Remember: Parenting Teenagers Is About Preparing Them For Adult Life
Changing Demographics In Fairfax County To Impact Education
Is Medium The Future Of Media?
Common Core Is Only Part Of The Problem With Education Reform
Gravy Hyperlocal Event App Gets Cooler With Web Portal And Better Location Searches
Bad Education Policy: Obama’s New College Rating System

Remember: Parenting Teenagers Is About Preparing Them For Adult Life

As the single-father of a teenage girl, I am often thinking about education, grades, classroom performance and after-school, weekend and summer activities. Like many parents, I think about these things with the conscious thought about what will help make her a good candidate for a college or university.

However, the truth is – college acceptance is not what I or any of us are really preparing our kids for. We are preparing them for adult life.

In reading a post from Laura Rader (Preparing for College or Living a Life?), I realized that rush parents get into when their kids enter high school and the emphasis from society on college admissions is misplaced. The real question we should ask ourselves everyday is, “What are the best ways I can enrich the future adult lives of my child(ren)?”

There are many ways we can mentor our children and give them chances to practice living full and rich lives. College is one way young people learn, experience new things, meet new people, and expand their world-view. However, there are other ways young people can expand their horizons and tap into their dreams.

Our job as parents is to ask what interests our kids, and help facilitate their exposure to worlds and activities that interest them.

Changing Demographics In Fairfax County To Impact Education

Interesting piece from the Washington Post on the changing demographics in Fairfax County, Virginia, and what it could mean for education and the county’s financial resources. The title of the headline and corresponding picture are more positive then the story’s content.

Here are some of the key excerpts:

Fairfax has experienced a dramatic demographic shift in recent years that is nowhere more obvious than in the county’s kindergarten classrooms.

The white student population is receding and is being replaced with fast-growing numbers of poor students and children of immigrants for whom English is a second language. 

More than one-third of the 13,424 kindergartners in the county this year qualified for free or reduced-price meals, a federal measure of poverty, and close to 40 percent of the Class of 2026 requires additional English instruction, among the most ever for a Fairfax kindergarten class.

The demographic changes in Fairfax are likely to have long-term implications for the school system: Most of this year’s kindergarten class will spend the next 12 years in county schools.

Schools officials believe that the challenges that come with a less-affluent and less-prepared population will exacerbate the system’s struggles with a widening achievement gap for minorities and ballooning class sizes.

The rising enrollment — the overall student body has surged by more than 22,000 since 2004 — is not sustainable at the current funding level, schools officials said, which could intensify already contentious battles for tax dollars with the county’s Board of Supervisors.

Read full story on Washington Post (In Fairfax County kindergarten classes, school system’s future comes into focus)

What does this mean?

Well, for starters, it means that Fairfax County has a severe problem.

I have personally seen a similar case in Loudoun County on a much smaller scale at Catoctin Elementary – where the student population had a significantly higher number of foreign-born minorities who did not speak English fluently / as a first language, and were on reduced / free lunch programs. It was very similar to the 40% that need to learn additional English because it is not their primary language in Fairfax county’s class of 2026.

At Catoctin, the results were extremely problematic as the school was not certified to state standards in academic performance. Parents of students zoned for Catoctin were allowed by the Loudoun County school system to choose alternative schools if they wanted. There was a significant drain in financial and personnel resources as well.

What the story in the Washington Post does not report is the fact that parents from many other cultures do not get actively involved in their children’s education – especially if their English speaking language skills are poor. It is a huge communication and cultural challenge. Not having parental involvement in a student’s education has been proven to statistically reduce that student’s chance of success. It also makes it significantly more likely that the next generation also will be poor, and require government assistance.

One of the solutions to this challenge is conducting far greater cross-cultural parental outreach than schools have ever done. This requires the school system (or each individual school) to produced accurately translated school notices (daily and weekly) in other languages and host events (with a translator) every month designed specifically to bring parents into the school community. Of course, the challenge with this solution is that most parents in these households work multiple jobs and do not have the time for school meetings. It is, however, a starting point.

Another solution is to target these students with required intensive English learning and skills development all throughout the school year. I understand that this also is another drain on limited education resources. However, what are the alternatives for Fairfax County?

If Fairfax County does not begin to increase its focus on English language learning and skills development for these students, it runs the risk of parents from other students demanding the ability to choose alternative schools to fight against lowering academic performance and quality of education. This will create a block of under-performing schools, and lead to defacto segregation of students based on ethnicity and income.

Is Medium The Future Of Media?

People are looking for Medium invites. And I wonder, why?

There was an interesting post in GIGAOM entitled “Of editors and algorithms: Evan Williams on the future of media and Medium’s role in it” a few days ago.

