Teach Like Vladimir Vernadsky: Education as a Holistic & Dynamic System

I started going to the Soviet Union when it was the USSR in 1981, and for the next 20 years collaborated  with teachers and researchers, particularly Julie Weisberg, Phil Gang and Jennie Springer in the US, Sergey Tolstikov, Galina Manke, and Anatoly Zaklebny in Russia in a mutually designed and developed program, the Global Thinking Project (GTP).  The GTP is about how citizen diplomacy among American and Russian educators and psychologists emerged into a youth and teacher activism project.  During nearly 20 years of work, educators, primarily from Georgia, forged a hands-across the globe program with colleagues and students in Russia, and then partnered with teachers in other countries including Australia, Czech Republic, Singapore, and Spain.

The citizen diplomacy activity that emerged between American and Russian students, and between students in other countries as mentioned above, integrates Vladimir Vernadsky’s (1926) conception of the Biosphere and environmental education, the humanistic psychology and philosophy of Rogers (1961), John Dewey’s conception of experiential learning (1938), and Track II Diplomacy (Montville and Davidson 1981).

In this post I want to write about Vladimir Vernadsky (1863-1945), a Russian scientist, whose ideas really never made it into the west until the time of Mikhail Gorbachev.  The Biosphere, a book written by Vernadsky in 1926 was not published in English until 1998.  It’s available on Kindle here.  Vernadsky’s 150th birthday was celebrated in March 2013.

What does Vernadsky have to do with teaching?  That’s the question I’d like to explore in this post.  I am going to argue that the fundamental concepts underpinning Vernadsky’s view of the biosphere give the rationale for a holistic and dynamic conception of teaching and learning.

Dr. Anatoly Zakleny, Professor of Ecology and Science Education, Russian Academy of Education
Dr. Anatoly Zakleny, Professor of Ecology and Science Education, Russian Academy of Education

Anatoly Zaklebny, professor of ecological studies at the Russian Academy of Education introduced  us to Vernadsky’s work.  Anatoly is an ecological educator, author of ecological and environmental education teaching materials for Russian schools, and ecological teacher educator.  Anatoly understood and applied Vernadsky’s conception of the biosphere, and used the concept of Biosphere to design teaching materials for Russian ecological education.

Zaklebny was the chief scientist on the GTP, and participated in all aspects of the project.  We embraced Vernadsky’s holistic view of the Biosphere, which resists the mechanistic reductionist nature of Western science.  Vernadsky’s ideas were late in arriving in the west, and it was only in the 70s and 80s, that his ideas gained prominence in Western science.

Vernadsky’s Ideas

Lynn Margulis, biologist at the University of Massachusetts, and co-creator of the GAIA Hypothesis, in the introduction to the English translation of Vernadsky’s (1926) book The Biosphere, explained that Vernadsky was a great teacher.  According to Margulis, who discovered that interdependence and cooperation were the underlying themes in endosymbiosis theory (one organism engulfed another, yet both survived and eventually evolved over millions of years into eukaryotic cells), Vernadsky teaches that life has transformed the planet over eons.  She put it this way in her introduction to The Biosphere:

What Charles Darwin did for all life through time, Vernadsky did for all life through space.  Just as we are all connected in time through evolution to common ancestors, so we are all—through the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and these days even the ionosphere–connected in space.  We are tied through Vernadskian space to Darwinian time. (Forward, L. Margulis in V.I. Vernadsky, 1998, The Biosphere. New York: Copernicus.)

Russian Google Doodle for Vladimir Vernadsky's 150th year anniversary, 2013.
Russian Google Doodle for Vladimir Vernadsky’s 150th year anniversary, 2013.  Doodle posted by googlescribbles


Vernadsky explained that life, including human life, using energy from visible light from the Sun, has transformed the planet Earth for billions of years. To Vernadsky life makes geology. To him, life is not merely a geological force, it is the geological force. At the Earth’s surface, just about all geological features are “bio-influenced.” Although Vernadsky did not coin the word “biosphere,” his understanding and views are what are accepted today.
Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky
Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky

Vernadsky’s contributions and scientific contributions, especially the idea of “biosphere” are metaphors for thinking in wholes, and the connections that exist within any system that we study. This is especially true for the curriculum.

To Vernadsky, the biosphere is a biogeochemical evolving system. And according to Jacques Grinvald, the ideas was not welcomed by mainstream science. Vernadsky’s idea is the biosphere should be conceived from a geochemical point of view, and the Earth as a “dynamic energy-matter organization, like a thermodynamic engine” (Grinvald, p. 26). Conceptually here is the biogeochemical Earth is powered by sun.

Here we see the initial stage of the “earth system” concept, and again, Vernadsky is ahead of the game. To many earth science teachers, this is beginning of the earth system education approach, an approach that is holistic science education (see Nir Orion’s article on holistic science). Holistic science education is still NOT mainstream. Most curriculum standards are still written splitting science into compartments that are based on traditional college science departments. But that’s another story. But in this discussion, the main point is that Vernadsky was trying to integrate the disparate fields of biology, chemical and geology in his synthesis of the biosphere, while at the same time these fields were going their separate ways.

For teachers, Vernadsky’s ideas provide empirical support for interdisciplinary teaching and curriculum development.

The current standards based system of education is just the opposite of the kind of thinking that Vernadsky’s mind set out to discover.  Our current curriculum (math, reading, science, you name it) splits everything into little components and thinks that students at different ages and stages should accumulate these bits of information, and of course be tested to see if they have retained the bits.  Not in Vernadsky’s scheme.
Vernadsky was always combining fields of science.  Biology, chemistry, geology became biogeochemistry. He also founded fields including geochemistry and radiogeology.  Vernadsky’s thinking is literacy in synthesis, building wholes, construction, integrating, structure, and  cooperation.

Application of Vernadsky’s Ideas to Teaching

If we accept the Vernadskian view, teaching ought to be holistic and dynamic.  The curriculum for our students ought to be constructed into wholes, not parts, and we need to use a dynamic view of knowledge, and one that brings the students in touch with the world around them.
If you consider the following ideas of Vernadsky, then one can begin to conceptualize curriculum and teaching as fundamentally a holistic process.  Take a look at these ideas (see Vernadsky’s book, The Biosphere for more details):
  • Life occurs on a spherical planet.
  • Life makes geology—that is life is not merely a geological force, it is the geological force, and to him nearly all geological features at the Earth’s surface are influenced by life.
  • The influence of living matter on the Earth becomes more extensive with time. Increasingly more parts of the Earth are incorporated into the biosphere.
As teachers, I believe that Vernadsky’s work is essential, particularly to those teachers who work hard to help students become involved in learning from an interdisciplinary standpoint. Of course, in my view, Vernadsky’s views are deeper than the traditional approach to interdisciplinary education. Vernadsky believed scientists (especially Earth scientists) should explore the relationship between the development of life on Earth and the formation of the biosphere. To him living phenomena are at the center of geological formations. Vernadsky encouraged scientists to consider a holistic mechanism that unifies biology and geology.
It seems to be that his ideas should encourage us to think differently about our work with students.  I don’t believe  that thinking holistically, or in wholes are clichés, but instead they are based on empirical studies not only in science, but other fields as well.

