Monday, December 16, 2013

 Letter from CECs and Citywide Councils to Mayor-Elect de Blasio
Education Councils representing parents citywide have signed on to a letter to Mayor-elect de Blasio.  In this unprecedented show of unity, the Councils have issued a statement to de Blasio raising concerns in numerous areas, including the decision-making processes put in place by the Bloomberg administration. A copy of the letter, an Executive Summary, and Press Release are attached hereto.

The statement calls for, among other things, reform of the Panel for Education Policy, a return to a Community School District structure, serious changes to the way that decisions are made concerning the space allocations to schools and future construction and educational programming, and reversal of the contested co-locations approved by Bloomberg’s Panel for Education Policy late this year.  The statement seeks immediate review of the City’s assessment and delivery of special education services.  In addition, the statement seeks parental and community input into the selection of the next chancellor, urges the City to follow state law concerning payment of rent for charter school co-locations, seeks engagement on the Common Core, seeks a moratorium on the use of standardized testing in high-stakes decisions, and asks the mayor-elect to protect student privacy.
As of December 16, Community Education Councils for Districts 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, and 31, as well as the Citywide Council on English Language Learners, Citywide Council on Special Education, and the Citywide District 75 Council and individual signatories from the Citywide Council on High Schools and Community Education Council 23 have signed on to the letter.  Additional Community Education Councils and Citywide Councils are expected to be added througout the month of December. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Our Schools Are Not For Sale!

Our Philly Schools Are Not For Sale!!

from Media Mobilizing Project TV Plus

Public education is under attack. Will we learn to live with a two-tier education system where money comes first, or will we come together to guarantee a quality education for every child and young person? 

Our Schools Are Not For Sale is the story of Philadelphia's teachers, parents, students, and communities who are fighting for public schools that are well-resourced, high-quality and available to all. Watch how local communities are responding to a year of unprecedented attacks, including the closing of 24 schools, layoffs of hundreds of teachers and counselors, and the elimination of school libraries, art, music, and sports programs.

This video is a message to everyone who cares about the future of public schools. Now more than ever, we need to reach out and begin conversations with neighbors, friends, coworkers, and students about how each of us can contribute to the fight for public schools. Contact Media Mobilizing Project to host a community screening today!

Our Schools Are Not For Sale from Media Mobilizing Project TV on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

NYC Students' & Parents' Video Plea For a Pro-Education Chancellor

Here is a moving video plea to DeBlasio to do the (Human) Right Thing and appoint a pro-quality education Chancellor who is beholden to the students, parents and educators and not to the Big Education Privateers.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Needed For the Next New York City Schools Chancellor: 
An Open Process!
The Making of an Education Catastrophe- Mark Naison- Notorious Phd

Mark Naison is Professor of History and African American Studies at Fordham University. He is the author of four books and over 200 articles on African American politics. During the last five years, he has begun presenting historical "raps" in Bronx schools under the nickname of "Notorious Phd" and has been the subject of stories about his use of hip hop in teaching in the The Daily News, Bronx 12 Cablevision, and Fox Business.

Monday, November 18, 2013

ALEC Behind Common Core Education Standards
 by Alisha Mims •

September 9, 2013-- In 2010, the United States adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), purportedly to streamline states’ education curricula using standards-based education reform principles. The controversial decision to implement national educational content standards has been referred to as an “uncommonly bad idea” for American education by many. Recently, educator and education advocate Morna McDermott has illuminated the initiative’s extensive corporate ties, many stemming from the American Legislative Exchange Council.

McDermott, an associate professor in the College of Education at Towson University, has mapped out CCSSI’s corporate connections in a flowchart. Her chart shows that many corporations and organizations that are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have “funded and perpetuated Common Core standards throughout the states,” Truthout reports.

The CCSSI initiative is part of a broader movement for “accountability” in education, which began with educational trends of the 1970s. According to Allan Ornstein’s, “The Evolving Accountability Movement,” the idea is partially rooted in “the ideas of Leon Lessinger and Sidney Marland, who translated business concepts of accountability into the educational arena.”

Essentially, “accountability” in education means that teachers and students must meet a “standard of competency or performance,” which is measured through standardized testing. “Accountability” targets both the processes and products of education, and there continue to be numerous opponents of standardized testing and the “accountability” method of education.

Within the last decade, states were given the incentive of “Race to the Top” federal grants, if they adopted the Common Core standards. President Obama and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, announced the competitive grants in 2009 as a motivator for states to adopt the Common Core. Standards for math and English were released in 2010.

McDermott has written about the “damaging effects” of standardized testing on education. But policy makers’ views on requiring standardized tests has not changed because they are getting “big money” from corporations who profit off of standardized testing and the standards-based education reform movement.

In her recent research, McDermott exposes a tangled web of corporate backing of the Common Core initiative. Common Core is sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and Achieve. Her explanation of Common Core’s corporate connections is extensive and pulls from peer-reviewed academic research. For example, McDermott explains:

The National Governors Association partners with Achieve for the Common Core. The National Governors Association also partners with the College Board. The CCSSO partners with Pearson for the Common Core (to create) the materials. The CCSSO also partners with ACT, which is funded by State Farm, which is a member of ALEC. Pearson, among other things … acquired Connections Academy, which is a member of ALEC. Connections Academy (via Mickey Revenaugh, senior vice president of state relations for Connections Academy as of 2011) was actually the co-chair of the subcommittee for education in ALEC. Pearson also acquired America’s Choice, which sponsored a program called the NCEE, which also partners with the CCSSO. The NCEE is funded by Walton. … The Walton Foundation, which is a member of ALEC and is basically associated with Walmart, directly funds the Common Core State Standards.

The Common Core connections to ALEC that McDermott has exposed are numerous, and can be fully visualized by viewing her chart, and reading the full report.

In July, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) issued a report, “Cashing in on Kids,” which covers ALEC’s attempts to spread for-profit education nationwide. At least 139 ALEC-designed bills have been introduced across 43 states in the last 6 months alone. Programs designed to divert taxpayer money from public schools to private and religious schools have been spreading across the country for over two decades.

Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chicago Teachers Union urges parents to oppose standardized tests for young kids

Staff Reporter
Nov 8, 2013

The Chicago Teachers Union Thursday urged its members and parents to take a stand against standardized tests.

CTU President Karen Lewis announced the "Let us Teach" campaign in Chicago as similar measures were rolled out in cities across the country.

"Why must our public school children be subjected to this battery of pointless standardized testing throughout the year, every year?," Lewis said.

She said kids are made anxious, frustrated and depressed by the barrage of standardized tests given.

She called for an end of testing of children in the youngest grades.

"We object to the growing trend to mandate unproven standardized tests which are a major drain on classroom time, undermine education and stand in stark contrast to the proven student assessment tools of classroom teacher developed quizzes, exams, checklists and homework," Lewis said.

Lewis was joined by three mothers who oppose standardized tests and who have opted their kids out of some testing. They urged other parents to do the same.

"Year after year, I have watched my child stress over testing," said mom Nellie Cotton, who has a special education student at Grimes Elementary School. "Year after year, the stakes have only gotten higher and the intense pressure to attain the magic score continue to grow."

Chicago Public Schools said it has cut back on standardized testing.

After months of meeting with students, parents, advocacy groups, the union and conducting focus groups, CPS announced in August that it was cutting back some of the standardized tests the district requires for students, especially for the younger ones.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett released a statement Thursday that extolled the decrease in testing.

"As a former teacher and principal, I felt that our parents and educators raised valid concerns around district-wide testing, and our collective work has resulted in 15 fewer tests this school year, adding valuable learning time to the school day to help ensure that every child graduates 100 percent college-ready and 100 percent college-bound."

Kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders no longer have to take the NWEA MPG (Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress for Primary Grades) test in spring and fall, though their schools must choose from a list of assessments to monitor these primary students' literacy. Second-graders will join third- through eighth-graders to take the NWEA MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test aligned to the Common Core curriculum in spring but no longer in the fall, too. Eighth graders also will skip the EXPLORE test given in preparation for the ACT in 11th grade. And ninth- through 11th-graders also will sit for the spring session of the EPAS (Explore, Plan, ACT) tests, skipping a fall session.

Most of the reductions come from eliminating fall testing sessions, and leaving spring ones in place.

Twitter: @schlikerman
Fightback Against Common Core State Standards Grows and Grows

This video was taken at the Common Core Forum on 11-12-13; held at Ward Melville High School on Long Island. This educator is taking Commissioner King to task for what she feels is his reckless implementation of the Common Core in New York State.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Death March Demo fro the 168+ Public Schools Closed by Bloomberg and His Privateers
A NormScott Production

Demand (thru CPE) that Mayor DeBlasio reopen all closed schools and have a plan that includes parents, students and teachers in decision-making levels that improve these schools within 5 years or less.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Monday, Nov 4, 2013
The charter-school lie: Market-based education gambles with our children

New proof that vouchers and charter schools don't reform education, just subject it to the whims of businessmen

The charter-school lie: Market-based education gambles with our children
(Credit: Lightspring via Shutterstock/Salon)

Just 10 days into a new academic year, classes were abruptly over at one North Carolina charter school this year.

In September, parents who had enrolled their children in Kinston Charter Academy received a letter from the principal directing them to take their children someplace else.

According to a local news report, a mere two days prior to those letters being received, the local board met in an emergency session to close the school after “low performance and disciplinary challenges made the enrollment numbers dwindle.”

Said one dismayed parent, “I feel like we should have got more notice. If they was going to close the school, they should’ve gone ahead and let us know that before we enrolled the kids.”

Meanwhile, folks at the North Carolina Justice Center are wondering what the school did with the $666,818 in state education funding it received in July that was supposed to last through October. The school had actually been overfunded for 366 students, but only 230 students enrolled.

Hundreds of miles away in Philadelphia, parents received a similar notice, this time not by a letter from the principal but from a notice on a website. Due to “safety concerns and financial instability,” Solomon Charter School was abruptly closed to its 330 students.

The school, a cyber charter that was supposed to deliver instruction over the Internet, also demanded parents return computer equipment to the school.

“I was just trying to get him a good education,” said one parent, “and now I don’t know where he will go.”
“No type of warning,” said another. “We bring our kids to school Monday; they say the school is shut down… it’s closing for good, so what are we to do?”

In the meantime, according to news reports, state officials are wondering why a school that was required by law to hold classes online was holding classes in an unsafe building instead – oh, and in a building that happened to also house a clinic for sexual and pornography offenders.

“Another charter school has closed,” began a recent article in a Florida paper, leaving 60 students in the lurch – only this time without bothering to tell district officials beforehand.
In Ohio, at least 15 charter schools have abruptly closed this year – most don’t even bother to list a reason.

In Detroit, a city wracked by debt and bankruptcy, officials scrambled to close a failed charter school by Oct. 31 this year, due to the school’s debts, which exceeded $400,000.

According to The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., spent over $1 million on closing failed charter schools from 2008-2012.

More cities are following the lead of districts like Chicago, where the largest shutdown of public schools in the nation’s history occurred at the very same time that new private charter schools were being expanded by the district.

Abruptly opening and closing schools – leaving school children, parents and communities in the lurch and taxpayers holding the bag – is not a matter of happenstance. It’s by design.

The design in mind, of course, is being called a “market.” Parents and taxpayers who used to rely on having public schools as anchor institutions in their communities – much like they rely on fire and police stations, parks and rec centers, and the town hall – are being told that the education of children is now subject to the whims of “the market.”

The supposed benefit to all this is that parents get a “choice” about where they send their children to school. But while parents are pushed to pick their schools on the increasingly turbulent bazaar of “choice,” the game resembles much less a level playing field and much more a game of chance in which the house rules determine the odds. And too many of the nation’s families – and their communities – are getting caught up in a crapshoot with our children’s education at stake.

Whether from charters or voucher-funded private schools, the explosive growth of crapshoot schools is fast becoming the norm. And too few are asking, “At what risks?”

Welcome to the charter churn
For years, public schools have been admonished to run their operations “more like a business.”

Politicians on the right and left have criticized pubic education for being a “monopoly” that is not subjected to enough “competition” in the “market.”

