Who is a leader, and who is a manager? A leader creates change. She leads by example, through charisma, persuasion, and reason, and is concerned with effectiveness and ultimate goals. A manager is someone who implements change. He coordinates, directs, and is concerned with efficiency, with means rather than ends, and with control rather than trust.
In short, everyone wants to be a leader. And though they may be necessary, no one loves managers.
Education Pioneers is a nonprofit dedicated to headhunting freshly minted Harvard MBAs and Stanford Law school graduates and employing them as administrators within charter school organizations and public school districts. Their goal is to recruit 10,000 such professionals from top education, business, and law graduate programs by 2023. According to their mission statement,
Education Pioneers exists to identify, train, connect, and inspire a new generation of leaders dedicated to transforming our education system so that all students receive a quality education.
Here are the assumptions embedded in that mission and taken from elsewhere on the website. There are common threads with the Gates Foundation agenda I discussed last week.
1) Education is in crisis.
2) Our education system needs to be transformed, particularly schools serving high-needs students.
3) The school bureaucracy outside the classroom, not principals or teachers, are a key lever for this transformation.
4) Those professionals are best identified not by their experience with students but by experiences and qualifications earned far from the education system.
To that end, Education Pioneers today released a glossy sheaf of research reporting that the education field presents prime opportunities for the ambitious Ivy League or equivalent grad. This is a sector with 6 million jobs managing $600 billion in public revenues. There are some 55000 education-related nonprofits representing perhaps as many as 2 million more jobs. And there are dozens of education-related for-profit startups recruiting and hiring as well.
Education Pioneers makes the case that these are great jobs that top students should be angling for. In a survey of its alumni, Education Pioneers found that young professionals working in this sector were twice as likely to have high-level responsibility, managing other managers, entire functions, groups or organizations–23 percent had this level of responsibility, vs. 12 percent in the private sector. In addition, Black and Latino alumni employed in education were four times as likely to be managing a group as their peers in the private sector (20 percent vs. 4 percent).
This touting of the vast professional opportunities for managers in the education system makes an interesting contrast with another research article in the Journal of Education and Training Studies, released last week. This was a national survey of education and classroom leaders on their attitudes toward No Child Left Behind, the 2001 legislation that imposed Adequate Yearly Progress standards on school districts based on annual standardized tests. Overwhelmingly the respondents identified that NCLB and AYP had reduced the opportunities for leadership in their schools while increasing the responsibilities for managers. Principals and teachers alike reported that they felt compelled to focus on compliance with these external performance standards, rather than working on building consensus for real changes that would directly benefit students.
“In 2002, it appears principals were more focused on being instructional leaders while in 2011, demands of NCLB have forced principals to be more focused on managerial tasks and less on instructional leadership.”
The educational nonprofit world is thick with references to “transformational leadership.” But no matter how many top-tier MBAs, Ed.Ds or JDs get hired, as long as the system relies on a single set of metrics, the scope for true leadership will be severely compromised.
A newly published Pew survey of 2462 AP and National Writing Project teachers provides some great indicators for how skilled high school English teachers are using digital tools to enhance writing instruction. The survey also highlighted some common concerns about digital tools’ effects on written communication that are applicable beyond the classroom as well.
First, the good. Writing on the web is public or potentially public. This in itself seems to encourage students to work harder and be more excited about their written work. Seventy-nine percent of teachers agreed that digital tools enabled more collaboration among students, and 78% saw that working this way seemed to bring out more creativity and personal expression in writing assignments.
Now the bad. Writing on the web is quick and easy–sometimes too easy. Sixty-eight percent of teachers agreed that students took more shortcuts and put less effort into their writing when using digital tools; 46% said students were more likely to “write too fast and be careless.” In focus groups, teachers had concerns about teaching what’s known as code switching, or student’s graceful navigation among different registers and levels of formality in diction. Curiously, teachers were polarized on the effect of web tools on spelling and grammar: 38% said digital tools improved these mechanics and 40% said they made them worse.