One More Thing

Fritjof Capra, in his book The Science of Leonardo, argues that the true founder of Western science was Leonardo (1452-1519), not Galileo (1564-1642). However, it was the science of Galileo that influenced later scientists (Newton, 1643-1727) who stood on Galileo’s shoulders. Capra wonders what would have happened if these 16th – 18th century scientists had discovered Leonardo’s manuscripts, which were “gathering dust in ancient European libraries. You see, Capra shows that Leonardo’s view was a synthesis of art and science, and indeed science was alive, and indeed science was “whole.” Leonardo was ahead of his time in understanding life: he conceived life in terms of metabolic processes and their patterns or organization. Capra suggests that Leonardo, instead of being simply an analytic thinker, was actually a systemic thinker preceding the lineage established by scientists and philosophers including Wolfgang von Goethe, Georges Cuvier, Charles Darwin, and Vladimir Vernadsky.

What do you think are the applications of Vladimir Vernadsky’s ideas for teaching and learning?

What Everybody Ought to Know About Teaching

In this post I am going to share some thinking about teaching that I learned along my journey as a teacher from three people.  I future posts I’ll share thoughts about teaching from other people who I’ve met along the way. What everybody ought to know about teaching is a response to what Henry Giroux calls “critical pedagogy in dark times.”  Education is dominated by conservative and neoliberal paradigms which has reduced teaching to skills, economic growth, job training, and transmission of information.

What everybody ought to know about teaching is NOT about tips for teaching, but more about the nature of education in a democratic society.  As educators ought to be advocates for a critical pedagogy that, in the words of Giroux,

connect classroom knowledge to the experiences, histories, and resources that students bring to the classroom but also link such knowledge to the goal of furthering their capacities to be critical agents who are responsive to moral and political problems of their time and recognize the importance of organized collective struggles.  (Giroux, Henry A. (2011-06-23). On Critical Pedagogy  (Kindle Location 145). Continuum US. Kindle Edition.)

There are many people who influenced my teaching and professional work including Dr. Marlene Hapai, Dr. Joe Abruscato, Dr. Julie Wiesberg, Dr. Ted Colton, Dr. Frank Koontz, Mr. Francis Macy, Mr. Sergei Tolstikov, Dr. Marge Gardner.  Each of them taught me what everybody ought to know about teaching.  Mr. Bob Jaber, Mr. Ken Royal, and Dr. Carl Rogers are featured in this post.

I am going to start with Bob Jaber.

Bob Jaber

Bob Jaber was a high school chemistry teacher who taught in the Fulton County schools (Georgia) in the 1970s and 1980s.  I first met him when he took one of my courses in the science education graduate program at Georgia State University.    While at GSU he studied advanced graduate chemistry and science education.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Bob Jaber.

As well as scientist, Bob Jaber was also an artist.  His work used mixed media to create textured art forms.  One of the art forms that he perfected was using colorful carpet samples to design floors, walls, and create poster size wall hangings.

Like Jacob Bronowski, the British-Polish mathematician and scientist, Bob integrated science and human values in his high school chemistry classes. Like Bronowski, Bob Jaber believed that science can be part of our world, and can create the values that humanize our experience.  I learned from Bob Jaber that values and attitudes should be as important as the content that we are teaching.  Everyone should know this about teaching, yet, in the present day, we are breaking teaching down into dozens of components, and in doing so forget that there is something much more important about teaching.  Teaching is something much more than the way it might look on the Danielson Framework for Teaching or Flanders Interaction Analysis.  Teaching is about the whole thing  on so many levels.  It’s not about skills (although they are important to know), it not about lists of content spelled out in the standards, and it’s not about the tests that are given to students.  It is harmony and holism in teaching, and to teachers like Bob Jaber, teaching is a journey of  profound and enduring connections with students.

Ken Royal

I first met Ken in the mid-1990s when he was teaching science at Whisconier Middle School, Brookfield, Connecticut. At the time I was conducting national seminars for the Bureau of Education and Research, and I met Ken at one of my seminars in Hartford. At Ken’s invitation, I visited his school and classroom, and actually presented a seminar at his school for science teachers in his district.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Ken Royal.

Two aspects of teaching jump out when I think about what I learned from this man.  First is his willingness to take risks, and try new stuff.  Second, Ken epitomized the experiential educator, who like Giroux believes that school should be a project intent on developing a meaningful life for all students.

His classroom was a model for the experiential science approach, and he was also a pioneer in the use of technology as a tool to enhance student learning in science. His students were involved in global conversations and research with students in at least three continents, and his students were posting results of their research using digital cameras and text at a time when the Web was in its infancy. His classroom was an environment where students were involved in active inquiry, and with the rapid development of technology in the 1990s, Ken was one of the leaders pioneering ways that this technology could be harnessed to help students get excited about science. He later became technology coördinator for the Brookfield School District, and then started writing as a freelancer about technology, and making presentations around the country. Scholastic saw one of his presentations, and hired him as senior editor in technology and teaching.  You can follow Ken on his website at Royal Reports.

One of his most popular blog posts is Flipped, Blended, Disrupted Nonsense!  It’s a must read.

Carl Rogers

Carl R. Rogers
Carl R. Rogers

While I was a graduate student at Ohio State University in the 1960s (yup, that’s right), my advisor, Dr. John Richardson, suggested that I read Carl Rogers’ book, On Becoming a Person.  You can read between the lines, but I think he had something in mind for me.  But later in my life, when I read what others have written about this book by Rogers–that it was revolutionary thinking–did I realize how significant Richardson’s recommendation was for me.

In 1969, the year that I finished my Ph.D. at Ohio State, Rogers published Freedom to Learn, the most important book published to date on humanistic education.  The book became the guide that I used as a professor of science education at Georgia State University, where I worked from 1969-2003.  It was a guide in the sense that it encouraged me to be experimental with my courses, and the programs that I developed, and working with others at GSU, had the gumption to swim upstream away from more traditional approaches to teaching and especially, teacher education.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Carl Rogers.

I learned so much from Rogers’ work, that I’ll only share some of the ideas that I think influenced the way that I designed courses, and programs at the University level, and in so doing encouraged K-12 teachers to consider Rogers’ ideas for their own classrooms.