From reading the article, other interviews and checking Medium out, I get the idea that Medium is trying to be a whole bunch of things simultaneously, everything from a blogger platform to an online magazine – with an algorithmic based system that parses through all the content that gets submitted and finds the most relevant or best items for people to consume. There also are editors who serve as gatekeepers to help bring the highest tier of content to the surface.

So, what really is the point of Medium? Don’t we have all of these things already?

What’s more, people today are far more driven by channels and themes. In television, we have cooking networks, trash tv, HGTV, Catholic TV, and the list goes on. The same exists in print and digital media. Or have we forgotten that YouTube brings things like Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager and hundreds of thousands of content creations from all over the world that we would not have normally seen through mass media?

The only way a new content platform can work successfully is if you give a person the ability to filter that content by a channel. That does not seem to exist yet in Medium.

However, even with channels in place, you still end up trying to become all things to all people. Isn’t that why we have network television? Or the Huffington Post?

Unless the content in Medium can somehow be made contextually relevant to what we are doing, where we are, where we are going or even what our mood is at a given moment in time (either because we share such data or its inferred by an activity we are engaged in) – it wont create enough of a habit to generate sustained readership. It will end up being just more noise in a crowded and noisy space.

Common Core Is Only Part Of The Problem With Education Reform

The problem with common core and our education model is that we are actually taking kids backwards. And not for the reasons often cited by conservatives.

Do I think Common Core will turn students into lefist robots? Will common core dumb-down America’s youth?

The truth is, Common Core is just part of the problem harming the ability of our young people to get a quality education. It’s all in our approach to education, and the fact that our curriculum and the format of our schools are outdated – based on a model created by industrialists who wanted factory workers.

The data shows that improving education is not really about increasing education funding, because we spend more than any other country in the world on education. It’s not about increasing teacher training or hiring better teachers, because studies show students retain the same level of information regardless how well the teacher engages students.

No, to really understand what we are up against we need to look at the students and find out why they are disengaged and bored. If we did that, we would realize that its because we have a curriculum that has no application to their modern lives. To make matters worse, our solutions are more standardized systems and tests, longer class hours and school days. We want to produce a generation of leaders, artists, inventors and technologists who will carry the nation into a new golden age. And to accomplish this, we are going to lock all these wonderful minds in almost windowless, cinder-block rooms all day long and make them read Beowulf? Does that make sense?

The schools we have today do not help students become divergent thinkers, comprehend data and analytics, learn logic and technology, or even write and communicate well. Over 80% of high school teachers think their students are ready for college work. Only 25% of college professors agree. And business leaders find graduates are not prepared to work or be productive contributors. We are hurting kids, especially minorities, by giving them the wrong education and then forcing them to borrow obscene amounts of money to get the basics.

Gravy Hyperlocal Event App Gets Cooler With Web Portal And Better Location Searches

Gravy Logo

Gravy has come along way since it was born as timeRAZOR. The company that makes the hyperlocal event app which allows people to discover things going on near where they work, live or plan to be, has gone through more changes than just its name. With the development and launch of web portal (see below) and better geo-searching within a specific location, stronger channels and the growing improvement of pulling in social trends related to event listings and event venues, Gravy has achieved a higher level of sophistication and power for the user to find events of interest.

These changes also translate well for businesses seeking to tap into consumers who are looking for things to do. By connecting their mobile app to deals and special events, such as movie releases, Gravy is becoming a stronger option for retailers and companies in the entertainment industry who are interested in driving paying traffic to their sales and events.

For the purpose of this blog post, I will focus mainly on the new web portal and location search, and follow-up with an update on Gravy’s benefit to retailers (including events and movie releases) in a broader piece on apps retailers can use to increase their engagement.

Gravy’s New Web Portal Delivers

FindGravy,com Homepage

The launch of the new web portal this year is something Gravy fans have been eagerly anticipating. While the mobile app is a great discovery tool for when you are on the move, a majority of people still search for activities and events using their computer, either at home or at work.

With the FindGravy.com portal, people can easily identify events based on locations and moods, just like they can in app. What’s more, by logging in (the easiest way is to connect through Facebook), you can save events to your account, share them socially and add them to your calendar.

What’s more, by clicking a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, you can start to build a better feed of events that FindGravy.com will serve you. If you do this consistently throughout the different moods, it should greatly improve the kinds of events you want to see. Gravy has the largest database of events in the US (I assume that also would mean the world, but that’s my pro-America bias showing), so this process should connect you with a wide array of exciting things to discover.

Event Description on FindGravy.com for Latin American Salsa Making

This brings me to the event listings on FindGravy.com. They are incredibly robust. To the rleft is an example of a Latin American Salsa Making event taking place in Washington, DC. The event description pulls in a great image, the ability to buy tickets, as well as all the key ways you need to promote the event. Gravy even includes the option to create a Facebook event. And if you have synced your Gravy account with Facebook, this process is extremely easy. Within the mobile app version, you can tap to text an event to friends.

