Friday, May 23, 2014

The Brainwashing of My Dad Trailer

Via J Becker: What if Finland's great teachers taught in U.S. schools?

From The Washington Post, Friday, May 16, 3 See . Our thanks to Rheta Rubenstein for bringing this piece to our attention.
Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss

What if Finland's great teachers taught in U.S. schools?
By Valerie Strauss

Finland's Pasi Sahlberg is one of the world's leading experts on school reform and the author of the best-selling "Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland?" In this piece he writes about whether the emphasis that American school reformers put on "teacher effectiveness" is really the best approach to improving student achievement.

He is director general of Finland's Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation and has served the Finnish government in various positions and worked for the World Bank in Washington D.C.  He has also been an adviser for numerous governments internationally about education policies and reforms, and is an adjunct professor of education at the University of Helsinki and University of Oulu. He can be reached at

By Pasi Sahlberg

Many governments are under political and economic pressure to turn around their school systems for higher rankings in the international league tables. Education reforms often promise quick fixes within one political term. Canada, South Korea, Singapore and Finland are commonly used models for the nations that hope to improve teaching and learning in their schools. In search of a silver bullet, reformers now turn their eyes on teachers, believing that if only they could attract "the best and the brightest" into the teaching profession, the quality of education would improve.

"Teacher effectiveness" is a commonly used term that refers to how much student performance on standardized tests is determined by the teacher.  This concept hence applies only to those teachers who teach subjects on which students are tested. Teacher effectiveness plays a particular role in education policies of nations where alternative pathways exist to the teaching profession.

In the United States, for example, there are more than 1,500 different teacher-preparation programs. The range in quality is wide. In Singapore and Finland only one academically rigorous teacher education program is available for those who desire to become teachers. Likewise, neither Canada nor South Korea has fast-track options into teaching, such as Teach for America or Teach First in Europe. Teacher quality in high-performing countries is a result of careful quality control at entry into teaching rather than measuring teacher effectiveness in service.

In recent years the "no excuses"' argument has been particularly persistent in the education debate. There are those who argue that poverty is only an excuse not to insist that all schools should reach higher standards. Solution: better teachers. Then there are those who claim that schools and teachers alone cannot overcome the negative impact that poverty causes in many children's learning in school. Solution: Elevate children out of poverty by other public policies.

For me the latter is right. In the United States today, 23 percent of children live in poor homes. In Finland, the same way to calculate child poverty would show that figure to be almost five times smaller. The United States ranked in the bottom four in the recent United Nations review on child well-being.  Among 29 wealthy countries, the United States landed second from the last in child poverty and held a similarly poor position in "child life satisfaction." Teachers alone, regardless of how effective they are, will not be able to overcome the challenges that poor children bring with them to schools everyday.

Finland is not a fan of standardization in education. However, teacher education in Finland is carefully standardized.  All teachers must earn a master's degree at one of the country's research universities. Competition to get into these teacher education programs is tough; only "the best and the brightest" are accepted. As a consequence, teaching is regarded as an esteemed profession, on par with medicine, law or engineering. There is another "teacher quality" checkpoint at graduation from School of Education in Finland. Students are not allowed to earn degrees to teach unless they demonstrate that they possess knowledge, skills and morals necessary to be a successful teacher.

But education policies in Finland concentrate more on school effectiveness than on teacher effectiveness. This indicates that what schools are expected to do is an effort of everyone in a school, working together, rather than teachers working  individually.

In many under-performing nations, I notice, three fallacies of teacher effectiveness prevail.

The first belief is that "the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers." This statement became known in education policies through the influential McKinsey & Company report titled "How the world's best performing school systems come out on top". Although the report takes a broader view on enhancing the status of teachers by better pay and careful recruitment this statement implies that the quality of an education system is defined by its teachers. By doing this, the report assumes that teachers work independently from one another. But teachers in most schools today, in the United States and elsewhere, work as teams when the end result of their work is their joint effort.

