Merit Pay Has No Merit

Image "Money" from 401K

California Governor Jerry Brown has long been a political ally of the influential California Teachers Association (CTA), so it came as no surprise to some that he came out in his recent State of the State address in favor of local control of education, calling for broad goals set from the top, a reduction in state and federal testing, and accountability driven by both quantitative results and “a qualitative system of assessments, such as a site visitation program where each classroom is visited, observed and evaluated.”  This news was lauded in some education circles, but sets Governor Brown apart from other reform-minded politicians who emphasize test scores in programs to tie student achievement to teacher evaluations and “merit” pay systems, causing San Jose’s paper, The Mercury News, to call him “an old-school politician unwilling to buck the teachers unions.”

In the national education debate, merit pay is gaining traction.  Merit pay has been a reform rallying cry from US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who has stated that low pay and low prestige of teaching is the reason that “bright and committed” college graduates are steering away from the profession.  Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill in early 2011 that created a law to tie 50% of teachers’ evaluation on student test scores, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christy is pushing legislation in that would do the same for Garden State teachers.

However, in the past year there has been increasing evidence that merit pay does not work to improve student achievement.  Daniel Pink notes in Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us that financial bonuses can actually serve as a disincentive for motivation and work, research further supported by Michael Jones from the University of Notre Dame, Department of Economics.  Jones’ (2011) research showed that in merit pay districts, teachers work 12% less per week and volunteer less for non-paid committees.

In a presentation at Duke University on October 3, 2011, Diane Ravitch discusses some of the research that argues against the idea of merit pay.

Citing the lack of success of merit pay systems, Steven Dubner and Steven Levitt convened a Freakonomics Quorum, asking participants the question, “Why don’t incentives appear to be working in cases of teacher merit pay?”  The responses showed the range evident in the national debate and included the following ideas:

  1. Merit pay has not been accompanied by other supports necessary for improvement and is not sufficient on its own to increase learning.
  2. Educators lack an understanding of the criteria upon which the bonus will be based and therefore can’t reach targets that they can’t see.
  3. High stakes testing and accountability has been around long enough that the improvements that can be made individually and at the school level have already been made.
  4. A focus on math and reading scores causes other learning to suffer – especially long-term learning necessary for future success.

Professor Daniel Willingham from the University of Virginia created a video to explain six conceptual and scientific reasons that basing teacher evaluation on student test scores is a flawed idea.

This research is leading some in education to change their course.  New York recently abandoned their merit pay system, based on a RAND study that highlighted the lack of correlation between pay and student achievement.  As budgets around the country are tightened, education is one place politicians always look to cut.  Given the evidence that merit pay does little to increase student learning, and in some cases may hinder it, it may be the case that in this instance the reduction of funding may lead to something positive – the end of merit pay based on test scores.

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Higher Education – The Next Bubble?

French (2011)

In The Journal of Higher Education, Horton and Cronin (2009, May 22) asked the question, “Will higher education be the next bubble to burst?” They point to the fact that tuition continues to rise at most schools while at the same time families are having a harder time getting loans because of the bad economy. Recent college graduates – the millennial or “echo boomer” generation – have found themselves graduating with high debt and few job prospects. In an article for TechCrunch, Sarah Lacy (2011) writes, “Like the housing bubble, the education bubble is about security and insurance against the future. Both whisper a seductive promise into the ears of worried Americans: Do this and you will be safe.” Forbes writer Peter J. Reilly (2011) reports that millennials still believe in higher education as a means to a better career, but that evidence shows this currently holds true only for certain majors including math and foreign language. Reilly notes four indicators that could mean the bubble is going to “explode:”

  1. Making student loans harder to get – in particular by laws that prohibit getting rid of student loan obligations in bankruptcy.
  2. A “societal zeitgeist” toward different forms of post-secondary training and education (such as Kahn Academy).
  3. Another recession in the US, deepening the unemployment difficulties, and therefore the ability to pay off student loans.
  4. Students influenced by hearing bad reports about education and the opportunities it affords.

Institutions of higher education must adapt to survive

In the video below, AdamTheAnarchist talks about why he thinks his college degree is worthless:

One way Universities can remain relevant is to leverage new technologies to make their environments more accessible and more relevant. By offering online or blended courses, more students can be reached and more students can access education at times and in locations that suit their needs as learners. More students can be served, and the cost of gathering students together in one physical space can be mitigated. Cronin and Horton (2009) point to universities that are adding a third trimester, increasing the number of students served and lowering costs, and other universities, with help from the National Center for Academic Transformation, supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, are using technology to cut instructional costs by as much as 40%. They point to other trends that also point to possibly saving institutions, including the government-funded higher education for returning veterans, and the prestige that American schools have internationally, attracting international students who pay full price.

