Coding Is the Must-Have Job Skill of the Future

Coding Is the Must-Have Job Skill of the Future
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Fast forward to 2020. What job skill must you have? Coding.

Well, we may be getting ahead of ourselves slightly. It’s uncertain that HTML and CSS in their current form will be on the menu of the next decade. But what we do know is, for the foreseeable future, coding is one of the most important and desirable skills there is, no matter how it evolves.

Coding is the new black. And it’s getting so hot that there are a slew of startups focusing on teaching coding — to your kids.

For those of us grown up and out of grammar school, there are two schools of thought: specialized education programs or teaching yourself. School can be both expensive and time consuming. While hitting the books at home via online courses is significantly cheaper, it’s also draining, as there’s no one to copy answers off of.

Like anything daunting, there may be some understandable hesitation about just how to jump in the water. And some basic questions to answer.

Why should you learn how to code? And where do you start?

Asher Hunt, leading mobile designer at customer engagement management company LivePerson (formerly Look.IO), sees at it as a way to control the visual UI/UX (user interface, user experience) of a site.

“Learning HTML and CSS creates a really valuable way for people to efficiently design for the web,” explains Hunt. For learning CSS keystrokes, he suggests getting started with syntax and browser animations. “I say this because understanding those languages provides understandings of their limitations, and general capabilities. For every pixel I put down in photoshop, I know exactly how I’m going to code that in HTML and CSS.”

The value of coding is learning how to use data to drive decisions, says C.J. Windisch, lead engineer and co-founder of location-based app GonnaBe.

“We see it everywhere from statistical analysis in baseball to politics with Barack Obama’s data-driven election team,” Windisch says. “Understanding data at that scale requires a computer to run numbers, not a calculator. In today’s big data world, that means coding.”

Windisch suggests geting your feet wet with Treehouse, a startup featuring instructional videos.

Mike Murray, GonnaBe’s lead iOS developer, says proficiency in coding allows programmers to be able “to modify the technology they work with, without aid from others,” thereby increasing their value to employers, and saving valuable funds.

It’s all about big data, agrees Jad Meouchy, CTO at the smartphone survey company Osurv Mobile Research. And mastering that data can be the difference between success and failure in the startup world.

“A new coder better understand what that means and how to handle it,” Meouchy explains. “Every company has access to a gold mine of consumer insight in the form of analytics, social networks, activity logs, et cetera.  The challenge in managing that information is developing a process to extract high-value bits and act on them quickly.”

Meouchy says the key for beginners is to learn about databases, starting with basic SQL syntax. From there he suggests working “your way up to complex joins, and take a cautious peek at the new anti-SQL movement.” He warns that “when solving actual business problems, stick to the fundamentals and avoid trendy, flashpan tech. If you do it right, the skillset you develop should last a decade.”

If this is too jargony for you, fear not. Here’s a real-life, layman’s-terms example of a regretful tech entrepreneur who didn’t learn. GonnaBe’s CEO and cofounder Hank Leber calls coding the new literacy. It’s the battle of “the tech literate vs. the tech illiterate. And ‘literacy’ won’t refer to one’s ability to read about new technology or report on it, but creating it.”

Leber cites the growing unemployment rate and diminishing prospects for newly-minted college graduates as motivators.

“Not learning to code has been the biggest misstep of my academic and professional life,” he says. “Had I learned it when I was in my early twenties, I’d have been 10 times as effective as a leader and businessperson. Hindsight is 20/20, but let this be foresight for young people: If you can stomach it, learn to code. You won’t regret it.”

 

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What Do the Tests Test?

What Do the Tests Test?

by Alan Singer

My eight-year-old grandchildren, Sadia and Gideon, seem to have survived the third grade ELA and Math tests without being scarred for life. From their perspective, it was “Much Ado About Nothing,” and they were more concerned about the start of the little league baseball season in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

For me, the bigger questions remain the value of these tests in the education of children, especially the impact they have on what gets taught (curriculum), how it is taught (pedagogy), and how learning is accurately measured (assessment).

What do these high stakes standardized tests actually test?

Based on his study of student performance on standardized tests from 1960 to 2010, Sean Reardon, in a recent essay in The New York Times, reports that “Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores.” The gap continues to rise, and according to Reardon, family income is a better predictor of student performance on these tests than any other factor. It appears that all the high stakes standardized tests measure is the socio-economic status and earnings of parents and not how much students know or how well they will perform in school.

Rather than waste all this time and money on testing, an alternative is to just throw out the standardized tests and assign students to classes, schools, and colleges, based on their parents’ income tax forms. While this may not be fair to students from poorer families, tax revenues would probably rise. The wealthy would be less inclined to search for loopholes or cheat on their taxes if they thought their children would be denied admission to elite high schools and colleges because their reported income was too low.

In the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, a “soothsayer” warned Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March,” or March 15. In New York City this year the Ides of March fell on a Friday and was the day the Department of Education sent out acceptance notices for its specialized high schools where admission is based on one-shot high stakes tests.

