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Technology and Equity

June 26, 2012 Comments off

The title of a recent article in eClassroomNews says it all: “Promise of Flipped Classroom Might Elude Poorer School Districts”. A middle schooler’s response to this headline would be something like: “Well, DUH!”… The writer of the article is more high-minded and factual, though. After recounting the difficulty a teacher in Portland OR school encountered with flipping instruction because NONE of he students had a computer at home, the reporter provides the following paragraphs:

… anecdotal evidence suggests that flipping classrooms is a more popular practice in wealthier suburban communities, where nearly all students have internet access at home and classrooms are more likely to have computers. Some skeptics worry that the new practice—so dependent on technology—could end up leaving low-income students behind and widening the achievement gap.

“It’s an obstacle,” said Karen Cator, the director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. “We do need to figure out ways that students, regardless of ZIP code, regardless of their parents’ income level, have access” to technology both inside and outside of schools.

The best way to do this is to provide schools in economically challenged ZIP codes— and ONLY schools in those ZIP codes— with categorical funds for technology. Affluent district who invested in computers early in the game have a baseline to build on. In a district with a sound technology infra-structure and an ongoing budget for hardware and software, flipping instruction is a question of redirecting funds: buying I-pads instead of desktop computers, for example. In less affluent districts the baseline budgets never included computers, in some cases because they would be a pointless investment since there was no available internet connections in other cases because it was all the districts could do to sustain their classroom teachers.

The bottom line on this post, like the explicit or implicit bottom line on many posts dealing with equity is this: MONEY MATTERS. 

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Disruptive Technology Meets Democracy

June 26, 2012 Comments off

Over the past several days there have been many article written about the ongoing protests regarding the dismissal of the President at the University of Virginia. An article in today’s NYTimes characterizes the conflict at UVA as typical of one happening at all publicly funded universities. In response to questions as to why the board at UVA dismissed the President, Helen Vargas the rector who led the charge offered a 10-point outline:

… listing state and federal financing challenges, the changing role of technology, a rapidly changing health care environment, prioritization of scarce resources, faculty workload and the quality of the student experience, faculty compensation, research financing and the like — (that the writer characterized as)…almost generic, and would have applied to nearly every public university in the nation.

The drama at UVA casts Ms. Vargas, a wealthy donor and advocate of rapid top-down technology-driven change, vs. the democratic incremental change advocated by the college President. This conflict is increasingly occurring in public school board rooms across America in the form of cyber-charter schools vs. stodgy public schools.

For several years I witnessed the conflict between democracy and technology. When the opportunity to provide parents with immediate information on their child’s performance was available in the Hanover Schools, who pride themselves on being a democratic institution, the top-down-vs-democratic-bottom-up debate began and ultimately required a decision from my perch as Superintendent.

Reconciling the rapid changes brought on by technology (YouTube is barely six years old) and the glacial pace of change in education (we’ve been talking about common core forever!) will need to happen quickly or public education will be left in the dust.

 

Technology = Decline of the Middleman

June 26, 2012 Comments off

An op-ed editorial by Jeff Selingo about the need for colleges to change their model in today’s NYTimes had a great phrase to describe the impact of technology doing the past decade:

Other information industries, from journalism to music to book publishing, enjoyed similar periods of success right before epic change enveloped them, seemingly overnight. We now know how those industries have been transformed by technology, resulting in the decline of the middleman — newspapers, record stores, bookstores and publishers.

Selingo touches all the bases regarding the hole colleges have dug for themselves by spending lots of money on spiffy new dorms, graduate programming, and administrative overhead in an era when more and more learning is taking place on line. In today’s economic environment it is not hard to envision more and more students opting to take on-line courses asynchronously so they can earn as much money as possible working part-time and saving as much money as possible by living at home. It IS harder to envision more and more students willing to go into debt when they read in the newspaper that 40% of the recent college graduates are under-employed and nearly 10% are looking for work.

In his piece, Selingo cites the ongoing debate about the leadership at University of Virginia as a by-product of this technology disruption. My next post discusses the underlying conflict between democracy and technology-induced change.

And where do public schools fit into this debate? As indicated in yesterday’s post, unless public schools begin to aggressively embrace and integrate technology into their schooling paradigm they will be overtaken by cyber-charters and home-schoolers who are disaffected with the one-size-fits-all paradigm that dominates schools today.

Charter School Blues

June 26, 2012 Comments off

An article in today’s NYTimes titled “An upstairs-Downstairs Divide at a Public School Building in Harlem” contrasts two “public” schools that share a building: a “public” charter school operated by Success Academy and a regular public school that serves the students who reside in a geographic attendance zone close to the school. In what should be no surprise to anyone, the charter school has more lavish facilities, scores higher on tests, and touts its qualities to parents in an effort to attract more students from households where parents are committed to schools. I submitted the following comment:

This article illustrates what’s wrong with “competition” between charters and public schools. First, and most importantly, the charters get to select from a pool of students whose parents are engaged in the schooling of their children. Secondly, the charters will tout their comparable per-pupil costs without factoring in the pay differentials that result from having a less senior staff and the “grants” that supply things like wooden cubbies and carpeted floors. Thirdly, connections with partisan politicians and connections with donors (i.e. shareholders) are the keys to effective leadership. Finally,  the metric for the “success” of charters is test scores, which is akin to measuring the quality of a car by it’s weight.

