EDUindex Ranks Top Ten Phoenix High Schools

EDUindex releases top ten Phoenix Area High Schools Rankings that reflect curriculum relevancy.

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Phoenix, AZ (PRWEB) October 01, 2014

The Top Ten Phoenix High Schools EDUindex list, reflecting curriculum relevancy, is published. Based upon comprehensive data analysis, EDUindex compares school curriculum to actual up-to-date marketplace needed skills. The top ten in the Phoenix area are ranked as follows:

1.Copper Canyon High School
2. Raymond S Kellis High School
3. Cactus Shadows High School
4. Precision Academy
5. Midtown High School
6. Cavit - Poston Butte High School
7. Cavit - Coolidge High School
8. Leading Edge Academy
9. Betty Fairfax High School
10. Cesar Chavez High School

EDUindex, Inc. is an education company that publishes the EDUindex, a number that represents how a school’s curriculum reflects requisite skills in the marketplace. The company offers accompanying EDUindex Gap Reports showing the detail behind the numerical EDUindex. The company helps schools identify classes that could better offer students an advantage in preparing them for their future.

“We are pleased to provide the Phoenix Schools with helpful information, and congratulate those that have landed in the Top Ten List of the EDUindex Ranking. These schools will be among the first High Schools whose detailed EDUindex Gap Reports are available to further assist them in providing the most relevant education in America,” says Gail Gessert, Ph.D., Founder of EDUindex, Inc.


Wisconsin Schools Show Interest in Alternative Curriculum Assessment Technique

May 23, 2014

by Matt Crumb and Haley Sinklair

In a world where marketplace and occupational demands are constantly changing, some are questioning whether school curriculum is staying relevant for students who hope to one day become valuable in the job market.
A new initiative called EDUindex Inc. is emerging as a tool for Wisconsin schools to gauge how well their curriculum matches local and state workforce needs. The visionary for EDUindex is Dr. Gail Gessert who holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. Dr. Gessert's ultimate goal is to move K-12 education in a meaningful direction so that it encourages appropriate skill development for employment after high school or college.

EDUIndex GAP report.gifInstead of measuring how well a student, teacher, or administration is doing using standardized testing, EDUindex uses statistics about employer demand and school course offerings in a defined area, such as a zip code or city, and determines if they match up. For example, if the city of Milwaukee has a need for engineers, architects, and lawyers, but the curriculum of the local school districts lack relevant course offerings to those professions; the EDUindex score could be lower.

The correlation is expressed as a numerical value between 0 and 1.0 with 1.0 being perfectly relevant to the region's employment market. The index can be calculated across geographical areas such as school districts, zip codes, metropolitan regions, or entire states.
After assigning a numerical value to the curriculum, EDUindex prepares a "GAP" report that is accessible to schools and parents. GAP reports offer perspective to classes already provided, as well as identifying classes that may be needed based on market demand.
A total of 71 schools in the Green Bay, Madison, and Milwaukee area have already participated in the analysis. In January, the company published the Top Ten Milwaukee EDUindex list with Oak Creek High School, Brookfield Central High School, and Kettle Moraine High School holding the highest scores.

EDUindex will soon begin to suggest curriculum solutions for schools to aid in better aligning what gets taught in the classroom to what Wisconsin employers are looking for.

Time will tell if workforce alignment metrics will become prominent in Wisconsin's school districts. As many businesses express concern over lack of an appropriately skilled workforce, alternative measures of educational success may provide a valuable perspective for future debate.

Special Report Highlights Wisconsin Educational Needs

This report from the Special Committee on Improving Educational Opportunities in High School, to focuses opportunities offered to high-schoolers entering a challenging economy. Senator Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) launched the group and served as Vice Chair with Chair Senator Luther Olsen.

Download Report PDF.

Historic fail? Greatest Americans missing from proposed curriculum.


The College Board's Advanced Placement curriculum on U.S. history must include America's greatest icons, like Ben Franklin and Martin Luther king, say critics.

New history curriculum standards proposed for top high school students leave out such American icons as Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King, Jr., paint colonists as bigots and gloss over the Greatest Generation's fight to save the world from Nazi Germany, according to conservative education activists who want the framework delayed — and perhaps scrapped altogether.

An open letter circulated by conservative education activists is calling on The College Board to delay implementing new Advanced Placement U.S. History guidelines, saying a “rising tide of opposition” believes the curriculum will take the nation’s classrooms in a bad direction.

The Aug. 4 letter, which is addressed to David Coleman, president/CEO of the New York-based nonprofit, claims the new 98-page curriculum is a “dramatic departure” from the five-page outline previously used by teachers and students and offers a consistently negative view of Americans as oppressors and exploiters.

“The framework ignores the rise of democratic institutions such as the House of Burgesses and New England town meetings,” the letter reads. “It also omits the colonists’ growing commitment to religious freedom and the emergence of a pluralistic society that lacked an entrenched aristocracy.”