One idea I want to share here is the notion of being willing to be experimental as a teacher, and to have the courage to try new ideas, and be willing to be open to the opinions and ideas of your students.  In Rogers’ book, Freedom to Learn, Chapter Two is entitled “A Sixth Grade Teacher Experiments.”  Rogers describes the despair and frustration that teacher Barbara J. Shield felt, so much so, that she tried a drastic experiment in her classroom by promoting an experiential type of learning in her classroom.  Rogers tells us that Shield decided to change the way she was teaching which she described as teacher centered to an approach based on student-centered  teaching–an unstructured or non-directive approach.  What’s important about this chapter is not the particular approach that Shield unleashed in her class, but the attitude and philosophy underpinning her wish to change what she was doing, and try out something that was new (to her), risky, and took courage, and support.

In the summer of 1973 I designed a graduate seminar at GSU for teachers that was based on Rogers’ ideas in Freedom to Learn, but especially, Chapter 2.   Teachers who took the course knew in advance that it was the intent of the course to encourage experimentation in their own classroom during the 1973-1974 school year.  About 30 teachers signed up for the course.  Our sessions were designed to explore a variety of pedagogics, and approaches to give the participants ideas to help them formulate their plans for the school year.  Some of the teachers actually took the experience of Barbara Shield’s and reorganized the curriculum of their course (usually in science) along the non-directive, student-centered approach.  Other participants delved into project based teaching, team teaching, collaborative and cooperative learning.  All the teachers agreed to collect “data” on their own and their students attitudes and concepts learned, but also to sample student work, as well as student journals.  In the summer of 1974, a second seminar was held at GSU (which met only for one week), where the teachers presented their work in a conference type of setting.

A second idea I want to share here that I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching comes from Rogers’ book On Becoming a Person.  The same chapter also appears in his book, Freedom to Learn.  The title of the chapter in each book is Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Learning (Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.  The very short chapter is a talk he gave at Harvard University, April 1952 where he was asked to put on a demonstration of “student-centered teaching.”  After taking some time painting, writing and photography in Mexico, he “sat down” and wrote a personal view of what his experiences had been with teaching and learning.  He said this about what he wrote:

I may have been naïve, but I did not consider the material inflammatory. After all the conference members were knowledgeable, self-critical teachers, whose main common bond was an interest in the discussion method in the classroom. I met with the conference, I presented my views as written out below, taking only a very few moments, and threw the meeting open for discussion. I was hoping for a response, but I did not expect the tumult which followed. Feelings ran high. It seemed I was threatening their jobs, I was obviously saying things I didn’t mean, etc., etc. And occasionally a quiet voice of appreciation arose from

Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 4256-4260). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

What he said influenced me throughout my entire career as a science teacher educator, in my work as a seminar leader for the Bureau of Education and Research, and in my work with colleagues in other nations through the Global Thinking Project.  Here is just an excerpt of what Rogers said in 1952 in Boston at Harvard:

a. I may as well start with this one in view of the purposes of this conference. My experience has been that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run, futile.

b. It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential, and has little or no significant influence on behavior. That sounds so ridiculous I can’t help but question it at the same time that I present it.

c. I realize increasingly that I can only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior. Quite possibly this is simply a personal idiosyncrasy.

d. I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.

e. Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another.

Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 4283-4290). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

I took what Rogers said seriously, and to some extent acted on it while I was at GSU.  I did away with tests in my courses, because I agreed with Rogers that most of what we test is inconsequential, and as a result there was no reason for tests.  I couldn’t do away with grades, but I could create different systems in which grading was student-centered.  Here is what I did in nearly all my courses:

All class sessions were experiential encounters that were designed as informally as possible.  On the first day of class I arranged with the on campus food caterers to have coffee, juice, fruit and cookies delivered to my classroom just before class began.  Nearly all my students were full-time teachers, and after a full day of teaching, food and drink seemed to be the ticket.  In some courses, we took two weeks to work out the curriculum with the students.  In other courses, students were encouraged to try any of the activities that were done in class back in their elementary, middle or high school.  If special materials were required, such as ozone monitoring strips, or chemical powders, they were provided.

But in nearly all the courses, the only requirements that were expected were drawn from Rogers’ chapter on his way of facilitating a class as outlined in Freedom to Learn.  As Rogers points out, every instructor has her own style of facilitating the learning of her students.  And I also agreed that there is not one way of achieving this.  The requirements that I outline here, worked for me, and my students.   This is what I gave the students on the first day of class in the form of a handout.

Course requirements for students taking my courses at Georgia State University
Course requirements for students taking my courses at Georgia State University. Rogers, Carl (1961). On becoming a person. Columbus: Merrill Publishers 

What would you like to add about What Everybody Ought to Know About Teaching? Who influenced you, and what were the consequences in your professional work?

The Ecology of Innovation in Teaching and Learning

In this post I want to show that innovation in teaching & learning is a form of deep ecology in which collaborative relationships among teachers and students opens the classroom to new ways of thinking. These actions and subsequent innovations can be local and global in nature.  For most of my career I majored in bringing the local to the global and vise versa through the Global Thinking Project (GTP), headquartered at Georgia State University.

Innovation in teaching results from a process in which democratic principles are put into practice to foster experiential and collaborative work.  The innovative teacher takes a holistic view of students and the world they live in, and engages them in projects and activities that help them make sense of the world, and applicable to their own lives. Thinking in wholes was beautifully described by the Russian scientist Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky in his book, The Biosphere, published in Russia in 1926.  It wasn’t until the time of Gorbachev’s perestroika that Vernadsky’s ideas came of age in the West.  I began my collaboration with the Soviet Union in 1981, and later in the decade, I met Dr. Anatoly Zakhlebny, a leader in the Russian ecological movement.  He introduced me to Vernadsky’s ideas.  Vernadsky viewed the biosphere as “a region of transformation of cosmic energy,” and as such the biosphere is a life sustaining space born of innovation and transformation.  The concept of biosphere as explained by Vernadsky became an organizing principle for the Global Thinking Project.

In 1993 I met Narcís Vives a teacher in Barcelona who was using the Internet to make education more humanistic and creative.  In 2013, I came across the work of Grant Lichtman, an innovative educator from San Diego who is exploring the creative and leadership qualities that are essential for education in a democratic society.

For these educators, innovation in teaching and learning is a progressive ideal that each has worked on for decades. Narcís has been engaging students, teachers and citizens in global communication to instill democratic thinking from Catalonia to other cities and nations globally.  Grant has worked locally within his school in San Diego to foster thinking conducive to learning in a democratic school and society, and has expanded his reach to other schools in this nation through his outreach and writing.

