Students don’t know what’s best for their own learning

Students don’t know what’s best for their own learning
by Arthur Poropat

Universities and governments around the world rely on student evaluations to assess university teachers and degrees. Likewise, potential students check online ratings when deciding where to study. These evaluations are based on the logic that students must know best what helps them learn. So it’s surprising to discover that students may be the worst people to ask about the quality of education.

Two recent studies of student evaluations clearly demonstrated this point. Both studies looked at student evaluations and learning. Both came to the same conclusion: university students evaluate their teachers more positively when they learn less.

The first study involved students at the United States Air Force Academy, among the top few American engineering colleges, while the second was conducted at Bocconi University in Italy, one of Europe’s top ten business schools. Both are highly esteemed institutions.

Both studies looked at later student performance because if students have learnt well they should do better in later courses. It is reassuring that students of the best teachers did consistently better in later courses, while students of the worst teachers did consistently worse later in their degree. This is consistent with substantial research on the effect of teacher quality on students’ later performance.

Both used randomised assignment of students to teachers. This means we can be confident that students really did improve (or reduce) their grades because of the quality of their teachers, and not because some teachers got all of the good or bad students.

Evaluations linked to grades not learning

Many educators worry that students are more positive about teachers who give better marks regardless of what the students learn, and are more negative about teachers who make students work hard in order to learn. If this is true, it means the simplest way for a teacher to get a good evaluation is to make it easy for students to get good marks.

As it happens, students who rated their current teacher most highly got better marks in their current course but did much worse in later courses. This confirms the fears of educators: students’ evaluations are linked with current grades, but also with students’ failure to learn things they need for the future. So, a student who is happy with their grade and teacher should worry — they may not have learnt that much.

How could students be so wrong about which teachers help them learn the most? Neither the American nor the European researchers were really able to answer that question. They could only speculate about teaching practices and students’ preferences for easy marks. However, educational psychology provides a clear, evidence-based answer — students do not understand what helps them to learn.

Students often assume learning depends on how smart they are and downplay the value of hard work. Despite this, my own research has shown that when compared with intelligence, effort and curiosity have as big or bigger an effect on learning outcomes.

It’s not so surprising that students rated poorly professors who graded them poorly… Kevin Lim/Flickr, CC BY

Worse still, students’ focus on ability is not just incorrect; it handicaps their learning. Carol Dweck’s research has shown that students who focus on ability rather than effort do worse, because it makes students think that trying harder will not help.

On the other hand, if students do not accept that they are stupid and do not believe their efforts are at fault, they are left with another explanation: it’s the teacher’s fault. And there is independent evidence that students who think highly of themselves blame the teacher if they get bad grades.

Students don’t recognise learning

Students are also not very good at recognising what helps them to learn. Instead, world-leading educational psychologist Robert Bjork from UCLA reports that students assess whether they have learnt something based on the ease with which they complete a related task.

That is why many students assume that reading or highlighting passages in their text-book, or merely listening to a lecture, is enough to produce learning. They mistake the ease of the task with greater knowledge. Time-consuming and effortful tasks, like self-testing their knowledge, are consequently seen by students as less efficient for their learning, despite the fact that the more difficult tasks produce the most learning.

What does this mean for education?

For students, it means it is important to discover what actually helps your learning and focus on that, and live with the fact that real learning takes effort. Poor marks probably do not mean you are stupid or the teacher is bad. It is more likely to mean you need to raise and/or redirect your effort.

Students should also pay less attention to student evaluations when choosing a university course — happy students may not be learning.

There are also consequences for universities and the governments that regulate and fund them. Governments that use student evaluations to assess universities are likely to be misled, potentially resulting in reduced funding for precisely the courses that contribute most to student ability and their later contributions to the economy.

Likewise, universities that rely on student evaluations are likely to punish good teachers and encourage those who simply make it easy for students. Most universities have codes of conduct that require decisions to be made on valid evidence. Any manager discussing student evaluations when reviewing lecturers’ performance is probably breaching that part of their own job requirements. Given the evidence, student evaluations are a distraction from the responsibility to provide the best possible education for the nation.

For university teachers, the challenge remains the same it has always been: keeping students motivated, while ensuring that they learn. Part of achieving that requires teaching students how to learn, not just what to learn, and to ask them what they are working on and how hard they are trying. But it is probably best to avoid asking if they are happy with the course.


What It Takes to Fix American Education

What It Takes to Fix American Education

by Jonah Edelman

We’re spending way too much time focusing on who is ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ debates over education, and not enough on implementing proven solutions.
As a parent, a mentor, the son of a civil rights leader turned child advocate and a former aide to Robert F. Kennedy, and an advocate for children for nearly twenty years, I can tell you this with confidence: when it comes to helping under-served students succeed, there’s no silver bullet or quick fix.

But there are real solutions:

High quality, free preschool for three and four year-olds growing up in low or moderate income households.

High academic standards that are common across states, so students who move around have continuity and teachers can learn from each other and benefit from the best educational resources.

School principals who are effective instructional leaders, not just building managers, and who have the support they need to last in their difficult role.

Teachers who arrive with the skills and training needed to succeed and who are given the compensation, support, respect, and time to collaborate they need to stay in their profession, lead their schools, and improve their craft.

Engaging students’ families through home visits and ongoing communication so families and schools can team up to support children’s academic success.

Accurate, ongoing information about a student’s learning progress that enables teachers and families to help students stay on track and administrators to know when they need to intervene.

A multi-faceted approach to ensuring students reach the critical milestone of grade level reading by fourth grade.

Instructional materials and approaches that motivate, stimulate, and engage students.

Art, music, physical education, and, in high school, electives that make school more fun and relevant and tap students’ varied interests and talents.

A smart and fair approach to school discipline and meeting students’ social and emotional needs that keeps kids in school, promotes positive behavior, and creates an environment where teachers can teach and students can learn.

Systems and staff to ensure all students take the classes they need to graduate ready for post-secondary education and that students who are lagging behind don’t fall through the cracks.

Unfortunately, rather than centering on these solutions, the debate around public education too often highlights “sides” and “conflict” and which grownups are “winning.” That’s why I’m writing this column: to shine a light on how to help more students growing up in poverty get the education and support they need to graduate high school and go on to college or career training.

The reality is that growing up poor, in chaotic and sometimes traumatic environments, places tremendous roadblocks between children and academic success.

Removing those roadblocks takes smart policies that actually get to classrooms, adequate funding that’s spent wisely, sustained and effective leadership, and great work every day from capable, committed, and caring teachers, principals and school staff.

