Category Archives: Uncategorized

Fifth Anniversary of Blog

Dear Readers,

This post marks my fifth anniversary as a blogger. I want to thank those readers who regularly read my twice-weekly posts, those who have dipped into them occasionally, those who have subscribed to the post, and finally those—over 6500–who have taken the time to write comments.  The blog has had nearly 850,000 views from around the world (40 percent outside of the U.S) since August 2009. Not exactly viral but, for me, most gratifying.

For the 597 posts I have written in the past five years, I have followed three rules:

1. Write less than 800 words.

2. Write clearly on school reform and classroom practice.

3. Take a position and back it up with evidence.

Anyone who blogs or writes often knows that sticking to these rules is no easy task. Occasionally, I have slipped and alert readers have reminded me of these rules.  Yet after four years, writing two posts a week–with help from guests (teachers, administrators, non-educators, family, and academics)–has been very satisfying. I remain highly motivated to write about what happens to policy as it gets translated into practice and those unrelenting efforts of reformers with varied ideas inside and outside the schools who have sought improved schooling.

Five posts have caught the most clicks since beginning the blog:

“Data-Driven Instruction and the Practice of Teaching (over 24,000)

“The Difference between ‘Complicated’ and ‘Complex’ Matters (18,000)

High-Tech Gadgets: Addiction, Dependency, or Hype?” (16,000)

Cartoons on Common Core” (13,000)

Chains or Spaghetti? Metaphors of Implementation (nearly 11,000)

For the first time, a cartoon feature has entered the top five posts. Three years ago, I started a once-monthly series of cartoons on selected topics of teaching, administering, policymaking, and school reform. This year I started monthly series on poetry about teachers and students written for, about, and by students, teachers, administrators, and non-educators.

As I begin my sixth year, I am not sure where I fit into Roz Chast’s breakdown of bloggers, but poking fun at those who blog is, well, part of being a blogger. Thank you again, dear readers, for making the past five years a satisfying experience.

Larry Cuban



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Cartoons of Teachers and Kids Again

Here is another collection of cartoons that show different sides of the teacher and student relationship. Enjoy!

teacher's first week of school



female tchr in classroom






teach and student semester


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How Do Teachers Teach in Turnaround Schools?

I posted this piece in August of 2009. I offer it again because the points I raise in it remain relevant today. Turning around a school means that federal, state, and local officials identify a low-performing school, remove staff, and new administrators and staff put certain policies in place that will get teachers to alter their lessons, develop strong relationships with their students, and raise test scores. I questioned the wisdom of that policy direction years ago when I wrote this post and continue to do so now.

Lots of stories from principals, parents, and students reveal practices that range from marvelous to malign. Individual teachers give us a sense of what happens in their classrooms. Rafe Esquith in LA writes about his lessons and his kids’ experiences in an elementary school; Sarah Fine, an English teacher in a D.C. charter school, tells of her successes and failures. But beyond stories and first-hand accounts, helpful as they are in giving us a peek into different classrooms, we know very little about the kinds of daily lessons that unfold across the grades and in academic subjects. We know especially little about classroom teaching in those turnaround schools that get extra resources, new (and young) staff, and the charge to go from a chronically failing school to a high-flier.

So what? What’s wrong with being largely ignorant of how teachers teach in turnaround schools or even high-performing ones? Knowing how teachers teach is critical because school boards and superintendents assume that their decisions to turnaround schools (and adopting other policies targeting better student performance) will alter classroom teaching and lead to improved test scores.

In short, every single federal, state, and district policy decision aimed at improving student academic performance has a set of taken-for-granted assumptions that link the adopted policy to classroom lessons. From the feds putting money on the stump to entice educators in “Race to the Top” to getting states to adopt charters and pay-for-performance schemes to a local school board and superintendent deciding to give laptops to each teacher and student, contain crucial assumptions–not facts–about classroom outcomes that the new policy promises. And one of those crucial assumptions is that teachers will change how they teach for the better. Rarely are serious questions asked about these assumptions before or after hyped-up policies were adopted, money allocated, expectations raised, and materials (or machines) deployed to classrooms.