In 2012, a federal civil rights complaint charging bias in the New York City specialized high school application process was brought against the city by a number of Civil Rights organizations. They charged that “racial disparities” in admission to the city’s select high schools resulted “in large part from admissions policies that rely too heavily or even exclusively on standardized tests” and on a “marked failure to provide African Americans and Latinos with opportunities to learn the material or otherwise prepare to meet the admissions standards.”

As recently as 1999, the student body at prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School was about one-quarter African American, but since then the percentage has dropped to about ten percent. There has been a similar decline at Stuyvesant High School where the percentage of Black students dropped from nearly 13% Black in 1979 to about 1% now.

Once again, in 2013, the number of African American and Latino students admitted to the selective high schools fell sharply. According to a report on the website Gotham Schools, “Of the 5,229 students accepted to the city’s eight specialized high schools this year, 618 were black or Hispanic, according to data the Department of Education released today, the day that eighth-graders learned their high school placement. Last year, the schools accepted 733 black and Hispanic students.” The figures were most disturbing at Stuyvesant High School where just nine African American and twenty-four Latino students were admitted. Meanwhile, at Brooklyn Tech, the number of African American and Latino students who were admitted dropped by twenty-two percent.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has consistently defended the admission procedure claiming these selective high schools were “designed for the best and the brightest” and that he saw no need to change the admissions policy or state law. The Mayor declared, “I think that Stuyvesant and these other schools are as fair as fair can be . . . There’s nothing subjective about this. You pass the test, you get the highest score, you get into the school — no matter what your ethnicity, no matter what your economic background is. That’s been the tradition in these schools since they were founded, and it’s going to continue to be.”

However, another recent report cast serious doubts on whether the high school admission test identified the “best and brightest” as the mayor claimed. According to an article by Al Baker in The New York Times, “Girls Excel in the Classroom but Lag in Entry to 8 Elite Schools in the City.”

According to Baker, “In the United States, girls have outshined boys in high school for years, amassing more A’s, earning more diplomas and gliding more readily into college, where they rack up more degrees — whether at the bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral levels.”

But when it comes to admission to New York City’s selective high schools, boys make up about sixty percent of the students at the most prestigious schools. In 2013, fifty-one percent of the middle school students who took the Specialized High School Admissions Test were girls, but girls made up only forty-five percent of the students who were admitted to the schools.

This is surprising for two reasons. Nationally, enrollment in highly competitive high schools is fifty-five percent female. In addition, when schools use multiple criteria for admission, including school performance, girls do significantly better than boys. The Times reported that at LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, where admission is based on grades, auditions, and portfolios, the study body is nearly three-quarters female. Other elite programs that weigh-in school performance in their admission process have similar population imbalances favoring girls. At Bard, Millennium, Beacon, and Townsend Harris high schools girls outnumber boys by at least three to two. The principal at Bard said he has had to work to find ways to recruit more qualified male students.

If girls are in general better students, why are the high-stakes test schools disproportionally male?

The best answer I can come up with is that the admission test, which is designed by Pearson, does not accurately measure the ability to perform in high school at the highest levels. More likely, the results reflect a decision by immigrant families to invest in their sons by paying for them to take expensive test prep classes at private cram schools where tuition costs can run to thousands of dollars. Students who do not have access to these courses, because they are girls, from poorer families, or African American and Latino, are then discriminated against by the testing process.

If this is the case, and I strongly suspect it is, we are once again looking at money as the key to success, not desire to excel or performance in school.

7 Things They Don’t Teach You In School

7 Things They Don’t Teach You In School

By Jen Glantz

There are things you learn in school that will make you sweat puddles of stress into the creases of your textbook, trying to grasp the semi-precious nature of, that you will never, ever, use again.

For example, everything I tried really hard to learn in geometry class. Spending hours making myself do unorthodox things to rhombuses and triangles when really all I wanted to be doing was writing sonnets about the perpetual relationship between the X and Y axis.

And then there are things they won’t even begin to teach you in school. Things that slap you dreadfully across the face after you walk the stage at graduation and end up back in your canary yellow wallpapered childhood bedroom, surrounded by Beanie Babies and VHS players that are also, still, trying to figure out their next step.

Here are some things you’ll need to learn during that pathetically low period of your life.

1. How to use a copy machine.

The first internship that I landed in college was working at a fashion magazine. Which was amazing not only because I dreamed of being a writer, but because I had the fashion sense of a colorblind miss-matching monkey and I thought that I could change the world, or at least people’s mindset that plaid and floral print could be a dashing couple when paired together. But my first day on the job, the editor-in-chief demanded that I make her 100 stapled copies of a document and I nearly fainted. I was three years in to my journalism major and could write a feature story that would make the tears stain your Armani collar, but I had not a single clue how to use a copy machine. Have you seen those things lately? Its more than just print, copy, scan, it’s a monster with teeth. If you press the wrong button, you’ll have papers flying out of holes you didn’t even know existed.

2. How to wash your delicates.

When I was in college, I only ever did laundry when I ran out of underwear, which was rare, because I would make a point of buying as many pairs as I could so that I would never have to do laundry. And I got away with having my body weight in dirty clothes lounging around my dorm room because I was able to prance to my 10am class wearing my Scooby Doo pajama pants and even once, a sheet that I told people was my way of channeling my inner Greek God, writing it off as a toga. Learning how to properly wash my blazer for work or handle my “Dry Clean Only” pants, when I can’t afford that kind of service, has left me with many items of clothing that now only fit nice and snug around the torso of my stuffed animal, Honey Bear.

