Friday, January 20, 2012

Are schools making our children illiterate to make a profit?

Professional writer and filmmaker Peter Kowalke didn't start reading until he was 11 which wasn't a problem for him because he didn't go to school.  He explained it to me this way.  
In school you read about doing things.  I preferred to spend my early childhood doing things rather than reading about doing things. 
He shared that this wasn't even something he thought about much.  When learning to read independently became more of a priority for him, he began picking up reading and from that point on there was no turning back. Peter is not unusual.  Dr. Peter Gray studies young people who were never schooled because they were unschooled or attended a Democratic school. The age these children learned to read has a wide range from about 4 - 14 years old. He found that when not coerced or forced, EVERY child learns to read well and by age 15 it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between a child who began reading at 4 and one who began in later years. (Note: This did not include children with severe cognitive impairment or those who don't speak English.)  For those unfamiliar with unschooling or Democratic schooling, it provides children with a natural learning environment where they have access to plenty of resources and support, but learning is not forced and children are given the freedom to learn what they choose when they choose. 

Reading proficiency among fourth grade students
From Students First 

There is plenty of information, research, and numerous case studies that point to the fact learning to read and write will come as naturally to children as learning to walk and talk if provided a literate and supportive environment where passions are honored. Unfortunately, school was not designed this way.  In school all children are expected to learn at the same rate and in the same way and if they don't, they are labeled, left back, and left out. What's more, in today's accountability climate, the same is happening to many of their teachers.

Most recently, we've been led to believe the cure to the literacy problem in our country can be solved by testing even more. It is thought that this will enable us to figure out where the problems lie within each student and determine who the "bad teachers" are so we can replace them with others who are good at getting the mandated results. But does obsessively dissecting what a student is doing really help them get better? Imagine if we did this while children were learning to walk or talk? Can't all this lab rat analysis take the joy out of what the child is doing? We also need to ask ourselves, are our best teachers really those who can produce good test takers? Ironically, there is new research coming out that indicates that standardized testing leads to a dramatic decrease in the joy of reading. Perhaps even more importantly, education expert Alfie Kohn explain how teachers are killing students motivation to read by relying on coercion and extrinsic inducements.

Could this all be on purpose? All this focus on testing and forcing has resulted in a nation where an alarming 67% of 4th grade students are being identified as not being able to read proficiently by the arbitrary time government officials say they should be. Could it be that the government is wrong about when it is that students should be proficient and by forcing a factory model of learning they are actually keeping students behind? Could it be that Americans are being purposely mislead to feed the money-hungry testing and publishing companies that are now literally pulling in billions of dollars? After all, like it or not, this is huge business! These are companies that are backing and supporting politicians. These are the companies who came together and stood arm in arm with the politicians from each state in the creation of the Common Core standards and now stand to make billions in profits . Are American schools actually causing the illiteracy issue because it results in a tremendous amount of money for big business rather than useful resources for children?

And, come on! Let's face it. Teachers were trained to develop materials for teaching and they are experts at assessment. Why on earth do we need to pay someone else to do the work teachers were hired to do?

If 2/3rds of children aren't reading on level, isn't it clear that perhaps it is not the children or the teachers that are the issue??? Maybe the developmental level identified is wrong or maybe there is purposely a curriculum in place that makes us want to do more testing, test-prepping, and publishing of materials to meet a "crisis" that is non-existent for those who venture to learn to read and write without the benefit of school.

Perhaps this chart below explains the impetus to do this to children. With 5.3 billion dollars out there for the taking, there is a significant incentive to perpetuate the problem.

A little less coercion, force, and mandating that every person achieves by date of manufacture can go a long way in saving our children and saving dollars for our education system. Will this happen? Probably not. There are too many people who stand to profit off our children.

You can keep the conversation about this going on my Facebook page here or in my learning group here.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reasons an innovative educator likes the Google Chromebook and some things I'd like improved

I have been using Google’s Chromebook for the couple months, and while there were some things I don’t like, overall, it has moved up as my top recommendation for a learning device for a number of reasons. Schools will love that it eliminates the need to purchase software licenses, servers, costly security solutions, and maintenance plans. 