In February of 1991 I received an e-mail message from Narcís Vives, who at the time was a teacher and director of a telmatics project in Barcelona. He said he had learned about the Global Thinking Project (GTP) from his involvement in another telecommunications project (iEARN) and since Barcelona and Atlanta were linked via the Olympics, he wondered if we would be interested in some form of collaboration. At the time I was director of the Global Thinking Project, a hands-across the globe environmental and Internet-based program.  In May he traveled to Atlanta to visit the GTP project, as well as schools he had made contact with through his telecommunications activity. After visiting some of the project schools, and examining the Global Thinking materials, he suggested that some Barcelona schools join the project for the 1992-1993 school year. Nine schools joined the project. The GTP Center in Barcelona grew to include many schools across in Catalonia.

Two Innovators

Narcís Vives now is President of  Fundació Itinerarium and a Spanish Ashoka Fellow. Each of these organizations works with teachers, students and citizens around the world to promote innovation to solve local problems.  Since I have known Narcís he has been instrumental contributing to a humanistic paradigm shift, especially in informatics and cooperative learning.

I have met Grant Lichtman through his writing, and I have viewed his TEDx video that he presented to teachers in Denver.  Not only do we share a background in geology, but we also believe that the progressive ideas of John Dewey provides many answers to some of the pressing issues facing education in the U.S.

For each of these educators, I will show how their progressive views have resulted in the transformation of the thinking of many educators, and provided students and their schools with an innovative approach to teaching and learning.

Telecommunications in the Service of People and Innovation

In  1993, the Global Thinking Project held the first of many summer institutes for teachers at the Simpsonwood Conferences Center in Norcross, Georgia.  Teachers from the U.S., Russia, Czech Republic, Australia, and Spain participated in these conferences.  Narcís made arrangements for Anna Pinyero, a teacher in Barecelona, to attend the conference.  When she returned to Spain, she and Narcís recruited teachers from schools in and around Barcelona.  Eventually, more than 30 schools from Spain joined the project.

Ramon Barlam, Unnamed colleague, Anna Pinyero, and Narcis Vives in a school in Callus, Spain
Figure 1. Ramon Barlam, Unnamed colleague, Anna Pinyero, and Narcis Vives on our first visit to Callus, Spain, 1996.  We returned two years later for an international telecommunications conference organized by Ramon Barlam’s school.

In 1994, I made my first visit to Barcelona at the invitation of Narcís and the teachers in the Barcelona area. The schools in the Barcelona and Callus are part of Catalonia where the language spoken is Catalan.   During that trip, Narcís and Anna took us to Callus, a small town about 60 miles northwest of Barcelona at the foothills of the Pyrenees. We were going to Callus to visit a school, and there we met Ramon Barlam, who was coordinating and directing a global communications and Internet project far more advanced than any I had been associated with in the U.S.  Here in this small school, students were engaged as leaders of a telecommunications project bringing together schools throughout Europe to find how the Internet could be used to foster collaboration and innovation.  The school was staffed with teachers from across Europe, and there was an atmosphere of creative and progressive thinking.  The principal of the school provided the administrative leadership and realized that she needed to enable Ramon and the other teachers to work with students to develop new skills, and new knowledge.

Innovation can take many forms, but at the heart of innovation in teaching is the humanitarian aspects engaging students in real issues and problems.  Narcís and I were brought together because of our interests in using new technologies to humanize teaching, and provide an environment for students in different regions of the world to collaborate and work together to deal with real issues.

For decades now, Narcís Vives and other educators in the Catalonia region of Spain have been on the forefront of using new technologies in humanistic ways.  At the center of their work with technology was the goal of enabling students and teachers to participate in and contribute to solutions of real problems facing the world.

In an article written in 1995, but only recently published online, A Telematics Forum on the Family in Countries from Around the World, Narcís Vives explains one of the most powerful and humanitarian ways that the Internet is being used to enable “boys and girls in far-away places to join together in educational projects.”  That way is to use the Internet as a way to make it possible for people to connect with each other; to talk to each other; to act together on a project.  And it doesn’t matter where one lives, access to the Internet is far reaching, and has since 1995 grown exponentially.  In 1995 we had email and electronic bulletin boards.  Today we have smart phones, tablets, Twitter & other social networks, the World Wide Web, blogging, podcasting, and on and on.

My point here is that collaboration is one of the most potent tools of the Internet, the tool that Narcís and many colleagues in Catalonia have been pioneers in working out practical ways to this kind of participation to people around the world.

Participation has local and global components. Action locally is based on a view of environmental education which is described as “education for the environment.” In this view students not only become knowledgeable about their environment, but aware of environmental problems, how to solve them, and motivated to work toward their solution (Michel, 1996). The design of learning experiences includes an action-taking component that is fundamental to the idea of participation. The other component of participation is global. The use of telecommunications enables students to extend participation beyond their own communities. Telecommunications sets up cross-cultural partnerships, global communities, and global summits for studying common global concerns. Dr. Jenny Springer, Principal of Dunwoody High School, suggests that telecommunications used for dialog with peers on the other side of the globe is based on the work of the Russian psychologist Vygotsky. Vygotsky viewed knowledge being constructed in a social context, with student’s ideas being influenced by the ideas and interactions with others (Springer, 1993).

In this context I want to describe an example of how Narcís Vives used telecommunications to engage students around the world during the Bosnian War, 1992 – 1995.

I received the following email message from Narcís Vives on December 20, 1992 (please see Figure 2).

Screen Shot 2013-05-19 at 1.53.25 PM
Figure 2. A 1992 E-mail message from Narcis Vives asking the Global Thinking Project schools to join his effort in reaching out to children in a refugee camp in Zagreb, Bosnia

This message was forwarded on to all of the GTP schools in Australia, Czech Republic, Russia, and United States.  Narcis’ proposal to the Global Thinking Project resulted in bringing together students and teachers from three continents to focus their thoughts and actions on a refugee camp in a remote location in Bosnia, thousands of miles from their schools. The events that followed Narcís’ original invitation reflect the humanistic potential of global thinking in general, and telecommunications in particular. Here are some of the events that followed.

1. Message from a Young Bosnian Boy. On January, Narcís Vives posted a message on the Global Thinking bulletin board written by a young Bosnian boy, Sanel Cekik who lived in the Veli Joze camp. The original telecommunications message was written in a Servo-Croatian dialect and was translated by three American high school students from the Coldspring Harbor High School (New York). The message written by Sanel was as follows:

The war slowly but surely came over our city. After some time, it happened; Serbs took over the city as everywhere they started with their terrible torture. My incident is next. One night in my apartment where unfortunately was my father, came four Serb soldiers. First they beat him (my father is 60 years old). Then they made horrible wounds on his back, on his forehead, and his hands with razor blades. The next day when I came and saw him in this condition, I was very shaken. This picture is going to forever stay in my mind as the pictures of many other people and children who were killed by the Serbs. A message to the whole world from me and all the children, my friends, and from all other refugees. Thank you for all the help. Stop this damned war!!

