Category Archives: Uncategorized

Cartoons about Teachers and Little Kids in and Out of School

For this month, I have collected a bunch of cartoons about pre-school, kindergarten, and family interaction with young children. Some made me laugh out loud and some made me smile. Whatever your reaction, enjoy the cartoonists’ pens as they capture feelings, ideas, and complaints that articles and books cannot. Enjoy !













Filed under Uncategorized

Teaching Senior Civics: Technology Integration

Actors Morgan Freeman and Leonard DeCaprio, and the character from TV comedy The Office, Michael Scott, were nominees for U.S. president in the Senior Civics course I observed on September 12, 2016. The district requires the one-semester course for high school graduation. The unit was on political campaigns for the presidency and these actors were candidates that three of the five groups of 27 seniors had nominated. Each group, clicking away on their laptops and tablets while talking to one another were coming up with party labels, nominees and were working on writing a platform. As part of the unit, they would also be creating posters and video ads–all to get their candidate into the White House in November. I was watching a simulation of a presidential campaign .

Sarah Denniston (pseudonym) had invited me to visit her Northern California high school. Hacienda High School (pseudonym) has over 1900 students divided about half white and half minority (Asian and Latino). About 20 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch–a measure of poverty used in U.S. public schools. Over 95 percent attend college after graduation. About one-third of the students take Advanced Placement exams with well over 80 percent of test-takers qualifying for college credit. Sarah Denniston teaches AP European history and Senior Civics. A graduate (and track star) of the high school in which she now teaches, Denniston has been teaching 10 years at Hacienda.

The high school became a Bring-Your-Own-Device school two years ago. The district adopted BYOD following teacher- and administrator-initiated pilot projects that established nearly all students had laptops or tablets they could use for their classes and enough teachers were sufficiently skilled to integrate the hardware and software into their daily lessons. For students who lack a device, forget theirs, or if one dies suddenly in school, Chromebooks are available in the school’s Book Room. Teachers decide how to weave technologies into their lessons; there is no district prescribed one-best-way for teachers to use the devices.

I observed the Senior Civics class between 8:10-9:00AM. The classroom had pods of four desks scattered throughout the room. Walls were adorned with assignments, photos, posters on critical thinking skills, and student work. There is a hardbound text (TCI, Government Alive: Power, Politics and You) used by students to read excerpts from different chapters assigned by Denniston.



After the tardy bell rang, Denniston , wearing a white shirt-blouse and dark blue slacks, immediately got the students’ attention by flashing on the white board CNN anchors reporting on the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns over the weekend. She spoke about each of the campaigns and connected the campaigns of the Republican and Democrat parties to the unit they were working on. She then has students plunge into the task for the day: divide into groups and each one create a party, name it, decide who the nominee will be, and begin writing the party platform.

Before students went into self-chosen groups, Denniston pointed out that they should choose carefully because political values differ in the class and if you go with your friends you may discover differences arise that you did not know about and things may become difficult. She then directed students to choose their groups. Students milled about, for a few minutes deciding among themselves, and went into five groups. They moved desks to form circles.

Even though it is the fifth week of the semester, as seniors, they seem to know each other well enough so I did not hear any introductions. Each group begins discussing the name of their party, who they will nominate for president, and what will be in their platform. Denniston walks around the room checking on what each group is doing.

As I scan the class, I see all five groups talking to one another. Each group has a template for writing a party platform on their screens that they use. Denniston gave me a  copy (see below)

Political Party Platform Questions

Directions: Go to GOP, DNC, Tea Party, Green Party, communist party etc and examine their platforms. Answer the questions below based on the platforms you find. Use a color key to code your responses; red is for GOP, Blue for DNC, Green for Green Party, etc.


  1. What kind of economic growth will you promote? How?
  2. How will you reduce poverty?
  3. How will you reduce unemployment?
  4. What will you do with taxes?


  1. How will you deal with climate change?
  2. How will you protect the natural environment?
  3. What kind of energy policy?


  1. How will you improve the educational system?
  2. Will you shift to a voucher system?
  3. Will you increase standardized testing?
  4. Will you make higher levels of education free?

Health Care

  1. What will you do to promote new medical research?
  2. What will you do to make healthcare more accessible to more people?

Domestic Social Issues

  1. Do you support abortion? Do you support gay marriage?
  2. Do you support affirmative action programs?

National security

  1. What will you  do to make our country more safe and secure?
  2. What is your policy about border control


  1. Will you tighten or loosen immigration standards?  How?
  2. Will you promote the Dream Act?
  3. Will you have different standards for immigration from different nations?


