Audio File Download

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Make Facebook Work for You – not the other way around

One of my top 2017 New Year’s resolutions is to spend less time on Facebook. I’ve ranted about this for a while now. But given the time of year, I’d like to also recommend it for you as well, especially if there’s a new year resolution you want to accomplish as well.

You see, how Facebook makes money is that it basically serves ads to you as you browse through your timeline, reading all the content generated by your friends. You are in effect, an unpaid moneymaker for Mark Zuckerberg and company by generating content for free which they can monetize. OK but so what you say. Sometimes I just have to blow off some steam and see all my friends’ photos of cute kids, puppies, and funny Internet memes. I get that. We all need to chill out from our real-world stressful lives. But more times that not, I find myself logging into Facebook to do something tangible and relevant to my career or passion project, and instead I end up distracted for no good reason (funny kangaroo video for example) or sometimes a VERY good reason (friend announces they have cancer, etc.) Facebook is designed EXACTLY to do that – distract you so you stay on the platform and keep reading, liking, and commenting. That way they can serve you more ads and make more money.

So what’s the solution? Instead of you working for Facebook, make the platform work for you. In my case, I’ve set up this blog and some other external sites so that when I create something, it now gets auto-posted to Facebook and other social platforms like Twitter. Thus I get my content shown to people I care about without the distraction of having to login to the platform. Doing it this way also makes you more visible to search engines and builds your brand online better than if your content was stuck inside the closed walls of Facebook. Set yourself up this way, and then when you’re done, you can reward yourself with 10 minutes of viewing cute pets on your timeline.

Online petitions

Interesting NYT article today on whether online petitions are worth it. I don’t know if it really answered the question, but after reading it leaves me more positive about clicking on the things that rapidly fill my inbox. Better yet, call your legislator directly. That has more weight than an online petition.

Hoping for the Best; Planning for the Worst

What to Do Now If You're a Chicago Public Schools Parent

I’m a parent of two kids in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). It looks dire right now for public schools in Illinois. The governor and legislature seem locked in a Game of Thrones type last man standing battle, with parents and kids caught in the crossfire. With no education budget passed, and CPS on the hook for billions in pension payment obligations, the system is near collapse. Just this week, the CPS CEO, Forrest Claypool, said without a budget, schools will not open in the fall. There’s a lot of chatter in parent circles about moving to the suburbs, or even out of state. That’s not a viable option for many families, including us, so what options are left?

Mind you, I’ve been involved with a group of parents and education activists working tirelessly advocating for new revenue streams from both the city of Chicago and the state to plug the financial hole crater that is Illinois right now. I’d like to hold out hope that all the daily calls, petitions, marches, and visits to legislators’ offices is doing something, but I’m deeply skeptical that politicians, in an election year (is there ever NOT an election year?) will play political games instead of doing what’s in the best interest of average citizens.

So what’s a parent to do? I’ve been thinking about a viable Plan B. One which addresses the scenario that either schools don’t open, or they are open but with deep cuts meaning teacher layoffs, greatly increased class size, and loss of many extra-curricular and elective subjects. In that scenario, would some kind of home-school option be the best way to proceed? Like I said, we aren’t in a position to move, nor switch to a private school. I’ve been mulling the idea of home-schooling off and on for over a year now. Since I’m a stay-at-home parent, the logistics of it would be feasible. I’m aware that for many, home-schooling isn’t a feasible option due to not having the luxury of a caregiver with built-in downtime. I’ve also gotten over the common fears around home-schooling – that it is intimidating for non-teachers, hard to develop a curriculum, fears that kids will fall behind their peers, lack of social interaction, and on and on. I’ve become convinced that children naturally desire to learn things, and that given the freedom to choose their own adventure, will thrive and be successful in the long run just like everyone else. There is even a name you can assign to this mindset: self-directed learning.

What would that look like in practice? Well, I’ve been compiling a list of options including the library, museums, free workshops, Minecraft, coding, and lots of other things dredged up online. Heck, my kids could probably get by on Minecraft and YouTube alone. YouTube, by the way, is the greatest knowledge bank storehouse ever created. Have a question? Someone has probably made a “How To” video answering that question. Or if it’s not on there, it’ll likely be on sites like Quora or Wikipedia.

Now comes the interesting part. Let’s say you either have a work stoppage or the system is flat out too broke to open schools in the fall. That probably means a lot of teachers aren’t getting a paycheck and are looking to supplement their income. What if you put a few of these teachers together armed with some of the tools I just mentioned. Give them a lot of creative leeway unbound from the strictures of bureaucracy, mandatory grades and testing, and see what they could do. Is it scalable? No. Will it be equitable? No. But it might be a tiny model of what an enormously broken, incompetent, fiscally and morally bankrupt system could be if you strip away almost everything and leave behind the pure freedom to learn.

I am putting Plan B into place. What’s your plan?

How Do You Explain the Corporate Assault on Public Education to Friends Who Know Nothing About It?

I received an email from a daily reader of the blog who asked me how she could explain the downside of corporate reform to friends at a dinner party in the suburbs who know nothing at all about the…

Source: How Do You Explain the Corporate Assault on Public Education to Friends Who Know Nothing About It?