What’s missing from the curriculum, according to a former public school teacher and author of two Advanced Placement prep guides, is mention of John Winthrop and his “city upon a hill” sermon as one of the key early instances of American exceptionalism and references to Roger Williams and the birth of religious toleration.

"What you’re going to find is our nation’s founders portrayed as bigots who developed a belief in white superiority that was, in turn, derived from a strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority."

- Larry Krieger, retired teacher and test preparation expert

“And you’re not going to find Thomas Jefferson and the House of Burgesses and the cradle of democracy either,” said Larry Krieger, who retired in 2005 after more than three decades in the classroom. “And finally, you’re not going to find Benjamin Franklin and the birth of American entrepreneurialism.”

Instead, students exposed to the curriculum — roughly 500,000 annually nationwide, many of whom will take the class as sophomores and juniors — will find a narrative laden with tyranny and subjugation.

“What you’re going to find is our nation’s founders portrayed as bigots who developed a belief in white superiority that was, in turn, derived from a strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority,” Krieger told

Krieger, who specialized in the Advanced Placement U.S. history course during his years as a teacher, most recently in New Jersey, participated in a conference call Monday with other activists seeking to delay implementation of the new curriculum for at least one year.

Jane Robbins, an attorney with the American Principles Project in Washington, also took part in the call. She said ongoing discussions are happening with educational officials in at least seven states to delay the curriculum or block it altogether.

“There are conversations going on with members of several of the state boards,” Robbins said, including Texas, Colorado and North Carolina.

Texas State Board of Education Member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, reportedly asked the board last month to delay the curriculum while state officials determine whether it violates a 2013 law banning the reaching of Common Core standards, a national initiative adopted by 45 states detailing what students from kindergarten through 12th grade should learn upon graduation of each grade level.

Conversations with critics like Krieger and Mercer are ongoing, as The College Board tries to "find solutions" regarding the controversial curriculum, a spokesperson for the organization told

"College Board leaders continue to meet with individuals who have concerns about the redesign to listen, solicit feedback and find solutions," a spokesperson wrote in an email Thursday.

Robbins, meanwhile, said her biggest issue with the curriculum is how it portrays Americans as a thoroughly pugnacious bunch.

“It presents American history as one long story of groups in conflict,” she told “It does not focus on individuals at all. The idea seems to be that the only force in history worth considering is the group identity — and all of these groups are in constant conflict according to this particular narrative.”

Robbins continued: “There’s no understanding of what makes this country great.”

Christy Armbruster, of Elko, Nev., detailed to the Elko Daily Free Press why she thinks the framework should be opposed, saying it curtailed its summary of World War II far too short.

“There is no mention of Hitler, the Holocaust, D-Day or other historic battles,” Armbruster wrote the newspaper. “Neither is there any mention of the heroism and sacrifice made by so many American soldiers, including my grandfather!”



This Isn't Your Dad's Vocational School

Auto shop is gone. The latest approach to career-oriented education looks a lot like academics.

Latina style: Dalton High’s homecoming queen, Andrea Garcia, and Principal Steve Bartoo.(Courtesy of Dalton High School/Doug Smith)

December 16, 2013

What used to be Dalton High School's wood shop is now free of dust. Instead, it's filled with welding stations, a 3-D printer, and a computer-controlled plasma cutter. Students work with the engineering students across the hall on robotics projects, building their knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Seventy-four percent of Dalton High's students are enrolled in career, technical, and agricultural courses. But this isn't your father's vocational ed. Here, training for particular careers is considered part of a well-rounded college-preparatory education. "It's not an either/or with us," said Principal Steve Bartoo.

Dalton, Ga., a city of just over 33,000 in the Appalachian foothills, calls itself the Carpet Capital of the World. (Northwest Georgia produces 90 percent of the carpet made in the United States.) It's also home to a fast-growing Latino community. Latinos comprise 48 percent of Dalton's population—although only 9 percent statewide—and 70 percent of the students at Dalton High.

The community is still struggling to emerge from the recession; about 70 percent of the school's 1,640 students qualify for federally subsidized lunches. But despite changing demographics, falling incomes, and declining state funding, Dalton High's students are graduating at higher rates than ever. By combining a rigorous approach to career and technical education, known as CTE, with high academic expectations, the school has lifted its graduation rate from 56 percent to 92 percent over the past decade. Almost 70 percent of the class of 2011 enrolled in college within two years of finishing high school.

Starting this year, all ninth-graders in Georgia will be required to follow a career- or academic-focused "pathway"—in agribusiness, say, or finance—to graduate from high school. In Dalton, educators know that industry-focused courses can help teens thrive—but only when such courses aren't considered a separate track. The lines between electives, college-preparatory work, and career exploration are blurring. Schools that take this seriously can use career courses to elevate every student's education, rather than to warehouse the students lagging behind.


Vocational education has been controversial since early-20th-century reformers proposed a divided system of public education—college-preparatory work for some, technical training for others. Critics worried that such a system would track poor, minority, and immigrant children into working-class jobs, restricting their access to higher education and limiting their social mobility.