2. Solidarity Day.  In early February, 1993, Narcís announced on the GTP electronic bulletin boards that Friday, February 26, 1993 would be a Day of Solidarity for camp Veli Joze. He said this:

We are planning to organize a solidarity day on Friday the 26th February. A very well known Catalan clown is traveling with two teachers to act for the Bosnian children. I have received a lot of drawings and writings from Veli Joze which will be exposed at Centre Educatiu Projecte on the 26th. Student from the eight schools in Barcelona will meet together to see these drawing, see slides from the camp, sing peace songs and know each other. Till now they have only used telecommunications to coordinate the campaign in favour of Veli Joze.

The Solidarity Day.  Barcelona schools met and celebrated a solidarity festival among eight schools. The day before Solidarity Day, three Catalan teachers and a clown left Barcelona for the camp with a lot of school material. In the morning of the 26th, Veli Joze and the Catalan schools participated in a live teleconference. All the Catalan schools and the camp were connected by computer seeing each others’ messages at the same time. Narcís posted this message a few days later:

It was very moving to start receiving messages from Bosnian children and then sending them solidarity messages which they read at the moment. They also answered questions posted by Catalan children. Half an hour later I was invited to a radio program to talk about the solidarity day. We could also talk to a Catalan Volunteer in Veli Joze who explained what they were going to do during this solidarity day. All the Catalan schools were listening to the radio and happy to listen to the impact that their project is having not only in Catalonia but also in other countries (I have received messages from Australia, Israel, Chile, Russia, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Croatia, and different states in the United States). In the afternoon the Catalan schools were invited to Centre Educatiu Projecte where they could see an exhibition of drawings made by Bosnian children at Veli Joze. They could also attend a Lumaphone conference between Veli Joze, two schools in New York, and Barcelona. It was very moving for them to see Sanel Cekik’s picture on the screen and listen to him and to other Bosnian children.

3. Moscow School 710.  Teachers and students in GTP School-Gymnasium 710, Moscow joined the Barcelona schools on the Day of Solidarity. They sent this message to the children in the Bosnian camp via Barcelona and posted it on the gtp.earthconf.

Dear friends!

Teachers and students of school-gymnasium #710 in Moscow, Russia send you our best greetings. From radio, TV and newspaper reports all of us know about the events in your country. We are very much concerned about the situation. We sympathize with you. Please, mind that in this difficult hour you are not alone, you have many friends on our planet. Today, we have talked about your beautiful country, recited poems, thought about you and about the hard life you are living now. We don’t want any war to happen and we hope, that very soon people all over the world will live in peace and friendship. Women and children will not cry; men will not fight. Please, be brave and don’t lose your heart. We are sure that the smoke of war will disappear and peaceful sun will shine again above your country.

Your friends: students of the 7th class, and teachers Galina Zhuravskaya and Vera Rizhova

4. North Heights school, Rome, Georgia. The Global Thinking class at North Heights posted this report on May 21, 1993.

North Heights recently completed a project to help Camp Veli Joze.

We did three projects. One was a school dance. The way we raised money was we charged $1.00 per head. We also paid to see the teachers dance! The students were responsible for planning the details for the dance, for collecting money, and selling refreshments. We raised $156.74. The next thing we did was a charity softball game at the school during field day. We raised $99.00. We also put out money jars in local stores. We designed posters to tell the story of Veli Joze and Global Thinking to display in the businesses to encourage people to donate their money. One 5th grade student thought of the slogan “Your Change Will Change Camp Veli Joze” to put on the canisters. We haven’t gotten the results from this yet. Messages from Narcis Vives about Camp Veli Joze, the sad message from Sanel Cekik, and the poem “I’d like to go alone” inspired us to try to do something to help the camp. Within two weeks, our teacher will be sending a check and some photos to Narcis Vives for the camp.

5. Melbourne Girls Grammar School, Australia. The GTP class at the school posted a message on June 7, 1993.

Topic 157. The Bosnian Boy

Peg:mggs: Global Thinking Project

This poem is our reaction from the letter from Sanel Cekik who is a Bosnian boy who at the time was living at a refugee camp called Veli Joze and we hope through this poem that he and everyone else can see we care.

Boy, in your room I heard you weeping,

Boy, in his room you saw him sleeping,

Then from his peace he was awaking,

Only to a hell that today is creating.

Boy, with all the terror you must be sinking,

I wonder how many lives they are


The Veli Joze experience was considered by many students to be an important event in their lives. Brief reports written by students from schools in Australia, Russia and the United States at the end of the school year supported this assertion. As Springer noted, global thinking facilitates interactions and partnerships that allow students to experience the social nature of knowledge.

When we began our work with Narcís Vives and other educators in Catalonia, Russia, Australia, the Czech Republic, and later other countries, the telecommunications technology available to us was primitive.  In the beginning we used e-mail and electronic bulletin boards to send, receive and read each other’s ideas.  We sent pictures to each other using slow scan TV.  We did not have browsers and the World Wide Web, and clearly we didn’t have FaceBook or Twitter.  But we were able to launch and carry out telecommunication projects that were grounded in cooperative and collaborative learning, and mutual trust and support of teachers and students in different countries.

Narcís Vives has for more than two decades promoted innovative global collaboration amongst students and teachers.  Most recently, he participated in the Global Education Conference, a collaborative, world-wide community initiative involving students, educators and organizations at all levels.  Narcis presented is most recent efforts in connecting students and educators through Fudacio Itinerarium.

Searching for Innovation

Grant Lichtman, (author of The Learning Pond blog), for 15 years, has been involved with independent school education, as trustee, chief of finance and operations, teacher, parent, and volunteer at Francis Parker School in San Diego, one of the largest independent schools in the United States. He recently completed an 89 day automobile trip to visit and explore schools across the U.S.  At present he is working on a book based on that experience.

In his book, The Falconer, Grant Lichtman explains that few problems and issues in life and learning are “clean and linear.”  As he says, we all learn better  by experience than instruction.  Dewey wrote about experience and thinking many years ago, and it seems that he and Lichtman are on the same wavelength.  Dewey explains that experience has two parts, an active and a passive which are “peculiarly” combined (Dewey, 1924).  Experiential learning is not simply an activity or simply hands-on learning.  Experience means on the one hand, trying, and on the other hand undergoing.  So when we have students experience something, they act upon it, or what might say we do something with it.  Then, as Dewey says, we “suffer or undergo the consequences.  Participation in experiential learning activities does something to the participants, and what happens will determine the value of the experience.  Lichtman’s book is an experiential account of his journey as a teacher.  Dewey would suggest that Grant’s book is a good example of his experience as a teacher.