3. How to say “I love you” and “I’m sorry.”

Because often times, you’ll see, one will precede the other.

4. Your GPA doesn’t matter.

When I started going on job interviews post-grad, I would sit at the edge of my seat, waiting and wishing the interviewer would ask me what my college GPA was. They never did. One time, on an interview, when they asked me if I had any more questions I politely asked, “Aren’t you going to ask me about my GPA?” And it was at that very moment, as they raised their brows at me, that I realized the only numbers that mattered were how many years of experience I had and how much money they were going to pay me.

This is not to say you shouldn’t work hard to get stellar grades or slide by with the average “c”, you’ll be wasting a lot of time and money if you do that. Work just as hard getting to know your textbooks as you do getting to know your dream profession through internships and work experience. And somewhere in between all of that, have as much fun as possible. Because in the real world, it’s hard to get away with showing up for a 9am business meeting with nappy hair and tequila breath.

5. How to pay your taxes.

It would have been appropriate and appreciated if this information was slipped into any of the classes I ever took in school. They could have broken the awkward silences during health class with a tutorial on taxes after they taught us about the birds and the bees, and dare I say it, pre-pubescent misery.

6. How to sell yourself.

A lot of what happens to you in real life is because you are at the right place at the right time and also because you are daring and you are determined. You may bump into the CEO of a company while waiting in line for a mocha latte, or write an email to an author you admire begging him to meet you in person, or land the job interview of your dreams and have exactly 45 seconds to prove yourself. If you can sum up who you are and what you want in 140 characters or less or in 30 seconds, you’ll land beautiful opportunities.

7. Friendships often sink.

School won’t prepare you for that heart pumping bizarre moment you’ll experience when you are reaching for the frozen corn at the grocery store and lock eyes with a girl you grew up with. A girl who you had regular sleepovers with and spent hours making up dance jigs to Spice Girls songs. You’ll grab the corn, debate on whether or not to say hello, and you’ll watch her, watch you, and keep on walking by like she never braided neon strands of lanyard together and promised to be your BFF.

They also don’t teach you that you’re going to stare down the throat of your piggy bank forced to accept the fact the you are broke, or that your next step after walking off the stage at graduation may be back in your parent’s house, or that you’ll eat pasta for 76 days straight because you don’t know how to cook anything else without setting your fire alarm off. Or that you will blow all of your savings on something implausibly outrageous like a trip to Europe, rent in NYC, flying across the country just because you can’t take the winter blues anymore, or beer, lots and lots of beer.

Everything worth knowing you will learn after you swiffer the tears of your mascara stained cheeks, or teach yourself to jump out of bed when your morning alarm goes off (the first time), or from dusting off the spider webs wrapped around your most gorgeous mistakes. It’s then that you’ll know the only way to get by, to get through, to be a functioning and successful human in this world is to discover one thing: you can never give up.

My Memories of Wonder Woman

My Memories of Wonder Woman

by Raquel Regalado

It was the summer of 1979, and I sat cross-legged less than two feet from my grandparents’ television watching Wonder Woman. Linda Carter was magnificent, and every time she spun around, I scooted closer. “Don’t sit so close Raquel, you’ll ruin your eyesight and your brain will turn to mush,” my grandmother yelled. I quickly ran to her purse, fished out her sunglasses, put them on and scooted closer. When she walked by, she hollered to my grandfather: “Come see the zombie with sunglasses, that idiot box will ruin an entire generation.” “She’ll be fine,” he said as he patted my head. “No more TV after Wonder Woman, Wonder Girl.” My grandfather was right, despite countless hours watching Wonder Woman, Gidget, The Monkees and The Lawrence Welk Show, I survived my childhood and at 38, still have 20/20 vision. But today, as I watch my children transition seamlessly from computer to tablet to smart phone, I recall my grandmother’s concerns.

In fact, as any parent who has had their smartphone, tablet or iTunes account locked and/or hacked by a toddler will confirm, Marc Prensky hit the nail on the head in 2001 when he stated that our children are digital natives and the rest of us are digital immigrants. And maybe that is why while we all agree that they need technological access to compete in the global market, we are concerned about the effect that so much technology will have on this so called “touch screen generation.”

Meanwhile, this week in classrooms all over Florida, children sat at computer stations and took the FCAT. No pencils, no paper, just a mouse and a computer screen. Earlier that same week, Governor Scott signed legislation that not only created the first digital learning university but also created the Florida Cyber Security Recognition and Florida Digital Arts recognition for elementary schools, the Florida Digital Tools Certificate for middle schools and a separate degree track for technical training that includes programing and software development. Thanks to legislation passed two years ago, every child attending a public school must take a digital course to graduate, and Florida has followed the lead of states like Colorado and approved purely cyber education from K to 12.