The role of an individual teacher in a school is like a player on a football team: all teachers are vital, but the culture of the school is even more important for the quality of the school. Team sports offer numerous examples of teams that have performed beyond expectations because of leadership, commitment and spirit. Take the U.S. ice hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics, when a team of college kids beat both Soviets and Finland in the final round and won the gold medal. The quality of Team USA certainly exceeded the quality of its players. So can an education system.

The second fallacy is that "the most important single factor in improving quality of education is teachers."  This is the driving principle of former D.C. schools chancellor Michele Rhee and many other "reformers" today. This false belief is central to the "no excuses" school of thought. If  a teacher was the most important single factor in improving quality of education, then the power of a school would indeed be stronger than children's family background or peer influences in explaining student achievement in school.

Research on what explains students' measured performance in school remains mixed. A commonly used conclusion is that 10% to 20% of the variance in measured student achievement belongs to the classroom, i.e., teachers and teaching, and a similar amount is attributable to schools, i.e., school climate, facilities and leadership. In other words, up to two-thirds of what explains student achievement is beyond the control of schools, i.e., family background and motivation to learn.

Over thirty years of systematic research on school effectiveness and school improvement reveals a number of characteristics that are typical of more effective schools. Most scholars agree that effective leadership is among the most important characteristics of effective schools, equally important to effective teaching. Effective leadership includes leader qualities, such as being firm and purposeful, having shared vision and goals, promoting teamwork and collegiality and frequent personal monitoring and feedback. Several other characteristics of more effective schools include features that are also linked to the culture of the school and leadership: Maintaining focus on learning, producing a positive school climate, setting high expectations for all, developing staff skills, and involving parents. In other words, school leadership matters as much as teacher quality.

The third fallacy is that "If any children had three or four great teachers in a row, they would soar academically, regardless of their racial or economic background, while those who have a sequence of weak teachers will fall further and further behind". This theoretical assumption is included in influential policy recommendations, for instance in "Essential Elements of Teacher Policy in ESEA: Effectiveness, Fairness and Evaluation" by the Center for American Progress to the U.S. Congress. Teaching is measured by the growth of student test scores on standardized exams.

This assumption presents a view that education reform alone could overcome the powerful influence of family and social environment mentioned earlier. It insists that schools should get rid of low-performing teachers and then only hire great ones. This fallacy has the most practical difficulties. The first one is about what it means to be a great teacher. Even if this were clear, it would be difficult to know exactly who is a great teacher at the time of recruitment. The second one is, that becoming a great teacher normally takes five to ten years of systematic practice. And determining the reliably of 'effectiveness' of any teacher would require at least five years of reliable data. This would be practically impossible.

Everybody agrees that the quality of teaching in contributing to learning outcomes is beyond question.  It is therefore understandable that teacher quality is often cited as the most important in-school variable influencing student achievement. But just having better teachers in schools will not automatically improve students' learning outcomes.

Lessons from high-performing school systems, including Finland, suggest that we must reconsider how we think about teaching as a profession and what is the role of the school in our society.

First, standardization should focus more on teacher education and less on teaching and learning in schools. Singapore, Canada and Finland all set high standards for their teacher-preparation programs in academic universities. There is no Teach for Finland or other alternative pathways into teaching that wouldn't include thoroughly studying theories of pedagogy and undergo clinical practice. These countries set the priority to have strict quality control before anybody will be allowed to teach - or even study teaching! This is why in these countries teacher effectiveness and teacher evaluation are not such controversial topics as they are in the U.S. today.

Second, the toxic use of accountability for schools should be abandoned. Current practices in many countries that judge the quality of teachers by counting their students' measured achievement only is in many ways inaccurate and unfair. It is inaccurate because most schools' goals are broader than good performance in a few academic subjects. It is unfair because most of the variation of student achievement in standardized tests can be explained by out-of-school factors. Most teachers understand that what students learn in school is because the whole school has made an effort, not just some individual teachers. In the education systems that are high in international rankings, teachers feel that they are empowered by their leaders and their fellow teachers. In Finland, half of surveyed teachers responded that they would consider leaving their job if their performance would be determined by their student's standardized test results.

