Waiting For Superman


The 1950s Superman (George Reeves) that Geoffrey Canada was waiting for...

It's clear that the United States continues to fall behind the rest of the world in the quality of public
education. Last Friday, there was a lot of buzz around the $100 million challenge grant that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was giving to the Newark, New Jersey schools to reform.

There's also a new documentary from the Oscar-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, director of "An Inconvenient Truth," that takes on the task of dissecting the public education system. I read a big piece in Time magazine about his film Waiting
For Superman
which opened last Friday.

Whether the film will get to enough people or inspire them to take action remains to be seen. I have very mixed feeling about the film and I haven't even gone into a theater to see it yet.

It bothers me to see parents and kids praying that they win a lottery to get into the better school in their city. I agree that tenure is outdated but I haven't seen a good alternative. Merit pay based on standardized tests doesn't seem to be a solution. Then again, I have trouble listening to a teachers' union president fight back so hard that it seems like they oppose any change.

Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone in New York, gets a lot of attention in the film (and appeared on Oprah's show with Zuckerberg). Canada's organization tries to increase high school and college graduation rates among students in Harlem. He's the "rockstar" reformer in director Guggenheim's film. The documentary looks at Canada's successes and follows the lives of several talented children.

The film's title comes from Geoffrey Canada who says that as a kid he saw Superman on TV and thought that he would one day swoop in to save him and his classmates. Most of us doubt that any one hero armed with either millions of dollars, political power or charismatic words about achievement is going to fly into our midst and make things right.

Watching the kids families in the film (even in the preview trailer) waiting to hear if their kid can leave their substandard schools for a mediocre one is suspenseful and sad. They ARE waiting for a Superman in the form of a school.

The film hits at the teachers unions pretty hard. I'm not in one now. I was in one for 25 years. It's the one that NJ Governor Cristie hates. The film, Christie, and plenty of other people accuse the unions of putting politics and salaries ahead of pupils. But that's as simplistic a reason for failing schools as waiting for a Superman is a fool's solution.

Several reviewers have said that Guggenheim doesn't hit as hard or make a film as one-sided as another big documentary director, Michael Moore. In fact, Guggenheim makes a confession of sorts in the film when he explains that he drives by some of these failing public schools every morning - to take his kids to private schools.

It's good that people are talking.

Visit waitingforsuperman.com to watch the film trailer and clips, and learn more about what you can do. Oprah Winfrey jumped on this early last week and then she did a show Friday about the $100 million challenge as a kind of followup to the show about the movie. Geoffrey Canada appears on both shows. There is some good discussion online and video of Zuckerberg, Christie, Booker and Canada at http://www.oprah.com/showinfo/

National STEM Video Game Challenge

Advanced Micro Devices and Microsoft were among the co-sponsors who showed up at the White House recently to join President Obama as he launched the National STEM Video Game Challenge.

It is in two parts. One competition allows students grades five through eight to compete for a cash prizes, plus tech gear from AMD and Microsoft. They must design an original video game to win.

Another competition is geared for college-age contestants. A cash prize of $25,000 awaits the creator of the top technology with "high potential to reach underserved communities" such as games built for basic mobile phones that address urgent educational needs among at-risk youth.

Newark Schools and the Zuckerberg Donation

This is big news online today, but it's even bigger news here in New Jersey. It's also of interest to me for a number of reasons, including that I spent my last year at NJIT (which is in Newark) working at a city high school on technology integration.

Governor Chris Christie (who was my student when he was a high school freshman) and Mayor Cory Booker are expected to say, according to The Star-Ledger, when they appear together on The Oprah Winfrey Show tomorrow, "that the Newark school system, under state control for 15 years, will be placed under Booker’s authority. Booker, with the governor’s support, will embark on an ambitious series of changes long opposed by teachers unions."

What might those changes include? An expansion of charter schools, new achievement standards and methods for judging which schools and teachers are effective.

Of course, the online buzz is that all this will be driven by a challenge grant of $100 million from Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook.  Zuckerberg (#35 on Forbes’ list of the richest Americans) is making this personal gift (though most posts imply incorrectly that it is Facebook making the donation) from his own estimated $6.9 billion.

It will be interesting to see what the money will be used for - and what effect it has on the schools. Will students need to have a Facebook account?


National Education Policy Center

Press Release

Leading Education Researchers Announce Creation of National Education Policy Center

With the demand for education research at its highest level in a generation but growing concern about the quality of such research, experts and researchers from across the United States today announced the establishment of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC). Housed in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, NEPC stands at the forefront of efforts to bring the highest quality education policy research to bear on policymaking and public understanding of key schooling issues.

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence.

“We are launching NEPC at an important time for American education research and policy,” said Kevin Welner, NEPC director and Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “Policy decisions are too often made without supporting research, or even in conflict with what the research tells us. To help push research to the fore, the National Education Policy Center brings together some of the most important education research and analysis currently being conducted across the nation and around the world.”

The NEPC Fellows, a network of 100 mostly university-based education policy scholars, will work with NEPC because they care about the goal of bringing quality research to the task of policymaking. These Fellows include some of the most accomplished and knowledgeable researchers in the nation, and they will assist NEPC in meeting the national demand for education reform and improvement.

“The national need for progress in our schools makes it more important than ever that policy be based on reliable research,” Welner said. “NEPC is committed to providing researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and the community at large with policy analyses and recommendations based on high-quality social science research.”

NEPC will feature three ancillary activities in support of research-based education policy analysis:

1. The Commercialism in Education Research Unit (CERU), which is the only research unit in the world dedicated to studying the impact of commercialism on education, is now part of NEPC.

2. NEPC will be the new home for Education Review, the foremost open access book review journal in education, accessed by more than 1,000 readers each day.

3. NEPC will house the new Education Research Global Observatory (ERGO), a resource dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of open access scholarship in education from around the world.

NEPC will combine the efforts of two previous major players in the education policy-making scene – the Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at Arizona State University. NEPC will continue to produce think tank reviews, policy briefs, research briefs, and legislative policy briefs.

“Over the years, EPIC and EPRU have seen growing demand for their research publications,” said Alex Molnar, NEPC Publications Director and professor at Arizona State University. “NEPC will build on and extend the work begun by EPIC/EPRU. We have a very aggressive publication agenda.”

To learn more about NEPC, visit http://nepc.colorado.edu

The Graying of Social Media


Betty White with her iPad

So, your grandparents are posting photos on Facebook. Mom and Dad are looking for their colleagues on LinkedIn.

That's what articles I'm reading are saying. Social media is mainstream.

The big news seems to be that an increasing number of people ages 50 and older are joining social networks. A new report by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project shows that between April 2009 and May 2010, social networking use among internet users ages 50-64 grew by 88% - from 25% to 47%.

During the same period, use among those ages 65 and older grew 100% - from 13% to 26%. For comparison, social networking use among younger users ages 18-29 only grew by 13%. Of course, that took them from 76% to a whopping 86%.

The trend amongst older users has been evident the past five years, but it made a bigger jump this past year. One explanation is that the  50+ age group is more computer literate and more comfortable using the Net than the earlier generation.

Companies that sell technology have noticed that seniors and pre-seniors are a somewhat untapped audience for e-commerce and devices like Kindles and iPads. They are also more likely to use services like high-speed Internet, photo and video sites and get beyond the still-killer app - email.

Colleges might be wise to also be looking at this group returning to school via the Net and with better tech skills.

Read the PEW Report on older adults and the Internet, and read a related story from NPR