The total cost of owning a Chromebook is up to 70% lower than the ownership costs for a traditional PC. After 3 years, schools receive a whole new set of Chromebooks and can keep their original set (without cloud management or ongoing support) at no charge. Currently Chromebooks go for $449 per device with service for one year ($519 with 3G) or $20 per month per device with an optional $3 per month cost for 3G. Schools should have some of these on hand for students without internet at home. The monthly option includes the hardware and operating system, updates, cloud-based management, and complete support. The one time purchase provides this for one year. This eliminates the time-consuming maintenance tasks like imaging, installing patches, and data recovery which schools often are not equipped to handle.

It’s fast!
If you’re like me, you don’t like to waste time. My previous laptop took 8 minutes to start up. Not with the Chromebook where you can enjoy “instant on.” You open it, it's on. You close it, it’s off. Additionally, the Chrome browser is faster than any other I’ve used.
A production machine
Provided you're comfortable working in the cloud (and you should be), creating content is quick and easy with Chromebook.

The production apps I use most often include the following:
  • Word Processing and Spreadsheets - Google apps
  • Presentations - Prezi or Google Presentation
  • Video upload and editing - YouTube
  • Blogging - Blogger
  • Social media: Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus
  • Working offline: Scratchpad
Because of speed and ease of use, I find the Chromebook my go to device surpassing my iPad, iTouch, or traditional laptop.

Google App Marketplace
The Google App Marketplace has a ton of free apps that are great for productivity and education. You can see which ones I like best at The Innovative Educator's Picks for the Google Chrome Extensions in The App Marketplace.

You don’t have to go to a search engine to search. You just type what you’re searching for right in the box where you typically type in a URL.

Worry Elimination
  • Bugs and viruses
    Because the device is in the cloud, you don’t worry about bugs or viruses and you don’t get those annoying McAfee Antivirus warnings and advertisements.
  • Machine won’t slow down
    On a traditional device, before you know it, it has been slowed down with a bunch of software that you never wanted permanently and slows down your device. For the truly sophisticated user you can engage in re-installing the operating system, updating your registry, clearing your cache, etc.
  • Image
    You never have to worry about updating your image. It’s tied to your Google Account and you or your administrator can customize it to your liking.
Device interchangeability and indestructibility
For those who’ve been responsible for one-to-one deployments, it isn’t uncommon to hear it isn’t quite the panacea it is touted to be. Today, what’s important is that students can access “their” work anytime, anywhere. Providing ubiquitous access with Chromebooks rather than the traditional one-to-one not only eliminates imaging issues, but now, customizing a device is no longer a problem since you log on with your Google account. As a result, the devices become nearly indestructible. Additionally, many of the inventory issues that have become a nightmare and burden for some one-to-one schools are virtually eliminated.

Battery Life
The Chromebook lasts a full day. That’s right. You can go 8 hours straight. This means you don’t have to worry about powercords and having outlets available all around the room. I love having a device that doesn’t require me to travel with a clunky and weighty powercord.

I was surprised to find that the browser crashes a lot. When this happens you have the option to “kill pages” or “wait." My advice: always choose "kill." If you don't the machine typically freezes up and you have to restart...though with the quick start up time, that's not so bad. What I don’t like is that there is no ctrl alt delete / force quit. The device seems to crash about once every three hours even after following troubleshooting directions for extensive crashing. I am hoping this is an issue that Google is working on.