Consider a few simple questions that, too often, go unasked of policies heralded as a cure-all for the ills of urban schools, including turnaround schools.

1. Did policies aimed at improving student achievement (e.g.,reconstituting staff in low-performing schools, mayoral control, small high schools, pay-for performance plans, and parental choice) get fully implemented?

2. When implemented fully, did they change the content and practice of teaching?

3. Did changed classroom practices account for what students learned?

4. Did what students learn achieve the goals set by policy makers?

These straightforward questions about reform-driven policies inspect the chain of policy-to-practice assumptions that federal, state, and local decision-makers take for granted when adopting their pet policy. These questions distinguish policy talk (e.g. “Race to the Top”) and policy action (e.g., adopting and implementing policies) from classroom practice (e.g. how do teachers teach as a result of new policies),and student learning (e.g., what have students learned as a result of different lessons).

Subsequent blogs will take up the critical importance of the second and third questions and go beyond the stories we hear from parents, principals, and students and the individual accounts of savvy classroom teachers such as Esquith and Fine.


Since writing this post over four years ago, I went searching for evidence that might support the practices recommended by the U.S. Department of Education in turning around schools. I found little evidence that would support such a major policy direction embedded in No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. See here, here, and Mintrop, et. al PDF


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Cartoons about Perfection (Professionals and Others)

This month, I saw some stories about the “perfect” teacher and once ran a cartoon on the “perfect” online teacher.


Then I saw another cartoon by Robert Rendo that offered a scathing profile of what New York expects of its “perfect” teacher.

C5+copyHow about the “perfect” student?


Then I began to think of how cartoonists poked fun at other professions. Take physicians, for example.


Or this one of a “perfect” doctor reframing bad news:

perfect doctor

How about a “perfect” Information Technology (IT) engineer?

Perfect IT Engineer INFOGRAPHIC

Or a “perfect” lawyer.

perfect lawyer

How about the perfectionist historian?

historically inaccurate

Since I am on a roll, let’s look at perfection in other arenas.


Or the “perfect” blogger:

perfect blogger


For those who wish to see over a dozen other posts featuring cartoons, see here and here.

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Curricular Wars Fought Again and Again: How Come?

Phonics vs. Whole Language. Old Math vs. New Math. Knowing Science Subjects vs. Doing ScienceHeritage Study vs. Doing History. Wars of words have been fought among politicians, parents, and educators over reading, math, science, and social studies in the past century. And those rhetorical battles reappear again and again over which way is best for teaching content and skills in a subject . Sure, these simplistic either-or choices (maybe simple-minded also) pump adrenalin into the veins of advocates and opponents in each “war.” Rest assured, however, few teachers get involved in these “wars” or design lessons clearly on one side or the other when they close their classroom doors. Nonetheless, for the media and bloggers, the vocabulary of war makes fine slogans, bumper stickers, and even cartoons.




These “wars” reveal the fact that educators since World War II have lost their influence in making curricular policy. Since the early 1950s policy elites including federal and state officials have slowly and steadily “educationalized”  national social, economic, and political problems. In short, policy elites have expected schools to “solve” alcohol, tobacco, and drug abuse, teen age pregnancy, and defend the nation against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Now policy elites and the general public expect schools to increase economic growth. reverse the decline in global market competitiveness, and get every graduate into college and a career that will pay well.

The process of drafting schools to “solve” national problems began slowly in the U.S. but proceeded quickly by mid-twentieth century. As early as World War I, the Smith-Hughes Act (1917) had the federal government, for the first time, pumping dollars into vocational education  to turn out skilled graduates for industrial and commercial jobs thereby making U.S. economically competitive with European nations. Consider the National Defense Education Act (1958) which pushed public schools to produce more engineers, scientists, and mathematicians to fight the Cold War in space and weaponry. Then in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson and Congress enlisted schools in the fight against poverty with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a law that was reauthorized by presidents and congresses every five or more years thereafter including the current incarnation called No Child Left Behind.

No Child Left Behind is the poster child for “educationalizing” national problems. Test-driven accountability is expected to insure that students leaving school will be skilled and prepared to enter an economy where employers hunger for graduates who can make their companies more competitive in the global marketplace while helping the economy grow.  Since the 1960s, then, these coalitions of elected policymakers in concert with business and civic leaders have slowly wrested authority from educators  for answering two basic questions that  get at the heart of public schooling. What content and skills should be taught to U.S. children and youth? How should both be taught?