Third, other school policies must be changed before teaching becomes attractive to more young talents. In many countries where teachers fight for their rights, their main demand is not more money but better working conditions in schools. Again, experiences from those countries that do well in international rankings suggest that teachers should have autonomy in planning their work, freedom to run their lessons the way that leads to best results, and authority to influence the assessment of the outcomes of their work. Schools should also be trusted in these key areas of the teaching profession.

To finish up, let's do one theoretical experiment. We transport highly trained Finnish teachers to work in, say, Indiana in the United States (and Indiana teachers would go to Finland). After five years-assuming that the Finnish teachers showed up fluent in English and that education policies in Indiana would continue as planned-we would check whether these teachers have been able to improve test scores in state-mandated student assessments.
I argue that if there were any gains in student achievement they would be marginal. Why? Education policies in Indiana and many other states in the United States create a context for teaching that limits (Finnish) teachers to use their skills, wisdom and shared knowledge for the good of their students' learning. Actually, I have met some experienced Finnish-trained teachers in the United States who confirm this hypothesis. Based on what I have heard from them, it is also probable that many of those transported Finnish teachers would be already doing something else than teach by the end of their fifth year - quite like their American peers.

Conversely, the teachers from Indiana working in Finland-assuming they showed up fluent in Finnish-stand to flourish on account of the freedom to teach without the constraints of standardized curricula and the pressure of standardized testing; strong leadership from principals who know the classroom from years of experience as teachers; a professional culture of collaboration; and support from homes unchallenged by poverty.
SIDEBAR PHOTO:  Finland's education expert Pasi Sahlberg - see
UNICEF, 2013. Child well-being in rich countries. A comparative overview. Innocenti Report Card 11. Florence: UNICEF.

McKinsey & Company (2010). "How the world's best performing school systems come out on top". London: McKinsey & Co.

Teddlie, C. (2010). The Legacy of the School Effectiveness Research Tradition, in A. Hargreaves, A. Lieberman, M. Fullan & D. Hopkins (Eds.). The Second International Handbook of Educational Change. Dordrecht: Springer.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Science as a Creative Endeavor: Daniel Seara at TEDxGallatin 2014

Via BBC / FB:

Iranian fans who created "vulgar" tribute to Pharrell Williams' hit song Happy have been arrested.

UPDATE AT 20.48 BST: A group of Iranians who were arrested for filming a video tribute to Pharrell Williams' song Happy have been released on bail, reports from Tehran suggest.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Via Why Neil deGrasse Tyson Is the Lightning Rod for the Major Threat Science Poses to Creationists


Public education is a major enemy of creationism and intelligent design. Now the fears of these two camps are culminating around one person, the host of Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Intelligent design proponent and conspiracy blogger David Klingshoffer writes on Evolution News, the anti-evolution blog:
“Despite its increasingly undisguised axe-grinding, history-befogging, and faith-baiting excesses, there's no question that the rebooted  Cosmos series with Neil deGrasse Tyson will be turning up in classrooms as a 'supplement' to science education.”
Klingshoffer offers no evidence of this, simply that a few teachers posted on Facebook how excited they are about showing their science classes the Cosmos series when it is out on DVD.
It is a safe bet to assume that the popular, critically acclaimed show will turn up in classrooms across the country, and why shouldn’t it? Tyson does a great job of explaining science so that everyone can understand what makes science fun and exciting. 

 Make the Jump Here to Read the Full Article

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Via Daily Kos / FB

Via The Blue Street Journal / FB:

Harvard goes all in for online courses

From The Boston Globe, Sunday, May 18, 2014. See
Harvard goes all in for online courses

The stress is on production values, props, and, yes, scholarship
By Marcella Bombardieri
CAMBRIDGE - The discussion between two Harvard historians one recent morning was a little bit Ivory Tower, a little bit Hollywood.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Andrew Gordon, both preparing to teach a new breed of free online classes, met in the iconic Widener Library - bequeathed to Harvard University by the family of a Titanic victim - to discuss a topic in social history: the influence of the sewing machine on Japan's modernization. They were surrounded not by leather-bound volumes but by a multimillion-dollar production studio and no fewer than five bustling staff members adjusting cameras and microphones and ensuring the scholars made their points clearly.
The production values were taken at least as seriously as the scholarship. As the professors discussed the international impact of the ornate turn-of-the-century Singer sewing machine on display between them, the crew monitored three cameras and debated which lighting source would reflect off Gordon's glasses or wash out Ulrich's face.

