About the Voxitatis Research Foundation

This is the Voxitatis Research Foundation, a Maryland nonprofit foundation as of Nov. 2, 2011. Voxitatis is also incorporated in the state of Delaware as Chicago Voxitatis Inc.

This site operates a news service in order to disseminate information, most of which we hope can be positive and put to good use in the service of educating students, especially those in public schools in Maryland and Illinois.

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This blog and any news stories, except as noted, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

VOXITATIS MAKES NO WARRANTY AS TO FITNESS OF ITEMS PUBLISHED OR LESSONS DEVELOPED FOR ANY PURPOSE WHATSOEVER. PLEASE CHECK THE VALIDITY AND CORRECTNESS OF ANY MATERIAL YOU USE FROM OUR SITE.

Contact us by email at paul@schoolsnapshots.org. This is the preferred form of communication. Contact us by phone at (630) 863-5871. Please leave a message. Contact us by mail at our offices: One East Chase Street, Suite 1131, Baltimore, MD 21202. Home page for our news bureau: home.schoolsnapshots.org

The Voxitatis Mission

The Voxitatis Research Foundation is a nonprofit organization, first established in Illinois in 2002 and re-incorporated in the state of Maryland in 2011. It was created to encourage constructive dialog between schools and communities by moderating posts in a blog-like environment. We hope to stimulate discussion about life for young people in our schools in a way that will motivate them to develop into lifelong learners.

In Maryland, our reach has also grown beyond our initial design, particularly because of the High School Assessments, required for graduation now in four subjects: algebra/data analysis, biology, English 10, and government. In Illinois, the requirement that every public high school student take the ACT has shone a light on important differences in college readiness between schools in affluent suburbs and schools in the cities, attended primarily by African Americans and Hispanics. The High School Assessments, while not measuring college readiness per se, show similar disparities. This data breaks our heart, and so we decided to create Maryland-K12.org.

By bringing teachers and students from more successful schools together with those from schools in the cities—i.e., Baltimore and Prince George’s County—we hope that students at all schools in the state will be motivated to develop into lifelong learners. College is not the best path for everyone in his or her life, but it is a good goal for schools. We can help.

The Role of Technology in the Schools

Much has been said, mostly by non-educators, about the “silver bullet” effect that increasing amounts of technology in the schools can bring. Kids will be able to see fluid dynamics brought to life through a video game and, just because they can see it on an app, master the concept, said Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp.

Well, we think that kind of “education” propaganda is flawed on multiple levels. First, kids will have plenty of time to master fluid dynamics in grad school, if they even need to master the concept. Most will not, and in the meantime, they need to be able to read and comprehend text longer than a USA Today article and convert percents to fractions and decimals, as in money. Second, introducing technology will not solve any problems—simply because the absence (or shortage) of technology was never the problem in the first place. If schools are broken—and that’s a mighty big “if”—we need to address the real cause of the problem and stop throwing taxpayer money away on computers, telling our communities that we’re fixing the curriculum and instruction.

We know kids will get information from the Internet and through playing video games. But students mastered fluid dynamics long before Bill Gates told us we all needed computers and before Steve Jobs had us all screaming for iPads. They will likely get it from the Internet, as opposed to books, teachers, etc., and there’s the rub: the Internet and all the games companies are pushing on our schools (it’s a $2.2 billion industry, 90 percent of which is completely useless, according to a 2009 report from the US Education Department) will not teach kids to tell the difference between good information and bad, between fact and opinion, between implied meaning and tone of voice. This is where we need teachers and not technology.

In addition, we need teachers to inspire kids to want to learn. They will seek information from the Internet, but first and foremost, they need the desire to seek information. Second, they need to know what information to trust and commit to their path of life. Once bad seeds get planted, it can be hard to redirect the course of a lifetime.

This is also where Voxitatis can come in. Computers are very good at some things: graphics, games, databases, dissemination of information, online networks and communities, online “friends” and business contacts, etc. Teachers need to do what they were trained to do: inspire, educate, bring lessons to life with one-on-one instruction. Computers (i.e., Voxitatis) can take care of programming Java to present what teachers believe is good information.

Thus we have assembled a Web site. Content will come mostly from teachers and other educators, along with caring members of our communities. That’s the balanced role of technology we seek for our schools.

Where We Got the Idea

Our mission for the schools based on an equilateral triangle

Although many factors led to the development of a site like this one, I would have to say the primary inspiration was an idea given to me by Dr Doug Brooks, professor of education at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

When I interviewed Dr Brooks in 2001, he painted a vivid picture for me in which students, schools, and communities form the vertices of an equilateral triangle. The sides of the triangle represent the modes of engagement—not merely involvement—between those points.

His idea was that if members of the community (parents of sixth graders, for example) were given accurate, useful information about their sons’ and daughters’ life at school (let’s say, the state’s curriculum objectives in math), they would be better able to engage the other two points of the triangle. When creative, caring people put their minds together on the same task, there’s no limit to what solutions might arise.

In this example, parents would be able to work with their children on the types of problems they needed to learn. Those parents could also engage the school in more constructive dialog about how the school teaches that curriculum. Thus all three points, the components of quality education, are engaged.