Alternatives to traditional Higher Education

However much institutions as we know them change and adapt, there is already a trend away from learning in the traditional ways. The 21st Century Fluency Project (2011) identifies 21 things that will be obsoleteby 2020, including homework, language labs, a fear of wikipedia, and centralized institutions. As mentioned above, some forecasters are predicting that traditional institutions with their fixed locations and skyrocketing costs, will soon lose their steady supply of willing students. What will take its place? That question is still unanswered, but some alternatives already exist that point to the future of higher learning being a more self-directed learning environment where students create and maintain networks in order to educate themselves.

Mentoring and coaching – an alternative path to entrepreneurship

Lacy (2011) reports on Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and entrepreneur, who believes that higher education as we know it is not only over valued, but also inequitable. Thiel reasons that if a Harvard education is so good, then we should replicate it and there should be a thousand Harvards. Why arent’ there? He believes that it is the scarcity, and therefore the inequitable access to elite institutions of higher education is what makes them valuable in the first place. In an effort to replicate the Steve Jobs effect (the one-off successful dropout), Thiel created a fellowship program called 20 Under 20 in which he granted 24 students age 20 or under $100,000 to take two years off college in an entrepreneurial pursuit (MacMillian, 2011). Thiel is offering the fellows mentoring and support as they create their start-ups, hoping to prove that a four-year degree is not necessary for success. Thiel acknowledges that students gain valuable knowledge and connections in traditional universities, and thus calls his program “stopping out” rather than “dropping out.” Equipped with a better understanding of what they need to learn in college, his fellows can return and make full use of the opportunities afforded to them, tailored to their needs.


In an interview in Salon Anya Kamenetz, author of DIY U: Edupunks, Entrepreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, defines DIY education “as the mentality that there’s another way to provide the benefits of higher education to the people who need it. It’s an idea that puts the learner at the center. Rather than the game being, ‘How do you get into the most exclusive institution possible?’ the idea is that you as a learner are identifying your own goals and assembling experiences that will be the most valuable for you to achieve those goals.” (Lipinski, 2010) These experiences, Kamenetz argues, are much cheaper and easier to get outside of the traditional university. The video below is Kamenetz describing her ideas at a TEDx conference in Atlanta.

Other examples of DIY learning are:

  • The Brooklyn Brainery: According to their “about” page, The Brooklyn Brainery is accessible, community-driven, crowd sourced education. “Teachers” offer expertise and classes on a variety of topics (a quick scan of the home page yields Bee Keeping, Indian Chutney, Pablo Naruda, and the Origins of Capitalism. Classes cost about $30.
  • The Nomadic University: This is a work in progress, but is a group of professors and students working together to bring learning outside of traditional institutions and to use technology to make learning different and more accessible.
  • Free Skool: Free Skool is another network of learners free from the traditions of the higher education institution. According to the Santa Cruz Free Skool site,”We see Free Skool as a direct challenge to dominant institutions and hierarchical relationships. The project strives to blur the lines between teacher, learner, and organizer. Free Skool is decentralized, with classes held in homes, social spaces, and parks.”
  • Free Video Lessons: Popularized by the incredibly successful Kahn Academy series, self education can be had for free on may different online sites, including iTunes U, which features lectures from Oxford, Stanford and many other top rated Universities for free.

Education beyond what we learn as teens in high school (and in ubiquitous environments during high school) will continue to be necessary in order to lead a productive and successful life in the 21st century. Some institutions will change and adapt, and some will be left in the dust as individuals work to create and maintain their own networks and places of learning.

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Learning is Everywhere

In looking at education of the future this week, I looked more deeply into the idea of ubiquitous learning.  Ubiquitous learning is often simply defined as learning anywhere, anytime and is therefore closely associated with mobile technologies. The portability of computers and computing devices has blurred the traditional lines between formal and informal learning. Ubiquitous learning, according to the Ubiquitous Learning Institute home page, is also considered to be learning that is situated and immersive, and thus could take place from the traditional classroom in a virtual environment. Whether the device is in hand or surrounding us, the idea of ubiquity comes from the ease of 1:1 computing brought about by technological advances. In the editorial in The Journal of Educational Technology and Society, guest editors Liu and Milrad (2011) write,

  • One-to-one learning is based on the belief that people learn differently as a result of owning personal handheld computing devices (Chan et al., 2006). The attributes of these devices, including portability, connectivity and context sensitivity combined with sound pedagogical ideas can transform learning from being a merely productive knowledge acquisition process to an active social interaction activity.