But you can learn about Grant’s ideas garnered not only from that trip to these schools, but from his experiences as a educator for many years.  Included here is a video of the talk that he gave at the TEDx Denver Teachers event.

Grant Lichtman’s ideas are rooted in a number of progressive thinkers from the past, including John Dewey.  In fact, in his talk in Denver, he asked where do we want to be in education in the future, and his answer came down to one word: DEWEY.

His philosophy, much like Narcí Vives’ is rooted in experiential and humanistic conceptions.  Grant is involved in working with educators around the country who are interested in transformational education.   He was recently named a Senior Fellow of The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence in Memphis.

According to Grant Lichtman, in order for schools to evolve to offer transformational education that is relevant the present world “we must change the ways we are structured and oriented, and we must change how and what we teach. These changes will involve all aspects of our schools, and some aspects that are not even present today. (Lichtman, 2013)   According to Grant Lichtman, we will have to:

  • Question the sacred cows that drive our budgets and define the parameters of our teaching corps.
  • Fundamentally change the relationship between teachers, students, and knowledge.
  • Adopt the lessons of innovation and change management that are now foreign to our ivy towers.
  • Engage the world outside our classrooms in fundamentally different ways.
  • Re-write curriculum.
  • Learn to embrace risk rather than fearing it…

Innovation in education, according to Grant Lichtman and Narcís Vives, involves teachers and students working collaboratively, and in an environment in which taking risks, and working at the farther reaches of human nature are essential components.

What do you think about the ideas of Narcis Vives and Grant Lichtman?  What is your view of innovation in education?


Dewey, J. (1924). Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. New York, The Macmillan Company.

Hassard, J. (1990a) The AHP soviet exchange project: 1983-1990 and beyond, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 30 No.3, Summer 6-51.

Hassard, J. (1992). Minds on science: The art of teaching middle and high school science. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Hassard, J. (1990b). Science experiences: Cooperative learning and the teaching of Ssience. Menlo Park: CA: Addison-Wesley.

Hassard, J., et.al. (1994). The global thinking project: Linking students together around the world through the communication highway. Curriculum Perspectives, 14, 19-23.

Hassard, J. & Cross, R. T. . (1993). The global thinking project: Shared concerns and shared experiences across the continents.Australian Science Teachers Journal, Vol. 39, No. 3, 18-23.

Hassard, J. & Kolb, S. (1996). Citizen scientists: Student experiences in the gtp– georiga/russia exchange project. Paper presented at the conference on Telecommunications and Education, Callus, Spain, April 27.

Hassard, J. & Weisberg, J. (1995). Global thinking Teacher’s resource guide. Atlanta, GA: Global Thinking Project.

Lichtman, G. (2008). The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School: A Primer for 21st Century Education. New York: iUniverse, Inc.

Maslow, A. H., Maslow, B. G., and Geiger, H. (1993). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Penguin

Michel, Rachel (1996). Environmental education: A study of how it is influenced and informed by the concepts of environmentalism. Doctoral Dissertation. La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia

Robinson, W. (1996). The Effects of the global thinking project on middle school students’ attitudes toward the environment. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Springer, J. L. (1993). A principal’s perspective of the global thinking project at dunwoody high school: Implications for adminstrators. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, The Union Institute, Cincinnati, Ohio

Vladimir I. Vernadsky. The Biosphere: Complete Annotated Edition (Kindle Locations 127-128). Kindle Edition.


Guest Post by Ed Johnson: The Next Atlanta Superintendent: Seeking Someone Who Embraces Unconventional Possibilities

Guest Post by Ed Johnson

This post is a letter written by Ed Johnson, an advocate and citizen for improving education in the Atlanta Public Schools. This letter is especially timely in light of the consequences of the Atlanta and State of Georgia testing debacle. Although Atlanta has a superintendent, his term will end in 2014. A search committee has been formed. Mr. Johnson explains why the “next APS superintendent needs to be – no, must be – a Systems Thinker, perhaps in the style of teachings by the late Dr. W. Edwards Deming and similar others, or possibly in the style of the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence. Implicit in both these styles is ethical and moral development born of cooperation and collaboration, something that cannot possibly happen with competition and adversarialism where it truly matters.”

Ed Johnson consults as Quality Information Solutions, Inc., with a commitment to human social and cultural systems to receive quality information from information systems for the continual improvement of life, work, and play. His commitment extends to advocating the transformation of K-12 public education systems to humanistic paradigms from prevailing mechanistic paradigms. Ed also is former president of Atlanta Area Deming Study Group. He can be reached by email.

On May 19, 2013, at 8:35 PM, EdwJohnson@aol.com wrote:

Via E-mail

May 19, 2013

Dear Ann Crammer and ABE Superintendent Search Committee (SSC) Members:

Recent news that two Bunch Middle School students were honored in the “” Essay Contest underscores why your service, Ann, as SSC Chairperson represents for you, as well as for the committee members, a formidable challenge.

You, and they, may ask: “How come?” Kindly allow me to explain, or at least try to explain.

Certainly, applaud Do the Write Thing’s aim to help stop youth violence. But why would DtWT make it a contest when the aim of a contest and the aim of an act of violence usually are one and the same, which is to “win” at somebody else’s expense?

More importantly, why does such a pathological win-lose culture continue to persist within our Atlanta Public Schools as if APS’ massively systemic CRCT cheating scandal of 2009 offered no lessons to learn?

Why would anyone believe the APS win-lose culture does not transfer to other aspects of students’ lives and, in some instances, show up as youth violence?

Why does APS seem to embrace inculcating within children competition and adversarialism more so than cooperation and collaboration?

It seems the more the mostly “Black” ABE and APS top administration perceive a particular population of children to be mostly “Black,” the more likely they are to believe and provide for subjecting those children to competition as if competition offers the children salvation. It does not; it only offers more competition.

Questions about APS such as these plus the recent massacre at Sandy Hook Element School prompted my recent Open Letter to President Obama. In it, and within the context of his Race to the Top Competition, I question the wisdom of turning the many kids into essay writing losers as a way of honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, birth and legacy. I also suggest that engaging the children in an essay writing collaborative would have been a far more fitting way to honor Dr. King.

Similarly, I suggest a “Do the Write Thing” Essay Collaborative would have been a far more fitting way for Bunche Middle School kids to engage writing about youth violence. The aim could have been to annually compile and publish the kids’ essays in book form, so as to comprise a continuing anthology for study, research, and reflection, and so that each and every child could take intrinsic motivational pride and joy in having contributed to the “Bunche Middle School Anthology on Youth Violence.”