It’s not easy and it’s not simple.

But it couldn’t be more important to make progress. Of the 16 million children growing up in poverty today, only 1 in 12 will graduate from college, and close to half of the students in school today in high poverty communities won’t even graduate from high school, which is economic suicide in today’s skills-driven economy.

We have to address the educational opportunity gap between the haves and the have-nots and we must interrupt the pernicious school-to-prison pipeline that starts with black and brown boys being disciplined excessively and harshly, causing them to think of themselves as “bad kids.” This is the number one civil rights issue of our time.

Here is the good news: as tragic as the lost human potential is and as great as the current challenges are, we can do way better. How do I know?

Because countries like Singapore, Finland, Poland, and Russia (yes, Russia) have dramatically improved their educational results over time, and because of the many bright spots in our country.

Kentucky was first to implement the Common Core State Standards, smart academic standards that mirror the best learning principles in our country and the world. And thanks to incredible work by the state’s educators, who developed lesson plans and instructional materials to align with the improved standards, Kentucky’s college-readiness rate went from 47 percent in 2012 to 62 percent this year.

Students in the Revere, Massachusetts school district, 75 percent of whom students are growing up in poverty, far surpass the national average in reading and math in all grades and are on par with the average performance in a state that continually leads the nation in education.

The on-time graduation rate for students in the Denver Public Schools has increased by 22 points since 2006-2007 despite nearly three quarters of the students growing up in poverty.

In Chicago, the Noble Network of Charter Schools has a 90 percent college enrollment rate, and 86 percent of those enrolling are first-generation college students and 90 percent are living in poverty.

Seventy three percent of students at David Douglas High School in Portland, Oregon are low-income. Children at the school speak more than 55 languages, and almost half started school speaking little or no English, and yet their graduation rate is 20 points higher than students at high schools with similar demographics.

Major progress—which lifts students out of poverty and changes generations to come—is indeed possible.

But it won’t happen if vitriol and polarized politics win out and practical problem-solving and partnerships are cast aside.

That’s why it’s so important for all of us who value equal educational opportunity to become informed about what actually works to help students succeed and then stand up for it.

Jonah Edelman is the co-founder and CEO of Stand for Children. Founded in 1996, Stand for Children is a national education advocacy organization focused on ensuring all children graduate from high school prepared for, and with access to, a college education. Born and raised in Washington, DC, Jonah lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and twin 9 year-old sons, who attend public school.

The Hardest Part Of Teaching

The Hardest Part Of Teaching

by Peter Greene

They never tell you in teacher school, and it’s rarely discussed elsewhere. It is never, ever portrayed in movies and tv shows about teaching. Teachers rarely bring it up around non-teachers for fear it will make us look weak or inadequate.

Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post once put together a series of quotes to answer the question “How hard is teaching?” and asked for more in the comments section. My rant didn’t entirely fit there, so I’m putting it here, because it is on the list of Top Ten Things They Never Tell You in Teacher School.

The hard part of teaching is coming to grips with this:

There is never enough.

There is never enough time.
There are never enough resources.
There is never enough you.

As a teacher, you can see what a perfect job in your classroom would look like. You know all the assignments you should be giving. You know all the feedback you should be providing your students. You know all the individual crafting that should provide for each individual’s instruction. You know all the material you should be covering. You know all the ways in which, when the teachable moment emerges (unannounced as always), you can greet it with a smile and drop everything to make it grow and blossom.

You know all this, but you can also do the math. 110 papers about the view of death in American Romantic writing times 15 minutes to respond with thoughtful written comments equals — wait! what?! That CAN’T be right! Plus quizzes to assess where we are in the grammar unit in order to design a new remedial unit before we craft the final test on that unit (five minutes each to grade). And that was before Chris made that comment about Poe that offered us a perfect chance to talk about the gothic influences, and then Alex and Pat started a great discussion of gothic influences today. And I know that if my students are really going to get good at writing, they should be composing something at least once a week. And if I am going to prepare my students for life in the real world, I need to have one of my own to be credible.

If you are going to take any control of your professional life, you have to make some hard, conscious decisions. What is it that I know I should be doing that I am not going to do?

Every year you get better. You get faster, you learn tricks, you learn which corners can more safely be cut, you get better at predicting where the student-based bumps in the road will appear. A good administrative team can provide a great deal of help.

But every day is still educational triage. You will pick and choose your battles, and you will always be at best bothered, at worst haunted, by the things you know you should have done but didn’t. Show me a teacher who thinks she’s got everything all under control and doesn’t need to fix a thing for next year, and I will show you a lousy teacher. The best teachers I’ve ever known can give you a list of exactly what they don’t do well enough yet.

Not everybody can deal with this. I had a colleague years ago who was a great classroom teacher. But she gave every assignment that she knew she should, and so once a grading period, she took a personal day to sit at home and grade papers for 18 hours straight. She was awesome, but she left teaching, because doing triage broke her heart.

So if you show up at my door saying, “Here’s a box from Pearson. Open it up, hand out the materials, read the script, and stick to the daily schedule. Do that, and your classroom will work perfectly,” I will look you in your beady eyes and ask, “Are you high? Are you stupid?” Because you have to be one of those. Maybe both.

Here’s your metaphor for the day.

Teaching is like painting a huge Victorian mansion. And you don’t actually have enough paint. And when you get to some sections of the house it turns out the wood is a little rotten or not ready for the paint. And about every hour some supervisor comes around and asks you to get down off the ladder and explain why you aren’t making faster progress. And some days the weather is terrible. So it takes all your art and skill and experience to do a job where the house still ends up looking good.

Where are school reformy folks in this metaphor? They’re the ones who show up and tell you that having a ladder is making you lazy, and you should work without. They’re the ones who take a cup of your paint every day to paint test strips on scrap wood, just to make sure the paint is okay (but now you have less of it). They’re the ones who show up after the work is done and tell passersby, “See that one good-looking part? That turned out good because the painters followed my instructions.” And they’re most especially the ones who turn up after the job is complete to say, “Hey, you missed a spot right there on that one board under the eaves.”

There isn’t much discussion of the not-enough problem. Movie and tv teachers never have it (high school teachers on television only ever teach one class a day). And teachers hate to bring it up because we know it just sounds like whiny complaining.

But all the other hard parts of teaching — the technical issues of instruction and planning and individualization and being our own “administrative assistants” and acquiring materials and designing unit plans and assessment — all of those issues rest solidly on the foundation of Not Enough.