We're starting to see a resolution to the century-old debate over tracking, said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. He described "the melding of the two curriculum types, so that in theory, CTE programs don't stop you from going to Harvard."

The 21st century's information economy demands a new style of career training that helps prepare students for further education rather than diverts them from it, and teaches creative thinking and problem-solving rather than how to perform rote tasks. Think about CTE not only as training relevant to a career but as a way to help students acquire academic skills and think critically in a different way.

Two forces are moving CTE in an intellectually demanding direction. The first is political. Since the 1980s, policymakers have pushed schools to raise test scores and improve academic preparation. In 2006, Congress required schools to offer at least one sequence of career-oriented courses encompassing secondary and postsecondary education to be eligible for any of the $1.14 billion available in federal aid.

The second force is economic. The skilled trades have become more, well, skilled, and employers are demanding advanced credentials. By 2020, Carnevale and his colleagues predict, 65 percent of jobs will require postsecondary training. In many fast-growing fields, such as health care, entry-level workers must return to school to move up. If you're a certified nursing assistant at a hospital, you can't just work your way up to become a registered nurse.

Low-skilled, low-paid jobs in retail and food services are also expected to grow over the next decade. But it has become almost impossible for people with a high school education or less to find the sort of jobs that can support a family, let alone move them into the middle class or beyond.

With college costs rising, credentials that deliver a good return on investment are in demand. Holders of a technical associate's degree can command better salaries their first year out of school—in Texas, $11,000 higher—than graduates with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts, according to Mark Schneider, vice president at the American Institutes for Research, a Washington think tank. Those holding college degrees with a technical bent, whether from a two- or four-year school, fare best. The highest paid in every state: graduates in engineering.

Today, about 85 percent of public high school students complete at least one CTE class, and the demographics of participants mirror almost exactly the general high school population, according to the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium. Of the 16 "career clusters" the consortium has defined, the most popular include health science, information technology, and business and administration.

Even at elite colleges, the concept of career preparation—rather than immersion in pure academic study—is gaining ground. At the private liberal-arts colleges ranked highest by U.S. News & World Report, the number of graduates in vocational majors—think education or nursing, rather than English or biology—increased from less than 11 percent in 1987 to 29 percent in 2012, Victor E. Ferrall Jr., a former president of Beloit College, wrote last year in the Pacific Standard.


Years ago, when Debbie Freeman was an eighth-grade teacher in Dalton, Latino students were treated differently than their white peers. Many of the Latino children were not native English speakers, and, for that reason, fell behind academically. Almost reflexively, Latinos were placed in remedial classes when they entered high school. They weren't expected to catch up.

When Freeman became Dalton High's principal in 2006, she helped the school adjust to a student body that was majority Latino. "It doesn't matter, the ethnicity," Freeman says now. What matters is poverty at home, "the kinds of opportunities the kids do and do not have."

The city hired the Southern Regional Education Board to help overhaul the curriculum. Dalton High eliminated all low-level courses and added more Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes. The school helped students get tutoring and increased the number of field trips, exposing the teens to more learning experiences.

Existing CTE programs were aligned to certifications by industry, which made them tougher and gave students a foundation for postsecondary study, and new programs were added that reflected the needs of nearby labor markets. Auto shop was eliminated. Home economics became "culinary arts." Classes were introduced in graphic arts and video production, and the school started offering a science, technology, engineering, and math curriculum designed by Project Lead the Way, a national nonprofit. All CTE courses emphasize entrepreneurship and marketing, to show students they can turn whatever they're learning into a small business.

Raising the bar for students pushed teachers to do more. Teachers started to meet in small groups to share best practices. Many made more time to mentor students. While Dalton High continues to enroll recent immigrants with only a grade-school education, the combination of higher expectations and extra support has still narrowed the achievement gap.

All on a shrinking budget. While state grants help to pay for new CTE programs, state education funding has dropped an average of 15 percent per student since 2002, according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. Dalton's local per-student spending has slipped by 11 percent—its tax revenue by 21 percent.

Dalton-area manufacturers have stepped in as advisers to local schools and community colleges, to help match the schools' curricula with employers' needs. "In general, in our company, almost every job has to have a higher skill level than it used to," said Brian Cooksey, director of operations training and development at Shaw Industries. The carpet and flooring maker is looking for workers who can fix and reprogram machines that control automated factory floors. That means finding electricians who also understand computer programming and industrial systems.


Education in Georgia is in rough shape. Last year, the high school graduation rate was just 70 percent. Social mobility, scholars say, is one of the lowest for any state in the country. Fifty-seven percent of public-school students are poor, and improving their prospects for education and employment is deemed critical to the state's economic future.

Georgia's "career pathways" initiative is something of a turnaround strategy for all of the state's public schools. State Superintendent John Barge says the goal is to ensure that students leave high school prepared for what comes next, whether that's a job, a two-year college, or a four-year degree. "I'm convinced that in K-through-12 education, we could do a much better job helping to prepare children for their next step," he said in an interview.

