Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Orwell Weeps

August 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Here’s the title of a blog post from Beta Beat that requires no further comment:

University Bans Social Media, Political Content and Wikipedia Pages on Dorm Wifi

Oh… and it’s not a private religiously affiliated university, which arguably COULD get away with restricting the freedom of speech of its students… but state funded Northern Illinois.

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This Just In: Salesman Try to Be Your Friend

August 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Sometimes I think people look too hard for conspiracies. Diane Ravitch’s recent blog post on LAUSD is a case in point. Titled “Breaking News: LA Officials Met with Apple, Pearson a Year Before Taking Bids”, the post insinuates that these meetings constitute evidence of collusion. I’m not sure at all. A more likely explanation is that LAUSD was doing due diligence. Here’s my comment on the post:

This is NOT intended to defend LAUSD because I do not know the extent to which they wrote their bids to proscribe other offers… but… as a Superintendent who was interested in integrating technology into the schools my staff and I often met with software and hardware vendors to gain a better understanding of their products and to gain a better understanding of what was possible… When we chose to specify Apple operating systems over DOS (an unpopular decision in an IBM town) it was because we determined that there was more application software available… when we explored data warehousing we met with a vendor who was connected with a college professor I knew and learned a great deal about what was feasible at that time and what we could incorporate into a bid specification… A prudent administrative team will take a lot of time deliberating on what kind of hardware and software they need for a school system before committing resources. It’s POSSIBLE that LAUSD administrators were doing due diligence in convening extended meetings with Apple and Pearson… and those letters from Pearson are unsurprising and, from my perspective, unpersuasive “evidence” of collusion. Education salespersons use the same approach and same language as every good salesperson: they want to strike up a personal relationship with the purchaser and enter into a “partnership”… Have you looked at buying a car lately? You’ll get the same kind of email from a car salesman.

When I was superintendent in NYS there was an audience member who had his own public access TV show and who was convinced that every action we took as administrators was somehow part of a shady deal and/or part of our effort to promote “constructivist” education theories. His show was creepy. It included grainy footage of my home and the church I attended where he thought folks should picket to protest whatever scheme he imagined I was involved with. He would receive copies of our board packets and highlight memos flagging evidence of administrative misconduct. While no one ever picketed my home or my church and no one gave much credence to his rants and analyses, the show did make me look at all allegations of administrative misbehavior with a more jaundiced eye. It’s possible the LAUSD administrators engaged in misconduct— but it’s more plausible that he and his staff were doing their due diligence in gaining an understanding of the best way to match their technology purchases with their education needs…. and from Deasy’s perspective having a robust technology-based standardized testing program is an “education need”.

More Tax Avoidance = Less Internet Access

August 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Gretchen Morgenson’s column in yesterday’s NYTimes “A Corporate Tax Break That’s Closer to Home”, describes how a small internet provider in Arkansas is avoiding paying over $650,000,000 in taxes, money that won’t be available to hep the government fund things like schools and internet access but money that WILL be available to Windstream investors. How does this happen? It seems that the IRS has ruled that Windstream can “…spin off its copper and fiber network into a real estate investment trust, or REIT. That sounds pretty ho-hum until you realize it means that Windstream won’t have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.” 

Rather than retaining the income they earn and paying taxes on it, REITs pass along 90 percent of their income to shareholders, who then pay taxes. This means these companies have little in the way of taxable income.

And who are “those shareholders”? Are they middle class folks who complete their own taxes? Upper middle class folks who have their taxes completed by an accountant who scrupulously follows the rules? Or might they be the .5% who see a great investment opportunity and have figured out a way to avoid paying any taxes on this themselves? I don’t know for certain, but I’m guessing the main beneficiaries of this are the most affluent group and I’m also guessing that Windstream won’t be looking to provide internet access to folks in the back woods of Arkansas or those living in publicly assisted housing.

This is more evidence that our tax system needs to be overhauled and, unless I’m completely missing something, that internet access needs to be a public utility and NOT provided by private enterprise.

Writing Well in Tennessee

August 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Tennessee was the site of the Scopes trial in the 1920s… and even today many of its citizens clings to the Biblical truths instead of the Darwinian theories of science. Now the debate over the common core has ignited a debate on handwriting… and as a result TN is intending to adopt standards for cursive handwriting.

I’m sorry to report this to TN, but people aren’t exchanging information in cursive anymore… and 85% of college bound students PRINTED their answers on the SAT essay question. Personally, I never saw the value of cursive writing though I recall it WAS emphasized in Oklahoma where I attended elementary schools in the late 1950s– that is until Sputnik was launched at which point it seemed that the emphasis shifted to mathematics. Moreover, in my 35 years as Principal and Superintendent from the mid-1970s until 2011 I cannot recall any serious debate about teaching handwriting at the board level or among administrators… though I DO recall many debates about keyboarding….