It is primarily this business thinking that is behind the push for public education to provide more “choice.” So now superintendents are calling themselves CEOs, and parents are being called customers.

But the questions no one ever seems to ask are, “What kind of business? And don’t most businesses fail?”

Nevertheless, the “business drivers” in education have rolled out, and essential to this line of thinking is that charter schools provide the necessary competition the public school monopoly has lacked, and the “churn” of children in the system will determine which schools stay open and which ones close.

Since when did children become “churn?”

Businesses that operate on a subscriber model, such as telephone companies and credit card providers, are deeply knowledgeable about the rate at which their customers flow into and out of their billing systems. By knowing the “churn rate” these businesses can manipulate the “lifetime value” of customers by knowing when to goose the system with incentives or extract higher revenues when demand is running high.

This faith in churn rate is behind the movement for expanding charter schools. Writing at his blog at the education trade newspaper Education Week, teacher and edu-blogger Anthony Cody recently observed, “Charter supporters are now advocating that charter schools that are not producing results must be closed with the same ruthlessness as traditional public schools … This is how markets function … We don’t need to wait long to find out if schools are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ These judgments should be made fast, and acted upon immediately.”

Leading charter school advocates tell us, in fact, that closing charters down and interrupting more children’s education is a really good thing.

According to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the overall closure rate of charters has ballooned by over 255 percent. This is “a positive trend,” said that association’s president and CEO.

Little regard seems to be given to the data that charter schools have proven to be not particularly any better than traditional public schools. The most recent comparison of charter school performance to traditional public schools nationwide found that more charter schools are doing better than they were previously. But a careful analysis of the study showed only “a tiny real impact on the part of charter schools.”

And the only real way to improve the overall quality of charter schools seems to be to close more of them down. How is this good for children attending those schools?

“This whole strategy of school reform is having devastating results,” Cody concluded. “Neighborhood schools, especially those in African American and Latino communities, are being closed rapidly and without recourse.” Even “worthwhile charter schools such as ACE Leadership High School in Albuquerque, which actively recruits drop-outs and struggling students, are likely to fall under the club, because they may not produce the rapid test score gains this burn and churn reform strategy demands.”

And increasingly the result is parents taking a chance in a craps game not altogether of their choosing.

Vouchers: A ticket to take a chance
If families aren’t being subjected to churn from competitive charters on the one side, they are increasingly being lured with voucher money on the other.

Giving parents vouchers and telling them to shop for a school on the private market, often risking taxpayer money and their children’s future, is another rapidly growing trend in the new “education market.”

Writing at Americans United, Simon Brown explained, “More states than ever are piling onto the ‘school choice’ bandwagon. In 2013 alone, 15 states either expanded or created voucher or ‘neo-voucher’ programs – a system of generous tax credits that are vouchers by another name.”

Again, much like the charter crapshoot, parents are told to take their chances in an open market rather than rely on local schools and trained professional teachers in a regulated program of learning.

One such state to take up this game of chance is North Carolina. Writing for NC Policy Watch, Lindsay Wagner recently reported, “For the first time in its history, North Carolina will allow taxpayer funds to go to largely unaccountable private schools, 70 percent of which are religious institutions.”

What’s not required of these private schools would set off alarm bells in most parents’ minds: “Criminal background checks, any kind of curricular goals or guidelines, credentialed and/or licensed teaching staff, and a requirement to reflect the racial and ethnic demographics of the district in the student.”

A lone state regulator is responsible for conducting site visits to all 698 of these private schools. “I try to get out to all of them once every three years,” he told Wagner, which amounts to roughly 233 school visits each year across the state.
Further, these private schools, which are receiving taxpayer money and the faith of parents who want to do what’s best for their children, are not subject to the same standards that public schools have for testing students’ academic achievement and making that data publicly available.

Instead of the raft of tests N.C. public schools are subjected to, private schools receiving school vouchers need only to “administer a nationally-recognized standardized test” that can be “any exam,” so long as the score can be compared to children in taking the same test in any other state.

Wagner looked closely at some of these schools. One, New City Christian School in Asheville, touted its ability to close the “achievement gap” between white and African-American students but provided parents with no “truly comparable” way to compare New City’s performance to local schools.

Another school, Bethel Christian Academy in Kinston, “provides its students with an educational program that in its entirety, exalts and glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ by making Him the center of all things.”

The school uses textbooks that are “God-centered,” and Wagner observed, “teach students Bible-based facts, including the following: dinosaurs and humans co-existed on Earth; slave-masters generally treated their slaves well; in some areas, the KKK fought the decline in morality by using the sign of the cross; and gay people have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.”

“If you are a gay student or interested in listening to or creating secular music,” noted Wagner, “that’s grounds for expulsion.”

How are parents, with children to educate, and citizens, who want to direct tax money toward the best interests of children, supposed to judge the “value” of these schools?
When Wagner approached public officials with the question, “Where’s the accountability?” here is what she heard:

Rep. Marcus Brandon, a proponent of vouchers, told NC Policy Watch, “parents know what’s best for their children. If it’s a good school, parents will go there. And if it’s bad, parents won’t … The schools already have the accountability you could demand of a school because they work in the free enterprise system. If they don’t pride the product that meets the needs of the parents, those parents will vote with their feet … I had 38 schools close this year because they didn’t have the financial adequance to continue,” he added.

Where did the students go? “They dispersed and went to other schools. We don’t keep those records,” a North Carolina schools official said.

In other words, entrusting education to a voucher-driven market is mostly “a guessing game,” Wagner concluded – a “guessing game” perhaps for taxpayers, whose main risks are bad policy and wasted resources – but a whole lot worse for the parents and students involved whose failed gamble on a crapshoot school can cost an entire year of learning or more.

Shouldn’t a responsible society do something to prevent that?

The national pursuit to gamble with our children’s future
North Carolina is hardly alone in this roll out of crapshoot voucher schools.

In Oklahoma, for instance, that state’s new school voucher program spends $1.6 million in state funds to send special needs students to private schools. However, only six of the 49 private schools currently accepting voucher money – 43 of which, by the way, are religious schools – “specifically cater to students with special needs.”

