Civic Hacking: Re-energizing citizenship and Restoring Trust in Government

Here is a quick summary of Catherine Bracy’s September 2013 TED Talk entitled Why Good Hackers Make Good Citizens.

I believe you will want to watch it a couple of times and share it with lots of others.

  • “Hacking”  is collaborative, innovative problem solving
  • Civic Hacking brings 21st a Century tool set to bear on the problems  government and society are facing
  • It encourages and empowers effective citizen participation
  • It re-energizes citizenship and restores trust in government
  • It is a way to create functional apps that serve real people in a user-friendly way

One example towards the end is just sobering.

The Mexico House of Representatives let a 2-year $9.3 million (USD) contract to build a bill-tracking system. Out of frustration and irritation, Mexico City tech-geeks created a contest to create a system in 10 days for a “prize” of $9,300 (USD) (!). They received 173 apps; 5 were presented to the legislature and are still being used; the $9.3 million contract was vacated.

Click here to watch.

 

Closing the education-opportunity-achievement gap

Closing the education-opportunity-achievement gap

It appears to me, the task of closing the education gap is two-fold, consisting of ‘Inside Jobs’ and ‘Outside Jobs.’

The ‘Inside job’ would be everything that happens in the classroom in a school in a district.

The ‘Outside job’ would be everything else – community, parents, not-for-profits, foundations, health, transportation, PTA, unions, politicians, legislators, city-county-state government, business, and like that.

For the Inside Job, the best expression I have come across is M. Night Shyamalan Foundation’s recent book, I Got Schooled, which very clearly says that closing the gap is a multi-faceted, ‘systems’ challenge, requiring a multi-faceted ‘systems’ response.

Money for the Inside job comes mostly through property taxes, oil-gas fund, and equalization formulas. A perennial problem is, arguments for employing these funds tend to use one-dimensional single-issue practices, based on favored views of lobbyists or organizations for a particular ideology, concept, or anecdote – and interdisciplinary integrated ‘systems’ solutions get buried in this narrow focusing.

Many, if not most, single-issue solutions have been tried once or many times over the years. Many are still being supported or proposed. However, truckloads of data from multiple points of view reveal very little change has occurred over the last 30-40 years.. Indeed, the Shyamalan Foundation found that implementing single practices without other important integrating components consistently produced dismal results.

Over time, institutions too often and too easily fall into status quo thinking-acting-arguing, and many (most) substantive changes come from outside such institutions. I believe Shyamalan Foundation’s I Got Schooled could only have been written from outside the educational institution.

In their search for a systems-type solution for closing the education gap, the Foundation required that the practices had to:

  • focus solely ‘inside’ the classroom/school
  • exclude ‘Outside’  the classroom influences exactly because they are outside the control of the classroom/school;
  • demonstrate substantial ‘effect size,” that is, they must produce demonstrable, measurable, and significant results; and,
  • be scalable for implementation

And therein lies the power and utility of their findings.

They identified five practices that, working together in a systems context, satisfy all these criteria:

  • Effective teachers – dropping poor; hiring good; why it’s important; how to do it
  • Leadership – how it’s important; what it looks like; how to do it
  • Feedback – frequency, consistency, teacher/principal usability – all critical
  • Smaller (high) schools – this turbo-charges the other practices
  • More time in school – by the time children of color or low income reach third grade they are so far behind it’s virtually impossible to catch up

If you don’t have time to read the whole book, these five practices are summarized at  tommilesabq.com.

For the Outside Job, the best expressions I’ve come across in Albuquerque are the ABC Community School Partnership and Mission: Graduate. The ABC Community School Partnership is tasking itself with:

  • Working in the Early Child to K-12 and non-graduated adult domains;
  • Identifying ‘inside needs’ that can be addressed by ‘outside’ organizations, programs, and resources;
  • Creating coalitions and collaboratives for matching proper resources with proper students-parents-teachers-administrators in proper times and places;
  • Using schools as hubs for coordinating and delivering services and resources;
  • Creating and funding full-time action positions called ‘Community School Coordinators’ to foster and coordinate matching-up ‘inside needs’ with ‘outside’ programs and resources.

 Mission: Graduate is focused on ‘who is not graduating and why,’ for Middle-School and High-School domains.

A really short summary for all this could be:

  • Shyamalan Foundation’s defines the ‘Inside Job;’
  • ABC Community School Partnership and Mission: Graduate describe the ‘Outside Job;’ and,
  • Community School Coordinators are the mechanism for effectively linking the two.

LEADERSHIP – What Does It Take [TED Talk]

“Leadership” is the Shyamalan Foundation’s #2 practice, and I’ve blogged and emailed the summary details in the recent past. Here is a TED talk on the subject that both sounds supportive and extends some important examples.

