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EssayTagger is a web-based tool to help teachers grade essays faster.
But it is not an auto-grader.

This blog will cover EssayTagger's latest feature updates as well as musings on
education, policy, innovation, and preserving teachers' sanity.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Musings on Education: A different response to Brill's article on education reform

In my previous post I introduced Steven Brill's article about education reform and pointed out a minor flaw in Brill's argument. That post served as the jumping-off point for a great discussion in the post's comments. I feel like Jack and I made more progress in that discussion than I've heard in the education reform debate in the last five years! Check it out!

Here in part two we turn to an excellent piece by Shantanu Sinha, the President and COO of the amazing Khan Academy. I'm proud to say that Shantanu also happens to be a friend and a former roommate of mine!

Shantanu's response:

The first thing that jumped out at me from Shantanu's article was:
"I think the entire conversation has been hi-jacked by issues surrounding the adults and little has been done to address the needs of students.  If we spent more time thinking about what the students are actually experiencing, we would realize that we designed a very impersonal system that horribly misses their individual needs."
I think every teacher feels this tension. This lack of individualization is most obvious and apparent in the math and sciences, which is the area that Khan Academy is focusing on improving. And it isn't that teachers don't care enough to provide the individual-focused attention that's required, it's that it simply isn't possible given the complexity of the skills involved and the practical realities of the time and energy such organization and remediation would require.

Helping solve part of this problem is a big part of my motivation for creating EssayTagger.com.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Musings on Education: Nit-picking Steven Brill's article on education reform

Here's an interesting exchange that I just caught wind of off of my Twitter feed:

First there's Steven Brill's article, "The School Reform Deniers". In it he argues that the problems with America's public education system are "un-debatable" based on the facts that he has uncovered. His main criticism is with teachers' unions and he claims that they are, primarily, self-serving entities that are disingenuous about improving education. Read the article for yourself and decide the merits of his argument; I'll remain silent on that one.

But as an English teacher, I do have to point out one flaw in his argument. He states, as an example of the "un-debatable" power of fact:
I have now worked my way through a fog of claims that give new meaning to the notion that if you repeat something that is plainly untrue enough times it starts to seem true, or at least becomes part of the debate. For example, there’s the refrain from the deniers, including [Diane] Ravitch, that charter schools skim only the best students in a community. Some may, but not the best ones like those in the KIPP or Success Academies networks, where students are admitted by lottery and which teach the same ratio of learning disabled students as the traditional public schools. Those are facts.
Indeed, this is a fact that I completely accept. But there's a key phrase in his statement that he does not examine closely enough: "students are admitted by lottery." This is a fact. He's doing a good job stating it clearly. But what does that mean, to be admitted by lottery? Well, for starters, it means that the family had to apply for this education lottery. That is obvious. That is a fact.

But here's where a bit of subtlety and insight comes in: do all families in the neighborhood apply for this lottery? Doubtful. I'd be shocked if even half the families applied. Application to the lottery is a self-selecting filter. The significance of this cannot be underestimated.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Teacher Tech Tip: A legit use for a class Twitter feed

Twitter can actually be a useful class tool, albeit with some privacy considerations.

I really can't stand how the press jump all over any story where a teacher is using new technology--even if the teacher really isn't doing anything all that innovative or new. And jumping into a hyped-up technology ("I must get into Web 2.0!") just for the sake of being hip and trendy with the kids will be a waste of time.

Well Facebook and Twitter are about as overhyped as you can get. I see the value of Facebook. I'm on Facebook. I like it.

But Twitter? 140-character updates on my every waking moment? Not so much. And Twitter in the classroom? Shyeah, right.

That is, until I saw this:

(skip the intro text, scroll down to the slide viewer box)

I think there is educational value here. Twitter can be a useful means of communication to help students outside of the classroom. Email, discussion boards, and class wikis have their purposes too (many of which slightly overlap here) but Twitter offers the combination of:
  • Speed - instantaneous reach to your students. Just as fast as email.
  • Brevity - good for sending out quick reminders, daily summaries, short answers.
  • Broad reach - all followers (students) can see your updates and clarifications. 
  • Public 1-on-1 - if one student has a question, odds are that others have the same question. Answer it once and let everyone else see the response.