Teaching in the Trump Years (Part 4)

The following lesson was posted on a blog written by Ed Realist, “a teacher at a Title I high school who usually teaches math, but every so often jumps at the opportunity to teach US history. Ed has credentials in math, social science, and English.”

I have kicked off my planned US History curriculum and on one day’s experience, it’s going gangbusters. I decided the students would best grasp the significance of the electoral college if we began with the recent election–give them a frame of reference as we then look back.

First, I gave them a copy of Article II, section 1 and the Twelfth Amendment, explaining that the elections we’d be reviewing would use both the original and amended text. But the big takeaway I wanted them to get for the first go-round was:  Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.

This was new information–well, more accurately, it was relevant information, something they’d clearly been wondering about. When we got to the text about the electors meeting to elect the president, I played that Martin Sheen et al video.

“These actors were trying to change the electors’ minds. As we just read, if no candidate receives more than half the electoral vote, the House of Representatives elects the president. So you can see they didn’t have to change everyone’s minds, just enough to push the vote below the halfway mark.”

“And they’re Democrats?”

“No. The House is controlled by Republicans. I have to say I never quite understood the logic of this effort.”

“Why do they keep repeating everything?” Elian asked.

“They must think we’re stupid.” Bart observed.

“I think they did it for artistic effect. But let’s move on. That’s how the president is actually elected. So now lets see how many electors each state gets. Who knows how many Senators we have?”

The guesses were all over the place until I asked for the names of our senators. Then they all figured out it was two.

“Right. Two for each state. Each state, no matter how big or small, gets two senators. And since we have 50 states, we have a total of…..” (I always wait. Are they paying attention? I get 100 back pretty quickly.) “House of Representatives works differently. The House, for reasons we’ll discuss later, assigns representatives based on population. But about a century ago, Congress froze the number of seats at 435.”


“Good question. We’ll explore that later. For now, I just want you guys to get an understanding of the rules on the ground.”

“So every state gets two electors, no matter what, right?” asks Pippa. “Because they have two Senators.”

“Yes, good. They actually get three, no matter what. They elected two senators and one representative, so three electoral votes.”

“That sucks,” Eddie observed. “They only get three people to represent the state.”

“Actually, that three is a good deal. Let’s just take two states: Montana, with a population of about a million, and New York, with a population of 20 million. So New York is twenty times bigger than Montana. Montana gets 3 electoral votes. Any guesses as to how many New York gets?”

“Well, if it’s twenty times bigger, they should get sixty.” Anita.

“That can’t be right, though,” observed Priya.  “New York isn’t the biggest state, and if it has 60, then how many does Texas or California have?”

“Very good.” and I passed out the worksheet I’d cobbled up. One side was an image of the country with electoral votes by state,  the other was a table looking something like this.

“Wait. New York only has 29 electoral votes? Holy crap.”

“Yeah. Now you’re starting to see. New York only gets nine times as many electoral votes, despite having twenty times as many people.”

“That’s not fair to the big states!”

“It might feel that way. However, there was a lot of reasoning that went into that decision. We’ll be talking about it later, and you can judge. For now, here’s a simple task. I want you to mark the map with the winners, as many as you remember or want to guess. Then, on the back, put your guess and then the electoral vote total in each column. I don’t expect everyone to know all of them. I just think it will be a good discussion, get you seeing how much you know or remember. Then I’ll help you fill it in.”

I was pleased to see kids filled in a good bit of the map based on their own knowledge. Many knew the South was mostly Republican. They all, without exception, called Florida for Trump. A cheering number was aware that the Rust Belt states had flipped. After ten minutes or so, I brought up the same map on my Promethean [interactive white board] and marked it up with their results, correcting for reality as needed. During the conversation, I added in some tidbits–what the polls in each state had showed, what states Hillary never saw coming, demographic voting patterns, DC’s three electoral votes, and so on.

When we finished marking the map up, Kevin mused, “Jesus. Trump won a lot of states.”

“He did indeed.”

On instinct, I went to a browser and brought up the 2016 electoral results map.


It was a good instinct. The class literally gasped.

“Holy sh**! He won all those states?” Eduardo was aghast.

