Cost per classroom

How are decisions made that commit funds for online services to individual teachers? I have been searching online to see if data exist on how frequently individual teachers are given a budget, allocation or allowance for instructional resources they can apply in their classrooms. I came up with nothing. My wife tells me this is not how it is done. Teachers write grants or seek funds from the PTO, but they are not allocated funds to be applied as the teacher believes meet classroom needs. Hmm….. Self-determination is such an important motivator.

I started thinking about this because I try to keep track of the costs of various online services I recommend. I start from the assumption that free is not a long term strategy for quality resources.

Just to make a guess at what such an allocation might look like I generated a short list for what a 5th-grade teacher might request. My items included:

Insert Learning




I could not find a NewSela chart, but I did locate a source I am using for estimation ($18 per student).

Total request for a 25 student class (no other classes involved) – $40 + $25×9 (five licenses = $225) + $18 x 25 ($450) = $715.

I suppose this seems like a lot. Newsela can be accessed at no cost, but the Pro version offers a management system allowing individualization (tracking) of individual students. I assume this would be the major purchase in the literacy area for the classroom.

I must admit to having no personal experience as a K12 administrator. I have a lot of experience as a college administrator, but my budget contained very little for instructional resources. Students purchased their own books and supplies. My instructional resource budget was a hold over from the days we rented a few instructional films and was never removed.

The online blogs of various K12 folks describe their use of the type of services I list here. I can explain to future or practicing teachers how these tools work. What I cannot track is how experiences with such services translate into use in classrooms.


Moderating comments in

While layering services do not technically modify the content as originally generated by a web author, some have complained that annotations are not approved by the authors and may be problematic. For example, comments may be inappropriate and offensive. A comparison to blogs is used by some in explaining this objection. Blogs typically allow the author to control comments. The author may prevent any comments or moderate comments before the comments are released to the public. is one of the first services I am aware of that offers a partial way to address this issue. I say partial because the technique is under the control of the individual who creates a group for annotating web content and not the author(s) of the content annotated. So, for example, a teacher could moderate annotations generated by students the teacher has formed into a group.

The system is straightforward. Annotations made by members of an group appear with a flag when viewed by members of a group. Clicking this flag by a member of the group sends an email to the group moderator who can then decide if the annotation is reasonable or not and delete the annotation should this be necessary.


Mastery revisited (again)

Mastery learning is one the concepts I discovered early in my career and that I continue to return to as a great idea just on the edge of meaningful implementation. I see mastery learning as different from other education concepts that continue to reappear even though the efficacy of these ideas is seldom demonstrated. To me, mastery learning is an idea that has waited for a practical method for implementation. Tutoring has always been an approach to implementation responsive to individual differences in learning speed, but the cost effectiveness of tutoring has typically prevented speed of acquisition differences to be accommodated. My interest in technology from the beginning has been related to the potential for personalization. The “personal computer” offers opportunities for many forms of individualization.

Educational historian Larry Cuban has recently begun generating blog posts focused on the Personalized System of Instruction – Fred Keller’s model from the late 1960s (here and here). As a model suited to technological support, PSI offers the best model from the early days. Bloom’s more group-based approach possibly received more attention because of Blook’s conceptual framework and concepts such as formative and summative assessment, but Bloom was also simply better known as an influential figure. I try to get my grad students to consider Keller’s perspective as a better starting point for individualized instruction.


Is the focus on STEM just another educational pendulum problem

The focus on STEM in education is in full force. Science, math, and technology are somehow linked to the economic success of the country. Resources and attention follow the factors that are understood to influence the bottom line. The weird thing, I think, is that this focus of attention and resources can be seen even at the level of elementary education. STEM for all despite the reality that the contributions to be made will require college and probably graduate-level education and most even at this advanced level will be unable to develop the level of expertise necessary to make actual contributions.

K-12 is a zero-sum environment and this environment is underfunded to begin with. Resources focused on STEM (time, content funding, educator support and professional development) mean there is less available for other content areas. Few problems facing the country are exclusively STEM-based. Consider the present climate-change issue. This problem is about science, but not because of science. The science is pretty clear. The problem is one of economics, failed information literacy, and ethics. More STEM will not provide a solution to this scientific challenge.

So many of our real problems are “social” problems better addressed by the second-class citizens of education professionals – social studies educators. Our biases when it comes to the importance of various content areas have long been obvious. These social problems must be addressed by anyone and do not require a graduate degree. What the solutions require is a focus on better understanding at all levels of education. It is time for K-12 folks to get off the STEM bandwagon and do a better job of preparing the total learner.