When Gordon brushed his hand on his lapel, creating a tiny static blip, they filmed a second take. When Ulrich moved a book off the sewing machine's oak table between takes, they put it back, then filmed her picking it up so the book would not magically disappear in the video.

Quietly, Harvard has built what amounts to an in-house production company to create massive open online courses, or MOOCs, high-end classes that some prestigious universities are offering for free to anyone in the world, generally without formal academic credit. Contrary to the popular image of online classes consisting largely of video from a camera planted at the back of the lecture hall, Harvard is increasingly using mini-documentaries, animation, and interactive software tools to offer a far richer product.
Related: Attracting, and keeping, online students
The endeavor, which is called HarvardX and celebrates its second birthday this month, has two video studios, more than 30 employees, and many freelancers - an astonishing constellation of producers, editors, videographers, composers, animators, typographers, and even a performance coach to help professors get comfortable in front of a camera.
HarvardX has made about 30 classes and has some 60 more in the works. Nearly 1.3 million people have signed uvardX courses, almost two-thirds of them from outside the United States. (HarvardX makes the classes, but students sign up and log in via another platform, edX, a nonprofit founded in 2012 by Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.)

In just two years, the MOOC has gone through a high-speed cycle of hype and letdown, heralded as the future of higher education - maybe even the death of the traditional campus - before being dismissed as a fad. Hundreds of thousands of people signed up for some classes, but few completed them, and critics questioned how an online offering could reproduce the alchemy of a professor and students gathered around the seminar table.

Yet, as Harvard demonstrates, universities continue to pour enormous amounts of money and talent into creating MOOCs and building an online infrastructure. Their aim reflects pragmatic self-interest and soaring idealism - staying competitive with peer institutions, and improving education for everyone, not just online learners in distant lands.

While plenty of Harvard professors remain skeptical about the costs, value, and even ethics of the endeavor, faculty who teach MOOCs see great potential to enrich what they offer undergraduates on campus by bringing elements from the online classes into regular courses.

Ulrich's online class, Tangible Things, which launches June 2, will teach history through artifacts in Harvard's museum collections to an expected 10,000 students. High-quality videography can bring students closer to rare and delicate objects than is possible in an ordinary lecture to 120 undergraduates. (Gordon, the guest star in the studio with Ulrich, is working on a separate MOOC about Japan.)

Two professors who teach an undergraduate course on China completely replaced in-class lectures with materials from their MOOC, to be reviewed by the students as part of their homework. Class time is now dedicated to discussion, and participation is being graded for the first time - not always to students' liking.

Videos are only the beginning. HarvardX is building interactive mapping and timeline tools and a program that allows students to post comments inside videos uploaded by their classmates. David Cox, who teaches a neuroscience MOOC, does his own programming to build hands-on lessons, allowing students to manipulate settings on a computer screen to answer questions, for example, about how neurons work. He calls it a "choose your own adventure lecture."

Because the program offers his automated feedback tailored to students' answers, Cox said, it offers more personalized instruction than he can give in a lecture hall, especially when Harvard students tend to be "mortified of asking a dumb question."

"I think the stakes here are not how we can do online education better," Cox said. "The stakes here are how we can do education better."
Related: Computer coding now seen as vital job skill
Conceptualizing courses

"There is a new law against the word 'extracellularly,' " Cox gently admonished Winston Yan, a joint MD-PhD student and one of the top staffers for his online class, Fundamentals of Neuroscience.

Cox, Yan, and four other members of the course team had gathered at HarvardX's headquarters in an office building behind the Harvard Square post office. The space resembled a start-up, with communal tables, floor-to-ceiling dry erase boards, and brightly colored rolling chairs. Passing around containers of Thai takeout, they reviewed the draft script Yan had written for one lesson and discussed the array of videos, illustrations, and interactive exercises that would go along with the script.

It was something like a TV show's writers' room. Yan made fun of himself when he stumbled over awkward wording. Cox mused about how to describe a scientific discovery as the detective story it was, something he lamented rarely comes across in science classes.