  1. What will you do to fight crime?
  2. Will you expand or shrink the police force?  Why?
  3. Will you expand or shrink the prison system?  Why?
  4. Will you legalize certain drugs? If so, which ones?  Why?
  5. Do you support the death penalty?  Why or why not?

Foreign Policy

  1. How do you think the US should relate to the larger world?
  2. What should we do about the war in Iraq?

According to Denniston, each group decides who does what to complete group tasks. There are no formal roles but there is a group contract that each student signs (for copy of contract, see here).

There is much laughing and back-and-forth joshing among the students in the group as they talk about party names and nominees. In two groups adjacent to me, I note that one student in each group dominates the exchanges and one student in each group hardly speaks at all. Another student in one of the groups eyed photos for a few minutes and then shifted back to task.

After about 15 minutes of groups working on tasks, I walk around to ask questions about nominees of the groups. Three groups have chosen theirs (see nominees above); the others have not. Other groups have party names and are just beginning to write platforms. I did not see any obvious off-task behavior in any of the groups. Participation of group members, as I listened and watched, varied a great deal over the 30 minutes they were in groups.

Denniston checks in with groups in the last 10 minutes of the period, asking and answering questions.

The bell rings ending the class. The 27 students leave the room.


Filed under Uncategorized

Bankers and Teachers: Scandals and Accountability (Part 2)

Part 1 described how Wells Fargo bank and the Atlanta public schools defrauded large numbers of customers and students. At the bank, over 5,000 employees were fired. The bank’s CEO admitted responsibility for the fraud before a U.S. Senate Banking Committee yet the fine levied by federal regulators ($185 million) wasn’t even a slap on the wrist, given the $80-plus billion in revenues that the bank took in last year. Nor did the bank admit in that agreement to pay the fine any responsibility for for their actions. The CEO is still CEO.

The Atlanta public schools cheating scandal found evidence of 178 principals and teachers in over 40 schools tampering with student scores on state tests. Eleven teachers were indicted, tried, and convicted (over 20 other educators took plea deals).  Those 11 are in prison.

Two questions occurred to me as I read and pondered these instances of corruption Wells Fargo and the Atlanta public schools.

First, why did employees scam customers with bogus bank accounts and educators tamper with test scores?

The familiar answer is: some bad apples caused the problem–which is basically saying it was individuals acting badly not an organizational problem. Over 5,000 fired at Wells Fargo is a lot of “bad apples, however.” Over 40 schools and 178 educators is also a lot of “bad apples.” The “bad apples” answer side-steps the pervasive culture in Wells Fargo and Atlanta public schools that top leaders shaped and drove unrelentingly.

Top officials created an organizational culture of producing results at any cost. Ample evidence exists of top managers  setting very high performance goals that were difficult to meet; the company and district created fear among employees who didn’t meet those goals. Penalties for low performance and retaliation for those who complained fostered a culture of fear. Compliance to do what expected even if it disadvantaged customers was a powerful reason to keep a job. In short, the culture caused employees to peddle bogus accounts and fix test scores.

But–you knew a “but” was coming–not all of the lowest paid employees engaged in the fraud. While cultural pressures can be strong and influential, they do not always determine individual action.  Sure, 5,300 Wells Fargo employees were fired but many more retained their jobs by figuring out ways to perform and not defraud customers. Similarly, all Atlanta  educators experienced the same intense pressure to raise students’ test scores but many principals and teachers followed the rules and did what they were supposed to do in administering and scoring tests. Yes, organizational culture surely shapes behavior but it does not determine how every individual acts.

Top officials were greedy; they thought they could get away with the fraud and cheating and boost the reputation of their organizations.   Over the years, bipartisan policies deregulated industries (e.g., financial companies, airlines) creating a climate where profit seeking is highly prized. Billionaires become American heroes dispensing donations, advice, and encouragement to aspiring millionaires. The  language describing unvarnished greed has softened, euphemisms abound describing the unceasing chase for more and more money (e.g., “being entrepreneurial,” “individual enterprise”). Not only in the corporate sector, this profit-seeking culture has now spread across public institutions such as schools, hospitals, and prisons (see here, here, and here).