Upon reflection, the most maddening aspect of this article (and of Eve Moskovitz, the leader of Success Academies) is the demonizing of the teachers unions. As a recently retired administrator with 29 years experience as a school superintendent, I had some conflicts with unions. But on balance they did not stand in the way of efforts to improve schools. I have come to the conclusion that the unions are a convenient whipping boy for those who want to privatize public schools to get a “piece of the action” on the public funds that are “showered” on the public school employees. The private sector can easily make profits by lowering wages and benefits in schools the same way that they have lowered benefits and wages in the private sector and/or by “outsourcing” through the use of technology. If the private sector was ever to assume full responsibility for educating ALL students we’d soon see that the model in place for charters will not work across-the-board. The 25% of the children in poverty include a high percentage of children whose parents are disengaged from the schools, whose parents had no success in schools, and whose parents do not speak English as their native language. These are the children left behind when Success Academy carpets its schools and actively recruits in urban neighborhoods… and these are the children we need to reach.

Chico’s Bail Bonds Saves the Day!

June 25, 2012 Comments off

One of my favorite movie scenes is when Walter Matthau’s Bad News Bears take to the pristine suburban Little League field with their new uniforms emblazoned with their sponsor’s name: “Chico’s Bail Bonds”… When one of the coaches questions his choice of sponsors, Matthau gives him a dismissive scowl and makes a snide comment along the lines of everyone’s money being green….

Which brings me to the latest solution to revenue shortfalls in the public sector: ADVERTISING! An article in today’s NYTimes describes fire hydrants advertising Kentucky Fried Chicken’s flaming hot wings, railroad stations in Philadelphia being re-named for a corporate sponsor, and Baltimore contemplating the use of advertisements to help keep some fire stations open. The writers at the Onion are either lamenting the fact that they are being beaten to the punch by local politicians or preparing a special issue dedicated exclusively to the most outlandish ideas conceivable for sponsorships.

In the meantime, I go back to Chico’s Bail Bonds as the best example of the problems with private sector sponsorships of public goods. I’m sure the little league in the movie expected Walter Matthau to get a local service club or local eatery to sponsor the team in much the same way the local government expects large corporations to sponsor their fire engines… but it doesn’t take much imagination to envision a Casino, for example, willing to sponsor a public enterprise….  At what point does a government squelch “free speech” by proscribing advertisers? The best solution to this is to have discussions at all levels of government about what level of services are desirable and how much tax is needed to fund those public services.

G.E.D. Craziness

June 25, 2012 1 comment

An editorial in today’s NYTimes dealing with forthcoming changes to the GED gave me a flashback to the early 1990s when a colleague Bill Moloney and I prepared a two or three page concept paper for Nancy Grasmick, MD’s Commissioner of Education suggesting that we allow dis-enfranchised students to take the GED any time after 10th grade in lieu of continuing their enrollment in public schools. Our logic was that there were several students who were not engaged in the life of the high school as it was structured, who wanted the opportunity to enter the workforce as soon as they could, and who might be able to pass the GED with some focussed instruction. Nancy Grasmick was interested enough in our proposal to do some investigation and found that the regulations at that time precluded a student from taking the GED until their cohort group graduated from high school.

This struck me at the time as preposterous… but ultimately underscored our “standardized thinking” when it comes to schooling: not only must every child START at the same age, they need to END at the same age. And if the student doesn’t learn in accordance with the structure we have in place, it’s THEIR problem not the adult’s problem…

Making the GED a “career readiness” test MIGHT make it feasible for it to become an “early exit” exam instead of a sign of failure. I hope that is the case….

TED-Ed Joins the Video Party

June 25, 2012 Comments off

Two years ago Michael Horn, co-author of Disrupting Class gave  a presentation at the New Hampshire School Administrators Conference. The book predicted that within five years on-line education would transform schools the same way that transistor radios swept aside vacuum tube radios.

An article in today’s NYTimes illustrates that Horn’s prediction was eerily accurate:

The virtual teacher has arrived — flickering away on a screen on a school bus, in a bunk bed or in the shade of a beach umbrella, and turning traditional education on its head.

Thanks to digital media like video-on-demand broadcasts, or VODcasts, lectures that students would normally receive in the classroom are migrating outside of brick and mortar schools.

TED, the global organization that specializes in both conferences and online inspirational talks, has taken the idea a step further with TED-Ed , a Web site with educational videos that can be customized. The site was announced in April. The idea is to use both educators and animators to produce videos for the site, which also has a YouTube channel. (emphasis added)

In teaching a recent adult education course at Dartmouth and as part of a consulting job in the North Country of New Hampshire, I put together a power point presentation called Technology Advent, that asserts public schools can take one of two paths regarding video technology: they can integrate it into their method of instruction; or they can ignore it and allow either the private sector or the homeschooling parents use it to supplant public schools. TED-Ed and Khan Academy both point the way for public schools to become active participants in Video-on-Demand: they both provide a model that classroom teachers can use to produce videos to share with other schools making it possible for students to receive a wide array of content when they are ready, wherever they are. It’s time for public schools to get on board!