Even traditional public schools are increasingly at risk to a crapshoot game of being opened and closed regardless of the effects on students.

In New York City, as Juan Gonzales recently reported in The Daily News, “the mayor’s relentless rush to shutter neighborhood schools” seems to be the chosen remedy for somehow improving them.

To local administrators, “shutting down a school and reopening it under new management is just good business practice. But to parents, teachers and students, our local schools are the anchors to our neighborhoods. They are part of the fabric of community life. The local art or gym teacher is known by and appreciated by everyone.”

Indeed, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has done much to contribute to the spread of crapshoot schools. The very schools he was instrumental in creating when he ran the system in Chicago are now some of the schools being shut down, a local Chicago news source recently informed.

This incoherence coming from the nation’s leadership leaves parents with the feeling they are “part of one big experiment,” the reporter of that story noted.

“Sometimes I think that we are all pieces in the game that they’re playing,” another parent said. “And the game doesn’t affect their lives. It affects our lives. It affects our children’s lives and the outcomes of their lives.”

Echoing this sentiment, Noah Berlatsky, writing at The Atlantic, explained, “Closings are only the latest example of a pattern of ‘reform’ and churn, in which neighborhoods without the resources or political clout to defend themselves are reorganized and experimented on.”

The alternative to crapshoot schools
Another way of running schools, as Gonzales noted, is that you don’t close the school down when it has problems. “If a school is underperforming, you add an after-school program. If there are many English-language learners, you increase language instruction.”

Are we certain that approach doesn’t work?

In the blog post from Anthony Cody, he noted, schools often do better by “building a supportive collaborative community” that creates “the conditions we need in order to grow as teachers, and improve outcomes for students.”

Cody cited programs such as the Priority Schools Campaign from the National Education Association, Reconnecting McDowell from the American Federation of Teachers, efforts by the California Teachers Association to lower class size and provide time for teacher collaboration through the Quality Education Investment Act, and the results of Chicago’s democratically controlled neighborhood schools, which do better than the administration’s “turnarounds that have received millions of extra dollars.”

Parents are constantly being told of the need for stability in their children’s lives. Are we now somehow to believe that their educational lives don’t need that stability too? Rather than being a solution for anything, the proliferation of crapshoot schools and the mindset that drives them are becoming yet another very big problem, and one our children and our communities would all be a lot better off without.
Jeff Bryant is Director of the Education Opportunity Network, a partnership effort of the Institute for America's Future and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. Jeff owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C., and has written extensively about public education policy.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Washington Hgts Parents Win HyperTesting Fightback

Forget teaching to the test — at this Washington Heights elementary school, parents canceled it! 

More than 80% of parents voted to skip an exam that the state says helps evaluate teachers. Move is believed to be unprecedented.

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi


(From left) Andres Pujols, 6, Elexis Pujols, 37, Daeja Pujols, 4, Quyen Lamphere 5, Zalyair Mackey 5, Dao Tran, 40, Yvene Mackey 7, Vera Moore, 43, oppose testing.

A Washington Heights elementary school has canceled the new standardized multiple-choice tests for the youngest public school students — after more than 80% of parents opted to have their kids sit out the exam.
In an apparently unprecedented move, Castle Bridge School parents — representing 83 of the 97 students — rejected the new city requirement that affects 36 schools that serve only K through second grade.
“My feeling about testing kids as young as 4 is it’s inhumane,” said PTA co-chairwoman Dao Tran, mother of first-grader Quyen Lamphere, 5. “I can only see it causing stress.”
The state now requires schools to factor test scores — in one form or another — into their teacher evaluations, which are new this year in the city.
Students at the 36 “early education” schools are too young to take the regular state reading and math exams, so the littlest kids are sitting down for different tests.
As the Daily News reported earlier this month, such exams, given to kids as young as 4, require students to fill in bubbles to show their answers.
It’s like the SAT for kids barely older than toddlers. And parents resent it.
“Our principal does a good job,” said PTA co-chairwoman Elexis Pujolos, mother of kindergartner Daeja, 4, and first-grader AJ, 6. “A test could not possibly measure what she is able to.”
A vast majority of parents at Castle Bridge School in Washington Heights opted to have their kids skip a city-mandated test.


A vast majority of parents at Castle Bridge School in Washington Heights opted to have their kids skip a city-mandated test.

Principal Julie Zuckerman canceled the required tests because the scores wouldn’t provide statistically meaningful data once so many parents opted out.
She also hates judging teachers even partly on the basis of a test.
“It can’t be used as evaluation tool of teachers even if it were a valid test — which it’s not,” she said.
It wasn’t clear exactly how the teachers at the school would be evaluated under the state’s requirements, given the widespread decision to opt out the tests.
“We will work with the school and the state to determine the appropriate measure of student learning for this school,” said Education Department spokeswoman Erin Hughes.
Castle Bridge, which reserves up to 10% of its spots for kids with a parent in jail, has some touchy-feel practices.
Kids get a quiet time nearly most days, where they can snuggle up with a teddy bear for nap or read a book quietly. Teachers write multiple-page narratives instead of giving report cards.
But parents said they chose the school because the project-based, more creative forms of learning develop critical thinking skills better than the required tests, which parents were shocked to learn about.
“I was irate. I was very angry,” said Vera Moore, mother of second-grader Yvene Mackey, 7, and kindergartner Zalyair Mackey, 5. “This school teaches to the child not to the test.”

Read more:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Chicago Teachers Union Prez- 
Karen Lewis 
-Is Coming to Brooklyn!!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Young Adults' Job Skills and the Modern Workplace 
VIDEO: Oct 15, 2013

Anthony Carnevale talked about an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study on literacy and basic math skills among adults 16-25 in 23 countries, and he responded to telephone calls and electronic communications. 