“Huh.” Eddie, as dedicated a Trump hater as ever existed, had bitterly snarked about borders in an inequalities lesson immediately after the election. I’m hoping he’ll  feel less hardly done by in the future.

Here is something I learned: the kids had been told many times that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. They understood what that meant. But not until this moment had they ever genuinely grasped the visuals of Trump’s win. What Trump’s win looked like. The map was a huge reveal. Minds weren’t changed, but perspectives were.

“Our Constitution gives voice to all citizens, but through the states. It’s a balance. It’s not always perfect. But it exists for a reason. Maybe this map gives you a sense of why.”

I had an extra fifteen minutes, so again on impulse, I brought up the classic youtube compilation of famous and influential people saying, with confidence, that Donald Trump could never win. I pointed out the lesser known ones, but they got the drift and loved it. I will note they were shocked (and not in a good way) at Seth Meyers’ disrespect. Loud applause at the end. I hit pause and got their attention.

“Here’s what I want you to know: not a single person in that compilation lost their jobs. Well. Except Obama, but his term was up. Every person on TV, acting as an expert. Every comedian. Every politician. You just saw pretty much every famous person in America laughing hysterically at the very idea that Trump might win. And none of them were held accountable. None of the media people who confidently predicted Trump had no chance of winning got fired. If you supported Hillary Clinton, you could easily have assumed you could stay home. Why bother voting? Trump couldn’t win. And when Trump won, these same media folk were all aghast. Then they ran all these stories about  devastated people, heartbroken by Trump’s victory. Rarely did you see stories on people who voted for Trump, who were thrilled at his win.”


“I want you to go home tonight, turn on cable news–well, except Fox–and you’ll see all those people you just saw and more, talking about the demonstrations against Trump’s new immigration policy. Trump’s naming a new justice, maybe there’ll be more demonstrations. All the people on TV, many of them who are newspaper reporters talking about their own print stories, will talk about how big the demonstrations are, how meaningful they are, how important they are, how the people are speaking.”

“And when they sound certain. When they sound like experts. When they talk to experts who sound certain. I want you to remember that video. Because then it might not come as much of a shock to learn that 49% of Americans polled support Trump’s immigration E[xecutive] O[rder].”

“Yeah. I get it.” Omar nodded. “It’s like the media only shows people who agree with them.”

“It’s like they don’t even realize people don’t agree with them.” said Amy.

” So if all the cool people hating on Trump, maybe no one will want to, you know, be a d*** who likes Trump.”

“But I do hate Trump!” said Eddie.

“Well, I’d like you to think about using a different word than ‘hate’. But sure. LOTS of people disagreed with Trump. More people voted who wanted Clinton, remember? That’s where we started. ”

“It’s like, don’t be fooled. Don’t think that just because all the famous people think the way you do, that everyone does.” Omar again.

” If you surround yourself with people who think just like you do and never associate with people who don’t, you might lose track of what’s normal. It’s called ‘living in a bubble’.”

“You know,” observed Pippa, “I’ve always thought it was kind of cool that Trump won.”

“WHAT???” Eddie, outraged.

“No, I hate him. I mean, I disagree with him. But now that I see that video, I think it’s even cooler. All these famous people were laughing at him.”

“Yeah, mocking him. Nasty stuff.” agreed Lennie.

“And he went out there and ignored them and took his ideas to the people. And won!”

“I swear to you, Pippa, that’s exactly what I love about this election. I said that verbatim to my advisory. I truly believe that only in America, only with our rules, could someone go out and speak to the country and get the votes needed to win the presidency.”

The bell rang.

Good first day.


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Teaching in the Trump Years (Part 3)

Brett Meteyer, a fourth grade teacher at Explorer Elementary School in Williamston (MI), wrote the following letter to parents of the 10 year-olds in his class just before Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States.

Dear Parents,

Because I am concerned about my students and your children being exposed to language and behavior that is not in concert with the most conservative social and family values, I have decided to show the inauguration of Donald Trump this Friday, but we will not view Mr. Trump’s inauguration speech.

Because every peaceful transition of power is a historic moment, I put in a request to the Trump team to preview the speech, but I have not heard back from them.