CPS releases plans for another year of opt out suppression

“Education authorities should be devoting ever-more scarce resources to support and expand the use of authentic assessments designed and administered by professional educators who know your child and interact with them on a daily basis.

Instead, they are dumping millions of dollars into the coffers of companies like Pearson for unreliable, invalid standardized tests, siphoning money away from the classroom. The IL State Board of Education is requesting more than $47 million for PARCC for FY2017, an increase of almost $18 million (37%) over the previous year.”

More than a Score Chicago

On Friday, February 26th, CPS central office shared documents with principals and assessment coordinators that outlined that they will continue a policy of attempting to suppress parental and student rights of opting out of PARCC.  Copies of these documents are provided below.

CPS instructs principals to ignore parents’ written requests to opt out their children out of testing and to force students to refuse PARCC testing up to seven times—once for each individual unit of the test. (There are seven units for grades 3-5, six for grades 6-9.)

Although the instructions say refusing students may be provided with alternative activities and moved to a non-testing room, it does not explicitly prohibit the use of sit-and-stare.

This policy is in line with the federal and state government’s own policies of using threats and intimidation to bully schools and districts into bullying parents and students.

For accurate information on how…

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Higher Education

Higher Education Is About to be Disrupted Just Like Everything Else

I’m a dad of two public school kids. They’re still in the elementary grades, so I have a few years, but if one learns anything about being a parent, it’s to plan ahead. So I’ve been thinking about their futures. And college. I’ve decided that, like many other industries and sectors, higher education is about to be disrupted (or is it here already) 1 in the ways that buying books, listening to music, finding a place to stay, or getting around town are currently being disrupted. I’m not going to weigh-in on whether these disruptions are necessarily good. But the notion that banking your life savings, or a 2nd mortgage on your home to finance your children’s college education is an idea that deserves to be considered in the same way we once considered paying $4/gallon for gas a reasonable measure of progress.

Yet higher education faces severe problems. It is unaffordable for many, creating a more than $1 trillion mountain of student debt. 2 About half of students graduate. Politics and budget squeezes affect great public institutions such as the University of California at Berkeley and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The above is a quote from a recent New York Times article 3 on soon-to-be former Education Secretary Arne Duncan opining about the current state of higher education. Later in the article, it states that the average student loan borrower leaves with $28,950 in debt. Think about that. You could, in financial terms, think of it as an opportunity cost. And that isn’t even the costs spent to get to graduation. If I, instead, gave my kid a prepaid credit card with a $29K limit upon graduating high school and said, “good luck, kid”, I wonder what his options could be if she used those funds to create/hack/design her own life options.

I’ve been mulling over these things because it happens that there ARE alternative options to college on the horizon. A few years back, the venture capitalist Peter Thiel earned scorn by bankrolling a fund 4 to sponsor kids who decided to opt-out of college entirely, and instead receive $100K each to fund their own business startup. The rationale was that these kids would learn more by doing that than they would receive in a four-year traditional college. The uproar was intense from mainstream educators. I won’t go into detail but I felt it was a worthwhile experiment. Fast forward to today. In Chicago where I live, a new venture called Till School 5 is about to launch that offers high school graduates a 2-year, design-focused, “portfolio” approach to education. The young adults will work closely with professional practitioners on real-world projects, so that when they graduate, they will have real on-the-job skills. And the cost? About $16K per year, or just a little more than that fictional credit card I described earlier.

But what about all the other stuff that you experience at a traditional college? Or what about a two-year school? I went to a four-year school in a large Midwestern state. It was huge. Perhaps being a nameless, faceless student trying to figure out how to navigate a huge school, make friends, live with roommates, learn how to time-manage and schedule, and well, experience life are things that are baked-into the college experience. As is loneliness, isolation, racism, and cultural clashes. I don’t know. I’m sure some folks long for the good old 1800’s, where people struggled to farm out in the wilderness, devoid of electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing. But I’d rather be thankful for modern conveniences. It’s not like those life experiences can’t be duplicated in other settings. This, I think, is the same criticism levelled at online education. Can you make virtual interactions be the same as face-to-face ones? No, but as others have pointed out, we are now at a time when the rise of non-traditional students who need non-traditional approaches has never been greater. Something’s gotta give, and the sooner the better for us as parents.

Maybe, in the end, the purpose of school is to help our kids find their own sense of purpose. To prepare them for a life where they can set, and achieve, their own goals, not grind away to meet the needs of some bureaucrat or college admissions officer. Given decades of damage from our testing and accountability strategy, maybe it’s time to place our bets on a strategy that puts its weight behind engaging and inspiring our kids . . . and teachers. Imagine what our country is capable of if we figure out how to launch millions of purpose-driven kids into society prepared and energized to their world better through their talents, passions, developing skills, and ability to learn. Kids that are, truly, prepared for life.

In conclusion, I wanted to leave you with a broader question: What is the Purpose of School? This is a question posed by venture capitalist and education reformer Ted Dintersmith in a recent Washington Post article 6. The quote and resulting documentary above is his answer, and I encourage you to read the entire article and view the film. Our model of education is on a bubble which is about to burst, and I can’t help but plan for what’s next.