Here we go again! The NYTimes reports that in an effort to develop a competitive workforce the President is asking Congress for $4,000,000,000 in new funds to improve computer education in the country. And how will this money be used?
…the money will pay for teacher training and instructional materials to increase the amount of instruction in computer science, especially for girls and minorities, the officials said.
The $4,000,000,000 only scratches the surface of the funds needed if we want to improve computer instruction especially for children in poverty or in rural schools. I am currently working as a consultant in a rural VT school district that serves roughly 1000 students housed in seven different schools. As part of the project we needed to determine the costs for infrastructure in the schools in the near future. The administrator responsible for computers estimates that it will cost roughly $300,000 to $500,000 to make it possible for students and teachers to have access to wi-fi in the school. But having wi-fi and access to computers in the school is insufficient if the goal is to provide instruction in computer science. Students need to have computers available to them at home and need to have access to wi-fi in their homes as well.
So… what good is it to train teachers on the use of computers and about computer science if they are housed in schools without access to the web or classrooms without computers. Read my previous post about Flint MI schools and ask yourself what is needed in those schools in order to improve computer instruction…
I doubt that Congress will improve $4,000,000,000 to improve computer instruction even if the amount was sufficient… but if that money were earmarked to fund for-profit charter schools? It might be a different story!
The heading for this post is not based on an article from The Onion but rather based on a recent post from Atlantic by Jacek Krywko titled “When Class is Run by a Robot“. In the article Krywko describes ongoing research in Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands where scientists are “currently working on language-teaching machines” that ” help students learn basic vocabulary and simple stories, using microphones to listen, cameras to watch, and artificial neural networks that will analyze all the information that’s collected. ”
The article is simultaneously fascinating and chilling as it describes how technology can read the faces of individuals to determine if they are bored, confused, engaged, or flummoxed and adjust the way content is presented accordingly. It is perversely heartening to read that the researchers biggest challenge is dealing with day dreamers and disrupters… but the dystopian side of my personality leads me to fear that the ultimate solution for “those kinds of kids”will come from the pharmaceutical industry.
The net impact of the article is to pose the ultimate question about scientific progress: is it always beneficial to seek efficiency through the use of technology? If not, where should the lie be drawn and who gets to decide where to draw that line?
Cecilia Reyes Atlantic article earlier this week poses this question in its title: “Do Metal Detectors in Schools Do More Harm Than Good?”. The answer to the question comes at the very end of the article from William Jusino, principal of Progress High School:
“Weapons will get into the building without metal detectors. Weapons will get into a building with metal detectors,” Jusino said. “The idea is ‘What do you do. What programs do you do. What’s the trust and values you have in your school.’”
Jusino is right: metal detectors are not failsafe any more than surveillance cameras, sophisticated door locks, and “good guys with guns” are failsafe. Ultimately “…the programs you do” and “…the trust and values you have in your school” are what matters.
Reyes does a good job of offering a history of the installation of metal detectors that 100,000 students per day go through, noting that three incidents in one week in1992 led to the decision to install $20,000,000 worth of hardware in “dangerous schools”. Those dangerous schools, unsurprisingly given NYC’s history of profiling, are in predominantly poor neighborhoods where minorities lives.
But NYC is finding that the removal of safety equipment installed over two decades ago is a challenge for two reasons. One is political: if there is any gunplay or stabbings after the equipment is removed in any school where a removal took place the safety in the schools would be challenged…. and no one in authority wants to be held accountable if an incident should occur. And there’s another battle that would loom if the district decided to remove metal detectors:
The recommendations have faced stiff opposition from the union which represents the New York City school district’s over 5,000 safety agents, who are technically part of the NYPD.
“‘Security with dignity,’” said Greg Floyd, the head of Teamsters Local 237. “I don’t know how you have the two in the same sentence.”
Floyd said the metal detectors are working as an effective deterrent and warned that the task force should be wary about cheering their removal. “In this case, they better very well hope they work, because if they don’t, then they all have problems,” he said.