I showed the speeches of Presidents Obama and Bush in 2009 and 2005, respectively, but I am anxious about showing Mr. Trump’s inaugural address, given his past inflammatory and degrading comments about minorities, women, and the disabled. I am also uneasy about Mr. Trump’s casual use of profanity, so I sought an assurance that as their teacher, I would not be exposing children to language that would not appear in G- or PG-rated movies.

I do not know if Mr. Trump’s speech is something that would be provided to the press or

concerned citizens beforehand, but these plans may change if I hear back from them.


Brett Meteyer

The district of four schools is located just east of Lansing, the state capitol and home to Michigan State University. There are just over 1800 students in the district. District enrollment is predominately white and has 15 percent of its students eligible for free and reduced price lunch.

Did he get blow-back from allowing his students to see the Inauguration but and not listen to the President’s speech? Yes, he did. One article said:

The email was forwarded to [Steve] Gruber, [a local radio host] who also has children within the same district, by a parent who was listening to his program, The Steve Gruber Show.

“As the son of a fifth grade teacher, it infuriates me when those in charge of our kids are trying to train them instead of teaching them,” Gruber told Watchdog.org. “I found the letter to be outrageous!”

Gruber also posted Meteyer’s letter on Facebook.

“Facebook immediately exploded,” Gruber told Watchdog. “What kind of message does this send to kids? ‘This president is a bad guy and kids should not watch him’? This is a piece of history, and the kids should be allowed to watch.”

Gruber said he called Meteyer at his home on Tuesday to ask about his stance and that the teacher replied, “I don’t need to justify what I did to you.” Gruber said Meteyer also told him, “I feel good about what I’ve done,” and that he stands by his letter.

A Fox News outlet had reactions from other Michigan parents:

Several parents across Mid-Michigan felt Meteyer is cheating his students.

“Any child that’s curious about the inaugural address, I think should be allowed to watch it,” said Henry Lussier, Imlay City resident.

Kyle Welch, from Detroit, said he wasn’t interested in presidential addresses when he was a kid, but he doesn’t believe students should be censored.

“You don’t have to agree with him, but I think they have the right to see the speech,” Welch said.

And the fourth grade teacher’s boss? What were reactions of district administrators?

Narda Murphy, superintendent of Williamston Community Schools, wrote a letter to families explaining that teachers are expected to teach the curriculum in a balanced manner and “demonstrate good judgment in their communications with families.” The letter also noted that the district won’t comment on specific employee issues.

“Each teacher determines classroom instruction, and we encourage parents to contact them if they have concerns,” she said.

Individual teachers, not the administration, make the decision to show students the presidential inauguration ceremonies, Murphy said.

Here, then, is a teacher who made a decision about a civic lesson for 10 year-olds on the Presidential Inauguration. In managing the dilemma of being being both autonomous to make classroom decisions yet obligated to adhere to professional and community norms, he made a choice. Of the four choices available, according to Diana Hess’s framework (denial, privilege, avoidance, and balance) which did he make?


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Teaching in the Trump Years (Part 2)

Tax-supported public schools require all children between the ages of five or six to 16 to 18 to attend school. State compulsory attendance laws mean that the state has a legitimate interest in seeing that children and youth become literate, active, and engaged citizens prepared for the work force and contributing to the community. Schools are expected to be non-partisan, committed to socializing  all children to community norms, teaching all students the difference between fact and fiction and honoring the importance of evidence in taking positions and making decisions.

Those are expectations for public schools. School boards, superintendents, principals, and teachers are committed to fulfilling those expectations yet in a society divided by race, ethnicity, religion, and social class satisfying those expectations with limited resources, has become a tangle of difficulties past and present. Efforts by U.S. Presidents, federal and state officials to bend schools to one or another direction has been common in the past half-century creating conflict time and again. And that is the case now with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency and his new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

In Part 1, I laid out the core dilemma that teachers face when deciding what to do about  issues roiling the larger society that inexorably enter schools and classrooms labeled as “controversial” (e.g., banning immigrants from predominately Muslim countries, climate change, creationism). Those four choices are denial, privilege, avoidance, and balance.

In this post, I offer an example of a teacher’s lesson taught recently in a largely minority and poor San Francisco high school that went city wide in social and mainstream media in the following days (see here and here).