If, on the other hand, the school had no way to get accurate, up-to-date information to parents about the sixth-grade math curriculum (let’s face it: school Web sites and even those provided by state departments of education are restricted in terms of what they can publish), then there’s basically no hope that anyone could engage either students or schools in constructive dialog about what is ultimately everyone’s goal here: learning sixth-grade math.

Schools, of course, have much more than a certain math curriculum to deal with, but the same philosophy applies: get accurate, timely information into the hands of people who care about the outcomes, and let their creativity go to work. A strategy that works in Chicago, for example, might not work as well in Baltimore (or Hagerstown or Washington County), and people in those communities need to hear the stories for themselves.

Unless each point on the triangle grasps the concerns and challenges faced by the others—accurately, fairly, and with an attitude interested in helping—our students don’t have a chance of achieving at higher levels.

Our Staff

Danielle Heaps, researcher:
Danielle joined Voxitatis in January 2012, as a recent graduate of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English, with a minor in communications. She now lives in Astoria, N.Y., and works on the transplant floor at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Danielle occasionally handles research with teachers, schools, and school districts. In addition to assisting with the collection of data, she was in charge of the foundation’s Verbo de Verbo project, where we uploaded the text of Shakespeare’s plays (and other public domain works) so conversations on the system can tag the actual words in these important documents in a searchable manner. It was a big project that we hope serves as a resource to students and teachers for a long time.

Paul Katula, executive editor:
Paul serves as executive editor (system administrator) for the Answer Maryland website as well as all websites operated by Voxitatis, and as chairman of the foundation’s board. He holds bachelor’s degrees in both music and biology from the University of Illinois, Urbana, and pursued his M.D. at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine before taking leave to work in neurobiology research, again at the University of Illinois. He has supervised the scoring of the Maryland School Assessment in mathematics and science, as well as the High School Assessment in biology, the Ohio Graduation Test, and the Illinois Measure of Annual Growth in English (for ESL students). He works at the Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Curriculum and Assessment.

He was formerly employed as a writer and photographer for an Associated Press daily newspaper in west central Ohio, as the manager of technical support for Wolfram Research Inc., makers of Mathematica, as a database administrator for PNC and PHH mortgage companies, and as the information specialist for the Fellows Program at the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation in Chicago.

Board members (in addition to Paul)

Alicia Mills:
Alicia joined Voxitatis in November 2010 as an intern responsible for the acquisition of information relevant to the fine arts programs offered to students at Illinois schools. The following year, Alicia incorporated the foundation in Maryland and developed and implemented outreach and marketing campaigns that disseminated information about the Answer Maryland idea to students most in need of the assistance we can provide.

She now lives near Ocean City, Md., and her ties to the foundation’s day-to-day activities have ended. But as a member of the millennial generation, she provided first-hand knowledge of how young people use media to play, learn, socialize, and take active roles in their communities. She was instrumental in developing and launching our operation in Maryland.

Catherina Webster:
Catherina began working with Chicago Voxitatis in June 2009 as a marketing specialist. Her ideas were vital to the launch of our electronic library of lessons and The Beautiful Blogs, which grew into the Answer Maryland idea now found at learnvox.org. As a parent of five (soon to be six) school-age children in Illinois, she is intimately familiar with the need for open communication between families and school officials, making one side of our triangle as solid as any website can make it.

She lives in Montgomery, Ill., and works at arm’s length to our day-to-day operations. Her insights through the years, though, have made this organization what it is.

Jennifer Johnson:
Jennifer joined our board of directors when the Maryland foundation was created. She works at Measurement Incorporated, an educational service firm that provides test-scoring services, among others, and her ties to the corporate world have given her valuable insights that she generously shares with our board of directors as we consider new directions.

She lives in Durham, N.C., but she formerly worked at the Maryland State Department of Education, where she was the project manager for the Maryland School Assessment in science.

Raymond Graleski:
Ray joined our board of directors when the Maryland foundation was created. He’s retired from teaching math at the middle and high school levels in Anne Arundel County, Md., followed by several years of work at the Maryland State Department of Education, where he supervised the scoring of the Maryland School Assessment in mathematics and the High School Assessment in algebra/data analysis.

His decades of experience in the classroom brought countless ideas to the foundation, especially in brainstorming sessions during the time of our organization.

What Does ‘Voxitatis’ Mean?

Over the years, many people have asked me what our name, Voxitatis, means. The answer is that it means, technically, nothing, since I made it up. It was derived from two Latin words, vox, meaning voice or word, and aetatis, which is declined from the nominative aetas, meaning an age group or a generation.

Therefore, since aetatis is the genitive of aetas, the phrase vox aetatis means “the voice (or word) of an age group or generation.” We usually pronounce the “ae” vowel combination in Latin as “eye,” so I simply changed it to an “i” when I combined the words. Calling it something like vox aetatis would be similar to calling it “Web site.” So, the name is coined, but that is its etymology, at least insofar as I made it up.

It summarizes our mission: to listen to what students tell us about their schools and work with them to improve those schools for future generations. They do this by speaking, and their language is sometimes words, sometimes action, sometimes music or other art forms, and so on. We try to allow all these “voices” to speak for the schools, and that is where the name comes from.