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Build With, Not For: A #CivicTech Manifesto

July 3, 2014

Crafting high-quality civic technology — projects and tools designed withsocial impact in mind — requires thought, creativity, and intentionality — the strength to ask:

“Will this project actually have social impact? Is it being designed for the social/cultural/political context in which it will be implemented? And if not, what steps do we need to take and what people do we need to substantially involve to get there?”

3 Reasons #CivicTech Needs Civic Art

July 1, 2014

OTI's "People's Tech" table invited visitors to The Tech Embassy to visualize not just what different tech concepts look like today, but what they could and *should* look like. 

A Victory for Digital Justice (Your Tax Dollars at Work)

May 13, 2014

In 2009, digital justice coalitions in Detroit and Philadelphia seized an opportunity to turn a new federal policy into a lasting transformation of the Internet’s role in their local communities.

NOTE: An edited version of the attached essay will appear in Strategies for Media Reform: International Perspectives, Des Freedman, Jonathan Obar, Robert McChesney, & Cheryl Martens, (Eds.), forthcoming from Fordham University Press. We welcome feedback on this version of the essay.

A Network Model of Broadband Adoption: Using Twitter to Document Detroit Future

  • By
  • Joshua Breitbart,
  • Greta Byrum,
  • Georgia Bullen,
  • Kayshin Chan,
  • New America Foundation
May 1, 2014

From 2010 to 2012, the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC) conducted a federally-funded training program in digital media that they called “Detroit Future.” The purpose of the program was to use broadband adoption as a means of strengthening economic development and community organizing in Detroit. To that end, the DDJC developed a “networked” model of broadband adoption as part of its implementation of the program. The coalition documented the program with the Twitter hashtag #detroitfuture.

Using Blocks to Build Tomorrow’s Engineers

July 30, 2013

While most early educators recognize that block play is linked to early learning, it can be difficult to find blocks and other simple building materials in today’s first and second grade classrooms -- and sadly, even in many kindergartens.  

Syllabus: Week of July 15, 2013

July 19, 2013
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Welcome to the Syllabus, a guide that provides insight into what’s happening in higher education.
Robin Wilson, Chronicle of Higher Education
Last month, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences issued a national report questioning whether the study of humanities in American higher education is declining, and if so, who is to blame. The report has stirred a debate about the future and utility of studying humanities. Crtics of the humanities often cite the significant drop in humanities degrees from 18 percent in the 1960s to less than 8 percent today as growing evidence of the death of the humanities. But Dr. Michael Bérubé, director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities and a professor of literature at Pennsylvania State University, claims that the data is misleading. According to his analysis although there was a decline in overall bachelor’s degrees awarded to humanities majors over the past forty years, the rate of humanities degrees actually dropped sharply during the 70s, and now for the past two decades has hovered around 8 percent. 
The problem may be that in today’s society the field of life sciences, business, and engineering take center stage, placing less value on humanities. David A. Hollinger, professor of history at Berkley commented, “It is part of the gradual loss of nerve on the part of American higher-education leadership that the value that increasingly defines what goes on inside the university are those things that are valued outside the university.” The crisis, Dr. Bérubé concludes, is not the declining graduation rates of bachelor degrees awarded to humanities majors, but a crisis of prestige and legitimation.
Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed
A study published in The Journal of Educational Psychology tracked 589 undergraduate students at Georgia Institute of Technology to see whether they persisted as STEM majors. The researchers also conducted a larger study at Georgia Tech and found that Advanced Placement (AP) scores along with traditional measures of high school grades and test scores help account for 40 percent of the variation in student performance in STEM majors. The new study found that students who obtain high-test scores on their AP exams are more likely to succeed in their STEM courses. The study also looked at personality traits and found when analyzing gender as a variable females were more likely to drop out of STEM programs because they didn’t see themselves as scientists, and men were more likely to drop out of the program because they lacked the traits of mastery, organization, and management skills. The researchers suggest that educators reach students interested in pursuing STEM majors early so that they are less likely to have these traits.
Beckie Supiano, Chronicle of Higher Education
A new methodology for calculating financial aid would help students receive their financial aid awards sooner, affording more time for college selection decisions. Currently, students must submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible once it becomes available January 1 and once they (and their families) have completed their taxes. However, because of financial aid deadlines at schools and the time between acceptance and when a student receives a financial aid package, there’s only a short amount of time for students to select their college of choice. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) recently completed a study where it found that switching the methodology and permitting students to submit two-year-old tax data did not make a big difference in students’ financial aid awards. But, according to Chronicle reporter Beckie Supiano, “Like so many things in the financial-aid world, the question of [using] prior-prior year boils down to the tension between simplicity and accuracy.”
Higher Ed Watch readers, do you think the financial aid process should move toward using two-year-old tax data? Does the benefit of simplicity outweigh the desire for accuracy?