Reyes mentioned the $20,000,000 price tag for the original installation of the metal detectors but failed to mention the cost of 5000 safety agents. Assuming the 5,000 agents work 7 hour days at $12/hour and get no benefits, that’s $75,600,000 per year!
So the $20,000,000 for the equipment is the tip of a huge iceberg… and therein is the cautionary tale for the countless schools acquiring technology to ensure safety. One publication I receive, K-12 Tech Decisions, has an entire section of their home web page devoted to “safety and security” selling products to ensure access control, visitor management, panic buttons, and mass notifications. Each piece of technology requires some level of personnel to go along with it if the purpose is to prevent violent incidents… and the personnel costs will invariably exceed the installation costs.
So… before a district decides to spend thousands on hardware or on security personnel they might re-read William Jusino’s thoughts on metal detectors and bear in mid the most important way to prevent violence in school is based on ‘…What do you do. What programs do you do. What’s the trust and values you have in your school”
Last week the Google Public Schools feed led to “Education Technology in the Every Student Succeeds Act” an article written by Doug Mesecar for the American Action Forum, a self-described Center-Right Think tank. In the article Mesecar describes the kind of personalized education that could be delivered given the technology available to teachers today:
Yet we’ve known for decades that personalized learning is a vastly better approach. A 1984 study led by education psychologist Benjamin Bloom found that students given one-on-one instruction consistently performed two standard deviations better than their peers in a regular classroom. That’s enough to vault an average student to the top of the class.
Until recently, technology advancements that may have seemed far-fetched a decade earlier have made this personalized approach possible….
Powerful, adaptive edtech means that all students can have — as part of their instructional team — a digital instructor to help them learn what they need to know, when they need to know it, at their own pace and place.
There is no excuse for doing things the old way, and federal legislation is trying to ensure the old way goes away. ESSA strongly encourages personalizing education, including through blended learning, as well as attempting to ensure more equitable access to technology and digital learning experiences. It also highlights blended learning as a practice that can help struggling students.
Mesecar then proceeds to make a case that ESSA somehow provides the means for States to use Federal funding to launch a program that will personalize education in the way he describes in these paragraphs, an argument that overlooks two major mitigating factors: the funding provided is paltry and the testing regimen that is continued in ESSA contradicts personalization.
In the opening paragraphs Mesecar throws around funding figures that sound robust. He writes that “Up to 60 percent of the grant funds — almost $900 million — can be used for innovative edtech strategies (importantly, though, no more than 15 percent can go toward technology infrastructure). This is approximately 4 percent of the overall authorized funding in the bill.” It is the phrase in parenthesis that is crucial: if only 15% can be used for infrastructure that means that only $135,000,000 will be available to connect 23% of the schools that lack any internet services and the countless schools that lack wi-fi within the schools. How will students have “…a digital instructor to help them learn what they need to know, when they need to know it, at their own pace and place” if their school lacks an internet connection or wi-fi? And how will ESSA “…ensure more equitable access to technology and digital learning experiences” if it provides less than $3 per pupil per year for technology infrastructure?
Mesecar’s biggest oversight, however, is the impact ESSA’s testing will have on the notion of providing each student with “…a digital instructor to help them learn what they need to know, when they need to know it, at their own pace and place.” Standardized testing measures students progress against a predetermined “pace and place” and penalizes any student who fails to be at the right place at the right time.
I share Mesecar’s desire to use technology to increase personalization… but do not share his belief that ESSA will move us any closer to that vision. Until some legislator or Governor champions the vision Mesecar describes and provides the funding and accountability model needed to implement that vision I do not foresee any way to get out of the test-and-punish rut that NCLB created over a decade ago. Until someone takes the leadership on this the change will have to happen from the bottom up… through parents who decide that schools are incapable of providing the kind of learning opportunities their children need and go it alone.