among them must be push back from teacher who are reluctant to add anything to their repertoire, a fear of exposing the school to possible lawsuits because the law has not caught up the technology, and the school trying to maintain the many demands that No Child Left Behind has already placed on it.  While there are valid rationales behind each of these reasons, the chief complaint that I have is that they do not address the central work that schools have, preparing students for productive citizenship.  Today’s students will be graduating into a world that is experiencing a paradigm shift due to the incorporation of new technologies.  Nobody is quite certain how this world will shift, but one thing that appears pretty certain… technology isn’t going away.

Therefore, schools need to thoughtfully consider what challenges confront this and future years’ graduates, and then plan for instructional techniques that help support students to be competitive in their field of work or for college admissions.  My contention is that school policies that encourage the use of web 2.0 tools/content can increase students’ ability to be critical thinkers, become life-long learners, and foster appropriate practices that will serve them in the 21st century classroom and work place.

Before I really delve into this piece let me first off say that I don’t have all the answers, just a hint of a suggestion.  I have not yet fully figured out how Facebook can truly help support learning in the classroom, for instance.  This one is still a conundrum for me.  I am much more clear as to how Picasa or Flickr, Google Reader, Google Docs, gmail, delicious, twitter, and blogs, can be used to help students gain insight into their world and help further their education.

The other preface that I must offer is that new tools being used to support outmoded ways of learning and teaching become just new toys.  There was a BBC study (and I’m sorry that I do not know the citation) on the use of smartboards.  They found that students in classes with smartboards showed only a slightly higher affinity to their math class than students in classrooms without smartboards.  What does this mean?  Smartboards do not make students love math more.  Sure the students loved the smartboards, but that didn’t correlate to changes in behaviors and mentalities.  The more skeptical among us (probably me) will say, “Who loves math anyways?”  Well, here’s the thing, when students believe that they can do well in a subject, when they know that their teacher believes in them, and that they belong in the school, they will do better in their studies.  That is how a student comes to love math, or any other subject matter.  So, what do you think will happen if this kind of classroom is combined with excellent educational technology? I chose the pictures at the top of this blog for this very reason.  The sage on the stage (right picture at top) mentality can have all of the fanciest toys that they would ever desire and all it does is adds bells and whistles.  The guide on the side (left picture at top) where students are asked to tackle challenging topics using educational technology and working with their peers will take those students much further.

There are many ways that school policies might discourage teachers from using new internet-based technologies in the classroom.  The one that has been prevalent in Columbus, Ohio for a few years is that teachers in the big urban district are actively discouraged from having their own Facebook page.  This isn’t the only school district to enact such a policy, but bear this in mind, they are saying that they do not want their teachers to have a Facebook account, at all!  Now here I am, an employee in good standing with my school district and not only do I have a Facebook page, but so do many of my colleagues and we are all seeking new ways to incorporate these new technologies into our classroom.  I don’t know where an employer cites the law that allows them to even make a suggestion about what an employee does on their own time, but that’s for another time.  At any rate, these types of policies shut dialogue and opportunity down.   Why would you ever want to do that?  Facebook and similar technologies can be used to encourage students to be good, productive citizens in the digital environment, and actively discouraging faculty from this technology only puts them further from the places that students are having a dialogue with one another.

Further, encouraging students to exist in the digital realm virtually assures that they will not only not lose material, but will keep it for in-depth reflection and comparison points.  Our students all have electronic portfolioes (ePortfolios) that they update on a semi-annual basis (see mine below to the right).  This activity is time-consuming, but it causes them to pause in the midst of their active academic work to consider what they have done and how far they have come.  This pause and reflection time allows them to critically analyze what they have done and then we ask them to write out what changes they have noticed in their growth.  It is an authentic and purposeful writing assignment.  The truly brilliant thing?  We’ve noticed a change in their writing and critical thinking skills after completing just one round of ePortfolio submissions!

Finally, the fostering of appropriate workplace/collegiate practices is one of the foundational and ever-lasting hallmarks of a good high school.  We seek to engage our students in a practice and mind-set that will enable them to be life-long learners, but that certainly means that they take good thinking, critical analysis, and expression skills with them after they leave our school.  We know for certain that our students will be asked to engage in these new technologies in their future work places, to interact with friends and family, and to contribute to their community as productive citizens.  Why not help them learn it?!  What benefit does it bring to our students if we do not address this need for them?  We should be trying out Toonlet.com, xtranormal.com, Picasa, gmail, YouTube, and yes maybe even Facebook with our students be discouraged if we expect them to know how to use these tools to better address their future career needs and goals?  It will absolutely be messy and maybe obnoxious at times as well, but that’s the joy of teaching in high school!

The policies that high schools seek to implement in the coming years should strongly consider future technology changes that cannot yet be envisioned.  They should, as a default, seek to open up the doors of the classroom and allow students to learn these broader technology skills and to seek ways to authentically implement these technologies into the teaching, learning, and assessment in the future.  Schools must never forget their first mission, to further the educational needs of the students who will be future citizens in our communities.  Schools should seek to send students out of their buildings with the best skills possible and as prepared as they can be for a competitive marketplace.  Our students should not leave fearful of these technologies, but with a deep, ingrained understanding as to how these technologies can further their quality of life and the quality of the community.