This survey reminded me of the debate lately about the teaching of cursive in classrooms. Is handwriting laughably obsolete? Or is it invaluable training in design and hand-eye coordination, as the experience of no less than Steve Jobs might suggest? You could raise similar questions about the teaching of typing. I was born in 1980 and my father made sure I learned how to type with the aid of Mavis Beacon‘s computer program. Today keyboards are ubiquitous in the hands of preschoolers, so typing has by and large fallen out of the curriculum, and hardly anyone puts their WPM on a resume anymore. But without formalized instruction, students are thrown back from the “cognitive automaticity” of touch typing to hunt and peck, which in itself may make SMS-isms from IDK to LOL more appealing.
There’s a connection between what people write and how they write–if you don’t believe it, survey the idiosyncratic working methods of great authors. Longhand is relatively painstaking, but great for diaries, quick lists, notes and illustrations; typing is satisfyingly mechanical; word processing admits infinite revisions and reversions. Chasing a cursor in a box on a “content management system,” as I am doing right now, provides a sense of urgency. You’re like an actor waiting in the wings; when you “go live” any misstep will likely be detected.
Most of the writing that today’s students do in their lives will be done this way: wirelessly connected, like a live performance on a high wire, without a net but with a network. Writing for the page will continue to have its place, but writing for the web will be students’ first language and it’s up to teachers to help them learn how to do it well.
To elaborate further, here are some reflections by New York City high school students on their experience with the Youth Voices Summer Writing Program, hosted by the New York City Writing Project (NYCWP) at CUNY’s Lehman College. They are taken from the programs’ public Google + page, and they handily illustrate both the good and the bad of web writing. All errors [sic].
This is our second week of the Youth Voices program, and I have to say that it’s been wonderful. The people are kind and generous, the curriculum is both fun and informative, and the food is amazing! Everyday that goes by is another day I get to spend time with people that appreciate my work, and teach me so much. This week we learned how to make badges which was extremely fun (I’ll attach it to this post). My badge was called the Sleeping Poet Badge. It’s a badge for awesome poems about sleep . This week has been very interesting and I got the chance to meet new people like Vanessa. Youth Voices is awesome. Here we are the teachers.
The second week of Youth vocies was very fun. I got to learn new things and work with my writing skills. I love wriitng and this program has helped me do that by incorperating other activties. This program has taught me that their is different ways of writing and each way is uniqe.
I have learned so much this week, it was definitely an explosion of technological innovation. To begin, I’ve delved deeper into my research project. I am discovering that more money leads to problems for women. Climbing the job ladder is something that women drop out of, and sometimes unconsciously, because they begin preparing their schedule for building a family. More choices have also led to more dilemmas for women because, as the COO from Facebook had noted, choices does not mean increased likability. It is an inverse relationship for women (likability and advancement).
I have also loved the different modes of annotating. It has help me react to different informational media related to my research topic.
To top it all off, as I have noted in my journal, the students here are amazing and their interests make me want to learn more.
In the circles in which I move, there has been a lot of talk this week about a major article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, taking on the Gates Foundation‘s outsized power in education policy.
As a former Gates Foundation contractor I spoke at length to the authors of the piece and am quoted extensively in one sidebar about the program’s influence on media. I wanted to lay out the pros and cons of my experience because as a journalist I believe that maximum transparency is the key to dealing head-on with all potential conflicts of interest and influence. Likewise, the Chronicle itself disclosed early in its own piece that it receives funding from Gates. So has The Hechinger Report, which publishes this blog.
The sheer size of Gates–a $36 billion endowment, $2.6 billion given away last year alone to all programs, making it the world’s largest private grantmaking organization–creates this sort of irony throughout the education world, leaving many critics and observers, including myself, open to the charge of co-optation. But besides leading to a few awkward social moments among education researchers and journalists at conferences, is Gates really having an “undemocratic and undue influence” on education policy in the United States? And if so, what’s the best way to counter that influence?