Student Success Act Superlatives: the Best (and Worst) Additions to the House NCLB Overhaul

July 17, 2013

Following the world’s speediest markup, the House of Representatives could begin floor debate on the Student Success Act, the House Republican proposal to rewrite No Child Left Behind (NCLB), tomorrow. That would mark the first time (ever!) that an NCLB reauthorization bill has reached the floor in either chamber of Congress. However, the chances of the House proposal making it out of the Senate and to the President’s desk are non-existent. No Democrats supported the bill in committee, adamantly opposing its changes to accountability, school improvement, and funding requirements. And while every Republican on the committee supported the legislation, it may not be conservative enough for many members of the House Republican caucus – who would like to add Title I vouchers to the bill, eliminate the teacher evaluation provisions, and further diminish the role of the federal government.

Alyson Klein over at PoliticsK-12 has a super-detailed rundown of many of the 74 amendments offered to the legislation. It’s well worth a read. While many of these amendments are likely to be ruled out of order by the House Rules Committee this afternoon, they are still an interesting – and sometimes amusing – read. Here are my picks among them for Student Success Act Superlatives.

Most obvious pet project: Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) would like to add a grant program to support female students in higher education taking STEM courses serving as mentors to high school girls enrolled in STEM dual enrollment programs.Science, it’s a girl thing!

Most thrifty: This one’s a tie between Paul Broun (R-GA) and John Culberson (R-TX). Because the Student Success Act would consolidate or eliminate over 70 programs at the Department of Education, Broun would require the Secretary of Education not only to report how many Department employees are terminated, but also their average salary (in addition to the salaries of remaining employees). Further, Broun wants an additional 5% reduction in Department staff after the program consolidation. Ouch.

Culberson’s amendment uses a different tactic to rein in spending. While limiting the Secretary from placing conditions on states to receive federal money, Culberson would also clarify that states could reject federal grants. The rejected funds would then go toward paying down the national debt. Given state reliance on federal education money, I doubt this is the most efficient strategy to tackle the debt problem.

Least changed since 2001: Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Mark Takano (D-CA) have a rare, bipartisan amendment to change the requirements for student assessment… to those that were in place before NCLB in 2001. This would mean students would be tested by grade spans in reading and math (grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12). While high school students are only tested once under current law, the amendment could eliminate annual testing in grades 3-8. If successful, say goodbye to loads of student performance data the public has come to rely on and any hope of measuring individual student growth.

Most popular: Maintenance of effort definitely has the Democrats’ votes for prom queen. Four amendments to restore the funding requirement (or delay its elimination) were offered, more than any other single issue.

Most likely to succeed? Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) wants to add Title I funding portability, allocating funds not on the basis of a district’s concentration of poor students, but instead directly following eligible children to the schools where they enroll. Students could attend their assigned public school, a charter school, or an out-of-district school if the state opts-in to the program. In an appearance at a Washington, D.C. charter school, Cantor said he believes his amendment (and the overall bill) could gain bipartisan support. But given reaction to the amendment and the fact that Senate Democrats voted down a similar amendment to their proposal, Cantor’s optimism is more comical than anything.