At Miami-Dade County Public Schools, as a result of the 222 bond initiative and the federal E-Rate program, we will not just repair our aging schools, but will also bridge the digital divide by outfitting them with Wi-Fi and creating digitally interactive classrooms in every school in every neighborhood. As we say farewell to the FCAT and transition to Core, we will also be able to use video content like TED Talks and Khan Academy alongside the Discovery Channel and PBS. We will shift gears and teach our students problem solving, not just route memorization. As a result, the classroom of tomorrow will encourage collaboration and teamwork and enable our students to navigate the sea of information that technology has placed at their fingertips.

But as parents, educators and Floridians, we need to do more. It is not enough that we provide students with access to technology. We also need to teach them how the technology works. We need to foster curiosity about the devices that are shaping their generation. Beyond the trite conversations about Tech Hubs, the State of Florida needs to add computer programing and tech labs to its mandatory curriculum. Just like our students virtually dissect a frog, they should also take apart a smart phone and learn how it works, know about the transition from static television to interactive devices, and the basics of computer programing.

That afternoon, after Wonder Woman ended, I unplugged the television and sat between it and the living room wall. I carefully took off the back cover and stared at the many colored wires, wondered how the image of Wonder Woman made it from those tiny wires to the large screen. “What are you doing now? You’ll get electrocuted,” my grandmother asked. “Just looking; do you know how this works grandmother?” “Modern magic,” she said. “Why don’t you look it up in the World Book Encyclopedia in the den?” I did, and today I thank my grandmother for encouraging my curiosity even though she personally feared the impact that technology would have on my future. Because despite the physical and ideological differences that separated my generation from hers, she recognized that childhood is, and will always be, about Wonder.

The Diploma’s Vanishing Value

The Diploma’s Vanishing Value

Bachelor’s degrees may not be worth it, but
community college can bring a strong return

By JEFFREY J. SELINGO

May 1 is fast approaching, and with it the deadline for high-school seniors to commit to a college. At kitchen tables across the country, anxious students and their parents are asking: Does it really matter where I go to school?

When it comes to lifetime earnings, we’ve been told, a bachelor’s degree pays off six times more than a high-school diploma. The credential is all that matters, not where it’s from—a view now widely accepted. That’s one reason why college enrollment jumped by a third last decade and why for-profit schools that make getting a diploma ultraconvenient now enroll 1 in 10 college students. But is it true that all colleges sprinkle their graduates with the same magic dust?

With unemployment among college graduates at historic highs and outstanding student-loan debt at $1 trillion, the question families should be asking is whether it’s worth borrowing tens of thousands of dollars for a degree from Podunk U. if it’s just a ticket to a barista’s job at Starbucks. When it comes to calculating the return on your investment, where you go to school does matter to your bank account later in life.

Not surprisingly, research has found that a degree from a name-brand elite college, whether it’s Harvard, Stanford or Amherst, carries a premium for earnings. But the 50 wealthiest and most selective colleges and universities in the U.S. enroll less than 4% of students. For everyone else, the statistics show that choosing just any college, at any cost for a credential, may no longer be worth it.

In a few states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, families can now compare colleges, and even majors, based on the actual first-year earnings of graduates of in-state schools. (Go to http://collegemeasures.org/esm/.) The salaries come from the states’ unemployment-insurance programs, which collect earnings information from employers every quarter. Using Social Security numbers, the states then match the information to college graduates. (One limit of this method: The data don’t include graduates who leave the state or are self-employed.)

Think a community-college degree is worth less than a credential from a four-year college? In Tennessee, the average first-year salaries of graduates with a two-year degree are $1,000 higher than those with a bachelor’s degree. Technical degree holders from the state’s community colleges often earn more their first year out than those who studied the same field at a four-year university.

Take graduates in health professions from Dyersburg State Community College. They not only finish two years earlier than their counterparts at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, but they also earn $5,300 more, on average, in their first year after graduation.

In Virginia, graduates with technical degrees from community colleges make $20,000 more in the first year after college than do graduates in several fields who get bachelor’s degrees. Yet high-school seniors are regularly told that community colleges are for students who can’t hack it on a four-year campus.

That’s how Tom Carey landed at Radford University in Virginia as a business major, though his real love was working on cars. “There was definitely pressure” to go to a four-year school, he told me. “I had no interest in whatever degree I was getting at Radford.”

After two years, Mr. Carey, who is from Reston, transferred to be closer to home and enrolled in the automotive-technology program at Northern Virginia Community College. He is now working at a Cadillac dealership and outearns business graduates from Radford’s undergraduate program by several thousand dollars. That small difference grows considerably when you take into account that a community-college degree is a fraction of the cost of a bachelor’s degree and that these students enter the workforce two years earlier.

Even if Mr. Carey had stayed at Radford, graduates of the undergraduate business administration program there make an average $10,000 less their first year after graduation than those from George Mason University, though both schools charge about the same in tuition.

Given these differences in postgraduate earnings, the size of your student loan is not the only number you should worry about when weighing the college decision. Will you make enough to pay off your loan? What are your chances of graduating on time?