According to the results, U.S. workers are falling behind other developed countries in skills that are needed in the modern workplace. Mr. Carnavale said that while in the past generally only upper management needed critical thinking, problem-solving, and other higher level skills, the modern economy requires these skills from most workers.
How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses
  • By Joshua Davis
These students in Matamoros, Mexico, didn’t have reliable Internet access, steady electricity, or much hope—until a radical new teaching method unlocked their potential. Peter Yang

José Urbina López Primary School sits next to a dump just across the US border in Mexico. The school serves residents of Matamoros, a dusty, sunbaked city of 489,000 that is a flash point in the war on drugs. There are regular shoot-outs, and it’s not uncommon for locals to find bodies scattered in the street in the morning. To get to the school, students walk along a white dirt road that parallels a fetid canal. On a recent morning there was a 1940s-era tractor, a decaying boat in a ditch, and a herd of goats nibbling gray strands of grass. A cinder-block barrier separates the school from a wasteland—the far end of which is a mound of trash that grew so big, it was finally closed down. On most days, a rotten smell drifts through the cement-walled classrooms. Some people here call the school un lugar de castigo—”a place of punishment.”

For 12-year-old Paloma Noyola Bueno, it was a bright spot. More than 25 years ago, her family moved to the border from central Mexico in search of a better life. Instead, they got stuck living beside the dump. Her father spent all day scavenging for scrap, digging for pieces of aluminum, glass, and plastic in the muck. Recently, he had developed nosebleeds, but he didn’t want Paloma to worry. She was his little angel—the youngest of eight children.

After school, Paloma would come home and sit with her father in the main room of their cement-and-wood home. Her father was a weather-beaten, gaunt man who always wore a cowboy hat. Paloma would recite the day’s lessons for him in her crisp uniform—gray polo, blue-and-white skirt—and try to cheer him up. She had long black hair, a high forehead, and a thoughtful, measured way of talking. School had never been challenging for her. She sat in rows with the other students while teachers told the kids what they needed to know. It wasn’t hard to repeat it back, and she got good grades without thinking too much. As she headed into fifth grade, she assumed she was in for more of the same—lectures, memorization, and busy work.

Sergio Juárez Correa was used to teaching that kind of class. For five years, he had stood in front of students and worked his way through the government-mandated curriculum. It was mind-numbingly boring for him and the students, and he’d come to the conclusion that it was a waste of time. Test scores were poor, and even the students who did well weren’t truly engaged. Something had to change.

He too had grown up beside a garbage dump in Matamoros, and he had become a teacher to help kids learn enough to make something more of their lives. So in 2011—when Paloma entered his class—Juárez Correa decided to start experimenting. He began reading books and searching for ideas online.

Soon he stumbled on a video describing the work of Sugata Mitra, a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University in the UK. In the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s, Mitra conducted experiments in which he gave children in India access to computers. Without any instruction, they were able to teach themselves a surprising variety of things, from DNA replication to English.
Elementary school teacher Sergio Juárez Correa, 31, upended his teaching methods, revealing extraordinary abilities in his 12-year-old student Paloma Noyola Bueno.

Juárez Correa didn’t know it yet, but he had happened on an emerging educational philosophy, one that applies the logic of the digital age to the classroom. That logic is inexorable: Access to a world of infinite information has changed how we communicate, process information, and think.

Decentralized systems have proven to be more productive and agile than rigid, top-down ones. Innovation, creativity, and independent thinking are increasingly crucial to the global economy.

And yet the dominant model of public education is still fundamentally rooted in the industrial revolution that spawned it, when workplaces valued punctuality, regularity, attention, and silence above all else. (In 1899, William T. Harris, the US commissioner of education, celebrated the fact that US schools had developed the “appearance of a machine,” one that teaches the student “to behave in an orderly manner, to stay in his own place, and not get in the way of others.”) We don’t openly profess those values nowadays, but our educational system—which routinely tests kids on their ability to recall information and demonstrate mastery of a narrow set of skills—doubles down on the view that students are material to be processed, programmed, and quality-tested. School administrators prepare curriculum standards and “pacing guides” that tell teachers what to teach each day. Legions of managers supervise everything that happens in the classroom; in 2010 only 50 percent of public school staff members in the US were teachers.

The results speak for themselves: Hundreds of thousands of kids drop out of public high school every year. Of those who do graduate from high school, almost a third are “not prepared academically for first-year college courses,” according to a 2013 report from the testing service ACT. The World Economic Forum ranks the US just 49th out of 148 developed and developing nations in quality of math and science instruction. “The fundamental basis of the system is fatally flawed,” says Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford and founding director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. “In 1970 the top three skills required by the Fortune 500 were the three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic. In 1999 the top three skills in demand were teamwork, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. We need schools that are developing these skills.”

That’s why a new breed of educators, inspired by everything from the Internet to evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and AI, are inventing radical new ways for children to learn, grow, and thrive. To them, knowledge isn’t a commodity that’s delivered from teacher to student but something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. Teachers provide prompts, not answers, and then they step aside so students can teach themselves and one another. They are creating ways for children to discover their passion—and uncovering a generation of geniuses in the process.

At home in Matamoros, Juárez Correa found himself utterly absorbed by these ideas. And the more he learned, the more excited he became. On August 21, 2011—the start of the school year — he walked into his classroom and pulled the battered wooden desks into small groups. When Paloma and the other students filed in, they looked confused. Juárez Correa invited them to take a seat and then sat down with them.

He started by telling them that there were kids in other parts of the world who could memorize pi to hundreds of decimal points. They could write symphonies and build robots and airplanes. Most people wouldn’t think that the students at José Urbina López could do those kinds of things. Kids just across the border in Brownsville, Texas, had laptops, high-speed Internet, and tutoring, while in Matamoros the students had intermittent electricity, few computers, limited Internet, and sometimes not enough to eat.

“But you do have one thing that makes you the equal of any kid in the world,” Juárez Correa said. “Potential.”

He looked around the room. “And from now on,” he told them, “we’re going to use that potential to make you the best students in the world.”

Paloma was silent, waiting to be told what to do. She didn’t realize that over the next nine months, her experience of school would be rewritten, tapping into an array of educational innovations from around the world and vaulting her and some of her classmates to the top of the math and language rankings in Mexico.

“So,” Juárez Correa said, “what do you want to learn?”

In 1999, Sugata Mitra was chief scientist at a company in New Delhi that trains software developers. His office was on the edge of a slum, and on a hunch one day, he decided to put a computer into a nook in a wall separating his building from the slum. He was curious to see what the kids would do, particularly if he said nothing. He simply powered the computer on and watched from a distance. To his surprise, the children quickly figured out how to use the machine.

