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Archive for January, 2010

What makes a great teacher?

by henrycopeland
Monday, January 25th, 2010

Is a man with a 4.0 GPA and a masters degree in education likely to be better at teaching in an inner city school than a woman with a BA in history who had a 2.5 GPA in her first two years of college and a 4.0 her junior and senior year?

All other things being equal, the slacker-turned-star history major is probably the better teacher.

Teach for America, which last year sent 4,100 recent college graduates to teach at schools in lower-income neighborhoods, has turned hiring great teachers into a science. In this month’s Atlantic magazine, Amanda Ripley does a tremendous job profiling TFA and what it has learned about what makes a great teacher.

Each year TFA evaluates 35,000 applicants on 30 different datapoints. After their hires have taught for a year, TFA cross-references these characteristics against how much each teacher’s students have advanced during the year.

What to look for in hiring an aspiring teacher? According to Ripley, TFA looked at the data it’s been gathering on job candidates since 1990 and identified these qualities as correlating strongly with a recruit’s success:

Grit: “those who initially scored high for ‘grit’ — defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, and measured using a short multiple-chosce test– were 31% more likely than their less gritty peers to spur academic growth in their students.”

Happiness: Teachers who reported they were very content with their lives were 43% more likely to achieve great results in the classroom.

Achievement: “Recruits who have achieved big, measurable goals in college tend to do so as teacher. And the two best metric of previous success tend to be grade-point average and ‘leadership achievement’ — a record of running something and showing tangible results.” But a 4.0 isn’t essential: “an applicant’s college GPA alone is not as good a predictor as the GPA in the final two years of college.”

XX chromosomes: It turns out “women are more likely to be effective in Teach for America.”

TFA also discovered that two factors that were expected to predict successful teaching — prior experience working in poor neighborhoods or a masters in education — had no correlation with classroom success.

All these characteristics are hard for a teacher to change post-facto. But it turns out there are a bunch of strategies that teachers can learn. These are detailed in a new book called Teaching as Leadership by Steven Farr, a former TFA teacher who now studies exceptionally effective TFA teachers. If the book is as good as Ripley’s article, my bet is that before long its a best seller among not only teachers and school administrators but biz execs and HR folks.

According to Ripley, in studying TFA’s best teachers, Farr found that “great teachers tended to set big goals for their students. They were perpetually looking for ways to improve their effectiveness…. Great teachers, he concluded, constantly re-evaluate what they are doing. Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully — for the next day or the year ahead — by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.”

Does all this work? By refining its hiring and teacher training, TFA has nearly doubled the number of its teachers who advance their students more than 1.5 educational years in a single school year.

One last resource: TFA’s strategies for teachers are promoted at teachingasleadership.org.

Comscore = con-score

by henrycopeland
Monday, January 25th, 2010

This weekend ornery web entrepreneur and visionary Jason Calacanis blasted Comscore, the web analytics firm, calling for a boycott of its data and products.

Jason says he hates Comscore not only because its data is fundamentally wrong, but because the company asks web publishers to pay to “correct” its data.

According to these folks it was an unspoken truth for years that if you paid Comscore they fixed your numbers, and if you were a small company and didn’t, well, you suffered. Comscore would probably deny this, but their recent “pay to play” product shows their true stripes.

For the record, my colleagues and I have always found Comscore’s data to be hilariously inaccurate. As I recall, for a long while Comscore showed PerezHilton.com to have a predominantly male readership, even when our multiple different surveys and data-sources showed his readers to be 88-90% women.

I don’t know what Comscore’s data shows today, because frankly, I gave up caring about Comscore years ago. But if Jason wants to rumble with them, I’ll give a damn again.

As Jason says, Quantcast and Google do a much better job.

Here are some old links that speak to both Comscore’s power and inaccuracies: Hulu miscount; IAB calls for auditing ; Comscore kills Canadian site.

(For the record, while I’ve considered shorting Comscore’s stock in the past, I’m going to take no position while I’m complaining about their services.)

Club NYT

by henrycopeland
Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

“The way to kill a newspaper is to ask more for less.”

That’s how legendary newsman Sir Harold Evans’ sums up publishing economics in his autobiography My Paper Chase.

The New York Times should remember Sir Harold’s rule as it builds a paywall around its online content.

The paywall will mean not only that readers pay more, but that they’ll get less. Why? As the newspaper of record, The New York Times currently is a must-read for any card-carrying member of the commercial, media, educational, or government elite. The paper is read, in part, because everyone reads it.