There are many leadership programs available today, from 1-day workshops to corporate training programs. But chances are, these won’t really help. In this clear, candid talk, Roselinde Torres describes 25 years observing truly great leaders at work, and shares the three simple but crucial questions would-be company chiefs need to ask to thrive in the future.

Roselinde Torres: What it takes to be a great leader -   October 2013, San Francisco

College Applicants Sweat The SATs – perhaps They Shouldn’t

An NPR Morning Edition article on a large study puts SAT and ACT standardized test scores in a real-world, practical context. Read the full article here. Here are the highlights:

  • SAT/ACT testing is not exactly a fair way to show skills.
  • what happens when you admit tens of thousands of students without looking at their SAT scores - the answer is – if they have good high school grades, they’re almost certainly going to be fine.
  • There was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test “submitters” and “nonsubmitters.” Just 0.05 percent of a GPA point separated the students who submitted their scores to admissions offices and those who did not.
  • And college graduation rates for “nonsubmitters” were just 0.6 percent lower than those students who submitted their test scores.
  • High school grades matter — a lot.
  • Kids who had low or modest test scores, but good high school grades, did better in college than those with good scores but modest grades.
  • The study covered 123,000 students at 33 institutions over eight years; the conclusion: test-optional admissions improves diversity [and] does not undermine academic quality.
  • SAT/ACT testing may be discouraging students who have great potential for success [from applying to] a particular school,
  • The private test preparation market for the SAT and the ACT is a $2 billion-a-year industry in the U.S. Critics of the tests have long said the exams better reflect a family’s income and a student’s speed at test-taking than aptitude, competency or intelligence.

Kids With ADHD Can Train Their Brains, Study Finds

Because there’s so much in the media about ADHD and medication and behavior and side effects, I thought many would find this article interesting.

Kids With ADHD Can Train Their Brains, Study Finds

BY LINDA CARROLL
Kids with ADHD may be able to learn better focus through a computer game that trains the brain to pay attention, a new study suggests.

The game was part of a neurofeedback system that used bicycle helmets wired to measure brain waves and gave immediate feedback when kids were paying attention, researchers reported Monday in Pediatrics.

Giving kids feedback on what their brains are doing is “like turning on a light switch,” said Dr. Naomi Steiner, the study’s lead author and a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center. “Kids said ‘Oh, this is what people mean when they tell me to pay attention.’”

To test the system, Steiner and her colleagues randomly assigned 104 Boston area elementary school children to one of three groups: no treatment, 40 half-hour sessions of neurofeedback or 40 sessions of cognitive therapy.

The kids getting neurofeedback wore standard bicycle helmets fitted with brain wave sensors while they performed a variety of exercises on the computer. In one exercise, kids were told to focus on a cartoon dolphin.

When people pay attention, theta wave activity goes down while beta waves increase, Steiner explained. If the kids’ brains showed they were paying attention, the dolphin would dive to the bottom of the sea.

Parents’ reports on ADHD symptoms six months later showed a lasting improvement in kids who had done neurofeedback. Perhaps more telling, kids in the other two groups needed an increase in medication after six months, while those in the neurofeedback group did not, said Dr. Anthony Rostain, an expert unaffiliated with the new study and a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“It is good news,” Rostain said. “But the results were modest. It’s not a magic bullet. It’s not going to replace medication.”

One major weakness of the new study is that it depended on parental observations, said Sandra Loo, an associate professor of psychiatry at UCLA. It’s possible that some of what the researchers are seeing is a placebo effect, Loo said.

I Got Schooled – Practice #5 – More Time in School

Here is the final I Got Schooled  practice #5 – More Time in School

M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) has written a book (I Got Schooled)  describing how – and how not –  to close the education gap in the U.S. It should be very supportive in the current conversation and climate regarding what’s wrong with – and how to fix – New Mexico education.

For five years through his MNS Foundation, Shyamalan studied what is succeeding in closing the education gap — that depended only on practices inside the classroom itself and that were scalable.

He discovered closing the achievement gap depended on five practices and couldn’t be figured out by examining just any single practice by itself.

These five practices must be implemented together to have any substantive effect:

•            Effective teachers – dropping poor; hiring good; why it’s important; how to do it

•            Leadership – how it’s important; what it looks like; how to do it

•            Feedback – critical: frequency, consistency, teacher/principal usability

•            Smaller (high) schools –part of the “system” that turbocharges the other practices

•            More time in school – summers matter – children of low income and of color fall behind a month every summer; by the time they reach third grade they are so far behind it’s virtually impossible to catch up

Covered: successful schools, programs, clinical studies, and data and statistics, including: Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), Uncommon Schools, Achievement First/Endeavor, FirstLine schools, North Star Academy, Arthur Ashe, Los Angeles Green Dot Public Schools, and more.

