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Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Marina Ratner, Making Math Education Even Worse, which contained quite a few misconceptions about the Common Core and specifically about the Common Core Math Standards. Here is my attempt to shed light on what’s good and bad about the standards and their implementation. The Common Core Math Standards were adapted from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommendations, and these were created over a period of many years by teachers. There has been general agreement among math teachers along these standards, and there were some adjustments as the standards were folded into the Common Core. The movement for Common Core standards was originally put forth by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Secretary Duncan and President Obama then gave it their support. The movement was thus not top down, nor bottom up, but more middle (state) to top (federal) to bottom (district and school). The standards are not set up primarily for students who are vying for admission at elite universities. The standards were set so that high school graduates are capable of doing math work that is required in Community Colleges. Currently, about 75% of high school graduates are not able to do math at this level, even if they meet state standards for math. Most of the old state standards were detailed curriculum maps. The new standards are learning standards. There is no one prescribed method for teaching; educators are given more discretion. When a teacher, school, or district claims that they have to teach a certain way because of the standards, it’s not true; the standards do not dictate teaching methods. Not only are the standards generally more rigorous than state standards, there is a realignment of what is taught in each grade. A rule of thumb is that about 40% of the material overlaps existing standards for a grade, 30% of the standards moves material from a higher grade to a lower one (like what was formerly taught in 7th grade might now be taught in 5th), 15% moves material from a lower grade into a higher one, and 15% is new material that was not taught before (for example, many states never taught statistics, but statistics is now part of the standards). These are not definitive; they will vary for each state and for each grade. Another adjustment is that the standards attempt to measure thinking, not just knowledge. In the old standards, a student merely got the answer right or wrong. On the new ones, students show their thinking process so that they can get credit for knowing what to do even if they make stupid errors. Because there are...

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What can you learn when over 14,000 education technologists descend on one convention? From hundreds of conversations over three days, we observed the following megatrends: For the first time in six years, education budgets are not contracting, and education buyers are actively looking for where they should spend their money for the greatest learning impact. The tide of digital content is rising, while the tide for printed textbooks is moving out. State deals for platform companies like Copia are accelerating this trend. Assessment is critical, especially assessment that is built into activities for students that provide students and teachers feedback about competencies and skill and knowledge gaps. A soon to be released report from the SIIA will show how assessment is growing while test prep is contracting. The maker movement portends a move toward doing as learning, creating robots, digital storytelling, building electronics, 3D printing, game creation, and service learning projects While in past years, tech administrators were focused on technology, growing numbers of tech administrators are realizing that their jobs are about technology enhancing learning. Creating relationships is the killer app for education. They talked about wanting to produce a generation of learners, not learned, and that to do that with our students we all need to model the skills we want our students to acquire. And technology administrators are acknowledging that their job is to build a learning culture. The most effective ones embrace this challenge, and lead change by sharing decisionmaking, building up others by giving them challenging tasks and holding them accountable, and making sure the right people are on the team; technology will not replace teachers, but those who use technology will replace those who don’t. The SIIA hosted an informative breakfast where education buyers told software and content publisher that while there are thousands upon thousands of great apps, schools know that free and low cast apps have hidden costs, which make school administrators wary of widespread adoption. They take up space, they don’t share data with other enterprise systems, and they take up management time. What happens when a teacher bases a week’s curriculum on an app and that app stops working, disappears, or changes to a paid app? While free is popular with teachers, administrators don’t want to sell kids eyeballs just to get a free app. As usual, the exhibit floor was HUGE, and seemed dominated by 2-3 story booths of companies with plenty of money. But also as usual, many of the real innovation were seen in the small booths that were tucked away. We were especially impressed with the startup Buncee, The Global Oneness Project, and Project Foundry....

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Notes from the SIIA NYC Roundtable June 2014 Yesterday, Robin Warner of DeSilva and Philips moderated a great discussion on raising funds for your education business or idea with Andy Kaplan, Don Burton, Matt Hanson, and Jonathan Harber, all people with money, or representing people with money, looking for places to invest it. Is there good or bad money? Take the money when it’s available; when the spigot turns off, it gets really ugly real fast; and when it’s off, the risk strategy of investors is just don’t invest. All investment money, though, is bad money. Don’t raise money, go out and sell something. Find a customer first. Get your prototype or demo done first. Conserve cash. Get something done cheaply and get customers. If your biggest problem is that you have too much sales to be able to fund, you won’t have any trouble getting funds to expand. The money you take is the most expensive thing you will ever do, and not just in terms of money, but also in vision and management. When we invest, we impose our vision and style on the company. How do you start looking for money? What’s your stage? Are you pre-revenue? Under $1M? Between $1m and $5M? A venture investor may need to invest $200M in two or three years; they don’t want to have to find 100 deals. You need to match the investment you are looking for with the type of investor who invests in that type of deal or you will be wasting a lot of time. The best money is from customers; get revenue. Here is a quick guide: Build something cheaply Show it to a bunch of people Put together a diverse team with different talents Go to meetups and meet accelerators Get fluent in the language that educational investors speak You have to show that you have the people, product, potential, and a path to predictable cash flow. And remember, early stage investors are looking for a 25% annual return on their money; show how you can deliver that. And you have to solve a pain point that people care enough about to spend money on. What keeps you up at night? We want to know that the management team is getting in front of customers and finding what their customers want, and that the customers are coming back. With the pace of technological change, and knowing that a couple of college kids can invent a technology that can put an established company out of business in a few months, we want to know how tight the customer relationship is. At some point, we...

