Unsafe at Any Read

by Robert Pondiscio
January 15th, 2009

A quirk in consumer protection law could lead to children under 12 being banned from libraries across the country starting next month.  It sounds unlikely, but a senior official of the American Library Association has been raising the possibility in several interviews this week.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was passed last August in response to concerns over recalls of toys made in China because of lead paint.  As of February 10, the CPSIA requires that all products for children under 12 must be tested for lead.  The law is aimed at items for sale, however the American Library Association points out there is no official exemption for books loaned to children.  “Unless I hear a ruling in the next 10 days…I am going to recommend to my membership that they either remove [children's books] from shelves, or bar children 12 and under from coming into the library,” ALA Associate Director Emily Sheketoff said on Tuesday. 

Library books, since they are not involved in commerce, are not included, a Consumer Product Safety Commission spokeswoman told a Pennsylvania paper earlier this week.  But Sheketoff said that wouldn’t hold up in court if a fine were levied.   “If they could say that officially, I could rest easy,” she said.

Online Education’s “1984″ Moment?

by Robert Pondiscio
January 15th, 2009

People in the advertising industry still talk about a commercial for Apple Computers that aired once — and never again — during the 1984 Super Bowl.  Even if you weren’t alive then, you know it: Bald, colorless drones march in and sit listening to a projected image of Big Brother addressing them from a huge screen.  An athletic young woman chased by uniformed guards runs in carrying a large hammer.  She hurls it, and the projected image explodes in a blaze of light.  “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh,” the ad concludes. “And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.“ 

Have you seen the new ads for Kaplan University?  They may not be of the artistic calibre of “1984,” which was directed by Blade Runner director Ridley Scott, but they certainly stop you in your tracks.  A professor stands before his students in a college lecture hall and apologizes.  “The system has failed you. I have failed you,” he intones. “I have failed to help you share your talent with the world, and the world needs talent more than ever. Yet it’s being wasted by an educational system steeped in tradition and  old ideas.” He continues to speak, but now we’re watching his moving image on laptops and iPods. He is speaking to students who are seated at a kitchen table, on a living room couch and a rooftop.  “It’s time to use technology to rewrite the rules of education,” the professor says.  Like the 1984 ad, it’s not until the very last second that you find out the spot is for Kaplan. 

Kaplan University's "Desks" TV Ad

A second ad, called “Desks,” consists of a series of images of old-fashioned school desks, either alone or arrayed in visually arresting settings – on a beach, lined up on a subway platform, on the lanes of a bowling alley, on city streets, and winding their way up a mountain trail.   ”Where is it written that the old way is the right way? Where is it written that a traditional education is the only way to get an education? Where is it written that classes only take place in a classroom?” an unseen narrator asks.  ”That’s just the thing.  It isn’t written anywhere.” 

Whether these ads are successful or not for Kaplan may be beside the point.  What makes them interesting and compelling is what they say about education at large.  They challenge you to look at something familiar with fresh eyes:  Where does it say classes have to take place in a classroom?  Why can’t college come to me?  What’s the point of parking in a lecture hall for hours on end?  This may be familiar stuff for educators, but for consumers conditioned to having every itch scratched on demand, I suspect the message behind the ads will seem simple, compelling and new. Very new.

Are we seeing online education’s 1984?  It’s all but impossible to see watershed moments as they happen, but it’s sure easy with the hindsight of 25 years:  Trivia fans will be interested to learn the Apple spot was not the only commercial for computers to run during the 1984 Super Bowl.  Bill Bixby pitched RadioShack personal computers in one; Alan Alda  hawked Atari computers in the other.

“The Last Laugh Belongs to Bush”

by Robert Pondiscio
January 15th, 2009

School accountability driven by disaggregated data is “not just George W. Bush’s education legacy; it’s the jewel of any domestic achievement,” writes Richard Whitmire on Politico.  The president of the National Education Writers Association says finding shortcomings in the law is not difficult, but he dismisses the idea that the new administration will eviscerate No Child Left Behind.

The notion that Obama would gut a law exposing the maleducation of millions of black children is a fantasy. That’s why Democrats won’t break NCLB. They’ll start by changing the name of the law, ridding its association with the much-despised Bush. But the last laugh belongs to Bush, because his Texas-style accountability will survive. And that’s what makes No Child Left Behind, regardless of any name change, Bush’s lasting legacy.

The K-W-H-L Chart

by Robert Pondiscio
January 15th, 2009

What We Know

2,300 L.A. teachers face elimination due to budget cuts.   Supt. Ramon C. Cortines says he’s still tying to find alternatives. …. Two Miami-Dade moms have begun a hunger strike to protest budget cuts ….   Florida State’s Steven I. Pfeiffer says gifted children require just as much attention and educational resources to thrive in school as do other special needs students….Be Nice, Bargain Collectively?  Everyone has weighed in on KIPP by now except the one person I really want to hear from: Jay Mathews

What We Want to Find Out

Was Michelle Rhee serious?  “People now are beginning to cast me as the heartless, you know, fire everybody, get rid of everybody,” she tells PBS’s John Merrow.  “That is not, in and of itself, the answer, in isolation. But it’s a good start.” ….  When was the last time you “accidentally picked up a loaded gun” along with the stuff you take to school?  If you dropped it in the parking lot would you still expect to keep your job like one Florida 3rd grade teacher? …. How long before Matthew Tabor has to change the name of his blog? Campaign K-12, the great Edweek blog by Michele McNeil and Alyson Klein is changing its name to Politics K-12

What We Learned

A British Parliamentarian says dyslexia is a “cruel fiction” cooked up to hide poor reading…. A St. Louis school thinks it’s important to teach black history all year long.  That’s why they sent home a flier titled “Why I Hate Black History Month.” Oops…. San Francisco’s school board is thinking of pulling soda machines from teacher’s lounges to “set a good example” for the kids.  Joanne Jacobs says “buzz off.”

How We Can Learn More

You missed the Arne Duncan confirmation hearing because you were teaching? C-SPAN has the video here (HT: Eduwonk)…This week’s Carnival of Education is up at the Education Examiner.