And the kids’ contributions to the anthology could have been a very long-lived intrinsic pride and joy, something each one of them could have pointed to well into the future and perhaps say: “See, this is my contribution.” Or, “See, this is my and my co-authors’ contribution.” Or, “See, this is a picture of our two classmates we chose to represent our ‘Bunche Middle School Anthology on Youth Violence’ in Washington, DC, and to present a copy to the President.”

Obviously, that did not happen, for an undeniable aim of the DtWT Essay Contest was to single out only two winner kids (“finalists”) worthy enough to be “honored” with a dinner and all the loser kids implicitly told they are not so worthy.

Just think of the loss. Just think of the horrible lesson this has likely taught both the contest winner kids and the contest loser kids. Just think that this has likely taught the kids that their worth and value must come from outside themselves. Then just think how this lesson might transfer to promoting and sustaining not only youth violence but gang membership and even “pants on the ground” and of course the “school to prison pipeline.”

Thus, Ann, this brings us to the formidable challenge you have as ABE Search Committee Chairperson.

Arguably, the DtWT Essay Contest at Bunche Middle School reflects conventional thinking on the part of the ABE and the APS superintendency; else, it would not have happened the way it did. Theirs is a conventional thinking that has hobbled APS for way too long a time. Thus the SSC you chair has the opportunity, and the obligation I dare say, to bring to the ABE those superintendent candidates capable to lead continual improvement of APS as one system of public schools. Such candidates will not be, again, the “strong CEO” types or the “experienced urban superintendent” types. And most certainly, such candidates will not be graduates of the Broad Superintendents Academy nor school reformists in the style of, or proponents of, Michelle Rhee or any other “Waiting for Superman” character.

In short, the next APS superintendent needs to be – no, must be – a Systems Thinker, perhaps in the style of teachings by the late Dr. W. Edwards Deming and similar others, or possibly in the style of the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence. Implicit in both these styles is ethical and moral development born of cooperation and collaboration, something that cannot possibly happen with competition and adversarialism where it truly matters. And it truly matters for educating today’s children with the aim of sustaining democratic ideals in service to the public good.

(By the way, that anyone would contend charter schools are public schools simply manifests a moral, ethical, and civil decadence that only recently has been established in public law. It reflects the conventional win-lose culture but among our politicians, mostly lawyers, something Dr. Ben Carson warned about recently, and something Dr. Deming warned about long before his passing in 1993, at age 93.)

So, Ann, as the ABE Superintendent Search Committee continues to survey and meet with Atlantans to learn what we want in our next Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, the committee at those times must also inform Atlantans of unconventional possibilities, don’t you agree?

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education

Moneyball, Baseball, Teaching & Learning: Is there a Relationship?


Moneyball: A book and a movie based on real events in which a baseball team is assembled using analytical, evidence-based, and sabermetric methods.  Sabermetrics is derived from the acronym  SABR meaning Society for American Baseball Research.

GA AWARDS: An acronym which stands for Georgia’s Academic and Workforce Analysis and Research Data System.  GA AWARDS is data collected through Georgia’s Race to the Top (RT3) Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS).


According to David Grabiner, Bill James developed sabermetrics which is “the search for objective knowledge about baseball.”  Here is an interesting quote from Grabiner’s book (Grabiner, n.d.):

Sabermetrics attempts to answer objective questions about baseball, such as “which player on the Red Sox contributed the most to the team’s offense?” or “How many home runs will Ken Griffey hit next year?” It cannot deal with the subjective judgments which are also important to the game, such as “Who is your favorite player?” or “That was a great game.”

Using sabermetrics, a baseball team’s management can predict how well a player should do during the next season.  What happens to the player if they don’t produce according to “objective data” collected on him over the past years. Predicting how well a player will do in the future is analogous to using a teacher’s VAM score to predict their performance in the future, don’t you think?

Jackie Robinson's Hitting Statistics, 1947 - 1956.
Figure 1. Jackie Robinson’s Hitting Statistics, 1947 – 1956.

Instead of paying attention just to runs scored, hits, runs batted in, and batting average as shown for Jackie Robinson in Figure 1, sabermetrics expands the categories of data collection by adding variables such as these: base runs, batting average on balls in play, defensive runs saved, equivalent average, late inning pressure situations, Pythagorean expectation, runs created, ultimate zone rating, value over replacement player and so on.  Thus saber metrics applies mathematical tools to analyze baseball, which are used by officials to make decisions about their teams (Wikipedia, 2013).

For teachers, however, the situation is a bit different.  Most states in the U.S. are moving toward pinning teachers’ worth and value on just one variable: student achievement scores on high-stakes tests.  It seems to me, that baseball players might have the edge here.

Statistics have always been a part of baseball.  Baseball cards showed a picture of our favorite players on one side, but on the flip side was the player’s complete batting or pitching record .  But it was nothing like the spreadsheets that are now used in the age of sabermetrics.  Just look at the Figures 2 and 3 which are spread sheets of data used by sabermaticians.

As one author stated, “sabermetrics dig deep into raw data to answer questions such as: Do pitching coaches actually make a difference? Or, what’s the best way to measure a hitter’s value the team?” (J. Silverman, How Stuff Works).  Figures 2 & 3 show some of the data used by baseball officials to make decisions about its players.

Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 3.15.56 PM
Figure 2. Micro-View of MLB 2011 Season Data


Figure 3. Enlarged view of the data shown in Figure 2.
Figure 3. Enlarged view of the data shown in Figure 2.


Many baseball front offices have adopted sabermetrics, based on the work of Bill James, who had been publishing books on baseball including its history and statistics before he was discovered by Major League Baseball.   The Oakland A’s were the first team to apply and adopt the principles of sabermetrics.  The movie Moneyball was based on the book with the same title  chronicling the the A’s general manager, Billy Beane, who applied the method to his team.

Much of the MLB data is online, and you can follow this link to Bill James Online.

Do you see any parallels with what is happening in education?  Is there any connection between sabermetrics and the current data collection and analysis strategies that have been adopted by all state education departments, and the U.S. Department of Education?  As you will see, education has a long history of collecting data, but nothing compared to what is happening in 2013.


Like the statistics on the back of a baseball card, statistics on education have been collected since 1867 when Congress established a department of education for the purpose of collecting data on the condition and progress of education in the states and its territories (Grant, W. V., 1993).  As Grant recalls, the department was very small, and as an entity was moved around from one Federal agency to another, until it was separated from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1980 to become the U.S. Department of Education (ED).  The collection of data at the Federal level really began when in 1870, Congress authorized the department of education to hire its first statistician.

With time, the statistics part of the department, which is now the National Center for Education Statistics, expanded, so that by the the 1960s the center was collecting and publishing high quantities of data.

In 1969, the center began the National Assessment of Education Progress which has since then surveyed nationwide samples of students at age 9, 13 and 17 in  mathematics, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, U.S. history, and beginning in 2014, in Technology and Engineering Literacy (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2013).