None of this should surprise any reader since individual profit-seeking is in the DNA of a capitalist democracy. From John Jacob Astor to John D. Rockefeller to Cornelius Vanderbilt, billionaires made their money in trade and real estate, oil, and railroads. They became legends in their own time. They were admired, inspiring their fellow Americans whether they were poor, working class or just got a hand-hold in the middle class to get rich In the U.S., the job of curbing the unrelenting search for profit has been the role of government, as it has in most developed countries. We have lived in a mixed economy where both business and government have interacted constantly checking and balancing one another for nearly two centuries.

When that partnership breaks down or one side becomes too powerful—too much government regulation or too much business influence on governmental policy then shifts in political power  occur to correct that imbalance. Consider the New Deal following the Great Depression  of the 1930s. Or deregulation of industries since the 1980s and reforming the tax code to benefit the wealthy. The U.S. is in such a moment now of inequalities in wealth that call for restraining the richest of the rich from re-shaping government policies to make it easier for them to become even wealthier while leaving middle class families trail far behind in increasing their salaries.

Second, why are there differences in holding public and private employees accountable for their crimes?

Since the late-1970s, The U.S. is in a moment when business success, corporate entrepreneurs, and keeping government regulation at arm’s length has dominated public policy. “Government is the problem,” as Ronald Reagan put it. Getting rid of government rules and bureaucracy, conservatives argue, will unleash business owners to invest and create more jobs for Americans. Anti-government rhetoric morphed into state and federal laws–e.g., tax cuts, incentives for investors to locate their monies in off-shore accounts and not pay taxes, low interest rates, fewer IRS audits– that benefited those who ran companies and had large investment portfolios.

Corporate leaders, backed by large sums of money, hired lobbyists to influence legislators to deregulate airlines, banks, pharmaceuticals, and other industries so that more money would flow to the already rich. To the rich, public institutions were  feeding at the tax-payer trough and were not as efficient and effective as private sector companies. Accountability was needed, business leaders said, to hold public officials in schools, hospitals, and prisons to be responsible for student outcomes, curing illnesses, and punishing criminals.

And that is how I explain why no CEO of a company heavily involved in the chicanery of the Great Recession of 2008 has gotten convicted while some Atlanta school employees went to jail.



Filed under Uncategorized

Did That Edtech Tool Really Cause That Growth? (Mary Jo Madda)

The quality of research on technology use in schools and classrooms leaves much to be desired. Yet academics and vendors crank out studies monthly. And they are often cited to justify using particular programs. How practitioners can make sense of research studies is an abiding issue. This post offers viewers some cautionary words in looking carefully at findings drawn from studies of software used in schools.

“Mary Jo Madda (@MJMadda) is Senior Editor at EdSurge, as well as a former STEM middle school teacher and administrator. In 2016, Mary Jo was named to the Forbes ’30 Under 30′ list in education.” This post appeared in EdSurge, August 10, 2016.

How do you know whether an edtech product is effective in delivering its intended outcomes? As the number of edtech products has ballooned in the past five years, educators—and parents—seek information to help them make the best decision. Companies, unsurprisingly, are happy to help “prove” their effectiveness by publishing their own studies, sometimes in partnership with third-party research groups, to validate the impact of a product or service.

But oftentimes, that research draws incorrect conclusions or is “complicated and messy,” as Alpha Public Schools’ Personalized Learning Manager Jin-Soo Huh describes it. With a new school year starting, and many kids about to try new tools for the first time, now is a timely moment for educators to look carefully at studies, scrutinizing marketing language and questioning the data for accuracy and causation vs. correlation. “[Educators] need to look beyond the flash of marketing language and bold claims, and dig into the methodology,” Huh says. But it’s also up to companies and startups to question their own commissioned research.

To help educators and companies alike become the best critics, here are a few pieces of advice from administrators and researchers to consider when reviewing efficacy studies—and deciding whether or not the products are worth your time or attention.

For Educators

#1: Look for the “caveat statements,” because they might discredit the study.

According to Erin Mote, co-founder of Brooklyn Lab Charter School in New York City, one thing she and her team look for in studies are “caveat statements,” where the study essentially admits that it cannot fully draw a link between the product and an outcome.

“[There are] company studies that can’t draw a definitive causal link between their product and gains. The headline is positive, but when you dig down, buried in three paragraphs are statements like this,” she tells EdSurge, pointing to a Digital Learning Now study about math program Teach to One (TtO):

The report concludes, “The TtO students generally started the 2012-13 academic year with mathematics skills that lagged behind national norms. Researchers found that the average growth of by TtO students surpassed the growth achieved by students nationally. Although these findings cannot be attributed to the program without the use of an experimental design, the results appear encouraging. Achievement gains of TtO students, on average, were strong.”

Mote also describes her frustration with companies that call out research studies as a marketing tactic, such as mentioning both studies and the product within a brief, 140-character Tweet orFacebook post—even though the study is not about the product itself, as in the Zearn Tweet below. “I think there is danger in linking studies to products which don’t even talk about the efficacy of that product,” Mote says, calling out that companies that do this effectively co-opt research that is unrelated to their products.

Research from @RANDCorporation shows summer learning is key. Use Zearn this summer to strengthen math skills.”

#2: Be wary of studies that report “huge growth” without running a proper experiment or revealing complexities in the data.

Research at Digital Promise, something consumers should look for is “whether or not the study is rigorous,” specifically by asking questions like the following four:

  • Is the sample size large enough?
  • Is the sample size spread across multiple contexts?
  • Are the control groups mismatched?
  • Is this study even actually relevant to my school, grade, or subject area?

Additionally, what if a company claims massive growth as indicated by a study, but the data in the report doesn’t support those claims?

Back in the early 2000s, John Pane and his team at the RAND Corporation set out to demonstrate the effectiveness of Carnegie Cognitive Tutor Algebra. Justin Reich, an edtech researcher at Harvard University, wrote at length about the study, conceding that the team “did a lovely job with the study.”

However, Reich pointed out that users should be wary of claims made by Carnegie Learning marketers that the product “doubles math learning in one year” when, as Reich describes, “middle school students using Cognitive Tutor performed no better than students in a regular algebra class.” He continues:

“In a two-year study of high school students, one year Cognitive Tutor students performed the same as students in a regular algebra class, and in another year they scored better. In the year that students in the Cognitive Tutor class scored better, the gains were equivalent to moving an Algebra I student from the 50th to the 58th percentile.”

Here’s another example: In a third-party study released by writing and grammar platform NoRedInk involving students at Shadow Ridge Middle School in Thornton, CO, the company claims that every student who used NoRedInk grew at least 3.9 language RIT (student growth) points on the popularly-used MAP exam or—by equivalence—at least one grade level, demonstrated in a graph (shown below) on the company’s website. But upon further investigation, there are a few issues with the bar graph, says Alpha administrator Jin-Soo Huh.


While the graph shows that roughly 3.9 RIT points equate to one grade level of growth, there’s more to the story, Huh says. That number is the growth expected for an average student at that grade level, but in reality, this number varies from student to student: “One student may need to grow by 10 RIT points to achieve one year of typical growth, while another another student may just need one point,” Huh says. The conclusion: these NoRedInk student users who grew 3.9 points “may or may not have hit their yearly growth expectation.”

Additionally, one will find another “caveat” statement on Page 4 of the report, which reads: “Although answering more questions is generally positively correlated with MAP improvement, in this sample, there was not a statistically significant correlation with the total number of questions answered.”

According to Jean Fleming, NWEA’s VP of Communications, “NWEA does not vet product efficacy studies and cannot offer insight into the methodologies used on studies run outside our organization when it comes to MAP testing. Hence, all the more reason for users to be aware of potential snags.

For Companies

#1: Consider getting your “study” or “research” reviewed.

No one is perfect, but according to Alpha administrator Jin-Soo Huh, “Edtech companies have a responsibility when putting out studies to understand data clearly and present it accurately.”

To help, Digital Promise launched on Aug. 9 an effort to help evaluate whether or not a research study meets its standard of quality. (Here are a few studies that the nonprofit says pass muster, listed on DP’s “Research Map.“) Digital Promise and researchers from Columbia Teachers College welcome research submissions between now and September from edtech companies in three categories:

  • Learning Sciences: How developers use scientific research to justify why a product might work
  • User Research: Rapid turnaround-type studies, where developers collect and use information (both quantitative and qualitative) about how people are interacting with their product
  • Evaluation Research or Efficacy Studies: How developers determine whether a product has a direct impact on learning outcomes

#2: Continue conducting or orchestrating research experiments.

Jennifer Carolan, a teacher-turned-venture capitalist, says both of her roles have required her to be skeptical about product efficacy studies. But Carolan is also the first to admit that efficacy measurement is hard, and needs to continue happening:

“As a former teacher and educational researcher, I can vouch for how difficult it can be to isolate variables in an educational setting. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying, but we need to bear in mind that learning is incredibly complex.”