The study also found four popular, expensive practices contribute little to closing the education gap:

•            Small classroom sizes

•            Master’s programs and Ph.D.’s for the teachers

•            Paying teachers like doctors

•            Funding the schools at $20,000 per pupil

MORE TIME IN SCHOOL

  • More time in school is needed to overcome the deficiencies inherent in low-income, inner-city family environments
  • Upper-income families use an average of 2,153 words every hour; middle-income families use 1,251; welfare families use 616
  • Average words per year for upper-income are 11.2 million; middle-income families 6.5 million; welfare families 3.2 million words
  • By age four that is a gap of some 30 million words
  • The number of words a four-year-old can understand and speak relates directly to the number of words they have heard
  • By the time poorer kids reach third grade, they are already so far behind it is virtually impossible to catch up
  • Early intervention (preschool) with significant hours of exposure closes the gap
  • Consistency and good quality here are critical
  • Our natural tendencies are to blame failures of others on something flawed inside them, and while attributing our successes to merit and our failures on chance
  • American families that tend to obsess about pre-K education are the ones that need it least
  • The children who would most benefit from preschools are the least likely to be enrolled in them
  • Even then, generally, preschool effects disappear nearly completely by the third year after the program
  • Lower-income and African-American kids stay more or less even with upper-income, white suburban classmates – so long as school was in session
  • They fell behind a month or more every summer!
  • Summer matters far more than any has thought
  • Student test scores change powerfully by what happens between June and September
  • Lower-income student families cannot compensate for middle- and upper-income families’ ability to continue to enrich their children’s experiences over the summer
  • Current standard in most places is 180 days of school a year, each one between six and seven hours long
  • Before the Civil War, Philadelphia’s schools were in session more than 250 days a year; New York’s were open all year except for a two-week break in August
  • While more classroom hours is a serious part of closing the gap, five hundred additional low-quality hours taught by a teaching staff full of below-average instructors who are neither observed regularly by their principals nor given the quantitative and qualitative feedback they need is a waste
  • Keep kids in school longer during the year and you won’t need superheroes to close the gap. Most teachers can do the job just fine
  • And this practice is scalable

I Got Schooled – Practice #4 – Smaller schools

Here is I Got Schooled  practice #4 – Smaller schools

M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) has written this book to describe how, and how not, to close the education gap in the U.S. It should be very supportive in the current conversation and climate regarding what’s wrong with, and how to fix, New Mexico education.

For five years through his MNS Foundation, Shyamalan studied what is succeeding in closing the education gap — that depended only on practices inside the classroom itself and that were scalable.

He discovered closing the achievement gap depended on five practices and couldn’t be figured out by examining just any single practice by itself.

These five practices must be implemented together to have any substantive effect:

•            Effective teachers – dropping poor; hiring good; why it’s important; how to do it

•            Leadership – how it’s important; what it looks like; how to do it

•            Feedback – critical: frequency, consistency, teacher/principal usability

•            Smaller (high) schools –part of the “system” that turbocharges the other practices

•            More time in school – summers matter – children of low income and of color fall behind a month every summer; by the time they reach third grade they are so far behind it’s virtually impossible to catch up

Covered: successful schools, programs, clinical studies, and data and statistics, including: Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), Uncommon Schools, Achievement First/Endeavor, FirstLine schools, North Star Academy, Arthur Ashe, Los Angeles Green Dot Public Schools, and more.

The study also found four popular, expensive practices contribute little to closing the education gap:

•            Small classroom sizes

•            Master’s programs and Ph.D.’s for the teachers

•            Paying teachers like doctors

•            Funding the schools at $20,000 per pupil

SMALLER SCHOOLS

  • Again, small size is only one part of the “system”
  • Smaller size turbocharges each of the other practices
  • The current school size debate is almost entirely focused on high schools, grades 9 through 12
  • National average elementary school size is 451 students; middle schools average 575; high school averages are 900 to 4,000 students
  • In the 1920s, the ‘high school movement’ promoted ‘comprehensive high schools’ that accepted everybody and required them to take mostly the same coursework
  • Before that time, exam requirements meant only 20 percent of kids attended high school and the rest were expected to go to work; even then, only half of the students graduated
  • Vocation training began to be thought of as a ‘less than’ education endeavor
  • This helped white suburban families a lot more than nonwhite urban ones
  • Weekly exam results for a thousand high school students’ produces an overwhelming amount of data which must/should then be analyzed, evaluated, and returned to instructors as meaningful, useable feedback
  • School size is a key part of any gap-closing strategy
  • It’s a lot easier to find principals who can effectively run schools with four hundred to six hundred kids (scalability and sustainability)
  • Attendance, graduation rates, and attitude toward learning rise as school populations fall – violence rates decline
  • Smaller schools are an environment in which other gap-closing practices can flourish
  • Implementation over some period of time, grade-by-grade allows teachers and faculty to acclimatize to the newness
  • And this practice is scalable