Which of the four choices did this teacher make in managing the dilemma of obligation and autonomy?

San Francisco’s public schools have been offered a classroom lesson plan that calls President-elect Donald Trump a racist, sexist man who became president “by pandering to a huge racist and sexist base.”

The union that represents city teachers posted the plan on its website and distributed it via an email newsletter to its more than 6,000 members. The school district has more than 57,000 students.

It is unclear how many teachers have used the plan outlined by a Mission High School teacher, but it appears to have the tacit support of city education officials.

School district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said the plan is optional and not part of the official curriculum.

“Educators are entrusted to create lessons that reflect the California standards, support students’ social and emotional well-being and foster inclusive and safe school communities,” she said in a statement that neither praised nor rebuked the lesson plan. San Francisco schools serve diverse populations and teachers are encouraged to include multiple perspectives in lessons, she said.

The Republican Party in San Francisco reacted sharply.

“It’s inappropriate on every level,” said Harmeet Dhillon, an RNC committeewoman from California. She called it “inappropriate propaganda that unfairly demonizes not only the campaign that Donald Trump, the winner, ran, but also all of the people who voted for him.”

The lesson plan was written by social studies teacher Fakhra Shah, who said she hadn’t planned for it to spread citywide — that was a step taken by the teacher’s union. She wrote it at 2 a.m. Nov. 9, just hours after results came in, to help teachers at her school struggling with how to answer students’ questions and concerns about Trump becoming president.

“I think a lot of people were lost for words, wondering, ‘What do we say? What do we do?’ ” said Shah, whose Latino, African American, white, Muslim and LGBTQ students are worried about a surge in hate crimes since the election.

“We’re calling him out,” she said. “If he’s our president, I have the right to hold him accountable and ask him to take a stance that is anti-hate and anti-racist.”

The plan encourages teachers to let students express their concerns and to offer them hope and tell students that they can keep fighting. “We can uplift ourselves (and) fight oppression here at school even if we cannot control the rest of the country,” she said.

San Francisco is diverse, with many students whose families are in the country illegally and who are worried by Trump’s calls for deportation. She warned teachers that some students may use inappropriate words to express their fear and anger.

“I know that they might curse and swear, but you would too if you have suffered under the constructs of white supremacy or experienced sexism, or any isms or lack of privilege,” she wrote.

About 2,000 San Francisco students walked out of class last week to protest the new president. On Monday, Mayor Ed Lee declared that San Francisco would continue to provide sanctuary for all immigrants, religious minorities and gays and lesbians.

The union that represents teachers, the United Educators of San Francisco, defended the plan.

Union President Lita Blanc said that even House Speaker Paul Ryan had called Trump’s campaign racist and sexist.

“There is a time and a place for using words that match action,” Blanc said. She praised the plan’s advice for students — “to stand up and defend themselves, and speak out for themselves and make a difference.”


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Teaching in the Trump Years (Part 1)

*”A kindergarten teacher in Tennessee says that a Latino child asks every day, ‘Is the wall here yet?’ He was told by classmates that he will be deported and blocked from returning home by the wall proposed by presidential candidate Donald Trump.”

*A high school principal suspended a history teacher after students and parent complained that the teacher in a discussion of Nazism compared Trump to Hitler. The superintendent reinstated the teacher a day later.

* At a walkout of Latino, Asian, and African American  high school students,  protesting the election of Trump, the principal led the protestors to the school stadium and they  aired their concerns about the newly-elected President. At the end of the protest that morphed into a rally against President Trump, the principal said “F*** Trump.” The district superintendent immediately suspended the principal. Two days later, after the principal apologized for his remark to the entire school community, he returned to the school.

The divisions, fears, and epithets unleashed by the year-long primaries and the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency reverberate in mainstream and social media daily. Because schools are political (but not partisan) institutions vulnerable to the cross-currents in the larger society spilling into classrooms, it is (and was) inevitable that those fears get voiced in and out of school.