Nicholas C. Burbules (2009), director of the Ubiquitous Learning Institute at the University of Illinois, highlights six aspects of ubiquitous learning.

  1. Spatial ubiquity – We have constant access to the Internet (and conversely, others have constant access to you). The distinction of formal vs. informal learning is blurred – as people can access the Internet (and therefor the knowledge and connections implicit in the Internet) anytime, anywhere. This idea has implications for learning and memory – in the age of Google what is the important knowledge that we need in our heads?
  2. Mobile devices – From mobile phones to computers sewn into clothing, learning is enabled by the mobility of computing devices. We are headed toward a time when being constantly “connected’ will be a way of life.
  3. Interconnectedness – With web 2.0 technology, we can be constantly to connected not only to information on the Internet, but to other people who have knowledge and skills that we don’t. This creates a web of knowledge that becomes a large part of how we learn – at all times. (This concept is tied closely with the theory of connectivism (Siemens, 2005) which proposes that one’s ability to find sources of knowledge are more important than current knowledge itself, and that maintaining connections is key to learning).
  4. Practical ubiquity – There is a blurring of traditional lines in an either/or situation. Burbules (2009) notes that “work/play, learning/entertainment, accessing/creating information, public/private are distinctions that conceptually might never have been as clear-cut as our usage suggested them to be; but for a host of social and cultural reasons they are becoming increasingly untenable as sharp distinctions today.” For learning, the implication is that there is a new expectations of how, when why learning takes place – the traditional, factory model is not relevant to the new model of learning. This change is not limited to technology – one example being project-based learning which may or may not have a technology component.
  5. Temporal ubiquity – Instead of one’s schedule being created around the opportunities to learn, there is a shift and with mobile and ubiquitous computing, learning can be scheduled around one’s habits and preferences. This also denotes a shift in perception of and interaction with time. Rather than “lifelong learning” being something that adults do after traditional school is over, lifelong learning is continual learning – seemless between traditional an non-traditional learning opportunities across time. As Burbules says, “to be is to learn.”
  6. Globalized transnational networks – In the flattened world, there are continual flows of people, information and ideas across traditional physical and cultural barriers. We are in an age of fundamental interconnectedness.

The videos below, “Productivity Future Vision” and “Ubiquitous Computing” imagine a world where interaction with the Internet provides constant connection in everyday life, making learning and connecting ubiquitous.

Implications for education

In a society with mandatory free education, as we have pointed out throughout this wiki, it is unlikely that the classrooms and schools we know will cease to exist by the year 2025. However, the advent of mobile technologies and computing anywhere, anytime, the classrooms and schools will not be considered the only or even the major source of learning and knowledge. Burbules (2009) imagines the school as the hub of the wheel, with spokes going out in all directions to learning opportunities and experiences not in the control or direction of the school or teacher at all. In such a system, the educator becomes important as the guide for learning, helping the students analyze and assess sources of information, make connections they might not think of, and mitigating factors that block access and connections for some students.

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My (big, fat) PLN

Bucky (2011)

Last week we were looking at Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and/or Personal Learning Environments. When I first looked at the assignment I have to admit that I was not very excited. I had heard the terms and read some about them in blogs, and didn’t really think that I had too much more to add. To my surprise, however, the venture of thinking about and creating a visual representation of my PLN was interesting and fun – I became obsessed with thinking about what I learned, how I learned it, and with/from whom.

When I looked at the PLE wiki, I was immediately drawn to D’Arcy Norman’s simple people oriented view that puts his PLN tools between him and “smart people.” It is beautifully simplistic, and I related to the idea that the connections make learning happen. I also appreciated Andrew Chambers use/action-oriented web that has the phrase “learners are” in the center and makes connections to what learners do (action) and what tools help them do those things. Finally, I related to Dave Warlick’s Picture of his Personal Learning Network – in particular the bubble labeled “Reflective Endeavors” that help him learn. The more abstract ideas appeal to my thoughts that PLNs aren’t really about only people or tools or learner actions, but a hybrid of all connections and interactions.

As I sat on the plane on the way home from the Authorspeak conference (more on that later), I opened Virtual Understanding Environment, an AMAZING content organization and sharing software that I first encountered this spring (see previous blog post). I have wanted to dig more deeply into that software and thought it would help me organize the concepts and ideas of my own PLN.