Career education in Georgia's public schools now begins in kindergarten. This year, all high school students must pursue a chosen pathway, with its sequence of three courses in a particular discipline. A student who chooses the "agribusiness system" pathway, for example, might take classes in basic agricultural science, then in agricultural management, followed by agricultural marketing. A student in the "world languages" pathway might take three additional classes in French.

Georgia's Legislature approved the plan in 2011, and the state education department has worked with colleges and industry leaders to define 17 career clusters—and multiple pathways for each—that matter most to Georgia's economy. School districts choose which pathways to offer or suggest their own, with the expectation that they'll consider local needs. Not every school offers every pathway, particularly in rural districts. To ensure access to a range of courses, the state is developing online classes, and some districts are working with nearby technical colleges to let high schoolers take courses on campus.

For a pathways approach to serve students well, educators and policymakers must think of career exploration and vocational training not as a substitute for college preparation but as a supplement. And they must keep in mind that a student's path after high school doesn't always unfold as planned.

Yet a strong high school can't compensate for a weak economy, particularly in Dalton, where the unemployment rate remains around 10 percent. Not long ago, Principal Bartoo saw a recent Dalton High graduate at a football game. The student was well qualified for college but was working full time as a creeler, maintaining the yarn supply for a local factory's carpet-making machine. "This is a kid who would probably do very well at a higher-skilled type of job, but they're not there," Bartoo said.

That's why Dalton High is pushing students to think like entrepreneurs. Its graduates are the future of the local economy. Rather than waiting for existing employers to start hiring, they'll need the skills to build the jobs of the future for themselves.

This article appears in the December 7, 2013, edition of National Journal Magazine as Not Your Dad’s Voc Ed.



Petitioning The FL State Senate Florida State Board of Education:

Please help us make computer science satisfy existing high school graduation requirements for math or science.

Joanne Barrett
Petition by
Joanne Barrett
Sarasota, FL

Computer science develops students’ computational and critical thinking skills and teaches them how to create—not just use—new technologies. This fundamental knowledge is needed to prepare students for the 21st century, regardless of their ultimate field of study or occupation. Computer science courses should count toward math or science entrance requirements for higher education.

Read more and sign the petition.



Alan's Monday Morning Memo's mission is to help readers to thrive.

This week's focus point: Over 800,000 students came to the U.S. from abroad to study in 2012-2013 (AP). That's a record high. About a quarter were from China. The late Peter Drucker once wrote that if we counted "knowledge export," including such students (who usually pay full tuition, plus other residential expenses), and management advice delivered globally, the balance of trade would look completely different.

The potential for future strife, in my view, involves maximizing acquisition and application of knowledge. We will see both institutionally (nations, businesses, enterprises) and individually a chasm grow between those who can readily use knowledge and those who cannot. That strife will be both internecine and international.

We need to stop teaching people irrelevant content which can be acquired in seconds when needed, and start teaching them how to learn, so that knowledge acquisition is natural and lifelong.

Flipped Out

 In the Digital Age, learning is no longer fundamental—at least as it was defined by the old school. Now, some basics of education are being rethought, and the meaning of “homeroom” has changed forever.

By Jennifer Miller

Illustration by Orlin Culture Shop

In September 2010, Marc Seigel, a chemistry teacher at Middletown High School South, in a middle-class enclave of northern New Jersey, thought he’d found a way to engage students who’d rather text under their desks than pay attention to him. In a publication from the National Science Teachers Association, Seigel read about the so-called flipped classroom, a forward-thinking educational model that inverts the norm: What would customarily be defined as homework (problem sets, essay writing, etc.) is done by students during class hours, with a teacher’s supervision and hands-on input; and what was once the core of the classroom experience (teacher lectures, delineated lesson plans) is now absorbed at home via video tutorials.

After teaching in the traditional way for 10 years, Seigel had grown bored. The 35-year-old is short, stocky, and balding, but far less nebbishy than he appears. In front of a group of kids, he’s a fast-talking fireball, not unlike the famously motormouthed Micro Machines pitchman from the ’80s; he’s even got the guy’s mustache.

Of course, Seigel’s students wouldn’t get the reference. Their generation grew up playing multimedia digital games. So Seigel got hold of screencasting software called Camtasia Studio and turned each of his lessons into a video podcast that incorporated his voice-over, graphics, some basic animation, and a calculator that solved sample problems in real time. Then he uploaded the videos to YouTube and iTunes and instructed his students to study them each night.

The kids loved the novelty of plugging in for their at-home work. They appreciated the flexibility of stopping and/or rewinding the lesson at any point. 

Meanwhile, in the classroom, Seigel was free to give his students significantly more personal attention. “In the past, I couldn’t get to every kid, so the quiet ones slipped through the cracks,” he says. “Now I was moving around the room like a hummingbird, checking students’ work on the spot. It made for a more meaningful interaction because immediately I could make them aware of what they were doing right and wrong.”

But the enthusiasm lasted only a few weeks. It’s true that Seigel was spending more time with individual students, but he wasn’t sufficiently challenging them. “I got bored real fast, and my kids started to slack off,” he says. He’d run into a common problem for first-time flippers: the mistaken belief that technology is a silver bullet.