Politics: Gates money is big in isolation, but all philanthropic money is dwarfed by government spending on education–$600 billion annually for K-12 in the United States. Pilot studies and technology startups and charter schools are all well and good, but Gates’ real power move–as outlined in this American Enterprise Institute book about philanthropy in K-12–is getting the ear of the Department of Education through its lobbying, advocacy and research. The creation of the Race to the Top fund is the most obvious example.
Politically, I think the strongest democratic principle to uphold as a check and balance to this policy ecosystem is that of local control. While the reformers are obsessed with “scaling up” and “impact,” applying their chosen solutions to as many schools as possible, there is a strong tradition in this country of giving teachers and parents in individual schools the deciding vote in what kind of education their children are going to have.
Technology & Innovation: It’s a bit simplistic to argue that the secret purpose of the Gates Foundation is to get governments to buy a lot of Windows computers for classrooms in order to make Microsoft more successful and further enrich the richest man in the world.
But a more subtle and insidious form of the argument I think does hold water. Bill Gates and many of his fellow Silicon Valley philanthropists fall into the category of “technological solutionists,” in the phrase of Evgeny Morozov. Their personal life experience was getting very rich creating the Internet-enabled reality we’re all living in, which really does feel magical sometimes and profoundly different from what came before. And because of that they tend to believe the following:
1) Technology fixes things 2) More fundamentally, innovation–doing things very differently than they were done before–fixes things.
And then, at the same time, they believe that when it comes to education, the status quo is very broken. Not only is it the case that when you have a hammer, it makes everything look like a nail–sometimes, it also makes everything look like it’s falling apart.
So I think it’s incumbent upon everyone who thinks about education, especially if we’re taking Gates money, to look hard at those assumptions and their opposites. That’s the message of this story to me.
What can technology solve? What is it helpless to solve?
Where do we need to innovate? What do we need to preserve?
What is really broken about school right now? What’s working? and finally,
Who is deciding? Who are we not hearing from?
In my first post for this blog I covered the splashy debut of InBloom at the SXSWEdu conference in Texas in March. I noted that it’s tough to explain exactly what the company does (essentially, they provide the infrastructure for a variety of smaller applications to harness the data generated by students to make their offerings more efficient and personalized). I also highlighted privacy concerns that are starting to surface about the collecting, repackaging and re-selling of student data for the benefit of for-profit companies.
Several months later it seems that both the inability to explain for the layperson what the company does, and the panic over privacy and security (underlined by the recent upheaval over NSA data mining), are dogging InBloom and may doom it. The number of partner and pilot states for the organization, initially listed at seven, is now down to five according to the website. And in at least two of those states, New York and Colorado, the idea faces vociferous local opposition. The American Federation of Teachers has stepped in, issuing a statement citing a “growing lack of public trust” in the company.
This debate is important, and as the AFT notes, it doesn’t stop with InBloom. The promise of big data for schools is not going away and neither are the perils, so perhaps it’s time to have a more grounded conversation about both the issues and the remedies at hand.
Recently I spoke with entrepreneur Jose Ferreira of the adaptive learning platform Knewton, another kind of big data company in education. During our conversation he said that from the ed-tech point of view, there are several types of student data. Each has different values and different dangers. (Ferreira separated out five kinds of data in his typology, but to simplify I’ll designate just three).
1) The first type is known as personally identifiable information: names, addresses, Social Security numbers. Exposure of this data generally is a security breach of the first order. It may be valuable for spammers, but it’s not all that useful to analyze for educational outcomes. Say you find out that girls named Alana from Phoenix do better in reading–that’s not generalizable. For this reason PII should always be well hidden and inaccessible.