In recent months, two tools have been released that allow families to better compare colleges with respect to return on investment. The U.S. Education Department’s College Scorecard website helps you figure out where to get “the most bang for your educational buck” by compiling federal data collected from colleges. Collegerealitycheck.com from the Chronicle of Higher Education allows for quick and easy comparisons between colleges on measures families should weigh during their search. It includes early-career salaries for college graduates from payscale.com, which are self-reported by users of the site.

Colleges don’t like being measured by the earnings of their graduates. Defining value in such a narrow way, they argue, obscures the broader benefits of higher education. They point out that first-year salaries often have no bearing on earnings later in life. It’s true that those with bachelor’s degrees typically earn more over a lifetime than those with a two-year degree, but that’s little consolation to those who are discouraged from going to community colleges and end up dropping out of a four-year school without a degree.

The salary and graduation data from the states come from state governments and were analyzed by College Measures, a partnership between the American Institutes of Research (a research organization) and Matrix Knowledge (a consulting firm). As the researchers themselves admit, the data would be more useful if they included more than the first-year salaries of those graduates who remain in state to work. But improving these tools has been slow going, largely because the higher-education lobby has fought federal efforts to create a “unit-record” system that could work across state lines to link students’ educational and employment histories.

For decades, U.S. colleges have promoted the economic benefits of higher education. But now that they can no longer ride the coattails of the national averages—which obscure the value of individual schools and make everyone look good—higher-education leaders suddenly think salary is too narrow a measure.

Students who pick their major based solely on postgraduation salaries, as opposed to passion for a field, will in all likelihood struggle in both school and career. But without salary information, many more students will make bad choices. They will go deep into debt without ever knowing that they pursued a degree without a chance at a career or a job to pay off their loans.

‘I Think My Teacher Hates Me — Now What?’

‘I Think My Teacher Hates Me — Now What?’

By Rachel Holderman Bartlett

As teens, it sometimes feels like the world is against us. It’s easy to believe your friends, family and teachers are going out of their way to make your life difficult. When you think a teacher is out to get you, it can feel like a personal attack.

Communication is key, says Jim English, an English teacher at Whitney Young in Chicago. Sometimes teachers say or do things that are taken the wrong way, but it can easily be resolved through a discussion.

“In all cases, I think the students are mistaken, and I would suggest they talk to the teacher,” English said. “And if they are too nervous talking to the teacher (by themselves), they should bring the counselor in.”

If a student doesn’t talk to the teacher or an administrator, they may be able talk to a fellow student who can help them get through the class.

Rick Cazzato, a junior at Bartlett, suggests building a bond with your teacher by breaking the ice with a joke. If you’re still wary of talking to a particular teacher, Cazzato suggests interacting with that teacher only during class when you’re surrounded by other students.

“Students could also ask questions during class to have a more friendlier atmosphere than having the fear of having an individual appointment to ask questions,” he said.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to get over whatever prevents you from doing your best in class.

“If students can’t fix it, they should ignore it and do their work,” English said, “because it’s that old cliché that nobody has to like you, and I guess that’s true.”

 

 

A Message to Americans: Let’s Increase Teacher Value

A Message to Americans: Let’s Increase Teacher Value

by Fahad Hassan

When I first came across Randy Turner’s article on why young professionals should not become teachers, I was pretty upset. Though I have no problem with Mr. Turner offering his opinion, nor do I disagree with him on a number of points, Mr. Turner’s analysis of the teaching profession is nevertheless incomplete. For those not entirely immersed in the education industry, I would like to add some context to his thoughts. As an education entrepreneur, I do not claim to understand every nuance of the classroom. I am not a teacher, but I believe I can offer some additional insight as another key participant in our educational conversations. I spend hours of my life on a daily basis visiting classrooms, Skyping with teachers, participating in educational panels, speaking at education conferences, and collaborating with educators at various levels from around the world. I continue to be amazed at the level of passion and dedication I see from our teachers, and the awesome discourse taking place in our society on education reform.

Mr. Turner mentions several key points of discussion, including common core standards, self-learning, student evaluations, merit-based pay and tenure, among others, but his thoughts on guiding young professionals away from teaching and the general lack of value our society places on teachers are what truly caught my attention.

He said, “If I were 18 years old and deciding how I want to spend my adult years, the last thing I would want to become is a classroom teacher. Classroom teachers, especially those who are just out of college and entering the profession, are more stressed and less valued than at any previous time in our history.”

As someone whose entire life revolves around education, I can say with complete certainty that these points should come with some major disclaimers. First of all, I greatly value teachers. My family, fellow entrepreneurs, and our President all value teachers. There are easier ways for me to make money, but I choose to work in education for a reason. I’m passionate about the impact education can have on a person’s life. It’s reflected in the sacrifices my parents made when they emigrated from Bangladesh because of the value they placed on the American Education System. And it’s constantly a reference made by our president as recently as a few months ago at his State of the Union speech,

“Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”

Sure, there are folks out there who don’t understand the entire educational eco-system in our country, or are too lazy to effectively dive into the dynamics within a school, or those who may randomly think “teachers suck and are the problem, not the solution.” But people who think like this are really no different than teachers who claim that they “aren’t valued by anyone.” This blame game needs to stop and is something I do not advocate on any level.