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This week featured two interesting announcements regarding corporations and postsecondary education. Starbucks and Arizona State University announced a program where Starbucks will help their employees take courses and acquire degrees through ASU online classes: http://www.azcentral.com/story/laurie-roberts/2014/06/16/starbucks-asu-partnership/10593727/ AT&T and Udacity announced a partnership around a form of microcredentialing that they are calling nanodegrees: http://venturebeat.com/2014/06/16/att-and-udacity-partner-to-create-the-nanodegree-a-new-type-of-college-degree/ Back before many of you were born, maybe 30 years ago, corporations routinely paid for education for their employees as a benefit; partly out of a sense of providing for their employees, partly as a way to attract more and/or better workers, and partly as a measure to train, retain, and promote their best employees. This practice has, in general, fallen out of favor. The Starbucks/ASU announcement could be an early indicator that labor markets are heating up. It’s certainly an indicator that online courses are becoming mainstream. It demonstrates the trend for online brands to grow beyond their geographic borders, which might portend fewer but larger (or much larger) institutions of higher learning. And it might show a new trend in university/corporate partnerships which will increase the numbers of college graduates. Corporations, with their focus on the bottom line, will, of course, be looking for the biggest bang for the buck. Will this drive down the cost of a college degree? Will this prompt a race to the bottom, where higher education providers focus on decreasing costs (and service) so that higher education will start to deliver the level of service we’ve all come to expect from telephone companies and airlines? The Udacity/AT&T announcement is different. Corporations want employees with the specific skills to do the job that needs to be filled right now. They may not need employees with college degrees for that job. They don’t want the expense of giving employees time off for training. If possible, they don’t want the trouble and costs of providing the training. Can providers of online content, like Udacity, fill this void? They will need to provide a short path to certify those skills, that a corporation is hiring for, and they will have to bridge the gap between what an individual knows and what an employer needs more economically than other alternatives. Udacity is a profit making institution, and top management is highly motivated to find a niche. But this type of short term skill development, especially for mid-level skills has been fulfilled by community colleges, which are subsidized by state and local governments. Can Udacity compete? Can Community Colleges pivot as fast as an entrepreneurial company? Will some other education channel beat out both? At the content level, hundreds of thousands of instructors and instructional designers...

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Students win tenure loses. That’s the CNN headline for the Vergara v. California case ruled on by Judge Rolf M. Treu. The crux of Judge Treu’s ruling is that 1 to 3% of California teachers are grossly ineffective, and given that there are 275,000 teachers, that means that between 2,750 and 8,250 teachers are grossly ineffective, which has a profound effect on their students. Thus, tenure is unconstitutional, since the state constitution requires the state to provide an adequate education. The 1% to 3% came from testimony from Dr. David Berliner, who was asked on the stand, “would it be reasonable to estimate that 1 to 3 percent of teachers” have four or more years of showing low test scores for their students. And who replied, “Correct.” That stretched to the 1 to 3% of California teachers are grossly ineffective conclusion by Judge Treu, something that Dr. Berliner says he did not mean to imply. In fact, Dr. Berliner has observed thousands of teachers, and stated after the trial that he’s never encountered one he would consider grossly ineffective. He may not have, but I have. Of the 40-50 teachers that my kids had in our school system, I can categorically say that 2 of them were grossly ineffective. My daughter Eva who is getting her PhD in statistics (not that I am one to brag), would never let me reach a conclusion from such a small sample size, though. Even assuming that about 2% of teachers are ineffective, it could be argued that perhaps we have a bigger problem in attracting and retaining good teachers than getting rid of bad ones. Half of all teachers leave within five years, while data show that teachers start really hitting their stride around their third year. If you were a teacher or interested in being one, would it be more attractive to know that you could only be fired for cause, or to know that you could be fired at any time, for any reason, by anyone above you? Could there be other reasons why many children in California do not receive a quality education? Could it possibly be the lack of investment in education in the state? Since 1969, the education costs have increased an average 2.2% per year in the US. Over the 41 year period until 2010-11 (the latest year for national statistics), California has been dead last with 1.6% annual increase. In 1969, California was 11th in the country in terms of spending per student ($5,105 in current 2012 dollars). In 2010-11, California was 34th, at $9,571 per student, compared to a national average of $11,153. Or...

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