Today’s NYTimes features a short article on Bill deBlasio’s release of a 69 page book outlining his positions on 12 areas affecting NYC and based on the overview I read he appears to be offering a progressive program that faces the issue of poverty in schools head on. Unfortunately, the Times seems to accept the premise that basing personnel decisions and student placements on testing is good, for-profit charter schools are good, and the closure of neighborhood schools is an acceptable practice. As a result, these issues have not been flagged in their analysis of candidates for mayor. Instead they are focussed on the narratives of two “name brand” candidates: Quinn’s struggles with her temper and Weiner’s struggles with– well– being Weiner. The newspaper should insist that candidates be clear about their intentions regarding the privatization public schools and insist that they be specific about their perspective on maintaining neighborhood schools. deBlaisio’s notion of creating 100 new HCZ schools is admirable… but only if those schools are opened in the neighborhoods where the neediest children reside and are open to ALL the children in those neighborhoods. I would also want the candidate to be clear on if and how they plan to screen and place “gifted children”. The notion that students are screened before they enter school is preposterous and the fact that the city does not have enough seats in neighborhood schools for all of the children identified as gifted makes a mockery of the whole system. This, too, is an issue that needs to be debated and flagged. I’m not holding my breath, though, because in political races redemption stories have much more weight than education policy statements….
Today’s NYTimes has an op ed piece by the outgoing president of the Ford Fondation, Luis Ubinas, titled “Our Schools, Cut-off From the Web”. The article recounts the sad state of technology equity in America’s schools and indicates how the technology divide is contributing to the economic divide. An excerpt, with emphasis added:
The factors that will drive our national future —educational achievement, a healthy population, broad political participation and economic opportunity for all — depend in significant ways on how we structure and manage our spreading digital frontier. About 19 million Americans still lack access to high-speed broadband; many more can’t afford it.
Virtually all of America’s schools are connected to the Internet today. But that success is a lot like trumpeting, a century ago, that virtually every town in the country was reachable by road. Then, as now, the question is quality. Children who go to school in poor neighborhoods are connected to the Web at speeds so slow as to render most educational Web sites unusable. The exploding world of free online courses from great academies is closed to those who lack a digital pathway.
As part of the American population that lacks access to high-speed broadband even though I CAN afford it, I know that the telecom industry is actively blocking efforts to provide competitive and affordable links to homes…. and I also know that if HOMES are not connected to the Web that “…the exploding world of free online courses” will be limited. Indeed, most of the advantages technology can bring to public education require 24/7 connections to the web.
Ubinas concludes his article with recommendations for the Obama administration and an apt quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
Mr. Obama was right to call attention to this problem. A good first step in addressing it would be to overhaul E-Rate to make sure it gets the Web into every classroom and library, not just a school, either through cable or Wi-Fi, and with sufficient financing for upkeep. Second, a subset of teachers and librarians need to be trained as champions of digital education. Without such advocates, the pedagogical impact of broadband won’t be fully realized. Third, any conversation on national infrastructure must put broadband as a priority alongside aviation, bridges, energy, highways, ports, rail and water.
Our future depends on the ability of every American to participate fully in our digital economy and democracy. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”
If Obama has the authority to overhaul E-Rate, he should heed Ubinas’ advice. I know from experience that some school boards are loath to spend E-Rate money on technology because they are then “on the hook” for future maintenance and upgrades and they do not want to “commit future boards” to spending constraints. I also know that having a “champion for digital education” makes a huge difference in a school… especially if that champion is sitting in the Principals Office. Finally, I don’t think the public is fully aware of the importance of securing broadband. When FDR introduced electricity to rural areas its impact was immediately evident: lights went on at night and appliances suddenly worked. The impact of high-speed broadband is less evident. Students won’t catch up in school immediately and businesses won’t open on Main Street right off the bat. But if the Web is not readily available, the slow decay of public schools will continue and businesses will wither as well. We need to act quickly and decisively on this… As Ubinas notes earlier in his article,
Since the mid-1990s, a generation of American children has passed through our schools with substandard access to the online world. This is how an information underclass begins to take root — a disturbing contribution to our era of inequality, when jobs and economic opportunity flow to those with the best-honed digital skills.