Tenure isn’t the problem in our schools

Written by eduskeptic on June 14th, 2014
Always follow the money photo: penywise/morgueFile

Always follow the money photo: penywise/morgueFile

The Vergara/Welch lawsuit isn’t about tenure. It’s about union busting and privatizing as much of the school system in the U.S. as possible. It’s about vast amounts of money, none of which would make any sense to most of us.

There are about 275,000 public school teachers in California. Not all of us should be teaching. In my 30+ years of teaching before I retired in 2010, I did run into one or two people who weren’t very good, and not just on one bad day, but consistently not very good.

In any system, public or private, that is the case. Some people really should be doing something else. It isn’t out of the ordinary.

Teachers in this state are fired all the time. Some resign before they get fired, others are let go during the probationary period, or while they are in temporary slots.

Unlike the corporate world, where an executive around the top of the food chain gets millions of dollars when they are fired, let go, not renewed, or asked to leave by the board, after they’ve failed at their positions, tanked the company, or just plain screwed up, teachers usually don’t receive anything when they are let go.

I say “usually” because there is the odd case when a district will spend some money on getting someone out of the system. It’s a relatively rare thing in the K-12 teaching ranks to leave under duress with a pocket full of money.

Back to tenure. Let’s say that for some reason all the old, burnt out, ineffective, rotten teachers, all 275,000 of them, are fired, let go, shown the gate and so on.

Let’s also say that somehow there are 275,000 bright young things, at the bottom of the pay scale, with appropriate credentials, who want to snap up all those jobs, for a beginning pay rate that isn’t enough for them to buy a house, save any money at all, makes it difficult to repay their student loans, might qualify them for food stamps, and puts a better car for getting to that job in a classroom of 30 or more children far off into the future, maybe, and which also might demand that their day doesn’t actually end when the bell rings, and that they might end up having to buy classroom supplies out of their own paychecks, and work at run down schools in dangerous neighborhoods. Let’s pretend that they are 100% perfect for these jobs, unlike the rotten creeps who were let go because the tenure laws and due process were trashed.

Everything is good now. Right? The schools have gone charter or private, unions aren’t a problem anymore, and the money guys are swooning with glee. Such a deal.

But wait, there’s more. Somehow the underlying reasons for most of the problems in the schools are still there. No one wanted to do anything about those. Teachers and tenure were such an easy target. The real stuff didn’t get fixed.

The scores haven’t skyrocketed. The problems, the poverty, segregation, hungry and abused children in rat and drug infested neighborhoods, parents in jail, absent parents, unemployed parents, psychological problems, gangs, schools in downright unsafe locations, are still there.

Children from Kindergarten through high school still show up hungry, scared, unsure what awaits them at home, if they have a home, or barely awake because they don’t sleep well in their dysfunctional family situation in their rotten part of the city or suburbs, mixed in among the more fortunate children. The deferred maintenance at the schools is still deferred.

The only thing that changed in this fantasy are the tenure rules. Nothing else.

Changing tenure and layoff rules oddly has no effect on those issues. Changing those issues isn’t something the very wealthy Silicon Valley types, the failed rookie teacher types who now know what’s best for everyone, and corporate types, want to do anything about.

Those issues are difficult, complex, and perhaps don’t have a decent return on investment (ROI). They are hard issues. Golly.

As always, assume nothing, verify everything.

 

 

 

Data for bad teachers pulled out of thin air in Vergara v. Calif

Written by eduskeptic on June 13th, 2014
No time to roll the dice

No time to roll the dice.

In a disturbing bit of news getting out to today in the Vergara v Calif. case, it appears that data quoted by L.A. Superior Court judge Rolf Treu doesn’t actually exist. In short, there is no data to back up his ruling on tenure.

Jordan Weissmann of Slate, called Arizona State professor emeritus of Education David Berliner, on Wednesday, to check out the quote attributed to him regarding 1% to 3% of the states teachers being “grossly incompetent.” Here is what Weissmann reported:

“I pulled that out of the air,” says Berliner, an emeritus professor of education at Arizona State University. “There’s no data on that. That’s just a ballpark estimate, based on my visiting lots and lots of classrooms.” Weissmann said the Berliner never used the words “grossly ineffective.” In fact, Berliner is quoted as saying he has never encountered a grossly ineffective teacher.

The 1% to 3% figure came from the plaintiffs lawyers, in a deposition of Berliner, who emailed a portion of the transcript to Weissmann:

Lawyer: Dr. Berliner, over four years value-added models should be able to identify the very good teachers, right?

Berliner: They should.

Lawyer: And over four years value-added models should be able to identify the very bad teachers, right?

Berliner: They should.

Lawyer: That is because there is a small percentage of teachers who consistently have strong negative effects on student outcomes no matter what classroom and school compositions they deal with, right?

Berliner: That appears to be the case.

