Friday, October 8, 2010

Education: "Nothing New Under the Sun?"

MeanMesa is republishing an interesting article from the Huffington Post which introduces some refreshing -- and encouraging -- individuals who are "out of the box" as they present their respective new ideas about education.  In each case, the article reveals the horrible obstacles encountered as such innovative people face the quagmire of institutional fortresses which seem intent on maintaining our present failed education system.

The difficulty we face now is not a simple matter of a little obsolete bureaucracy lodged in awkward spots  here and there -- modern public education is a matter of a dreadful, ossified system,  a self-validating, sickening sort of hybrid blend of superstition and intellectual suffocation.  The reduction of the American electorate to a controllable horde of semi-literate, uninterested and uninteresting has a suspiciously conspiratorial aroma.
Is MeanMesa careening "off the tracks" again in another geriatric tirade?  Please remember that New Mexico is near the bottom of the national averages for effective public education.  Do we see anything similar to these examples at work in our local schools?  Do we have a "way forward" for our local high school graduation rates which seem stuck at 50% - 60%?

You decide.  

Take a quick look at the eight examples of the alternative shown below.  ( link to the original article here ) Please pay close attention to Myron Rolle, Edward Burger and David Cho.  Each of the examples includes a link to more information about the corresponding "game changer."

Who is the Ultimate Game Changer in Education?
Huffingon Post  - 9-20-2010

Jill Biden

Changed the game by ... making community college students a priority. Biden might be the Second Lady, but she's first in the classroom: a longtime English professor in Delaware, she has spent the semesters since her husband was sworn in as vice president at Northern Virginia Community College, where she teaches English as a second language. President Obama asked her to convene a national summit on community colleges, and she has pushed for more Americans to consider them as a cheaper, but equally solid, education opportunity, while at the same time successfully lobbying the federal government to expand their support. "For an immigrant or first-generation American, community college is often the place to begin a postsecondary education," she wrote.

Fun Fact: Biden didn't always want to be a teacher. She first studied fashion merchandising at junior college, but hated it and transferred to University of Delaware, where she stayed fashionable, but declared an English major.

Must-click link: Jill Biden's op-ed on community colleges

Myron Rolle

Changed the game by ... proving that, yes, NFL-caliber football players can also be aspiring neurosurgeon-philanthropist Rhodes Scholars who hang out with Bill Clinton. Last year, Rolle was in Oxford studying medical anthropology on a Rhodes Scholarship, which he received after graduating from Florida State in two-and-a-half years. This year, he took a break from his studies to join the Tennessee Titans as a rookie defensive back. He fell to the sixth round in the NFL draft after some coaches and pundits worried that he might not be fully committed to football or (gasp!), might be too smart. If the NFL doesn't pan out, there's always med school, or his foundation, which has already begun work on a free clinic in the Bahamas and a training program for Native American kids struggling with obesity.

He said it: "I think my pursuits academically have helped me in football. You learn discipline, you learn time management, you learn structure, you learn organization and as a football player those are obviously valuable assets and traits you can use to be great.”

Must-click link: Myron's site
Michelle Rhee

Changed the game by ... shaking up the D.C. school system. Rhee has been the chancellor of Washington, D.C. schools for three years, and her gung-ho desire for reform has irritated vested interests and ushered in a new culture of accountability. Seniority rules that kept bad teachers in place have been repealed, hundreds of teachers that Rhee said were underperforming have been fired, and the federal program Race to the Top just recognized D.C. as one of its winners, sending money its way to continue reforms. Rhee was one of the earliest members of Teach for America to rise in education politics, and is proof that its young network of alumni has the ability to deliver a message of educational reform from positions of power.

Fun fact: Rhee makes up half of education reform's most glamorous couple—her new husband, Kevin Johnson, is a former NBA all-star and the current mayor of Sacramento.

Must-click link: Rhee's site
Anya Kamenetz   

Changed the game by ... reporting a way out of a failed system. In 2004, the then-24 year old Kamenetz burst onto the scene with her book "Generation Debt," which grippingly laid out the maze of financial traps and obligations holding down young people. Now a star writer for Fast Company, her most recent book, "DIY U" came out in April and caused an immediate stir. Kamenetz's reporting explains how race and class have driven up the price of an elite education and explores the bustling new alternatives to stuffy, expensive, overrated Ivy-coated classrooms – including online collectives and top-notch community colleges.