While I agree that a major problem here in the U.S. is that we don’t put teachers on a high enough pedestal within our cultural paradigm, that doesn’t mean the majority of American’s don’t value teachers. There are many ways to value teachers. As an entrepreneur, I think about the problem at hand and how to effectively, creatively and efficiently solve that problem. Everything else is a distraction. Pointing fingers at one another, complaining about the system without recommendations on how to fix things, or expecting unreasonable outcomes simply stalls progress and are some of the biggest distractions in the education conversation. Teacher pay, for example, is an issue Mr. Turner brings up that needs more focused attention, not just general thoughts that get lost in the mix.

Teachers are underpaid in our society, but to not trust evaluations from administrators above them or to pick and choose which feedback to accept from students beneath them (as Mr. Turner mentioned he did) is not the way to get the pay problem solved. Let me be loud and clear: every teacher in this country should be paid a six-figure salary. We found $2 trillion to fight the Iraq War, I know we can find a way to increase the average teacher pay from $56,000 for 3.7 million teachers to $100,000 or greater. We have the money to make this happen and I believe most teachers deserve it. Those not worthy, qualified, or passionate should leave teaching and pursue other dreams. Teaching is no different than any other profession, and I would encourage those who love education, but choose not to teach, to help in other ways. Become an education entrepreneur, lobby Congress for more rights, help reform the Teachers Union to better align with outcomes, and get involved with your local school board. All of this is in our control.

And finally, with regards to the difficulty and stress associated with being a teacher, I fully empathize due to my own world-view as a struggling entrepreneur. I went years without a paycheck to help identify and improve teaching in this country with the aid of technology. I did this without any guarantee of funding, success or market adoption. But make no mistake – it was entirely my choice to pursue this path in life.

Teachers have that same choice, and if young entrants in this field decide the profession is not for them, that is OKAY. People switch professions all the time, and it’s tough to understand what we’re meant to do sometimes without immersing ourselves in the task at hand. But to tell young graduates not to even try teaching — as Mr. Turner does — is something I’m completely against. It goes against everything I’ve ever been taught in my life by my parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors — and I strongly disagree with Mr. Turner on this point. It simply isn’t the American way. The power structure in our country works from the ground up — not the top down. President Obama showed us how powerful this can be in his first election campaign. He laid a grassroots path and showed us it can work. Let’s take that formula and find ways to bridge it into our everyday lives. Let’s bridge it to education reform, medical reform, immigration reform, and others. Let’s take back control and not simply give up or avoid professions just because they are hard. Let’s fight to give teachers the help, pay, respect and recognition they deserve — and most importantly, have earned. We need more teachers entering the workforce – not less.

Time for Teacher Unions to Hop Off the Common Core Train


The Common Core is a trojan horse for a whole set of new curriculum and instructional tools that school districts across the nation will be required to purchase. Making Common Core the official set of standards and assessments for public schools means that vendors and “innovators” will be guaranteed a larger share of the education market.

The two largest teacher unions in the US have positioned themselves as active supporters of the Common Core (wanted to be national) Standards. A visit to the NEA web site reveals President Dennis Van Roekel’s column praising the project.

He writes:

CCSS offers a vivid, practical example of NEA’s Leading the Professions initiative, a three-part plan to transform the teaching profession and accelerate student learning. Educators will have the opportunity to translate these broad standards into creative, relevant, and engaging class lessons that help students learn in new ways that truly prepare them for lifelong learning. This is not to downplay anyone wrestling with doubt about Common Core – states will struggle, some educators will chafe – but as long as we can accept this, and embrace the transition, educators and public education can come out ahead.

The American Federation of Teachers has a bit of a mixed message. On the one hand, we have the “Learning is more than a test score” campaign, which asks visitors to sign a petition calling for an end to high stakes tests. On the other, the union’s Share My Lesson site has a special section devoted to resources aligned with the Common Core, and Randi Weingarten has written,

Establishing these standards is a critical first step, and now the real work begins. We need to use these standards as the foundation for better schools, but we must do more–as the countries we compete with do.

But I think the time has come for a serious reappraisal of this stance.

Many teachers have been in a honeymoon phase with the Common Core, before the inevitable high stakes tests arrive. It is understandable that teachers who have suffered under the lash of NCLB would view a new system with some hope. However, that honeymoon is coming to an end, as the high stakes tests arrive, and we discover them to be more pervasive, invasive and expensive than the ones they are replacing. And when the results come, and show our students scoring significantly lower, we will awaken to a fresh indictment of our supposedly broken schools.

The Common Core is a trojan horse for a whole set of curriculum and instructional tools — hardware as well as software, that will require a massive initial investment, and significant ongoing expenses in terms of maintenance, new subscriptions and software, and replacement of computers every few years. Vendors and “innovators” are salivating at the chance to carve out a larger share of the education market. We are in something of a zero sum game. They believe that they can “personalize” education by getting each child in front of his own computer screen for half the day. We know there are huge problems with this approach, but that is what is most efficient. And having a national set of standards and assessments means you have a single market for all these “innovations.”