In 2001, the U.S. Congress established the No Child Left Behind Act which required all states to develop assessments in basic skills, and to give these assessments to all students in order to receive federal school funding.


Figure 4. Race to the Top Winners.  Blue: Winners; Green: Losers: Yellow: Did not Submit
Figure 4. Race to the Top Winners. Blue: Winners; Green: Losers: Yellow: Did not Submit

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education used $4.35 billion to fund The Race to the Top, a contest in which states competed for this money in two rounds of proposal writing.  Those states that received funding had to agree to use statistics as a method to evaluate teachers, and to use a major portion of the funding to establish statewide longitudinal data systems to improve instruction, to evaluate schools and teachers.

Whether they received funding or not, many states changed their policies so as to position themselves to become more competititive for Race to the Top funding.  Some states, at the last minute, agreed to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores, and to adopt the Common Core State Standards.


Georgia was one of the states that was a winner in the Race to the Top competition, and based on its proposal was required to develop a longitudinal data system.  Georgia’s system is GA AWARDS or Georgia’s Academic and Workforce Analysis and Research Data System.

According to the GA AWARDS website, the data system:

has been made available to researchers with the high-level analytical skills and research training needed to mine the data and answer critical educational policy and evaluation questions. (emphasis mine)

Researchers will be asked to focus on key topics and advocacy areas including:

  • effectiveness of educator preparation programs
  • effectiveness of strategies and interventions implemented within the State’s RT3 proposal
  • education background of students who experience the least difficulty in transitioning to college

There’s a lot of data available to the researchers.  According to the Georgia Department of Education, the Race to the Top data will be combined from data sets in these state agencies:

  • Bright from the Start: Department of Early Care & Learning – DECAL
  • Department of Education – DoE
  • Georgia Student Finance Achievement – GSFC
  • Governor’s Office of Student Achievement – GOSA
  • Georgia Professional Standards Commission – PSC
  • Technical College System of Georgia – TCSG
  • University System of Georgia – USG

This past week, the Georgia Department of Education released a data driven 110-point grading or report card system that published scores for individual schools, districts, and the state as a whole.  Although the grading system doesn’t use as many categories as used in Sabermetrics, the principles are in place to use the data to make crucial decisions about students, teachers, and administrators.  The educational front offices of the state and each school system will be able to make decisions that may or may not be advisable.

The selection of variables that the department of education thinks are the most important in measuring student learning are highly questionable.  For example, for more than a decade, critics have questioned the use of academic learning based on end-of-the-year high-stakes tests as the major variable to assess student learning.  Yet, in Georgia, the state’s teacher evaluation system which uses a teachers “value added” score will be based largely on student test scores. Much of the drive to put into place this far reaching data driven system of education can be traced to the Race to the Top. In a letter to the Georgia Department of Education, scholars in some of Georgia’s universities have recommended that the state not use this method to evaluate teachers because there is no evidence to show its been proven.

However, the Department of Education forges ahead.


Georgia just unveiled a new data system.  CCRPI, or College and Career Ready Performance Index is equivalent to Bill James sabermetrics used in baseball.   The index is actually a score on a scale from 0 – 110, called the CCRPI Score.   The score is a sum of achievement, progress, achievement gap, and challenge points.  Kind of like runs batted in,  Pythagorean expectation, runs created, and ultimate zone rating used in baseball.  From this kind of data, the state classifies schools as Reward Schools, Priority Schools, Focus Schools, and Alert Schools.  Guess which variable is associated with these categories of schools?

When I dug deeper into the CCRPI index, I realized that the mathematics be used to sort out differences among schools was along the lines of sabermetrics.

At the high school level, a CCRPI is the amalgam  of 19 items including (a) content mastery—% of students meeting or exceeding content test criteria (b) post high school readiness—% of graduates, % of AP courses, % passing certain national industry credential tests, and so forth, and (c) graduate rate in %.

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 8.00.30 PM
Figure 5. College and Career Ready Performance Index for the State of Georgia.

Figure 5 is an image of the CCRPI Index home page.  This page shows an average score for all of Georgia’s schools.  As you can the CCRPI score for the state is 83.4 out of 110 points.  The total score is a sum of achievement (57.5), progress points (9.8), achievement gap points (10.5) and challenge points—exceeding the bar (5.6).

Using the website, we can find the CCRPI scores for every school in the state, including public and charter schools.  For example here are CCRPI scores for a few school districts that I have worked with in the past.  In addition to the CCRPI score for these districts, I have included the percentage of students eligible to receive free or reduced price meals.  As you can see, there is an inverse relationship between CCRPI score and percentage of free/reduced lunches.  The lower the CCRPI score, the higher the percentage of students eligible for free/reduced lunch.  As Jean Sanders correctly points out (see comments below), higher ranking districts are rating “high” because scores are highly correlated with student body SES and income factors.

Relationship between CCRPI Score and % of Students Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch in Selected Georgia  School Districts
Figure 6. Relationship between CCRPI Score and % of Students Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch in Selected Georgia School Districts

The CCRPI scoring system (follow this link to a slide show on the system) was part of Georgia’s Flexibility Report request to obtain waivers on some aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act.  I’ve discussed this request in some detail here.   The new scoring system is also readiness for the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English/language arts, and assessments will be in place by 2014 based on the Common Core.

The CCRPI score system reduces the nature of teaching and learning to a single number that people really believe.  Unfortunately the system does not tell us anything about the arts program of a school.  It says nothing about the participation level of students in school activities.  It doesn’t tell us anything about the kind of work that students do, nor does it tell us anything about the values and aspirations that are in place in the school.

Is there any kind of relationship between the method used to evaluate baseball players and the method used to evaluate schools, teachers and students?  There seems to be, but baseball and education are based on very different value and compensation systems. To use the sabermetrics type of evaluation to judge schools and teachers is problematic. It sets up league standings of schools based on CCRPI scores. The rankings and scores are used to make comparisons, establish rewards and impose punishments.

When you sit in front of a computer screen and see the data that is at your finger tips, it makes you wonder just what is going on here.  Will education use statistics in the same way that some front office managers are using in baseball?

What do you think?


Grabiner, D. J.. (n.d.). The Sabermetrics Manefesto. In SeanLayman.com. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://www.seanlahman.com/baseball-archive/sabermetrics/sabermetric-manifesto/.

Grant, W. V. (1993). 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait. In National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved May 12, 2013, from http://0-nces.ed.gov.opac.acc.msmc.edu/pubs93/93442.pdf

Silverman, J. How Sabermetrics Works. In How Stuff Works, Retrieved May 14, 2013, from http://www.howstuffworks.com/sabermetrics.htm

Wikipedia. (May 7, 2013). Sabermetrics. In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabermetrics.