Sunday, February 26, 2012

Equipoise in Education?

Recently, @mrmcgrann tweeted out that he had a question for Bill Gates. You can read his whole post here (and you should, I'll be here). Here's his question: To fuel innovation, we often need to take risks. Risks come with many rewards, but they also come with failure. How do you balance teacher accountability while supporting and promoting innovative teaching? This is an excellent question. Because if we take risks, we have to accept failure--it's an integral part of the process of growing to better practice. The only thing is---those are real kids and it is their learning with which we will be a risk. In Auburn Maine, some educators took an expensive and visible risk and did a randomized study with Kindergarteners and iPads. They found that using the devices with specific apps had a small but significant positive impact on literacy in just a few months.
The improvement they found leads to the question--when a benefit is observed, do those involved have an obligation to end the trial to give the benefit to all the children involved? In medical trials, the principle of equipoise means that the premise of a trial is that the researchers do not know whether a treatment or medication bestows a benefit. When the initial results of a trial are significantly positive, it means that the researchers are ethically required to stop the trial to treat all the participants. One example is early trials of AZT with AIDS patients. Does this mean that the district is now obligated to immediately provide iPads to all the kindergarteners? It's probably not that easy. So what about the opposite? What happens when a risk leads to a "nope, this isn't helping" result? When kids in the study group learn less than those with the traditional treatment? Maybe when corporate profits dip for a year, it's not a tragedy. But when a group of kindergarteners learns less about letters and sounds for a year, well, it just might be. So the stakes are high. And its not the teachers who really pay the price of failure, it's the kids. And maybe that's why it's so hard to figure out how to support truly innovative teaching.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Innovation, Live-blogs, and a Tweet or Two. . .

I'm so excited to have the opportunity to attend the NAIS Annual conference in Seattle this year. I'll be serving as a conference blogger for the first time, with a focus on live blogging the general conference sessions. I began live-blogging the conference in 2009, but this is the first time it'll be "official!"

From the conference website:
Join more than 3,500 independent school leaders and colleagues at the 2012 NAIS Annual Conference in Seattle. Together we'll tap into the innovative spirit of the Pacific Northwest to dream up bold new ideas to lead our school communities into the future. Long a hotbed of creativity, Seattle will inspire you to invent new programs and ideas and revitalize current ones to bring back to your schools. Together we'll imagine new ways to cultivate leadership within our schools -- for administrators, faculty, and our students, who are the global leaders of tomorrow. Bill Gates, our opening general session speaker and independent school alum, will inspire and challenge you as he models for us how cutting-edge innovation and philanthropy go hand in hand.

I'll be reporting live from the conference as each of the general conference speakers inspires the audience. I'll take notes on the speeches, include my own thoughts, observations of the audience and provide a curated Twitter feed as well. Clearly, I'll be drinking lots of Seattle coffee to keep me alert and multi-tasking!

The speakers I'll be live-blogging are listed below in the order in which they will speak. Click on the speakers name to go to the specific post for the live blog for that speaker. I have information about the speakers available now, along with the chance to have yourself emailed a reminder closer to the blog time.

Bill Gates

Independent Matters with a trio of guests speakers who will expound on the conference theme: Stephen Carter, Cheryl Crazy Bull, and Sarah Kay

John Hunter

Amy Chua