2) The second type of data is the kind collected and tabulated by school, state and federal student information systems–let’s call it SIS. There is academic and behavioral information, like attendance, standardized test scores, suspension rates and class sizes. And there’s demographic data, like ethnicity, learning disability or IEP classification, and the percentage receiving free/reduced lunch. It’s very useful to correlate this kind of data with educational outcomes and interventions. It’s necessary for resource allocation. Because it pertains to groups, not individuals, it’s less sensitive than PII. But there’s still a chance for schools or groups to be stigmatized or stereotyped with the sharing of such information, so it needs to be released judiciously. No one is arguing that a particular student’s test score, for example, should be a state secret, but as with anything that appears on a transcript, its release should be controlled and limited to those who need to know.
3) The third, and newest, type of data is the user interaction information collected by learning software systems like Dreambox, Khan Academy or Knewton. These systems record time on page and keystrokes and combine them with student responses to assessment questions to construct a picture of the engagement and proficiency of individual students and the efficacy of particular pieces of content. This is where you truly get into “big data.” Some of these systems claim to generate millions of data points per hour.
Let’s leave PII alone for a minute. The power of both SIS and “big data” to improve the practice of teaching and learning depends on aggregating and analyzing as much of it as possible, and making the relevant results available as quickly as possible to students, educators, parents, and the people who build these systems. The system we have today doesn’t do a very good job of this. Adequate Yearly Progress test results, for example, typically become available several months after a student takes the test. If big data is going to be useful at all, the privacy considerations attached to it have to be different because of the sheer volume and velocity at which it is generated. “Opting-in” often becomes impractical.
I would suggest separate tests be applied to determine responsible privacy and security considerations for student data. PII should always be separated out and kept hidden except when explicitly shared or agreed to by informed individuals. SIS and “big data” should be protected and its use disclosed, especially when it’s being made available for the enrichment of private businesses. (For example, I’m not a huge fan of the startup Junyo, founded by a former cofounder of the online game company Zynga, which has introduced a product that scrapes publicly available SIS data and sells the information to textbook and ed-tech companies for marketing purposes).
In all cases, we have to balance the potential harm to vulnerable young people with the potential gains to learning and teaching.
When most people think of summer camp, they think of a resolutely analog experience. But Maker Camp, which just kicked off its second season, is designed to take place online and offline simultaneously. The Make Magazine/Maker Faire community got together with Google Plus to present a series of 30 fun projects in 30 days for kids to make at home, plus virtual field trips, via live video “Hangout”, to places like NASA, Disney Imagineering and the CERN particle accelerator.
Last year, the first year of Maker Camp, 1 million people logged on during the course of the week. Today the Google Plus Maker Camp group has almost 8000 members. So far it looks like a lot of middle-school age kids, both boys and girls, have proudly posted their take on the first day’s project, a propeller-driven boat made out of soda bottles. Some kids are doing the projects at home with friends or brothers and sisters, others at afterschool programs, with Cub Scout groups, or even at real summer camp.
Most projects are designed to be inexpensively constructed out of household materials. Each week has a theme, from vehicles, to games, to music and art. While they illustrate concepts like velocity and friction, there are no explicit lessons here; the goal is for kids to explore the joy of making.
You can see plenty of collaborative learning going on online, where participants share their successes and setbacks, ask and answer questions. There’s only one point of awkwardness: Google + limits participants to ages 13 and over to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which was recently stiffened. So some kids, who are identifying themselves as 11 or 12, are using their parents’ accounts. But that’s not enough to interfere with the fun!
This morning I was watching my daughter push a pink dump truck around the living room, and it got me thinking about what games and toys do to shape gender stereotypes. There’s evidence that children gravitate toward sex-stereotyped toys as young as 18 months, which is just my daughter’s age; unfortunately, there’s also evidence that parents are still pressuring or at least expecting young kids, especially girls, to play this way, sometimes through nonverbal cues.
Clearly, this is a problem both for our education system and our society. There’s a persistent gender gap in high-demand science, technology, engineering and math fields. Children play as a way of discovering their passions and aspirations; they’re also intensively practicing skills like motor control (cars) and empathy (dolls). By the time they get to school, a skills gap may have already opened up, along with many years of ingrained belief about what’s appropriate for little boys and little girls. The tyranny of princess culture for little girls has been the subject of entire books.