Protests over the Vietnam War in the late-1960s and early 1970s, President Nixon’s illegal activities in the Watergate break-in, pro-life and abortion rallies,  teaching the Adventures of Huck Finn in middle school, climate change, policing minority communities,  teaching evolution–to name a few–have been controversial issues that entered classrooms over the past half-century. Parents and students bring those issues into classrooms and the question of teachers airing these issues dispassionately and abiding by norms of critical thinking and impartiality, and students listening to one another arises again and again, then and now. Not a new issue at all.

But  with Donald Trump, his precedent-breaking actions and language (not to mention tweets) as Republican nominee and now sitting in the White House raise anew the issue of handling controversial topics within elementary and secondary classrooms (be they lessons in math, foreign language, science, English, and social studies) such as banning immigrants from predominately Muslim nations and building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

What should teachers do?

The history of teachers dealing with disputed issues has been pock-marked with incidents of teacher firings, censorship, and fear of school board and community retaliation for lessons that take up contentious questions (see here,herehere, and here). Historically, there are teachers who skirt such questions and censor themselves for fear of blow-back from administrators and groups of parents who do not want their sons and daughters to take up, read, or discuss topics that conflict with their values. So teachers are often stuck.

Here’s the dilemma.

Teachers know they are obligated to have students–who are compelled to attend school–think and talk through volatile issues roiling the community that go to the very core of schooling in a democracy where diverse opinions and values are debated and decided. Teachers know that learning the rules of evidence and distinguishing between facts, opinions, and untruths are required tools for children and youth to navigate daily life. Such knowledge and action is non-partisan. It is the very core of schooling.

Yet, teachers also prize their autonomy. They relish the simple and powerful fact that they can close their classroom door and choose what to teach for the next hour as long as it is consistent with district and state curricula.  Managing controversial topics in elementary and secondary classrooms, then, in a polarized political climate is hardly a walk in the park.

So how do teachers manage this dilemma?

University of Wisconsin (Madison) scholar Diana Hess has laid out choices that teachers can and do make to manage this dilemma in coming to grips with controversial issues in their classrooms.

Four Approaches to Controversial Issues in the Curriculum


It is not a controversial political issue: “Some people may say it is controversial, but I think they are wrong. There is a right answer to this question. So I will teach as if it were not controversial to ensure that students develop that answer.”


Teach toward a particular perspective on the controversial political issue: “It is controversial, but I think there is a clearly right answer and will try to get my students to adopt that position.”


Avoid the controversial political issue: “The issue is controversial, but my personal views are so strong that I do not think I can teach it fairly, or I do not want to do so.”


Teach the matter as genuine controversial political issue: “The issue is controversial and I will aim toward balance and try to ensure that various positions get a best case, fair hearing.”

In subsequent posts, I will offer classroom examples of how teachers fit into these different categories in how they deal with controversial issues since Donald Trump was elected President.


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How and Why I Research Exemplars of Technology Integration

For over 30 years, I have examined the adoption and use of computers in schools (Teachers and Machines, 1986; Oversold and Underused, 2001, Inside the Black Box, 2013). I looked at the policy hype, over-promising, and predictions accompanying new technologies in each decade. The question I asked was: what happens in schools and classrooms after the school board and superintendent adopt a policy of buying and deploying new technologies to improve schooling. In books, articles, and my blog, I moved back and forth between policy and practice.

In these decades, champions of new technologies in schools believed deeply that the traditional goals of tax-supported public schools (i.e., building citizens, preparing graduates for a labor market, and making whole human beings) could be achieved through new electronic devices. They believed that hardware and software would, if not transform, surely alter classroom teaching, improve students’ academic performance, and prepare graduates for an entirely different workplace than their parents faced.

In research during these decades, I described and analyzed computers in schools and classrooms across the U.S. I tracked how these high-tech advocates and donors were often disappointed in how little school and classroom practice changed in the direction they sought, the anemic results in student achievement, and uncertainties in getting the right jobs after graduation, given the claims accompanying these new technologies.

I also documented occasional instances where individual teachers thoroughly integrated laptops and tablets into their practice and moved from teacher- to student-centered classrooms. And there were scattered cases of schools and districts adopting technologies wholesale and slowly altering cultures and structures to improve how teachers teach and students learn. While isolated and infrequent, nonetheless, I found these occasional exemplars of classroom, school, and district integration as important, if not, puzzling in their isolation from mainstream practices. In doing all of this research I became intimately familiar with nearly all that had been written about computers in schools.