Answers to those questions account for the periodic curriculum struggles that have occurred time and again in reading, math, science, and social studies throughout the 20th century. With the Common Core Standards adopted by 45 states and endorsed by President Obama, the “wars” have been re-ignited (see here and here) as politicians, parents, researchers, and practitioners struggle anew in answering those two questions.

In subsequent posts, I will look more closely at the “social studies wars” and place the years in which I taught history in Cleveland and Washington, D.C. (1956-1972) into the larger context of these rhetorical wars and how, if at all, those back-and-forth volleys of words influenced how I answered both of the above questions when I taught history to my students.


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Cartoons of Children and Parents

As school begins across the U.S., cartoonists have delved deeply into the rich interactions between children and parents before, during, and after school starts. Enjoy.





bumper sticker parent




B-day of lawyer kid




child-centered parents



Dad reading to kid



Mom and son






did not get into 1st choice college





student parents


For those readers who would like to see past cartoons, see this post   for previous months’ cartoons. They are listed after the last one.


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Big Educational Laptop and Tablet Projects (Mike Trucano)

“Mike Trucano is the World Bank’s Senior ICT and Education Policy Specialist, serving as the World Bank’s focal point within the education sector on issues at the intersection of technology use and education. He leads the World Bank’s related analytical work under its flagship Systems Approach for Better Education Results initiative as it relates to information and communication technologies. At a working level, Mike provides advice and support to education projects around the world supported by the World Bank seeking to utilize ICTs in the education sector in various ways.”

This post appeared July 31, 2013

Recent headlines from places as diverse as Kenya (“6,000 primary schools picked for free laptop project“) and California (“Los Angeles plans to give 640,000 students free iPads“) are just two announcements  among many which highlight the increasing speed and scale by which portable computing devices (laptops, tablets) are being rolled out in school systems all over the world. Based on costs alone — and the costs can be very large! — such headlines suggest that discussions of technology use in schools are starting to become much more central to educational policies and planning processes in scores of countries, rich and poor, across all continents.

Are these sorts of projects good ideas? It depends. The devil is often in the details (and the cost-benefit analysis), I find. Whether or not they are good ideas, there is no denying that they are occurring, for better and/or for worse, in greater frequency, and in greater amounts. More practically, then:

*What do we know about what works,           
and what doesn’t (and how?, and why?)

*When planning for and implementing such projects,
what the related costs and benefits might be [?]

*Where might we look as we try to find answers to such questions?

The World Bank has not thus far been involved in providing substantial direct financial assistance to support these sorts of programs (although we have been involved in numerous related policy dialogues, and have done some evaluation work here and there, as a way to help inform such policy dialogues). A number of the high profile ‘one laptop per learner’ projects have now reached new phases of development, and new sets of large scale educational laptop programs are being announced. At the same time, ‘educational tablets’ have gone from a curiosity and novelty in some education systems to become the primary computing devices meant for students and teachers in others. A few years ago, the EduTech blog published a list of ‘1-to-1 educational computing initiatives around the world’ in an attempt to identify large scale programs providing each student with her own laptop computer. Much has (obviously) happened since then. Despite being over three years old, that blog post still generates a decent amount of traffic, and the list apparently still is cited rather often. I have asked been asked by groups in a few places for updated pointers to some prominent initiatives from which useful lessons might be learned in the coming years. In case this information may be useful to or of interest to anyone else, I thought I’d offer, in no particular order, a small list of …  big laptop and tablet projects:  ….