Thing you can’t do
There are several programs that I use often that I can’t access with the Chromebook. These include the following:
  • Skype
    While there are alternatives to Skype like Google Video and Google Hangout, Skype has become the standard that most people want to use to connect.
  • Webinars
    I hosted two webinars and was surprised to find neither webinar provider runs on Chrome. I had to get another device.
  • iTunes
    I think it is ridiculous that iTunes is not a cloud-only service. I believe it is moving in that direction but Apple doesn’t play nice with Google, so we’ll have to wait-and-see if this will become available for Chromebooks.
  • USB for Wireless InternetThere may be a way to make my wireless usb work, but I haven't figured it out. If it can be activated, it is not intuitive, and my hunch is that it can not. A MiFi card however, does work.
  • No Java or Silverlight supportThis means I can't do things like screencasts. This will be a big issue for some educators.
Google has decided to reconfigure parts of a keyboard which I don’t appreciate. Here is what’s missing.
  • Caps lock
    In place of caps lock is a search button. I hate this as I keep forgetting and then get launched into a search in which I had no interest. You can achieve caps lock by holding down both shift keys.
  • Delete
    I love my delete key. In it’s place is power off. I hate this as well because I forget and inadvertently shut the device off. Fortunately it comes back on quickly. You can achieve the delete function by using alt and backspace which is okay, but I prefer the one-finger option of the delete key.
Right Click
I want my right click button back. I hate the two-finger touch. It’s awkward and glitchy. Additionally, scrolling is a nightmare because it is easy to accidently engage unwanted menus and commands.

Pen Functionality
I miss the pen functionality of my HP Tablet.

Because of it’s speed, ease in maintentance, and functionality as a great production device, Google Chromebooks are the device I recommend for primary use by students and professionals. However, whether used in the school or office, you will want access to other devices for the times you want to engage in activities unsupported such as Skype, webinars, iTunes, and sophisticated video editing (you can do basic editing in the cloud using YouTube).  

You can keep the Google Chromebook conversation going at Chromebook Central - The Official Group for Chromebooks.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Gifted/ADHD Connection

Guest post by Dori Staehle | Cross posted at Next Stage Educational Consulting

It reads like something from a science fiction novel: Millions of schoolchildren lining up everyday for the medication that will make them sit still, pay attention – and behave! Orwell’s1984 or Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron perhaps?

This is life imitating art. We’ve become so convinced that children need to be medicated in order to learn that we’ve completely ignored what’s really causing their inattention and hyperactivity in the first place.

As an educational consultant and private tutor, I’ve seen children medicated needlessly. I’ve seen the prevalent side effects, I’ve heard from frantic Moms after their sons were rushed to the emergency room. The sad fact is that the majority of children who are diagnosed as ADD or ADHD (often by their teachers!), are actually highly gifted, talented, and creative kids. The problem is: No one was looking for that.

Like they say, if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. Since most teacher training programs and even graduate programs don’t cover this, let me explain what giftedness is. Giftedness is a complex phenomenon which encompasses high IQ and creativity, along with heightened sensitivities, and uneven development (combined definition from Dr. Linda Silverman, The Columbus Group, and this writer).

At many of my workshops, I outline the symptoms of ADD/ADHD taken from the psychologist’s “bible”, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).  Then, I add to the right side of the screen the traits of giftedness, as per The Gifted Development Center in Denver. Yes folks, both lists are exactly the same (you can seen this chart here).People who are super-talented, creative, or bright tend to be hyper. They space out when they’re bored or when they’re trying to figure something out. They tend to hyper-focus on areas of interest.

In addition, there are literally hundreds of medical conditions that can produce hyperactivity and inattentiveness (The Hyperactivity Hoax, Dr. Sydney Walker,  Within my student population, 100% were right-brained, 95% were gifted, 90% were highly gifted with IQ’s in the 150-200 range (average IQ is 100), and all of them had allergies, asthma, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), food sensitivities, or a combination of all four.

In 2000, I spoke at a gifted education conference and posited that a huge percentage of students that are being labeled as ADD/ADHD are actually right-brained gifted, talented, and/or creative students. We are, in fact, medicating brilliance. We are also ignoring the underlying medical conditions and not accounting for the biggest trigger: stress.

Schools are left-brained institutions taught by predominantly left-brained individuals (Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child, Jeff Freed). They don’t understand those of us who are right-brained and creative, who think in pictures and tend to be random, not sequential. So, they medicate what they don’t like or don’t understand. Surely, there must be something wrong with these kids’ brains! In fact, ADD used to be known as a brain disorder – even though most of these kids have high IQ’s! You can almost call it a “left-brained conspiracy”. No wonder these kids are stressed out – they’re not allowed to be themselves!