Over the years, Mitra got more ambitious. For a study published in 2010, he loaded a computer with molecular biology materials and set it up in Kalikuppam, a village in southern India. He selected a small group of 10- to 14-year-olds and told them there was some interesting stuff on the computer, and might they take a look? Then he applied his new pedagogical method: He said no more and left.

Over the next 75 days, the children worked out how to use the computer and began to learn. When Mitra returned, he administered a written test on molecular biology. The kids answered about one of four questions correctly. After another 75 days, with the encouragement of a friendly local, they were getting every other question right. “If you put a computer in front of children and remove all other adult restrictions, they will self-organize around it,” Mitra says, “like bees around a flower.”

A charismatic and convincing proselytizer, Mitra has become a darling in the tech world. In early 2013 he won a $1 million grant from TED, the global ideas conference, to pursue his work. He’s now in the process of establishing seven “schools in the cloud,” five in India and two in the UK. In India, most of his schools are single-room buildings. There will be no teachers, curriculum, or separation into age groups—just six or so computers and a woman to look after the kids’ safety. His defining principle: “The children are completely in charge.”

“The bottom line is, if you’re not the one controlling your learning, you’re not going to learn as well.”

Mitra argues that the information revolution has enabled a style of learning that wasn’t possible before. The exterior of his schools will be mostly glass, so outsiders can peer in. Inside, students will gather in groups around computers and research topics that interest them. He has also recruited a group of retired British teachers who will appear occasionally on large wall screens via Skype, encouraging students to investigate their ideas—a process Mitra believes best fosters learning. He calls them the Granny Cloud. “They’ll be life-size, on two walls” Mitra says. “And the children can always turn them off.”

Mitra’s work has roots in educational practices dating back to Socrates. Theorists from Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi to Jean Piaget and Maria Montessori have argued that students should learn by playing and following their curiosity. Einstein spent a year at a Pestalozzi-inspired school in the mid-1890s, and he later credited it with giving him the freedom to begin his first thought experiments on the theory of relativity. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin similarly claim that their Montessori schooling imbued them with a spirit of independence and creativity.

In recent years, researchers have begun backing up those theories with evidence. In a 2011 study, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Iowa scanned the brain activity of 16 people sitting in front of a computer screen. The screen was blurred out except for a small, movable square through which subjects could glimpse objects laid out on a grid. Half the time, the subjects controlled the square window, allowing them to determine the pace at which they examined the objects; the rest of the time, they watched a replay of someone else moving the window. The study found that when the subjects controlled their own observations, they exhibited more coordination between the hippocampus and other parts of the brain involved in learning and posted a 23 percent improvement in their ability to remember objects. “The bottom line is, if you’re not the one who’s controlling your learning, you’re not going to learn as well,” says lead researcher Joel Voss, now a neuroscientist at Northwestern University.

In 2009, scientists from the University of Louisville and MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences conducted a study of 48 children between the ages of 3 and 6. The kids were presented with a toy that could squeak, play notes, and reflect images, among other things. For one set of children, a researcher demonstrated a single attribute and then let them play with the toy. Another set of students was given no information about the toy. This group played longer and discovered an average of six attributes of the toy; the group that was told what to do discovered only about four. A similar study at UC Berkeley demonstrated that kids given no instruction were much more likely to come up with novel solutions to a problem. “The science is brand-new, but it’s not as if people didn’t have this intuition before,” says coauthor Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

Gopnik’s research is informed in part by advances in artificial intelligence. If you program a robot’s every movement, she says, it can’t adapt to anything unexpected. But when scientists build machines that are programmed to try a variety of motions and learn from mistakes, the robots become far more adaptable and skilled. The same principle applies to children, she says.
Brooklyn Free School Students here direct their own learning. There are no grades or formal assignments. Brian Finke

Evolutionary psychologists have also begun exploring this way of thinking. Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College who studies children’s natural ways of learning, argues that human cognitive machinery is fundamentally incompatible with conventional schooling. Gray points out that young children, motivated by curiosity and playfulness, teach themselves a tremendous amount about the world. And yet when they reach school age, we supplant that innate drive to learn with an imposed curriculum. “We’re teaching the child that his questions don’t matter, that what matters are the questions of the curriculum. That’s just not the way natural selection designed us to learn. It designed us to solve problems and figure things out that are part of our real lives.”

Some school systems have begun to adapt to this new philosophy—with outsize results. In the 1990s, Finland pared the country’s elementary math curriculum from about 25 pages to four, reduced the school day by an hour, and focused on independence and active learning. By 2003, Finnish students had climbed from the lower rungs of international performance rankings to first place among developed nations.

Nicholas Negroponte, cofounder of the MIT Media Lab, is taking this approach even further with his One Laptop per Child initiative. Last year the organization delivered 40 tablets to children in two remote villages in Ethiopia. Negroponte’s team didn’t explain how the devices work or even open the boxes. Nonetheless, the children soon learned to play back the alphabet song and taught themselves to write letters. They also figured out how to use the tablet’s camera. This was impressive because the organization had disabled camera usage. “They hacked Android,” Negroponte says.

One day Juárez Correa went to his whiteboard and wrote “1 = 1.00.” Normally, at this point, he would start explaining the concept of fractions and decimals. Instead he just wrote “½ = ?” and “¼ = ?”

“Think about that for a second,” he said, and walked out of the room.

While the kids murmured, Juárez Correa went to the school cafeteria, where children could buy breakfast and lunch for small change. He borrowed about 10 pesos in coins, worth about 75 cents, and walked back to his classroom, where he distributed a peso’s worth of coins to each table. He noticed that Paloma had already written .50 and .25 on a piece of paper.

“One peso is one peso,” he said. “What’s one-half?”

Juárez Correa felt a chill. He had never encountered a student with Paloma’s level of innate ability.

At first a number of kids divided the coins into clearly unequal piles. It sparked a debate among the students about what one-half meant. Juárez Correa’s training told him to intervene. But now he remembered Mitra’s research and resisted the urge. Instead, he watched as Alma Delia Juárez Flores explained to her tablemates that half means equal portions. She counted out 50 centavos. “So the answer is .50,” she said. The other kids nodded. It made sense.

For Juárez Correa it was simultaneously thrilling and a bit scary. In Finland, teachers underwent years of training to learn how to orchestrate this new style of learning; he was winging it. He began experimenting with different ways of posing open-ended questions on subjects ranging from the volume of cubes to multiplying fractions. “The volume of a square-based prism is the area of the base times the height. The volume of a square-based pyramid is that formula divided by three,” he said one morning. “Why do you think that is?”

He walked around the room, saying little. It was fascinating to watch the kids approach the answer. They were working in teams and had models of various shapes to look at and play with. The team led by Usiel Lemus Aquino, a short boy with an ever-present hopeful expression, hit on the idea of drawing the different shapes—prisms and pyramids. By layering the drawings on top of each other, they began to divine the answer. Juárez Correa let the kids talk freely. It was a noisy, slightly chaotic environment—exactly the opposite of the sort of factory-friendly discipline that teachers were expected to impose. But within 20 minutes, they had come up with the answer.

“Three pyramids fit in one prism,” Usiel observed, speaking for the group. “So the volume of a pyramid must be the volume of a prism divided by three.”

Juárez Correa was impressed. But he was even more intrigued by Paloma. During these experiments, he noticed that she almost always came up with the answer immediately. Sometimes she explained things to her tablemates, other times she kept the answer to herself. Nobody had told him that she had an unusual gift. Yet even when he gave the class difficult questions, she quickly jotted down the answers. To test her limits, he challenged the class with a problem he was sure would stump her. He told the story of Carl Friedrich Gauss, the famous German mathematician, who was born in 1777.

When Gauss was a schoolboy, one of his teachers asked the class to add up every number between 1 and 100. It was supposed to take an hour, but Gauss had the answer almost instantly.

“Does anyone know how he did this?” Juárez Correa asked.

A few students started trying to add up the numbers and soon realized it would take a long time. Paloma, working with her group, carefully wrote out a few sequences and looked at them for a moment. Then she raised her hand.

“The answer is 5,050,” she said. “There are 50 pairs of 101.”

Juárez Correa felt a chill. He’d never encountered a student with so much innate ability. He squatted next to her and asked why she hadn’t expressed much interest in math in the past, since she was clearly good at it.

“Because no one made it this interesting,” she said.

Our educational system is rooted in the industrial age. It values punctuality, attendance, and silence above all else.

Paloma’s father got sicker. He continued working, but he was running a fever and suffering headaches. Finally he was admitted to the hospital, where his condition deteriorated; on February 27, 2012, he died of lung cancer. On Paloma’s last visit before he passed away, she sat beside him and held his hand. “You are a smart girl,” he said. “Study and make me proud.”

Paloma missed four days of school for the funeral before returning to class. Her friends could tell she was distraught, but she buried her grief. She wanted to live up to her father’s last wish. And Juárez Correa’s new style of curating challenges for the kids was the perfect refuge for her. As he continued to relinquish control, Paloma took on more responsibility for her own education. He taught the kids about democracy by letting them elect leaders who would decide how to run the class and address discipline. The children elected five representatives, including Paloma and Usiel. When two boys got into a shoving match, the representatives admonished the boys, and the problem didn’t happen again.

Juárez Correa spent his nights watching education videos. He read polemics by the Mexican cartoonist Eduardo del Río (known as Rius), who argued that kids should be free to explore whatever they want. He was also still impressed by Mitra, who talks about letting children “wander aimlessly around ideas.” Juárez Correa began hosting regular debates in class, and he didn’t shy away from controversial topics. He asked the kids if they thought homosexuality and abortion should be permitted. He asked them to figure out what the Mexican government should do, if anything, about immigration to the US. Once he asked a question, he would stand back and let them engage one another.

A key component in Mitra’s theory was that children could learn by having access to the web, but that wasn’t easy for Juárez Correa’s students. The state paid for a technology instructor who visited each class once a week, but he didn’t have much technology to demonstrate. Instead, he had a batch of posters depicting keyboards, joysticks, and 3.5-inch floppy disks. He would hold the posters up and say things like, “This is a keyboard. You use it to type.”

As a result, Juárez Correa became a slow-motion conduit to the Internet. When the kids wanted to know why we see only one side of the moon, for example, he went home, Googled it, and brought back an explanation the next day. When they asked specific questions about eclipses and the equinox, he told them he’d figure it out and report back.
Sugata Mitra’s research on student-led learning inspired Juárez Correa.

Juárez Correa also brought something else back from the Internet. It was the fable of a forlorn burro trapped at the bottom of a well. Since thieves had broken into the school and sliced the electrical cord off of the classroom projector (presumably to sell the copper inside), he couldn’t actually show them the clip that recounted the tale. Instead, he simply described it.

One day, a burro fell into a well, Juárez Correa began. It wasn’t hurt, but it couldn’t get out. The burro’s owner decided that the aged beast wasn’t worth saving, and since the well was dry, he would just bury both. He began to shovel clods of earth into the well. The burro cried out, but the man kept shoveling. Eventually, the burro fell silent. The man assumed the animal was dead, so he was amazed when, after a lot of shoveling, the burro leaped out of the well. It had shaken off each clump of dirt and stepped up the steadily rising mound until it was able to jump out.

Juárez Correa looked at his class. “We are like that burro,” he said. “Everything that is thrown at us is an opportunity to rise out of the well we are in.”

When the two-day national standardized exam took place in June 2012, Juárez Correa viewed it as just another pile of dirt thrown on the kids’ heads. It was a step back to the way school used to be for them: mechanical and boring. To prevent cheating, a coordinator from the Ministry of Education oversaw the proceedings and took custody of the answer sheets at the end of testing. It felt like a military exercise, but as the kids blasted through the questions, they couldn’t help noticing that it felt easy, as if they were being asked to do something very basic.

Ricardo Zavala Hernandez, assistant principal at José Urbina López, drinks a cup of coffee most mornings as he browses the web in the admin building, a cement structure that houses the school’s two functioning computers. One day in September 2012, he clicked on the site for ENLACE, Mexico’s national achievement exam, and discovered that the results of the June test had been posted.