Justin Reich is a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and the founder of EdTechTeacher, a professional development consultancy that trains teachers to use tech effectively. The goal of flipping a classroom, he says, is not to bend education to the digital proclivities of kids, but to maximize student-teacher interaction during the most demanding lessons. “It’s about how we use our time more than how we use our technology,” Reich says.

Educators like Reich, who advocate for tech in the classroom, say that the first step in rethinking how we teach should be a renewed examination of how kids learn. Before we fall down the techno–rabbit hole and demand tablets in every classroom, we need to seriously reconsider, for example, whether teaching content, as opposed to cognitive skills, can adequately prepare our children for 21st-century professions. In other words, our nation’s educational mindset—one that traditionally uses fact-regurgitation as a marker of success—desperately requires a reboot. 

“Before, you could say to a kid, ‘You can be a lawyer or a doctor.’ The kinds of jobs available were finite,” explains Seigel. “This isn’t true anymore. Rapid technological development means that many students”—as opposed to seasoned professionals—“will be at the forefront of innovation in their fields.” He finds the current state of public-school education distressing. “Kids see the world changing, but the school doesn’t change,” he says.

Many teachers want to emphasize independent thinking, but primary-school curriculums are still largely geared toward “teaching to the test.” According to Dr. Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA and author of iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, this model is long out-of-date. As a society, he says, “we’re no longer memorizers but gatherers.”

Of course, students still need to learn the basics of math, reading, and science, but people at the helm of the flipping movement believe there’s so much more to education. “We need to create kids who are adaptable and who, when faced with a new problem, can solve it with whatever resources they have,” says Jon Bergmann, who helped pioneer the flipped classroom model and co-authored the book Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student, in Every Class, Every Day

Marc Seigel has become a disciple of Bergmann and his co-author, Aaron Sams. He calls their book his bible. “I carry it with me everywhere I go,” he says proudly. But he is just one of two teachers at Middletown South who have experimented with the flipped model. He fought to get his school’s cellphone ban overturned and requested that each student’s academic career be catalogued through Google Apps. Largely due to Seigel’s advocacy, every student in his school district—even kindergartners—now gets a Google account in which to store their work and let parents and teachers follow their progress.

Seigel is not modest about his accomplishments; he boasts that he is the only teacher at his school who has drastically rethought his pedagogical approach. But beyond flipping the home/schoolwork equation, what exactly is this new modus operandi that Bergmann and his followers espouse? Haven’t we always aspired to make our students adaptable, resourceful problem solvers? What’s so revolutionary about that? 

In the flipped philosophy, “problem solving” carries expansive new meaning. And to begin to understand it, it’s important to know some basics about how the brain learns, and about how our minds absorb, retain, process, and apply information. 

Lesson #1: The Brain Likes New Stuff

In part, Seigel decided to flip his classroom because his students weren’t paying close enough attention in school. “Our brains become accustomed to a certain level of stimulation,” says neuroscientist Small. “If [media- and technology-immersed] kids are multitasking and stimulated in a certain way outside of school, it’s hard for traditional learning models to compete.” 

Lesson #2: Use It or Lose It

The more crunches we do, the stronger our abs get, but once we quit doing them our muscles atrophy. The brain is similar. “If you spend a lot of time with a particular mental experience,” Small says, “the neurocircuits that control the experience will strengthen. But if you don’t continue to exercise those circuits, they become rusty.” 

Dr. Judy Willis, a neurologist and adjunct professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has also taught elementary and middle school, says that knowledge learned via memorization is particularly susceptible to the “use it or lose it” phenomenon. “The brain’s procedural memory will only be activated in the way that memory was first learned,” she says. Translation: We learn to play a musical instrument, speak a language, or sail a boat by actively practicing these skills. In contrast, students who absorb information specifically for a test can usually only recall that information for the test. 

The trick, Willis says, is to “connect students’ memory of a lesson to another set of circuits that get activated more frequently.” Say you’re teaching the Pythagorean theorem. Willis would instruct students to walk around their bedrooms and snap pictures of right angles. In class, they’d use these images, along with their textbooks, to solve for the hypotenuse. Then, every time the kids see the objects they photographed—or even similar objects—outside the classroom, their brains will recall the Pythagorean theorem.

Lesson #3: The Brain Gets High On Participation

The previous learning experiment works because it’s fun. And when we experience pleasure, our brains release a neurotransmitter called dopamine. “The brain is a dopamine junkie,” says Willis. “It wants to remember things that release it.” She says that active participation (for example, photographing those right angles) is by far the best way to encourage this.

When students aren’t actively engaged, they’re more likely to tune out. That’s the problem with lecture-based teaching. It doesn’t matter whether students are watching a lecture in person or via video. Which is why Seigel’s first attempt at flipping his classroom failed. “Watching video is a passive experience,” Small says. Instead, teachers should compel students to make decisions throughout every lesson. “That’s what activates the neurons,” he says. 