Overall, the descriptions in the new web portal give people searching for compelling things to do a great display with easy-to-use tools to rope in friends. It helps to make Gravy more of a complete solution for people looking to be active.



Discovering Events In The Gravy App Based On Location And The Map

Location SearchA few quick words on the new location search features in the Gravy app.

With the original versions you had to pre-load your home and work locations. Later you were able to add a third area. But the structure of the app made it hard to intuitively get there. Now, with the latest redesign, a person can discover what’s going on using a range.

With markers that indicate what kind of mood or activity, you can adjust the map to better find things around you based on your location or an entered location, which is done simply at the top of the screen. This is a really great improvement to the app, and the user experience.

You can still access the drop down by tapping on the address that appears on the top, as well as change your mood by tapping on the moods on the upper-far-right on the screen.

Quick Thoughts

Overall, the changes keep coming from Gravy, both in the app and on the website. In just the last year the company has processed over 100 million events, and made over 300 million recommendations. But there is more to come. As Gravy continues to add new features and functionality, it will end up being the social app of choice for millions of people to find things to do based on how they feel and what they have explored previously.

If you have an event to add to Gravy’s database, click to submit a local event.

Do not forget to download the app for your phone and check out Gravy’s new website at: www.findgravy.com

Bad Education Policy: Obama’s New College Rating System

The issue of combating student loan debt is one that President Obama has discussed from his time in the U.S. Senate and as a Presidential candidate in 2008, through to the start of his second term in 2013. Most recently, the President has been on a bus tour discussing his desire for a rating system that will qualify the real value of an education produced by a college or university to give students a way of measuring whether or not the schools they are applying to are worth the money.

The focus on the plan is based on the belief that rising tuition at America’s colleges and universities are partly driven by the distribution of over $150 billion in federal student loans. If your college keeps tuition costs down, then you would be rewarded with additional federal dollars for students. Whereas if your school failed to keep tuition costs down, then you would be penalized by getting less federal aid for enrolling students.

President Obama’s primary goal is to make college affordable for students with less economic means and to reduce debt. At a promotional stop Buffalo, New York, the President echoed this theme saying, “We can’t price the middle class and everybody working to get into the middle class out of college.” He also said that “it is time to stop subsidizing schools that are not producing good results.”

On the surface, this might seem like a good proposal to reducing student loan debt. Student loan debt in 2003 was $203 billion dollars. In 10 years, the total loan debt for college students now exceeds $1.2 trillion. 17% of recent college grads owed between $30,000 and $50,000. This is continuing to rise and could surpass 25% of college grads within the next 5 years.

However, the President’s idea lacks any real details on how such a rating system would actually work, what criteria and data it would use, as well as how it would collect the data and what the projected impact would really be – not just to student loan debt, but also to college admissions.

One problem such a system would create immediately is that it would disproportionately favor colleges and universities with larger endowments, assets and financial contributors. Many of these schools also have larger professional networks, which better enable students to find employment following graduation. If President Obama’s goal is to help middle class and those working to become middle class, his rating system most likely would reduce the number of federal student loan dollars to colleges and universities that accept a majority of students from middle and lower income families.

Secondly, how do you begin to quantify the value of an education at a particular college? How do find a formula that evaluates how well a college is containing costs and tuition in a way that is fair across so many different types of colleges and universities? The rating system would have to contain algorithms that are almost impossibly complex, or it would have to be so watered down to prove meaningless. Given the difficulty of passing complex legislation and the large number of political interests involved, you can guarantee that any rating system will be closer to the latter.

So, how does the President’s plan really reduce student loan debt? It does not.

I do agree with President Obama that the rise of student loan debt is creating significant challenges. Recent studies show the drain on net worth to be almost $250,000 over a person’s lifetime. The cost and growth of debt will cause significant challenges for generations if something is not done soon.

However, the solution is not a ratings system.

In the end, we need to dramatically change the curriculum and school structure we have at the secondary education level. It is in secondary education where the greatest failings are taking place, and where the greatest opportunities to drive reform in higher education and reduce student debt exist.

If we can start to get away from our factory-based model of learning, and start opening schools focused on specialized learning, apprenticeship, divergent thinking and collaboration, and assess learning through projects and simulation, we can produce more employable young people who will not need 4 years of generalist college education and the debt that accompanies it. Such as change will improve the economy by injecting more employable and skilled people into the workforce, and compel dramatic changes in higher education to improve their quality and cut costs, while simultaneously keeping financial aid available to those who choose to continue on for higher degrees.

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