#MACUL13 Round Up

I had the chance to attend MACUL’s (Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning) 2013 conference held in Detroit this past week. I have a lot of good friends living in Michigan, and after a year of pestering and reminders, I finally made it up there. Let me just say, Michigan has one of the strongest education presences at a grassroots level that I’ve ever experienced. Over 4,000 educators from across the spectrum descended on Detroit’s Cobo Center and some great things happened.

I wrote a post nearly a year ago observing that with content available all the time, we really need to think about how we structure our current learning spaces. I turned that blog post into a presentation at MACUL on Thursday. You can watch the recording below or on YouTube. It runs about 30 minutes, so if you can’t spend that long watching it, I’ve posted a .mp3 you can download and put on your iPod for later. To save it, right click on the play button and select “Save video as…”

On Friday, I gave a Do’s and Don’ts session for people who are interested in Flipped Learning, but don’t really know where to begin the process. This session was a lot of fun, and we had some great discussion on each point about why it is labeled as a Do or a Don’t. This one runs about 50 minutes, so I have it as an mp3 for now. I’ll update this post with a YouTube link when it’s ready to be viewed.

Teachers Speak Up Again

Nearly a month ago, I sat down and wrote a letter to my federal representatives in Congress. I received one reply from one of my state Senators. You can read the whole letter at the bottom of the post if you’d like to. I want to pick out a couple of things, and then share my response (emphasis is mine).

Although the broad package of spending cuts known as sequestration was delayed until March 1, 2013, Congress failed to reach an agreement to replace the across-the-board cut with a thoughtful deficit reduction plan, and cuts have gone into place. These cuts are expected to have significant impact on all aspects of our economy and national security, and reduce critical funding for education, people with disabilities, and our seniors. While I strongly believe we must cut government spending, I also believe we must do so in a balanced and responsible way.

The American people deserve a Congress that is willing to work together to get things done. Discussions about sequestration should not be about assigning blame and winning political fights–they should be focused on finding an alternative both parties can agree to. We need to do what is right for our country and get our fiscal house in order. As Congress works to address sequestration and to develop a thoughtful deficit reduction plan, I remain committed to working with both parties to find ways to significantly reduce spending, close unnecessary tax loopholes, and better balance the budget.

Two things stand out: 1) This is a prime example of non-speech. If you’re an English teacher and need an example, please feel free to use this. 2) He didn’t address the points in my letter, nor did he give any example of how he will step up and lead the process.

We’re now seeing a wave of budget cuts slamming educational programs across the country. This week, Chicago schools announced they will close 54 public schools,, sending 30,000 (mostly poor) students to new districts in order to save 540 million dollars over 10 year. Oh, and Rham announced this while on a ski vacation. Nice. Double nice: They’re opening 60 new charter schools over 5 years.

NASA has also cancelled major educational outreach programs due to budget cuts.

Long story short, education is being used to balance the budget. Teachers, please do not sit by and watch. Write. Call. March. Get students involved. Collectively, we can begin to make a major difference, but we all have to speak up.

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Entire letter:

Dear Mr. Bennett,

Thank you for taking the time to contact my office about sequestration and the fiscal challenges facing our nation.

In August 2011, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25). The legislation was intended to raise the current debt limit to avoid immediate default, while requiring Congress to reduce the deficit by roughly $2 trillion over the next ten years. In order to ensure that Congress fulfilled its obligation to cut spending, the law stipulated that if Congress failed to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion by January 15, 2012, a process known as sequestration–an across-the-board spending reduction–would take effect. In fact, at the time, the authors of the legislation argued that the impact of sequestration on the economy would be so devastating that Congress would have no choice but to develop a bipartisan cost reduction plan.

Although the broad package of spending cuts known as sequestration was delayed until March 1, 2013, Congress failed to reach an agreement to replace the across-the-board cut with a thoughtful deficit reduction plan, and cuts have gone into place. These cuts are expected to have significant impact on all aspects of our economy and national security, and reduce critical funding for education, people with disabilities, and our seniors. While I strongly believe we must cut government spending, I also believe we must do so in a balanced and responsible way.

The American people deserve a Congress that is willing to work together to get things done. Discussions about sequestration should not be about assigning blame and winning political fights–they should be focused on finding an alternative both parties can agree to. We need to do what is right for our country and get our fiscal house in order. As Congress works to address sequestration and to develop a thoughtful deficit reduction plan, I remain committed to working with both parties to find ways to significantly reduce spending, close unnecessary tax loopholes, and better balance the budget.

It is a privilege to represent you and all Hoosiers in the U.S. Senate. Your continued correspondence is welcome and helps me to better represent our state. I encourage you to write, call, or email if my office can ever be of assistance. You can also check out my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter by visiting my website.

My response:

Dear _________,

Thank you for taking time to respond to my initial letter. I understand that you are a very busy individual, but I am disappointed that none of the concerns I raised were seriously addressed. In the time since my last letter, Chicago, along with other cities, has decided to close more that 50 public elementary schools due to budget deficits, partially due to the sequestration of federal education funds. Similarly, NASA has also announced the cancellation of science education initiatives that made major differences in the lives of students.

I am frustrated and discouraged that education has become the go-to solution for solving budget shortfalls. The double-speak coming from Washington is maddening as a citizen, especially for teachers. Congress and the President both talk about raising educational standards in this country, but then all we see are more and more budget cuts and curriculum restrictions placed on schools.

I want to encourage you and challenge you to become a voice for teachers in America. We feel discouraged and beaten down. We feel forgotten, and it is showing to our students. Please, Senator, give us a voice in Washington that we’ve been missing for so long.

Sincerely,

Brian E. Bennett

South Bend, IN

Teachers Speak Up

I travelled to Germany over this past week to share at a conference about Flipped Learning. More on that in another post. The reason for today’s post stems from discussions I had with Germans about the American government. It was embarrassing to try and explain the dysfunction we’ve had lately. It was even worse to come back and see headlines in the newspapers about Congress walking out of negotiations, essentially, throwing in the towel on the budget cuts set to happen today before midnight.

I sat down and wrote the following email to my two Senators and my district Congresswoman.

Dear __________,

My name is Brian Bennett and I am a voting citizen in South Bend, Ind. I’m writing concerning the deplorable behavior of Congress over the current sequestration debates. I would like to know, as my elected representative, where are our leaders?

The United States Government is embarrassing to watch. Our leaders, regardless of party, have fallen to a state of bickering, partisan ideology, and personal agendas rather than governance. Your constituency would much rather see compromise and even a marginal effort at problem solving for long-term solutions rather than these foolish, short term fights that wear us all down every few months. I’m not one to write like this often, but I really don’t know what else to do.

I’m a teacher in a high school in South Bend, and I try to share the current events with my students on a day to day basis. It seems like even our children understand that Congress is derailed and dysfunctional. I can tell you first hand that the example being set by our government is humiliating and that the messages being sent to our students through your inaction are much louder than the face and lip service we receive in front of cameras.

I would like to know when our elected officials will begin doing what is best for the country rather than what is best for their political careers. Can we stop the games, please?

It’s time to begin writing. A lot. I’m tired of sitting by, and watching our elected “representatives” looking at problems in the face and then walking away from even trying to find a common solution.

If you have other suggestions of how to get more involved, I’d love to hear more thoughts in the comments.