And the professor said he would love to see a photo of an old scientist with mutton chops to illustrate that detective story. The course's producer, Nadja Oertelt, shot back that the discovery was probably made by a woman who never got the credit.

Oertelt, who has a neuroscience degree from MIT and experience as a documentary filmmaker, is using her film world contacts to assemble about 20 people working on different parts of the course, whether it's to film a brain dissection or draw one of the short animations to keep students engaged and make a topic accessible to different learning styles. Think: sodium and potassium ions portrayed as hairy-chested US and British sailors mingling in a bar during Fleet Week. Or neurotransmitters as colorful monsters on a date in a candlelit bar.
Related: 8 great (and free!) free online courses
HarvardX courses are proposed by the professors, who set the academic agenda. But 20-something staffers with eclectic backgrounds, like Oertelt, are the workhorses translating the ideas into a new medium. Oertelt, 29, said she once fell asleep flat on her face on the floor at 4 a.m. as she and Yan raced to ready the course for its debut last fall, which drew 58,000 registrants from 172 countries. The team is working on a second unit to launch in late summer.

Still, professors invariably describe putting shockingly long hours into their MOOCs. Cox, who is more involved in the production aspects of his course than most of his fellow faculty, got released from regular teaching duties for a year to focus on the MOOC. But many professors have done the projects as volunteers on their own time. Harvard is now thinking about ways to compensate them, perhaps with a flat fee or revenue sharing.

HarvardX spends about $75,000 to $150,000 developing each new MOOC, officials said. But the neuroscience course is so intricate that the team is doing its own fund-raising. It used a crowdfunding website to raise $14,000 to help some of its students around the world buy a $200 "DIY science" kit, which allows anyone to perform a lab experiment at home: cutting off a cockroach's leg, hooking it up to an amplifier, and listening to its neurons firing. (The insect gets anesthetized in ice water, and its leg grows back.)

The experiment proved so popular it has been introduced to the Harvard campus neuroscience class that Cox co-teaches.
Related: Harvard Business enters online education fray
Unresolved questions

The setting was as spooky as they had hoped. For Shakespeare expert Stephen Greenblatt to speak on camera about the king's ghost in "Hamlet," the HarvardX team had booked one of the university's grandest spaces, the gothic, wood-paneled Sanders Theatre. The night before, producer Zachary Davis had raced to a costume shop just before closing to get a plastic skull Greenblatt could brandish for dramatic effect.

They had one spotlight trained on Greenblatt and little other lighting. It was so dark, in fact, that the professor could not read the lines from the play he wanted to discuss. A hiccup, but one quickly solved with Davis's cellphone flashlight.

This was a test shoot, the first attempt to shape a "visual language," as Davis called it, for Greenblatt's MOOC on Shakespeare.

Lighting aside, the several hours of taping went well. With only a rare glance at notecards, Greenblatt spoke eloquently about the Danish story Shakespeare borrowed from and about the religious climate in England at the time the bard wrote. Davis reminded the professor of a point from his outline he'd left out, while a teaching assistant corrected a couple of lines of dialogue Greenblatt mangled.

It had taken six weeks of discussions between the professor, the teaching assistant, Davis, and others to prepare for this day. Greenblatt said he felt stiff on camera, but he relished the opportunity to learn about new ways of teaching.

"The fun part of this really for me is, it's like being back in my 20s just starting out teaching and trying to figure out what works and what doesn't work," he said. "It's not obvious the same things you do in the classroom are the things you should be doing with a completely different scale, different people watching it, different incentives, and so forth."

Yet Greenblatt also counts himself among the many Harvard faculty worried about the potential downsides of Harvard's foray into online courses. He and Ulrich were among several dozen professors who wrote a letter to the administration last year seeking more discussion about the "costs and consequences" of HarvardX.

Among his worries: Will cash-strapped colleges park their students in front of MOOCs and cut back on hiring professors? What will that do to the careers of up-and-coming scholars, and what will it mean for students' access to faculty mentoring?

"There are serious, completely unresolved questions all over the place here," Greenblatt said.