This week Toys R’ Us announced that they’d start to carry Goldieblox, a book and toy series designed by a young Stanford graduate to help girls get interested in engineering and funded via a successful grassroots campaign on Kickstarter last year. Goldieblox is a series of storybooks paired with construction sets. Girls read the book and then have a chance to build a simple machine like the one in the story. A future version of Goldieblox may be an ebook paired with a coding project. Similarly, Lego has debuted a line of building toys tailored to school-age girls called Lego Friends, also linked to a set of characters through stories and online games. The company announced in February that a Lego Friends set was their bestselling set of the year in 2012, and that the product line overall doubled sales expectations.
The interesting thing about both of these toy lines is that they’re still pretty gendered in a traditional way. As this 2005 study highlighted, high-quality educational and developmental toys are usually those perceived as gender-neutral or mildly masculine–building blocks, art supplies, balls, kites, musical instruments, nature kits, bicycles. Conversely, most highly gendered toys–guns and makeup kits, say–are “less supportive of optimal development.”
These new toy sets, on the other hand, assume narrative, characters, and pretty blondes are requisite for attracting girls to building or engineering. It may be a successful approach. I recall listening to a presentation by a brilliant young female web developer who said her gateway drug to learning HTML was Neopets, a massive multiplayer online world of customizable, cute and cuddly animals.
But why can’t companies design and market gender-neutral toys that promote a wide range of skills? Presumably, boys need just as much encouragement to focus on empathy, narrative and social skills as girls do to explore engineering. (Why did GI Joe blow up the bridge? How do the bad guys feel about him blowing up the bridge?)
For that reason, I’m actually a bigger fan of Lego’s StoryStarter series. This follow-on to the highly successful Mindstorms robotics blocks, aligned to the Common Core, has children working in teams to make up a story, “storyboard it” in 3 dimensions using the Lego sets, and then going online to document and share their stories.
John Scott Tynes started programming in the early 1980s, in middle school. “The main thing I did was play games and make games,” he said–from text-based adventure games to a crude graphics game inspired by Indiana Jones that featured a “fedora” (as seen from overhead, really, two concentric circles) cracking a “whip.”
Tynes went on to work across the gaming universe, on everything from tabletop role-playing adventures to massively multiplayer online games, and joined Microsoft Xbox to work on arcade-style games and collaborate with Sesame Workshop on games for learning. Last year, his passion for gaming took him in a new direction, as the head of the Imagine Cup Challenge. Microsoft sponsors this annual competition for high school and university students in dozens of countries, who compete in teams building both apps and games for over a million dollars in cash and prizes. The finalists in the are currently heading to St. Petersburg, Russia for the final round of competition.
This year Tynes added a second division to the competition called the Kodu Challenge, open to students as young as nine. Kodu Game Lab is a programming language designed for kids, similar to MIT’s Scratch. It’s a simple, visual programming environment optimized for the creation of games: you can design and customize landscapes, add characters and program actions for them to take following simple rules, using an Xbox controller, mouse, or touchscreen with no typing necessary. The challenge, conducted with the charity Mercy Corps, asked kids to create games around the theme of water. Winners, from hundreds of entries will be announced next month.
As a game designer himself, Tynes did a better job than anyone else I’ve talked to at explaining the various educational payoffs that could come from assigning students to build games.
1) Learn about learning itself. “Learning is an iterative game loop: You learn, try to repeat and use what you’ve learned, you’re evaluated, you fail or succeed, repeat and gain mastery. That’s how you play a game. Games enable a focused, tight loop to gain mastery quickly.”
2) Explore STEM disciplines. “ Students take for granted what’s brand-new to everybody else. They are digital natives. Playing with technology is a great way to encourage students to delve into STEM learning and become more technical.”