Trust us. We will suck it up. We will make do. We will Find A Way. We will even do that when the state and federal people tasked with helping us do all that instead try to make it harder. Even though we can’t get to perfect, we can steer toward it. But if you ask me what the hard part of teaching is, hands down, this wins.

There’s not enough.


A Learning Problem Is Not an Intelligence Problem

A Learning Problem Is Not an Intelligence Problem

by David Flink

Report cards are coming home, and a good number of parents are worried that their child seems to be showing signs of a learning disability. Their concern is well founded; learning disabilities including A.D.H.D. and dyslexia affect 20% of our students and less than half get the attention they need. That is a large community, in fact, the largest minority in the country. For these kids, often the day is longer, the challenge greater, the work harder. Unless we identify and assist them, the national cost in human potential and hard dollars will be tremendous.

Kids with learning disabilities drop out ten times more frequently than others in high school, and are much more likely to use drugs and get involved in our jail system. The impact when this large a social group fails is felt by all of us.

A learning problem is not an intelligence problem — these children are smart, creative, and capable. They can and do learn; however, they think differently, access and process information in an atypical way. That is where opportunity lies, and where we are falling far short.

Though learning disabilities are common, less than half the students get the attention they need. Society is quick and willing to judge them as lazy, their parents as unsupportive, and teachers as inadequate. We would not blame a child with vision problems who lacked glasses; we would press for assistance and accommodation. We need to transition from placing all the weight on our kids’ shoulders to the understanding that learning is transactional — it happens between the child and the environment.

How do we create bridges to enable learning to occur?

First and foremost, as parents, teachers, and mentors we must accept that one in five children think differently. It is absurd to admonish children with learning disabilities to “simply try harder,” and detrimental and debilitating to cheerlead them along, without acknowledging that in our current school structure they begin at a deficit.

Building self-advocacy skills, resilience, and self-esteem help “thinking differently” kids re-engage and be successful. Self-esteem is always based on real accomplishments, when children feel the truth of what they have achieved. They gain resilience to bounce back when we say, yes, your problem sustaining focus for long periods of time to decode language and retrieve words challenges you more than the average kid, so you’re going to get medication, we’re going to give you extra time so you can run the race on equal footing with your peers. And, by the way, though you’re weak here, you happen to be very strong in your visualization skills, or your listening skills.

We all experience the world in diverse ways, and learning disabilities are an extension of that truth. We have to help our children take ownership of their different-thinking brains, and open up the conversation to be more transparent. Let’s give children a set of language tools, so they can approach a teacher and say, “I have an learning disability, I think differently, I need accommodation. I need 20 minutes extra on quizzes,” or “I can’t copy an assignment off the board. If I try to do that, I will miss 15 minutes of your lecture.”

Paul Orfalea, dyslexic and with ADHD, couldn’t study like everyone else; reading and focusing for long periods were exceptionally difficult for him. He devised alternate solutions (making and sharing copies of classmates’ notes) and developed great relationships (organizing study groups). These were building blocks for the business he founded, Kinko’s, now with revenues of over $2 billion a year.

How do we unlock good thinking? Pay attention to what drives your child. Verbal kids often learn best in a team. A child listening to videos on a computer all day is likely an auditory processor who learns through hearing. Others are physical, kinesthetic learners, who acquire knowledge best by doing, so activities that engage their hands, as well as their minds, often pave the way.

Adults can:
1. Be a learning detective; help kids discover how they think best. Metacognition is knowing how your mind works. It matters immensely to kids. A child might be a multisensory learner, needing to hear the information, repeat it, and write it down. On NPR, I asked the interviewer, “How do you like to learn?” Her answer made perfect sense: “Through stories,” she said, a tool she had used in school.
2. Help children build bridges in the education community and receive appropriate accommodations. A child with ADHD will learn best in less distracting environments, so teach good ADHD hygiene; shut down extraneous laptop windows, turn the cell phone to silent, create a space for focus.
3. Provide advocacy. Help them ask for what they need.

Learning disabilities, ADHD, dyslexia, and “thinking differently” are equal opportunity challenges; they come to all kinds of kids. They can diminish someone, make them feel less-than, and be incredibly demoralizing every day, when children don’t understand their own metacognition.

Our job as parents, teachers, and mentors is to remove barriers to learning so these kids can unlock their minds by helping them to see their strength and weaknesses, and accentuating their skills by giving them opportunities to thrive, while simultaneously decreasing their deficits. Practice homework with them, read together on a regular basis, and give them a reader, audiobooks, or an electronic note-taker.

And remember, even if third grade was great, this year introduces new teachers and a new environment. Fostering empowerment and resiliency is key. These will serve them all their lives.

Your Elite School Is Not Worth The Cost, Studies Say

Your Elite School Is Not Worth The Cost, Studies Say

By Rick Smith

The cost for a college education has risen to the astronomical, resulting in debt that haunts young people after graduation like a ghost bent on dragging them to a Dickensian poorhouse.  It’s forcing us to ask, “Is it worth it?” Especially if the school of choice is an elite institution, is the gamble a card well played, or a sucker bet?

Malcolm Gladwell has turned many heads with his opinions that students are actually much more likely to be successful in their careers and lives over the long run if they do not attend the most prestigious school to which they are accepted. His theory (detailed in his book, David and Goliath,) is that choosing to attend the very top school to which you are accepted makes it much more likely that you will be an average performer in that school – or worse. Better to be a big fish in a little pond, he writes, than to have your confidence crushed in a hyper-competitive talent pool to which you were the last invited to the party.

Rather, Gladwell’s research found, if you attend the second or third most selective and rigorous choice on your list, you are more likely to outperform your peers. This, he contends, is the most critical factor. Why? Because if you graduate in the top percentage of your class, the research indicates that you are much more likely to succeed during your career – no matter how highly ranked your school is. Conversely, if you graduate in the middle or bottom half of your class, no matter how prestigious the school, you are less likely to be successful. It is the confidence gained from working hard and succeeding that propels you into the workforce ready to take on the world.

Critics contend that Gladwell has vastly oversimplified the issues, but other researchers have produced corroborating evidence. A few years back two experienced and respected economists, Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger, published a research paper arguing that the most elite colleges did not give their graduates an earnings boost over less prestigious schools they may have chosen. They did find that graduates of elite colleges made more money over time than their counterparts at less elite schools. By itself, this statistic would lead you to believe that it was the college that gave them the earnings boost. But the researchers then controlled for the colleges the students applied to and were accepted to.  Once they factored this in, the differences in long-term compensation disappeared.  For example, a student who attended Penn State, but who also had applied and been accepted to the more prestigious University of Pennsylvania earned as much over time, on average, as a student who attended U Penn. But even more surprisingly, the long-term earnings differences went away even if you only considered where the student applied, whether or not they had been accepted!