I began with the idea that I would focus on what I find myself learning, how I learn (what my learning actions are) and then look at tools facilitate each action. Soon, however, I found myself with the complicated hybrid web that you see below. It was so big that I have to embed it in two pieces so that you can see it here. The dark blue box is me, the orange rectangles are my learning actions, the green hexagons are what I am learning, and the purple parallelograms are from/with whom I learn. Above, the lighter blue boxes are the media through which I learn (blogs, books, conferences, etc.) and the purple ovals are tools and examples of learning through those media. For example, Curriculum 21 is a webpage, a wiki, a source of professional development, and a conference, so that purple oval has links to all of those blue boxes.

I started with the idea that I would also connect my learning action rectangles to the blue boxes, but it became way too cumbersome. VUE allows for multiple layers, and when I have more time I can go back and make those connections, and I can also add links, pictures and other information to each node so that I can access any part of my network from one source.

In reflecting on my PLN, I am happy with the way it stands now. I think that I am still behind on using video creation tools and also on connecting through using Skype, but I know that I will get there eventually. All in all an interesting and creative endeavor that really opened my eyes to my own learning sources.

Wordle image at top:  Bucky, Susan. “PLN 1.” No date.  Online image. Flickr

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Aggregation and curation – wedding or salon?

This week we are investigating the idea of curating on the web.  The image to the right was used by my professor, Karen Hamilton, in her presentation about how we manage the enormous amounts of information we get from the Internet.  A search on Flicker took me straight to the same picture and numerous sites where it could be located.

A simple Google search “curation vs. aggregation” led me to 6,290,000 results.  How am I to decide which to look at?  Google has an idea.  Through an algorithm based on my search history and the links I’ve clicked, they’ve ordered the results in a way that I might like, and also in a way that might lead me to things they want me to like (as in the companies they advertise with).  Eli Pariser, author of the book and blog The Filter Bubble shows in which ways content is already filtered for us, like it or not.  Below is a TED talk he gave on the subject.

Google Reader will further filter content based on other algorithm.  The Huffington Post, the cooking blog I follow, my Twitter colleagues – they all filter information for me and provide it in bundles of manageable information.  The question is, in what ways is the content filtered, and does it matter?

Writing in Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab blog, C.W. Anderson argues that it does matter.  In analyzing Mark Coddington’s “This Week in Review” blog, he notes two different sections that have different goals and therefore are differently filtered.  At the top, Coddington carefully selects a variety of articles on a certain, newsworthy event, taking care to show the origins of the issue and the many sides of the debate, rarely weighing in on the debate himself.  Anderson calls this “aggregation with analysis.”  The second section, on the other hand, Anderson calls “curation,” where Coddington blogs in a more traditional way.  Describing this section, Coddington says, “[it] is like me inviting you to a party, while the main sections are like me walking you through a room at that party, introducing you to people, explaining who’s who, and giving you a sense of who you might enjoy talking to.”  The difference is important – one is the work of an expert in a topic, presenting ideas of people who have credentials relating to knowledge of that topic, and the other is more like the work of an educated amateur showing you some interesting stuff.

For this post, I explored two “curation” tools – the Tweeted Times and – keeping in mind the distinction that Anderson makes regarding curation and aggregation.

The Tweeted Times really aggregates and helps to manage a Twitter feed.  You can collect news from your friends on Twitter, or you can create your own aggregation based on a certain topic or hashtag that you want information on.  The “newspaper” refreshes every hour, so it stays current.  Tweeted Times does do some higher-level filtering, too.  It ranks the topics according to how often your friends and followers interact with it, and it also suggests topics you might want to check out.  In the way Pariser describes Google and Facebook delivering content only that you might “like,” Tweeted Times doesn’t seem to want to show you ideas you might disagree with.  This is fine with me – that’s what I want to see on Twitter anyway.  But it does not help me analyze a topic unless I intentionally follow people or topics that might be different.  Follow this link to my Tweeted Times topic “Future Education.” has become my new guilty pleasure.  Below is a short video created by to describe what they do: is currently in Beta so you still have to request to join, but I suggest doing it now.  As the video describes, is a way for a passionate amateur to share information on a particular topic in a way that is easy – one click – and focused.  The page created by a topic is easy to navigate, and has buttons for “rescooping,” commenting, and sharing on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.  The screenshot here is of my topic, Technology in Education: Teaching and learning.  You can see my most recent posts and how each post comes with a short description from the page itself.  If you click on a link it will show you the post on its own, or it will take you to the source page. Through connections I have found on the site, I have followed topics from people who have an obvious expertise , and thus I would call this more like curation than aggregation.

There are some drawbacks to the way I use  When I started I “scooped” interesting web pages, articles and videos without regard to my topic.  Although most of them were generally related, I didn’t think about sharing interesting sites in other ways while taking care to curate onto for my topic.  I think as I become more facile and perhaps add and refine my topics this will improve.  In addition, to tag an article you have to click on a separate tab.  I know this may seem trivial, but in the frenzy of a trip down a worm hole, I frequently forget or neglect to tag.  This will make searching through my scoops more difficult and harder to manage.

