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Magazines > MultiMedia Schools > January/February 2003
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Vol. 10 No. 1 — Jan/Feb 2003
Getting a Clue: Why We Matter
By Ferdi Serim, Editor, MultiMedia Schools and Janet Murray, Associate Editor, MultiMedia Schools

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The Cluetrain Manifesto, a book that stirred up business just a few years ago, consists of 95 theses. Here is the first: "Markets are conversations." It is stated, "A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies."

Our voices are the vehicle for conveying what we know to all three sectors: Education, Business and Government. Each hears with a different purpose, in a different language. To Businesses, both Government and Education are markets. To the public, all three are markets. For us, all three are conversations in which our participation is vital. If our voice is left out, Business and Government are unlikely to make better decisions than they have in the past. The data for this is convincing: Just look at the history. We have never seen decisions where all three sectors worked in concert, but we have all too often seen the result of this gap. Here is a prime example:

Making students accountable for test scores works well on a bumper sticker and it allows many politicians to look good by saying that they will not tolerate failure. But it represents a hollow promise. Far from improving education, high-stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, from accuracy, from quality, and from equity.

— Senator Paul Wellstone (1944-2002)

How we react to this statement varies in direct proportion to our daily involvement in the education of children. If we are "taxpayers" whose only reminders of participation in the school come as a tax bill, and even less frequent opportunities to vote, we tend toward one end of the evaluative spectrum. If we have children in "the system" we may feel differently, based on our sense of apprehension or confidence in how fairness, accuracy, quality, and equity reach our children. If we work in education, in any of the three sectors that sustain its presence in society (Education, Business or Government), we may have the benefit/burden of firsthand experience to add to these other perspectives.

Education is publicly derided, by both Business and Government as "the fourth branch of government." The impetus toward accountability has been strengthened by the dissatisfaction with the results from the enormous investments our society has made, even if those of us on the inside are far more used to "doing without" than "choosing between." Increasingly, the voices of library/media specialists and technology using educators have been marginalized, making our message harder to hear.

Given shrinking state budgets and punitive accountability strategies, it is not surprising that school library/media specialists have seen their participation in the purchasing decision process shift to a degree where now 4 percent are considered to make buying decisions. It is understandable why the Business sector of education would, in a time of shrinking resources, focus on both the top 1,000 school districts, and the large number of "at-risk" schools at the same time. Both political and economic pressures push the focus away from improving education and toward the goal of increasing market share.

It is not hard to understand why Business gravitates toward those with money to spend. Paradoxically, right now, the hottest ticket in town is a failing school. This is because funds have already been targeted to support them for 2-3 years, until their eventual failure qualifies them to be taken over or shut down. Businesses pay hefty sums for lists of the 7,000- 8,500 schools spread through all 50 states that have already been tagged for "school improvement." If existing standards were thoroughly enforced, it is estimated that the tide of risk would rise to cover three-quarters of all schools. States are already "fine-tuning" how high or low they wish to adjust the bar of their performance targets, confronting the realization that they don't have the capacity to provide the resources full enforcement of rigorous standards would require.

Although we may represent only 4 percent of the purchasing decisions, we represent 100 percent of the educational value that any purchased product ever delivers. No product produces evidence of improved student achievement until it is used effectively. Our readers are the only people in the system who generate these results. Besides, no superintendent has a budget. Line item budget codes are shaped by the experiences and recommendations of those doing the work, regardless of who ultimately signs off on the order.

This fact seems to escape either the comprehension or retention of many Government and Business officials who are responsible in one way or another for improving the results of schools for learners. Both their policies and their products leave a trail of evidence. Until No Child Left Behind, much of this evidence was brushed under the rug. Now it comes under the glare of scientific scrutiny. Yet the only laboratories that can provide clinically valid data are the living laboratories in which we work each day: our classrooms and our homes. We alone are in a position to both observe and nurture student growth, if we make the right decisions. Providing useful data allows us to move beyond intuition, folklore, and guesswork to see what is or is not happening with the children in our care.

So why would an advertiser support this magazine? Certainly not to make a quick buck in troubled times. Those who do support us are taking a long-term strategy, realizing that the relationships they build with us now will serve them well when resources return. They realize that only we can demonstrate how effective use of their products creates evidence of improved learning in students. We share such stories inMultiMedia Schools magazine, not from PR firms or case studies, but from you, in your words, for your peers. You have many other places to turn to find out what to buy. We are where you turn to find out how to use these investments to improve learning for your students and yourselves. When you see an advertiser in this magazine, you are seeing their commitment to continuing our professional conversations because they understand that their long-term economic health depends on our abilities to extend best practices as far and wide as we can.

The information, skills, and experience that we bring to work each day, which reside with us, are responsible for the growth that does happen with our nation's students. We know how to do our jobs, and know what it would take for more of us to do these jobs better. Our choices shape how products are used, which, in turn, shapes the results. The readers of this journal form the learning hub of the schools in which we work. The last of The Cluetrain Manifesto's 95 theses says, "We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting."


Communications to the editor may be addressed to Ferdi Serim, MultiMedia Schools, 11 Palacio Road, Santa Fe, NM 87505; 505/690-6039; fax: 505/466-1901;

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