So, the research is telling us that an elite education is likely to leave half to two thirds of graduates demoralized and broke, without so much as an earnings boost for their troubles.  How can the cost of an elite education be worth it?

Why is this N.J. high school eliminating midterms and finals?

Why is this N.J. high school eliminating midterms and finals?SMTEST FARRELL
by Jeff Goldman

Figuring its students lose enough instruction time due to standardized tests, Glen Ridge High School is eliminating midterm and final examinations, according to a published report.

The Essex County school district used to schedule half-days for a week in January for midterms and then allot a week in June for finals. Now, according to the Wall Street Journal, students will take quarterly exams as part of their 42-minute instructional periods.

The move comes as public high school students across the state prepare to take online tests in March and May. For example, ninth-graders will be administered five sessions of English language arts and four sessions of math testing. Each session will last 60 to 90 minutes for a total of 11 hours of exams, reported. The tests are expected to cut into 10 days of instruction.

Two other suburban Essex County school districts are also making changes to traditional exam schedules — Livingston is doing away with midterms, while Millburn is scrapping finals.



Home-schooled and illiterate

Home-schooled and illiterate

by Kristin Rawls

The religious right calls it the “responsible” choice,
but for some kids it means isolation with little education

In recent weeks, home schooling has received nationwide attention because of Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s home-schooling family. Though Santorum paints a rosy picture of home schooling in the United States, and calls attention to the “responsibility” all parents have to take their children’s education into their own hands, he fails to acknowledge the very real potential for educational neglect among some home-schooling families – neglect that has been taking place for decades, and continues to this day.

While the practice of home schooling is new to many people, my own interest in it was sparked nearly 20 years ago. I was a socially awkward adolescent with a chaotic family life, and became close to a conservative Christian home-schooling family that seemed perfect in every way. Through my connection to this family, I was introduced to a whole world of conservative Christian home-schoolers, some of whom we would now consider “Quiverfull” families: home-schooling conservatives who eschew any form of family planning and choose instead to “trust God” with matters related to procreation.

Though I fell out of touch with my home-schooled friends as we grew older, a few years ago, I reconnected with a few ex-Quiverfull peers on a new support blog called No Longer Quivering. Poring over their stories, I was shocked to find so many tales of gross educational neglect. I don’t merely mean that they had received what I now view as an overly politicized education with huge gaps, for example, in American history, evolution or sexuality. Rather, what disturbed me were the many stories about home-schoolers who were barely literate when they graduated, or whose math and science education had never extended much past middle school.

Take Vyckie Garrison, an ex-Quiverfull mother of seven who, in 2008, enrolled her six school-age children in public school after 18 years of teaching them at home. Garrison, who started the No Longer Quivering blog, says her near-constant pregnancies – which tended to result either in miscarriages or life-threatening deliveries – took a toll on her body and depleted her energy. She wasn’t able to devote enough time and energy to home schooling to ensure a quality education for each child. And she says the lack of regulation in Nebraska, where the family lived, “allowed us to get away with some really shoddy home schooling for a lot of years.”

“I’ll admit it,” she confesses. “Because I was so overwhelmed with my life… It was a real struggle to do the basics, so it didn’t take long for my kids to fall far behind. One of my daughters could not read at 11 years old.”

At the time, Garrison was taking parenting advice from Quiverfull leaders who deemphasized academic achievement in favor of family values. She remembers one Quiverfull leader saying, “If they can do mathematics perfectly but they have no morals, you have failed them.”

The implication, she says, was that, “if they’re not doing so well academically, well, then they can catch up on that later. It’s not such a big deal. It was a really convenient way of thinking for me because I wasn’t able to keep up anyway.” This kind of rhetoric, Garrison notes, provided a “high-minded justification for educational neglect. I would not have gotten away with that if I’d had to get my kids tested every year.”

Over time, Garrison lost faith in her fundamentalist ideology and became aware that her children’s education was being neglected. Eventually all but one of her six younger children ended up entering and excelling in the public school system.

Why did she stick with home schooling for so long, despite her difficulties? “We were convinced that it would be better for our kids not to have an education than to be educated to become humanists or atheists and to reject God,” Garrison says. “We became so isolated because the Quiverfull lifestyle was so overwhelming we didn’t have time or energy for socialization. So the only people we knew were exactly like us. We were told that the whole point of public school was to dumb down the children and turn them into compliant workers – to brainwash them and indoctrinate them into this godless way of thinking.”

Garrison believes that home schooling has become so popular with fundamentalist Christians because, “there is an atmosphere of real terror among some evangelicals. They are horrified by the fact that Obama is president, and they see the New Atheist movement as a vocal, in-your-face threat. Plus, they are obsessed with the End Times, and believe that the Apocalypse could happen any day now… They see a demon on every corner.

“We home-schooled because we wanted to protect our children from what we viewed as the total secularization of America. We listened to people like Rush Limbaugh, who told us that America was in the clutches of evil liberal feminist atheists.”

Just how common are stories like Vyckie Garrison’s? Unfortunately, it’s hard to know. The federal government only maintains very broad demographic statistics about home-schoolers in this country; federal data only keeps track of what kinds of people are home schooling and why. You can find plenty of information about home-schoolers according to race, family income or highest education obtained by the parents. But as regards neglect related to home schooling? The government cannot tell you — and there is no systematic state-by-state record of the percentage of truancy convictions (possibly the best measure of educational neglect at present) that involve home-schooling families versus those involving enrolled students and/or their parents.

Capturing that kind of data is essential to understanding the scope of this problem, but getting real numbers will always be complicated by the fact that many home-schooling families choose not to comply with the law by submitting to state home-school regulations, or even report their home-school activity to the state. While it’s possible that some forget, others intentionally fail to report because they fear too much government intervention in their lives. For many conservative Christians, this is a key aspect of their decision not to report.

Given the scarcity of numbers on this issue, the best one can hope for at this point is anecdotal information about the problem. But because home schooling is such a highly politicized issue, it is often difficult to get a clear sense of what is happening from home-schooling parents themselves. And because many parents see themselves as advocates of home schooling, they are not always very eager to discuss potential gaps in home-schooling education.