As Joanne Weiss wrote:

The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

Accurate cost estimates for the Common Coreare actively debated. But if you look around at the low level of technology at most of our schools, it does not take a genius to realize there will need to be billions invested across the nation for the hardware alone. And given the sorry state of school funding, this money will have to be found by making cuts elsewhere. Perhaps we can increase class sizes, as Bill Gates has suggested.

But there is a new reason to get up on our hind legs and fight the Common Core and it is very political. A number of conservatives are making this a major issue. While corporate Republicans like Jeb Bush remain thoroughly wedded to Common Core, the real energy of the party is elsewhere. The energy is with the more Libertarian types, like Rand Paul and Glenn Beck. They are likely to escalate their attacks on the Common Core, and they already hate unions. That makes it very easy forthem to attack Common Core as a Big Government, Big Union plot to squash local control of schools and impose a monolithic curriculum on the populace.

The Obama administration’s education policies have been, by and large, a disaster. And Republicans are poised to rev up their attack machine on these grounds and teacher unions will be smeared right along with the administration so long as they are on board.

The problem is many of us AGREE WITH conservatives on much of their critique. Or we ought to. We are not opposed to loose curricular guidelines, but we should NOT be in favor of the sort of highly prescriptive standards and high stakes assessments that are coming with Common Core. And we also need to be concerned about the shift of resources away from classroom professionals and into technology, and the huge expansion of data systems, both of which are part and parcel of the Common Core project. And they are also correct about the undemocratic process that has been pursued to develop the Common Core, and the way the Department of Education has used Race to the Top bribes and NCLB waivers to coerce states into adopting the Core. We also disagree with some of their critique. But we cannot put forward a clear, compelling vision so long as we are on the sidelines in this debate – much less if we are on the wrong side altogether.

The NEA and AFT have positioned themselves as the “expert implementers” of the Common Core. That essentially means the unions are standing by Duncan’s side and saying “we are the professionals. You just tell us what to do, and we can do it better than anyone.” That renders us politically powerless. We have given up our opportunity to advance an independent vision for accountability and school reform.

Some have suggested that the standards are not the problem. We can work on implementing the standards, but focus our objections on the high stakes tests that may come later. There are a couple of problems with this. First of all, politically, the battle over the Common Core is happening now, and it is being defined primarily by people like Glenn Beck. The unions are being defined as allies, aiders and abettors of the Common Core, and unless union leaders and members speak out about our concerns, that will be accurate.

Secondly, the tests are already arriving, as we have seen in New York. And they are terrible. We were promised a “next generation” of assessments that would be so much smarter. Tests that adjust their difficulty as students respond. These are the very sorts of tests that the teachers and students in Seattle are boycotting. The hours spent on testing is doubling, tripling. We are testing third graders on computers. I spoke with kindergarten teachers last week in California who must spend an hour and a half testing each child in their class three times a year. That turns into three weeks of testing, repeated fall, winter and spring. Nine weeks of teaching lost! As parents become aware of these tests they are up in arms. The opt-out movement is gaining strength rapidly in New York, as the new tests arrive.

We also need to be very concerned about the expansion of data systems containing vast amounts of information about students AND teachers. This will be used not only to closely monitor students, but also to track teacher “effectiveness,” for all sorts of high stakes decisions, including teacher evaluation and pay. There is a growing backlash as this sort of project is uncovered, as seen last week in Louisiana.

The unions cannot be in two places at once. We cannot be strong opponents to standardized testing and also say we are the go-to experts in implementing the Common Core.

There are eleven states where the Legislatures are considering withdrawal from the Common Core. This may become an election issue that will harm candidates from either party who are on board with the project.

For now the right wing leads the national resistance to Common Core. But there are also progressive resisters to the Common Core, and although we share many of the concerns raised by conservatives, our end goal is a bit different. We want teachers to have autonomy. We want excellence defined within the context of our communities, and not imposed in a top-down manner by the Federal government. We want student learning assessed and demonstrated in more authentic ways. We want to escape the lockstep approach that insists that every kindergartner should be on the same page. We want to return to the joy of learning.

Rejecting Common Core will allow us to actually articulate an alternative vision for accountability and standards. But until we take this stand, we are going to be hamstrung, and defined by enemies of unions on the far right as handmaidens to an oppressive federal government. And they will be correct — that is the killer.

Why do people say ‘um’?

 Why do people say ‘um’?

It’s not because they’re nervous

By Arika Okrent |

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the speech hesitation “hum” goes at least as far back as 1469. We also find “hem” from 1526, “haw” from 1679, and “er” from 1862. But these are only the first attestations of the words in print. It is likely that they go back much further than that.

Michael Erard, in his book Um…: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean, traces the history of um, and doesn’t find any mention of it — or its ancient Greek or Latin equivalent — in classical works on oration, though there is plenty of advice against speaking with hesitancy or lack of fluency. It doesn’t appear in court transcripts, or other written records of natural conversation either, until the modern era. With a few exceptions, people didn’t really start talking about um, or complaining about it, until the advent of voice recording. It is likely they were using it all along, but they either didn’t notice it, or didn’t deem it worthy of writing down — it wasn’t considered a word, but a noise, like a cough.