TN is also a state that values deregulation and charter schools… maybe this is the TN State Board’s effort to drive more parents into deregulated charters where coding is seen as more important than cursive. ;-)


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Infrastructure Matters

July 31, 2014 Leave a comment

The recent flood at UCLA caused by a broken 93-year old underground pipe SHOULD be a wake up call for legislators across the country: our infra-structure is breaking and we need need to spend money to upgrade it as soon as possible. Broken 93 year-old underground pipes are a clear manifestation of the problem… but our country’s education infrastructure’s “leaks” are comparable. Many of our dilapidated schools need new roofs, new furniture, new HVAC systems, and upgraded windows and doors…. and the schools needing the greatest improvements are those located in economically deprived districts or neighborhoods. Virtually all of our schools have outmoded telecommunication infrastructures and many (if not a majority) of students do not have access to high speed internet. How can we hope to succeed in the future if we don’t invest in our facilities today? How can we expect students attending school in decrepit facilities to believe they have an equal opportunity for success when they watch TV shows illustrating the technology available in the affluent districts in our nation?

Philadelphia and PA: Nothing Changes

July 19, 2014 1 comment

I read Meredith Broussard’s recent Atlantic article, “Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing” and shook my head in exasperation: nothing changes in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania… and worse: the solution isn’t more tests or more penalties or more charter schools: it’s more carefully spent money.

Based on the information presented in the Atlantic article here’s what hasn’t changed in Philadelphia since I was a teacher at Shaw Junior High School:

  • There aren’t enough books
  • There aren’t enough administrators
  • There aren’t enough teachers
  • The central administration is overwhelmed with paperwork
  • Technology is outdated and under-supported
  • As measured by standardized tests, students are performing poorly

Here’s what is different:

  • The state controls the schools (and has for roughly two decades) because they can do a better job… but student performance has not improved one iota since the State takeover.
  • Many of the schools are operated by privatized charters, because the private sector can solve the problems better than the “government run” schools… but for-profit charters have not improved student performance even though they draw from the children of engaged parents. 
  • The per pupil spending gap is wider as compared to surrounding suburban school districts because “money can’t solve the problems”… even though parents and community members in the suburban districts willingly pay more for their better schools… oh.. and those schools DO have textbooks for each child and sophisticated data systems to monitor the allocation of resources and progress of each-and-every student.   
  • The central administration emphasizes the ineffectiveness of teachers instead of the needs of students. Mark Shedd and Matt Costanza, the Superintendents in the late 60s and early 1970s, spoke eloquently in defense of the hard work teachers were doing and the challenges they faced given the effects of poverty. Since then: it’s all about bad teaching. 

And… based on the information presented in the Atlantic article here’s what hasn’t changed in Pennsylvania since I was an administrator in suburban Philadelphia in the mid-1970s: economically disadvantaged students do poorly on standardized achievement tests and students in affluent districts do better and the test results are used to draw the conclusion that schools serving children raised in poverty are “failing” and schools serving children raised in affluence are “good”.

Broussard’s article presents the stark reality of public education in Philadelphia without judgment… and it’s not a pretty picture.


On Unions

July 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch posted an explanation on why unions are needed from one of her commenters, Lloyd Lofthouse who, like me, is retired from education and somewhat frustrated with the current state of affairs in public schools. I left a comment on the post, which I am elaborating on below.

Here’s my perspective on teachers unions as a retired Superintendent with 29 years of experience in 5 states:
=> The teachers union is not a monolith: each district and each State has it’s own unique history and, consequently, each union has its own unique reason for being. The mainstream media is prone to oversimplified black-white analyses. The right leaning media (e.g. Fox News) are especially prone to this and often cast “the teachers union” as a lock-step organization that dictates education policy to the states and has the Democratic Party in it’s pocket. Anyone who is at all familiar with public education knows this is untrue… but since repetition reinforces learning the public has bought the notion of a highly centralized and dictatorial union hook-line-and-sinker.
=> Younger teachers have not experienced the adverse effects of working in a non-union environment and are therefore unaware of the benefits and protections they are receiving as a result of the hard work done by those like Lloyd Lofthouse and other commenters who organized the first set of unions. Veteran teacher union leaders expressed this concern to me over a decade ago and I know anecdotally that many locals are finding it difficult to recruit leadership. Few teachers want to make the time commitment and assume the sometimes adversarial role that is needed to be a leader of a local teacher’s union. Since most education policy writers are in urban areas, they do not appreciate how difficult it is to lead a union AND teach full time, which is the predominant model for unions.
=> Unions are inherently conservative in the sense their desire to maintain the status quo. Because “the devil they know” is always preferable to the unknown, they are reluctant to change the step-and-track system compensation system, to accept individualized compensation packages, to make changes to the current scheduling format for schooling, or adopt peer evaluation systems. This adherence to the status quo makes it possible for “reformers” to present themselves as “bold innovators”. I am especially concerned that teachers unions have not taken more of a leadership role in defining how to make the best use of technology. I think that if the unions demanded better access to technology in their schools and made it clear they expect their students to have access to technology they would be taking the wind out of the sales of those who are seeking to disrupt schooling.

As one who believes in economic justice, I appreciate the need for unions in all sectors of the economy and believe that their diminishment has contributed to the suppression of wages over the past two or three decades… I would like to see all unions speaking up against the current system that values shareholders at the expense of the 99% and would like to see national teacher’s unions speak more stridently about the effects of poverty on children and less about the effects of the economy on their membership…