Luckily, more than a few adult home-school graduates are eager to talk. And as I talk to more and more people who recount first-person stories of home-school-related neglect, it becomes hard to write off what home-school advocates would call “exceptions” simply as fringe outliers.

Erika Diegel Martin’s story is particularly haunting. A home-schooling graduate of the mid-1990s, and an ex-Quiverfull daughter I have known for many years, Diegel Martin was pulled out of public school at 14. Because she was old enough to remember several years of public schooling, she says she never really believed her parents’ dire warnings about it. Her younger brothers were another story. “When the school bus would come by, my youngest brother would go, ‘There goes the prison bus.’ Our parents had them believing that public schools were these horrible places, just dens of iniquity.”

The narrative about public schools, she says, went something like this: “How would you like to get stuck in a building with no light – and secular, godless, atheist teachers for seven hours of the day without even being able to see your parents or go out to play?” As a result, she says, “My brothers were terrified of the public schools.”

Like Garrison, Diegel Martin recounts notable educational gaps in her own family, where there was little academic encouragement. One of her brothers decided to quit school at 16 and faced no parental opposition. The youngest, Diegel Martin says, ceased his formal education at the age of 12, when she left home and was no longer available to teach him herself. And though she was fortunate enough to receive sex education before leaving public school, her siblings were not so lucky. Their parents never taught the three other children about sex, and Diegel Martin remembers giving her 21-year-old sister “the talk” the week before she got married. She also had to intervene to ensure that her younger brothers learned about sex.

As for herself, when she completed her schooling, she says her parents did not allow her to obtain her GED as proof of high school graduation. Their reason? “The girls weren’t allowed to get a GED because we were told we wouldn’t need it. It would open up opportunities that were forbidden to us. We would work in the family business until we got married, and then become homemakers.

“When I talked about wanting to go to college, my parents said, ‘Well, you’re a girl. You don’t go to college.’”

Melinda Palmer, 29, is another home-school graduate who is forthcoming about the problems she encountered as a home-schooled child. She had no experience of public education, and quickly came to fear it. Her father cast the local school as a corrupt example of the dangerous world outside the home. The family’s isolationism created an environment in which everyone was so terrified of the outside they saw no choice but to submit to her father’s abusive rule for many years. She says they had come to believe that the tyranny of their father was preferable to what might await them on the outside.

The oldest of eight children, Palmer grew up in an extremely conservative family that ultimately went entirely off the grid. They lived in a rural country home in Vermont without running water or electricity. Though she says home schooling started out with good enough intentions, it ultimately fell by the wayside, in part because of the sheer amount of work it took to subsist in Vermont without basic amenities while also maintaining the large family’s produce and livestock. It took so much time and energy to complete each day’s chores that they rarely had enough time to study.

Though she says all of the children in her family are literate, she tells me that, in math, she never made it past the start of pre-algebra, and that she has not yet obtained her GED. Since leaving the Quiverfull movement, she has found success as an artisanal cheese-maker, but many opportunities remain unavailable to her because of her upbringing. She speaks hopefully of continuing her schooling at some point, but feels self-conscious about working toward the GED at 29, when some of her younger sisters have already earned theirs. “I study and read things all the time,” she says, “but I haven’t done anything official yet.”

Palmer insists that her family was not alone in home-school neglect. Among the various fundamentalist families that ran in her family’s social circles, she says, “I knew several families whose children were not very literate.” Moreover, she points out, education is “more than just learning math and science and the facts of history – it’s learning how to interact with the kids around you, and figuring out what different kinds of personalities bring to life.

“You can do home schooling right if you’re very careful,” she acknowledges. “Know all the ways it can go wrong and guard against these; have outside interaction; get help with what you need help with and use a decent curriculum.” But most home-schoolers, Palmer points out, “are woefully lacking in every area” of their education.

Palmer sends me a note after we talk that reads, “I know of a family right now in pretty much the exact same situation we were in back then. They reported [their home-schooling status] to the state once, eight years ago, and never after that, to my knowledge. The state never caught on… They are one of the families I know whose children are functionally illiterate. Their 18-year-old daughter can read, but can barely write a paragraph… and the education goes significantly downhill from there. Her youngest brother, almost 11, has barely learned to read.”

I follow up to find out if anyone has reported the family to social services. She says they have been reported, but very little has changed.

Still, this is not to say there aren’t many home-schooling parents who are doing an excellent job of ensuring that their children receive a quality education. Most parents realize they are taking on a tremendous amount of responsibility when they commit to home-schooling a child, so I am not surprised to find many – secular and religious – who are doing well by their children.

Maria Hoffman Goeller is one of those. A lifelong family friend, Goeller is a home-school graduate raised in a conservative Christian home, where she never lagged behind in academics. Now she has a son with special needs in the California public school system but educates two other school-age children at home. “Part of the reason we home-school is because I’m choosing what worldview or what subjects I want to introduce my child to,” she says. But she understand the limits of her own skill, which is why she placed her special-needs son in public school. “While I can teach my children reading, writing and arithmetic, I am not trained in special education,” she says. “I want my child to have the best education he can get, which at this time is public school.”

Though she considers herself conservative, Goeller does not demonize public schools as some families do. And contrary to stereotypes about Christian home-schoolers, Goeller is adamant that she will not sacrifice academic rigor, or shield her children from views different from her own. In fact, she says she would welcome more opportunities for them to interact with public school students, for example, in sports and even in certain classes now and then.

Certainly, Goeller is not alone in the care and thoughtfulness she takes with her children’s home-school education. But in light of what Garrison, Diegel Martin and Palmer tell me, it seems irresponsible to assert, as many home-schooling parents do, that home-schooling neglect is just a fringe element in the homschooling world. And getting a straight answer about the scope of the problem from people who champion the cause is difficult at best.

Take Kelly Hogaboom, a secular “unschooling” mother who maintains a popular home-schooling blog called Underbellie, and boasts of having “two terminally truant children.” Hogaboom is an advocate for home schooling and “unschooling,” a type of home schooling that often forgoes curriculum in favor of more child-directed education. She is dismissive of the cases of neglect that I bring up, saying, by way of shutting down my inquiries: “Like yourself, I too had…a deep fear of religious fundamentalism and an erroneous belief state institutions could and should stamp it out.”

Of course, her response misses the mark; the issue of “stamping out” religious expression isn’t the point here. The issue at stake is educational neglect — which is, as the anecdotal evidence shows, an actual problem. My hope is that by looking to home-schooling parents for insights, they will be able to provide an honest assessment of their own successes and failures — in order to paint a more textured picture of the actual potential for neglect.