Literature on computers in schools

Researchers, policy advocates, practitioners have created an immense literature on access, use, and effectiveness of computers in schools and districts. It is, however, a literature, particularly on effectiveness, that is stacked heavily at the success and failure ends of a continuum. Success refers to studies, reports, and testimonials to how computers have improved teaching and learning. The clustering of such work forms a peak at one end of the literature continuum.

Failure refers to those works where studies and reports show disappointing results, even ineffectiveness in altering how teachers teach and helping students learn more, faster, and better. Such documents form a peak at the other end of the literature spectrum. I have contributed to this end of the continuum.

Academics call this clustering at either end of the spectrum, a “bimodal distribution” with the center of the continuum housing many fewer studies than either pole. In short, the spectrum has two peaks not the familiar normal distribution called the bell curve.

Consider success stories. Between the 1990s and early 2000s, researchers, commission reports, and reporters accumulated upbeat stories and studies of teachers and schools that used devices imaginatively and supposedly demonstrated small to moderate gains in test scores, closing of the achievement gap between minority and white students, increased student engagement, and other desired outcomes. These success stories, often clothed as scientific studies (e.g., heavily documented white papers produced by vendors; self-reports from practitioners), beat the drum for more use of new technologies in schools. Interspersed with these reports especially since the first decade of the 21st century are occasional independent researcher accounts of student and teacher use documenting new technologies’ effects on teachers and students.

At the other end of the continuum is the failure peak in the distribution of this literature. This peak consists of studies that show disappointing results in students’ academic achievement, little closing of the gap in test scores between whites and minorities, and the lack of substantial change in teaching methods during and after use of new technologies. Included are tales told by upset teachers, irritated parents, and disillusioned school board members who authorized technological expenditures.

Hugging the middle between the twin peaks on this continuum of school technology literature are occasional rigorous studies by individual researchers and meta-analyses of studies done over the past half-century to ascertain the contribution (or lack thereof) of computers to student and teacher outcomes.

Even with these meta-analyses and occasional thorough studies, the overall literature oscillating between success and failure has yet to develop a stable and rich midpoint. I would like my study to occupy the center of this continuum by documenting both exemplars and failures of going from policy-to-practice in using new technologies in classrooms, schools, and districts.

Such a bimodal literature results from questions researchers, policymakers, and practitioners asked about access, use and effects of new technologies. Most of the reports and studies were interested initially in answering the questions of who had access, how were they used in lessons, whether the devices “worked,” that is, raised test scores and influenced academic achievement. The resulting answers created each peak.

So in 2016, I visited nearly 50 teachers, a dozen schools, and three districts that the media, experts, colleagues, and I identified as exemplars of integrating technology into daily lessons, school culture, and district infrastructure.

Insofar as a research strategy over the past 30 years, that is, capturing instances of schools that failed to implement fully teachers using computers regularly, academics would say that I was “sampling on the dependent variable.”

What that means is that I was investigating cases where the aim of the reform was to substantially alter how teaching was done, that is, fully integrating devices in teaching daily lessons, and that aim fell far short of being achieved. The point of this kind of sampling is to extract from multiple cases the common features of these disappointing ventures and inform policymakers and practitioners what they needed to avoid and how they could overcome the common hurdles (e.g., barriers to putting computers into lessons like preparation of teachers, insufficient student access to devices).

The are, however, dangers in synthesizing common features of failures when you take a step back and look at what you are doing. By investigating only those cases of “failure,” there is no variation in the sample. The “wisdom” gained from looking at failures may bear little relationship to, for example, the “wisdom” gained from looking at success stories. The common features of failure extracted from exemplars to explain why the initiatives flopped often fall apart after a few years.

See, for example, in the education literature, the research on Effective Schools in the 1980s and 1990s (see here and here). Schools profiled as successes in one year turn out to have sunk into failure a few years later (see here).

Also see a companion literature in business with similar effects in Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best Run Companies (New York: Harper Collins, 2006) and Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t (New York: Harper Business, 2011).