Willis thinks video games are addictive precisely because they force players into an active state of decision making, thereby fueling the constant release of dopamine. But making predictions—the phrase Willis uses to describe the strategic-thinking process—isn’t just about chemical release. It encourages students to think about “what they can do with the information they’re presented and how they can use it beyond their school years,” she says.

Lesson #4: The Brain Needs Feedback

“For the dopamine reward system to work, feedback needs to be immediate,” Willis says. In a video game you know right away if you’ve succeeded in beating a level. But even if you fail, you’ve come closer to understanding why. Conversely, students in traditional classroom settings often have to wait a day or two to receive feedback on their homework, and even longer on their tests. If, early on, they get stuck on a problem, they might never finish the assignment. 

Willis also talks about the importance of an “achievable challenge.” ost effective video games are subtly designed to reinforce a player’s confidence; they encourage you to play until you finally succeed. This is why Seigel allows his students to retake tests and why he emphasizes interactive labs over problem sets. It’s his adaptation of the achievable challenge model, and a sharp departure from traditional learning, which some say is homogenous in a way that undermines growth. “Some children are not challenged because they’ve already mastered the knowledge. Others are disengaged because they’ve failed previously in the subject and do not believe they can succeed,” Willis says. 

Consequences are becoming particularly dire for the latter type of student. 

Over the past three years, Seigel has studied the neuroscience of learning and come to the same conclusions as Small and Willis. He believes that having his students learn through “a kinesthetic approach”—active participation, hands-on projects, etc.—is a better way to reach more students. 

On a Friday morning in January, he has prepared a chemistry lab for his college-prep students. It instructs them to, first, measure the number of molecules in a piece of chalk; then, to draw a picture with it; and, finally, to remeasure the chalk’s molecules and calculate the difference. 

Simple enough, but there’s a problem. Only one of Seigel’s 15 students has actually done the homework: watching the video podcast he had made explaining the equation.

“Guys!” Seigel groans. “Seriously?” His frustration is remarkably good-humored. Shaking his head as though to say, Kids these days!, he waves them off to work. 

In pairs, the students weigh the colored chalk and draw pictures on their lab tables—not in notebooks sitting on the tables, but on the tables themselves. This is standard practice for Seigel’s class, which is mostly paperless. The kids routinely use dry-erase markers and white boards—or, again, the tables—to record their calculations. They then photograph the work with their smartphones and upload the images to their folders in Google Drive. This helps them organize their work and allows Seigel to check it anytime and anywhere. 

During the molecule lab, the teacher roams the room, observing. Flowers, abstract shapes, a cityscape, and something approximating the Death Star from Star Wars appear on the black tabletops. He lingers with a group of shaggy-haired boys, one of whom is listening to music piped through a single earbud. Music is kosher during labs, as long as one of the student’s ears is cocked to Seigel’s instructions.

“Take it seriously!” he intones. “These drawings should be tweet-worthy.” Indeed, a few kids post them to Twitter with the hashtag #chemisawesome. 

In other classes, teachers might deem the drawing assignment a waste of time, but Seigel designs his labs to tap into the varied abilities of his students. “The activity covers visual, spatial, interpersonal, and mathematical skills,” he says about the molecule lab. “Plus, worksheets are boring, and drawing with chalk is fun.”

To complete the second phase of the assignment, the students have to digest the video lesson they’d neglected to watch the night before. They do this at their own pace—some before they’ve started their drawings, some after. Notably, they don’t look to Seigel for direction. Most of the kids huddle around desks—which their teacher has grouped in pods instead of rows—and watch on a laptop. Two girls pull out low-slung mesh chairs, the kind you’d expect to see in a teenager’s bedroom, and watch on a smartphone held between them, listening through one earbud apiece. 

“I want them to see the classroom as a collaborative environment,” Seigel says. Not unlike the kind they’ll encounter in the workplace. During the lab, he points to a chart on the wall outlining appropriate classroom usage for personal devices: yes to tweeting classwork or looking up questions on Google, no to checking Facebook. 

“They have a responsibility of policing themselves and policing each other. We’re seven weeks into the class, and I’ve told zero kids to put their phones away,” Seigel says with more than a hint of satisfaction. 

“This is my child now,” says Sammy, 17, gesturing to her new iPhone 5. “I get separation anxiety. I feel like I have my whole life on my phone.” She knows Seigel has given her a lot of responsibility, and she embraces it. He has instilled in his students a sense of ownership in the class. “It’s about trust,” Sammy says.

“Last year in bio, I was constantly reading through books, making notes, and memorizing,” says Matt, 16, who takes Seigel’s honors chemistry course. “In this class you learn a set of skills, and you apply them.”

Importantly, Seigel doesn’t mandate specific due dates for each assignment; he gives students suggested guidelines (which most of them follow) and a final date by which all work in the unit must be turned in. At first, kids had trouble with so much freedom.