But in the end, Hogaboom declines to discuss the topic at all, urging me instead to read alternative theories of education she thinks I may have missed. And just in case I don’t understand that she has dismissed the concerns I raise, she concludes our email discussion by saying: “I get a laugh [at] how many grown-ups enjoy talking amongst themselves about what’s best for children” – and following it up with a smiley emoticon.

Though I am frustrated by her failure to engage with me, on some level, I understand her irritation. Home-schooling parents are probably called upon to apologize for neglectful home-schoolers quite a bit. But apologies are not what I’m looking for. I want to know about their experiences – positive and negative — as a way of understanding how to better prevent neglect.

Of course there are parents who are qualified to teach their children at home, and who do an excellent job of it. And there are children who excel in home-schooling environments. These families may well constitute a majority of home-schoolers. But this does not mean that all children do so well, and just as public schools are obligated to educate children who fall behind, so are parents who opt out of the system.

Kathryn Joyce, author of “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement,” confirms that there are legitimate reasons for being concerned about a lack of oversight among home-schoolers. She acknowledges the diversity of the home-schooling movement, but notes, for example, that, “among the Quiverfull community, there are families that home-school in such a way that education begins to diverge between boys’ education and girls education around the time they hit puberty.”

Sometimes, Joyce says, girls, “stop receiving the same education as their brothers and are trained instead to fulfill the role that they’re going to have, which is to be a Quiverfull mother and a submissive wife.”

She recalls an anecdote from Quiverfull leader Geoffrey Botkin, who suggested that girls should be taught to use the tools of the laboratory they will inhabit: the kitchen and the nursery. Girls’ education should prioritize “learning how to be mothers, learning in the kitchen, helping their mothers – not merely as chores that are a part of growing up. Rather, the point was that this should be a key part of their education because this was going to be their chief role.” Though Joyce says many home-schoolers go on to do exceptionally well once they go to college, she has also encountered problems with basics like literacy.

Given these sorts of issues, I am unconvinced when Rachel Goldberg, a secular home-schooling mother from Charlotte, North Carolina, echoes what I hear from home-schooling parents of every stripe on the subject of government oversight. “I don’t think there should be any regulation of home schooling,” she says. “I’m not a libertarian or a conspiracy theorist, but I am fiercely protective of my kids and my choices about how to raise them. It’s none of the government’s business how I teach them. Just as I wouldn’t want the state to require me to submit menu plans and quarterly nutritional assessments (even though I believe nutrition is vitally important), I don’t want the state to require curricula plans, portfolios, etc.”

According to Joyce, among extremist Quiverfull families (quite unlike Goldberg’s) there is often “a sense of persecution” when it comes to oversight; many families that refuse to report their activities do so because they fear state intrusion. But their fear may have very little basis in fact. “Often, people have to look outside the United States, to countries like Sweden, where home schooling is much more heavily regulated, to make this argument,” Joyce notes. “There isn’t as much evidence that persecution is happening here, but I think they get a lot of organizing value and activism mobilization out of the argument that they’re persecuted.”

Erika Diegel Martin, whose parents were anti-government extremists, agrees. Her parents did not report their first year of home schooling to the state out of fear, but because she lived in a small New Hampshire town, the neighbors eventually noticed when the children weren’t in school. Finally, a truancy officer showed up to inquire, and as a result, the family reported their home-schooling status. “Look, any other parents [in] a public school would be charged with truancy if their kids didn’t show up at school,” Diegel Martin points out. “Why should it be any different for a home-school family that isn’t reporting their children? It’s our government’s responsibility to make sure that our children are getting a proper education.”

My old friend Maria Hoffman Goeller is a bit more cautious about the need for oversight. With one child in the public school system and two learning at home, Goeller insists that she has not experienced over-regulation in California, one of the more tightly regulated states. But she is always on the alert, she says, for any government mandate that might try to determine “what I can and cannot teach.”

Goeller tells me that her apprehension about over-regulation stems from the arrests of home-schooling parents she knew during childhood, before home schooling was well-understood in the United States. She remembers at least a couple of parents being arrested for truancy, and she remains unconvinced that they deserved this. Some families she knew opted not to report because of these cases. For those children, this meant not answering phones and hiding in the house if a stranger knocked on the front door.

No one I speak to who is home schooling today mentions that this sort of oppressive regulation is a reality for current home-schooling families. Instead, they say that today’s regulation consists mostly of bureaucratic paper-pushing – hardly the kind of home-school persecution some fear. It may be annoying, but so far as I can tell, it’s not trampling on anyone’s rights – though that doesn’t keep home-schoolers from worrying.


Ultimately, the women who report neglect in home schooling want their experiences to serve as a warning that either greater restrictions on home schooling are needed, or states need to do a better job of enforcing existing regulations.

For 18 years, Vyckie Garrison says, she continued home schooling even though it became increasingly evident that “we should not have been home schooling. It was a really bad idea for us, but we believed firmly that it was our obligation, that it would be sinful to send our children to public schools, which we called ‘Satan’s indoctrination centers.’” She tells me that yearly testing requirements “would have made a huge difference for our family. It would have either convinced us to quit home schooling, or to do a much better job of meeting those minimum requirements.”

I don’t believe the answer is to end home schooling altogether, and neither do any of the women I talk to, no matter what their experience with home schooling. But neither is it acceptable to allow more home-schooled children to fall through the cracks. And since no one should be deprived of an education, we have a duty to listen to those who were overlooked.

Melinda Palmer has become a vocal critic of home-school neglect since leaving her home about six years ago at the age of 22. She cites “the grace of God” as the reason for her survival, as well as the support of her mother and siblings. She is still a Christian, but says her family believed in a “warped understand of God.” Today, she is no longer a fundamentalist and no longer afraid of living out in the world. She has also gotten involved in advocacy on behalf of better home-schooling regulation.

Of all my sources, Palmer has the most concrete ideas about what needs to change in order to make home schooling safer for all kids. “First,” she says, “we should not reduce the oversight. Second, we need to make sure every child who is not in a public school is either on a private school roster or is on the home-school watch list. I know of many in Vermont right now who are not even registered as home-schoolers, and no one pays attention …When kids are far below grade level, it should raise red flags, and someone should be looking into it.”