Therefore, it is no surprise that there is a huge incidence of gifted, talented, and creative kids within the homeschooling population ( They can learn in ways that work for them and be with others like them. They can spend a great deal of time on their passions and take breaks or blow off steam when needed. This is their version of normal. Maybe it’s time to accept that and not try to change it.

Dori Staehle has close to 20 years of tutoring and consulting experience and has worked with public, private, and homeschooled students and their families.  She holds a BA in French and German from Wagner College in NY, and an MBA in finance from Fairleigh Dickinson University in NJ. In addition, she has done both graduate and post-graduate work in gifted education and gifted psychology while in CO.

Dori has written and published several articles on gifted education and homeschooling and developed the theory known as The Gifted/ADHD Connection. She is currently writing a book which is tentatively titled Hearing the Music: Why We Chose Homeschooling Instead of Ritalin.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Get On-Demand Support for Your Writing for Free with PaperRater.Com

I recently discovered, a paper grading and feedback resource that is free and does not require a download.  Developed and maintained by linguistics professionals, subject matter experts, and graduate students, does this by combining the power of natural language processing (NLP), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, information retrieval (IR), computational linguistics, data mining, and advanced pattern matching (APM). The program is used by schools and universities in over 46 countries to help authors improve their writing. provides helpful feedback on grammar, spelling, word choice, and style, but not the author's arguments, logic, organization, and ideas. There is also an Auto Grader rates the grammar, spelling, word choice, and style and has been found  to be nearly as accurate as human graders for that part of the work, for most papers.  At the end of your paper rating, you get a professional looking PaperRater Printable Summary Analysis that gives you an overview of your paper.

Here’s why I love this for writers.
It’s always great to get instant feedback on your writing and added bonus is not having to bug anyone for it. I ran some of my blog posts through PaperRater and received useful suggestion on things like using active of active voice, spelling, grammar, and vocabulary.  

Here’s why I love this for teachers.
For teachers who are grading student work, it is terrific to have your students get this sort of feedback before handing in their papers. This means less time focusing on grammar, spelling, style, and vocabulary, and more time focusing on content. There is also a plagiarism detector (though most innovative educators don’t give work that can be plagiarised).

If we really want to empower writers to work independently, it is ideal to combine PaperRater  with a tool like SWoRD, the free web-based, system that uses peer review as its backbone.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Dream to Be Free At Last From State Standardized Tests

Parents and educators across the nation are fed up with a government sucking data out of our students like a vampire who needs their blood to survive. Fortunately, the jig is up. Parents have caught on to the fact that not only does all this ineffective, inaccurate, and outdated testing and prepping do nothing to help their children, but the reality is that it is harming them. Schools are literally turning parent’s once vibrant, playful, smart, and creative young treasures into student zombies who must memorize, regurgitate, and do what they’re told. If they don’t they are all too happy to drug into submission children who resist such efforts.  They even have pharma-funded research and doctors telling them to do this though few schools share with parents the harmful effects that experts not paid for by pharma companies want you to know.

Meanwhile, while everyone is profiting off our children, who are being used as pawns, the public realizes that something has gone seriously wrong. Our government has quietly and quickly stolen from parents control of their own children forcing them to be subjected to a test-prep-to-death curriculum that they know is wrong. Without their data, these young people are of no use to the system. Failure to comply can lead to serious consequences such as refusal to allow children to graduate as well as kicking them out of school.

Our vampire zombie children and their parents know there is a better way, but they feel their hands are tied. Public school parents who don’t comply, not only face risks to their children, but are also often subjected to bullying by education employees and administrators.  Non public schools who don’t comply are faced with loss of accreditation. Home educators, who often have made this choice to escape harmful mandates, are threatened with child protective services. As a result organizations like HSLDA are getting action to fight for parental rights.