With fewer post-paywall readers, the paper will become less relevant, less essential. Which means the NYT will be charging more for less.

So how might NYT add value for its online patrons even as it raises prices?

The paper should spend the next year ramping the social network, currently nascent, among its readers, writers, editors and partners. Some of these social functions could be built in-house, others should be bolted on from LinkedIn and Facebook Connect.

Under this scenario, the newspaper’s prodigious reporting and analysis becomes the excuse for people to come to NYT.com, but the people themselves and the insights they swap are the essential reason for staying.

In a world deluged with opinions, rumors, and billions pixels pumped out by anybody with a cellphone, smart Times readers might pay to hobnob with a self-selected elite community.

As with the Times’ planned content paywall, drive-by readers would be able to sample and peek inside the social network, but could not get inside the site’s functionality to really participate in the social hubbub.

Turning its paywall into a velvet rope might raise the value of NYT.com’s product enough to justify raising prices.

Sir Harold, hater of class snobbery and champion of the newspaper’s roll as spokesman for the non-elite, might well hate my idea. And I don’t don’t find the idea entirely palatable either. But I’d certainly prefer this solution to watching NYT.com disappear into penury and irrelevance behind a paywall.

Do I think the Club NYT idea would work? I’d say its odds of working well are only 50/50. But those odds are fifty times better than NYT’s current plan to charge for online content plan, which, with apologies to Sir Harold, seems like the way to kill a website.

Only the dumb or loyal will pay?

by henrycopeland
Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

All of us are still puzzling over the implications (and ambit) of NYT’s move to a paywall for its online content, announced this week for implementation in January 2011.

The initial announcement suggested each visitor would get a certain number of free visits — a teaser or sampler — after which they would have to start paying. Print subscribers (me!) would get free access.

Today, Jay Rosen read the NYT-leaves and highlighted statements suggesting that NYT plans NOT to charge people who are referred to an article via a link on another site. This is Rosen’s summary of the meaning of this loophole:

for those people who get their news from the web itself, using search, aggregators social media and blogs to find the stuff they want, the stuff they find from the New York Times will always be available, free of charge. That looks a lot less like a pay wall to me. It isn’t a metered system if I can access the Times via the link economy without limit. This scrambles a lot of what’s been written on the subject.

One reading is that this is a loophole big enough to drive (or steal) a newspaper through.

The outcome could be perverse: loyal patrons, the people deserving the newspaper’s best service and pricing, will pay extravagantly. Drive-by users, without any loyalty or long-term commitment, will be treated royally.

The net result: loyal customers are punished and the best and most relevant info, curated by the social media machine, will be free.

Blogads Jedi in training

by henrycopeland
Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Light saber

(Sent by a blogger friend. Write us if you’d like a t-shirt for your own mini Jedi.)

Blogads 2010

by henrycopeland
Thursday, January 14th, 2010

As you’ve probably already noticed, we’ve launched a redesign of the site. (This morning at 7am, in fact.) If you’re reading on an RSS reader, hustle on over and take a look at our masterpiece.

Here’s an overview of the changes:

  • We’ve simplified and shortened our text, particularly on the front page.
  • We’ve made admin bar (where bloggers and advertisers navigate their buys and accounting) float for easy access.
  • We’ve added a whole bunch of additional tips for ad buyers on what makes a great blogad.
  • We’ve returned to wide margins and added gutters to make the text easier to scan.
  • We’ve also finished refactoring the order pages, displaying far more information for quick review by advertisers.
  • We’ve streamlined the buying process, putting a “buy blogads” front and center.
  • In addition to our blog headlines, we’ve added our tweets to the front page.
  • In the words of one staffer deeply involved in the process, we are officially “pushing out of the 1970s feel and into the web2.0 feel… haha :P

    To which I can only say this… :)

    Many thanks to Orsi, Megan, Kate, Peter, Vega and Zsolt for inspiring the rethink and grinding out the project’s many details.

    Next week we’ll announce some changes in our commission structure — more money for bloggers — with other good news later in the spring.

    For all the history majors (what, just me?) here’s a screengrab of our original site in the fall of 2002.

    Blogads-first-site-new 2

    And, for those of you who’ve already forgotten, here’s what Blogads.com looked like yesterday.

    Blogads-design-2006-093-new

    To the many bloggers and advertisers who have been with us since the early days — some of you even stretch back to 2002 — thank you again for all your support and inspiration. We all remain incredibly proud to serve America’s greatest bloggers in their quest to carve out a viable new space for independent thought and creativity.


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