Class Clown: Speaking of amusing, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) would like to clarify that the “sense of the Congress” is that Education Secretary Arne Duncan – through Race to the Top and NCLB waivers – “coerced” states to adopt common standards and assessments. Never mind the obvious lack of fact-checking (Alabama, Alaska, Minnesota, Utah, and Virginia have received waivers without adopting the standards and/or joining one of the testing consortia). In pointing out the harmful influence of the federal government on states, the amendment clarifies:

“The Race to the Top Assessment grants awarded to the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SMARTER Balance) initiated the development of Common Core State Standards aligned assessments that will, in turn, inform and ultimately influence kindergarten through 12th-grade curriculum and instructional materials.”

And this is an argument against the consortia’s efforts? Because curriculum and instructional materials informed by rigorous, internationally-benchmarked standards sound like a fabulous idea!

Biggest nerd: Disappointing robots everywhere, Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) withdrew an amendment that would have added computer coding as an official “critical foreign language” in the bill.

Stay tuned to Ed Money Watch for continuing coverage of NCLB reauthorization and the Student Success Act (and for more on what the proposal actually does, make sure to download our side-by-side cheat sheet here).

What ‘Sid the Science Kid’ Means for Adults

July 3, 2013
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Last month I had the opportunity to write about one of my favorite preschool television shows, Sid the Science Kid.  The piece, “How Kids’ Television Inspires a Lifelong Love of Science,” is part of a special online report on Educating Americans for the 21st Century, published by Smithsonian magazine.*

SOTU: A Career-Ready Race to the Top or a Call for Perkins Reauthorization?

February 15, 2013
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Yesterday, President Barack Obama reiterated his call from the State of the Union to provide universal pre-K to all children in America. But tucked in with his remarks was a pitch for another proposal from Tuesday's speech: to reward high schools that are preparing their students to be not only college-ready, but also career-ready. The competition would be aimed at high schools that have reimagined how they operate: partnering with colleges and businesses, focusing on emerging fields in science, technology, and engineering, and even offering students valuable industry credentials or an associate degree while they complete high school. The administration hopes this would challenge schools to provide real-world learning experiences in their curriculum, so that students attain the “skills today's employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future."

Unfortunately, the administration has offered no further details on the plan. Do they envision a Race to the Top-style competition? As Alyson Klein noted on PoliticsK-12, a competitive grant aimed at high school curriculum – not just the standards high schools teach, but also how they are taught – could meet stiff opposition from conservative lawmakers. And how much money is the Department seeking for this competition? Would funding be distributed directly to high schools and their higher education and industry partners, or through states?

To complicate the matter further, it is unclear if the president is even proposing anything new at all. Last April, the Department of Education released A Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Education, its plan for reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The Blueprint included “within-state competitions” to distribute Perkins funds to consortia of secondary and postsecondary institutions, with a matching contribution from employers, rather than through the formula used today. The goal of these consortia competitions would be to encourage programs that are meeting regional labor-market needs. Sounds like a “challenge to redesign America's high schools,” right?

The related initiatives President Obama proposed in the State of the Union to promote skills leading to high-quality, high-wage jobs are all ideas he has introduced (with little success) before: a STEM Master Teacher Corps of 10,000 of America’s best teachers and an $8 billion Community College to Career Fund to bolster and improve job training in two-year higher education institutions. Maybe the competition to redesign high schools is old news too.

While it is promising that the administration is focusing on the oft-neglected “career” component of college and career readiness and looking to innovative models like early college high schools, it is hard to say how effective these proposals could be without more details. Unfortunately, the answers likely won’t be provided until the president releases his budget in March. Stay tuned to Ed Money Watch for the all the specifics then. 

At National Journal: Start Early to Get Kids Interested in STEM

December 13, 2012

Last week the National Journal Education Experts blog asked why more students aren’t pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering or math.

In my response, I discuss the importance of getting children interested in and excited about science and math at an earlier age, and making sure teachers are well-prepared to teach these subjects, to ensure children have positive experiences:

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