3) Collaborate. “I think games, among all the different kinds of software are the most cross-disciplinary we have. It’s not just programming, user interfaces, or usability. The rules and logic of games are themselves a whole other discipline that requires expertise and training. Then there are the vivid images, graphics, pictures, characters, music, sound effects– a world and a story. So even a small game project requires more than one programmer heads down. It fosters collaboration–asking students to stretch outside their comfort zones.”
4) Connect learning to the wider world. “Games engage with elements of fiction. They have characters and a story. That helps and encourages students to put their work into context.”
5) Have fun helping others! “In game design we talk about plateaus of skill mastery. In game design you want the player to enjoy those moments of confidence before we introduce the next round of complications and new rules. That structure lends itself well to positive reinforcement, which is why games can be so engaging to play. [When you design games] making the player feel engaged and excited is an incredibly powerful motivator.”
Sugata Mitra at TED 2013
Mitra’s experiments, dating back to the 1980s, mostly in India, have sought to show “that groups of children, given shared digital resources, can learn to use computers and the Internet and go on to learn almost anything on their own that they have an interest in. They do not seem to require adult supervision.” His initial experiments, dubbed “Hole-in-the-Wall,” dating back to 1999, made computers, connected to the Internet, available freely for the use of children in Delhi. His TED Prize proposal, dubbed the “School in the Cloud,” involves building a computer lab for 8 to 12 year old children in India and connecting them via the Internet to volunteer tutors whose role is more to encourage than to instruct (in other experiments, he’s called these tutors “the granny cloud.”)
This is the ideal of technologically-enabled learning in its purest, most unadulterated form: just a child and a computer. A similar strategy is endorsed by Nicholas Negroponte, creator of the One Laptop Per Child project, who has recently been giving tablets to children in rural Ethiopia with almost no instruction or intervention.
The contrast is pretty stark. On the one hand you have one of the trendiest intellectual brands of the Internet age, known for its association with some great, innovative minds in education like Sir Ken Robinson and Sal Khan, endorsing, and funding, the provision of Internet access as a complete solution for children’s education.
On the other hand you have the educational establishment saying this is kooky, or worse. A growing body of research does not support any educational effects on children from merely handing them computers. With regard to his own work, though experiments go back to 1999, Mitra’s website claims, “Not much has been published on these because of the preliminary nature of these findings.” One of the independent reports has been published, however, dubbed the interventions “not very effective,” facilitating only l0w-level learning. Some of his own studies on SOLES, Mitra has stated recently, have been rejected by peer-reviewed journals.
“SOLEs work anywhere with an Internet connection, with or without teachers” , Mitra claimed earlier this month in the comments section of an education blog. “In the hands of good teachers, they result in very effective learning. In the absence of teachers, they sometimes produce astonishing results. So, I would think, there is a case for doing them. Schools cannot be built, as of now, without teachers. There are many places where they cannot be built at all.”
Mitra makes some extremely well-founded criticisms of the traditional education system and how it needs to be remade to grapple with the demands of the Internet age. However, his insistence that all of today’s education is obsolete and his proposed alternative, known as ‘minimally invasive education,’ casts teachers as an impediment to learning, threatening to do more harm than good to the cause of innovation. While self-directed curiosity is crucial to learning and development, and may not get its due in the faculty model of education, the idea that meaningful learning can “scale” in a self-organized fashion from children following their own curiosity with the help of digital technology sounds like a naive technocratic fantasy.
Advocates of the “drop computers from a helicopter” approach to ed-tech often argue that the real audience for such an intervention is the estimated 100 million children globally who don’t go to school at all. Critics call this dressed-up colonialism. The true test for fans of any radical educational intervention is not whether it’s considered good enough for the poorest kids in the world, but whether someone would want to provide that same experience to their own children.
EngageCV, 3-D telepresence using the Kinect
Mozilla Ignite is an open innovation challenge sponsored by the nonprofit that makes the Firefox web browser together with the the National Science Foundation. The call was to create “civic apps”–software applications for the public good–that take advantage of some experimental technologies that can run the Internet at speeds up to 250 times faster than today’s broadband. Cities are piloting these networks around the country, from Chattanooga, TN to Portland, OR.