Fortunately, the social-media marketplace of the 21st century does not have to apply solely to consumer outrage against banks and phone companies.  Parents of all children can come together to stand up and unite against the government’s attempt to control their children despite the harmful effects it is causing. In order to take back the right to give our children the freedom to learn, parents, all parents, regardless of public education choice, can mobilize, opt out and stand up to the monolith institution driven by politicians, agendas, egos, and of course we waste a hefty sum of money when we “hire testing companies to create and score tests, third person companies to evaluate the reliability of the tests, test security companies to make sure the test is secure, statisticians who know nothing about teaching but create value-added statistical formulas to evaluate them based on data-- all on the tax payer dime (-via Mr. Fitz).”

How will this work? Well, first we need to look at the issues and then identify a solution. Fortunately, in the chart below, I’ve done just that.

It’s hard to get the facts
The government have no impetus to supply parents with the facts. Instead they make it very difficult to find information
Opt Out of Test Wiki
With the help of wonderful students, educators, and parents, we have put together an “Opt Out of State Standardized Tests” wiki. The beauty of a wiki is that anyone from that state can contribute information as they find it. Join us here.
There isn’t a system to connect with other parents, educators and concerned citizens in your state
There is currently no easy way for ALL parents to connect within a state. This makes mobilizing and acting difficult. Fortunately, with social media that’s all about to change.
Join your state’s Opt Out of Standardized State Test Group on Facebook
Concerned educators and parents have come together to create brand-new, easy-to-find, state-by-state groups on Facebook where parents, educators, and anyone who cares, can come together to mobilize and take back control of their children’s freedom to learn.  
You can join others interested in opting out in your state in two ways:1) Type in the search: Opt out of State Standardized Tests - Your State i.e. Opt Out of State Standardized Tests - Ohio2) Go to the page url: i.e.
The government is working to get parents to succumb to their bullying
The government is throwing all sorts of threats parents' way about what they will do if you don’t hand your children over to comply with their demands. Additionally they are threatening schools with losing funding if parents don’t follow their orders. Everyone is panicking that if they don’t comply with demand, despite the fact that children are being hurt, they will suffer grave consequences.
It takes a few strong parents to lead the way and stand up and make a difference
Renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Parents, stand up to these bullies. Challenge their threats. Band together. Know your rights. Be aware that you can opt your child out of school if school is forcing your child to be harmed. Parents are pulling children out of school in great numbers due to the demise of our system and have been pleasantly surprised when they learn the many college and career opportunities available to children who don’t choose school.
Teachers are being told they’ll be fired for sharing the truth
Teachers know that excessive testing of their students is wrong. Not only does it demean the teacher as a professional it takes all that was good, fun, exciting, and inspiration out of teaching. Unfortunately, in many states, teachers are told they are mandated testers and that they are not “allowed” the freedom of speech to let parents know their children do not have to take the tests. They are being threatened with job loss if the do.
Teachers must unite and stand up for children
It will take some brave teachers to stand up to this bullying by the state and local politicians and administrators.  We need some brave teachers to stand up for what is right for our students and take on the system. Teachers are being threatened with their jobs. Some teachers will do what is right for kids even if it will cost them their jobs. Perhaps first any teacher planning to leave due to a number of reasons can be encouraged to take this on. Have parent meetings. Send literature home with children. If you are threatened or fired, contact the media. Ask your local politicians if they’ll get on board to support you.
The test-prep curriculum is dumbed down and leaving ALL children behind
More and more great teachers are leaving a school system that has dumbed down the curriculum to a point that no child is prepared for success in college or career. (50% leave within five years). Teachers got in this profession to make a difference and this is not the way to do it. Our best teachers are no longer able to engage in practices that harm children. They are leaving the system and looking for alternatives, unwillingly and helplessly, leaving our children behind.

Support your children and your teachers in pursuing meaningful learning
Unfortunately, many working parents see no alternative to sending their children off to government schools.  Despite the fact that our taxes are being used to support the institution, the institution is attempting to take away the right of parents and their children to learn meaningfully.  Tell your children they do not have to do test prep. Provide your child with resources that allow them to discover and develop their passions if test prep is  being imposed upon the teacher.  Inform your teachers that your child’s right to learn things that will make him a success in the world come before test prep. Ask that you hope she understands.