“I’m a really big procrastinator,” Sammy says, admitting that when she first encountered Seigel’s flipped style she was always rushing to catch up at the end of the unit. But once she learned to pace herself, the freedom lowered her stress level. Sammy, like most of her peers, has a full extracurricular schedule in addition to schoolwork. “Doing the work on my own time means I can schedule around conflicts,” she says. The experience has helped her to manage her time better in other classes, too. “It’s a lot of responsibility, but that helps you mature.” 

Three years into this experiment, Seigel is still adapting and revising. “School is designed around a kid who wants rules and formulas,” he admits. “You can’t just say, ‘Here’s everything you need to do. See you in three weeks.’ You need to provide [revolving] deadlines and check-ins. This is a lotmore work.” 

It’s unclear how many teachers in America have introduced 21st-century tech into their curricula or flipped their classrooms, but both are becoming more pervasive. Currently, there are 8 million or so iPads in classrooms across the country, with 3.5 million of those purchased in the last year. Justin Reich, at Harvard, speculates that 2012 was the first time Khan Academy, a nonprofit that offers thousands of free instructional videos on a wide variety of subjects, was widely used for summer homework.

But not everyone believes that students need more technology in their lives. No long-term studies exist on the impact of digital multitasking on kids’ attention spans, but a recent Pew Research Center survey of more than 2,000 middle school and high school teachers found that 87 percent of them agreed with the assertion that “today’s digital technologies are creating an easily distracted generation.” Sixty-four percent agreed that “today’s digital technologies do more to distract students than to help them academically.” Other concerns that teachers attributed to digital “overexposure” included weak time-management skills, a tendency toward procrastination, and the troublesome certitude that tasks can be finished “quickly and at the last minute.” 

Dr. Small, at UCLA, also wonders how this profligate screen time will affect students’ abilities to communicate face-to-face. “They don’t look you in the eye. They don’t notice verbal cues. Their uni-tasking and empathy skills [are underdeveloped],” he says. Done right, the flipped model addresses all of these problem areas and works to enhance things like teamwork and personalized teacher-student interaction. 

With software like Explain Everything, Snagit, Evernote, even iMovie, students can turn assignments and long-term projects into multimedia triumphs. They can receive faster and more direct feedback from their teachers. And they can share and discuss work with their peers more easily. A new digital platform developed at Harvard called Learning Catalytics helps teachers initiate dialogue between students with different points of view. Teachers pose a question to the class, receive their written responses in real time, and then pair up students who can challenge and engage each other.

“Education should give kids the ability to express who they are,” says Seigel. “These new technologies let them do that.”

In a way, this emphasis on self-expression is about the democratization of education, something the Internet has helped make possible. Take the new trend of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. Many of these classes let students take free, online courses from major universities. Some of the programs offer certificates. And some, including a new initiative just launched by 40 state schools, will count toward college credit. Theoretically, you could earn a degree for the price of your cable bill.

But this Internet accessibility should not be taken for granted. Some of the country’s top schools, including Stuyvesant High School in New York City, have slow, unreliable connections. Marc Seigel’s classroom only has a handful of laptops, most of them antiquated, and he is constantly sharing them with other teachers. On a national scale, roughly half of our high school students don’t own a smartphone. And many kids still don’t have high-speed connectivity at home. The flipped model is impossible without reliable access to the Net.

Financial challenges aside, it also requires tremendous commitment, flexibility, and time to integrate new technologies and teaching practices into classrooms. Seigel finds it hard enough to provide personalized attention to a class of 15 students. But many schools have classes with 30 or more kids. Seigel is similarly lucky to have been supported by his school. He’s brash enough—and successful enough—to feel comfortable challenging the system. Many teachers aren’t. 

Still, the proponents of flipped learning will tell you that educators owe it to their students to find creative solutions to these obstacles. “If a kid can Google the questions on your test and get the answers, is that a valid measurement of learning? No,” Seigel says. “It’s a measurement of ‘I can Google something.’ Why does education have to change? Because teachers”—not smartphones—“once were, and should continue to be, the source of learning.”

But if a vast universe of information is readily available in cyberspace, what use is today’s teacher to students? 

Seigel wastes no time in answering. “To teach them,” he says, “to think.”

Jennifer Miller is a New York–based journalist and author. Her debut novel is The Year of the Gadfly.


Some Wis. students taking specialized curricula are more likely to go to college

Students in Milwaukee Public Schools who enrolled in specialized curricula, such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, were more likely to enroll in college than their peers who did not, according to a report released Thursday. Officials say results of the study, by the Public Policy Forum, also show that typical achievement gaps tied to students' socioeconomic status also appear to narrow among students enrolled in such specialized programs.  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (tiered subscription model) (7/25/2013)


Pipe dream: Skip college, become a plumber, NYC Mayor Bloomberg says

Published May 19, 2013

The heck with Harvard, says New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Most high school grads should learn a trade  . . .  like plumbing.

Bloomberg -- he of the no-oversized sodas -- is now reportedly dispensing career advice via his weekly radio show.

 “The people who are going to have the biggest problem are college graduates who aren’t rocket scientists, if you will, not at the top of their class,” Bloomberg said Friday, according to the New York Daily News.