Every language has its own version of um. French has euh, Korean eum, Finnish öö, Russian eh; even sign languages have signs for um. The fact that most languages have some kind of um suggests that it serves a natural and important language function.

So what is this important language function? Why do people say um? Not because they are nervous. Scholarly studies of the word reveal that the use of um does not correlate with anxiousness or any particular personality traits. Rather, um is used to signal an upcoming pause — usually uh for a short pause and um for a longer pause. The pause may be needed in order to find the right word, remember something temporarily forgotten, or repair a mistake. Um holds the floor for us while we do our mental work. It buys some time for thinking.

How Matchmaking Technology Can Help Reduce Teacher Turnover

How Matchmaking Technology
Can Help Reduce Teacher Turnover


by Cassie Slane

The U.S education system faces a number of challenges, but I think we all can agree that good teachers are the backbone of our education system. Without good teachers, we have nothing. One problem that many schools face is the mass exodus of teachers after only a few years. In fact, 30 percent of new teachers quit before three years and almost 50 percent quit before five years. The biggest reason for leaving? Nope, not pay. It’s a little more complex than that. The biggest reason for leaving was the culture. It was satisfaction with working conditions, which included relationships with colleagues, quality of professional development, quality of the curriculum, building conditions, etc.

The complexities of matching a teacher to a school go beyond the typical three-paragraph description that job boards provide like Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com. Schools have different cultures and curricula and teachers have different teaching styles. If they don’t match up, teachers leave. And they have been leaving in large numbers.

So how can teachers and schools find the perfect match? That’s where technology comes in. Algorithms similar to ones used to match up couples on eHarmony.com, are now being used to match candidates with employers. And, in fact, one company is using algorithms to help match teachers with the right schools.

Called myEDmatch, the job-matching site was the brainchild of co-founders Alicia Herald and Munro Richardson. Herald had the inspiration for a new type of job-matching site by combining the idea of online dating with matching teachers and schools. Instead of waiting later in the “dating process” to find out whether you have compatible interests, myEDmatch provides upfront information that teachers and schools really want to know to make an informed employment decision.

The site is already gaining some traction. It has registered 3,000 teachers and 100 schools from across 17 states. In fact, the site is close to its first hire: a teacher coming from Oklahoma is a match with a brand new charter school in Chicago. The two would have never found each other if it hadn’t been for myEDmatch.

Here’s how the site works: Teachers and schools set up their own profiles, which are a lot more comprehensive than a typical job search profile. Teacher’s profiles are a combinations of a digital resume and a virtual portfolio, where they can upload sample teaching videos, lesson plans and photos of their classroom. Schools can also set up their own profiles and include information not typically found on a school website, like their culture and professional development.

The profiles also consist of drop-down menus and other searchable components so teachers and schools can search for specific fits. For example, teachers can search for a college prep model school in the Northeast, or schools can search for a teacher with a special education certificate looking to relocate to the Northwest.

But the real significant component of MyEDMatch comes down to matching up the right culture.

“There’s no one right way to organize a school, and teachers have a variety of preferences for themselves,” said Richardson, who previously worked at the Kauffman Foundation before co-founding myEDmatch. “But until this point, there was no easy way for a teacher to say ‘this is the kind of teacher I am — this is what I’m looking for, let me find that kind of school where I will be successful.’ And conversely a school that is looking for the right kind of teacher for their school, there’s no easy way to find this either.”

So myEDmatch has teachers and schools fill out their core beliefs profile about education in seven areas including mission, instruction, planning, professional development, staff culture, student culture and school environment. The site asks teachers what is important for them to be successful in the class room and asks schools similar questions. The site uses algorithms to suggest matches with schools with compatible missions, beliefs, and goals. If the results are similar, there is a match.

Finding the right match is not only beneficial for teachers and schools, but it’s vital for students.

“There’s pretty impressive evidence that teachers really hit their stride in the classroom between year three and five,” Richardson said. “We have hundreds of thousands of teachers quitting every year that never reach their potential, and we as a society and children in the classrooms never reap the benefit of what they can do in the classrooms.”

The crippling blow of losing new teachers just as they are hitting their stride was one of the reasons behind the development of myEDmatch. The other was the huge financial cost. The expense of recruiting and training new teachers costs a staggering $7 billion annually according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.

Aside from finding the perfect match, schools are also facing a changing demographic as baby boomers begin to age. As the president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future recently stated, “We are about to go through the largest teacher workforce transition in our history, as 1.8 million Baby Boomer teachers prepare for retirement. Education leaders will be hard pressed to replace these experienced veterans with top talent in today’s competitive labor market, if they don’t get serious about transforming their schools into strong professional workplaces.”

But filling classrooms with new teachers is only half the battle, retaining them is vital. Using technology to find the right cultural fit is one of the ways that schools may be able to keep teachers from leaving. Studies show that high-performing schools share a common factor: Teachers and administrators who work there were carefully chosen to fit the organization’s culture. Better matches between teachers and schools will not only improve teacher satisfaction, but it will also reduce teacher turnover. Using a dating website as the inspiration for helping teachers and schools find each other is not only genius, but also a little romantic.