 1. USA
Reflexively, many countries look to, and hope to compare themselves against, the United States when considering educational technology initiatives. (Whether or not this is a good or useful practice, especially for many less affluent countries, or for countries with decidedly different educational contexts and socio-economic circumstances, is perhaps fodder for another discussion.) The United States is of course a very big and diverse place, with a very decentralized education system (some might say it is actually a collection of education systems). Technology purchasing decisions are not made at the national level, but at the state or, more often, the district level (the country has over 14,000 school districts in total), which tends to complicate other countries’ attempts to ‘benchmark’ their level of use of educational laptops and tablets against ‘the U.S. experience’. Focusing one’s gaze at the state or local level can be more useful. While some elements of its program may change going forward, the U.S. state of Maine has been, and continues to be, a global pioneer in the use of laptops in schools, and lessons from the Maine experience have influenced policymakers in scores of other places. The recent decisions of the Los Angeles Unified School District to purchase iPads for its students (here are some thoughts from Larry Cuban on this announcement) and that of education officials in Miami Dade (Florida) to ensure access to digital devices to all students are worth noting, as these are two places likely to receive a great deal of media and research attention in the coming years. It is perhaps also worth mentioning that many school districts the U.S. are increasingly promoting ‘bring your own technology‘ (or ‘BYOT‘) initiatives (also known as BYOD, or ‘bring your own device’) as a way to increase the access to laptops and tablets within schools, which raises sets of additional questions worth considering related to things like (among others) equity, costs, maintenance and digital safety.

2. Uruguay
The first country in the world to provide all primary school students with free laptops (in public schools), Uruguay’s pioneering Plan Ceibal now finds itself at a crossroads. While the project continues to enjoy wide support from citizens, the sight of young children toting and using their small green and white One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO laptops is no longer novel, but rather part of the educational and cultural landscape. How can the level of excitement and momentum engendered by Plan Ceibal be maintained and sustained, especially as the really tough work begins: helping to catalyze and enable change as part of larger efforts at  ‘whole system reform’?

3. Thailand
While most large scale efforts to introduce ‘1-to-1 computing’ in education have featured laptops, Thailand is notable in that it has instead chosen to use tablets. Heralded as the largest educational tablet initiative of its kind when it was first announced (although this title is now claimed by another country, see below), Thailand’s efforts are just beginning, but, as with similar initiatives in many other countries, have already served as lightning rods for criticism and optimism.

4. Peru
Close to one million OLPC XO laptops have been distributed to students in Peru, a process which began in 2008, focusing initially on small schools in poor (and often rather remote) communities. Examining the Peruvian experience, colleagues at the Inter-american Development Bank (IDB) has been engaged in the first large-scale randomized evaluation of the impact of the OLPC program. The results so far should provide much food for thought for educational reformers and technology proponents in other countries who feel that large scale introductions of new technologies will, in and of themselves (and perhaps magically), bring about a variety of promised positive changes in educational systems. Reality can be a little more complicated — and messy.

5. Kenya (and Rwanda)
While it has not yet even begun, the bold three-phase plan in Kenya to begin rolling out laptops in its education system in January 2014 has already attracted much international attention. Starting with 400,000 free laptops delivered to new first graders, this project, if it proceeds as announced, would quickly become the largest effort of its kind on the continent. While Kenya has been home to a number of encouraging small pilot projects, the logistical challenges of doing something this large, this quickly, will be, as they like to say in Silicon Valley, ‘non trivial’. Lessons from its East African neighbor, Rwanda, which has distributed over 200,000 OLPC XO laptops so far, are no doubt being eagerly consumed and digested by policymakers and experts in Nairobi. While difficult, success in logistics is only a means to an end. Impacting the teaching and learning process inside and outside of schools in positive ways, fuelling the aspirations of a new generation of Kenyan students (and their families), sustaining positive momentum and results over time — these are much more difficult goals to achieve. And then there is the question of how to pay for all of this, especially in ways that do not impede or constrain efforts to address other pressing educational and developmental priorities. In these and in other regards, the Kenyan experience with eduactional technologies will definitely one to watch in the coming months and years.

6. Turkey
While Thailand’s plans to introduce tablet computers into the hands (and onto the laptops) of its students immediately marked it as a potentially pioneering middle income country in the scope of its use of educational technologies, the scale of what is being rolled out in that Southeast Asian country has since been dwarfed plans and efforts at the other end of the continent, where Turkey’s FATIH (“Movement to Increase Opportunities and Technology”) project is introducing over ten million tablets (and tens of thousands of interactive whiteboards, printers and other peripherals) into Turkish schools. Large scale pilots are already underway, as is a huge tender process to award contracts to roll out and support the project. In contrast to how the tablet project was conceived in Thailand, local manufacturing is meant to play a very important role in the project in Turkey.