“Compare a plumber to going to Harvard College — being a plumber, actually for the average person, probably would be a better deal,” he reportedly said. “You don’t spend ... four years spending $40,000, $50,000 in tuition without earning income.”

“Success in college and careers requires good writing and critical thinking skills as well as good math and science skills."

- Mayor Bloomberg, in his last State of the City address

Bloomberg made the remark in response to a question on his weekly radio show appearance, according to a spokesman contacted by, although a transcript of the remarks was not immediately available.

The mayor added that another benefit to learning a trade, like plumbing, is that it’s hard to outsource, or computerize.

 “It’s hard to farm that out,” he reportedly said, “and it’s hard to automate that.”

The mayor seemed to bookend those remarks the following day with an address to the graduating class of Ohio’s Kenyon College.

“I know that today’s job market is not easy,” he reportedly told those assembled for his address speech, “, if I interview a recent college grad who tells me he or she spent the summer curing cancer, bringing peace to the Middle East, and writing the Great American Novel – I’m impressed.

“But I’m more likely to hire the person who spent his or her summer working days, nights, and weekends for an auto-body shop or a construction company in order to pay tuition or help with family bills.”

In his final State of the City address, delivered in February, Bloomberg remarked:  “Success in college and careers requires good writing and critical thinking skills as well as good math and science skills. Unfortunately, the State has never tested for them. I’ve supported basing standards on those skills for many years and I’m glad to say that the State has now done that, by adopting what’s known as the Common Core standards. Starting this spring, State exams for grades 3-8 will test for these critical skills.”

In April, The New York Times reported that Bloomberg announced that 78 new schools would open in New York City during the coming academic year, seven of which would be vocational or technical schools. 

Read more:

Officials: Most NYC High School Grads Need Remedial Help Before Entering CUNY Community Colleges

Basic Skills Like Reading, Writing And Math Need To Be Re-Learned

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It’s an education bombshell.

Nearly 80 percent of New York City graduates need to relearn basic skills before they can enter the City University’s community college system.

The number of kids behind the 8-ball is the highest in years, CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer reported Thursday.

When they graduated from city high schools, students in a special remedial program at the Borough of Manhattan Community College couldn’t make the grade. They had to re-learn basic skills — reading, writing and math — first before they could begin college courses. They are part of a disturbing statistic.

Officials told CBS 2′s Kramer that nearly 80 percent of those who graduate from city high schools arrived at City University’s community college system without having mastered the skills to do college-level work.

In sheer numbers it means that nearly 11,000 kids who got diplomas from city high schools needed remedial courses to re-learn the basics.


Scott Walker seeks $100 million for job training, data tracking

Madison - To respond to global competition and an aging workforce, Gov. Scott Walker wants to invest nearly $100 million to build a faster system to track jobs data, tie technical school and university funding to filling high-demand professions and require nearly 76,000 people to train for work to collect food stamps.


Republican National Convention

Jeb Bush remarks on education at the 2012 RNC.

Fast forward to 1:53 for to see Mr. Bush's comments.

PBS Newshour

Condoleezza Rice: Education Could Be 'Greatest National Security Challenge

Education Reform Gets Cool

Naomi Schaefer Riley writes in the New York Post about how education reform is no longer the domain of nerdy conservatives or outraged libertarians. Teachers’ unions have begun “looking like dinosaurs,” to everyone. After all, “hip urbanites don’t need to read Cato Institute white papers to find out how bad unions have made things.”

Hollywood is even getting into the education reform. Riley writes:

Maggie Gyllenhaal, the ultimate hipster actress, stars in “Won’t Back Down,” an education-reform drama that hits theaters next month. When did school choice became cool?

The film is the tale of two parents (one a teacher) who decide to save their own kids and many others by taking over a failing school in a poor Pittsburgh neighborhood.

This follows “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” the 2010 documentary that depicted the fortunes of those desperately competing for a place at a charter school — from the same progressive filmmaker who gave us “An Inconvenient Truth.

In fact, a whole lot of 20- and 30-somethings across the political spectrum now believe something’s seriously flawed in our public-education system.


In conjunction with the film, Wal-Mart and Walden Media are putting on a concert benefiting teachers airing on CBS next Friday with artists like Garth Brooks, Dierks Bentley, Fun, and Carrie Underwood. Every day, Walden is awarding a different teacher with a $500 Wal-Mart gift card to help cover the out-of-pocket expenses every teacher eventually ends up incurring. (Have a favorite teacher? Nominate here.) Tweet a shout out to your favorite teacher, using the hashtag #TeachersRock, and your tweet will appear on a huge billboard in Times Square.

That’s not your mother’s school reform.

It makes me a little nervous to tweet the name of my favorite teachers, however. Twitter-acceptable abbreviations and misspellings won’t fly with my favorite 5th grade English teacher, Mrs. Frazier, or my 6th grade English teacher, Mrs. Elliott.

To be safe, I think I might just nominate a math teacher.