Key Kudos: Kamenetz's book received praise from across the spectrum, but perhaps the most impressive were the accolades given by legendary economics reporter William Greider. "Her book will be devastating for older people who still believe one more graduate degree is the road to personal success and a prosperous economy," he wrote. "Younger people will feel relief that someone has finally told the truth about their predicament. Kamenetz offers a radically different way to think about the future and she gives young people a more rational and promising way to think about theirs."

Must-click link: Anya's twitter
Edward Burger

Changed the game by ... making math seriously fun. Burger, a former writer for Jay Leno, is a charismatic number theorist and mathematics professor at Williams College who has gone far beyond the confines of his day job to convince the world that math isn't as hard as it looks. An early pioneer of online, multimedia textbooks, it was recently announced that California was launching a pilot "digital textbook initiative" in which students would be given iPads to read his interactive textbook and watch his video lecture series. His successes in teaching—he was the 2010 winner of Baylor University's Cherry Teaching Award—have also generated insights about the nature of creativity that have opened up new conversations across academic disciplines.

He said it: "In all my courses, I emphasize the power of failure: learning from failed attempts and taking risks. Five percent of students’ final grades are based on their narrative of failure: how they learned from their failed attempts. I judge the quality of their failure by the size of the risk they’ve taken and the amount of insight they have generated from their mistakes. I do that as an invitation to the student to take risks, to try ideas without fear of failure."

Must-click link: Burger's site 
Beverly Daniel Tatum
Changed the game by... helping teach America how to talk about race. Tatum is the president of Spelman College in Atlanta and an eloquent advocate for the importance of historically black colleges. She has pointed out, time and again, that even in the age of Obama, HBCUs are major engines of economic and academic growth in the African-American community. (In March, Obama signed an executive order encouraging federal support of HBCUs.) A clinical psychologist and author of "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" Tatum's work in teaching young women, delivering intelligent commentary, and pushing for open dialogue in not-yet-post-racial America, has made her a key part of an essential national debate.

She said it: "When you are in the period we think of as the college years - late teen/early twenties and you are really developing your sense of identity, who you are, what you want to be in the world - there can be a real advantage to being in an environment where you know you are guaranteed by the mission of the institution to be at the center of the educational experience. ... That's not to say that if you go to a coed institution or a predominantly white institution that you are not going to be encouraged or be successful, but those institutions were not created with that intention in mind."

Must-click link: Tatum's Huffington Post blog

David Cho
 Changed the game by ... living the DREAM. Cho is a rising senior at UCLA; he has a 3.6 GPA, and is the first Korean-American drum major of the UCLA marching band. He also is an undocumented immigrant—he "came out" this past spring at a big rally in Los Angeles, where he roused the crowd of thousands. The winner of this past year's Campus Progress National Speaker Contest (co-sponsored by HuffPost), he is one of the strongest advocates for the DREAMAct, which would offer a path to citizenship for children who came to America at a young age and succeeded in school.

He said it: "I actually want to serve in the U.S. Air Force after graduation, I want to attend Harvard Kennedy School of government, and I ultimately want to be a U.S. Senator because I want to make changes in this country. These are my goals, my dreams, and my American dream that I want to achieve but I cannot fulfill them because of my status. Today, however, I stand before you all freed from doubt and fear and filled with courage and confidence for I believed in the power of our generation and I know that we will never lose hope in this time of trials and tribulations."

Must-click link: Cho's stirring speech at this year's Campus Progress conference

Shai Reshef

Changed the game by ... taking the world to school. In 2009, Reshef founded the University of the People, a Pasadena-based project that streams lectures and assignments to people around the world, allowing them to take college classes online for less than $100—and ultimately get accredited degrees. At this point, there are 500 students from 100 countries discussing topics and meeting regularly in online forums. Reshef is aware that not everyone has easy access to the Internet; UoPeople is preparing communication centers in Zimbabwe, the Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Haiti, Liberia, and Palestine. "There are hundreds of millions of people around the world unable to afford higher education," he told Fast Company. "We are offering them an alternative."

How it all got started: Reshef worked in the for-profit side of education, when he joined the Israeli test-prep company Kidum in 1989. Under his leadership, it became the largest education-services company in Israel, with revenues of over $25 million before Kaplan bought it in 2005. “I’ve made enough money," he now says. "It’s time to give back.”

Must-click link:

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