Furthermore, as a sister to several children with cognitive disabilities, Palmer highlights the particular attention that home-schooled children with special needs deserve. “If kids have disabilities, the government needs to make sure that the disabilities are being addressed either by the parents or by an intervening agency.…A child with disabilities,” she notes, “has as much right to an appropriate education” as any other child.

Just before we hang up the phone, she makes a final request: “Please spread the word that it is really necessary for the government to make sure children aren’t being robbed of an education… Kids have rights too, and one of them is the right to an education appropriate to their age and ability.”

It’s an important point, and I conclude with it because it is one of the more incisive analyses I’ve heard on this topic yet. There is simply no justification for allowing cases of educational neglect – wherever it exists – to go unchecked. We need not imprison more parents to make sure this happens, but improving state and local oversight of those who opt out would be one step in the right direction. As Garrison, Diegel Martin and Palmer acknowledge, better checks on their own home education would have made a vast difference for them. This is why, they say, they will continue to speak out.

The Future of Homework is … Video Games

The Future of Homework is … Video Games
iPhone Screenshot 1
by Esteban Sosnik

For many students, the mention of homework evokes a sense of dread. Ask any parent and chances are they, too, have a strong opinion about the value of homework.

Educators and researchers are divided on the issue. In the last decade, an emphasis on standardized tests has become much more prevalent, creating incentives to assign students with even more homework. At the same time, a recent study from Stanford University shows that spending too much time on homework can contribute to anxiety, physical health problems, and even alienation from society. The snowball effect of stress among teachers, students and parents over homework seems to be increasing with no end in sight. Unfortunately, homework as we know it is generally not effective. No data consistently shows that homework leads to learning or better grades, much less to development of cognitive skills not measured by traditional assessments. It is time to reimagine not only the amount of homework necessary but also its format.

Meanwhile, students are playing video games more than ever — on average, more than 13 hours per week. This time represents a huge educational opportunity. After all, play is one of the most powerful and natural ways for children to learn. Some game designers even argue that games can help to create a better world. As educators and parents, we can and should integrate gameplay into our students’ learning routines. Yes, you heard that right — let’s assign our kids some game time as part of their homework!

Recommended learning games by subject area

Early Literacy: Montessorium, Endless Reader
Math: Todo Math, MathBreakers, Motion Math, Dragon Box
Coding:  CodeMonkey, Tynker, Lightbot
Science: The Sandbox EDU, SimCityEDU, Econauts
Financial Literacy: Thrive N Shine, Collegeology
Creativity: TinyTap, Pixel Press, Toontastic

After more than a year operating Co.lab, an accelerator for startups at the intersection of games and learning, I have seen video games work effectively as learning systems for engaging children across ages and subject areas. We have worked with companies developing games for the consumer and school markets to teach concepts as varied as math, reading, computer science, and financial literacy as well as “21st century” skills like problem-solving, collaboration, and grit.

Games, particularly those designed with educational goals in mind, are great media to engage kids in the quest of learning. Why? Because they are systems with goals, rules for how to reach them, and feedback loops along the way to surface progression — these characteristics can support learning in a wide range of contexts. When developers and designers align game mechanics with educational goals, games can offer engaging and personalized experiences where the player becomes the agent of his or her own learning. In GlassLab’s SimCityEDU, players learn about factors affecting the environment and problem solving by building their own cities and instantly observing the impact of their decision-making.

We do not all learn the same way, and games can be especially effective for students who are struggling in traditional learning environments. Almost 80 percent of K-8 teachers surveyed by The Joan Ganz Cooney Center agree that games can help improve lower performing students’ mastery of subject areas such as math, language arts and science. Indeed, games can empower a wide range of learners by offering personalized content as well as the freedom to experiment without fear of making mistakes. LocoMotive Labs’ Todo Math presents students with multiple representations of elementary math concepts like addition and subtraction to support different styles of learning without penalizing students for making mistakes. Similarly, MindBlown Labs’ Thrive ‘N’ Shine gives high school students the freedom to practice making their own financial decisions in a risk-free environment and then reflect on their experiences with peers through classroom discussions.

The value of games for learning is becoming more widely accepted among educators, with schools nationwide integrating digital games into their curricula. According to the Cooney Center’s study, 74 percent of K-8 teachers are using some form of digital games for instruction — primarily to teach supplemental content and introduce new material. Games are also used to bring concepts together so students can apply knowledge in different contexts. According to Jesse Feldman, a middle school science teacher in El Cerrito, Calif., games like Pixowl’s The Sandbox “can really reinforce concepts that are being learned in other ways … allowing students to build skills and understanding of how individual concepts fit together in systems and how different topics relate to each other.” Games can also help students bridge the physical and digital worlds: Pixel Press enables children to create their own games with pen and paper, photograph their drawings and convert them into digital experiences to play with their friends.

Games are definitely more fun than homework as we know it today, but they also hold the potential to be more effective, too. Most homework is inherently “hackable” since, too often, it is the same for every student. It’s easy to receive help from a friend or parent, to search online for answers, or even to use an app that solves math problems for you. This homework paradigm is biased toward kids with adult support and other resources at home, potentially widening the achievement gap for underserved students. This is not the case for games, which take a vast amount of work to hack, and can be personalized to address the needs of children with different interests and levels of content expertise. There are still disparities in access to mobile devices, but smartphone and tablet ownership continues to increase for families across income levels.

I hear of so many parents struggling over the right amount of screen time for their kids. But the real question we should be asking is this: Which games are worth playing? With tens of thousands of choices out there, let’s focus our energy on seeking out the highest quality learning games so that the time our kids do spend on mobile devices supports their cognitive and social growth.

What are you waiting for? Chances are that someone has a game out there that could help your child with their homework.

How to rescue the American family and fix the broken school system in one fell swoop

How to rescue the American family and fix
the broken school system in one fell swoop

It starts with a mortgage…

By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

Nowadays, Elizabeth Warren mostly gets talked about as a potential progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton’s inevitable Democratic coronation. But it’s often ill-remembered that for most her life, she was an academic. One of her most fascinating works is her book The Two Income Trap.

A lot of people have probably heard of the phenomenon of the two-income trap, but it’s not discussed enough. This is the basic idea: financially, having both parents in a family seems like a no-brainer — it brings in more money. But it can actually become a trap if the costs involved in having both parents work become equal to the extra income that the second spouse brings in. For example, in most American settings, if both parents work, the family needs a second car, with all the expense and headache associated. The parents need to pay for child care. And so on.