In other words, without knowing about those cases where teachers did change how they taught when using new technologies, the barriers I identified in “failures” may have been accurate or just as well been inaccurate without having any comparisons to make. By looking only at instances of where technology use in schools failed to transform teaching, I overlooked cases of where technology did succeed in altering classroom practice. To “sample on the dependent variable,” then, is a bias built into the research design.

So for 2016, I have been looking at cases of technology integration–“successes.” I am “sampling on the dependent variable” again but I am fully aware of the bias built into this year’s study. In writing this book in 2017, however, I will pull together what I have learned from both the “failures” I have studied over the decades and the “successes” I have found this year. I will be able to compare both cases of those classrooms and schools that nose-dived and those that soared in integrating devices into lessons.


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Classroom Seating: A Clue to Teacher Beliefs about Learning (Angela Watson)

Angela Watson is an experienced elementary school teacher, coach, and blogger (see here). She offers pros and cons of various ways to arrange a classroom leaving it up to readers which configuration of desks best reflects their beliefs in teaching and learning and the realities of managing a crowd of students.

How to furnish and arrange existing furniture in a classroom is a peek into the heart and mind of a teacher’s ideology of how students learn best and watching them at the same time.

Watson offers teachers various options to consider. Moreover, she recommends changing seating arrangements over the course of the school year as classroom norms evolve, content and skills shift, and relationships with students mature.

Although she speaks to mostly elementary school teachers, I have seen thousands of middle and high school classrooms where seating arrangements vary including options that Watson evaluates.

There are several basic desk arrangements that I like to rotate between:

  • Stadium Seating (or Angled Rows with Desks Touching)
  • Modified U (or Horseshoe)
  • Groups (or Teams)
  • Combination (desks in various positions)
I’ve never had all my students’ desks separated, as that takes up too much space and isn’t conducive to the teaching methods I use, so I can’t give advice on that arrangement. I’ve tried pretty much everything else you can think of, though! Check out the classroom arrangement ideas blog post for tips on fitting everything into your classroom and making room for all the key areas (teacher desk, computers, rugs, centers, etc.)

Stadium seating (angled rows with desks touching)

Pros: Enables the teacher to see what every child is doing, gives all students a clear view of the front of the room, can take up less floor space than other arrangements, makes it easy for students to work in pairs or move their desks into groups for cooperative work

Cons: Does not work well with a large number of desks because students will be too far away, less effective in terms of management when more than two rows are used, less suitable for classrooms that use cooperative learning methods for the majority of the day


Yes, I do think that placing your students’ desks in rows is a perfectly acceptable classroom arrangement!  I like having desks in angled rows (also called stadium seating) because all the kids are facing me. This helps me see if they’re on-task and makes it easier for them to concentrate.

Because the students’ desks are touching one another (and not completely separated), the angled rows mean that students can work with partners without having to move their desks because they are sitting right alongside one another. When it’s time for group work, they can easily shift the desks to work together in fours, or sit at tables in the back of the room or on the floor.


The advantage of angled over straight-facing rows is that the angle makes it easier for students to see and leaves space in the front of the room for a rug, open area, overhead projector cart, podium, table, and so on. The photo above shows the angled style in a different classroom, this time with a projector cart in the middle instead of a rug and the desks pulled much closer to the front of the room. This room is larger than the one above, and I rarely had students move their desks for group work: they did partner work with the person next to or behind/in front of them, and then for group work, they moved to sit at the tables and rug areas you see placed around the classroom. They absolutely loved this because it gave them the opportunity to get out of their desks and sit some place different!

Pros: Allows you to fit many desks into a small space, students talk less during teacher-direct and independent activities when they are further apart from their friends, make partner work simple

Cons: Spreads children out considerably so that it can be hard to address them all, makes group work harder because the desks can’t easily be moved around
As shown above, I began one particular school year with 22 desks in a modified horseshoe shape, leaving a small break in the middle and sides of the desk arrangement to use as walk-through spaces. This created a large center space that I could stand in to see each student’s work….


Pros: Can save floor space even with many desks, supports cooperative work.

Cons: Promotes off-task behavior, distracting for many students.