At the risk of mangling the party metaphor started by Anderson above, I would say that The Tweeted Times is like my wedding reception.  The guests all have me in common, but not necessarily anything in common with each other other than me.   With some tools for filtering and sorting, it might be a smaller wedding reception, but really is more of an aggregation of the people in my life and the discussion stays fairly broad., when used correctly, can be more like a salon.  Groups of people who are interested in and have varying degrees of expertise in a topic can sit around a table and share ideas deemed worthy of sharing.  The best part of it is that it is a mansion of salons, each one with an open door.

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New Teacher 2.0 with

This week’s assignment has us looking at web 2.0 media creation tools in the context of our research on the future of education.  As one of my professional goals this year is to expand my PLN using Twitter, I though I’d look into the curating and publishing tool

In thinking about how I would use with my staff, I was reminded  that couple of weeks ago I innocently emailed a link to an Edudemic blog “The Ultimate Guide to Using Twitter in the Education” to the teaching staff, thinking it might spark some interest in using micro-blogging with students in the classroom.  What followed was a healthy debate on Twitter, technology and our roles as educators in teaching with and about technology.  I remembered back to when I first experienced Twitter and thought that the most that could come of it was some narcissistic expression of my hourly moves or following other people’s narcissistic expressions of their hourly moves.  Not until I began to explore using Twitter to expand my PLN did I realize the power it holds for communicating, collaborating and informing.  That led me to the conclusion that I can talk and write about Twitter all I want, but many teachers won’t see the value until they begin to use it themselves.

Unbeknownst to me, I had already been using through my Twitter PLN when I read the hashtag dailies that people I follow sent out.  Clicking on their links I was led to a newspaper style report of the top Tweets of the day collected and curated by one of the members.  I enjoy seeing the top stories without having to scroll through endless re-tweets and comments, and like the way the Tweets were organized by media type (photos, videos, etc.) and by topic.

The I created is titled “New Teacher 2.0” and follows the topics #ntchat, #elemchat, #k12chat and #edtech.  I envision sending a link out daily to my new teachers so that they can begin to develop their PLNs and discover the support and ideas they can get from teachers all over the world.  Part of my job is to find resources for my teachers to support their work, and what better way than to cull the ideas of many into a single source.  The #ntchat thread is full of ideas for new teachers both high and low tech, and also offers a weekly Twitter Chat sponsored by a veteran teacher based on topics followers choose. I am excited to share this new resource with my new teachers, and to work on creating other topics to support a more nuanced use of Twitter.


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The Future of Education is Now

It is a beautiful thing that I should find myself writing about the future of education for my online class as I am in my car, logged in to the Internet through my iPhone personal hotspot, driving up to the mountains.  I couldn’t have imagined doing that even five years ago, so it is difficult to predict what education will be like in 2035.  I wrote about the future of education back in May when I was blogging more regularly, and the ideas there still hold true, and I would add more.  Things I would add to my exploration of the future of education:

  • Ubiquitous learning:  According to the Ubiquitous Learning Instituteat the University of Illinois, “technological as well as social, cultural, and institutional changes mean that learning is a continuous possibility across spatial and temporal barriers.”  With those advances, people can learn what they want, when they want it, and from essentially any place.  I believe that the four-walled classroom won’t yet be gone in 2025, but its use will change.  One example of this that has already changed is reverse instruction or flip teaching, whereby students watch lectures and get direct instruction at home, participating in more teacher-supported practice and exploration at home.  Here is a chemistry teacher describing how he uses this technique:
  • Digital Literacy:  Increasingly, educators are coming to understand that literacy is not just reading and writing in the traditional sense.  In order to fully participate in the world students (and indeed all of us) need to learn to understand, analyze, connect and collaborate through many different media and technology.  As students are able to search out the knowledge and skills they need from many different sources, public education as an institution will need to keep up or be left far behind.  The International Society for Technology Education has created standards, guidelines and information for keeping literate in a technical age.
  • Digital Books:  2025 is not all that far away.  Already schools are implementing 1:1 programs with iPads contain students’ course materials, and as the technology becomes more refined, students interaction with their “texts” is far more interactive than a traditional book.  This TED talk shows the first of the next generation of digital books.

What is most fascinating to me is how the traditional theories of learning and pedagogy will both change and be changed by technology as developments occur faster than we can keep up with them.  As educators it is ever more important that we continue to collaborate and stay open and flexible in order to continue to be relevant.

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