And if the expenses associated with those two incomes become fixed expenses (for example, you got into debt to buy that second car, and/or to buy a house with a two-car garage), it turns into a trap: once the family realizes the mess they’re in, they can’t backtrack.

Two incomes can also be a trap because they make the family more fragile. In Ye Olden Days of the 1950s, when there was typically one breadwinner, typically the husband, if he lost his job, the wife could temporarily get a job until he bounced back, thereby softening the blow. Today, if both spouses are working full-time, and, like so many American families, are already in debt, one of them losing their job becomes a devastating blow. Another example is if a family member needs care: if the wife doesn’t have a job, she can take care of the family member; if she does, then the member typically has to be institutionalized in some form, which is expensive, and only further tightens the noose of the two-income trap.

As in so many things in America, this is tied into housing, which itself is tied into schooling. The two income trap, in Warren’s telling, arises out of the perceived need to be in a good school district. Because everyone is competing for a spot in the neighborhood, the home values in places with good school districts skyrocket; the parents then get into debt to buy the right house; both parents then have no choice but to work to pay off the debt.

And the two-income trap becomes self-fulfilling: If the child’s mother is in the home, she can monitor and counterbalance potential bad influences at school. If the child has to spend all his time in school and pre-school and post-school activities and the parents can only oversee the activities from a distance, then it becomes vitally important that those environments be free of bad influences. This makes it vitally important to buy the right house, tightening the noose.

To some extent, The Two Income Trap is only a partial analysis: the phenomenon is much harder on the upper-middle-class than the broad expanse of American families. But, still, it highlights many of the defining features of American life today: the nagging feeling of having to run harder to stay in the same place; fears related to education, social mobility, and the maintenance of “middle class” status.

What to do to break this trap?

The first obvious answer, it seems to me, is to burn the schools. We hear a lot of rhetoric against “school choice” and “markets” in education. But the simple fact of the matter is that there is already “school choice” and “markets” in K-12 education in America; the only difference is that the “choice” occurs through the real estate market, via the public school catchment system. Better-off parents can exercise school choice by buying houses in the right district. There is “school choice” — for the rich.

This entire awful system has to go, and it remains one of the deep mysteries of American politics why the left, the supposed advocate of the Little Guy, is the most vehement force standing against change in this area, and agitating for the maintenance of the intergenerational transmission of privilege.

Every family in America should have a K-12 spending account, allowing them to spend the money on school, and on para-school activities. A mere “voucher” would not incentivize schools to cut costs, and in the era of Khan Academy, it makes little sense to mandate that K-12 education happen in “schools” as we currently conceive of them. What counts as “para-school activities” should be regulated at the state and local level to allow for as much experimentation as possible. The accounts of children with disabilities and/or low socio-economic status should be topped up, so that education startups will compete for them. Extended families as well as non-profits should be able to contribute to K-12 spending accounts (we can imagine everything from churches where the better-off families direct their tithes to the education of the less well-off members of the church, to online crowd-funding campaigns allowing a 12-year-old girl-genius to go study at MIT for a semester). This would kneecap the entire sorry system.

The second obvious answer has to do with taxes. Since it is politically impossible to get rid of the mortgage interest tax break, it should at least be capped, to curb some of the worst incentives towards “McMansionitis.” Instead, middle class families should receive an expanded child-tax credit. This is the option that allows for the most choice. An expanded child tax credit would allow some families to have both parents work full time and use the money for child care, and other families to have one parent downscale their work commitments and spend more time with the kids.

Finally, we should have a broad cultural movement that recognizes that Corporate America has been failing at its citizenship duties by pretending that we are all interchangeable cogs in the great post-industrial capitalist machine. Human resources departments should recognize that some people want to devote themselves fully to their career, and other people want to focus less on their career and more on other pursuits (family or not). This is a blind spot of our maddeningly-polarized politics: the right doesn’t want to criticize large corporations, and the left doesn’t want to admit that some parents genuinely do prefer spending more time with their kids rather than slaving at the top-management fast-track.

Teachers Receive Failing Grade on Social Media

Teachers Receive Failing Grade on Social Media

by Jason Saltmarsh

It’s every teacher’s nightmare. Your reputation, your integrity, and your character can suddenly and irreversibly be damaged with the touch of a fingertip or the click of a mouse. Whose to blame for that gut-wrenching feeling of dread and anxiety when the news breaks? Most likely it’s you.

Of course, there are exceptions. Last year, a school principal in Maine was spoofed on Twitter by a student who created a phony account. The profile included a picture of the principal taken from the school website. The situation was resolved quickly, but the incident has left lasting impressions on the minds of many parents and community members.

In 2013, a first grade teacher at Paterson Elementary School (Paterson, NJ) garnered national media attention after calling her first grade students “future criminals” in a Facebook post. A teacher at Newark Memorial High School (Oakland, CA) used Twitter and said she wanted to stab some of her students and pour hot coffee on them.

School districts continue to struggle with social media policies and rules because the boundaries between personal behavior and public behavior are blurred and confusing. What is said by a teacher on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ using their personal accounts may seem beyond the reach of school policy, but it’s not. If the statements are being made if a forum that is public or includes any members of the larger school community, then the teacher is acting a spokesperson for the school district.

Beyond the sensational cases that grab the headlines, there is a larger and more permanent social media issue plaguing school districts. Unofficial school groups and pages on Facebook have become an underground pipeline of information and misinformation about schools. With few resources dedicated to marketing and public relations, schools face an uphill battle when competing for the attention of stakeholders. Even worse, school administrators rarely know what is being discussed in these forums until it’s become a problem.

There are also good things happening on social media. Teachers are collaborating with others from around the world, students are involved in meaningful discourse with other students, and parents are able to stay in close contact with school groups via automated notifications and updates. The immediacy and pervasiveness of social media is both a blessing and a curse.

In reaction to some of the growing concerns over social media and poor judgement exercised by educators, some school boards have considered a ban on the use of social media. “I think that train has already left the station, and it left a long time ago. It’s not humanly possible to stop people from using social media.” says Evelyn McCormack, the social media expert for Southern Westchester Board of Cooperative Education Services. “They’ve tried it some places and it didn’t work.”

Educators that use social media should take the following steps to protect their online reputations and keep from making the kinds of mistakes that could end their teaching careers.

  • Use only school provided accounts for student and parent communications.
  • Don’t ‘friend’ students.
  • Don’t talk about school on your private social accounts.
  • Filter your content appropriately. Be professional.
  • Turn on privacy settings and become familiar with security options.
  • Search for your name on Google. Protect your online reputation.