The winners, announced today, include several ideas applicable to education that use some combination of streaming video, 3-D, big-data analytics and other bandwidth-hungry functions: realtime 3-D videoconferencing using the Kinect videogame player, say, or virtual place-based learning with screen-sharing, enabling a video guided tour of a museum or other location. An app dubbed the Rashomon Project uses time and date stamps on video and other content to stitch together a timeline of an event from multiple perspectives, which could be amazing for projects based on history or current events.
It’s all very cool stuff, but there’s a huge irony. While almost all American schools have some Internet access, many lack speed for today’s software applications, let alone the ultra-fast experimental technologies.
President Obama has just pledged to bring wireless broadband to 99 percent of schools within five years relying in part on dedicated subsidy funds from the E-Rate program, but the price tag and method of payment for executing the full pledge remains mysterious.
What’s also ironic in this round of innovations, mostly created by non-educators, is that in many cases what they seek to do is use high tech to simulate, and in some cases augment, a real face-to-face learning experience. Why not just physically take your class to a museum or a forest?
There was an arresting moment on the radio show This American Life this week. Host Ira Glass interviewed award-winning science teacher Jason Pittman who’s leaving the profession. He was making less than $60,000 and hadn’t had a raise in 10 years. For the past five years his position had been funded by a nonprofit, started by parents and community members who wanted to keep him, but this forced him to dedicate a significant portion of his time to fundraising.
Glass asked him if he felt like he had to “grovel” for his paycheck. Pittman chuckled. “Is that too strong, that word?” Glass asked. “That’s exactly what it feels like!” he burst out. “And we’re not allowed to say that. We’re supposed to be all-sacrificing, ever-serving, ever-humble…Teachers aren’t supposed to be selfish. We’re supposed to do this job for more than money.”
This is such a contradictory time to be in education. There’s so much lip service paid to the importance of education, large numbers of bright young people are aspiring to the profession, and in many ways, technology is elevating the practice and importance of teaching. Yet austerity-driven budget cuts and decades of underfunding are leaving teachers undersupported and under-respected. Right now the papers are full of stories about beloved teachers losing their jobs and their relationships to their communities because of budget cuts and school closures. In Philadelphia about 20% of the education workforce will lose their jobs, and significant cuts are coming in Chicago as well.
In this uncertain context, social media offers new avenues for teachers to supplement both school budgets and their personal incomes. Almost 150,000 teachers have used DonorsChoose to raise money for activities and school materials. TeachersPayTeachers allows teachers to earn extra money by selling lesson plans they have created. And individual teachers with creativity and skills to spare are reinventing themselves and supplementing their income as technology consultants and social media entrepreneurs.
I met Ramsey Musallam, who falls into the last category, when he shared the stage with Sir Ken Robinson and Bill Gates at a TED Talk TV special broadcast on PBS earlier this year. While his day job is a high school chemistry teacher, he also has a web TV show, a blog, gives talks, workshops and consults. We chatted about the insanity of his schedule and the difficulty of supporting a family in the Bay Area even with all he is doing.
On the one hand, it’s amazing that technology offers talented teachers so many avenues to gain support and recognition for what they do every day. On the other hand, it’s sad to see a situation where the nation’s teachers, who should be free to focus on the vital work in the classroom, have to continually pass the hat or essentially operate businesses on the side in order to keep body and soul together. The rush to supply schools with devices and software aligned to the Common Core, and the growing interest in education in the venture capital world, is only going to increase opportunities for teachers to monetize their expertise through consulting relationships or by starting their own companies. The danger is that schools lose some of the most talented teachers because we haven’t done enough to keep them. Jason Pittman is a case in point. He once ran a technology company and will likely go back to that industry now that he is tired of being underappreciated and underpaid.