Zavala Hernandez put down his coffee. Most of the classes had done marginally better this year—but Paloma’s grade was another story. The previous year, 45 percent had essentially failed the math section, and 31 percent had failed Spanish. This time only 7 percent failed math and 3.5 percent failed Spanish. And while none had posted an Excellent score before, 63 percent were now in that category in math.

The language scores were very high. Even the lowest was well above the national average. Then he noticed the math scores. The top score in Juárez Correa’s class was 921. Zavala Hernandez looked over at the top score in the state: It was 921. When he saw the next box over, the hairs on his arms stood up. The top score in the entire country was also 921.

He printed the page and speed-walked to Juárez Correa’s classroom. The students stood up when he entered.

“Take a look at this,” Zavala Hernandez said, handing him the printout.

Juárez Correa scanned the results and looked up. “Is this for real?” he asked.

“I just printed it off the ENLACE site,” the assistant principal responded. “It’s real.”

Juárez Correa noticed the kids staring at him, but he wanted to make sure he understood the report. He took a moment to read it again, nodded, and turned to the kids.

“We have the results back from the ENLACE exam,” he said. “It’s just a test, and not a great one.”

A number of students had a sinking feeling. They must have blown it.

“But we have a student in this classroom who placed first in Mexico,” he said, breaking into a smile.

Paloma received the highest math score in the country, but the other students weren’t far behind. Ten got math scores that placed them in the 99.99th percentile. Three of them placed at the same high level in Spanish. The results attracted a quick burst of official and media attention in Mexico, most of which focused on Paloma. She was flown to Mexico City to appear on a popular TV show and received a variety of gifts, from a laptop to a bicycle.

Juárez Correa himself got almost no recognition, despite the fact that nearly half of his class had performed at a world- class level and that even the lowest performers had markedly improved.

His other students were congratulated by friends and family. The parents of Carlos Rodríguez Lamas, who placed in the 99.99th percentile in math, treated him to three steak tacos. It was his first time in a restaurant. Keila Francisco Rodríguez got 10 pesos from her parents. She bought a bag of Cheetos. The kids were excited. They talked about being doctors, teachers, and politicians.

Juárez Correa had mixed feelings about the test. His students had succeeded because he had employed a new teaching method, one better suited to the way children learn. It was a model that emphasized group work, competition, creativity, and a student-led environment. So it was ironic that the kids had distinguished themselves because of a conventional multiple-choice test. “These exams are like limits for the teachers,” he says. “They test what you know, not what you can do, and I am more interested in what my students can do.”

Like Juárez Correa, many education innovators are succeeding outside the mainstream. For example, the 11 Internationals Network high schools in New York City report a higher graduation rate than the city’s average for the same populations. They do it by emphasizing student-led learning and collaboration. At the coalition of Big Picture Learning schools—56 schools across the US and another 64 around the world—teachers serve as advisers, suggesting topics of interest; students also work with mentors from business and the community, who help guide them into internships. As the US on-time high school graduation rate stalls at about 75 percent, Big Picture is graduating more than 90 percent of its students.

But these examples—involving only thousands of students—are the exceptions to the rule. The system as a whole educates millions and is slow to recognize or adopt successful innovation. It’s a system that was constructed almost two centuries ago to meet the needs of the industrial age. Now that our society and economy have evolved beyond that era, our schools must also be reinvented.

For the time being, we can see what the future looks like in places like Juárez Correa’s classroom. We can also see that change will not come easily. Though Juárez Correa’s class posted impressive results, they inspired little change. Francisco Sánchez Salazar, chief of the Regional Center of Educational Development in Matamoros, was even dismissive. “The teaching method makes little difference,” he says. Nor does he believe that the students’ success warrants any additional help. “Intelligence comes from necessity,” he says. “They succeed without having resources.”

More than ever, Juárez Correa felt like the burro in the story. But then he remembered Paloma. She had lost her father and was growing up on the edge of a garbage dump. Under normal circumstances, her prospects would be limited. But like the burro, she was shaking off the clods of dirt; she had begun climbing the rising mound out of the well.

Want to help teachers like Sergio Juárez Correa make a difference? Here’s how you can get involved in the student-centered movement.
A Brief History of Alternative Schools

Alternative Schools, a History · New research shows what educators have long intuited: Letting kids pursue their own interests sharpens their hunger for knowledge. Here’s a look back at this approach. —Jason Kehe
470BC | Socrates is born in Athens. He goes on to become a long-haired teacher who famously let students arrive at their own conclusions. His questioning, probing approach — the Socratic method—endures to this day.
1907 | Maria Montessori opens her first Children’s House in Rome, where kids are encouraged to play and teach themselves. Americans later visit her schools and see the Montessori method in action. It spreads worldwide.
1919 | The first Waldorf school opens in Stuttgart, Germany. Based on the ideas of philosopher Rudolf Steiner, it encourages self-motivated learning. Today, there are more than 1,000 Waldorf schools in 60 countries.
1921 | A. S. Neill Founds the Summerhill School, where kids have the “freedom to go to lessons or stay away, freedom to play for days … or years if necessary.” Eventually, such democratic schools appear around the world.
1945 | Loris Malaguzzi volunteers to teach in a school that parents are building in a war-torn Italian village outside Reggio Emilia. The Reggio Emilia approach—a community of self-guided learning—is born.
1967 | Seymour Papert, a protégé of child psychologist Jean Piaget, helps create the first version of Logo, a programming language kids can use to teach themselves. He becomes a lifelong advocate for technology’s role in learning.
1999 | Sugata Mitra conducts his first “hole in the wall” experiment in New Delhi, India. On their own, slum kids teach themselves to use a computer. Mitra dubs his approach minimally invasive education.
2006 | Ken Robinson gives what will become the most frequently viewed TED Talk ever: “How Schools Kill Creativity.” Students should be free to make mistakes and pursue their own creative interests, Robinson argues.
2012 | Forty-five US states adopt the Common Core, new curriculum standards that include student-centered learning. Math students, say, should “start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem.”