When asked about the state of edtech research, Francisco responds that it’s progressing, but there’s work to be done. “We still have a long way to go in terms of being able to understand product impact in a lot of different settings,” she writes. However, she agrees with Carolan, and adds that the possibility of making research mishaps shouldn’t inhibit companies from conducting or commissioning research studies.

“There’s a lot of interest across the community in conducting better studies of products to see how they impact learning in different contexts,” Francisco says.

Disclosure: Reach Capital is an investor in EdSurge.



Filed under Uncategorized

Cartoons about Silicon Valley and Technology

For this month, I have found a dozen or so cartoons that poke fun at the culture of Silicon Valley and life with technology. Enjoy !


























Filed under Uncategorized

Seventh Anniversary of This Blog

Dear Readers,

This post marks my seventh 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 who have taken the time to write thoughtful comments. Nearly 1.4 million viewers from around the world have clicked on to the blog since August 2009. Not exactly viral but, for me, most gratifying.

For the 852 posts I have written since 2009, I have followed three rules:

  1. Write about 800 words.
  2. Write clearly on school reform and classroom practice.
  3. Take a position and back it up with evidence.

For anyone who blogs or writes often knows that sticking to these rules has been no easy task. Yet after seven years, it has been very satisfying. I remain highly motivated to write about policymakers, administrators, teachers, parents, and students–all who inhabit the policy-to-practice continuum–and all who in different ways, with varied ideas, seek to improve schooling.

To me, writing is a form of learning and teaching. The learning part comes from figuring out what I want to say on a topic, researching it, drafting a post, and then revising it more times than I would ever admit so that the post says what I want it to say. Learning also has come from the surprises and mistakes I have found in the suggestions and comments readers post—“Did I really say that?,” “Oops!,” “Sorry, I didn’t expect what you said, “ or “I had never considered that point.”

The teaching part comes from putting my ideas out there in a clearly expressed logical argument, buttressed by evidence, for others who may agree or disagree about an issue I am deeply interested in. As in all teaching, planning enters the picture in how I frame the central question I want readers to consider and how I put the argument and evidence together in a clear, coherent, and crisp blog of about 800 words. When readers send in thoughtful and engaged comments–that is the precious interaction that teachers need for learning to occur–I respond and the act of teaching (and, yes, learning) occurs.

Because of my background as a high school teacher, administrator, and historian of education I often give a question or issue its historical context. I do so, and here I put my teaching hat on, since I believe that current policy-driven reforms and their journey into schools and classrooms are deeply rooted in the past. Learning from how earlier generations of reformers coped with the complexities of improving schools and districts, I believe, can inform current reformers about the tasks they face. Contemporary reformers, equally well intentioned as their predecessors, in too many instances ignore what has occurred previously and end up stumbling and repeating errors that occurred before. These frustrated reformers then blame teachers and principals (or “the system”) for not executing properly their reform-driven policies.

Knowing the historical context is important in understanding the cornucopia of policy-driven reforms that have spilled over U.S. public schools for over a half-century. For those unacquainted with that history, in every decade since World War II, policymakers have sought to use public schools–an essentially conservative community institution–as engines of reform to solve national and local political, economic, and social problems. From ending racial segregation in schools to defending the nation against the Soviet Union to ending poverty to growing a strong economy, national leaders have turned to local public schools to end vexing problems. This steadfast belief in education curing problems has trumped time and again political action in the larger society to alter deep-seated economic, political, and social structures that have created and sustained many of the problems afflicting the U.S. That reluctance to look beyond public schools as the solvent for national problems is just as evident in 2016 as it was in 1950.

In the upcoming year, I will look anew and historically at the policy-to-practice continuum in my continuing effort to persuade viewers that adopted policies are merely words unless put into practice. And because too many reform-driven policymakers are inattentive to what has occurred in past efforts and what occurs daily in classrooms, chances of full or even moderate implementation approach nil. It is that journey from making policy in decision-makers’ suites to K-12 classrooms that has occupied me for decades. And so I continue for another year.

Again, readers, thank you.

Larry Cuban



Filed under Uncategorized

Cartoons on Schooling and Reform

The batch of cartoons I have collected for this month are about schooling, reform, and counter-reforms in the second decade of the 21st century. I hope you smile, chuckle, and grin. Or maybe, grind your teeth or slap your brow. Whatever your reaction, enjoy!merit+pay


























Filed under Uncategorized