This was an arrangement I wasn’t able to use when I had close to 30 kids in my class, because when children were facing one another at their desks, it was just too much work to keep them from talking during teacher-directed instruction and independent work times. However, I have found that there are some smaller classes of children who can handle sitting in groups, and it also worked well when I taught in schools that promoted a lot of collaborative learning. This arrangement shows 3 groups of 5, with 2 kids who could not handle the groups sitting by themselves off to the side. I loved having the groups angled like this because all the kids could see the board and I could stand in one spot and see everyone’s face and work area….


During my last year in the classroom, I got rid of the desks and switched to tables! I had been wanting to do this for years, and when I stepped foot in the room in August and saw how the custodians had stacked all those desks in a corner, I realized how much more room I would have. I had all the desks removed and replaced with tables (oh, yes, the custodians looooved that idea), and I was THRILLED with the results. You can read more in my blog post Tables vs.Desks. I do keep desks for children who have a hard time working in close proximity to others. The desks are situated near the tables: if a child has issues, he simply moves the desk back a few feet and gets himself together, then rejoins the team later….


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Billionaire Blunders: Appointing Education Chiefs Who Know Little about Public Schools

Anyone remember Cathy Black? Don’t think so. In 2011, Michael Bloomberg, billionaire and New York City Mayor appointed the 66 year-old head of the Hearst magazine chain–a “superstar manager,” he said–to head the 1.1 million student district. Neither having the requisite three years of teaching experience or a master’s degree or professional degree in administering schools, the state commissioner waived these requirements in order for Black to become Chancellor.*

The uproar that followed over a choosing a Chancellor who knew little about public schools–her children were educated in private schools–led to Bloomberg firing Black 95 days after she took office (see here and here).

Then there is Betsy DeVos, billionaire President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education. Raised in a wealthy family–her father was an auto parts manufacturer in Michigan–she attended private Christian schools, married into the Amway fortune, sent her children to Christian private schools, and became a philanthropist and fervent advocate for vouchers and for-profit charter schools in Detroit and the state of Michigan. She has had no experience as a manager of a large organization (see here and here; for more positive views of DeVos, see here here, and here)

The recent Senate hearings where she was cuddled by the Republican majority of Senate and grilled by the minority Democrats revealed a great deal about DeVos’s thinking about public schools and the direction that federal monies and regulations should move. A zealous advocate for school choice in Michigan through vouchers and for-profit charter schools, she sees more parental choice as the direction for the U.S. Department of Education. Rapid-fire questions from Democrats on the Senate Committee revealed the following (see here and here)

*lack of knowledge that it is federal law protecting the rights of disabled children and youth and it cannot be left to the states to enforce, as she said.

*lack of knowledge of the difference between tests showing student proficiency and tests showing student growth over time.

*refusal to say that while public schools should be held to account for student outcomes, charter and voucher-accepting schools should not be held to the same standard.

Uninformed as DeVos is about education policy aimed at 50 million public school  children and youth in the U.S. and inexperienced as she is in managing anything beyond a family foundation, DeVos was approved in a Republican controlled Committe, in a party-line 12-11 vote. Her endorsement from the split Senate committee will gain the full Senate’s approval where Republicans have a majority. DeVos will become the next U.S. Secretary of Education.

Unlike Mayor Bloomberg’s recognition that he erred in appointing Cathy Black as Chancellor in 2011, imagining President Donald Trump withdrawing the nomination is, well, unimaginable.

Critics claim that both President Trump and Secretary DeVos will press hard for expansion of vouchers and for-profit charters with federal dollars. And that as Frederick Hess says may well be the kiss of death for a bottom-up movement of more parental choice in schools especially in rural and urban poverty areas (home schooling, vouchers, and charters). Perhaps.

Nonetheless, here we have two billionaires who made decisions that were (and are) mistakes. They made bad judgments. Being a billionaire does not protect you from blundering.

Of course, mistakes are essential to learning. Such blunders can lead to corrections that lead to success. None of us is free of error. Here is what basketball super star Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls had to say about learning from mistakes.

I have taken more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over again in my life; and that is why I succeed.

One billionaire corrected his mistake. The other billionaire won’t.


*Bloomberg had appointed a non-educator, Joel Klein in 2002. Both the Mayor and new chancellor shared a similar agenda. Klein had gone through the New York City schools and had managerial experience in the U.S. Department of Justice.


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