7. India
Before Turkey, and before Thailand, it was the Aakash project in India which excited the imagination of many proponents of putting huge numbers of tablet computers into the hands of students in a developing country. That project has moved forward in fits and starts, but is only one of numerous efforts to introduce tablets at laptops across the continent-sized South Asia country. Large efforts in Rajasthan have recently been announced, following on efforts which began earlier in states like Uttar Pradesh. Initiatives across India will be particularly interesting to monitor, given the scale at which they will be occurring, and the fact that there is already a great deal of local knowledge about various approaches that have worked, and that haven’t, based on earlier educational technology programs in the country.

8. Argentina
Building in part on lessons from early efforts in San Luis province, Argentine projects like Conectar Igualdad and Plan S@armiento BA (in the nation’s capital, Buenos Aires) will eventually be, in aggregate, larger than the one laptop per child initiatives in Peru and Uruguay combined. Given the size and variation of these projects in these three countries, policymakers in other parts of the world seriously interested in learning from the hard won lessons of others before embarking on their own 1-to-1 education computing programs could do worse than to learn some Spanish (not a terrible amount of related information is available in English, let alone other international languages) and reach out to (and perhaps visit with) their colleagues in South America.

9. Portugal
The most ambitious European effort to date to provide students with laptops has been in Portugal. Given its recent history (a member of the European Union, Portugal was itself a developing country not that long ago), lessons from the eEscola project and Magellan initiative may be particular relevant and useful for middle income countries about to embark on large scale 1-to-1 educational computing programs — especially those that wish to utilize ‘public-private partnerships’ along the way….


There are certainly lots of other places to look for inspiration, for best (and worst) practices, for hard-won implementation expertise and (hopefully) for hard data on costs and impacts. While Mexico recently cancelled a 240,000 unit procurement of laptops for students, this may perhaps be viewed more as a short-term hiccup in longer-term plans. A recent survey of technology use in education across Europe (One laptop per child in Europe: how near are we? [pdf]) highlights the extent to which students in countries like Denmark and Norway, as well as Latvia and Spain, already learn in environments where one laptop/tablet per learner is the norm. Netbooks on the rise [pdf] attempts to survey and distill lessons from across the Europe. Australia, the country that is often touted as having the first 1-to-1 computing initiative (at Methodist Ladies’ College way back in 1989 is nearing the end of a program that has seen almost a million laptops distributed to schools while at the same time tablets seem to be quickly gaining ground. (Side note: The Australia-based Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation (AALF) is a great resource for information on 1-to-1 computing efforts.) The EduTech blog has previously looked at educational laptop efforts in Georgia (the country in the Caucasus, not the state in the American South). A post on lessons from Quebec’s Eastern Townships has long been in the queue for publication; those who don’t want to wait are directed to related research published late last year.

Some closing remarks
Most of the large proposals for educational technology programs that come across my desk these days highlight the use of tablets (almost always Android devices, for what that’s worth, presumably for reasons of cost, and because the iPad, the market leading tablet device in OECD countries, does not currently have wide distribution in most middle and low income countries). Rarely (or more accurately: almost never) do I find a compelling reason why tablets are being chosen over laptops (or desktops … or … anything else, really). This is not to say that there aren’t potentially compelling reasons why purchasing tablets for use in schools and/or by teachers or students might make sense (although seeing hybrid devices, laptops with touchscreens, and tablets with dockable keyboards does leave me confused at times about where to draw the line between various product categories), rather that this technology choice often seems driven by assumption rather than as a result of careful deliberation. Worldwide, the general trend is clear: PCs and laptops are slowly being eclipsed by tablets in the consumer space. I do suspect that what I am seeing in many of the education project proposals I read is in part just the latest manifestation of a long-observed trend that refuses to die: that of simply wanting to buy the latest popular gadget for use in schools. All too often, the related question being asked is not ‘what challenges are we trying to solve, and what approaches and tools might best help us solve them?’, but rather, ‘we know what our technology ‘solution’ is, can you please help us direct it at the right problems?



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