Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

What a good public university can do

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

The value of public educational institutions extends far beyond the K-12 schools I wrote about earlier this month. Public universities can also be outsize contributors to the public good. Washington Monthly has a track record of excellent work on higher ed — this article on the University of California system is a great example.  It describes how the UC system has largely managed to be free tuition, even after the Reagan administration abolished free tuition for all.

What difference one good public school makes

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

It’s now more than two weeks since the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. By the usual chronology the story would be old news, the brief activism for gun control would have passed and the NRA would again be in control of the story. That’s what has happened after many shootings. But Stoneman Douglas is still news, still in our faces, largely because of the activism of the survivors themselves. Why are they different? One thought is that their school prepared them for this role.

From the Washington Monthly: read this story about their school and their AP Government class.

From Slate: Another story on the same theme, noting the importance of adequate funding

Make schools more like churches and less like prisons.

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

Sometimes really good ideas appear in unexpected places. I really like this infographic from a tech blog.

There are nearly a dozen really helpful ideas about making schools safer and more affirming places. Far better than arming teachers.

Shining a light on privatization of Michigan schools

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

Michigan Public Radio has been running a really good series on the state of our schools. They’ve talked about declining funding and the increase in charter schools, but haven’t quite gotten to the point of asking how this all happened. That’s going to be up to activists.

Progress Michigan is taking that on. A lot of it goes to one family, DeVos, of Grand Rapids. They’ve contributed to Republicans and spread the myth of failing public schools and the supposed benefits of charters. This is going to be important.

Failing Schools, Or Not

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Educators and others who follow education news are not surprised by the supposedly mediocre PISA scores, that purport to compare US students to those in other countries. As happens a lot, US students score in the middle of the pack, hardly where American exceptionalists think we should be. Others have commented that the PISA scores are a Rorschach test, in which what you see in the scores is largely a function of what you think about schools, so believing is seeing.

For example, the US reports all student scores, whereas China reports only scores from Shanghai, which is not a typical school district. When you break out Massachusetts scores, those students score near the top. School “reformers” like Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee take the opportunity to push their failed reforms, even though none of the high scoring countries have adopted anything like their prescriptions. But there is another really important factor. Educational Researchers have known for years that poverty is a really important determinant of school success. All other things being equal, students from low socio-economic status families do not do as well in school as students from high socio-economic status families. The American economy produces vast inequalities in income, meaning that we have vast inequalities in educational attainment. There’s a really good discussion of this point on the Crooks & Liars blog. I recommend reading it.


Saturday, February 18th, 2012


Update: The book is available now. Spannaus, T.W. (2012). Creating Video for Teachers and Trainers. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

My new book, titled Creating Video for Teachers and Trainers, will be available in May. Published by Pfeiffer, it covers planning, scripting, shooting and producing video, using inexpensive equipment and software.

I teach a course on digital video for teaching and learning and have never found a book on video production that showed equipment that teachers and trainers can actually afford. That’s what this book is about. You and your school, business, or church probably don’t have 5-figure budgets for a camcorder, lights, and all that great stuff. But with proper planning, and using professional thinking and techniques, amateur gear will produce videos you’re not ashamed to show and that your students can learn from.

The new site will be up with more resources soon. I’ll let you know when it and the book are ready.

Science? What science? I know what I know.

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Many have written about the systematic assault on science and reason. It comes largely but not exclusively from the right, including politicians and fundamentalists. Their reasons and methods vary but the result is the same: a conflation of expertise with elitism. And no one in this egalitarian nation wants to be considered elite.

What I have experienced in my classes is that a few students regard their opinions as worthy counters to research. I’ve recently posted some comments about learning styles, particularly the popular VARK (visual, aural, read/write, kinesthetic) or VAK (visual, audio, kinesthetic) schemes. My comments include references to research, which in general does not support either approach. My students often respond with their opinions, which are often supportive of VARK and other ways of thinking about learning styles, but devoid of any empirical support. When asked for empirical support, the response is often some variety of, It just seems to make sense; Or, Everybody knows learning styles are useful predictors.

There is a useful takeaway from the learning styles conversation. It’s that in general learning is enhanced when we use multiple senses or media. That is, people learn better from images and verbal content than from either alone. That’s based on Mayer’s Multimedia research, for which there is a lot of useful data. And it’s based on Paivio’s dual coding theory. But it’s not an individual thing, as the learning styles people presume. It’s a generalization that applies to most learners.

As educators, our responsibility is to make decisions based on evidence. There are different kinds of evidence, of course. But for questions amenable to empirical research, that’s the standard we look to. Our opinions, or common sense, are valuable. But we look to better evidence when we can.

Teachers aren’t the enemy

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Excellent article in The Nation about teachers and current disputes about quality schools.

Zombie administration

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

There’s an excellent new book out on zombie economics. The thesis is that long discredited economic ideas (such as that the market will solve all problems) never seem to die. They keep resurfacing, with politicians and media types assuming that these ideas actually work. We know after 30 years of experience that they don’t.

But it’s not just in economics that bad ideas won’t die. I talked today with an education administration prof, who reminded me the same phenomenon happens in administration. There are business schools, some of high repute, like Harvard, that have decided, once again, that a good manager can manage anything, even a school. Now I thought we learned, back in the 80s, that this notion didn’t work. Huge conglomerates were formed and dissolved (think ITT, among others) on the reasoning that management didn’t need to understand the specifics of each business. They could manage anything. Think also of the damage to the auto companies that came about when financial managers (Roger Moore comes to mind) ran the show. They knew nothing about manufacturing or product development. But they know finance. And nearly destroyed the companies.

So now we get the b-schools taking on education. It’s a zombie idea. We know it doesn’t work. The management people have to understand the business they manage. When they don’t, things break. Seriously.

Let bad ideas die.

union boss

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

It appears that the tired old phrase “union boss” is back with a vengeance. Politicians, even some journalists, seem to think that elected union officers are somehow bosses.

I just want to observe that, having been an elected union officer in the past, “boss” is hardly the first term that comes to mind. I couldn’t really boss anyone around. We weren’t paid. And we could be (and were) voted out regularly.

I have to admit there were times when it might have been of some benefit to be a boss. But, no, the vast majority of elected union officers are not bosses, in any sense.