States need to step up

One of the most important issues in K-12 technology right now is the lack of engagement of administrators who are in formal positions of authority. For example, you can go to any educational technology conference in the country - NECC, CoSN, NSBA T+L, any state or regional conference - and the percentage of administrators in attendance is usually abysmally low. As I said in my previous post, without significant involvement by the individuals who have the power to make decisions, set organizational priorities, spend money, assign personnel, coordinate activities, initiate staff training, etc., the long-term prospects of technology in schools remain extremely dismal. Schools' marginalization of technology as a non-essential activity, in contrast to every other sector of society, occurs because their leaders allow and facilitate it.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation State Challenge Grants for Leadership Development have been the only large-scale administrator technology training initiative to date. These grants were a good start. They were wildly successful from a coverage perspective - 75% to 100% of administrators in every state received some kind of technology training (as well as some participation incentive like a laptop or handheld computer). Many, if not most, of the participants came away from their training not only more knowledgeable but also energized about the potential and promise of technology. Unfortunately...

  1. The depth of administrators' involvement was very shallow. In nearly every state, administrators received a maximum of three to six days of training, typically over the course of a single year.
  • Even assuming that individual participants became better technology leaders over the long term as a result of the program (a big assumption despite what the final evaluation said), a tremendous number of those participants have retired or will do so soon (see, e.g., reports from NAESP and Because participation in the program was usually limited to practicing principals and/or superintendents, educators who represented the future pipeline of school administrators (e.g., assistant principals, technology coordinators, media specialists, teachers) received none of the Gates training.
  • Few states did anything to build upon the momentum gained by the Gates grants. Most states stopped providing large-scale technology-related training opportunities for administrators once the foundation monies disappeared.
  • As a result, the $250 million initiative (half from the foundation, half from the states) made a big splash, got some good media attention, and then fizzled out in terms of long-term sustainability and impact.

    It is time for our states to step up. Every state wants to graduate students who can be part of the creative, digital workforce of the future. One way to ensure that this happens is to quit relying primarily on school districts to train administrators in the technology arena because it is quite clear that they're not doing so. We have a few notable school districts that are providing substantive technology-related training opportunities for their administrators (see, e.g., the ISTE / Chicago Public Schools' Principal Technology Leadership Institutes). Most school districts are not, however, and we all will pay the price of states' reliance on the variable patchwork of district-level initiatives.

    SETDA, where is your programming for principals and superintendents (both current and future)? CoSN? ISTE? Corporations? Educational leadership associations (NSBA, AASA, NASSP, NAESP)? Others? Where's the recognition that administrators, not students or teachers, hold the keys to making this technology stuff happen successfully? Does anyone not believe that technology is only going to become even more important than it already is?

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    New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

    Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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    • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
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    Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

    A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

    Rethinking humanity's origin story

    The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

    As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

    David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

    The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

    Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

    He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

    It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

    "Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

    Migrating out of Africa

    In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

    Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

    The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

    The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

    Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

    Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

    Did we head east or south of Eden?

    Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

    Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.