He was encouraged to dip his toe into the MOOC world by a colleague, poetry specialist Elisa New. Earlier this year, the student newspaper, The Crimson, reported that New asked her students on campus to hold questions until the end of class, to make for smoother filming for her online class.

That sparked an uproar that the cosmetics of the MOOC were compromising the classroom, but New called it a misunderstanding, and Harvard officials say they rarely film in on-campus classes anyway.

As for the cost question, Harvard officials insist HarvardX must and will find a way to support itself and not detract from campus needs. The goal is a mix of funding sources, including philanthropy and licensing software and courses to other institutions. A donation, for example, paid for the deluxe studio in Widener Library.

And Harvard is beginning to experiment with ways to charge MOOC learners for extras, like a verified certificate or even course credit.

Peter K. Bol is one of the professors who taught the MOOC on China and is a vice provost overseeing HarvardX. He thinks every MOOC should have an automated version available for free. But for virtual office hours and other interactions with professors and teaching assistants, he imagines a small fee. A modest $10 or $20 from thousands of students could cover the cost, he said.

"As we go forward we have to always ask the question, how can we afford this?" he said.
Related: Harvard, MIT partner in $60m initiative on free online classes
Unforeseen hours of work

Before the antique sewing machine could have its star turn, the team behind Ulrich's Tangible Things class faced a lot of decisions. Would it film the machine by itself, or capture Ulrich introducing the viewer to its lavish gold Sphinx decorations and baffling metal attachments? What background color should they use in the studio? Would black be too dark behind the black lacquered machine? Would white look like it was selling a product on Amazon?

These were just a few of the topics of debate when Davis, the 30-year-old producer for the history MOOC as well as the Shakespeare course, visited Ulrich in the professor's library study, accompanied by two editor/videographers.

There was a pressing problem: The sewing machine was not working. Davis, intent on getting it to operate for its film debut, sprang into action, tossing his blazer aside and diving under the desk to try to get a rubber tube back on its track. (He got it working, but only briefly.)

Ulrich would be working into the night on her script, an inch-thick stack of paper she brought to a taping the next morning in the second and much more modest HarvardX studio in a converted conference room. She was at ease in front of the camera, and only occasionally paused to consult the voluminous script. But Davis was vigilant for the most minor flaws, asking her to repeat passages such as one in which she added an unnecessary "th" sound to the word "Egyptomania."

The following week, Ulrich, Davis, and the course's editor spent several hours visiting Harvard's archeology museum, the Peabody, and its women's history library, the Schlesinger, to film artifacts related to Ulrich's lesson. At the end of the library visit, they brought Ulrich back outside and filmed three takes of her walking into the building bracing against the wind.

Hours of work - all for what Davis guessed would be 30 to 60 seconds of footage to play along with Ulrich's narration.

Davis said MOOCs should be thought of not as an alternative to traditional classes but as high-tech, multifaceted textbooks.

He views his work as making documentaries and telling stories - and staying as far away from traditional lectures as possible.

"The first and most important lesson is, you are not just replicating the classroom," he said.

He and Ulrich want to get their far-flung MOOC students involved as well: They will be asked to choose objects from their own lives to study, and will be able to create their own exhibitions on the website Pinterest.

Ulrich said she got involved because she is always looking for ways to engage with the public, and likes the idea of sharing something for free that she thinks will be useful to museums and historical societies.

"It's been absolutely fun, a lot of work - an incredible amount of work. I mean I just couldn't imagine how much work," Ulrich said. She was not warned what she was getting into, she said, because no one knew.

"Everything's being invented,'' she said. "This really is a research project as much as an education project, to try to figure out what Harvard can do."
SIDEBAR PHOTO:  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Harvard historian, and Christina Hodge of the Peabody Museum were filmed talking about a kimono for a MOOC. KATHERINE TAYLOR FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE
SIDEBAR PHOTO:  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Harvard historian, was filmed in the HarvardX studio for her class, "Tangible Things." PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF
More coverage:
* Will MOOCs help you open career doors?

* 8 great free online courses

* Can you MOOC your way through college in one year?
Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeMarcella.
Copyright 2011 by Daniel C. Orey All rights reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.