Schools today value  data and research over common sense. That’s okay. There’s plenty of research out there to point to that says test prep doesn’t work.
There is a focus on saving schools rather than students.
Several groups have come together to help parents opt out of testing. Unfortunately some of these groups are more focused on saving their schools and their jobs than supporting ALL children. In fact in some of these groups they have gone as far as banning, blocking, and censoring any parent or supporter of those who have made non-public school education for choices for their children. Such activities divide, rather than unite concerned citizens in our effort to help all children regardless of their political, religious, or school choices. Discrimination and support for only “some children” is not the message these groups should be promoting.
We are all in this together
If you belong to a group that discriminates against those who support the freedom of choice in education options, let these members know that intolerance and discrimination is the wrong message to stand behind. Be careful of groups that are known for engaging in the very behaviors most of us don’t wish to see from our schools or government i.e. bullying, bashing, banning, censorship.  Work to bring all those concerned about the well being of others together. If you find you are in a group that only accepts “some” consider joining groups that except “all.” Here is a list of some of those:

Getting started is as easy!
Here are ten things you can do now.

  1. Join the Opt Out of State Standardized Tests Wiki. Read and contribute information about your state.
  2. Find the Opt Out of State Standardized Tests group for your state and invite others to join.
  3. Inform appropriate parties that your child won’t be taking the test.
  4. If the school insists your child come to class and take the test, inform him/her that they can join kids across the nation in an act of civic dissent and write “I prefer not to take your test” across the front of their test. Join the Facebook group and if your child is a teen, let them know they can to here.
  5. Exempt your child from mindless test prep. Provide him or her with resources to meaningful activities to do at that time.
  6. Volunteer to host your state’s opt out page by signing up at
  7. Share this article with others via email, Facebook, Twitter, or print out.
  8. Tell your kids they are more than just data and that we need to Fix the Schools, Not the Child.
  9. Let your teens know that if school is not serving their needs they can opt out and embrace the freedom to learn to learn without school.
  10. Know that if school is hurting your child, you can pull him or her out temporarily or permanently, and there are ways to do this even if parents are working.  
Congratulations to you for being one of the pioneers that will not only save our schools, but are MOST importantly working to save our children.  I look forward to your contributions on the wiki, comments to this post, and conversations online.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Hottest Posts of the Week on The Innovative Educator

Wowza!  Looks like this week there's been a lot of attention to the dangers of medicating kids diagnosed with ADD / ADHD. As I share in these articles, if teachers and parents don't know and haven't explored the other options before drugging their children, they are being neglectful and possibly condemning children to a life with irreversible damage.

You can read those stories and more in this week's roundup of what's popular on The Innovative Educator blog. Below you’ll see the top weekly posts along with the number of pageviews. I hope there's something that looks of interest to you.  If it does, check it out. If you’re inspired, share it with others and/or leave a comment.

How Ritalin ruined my childhood
Jan 10, 2012, 10 comments                              1907 Pageviews
What the doctors &  teachers may not tell about ADHD Meds...
Jan 9, 2012                                                     1841 Pageviews
Cure ADHD without Drugs with These Resources  ...
Feb 5, 2011, 22 comments                                1757 Pageviews
Concerned about College & Career Success? Homeschool...
Jan 6, 2012, 3 comments                                   1664 Pageviews
You can never replace the teacher. Or can you? ...
Jan 3, 2012, 11 comments                                 1599 Pageviews
Dispelling Popular Myths about Learning to Read and Write...
Jan 5, 2012, 4 comments                                   1578 Pageviews
10 Reasons Cell Phones Should Be Allowed In School...
Aug 24, 2010, 20 comments                              1473 Pageviews
Learn how you can homeschool even if you work...
Jan 8, 2012, 8 comments                                   1424 Pageviews
Why and Innovative Educator cares about homeschooling...
Jan 11, 2012, 4 comments                                 1364 Pageviews
The Ten No Nos of Teaching with a Projector or Smartboard...
May 10, 2010, 37 comments                              1229 Pageviews

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