Lawyer: And it would be reasonable to estimate that 1 to 3 percent of teachers fall in that category, right?

Berliner: Correct.”

Berliner did not offer those figures. This portion of the transcript clearly pins that figure on the plaintiff’s lawyers.

Treu, however, used that to do some simple math. Out of 275,000 or so California teachers, between 2,750 and 8,250 are, in his words, unsupported by fact, “grossly inadequate.

 

Diane Ravitch, a Reasearch Professor of Education at New York University, and a staunch defender of good teaching, in a blog posting on Thursday, also illuminated the flaws in Treu’s ruling. She quoted Weissmann’s article in her blog posting.

 

In her blog, Ravitch ends with a quote from Weissmanns article. Stuart Biegle,  a law professor and education expert at UCLA, wrote in an email to Weissmann:

 

If 97 to 99 percent of California teachers are effective, you don’t take away basic, hard-won rights from everybody. You focus on strengthening the process for addressing the teachers who are not effective, through strong professional development programs, and, if necessary, a procedure that makes it easier to let go of ineffective teachers.”

 

Peter Goodman, who writes the blog Ed in the Apple, wrote about the entire weird business of branding ideas, and ended with a bit on this ruling. too.

 

How a “statistic”, literally pulled out of thin air, made up, a guesstimate, with no data, scientific or otherwise, to back it up, can be used by a judge to justify his ruling is way beyond a trip down the rabbit hole. Appeal, anyone? $30 t0 $50 million later, my guesstimate, and we might have some resolution of all this.

 

As always, assume nothing, verify everything.

 

 

 

Tenure still under attack

Written by eduskeptic on June 11th, 2014
Always follow the money photo: penywise/morgueFile

Always follow the money photo: penywise/morgueFile

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge, Rolf Treu, issued a tentative decision in a lawsuit known as Vergara vs. California, regarding tenure rules in California. In his tentative decision, Treu found in favor of Vergara.

Headlines in several newspapers read ‘Tenure Rules Unconstitutional in California” or some variation of that. It is important to note that the 9 students who are involved in the lawsuit didn’t actually sue California out of the blue. It was the result of a lawsuit looking for someone to front it.

The lawsuit challenged how teachers achieve tenure, how they may be terminated, and seniority rules.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that getting rid of a teacher for cause is a long and expensive process in this state. It is because of a simple thing called “due process”. Can it be streamlined? Undoubtedly. Should it be? Again, undoubtedly. No one wants ineffective teachers in the classroom. That is a given.

Teachers in this state gain tenure, which is not a guarantee of lifetime of employment, as much as those who want to privatize the California school system want you to believe, after two years in the classroom. It simply means that to be fired, there has to be a legal reason to do so. It is in place to protect teachers from the whims and capricious actions that used to plague the public school system.

It wasn’t that long ago that married women, and certainly pregnant women, weren’t allowed to teach in public schools. Any teacher not towing the correct political line, or refusing to do any number of not so good things for those in power, were very likely to be fired. Yes, it is true.

The third issue in the suit is one of how teachers are pink slipped: newbies and rookies are let go before senior teachers are.

Who is actually behind this lawsuit? David Welch. He founded StudentsMatter, whose only goal seems to have  been to find a school district and school children who could front the lawsuit that, it must be said, he filed.

This is a very involved story, and one that is much too involved for a blog posting. It involves an enormous amount of money. Where do nine California public school students get $4 million+ to launch this type of lawsuit? From David Welch, who invented and funds StudentsMatter.

Capital and Main has a very good article regarding Welch and the lawsuit. So does Southern California Public Radio , the Daily KosValleyWag and many others. Oddly enough, their take on it is a bit different from what’s presented on StudentsMatter.

I find it suspicious, always, when very wealthy individuals, who have little or no connection to education, or to the communities they are “helping”, pour vast amounts of money into altering the public school system. As I’ve said many times, the system is always in need of improvement. People like David Welch don’t do these things out of pure kindness. Follow the money. Always.

Do your own reading about this case. It isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. Appeals will be filed. The preliminary ruling by Treu doesn’t mean much right now. The true impact of his ruling won’t be known for a long time. The legal pros are smiling all the way to the bank.

As always, assume nothing, verify everything. Be careful what you wish for is another good tenant to keep in mind while this is playing out.

 

 

Teacher evaluations

Written by eduskeptic on April 27th, 2014
Children are different.

All children are different. Respect that. Photo courtesy of Morguefile/sideshowmom

In the Sunday, April 27, Sacramento Bee, the editorial board published a piece about the Sac City School District, and the union that represents the teachers. The focus of the article centered on the union taking over school district policy making.

How accurate that is, I have no idea. It’s doubtful, but for shock value, it’s a pretty loaded statement. One of the issues within the piece is evaluating teachers. This is a subject that has been written about quite a lot.

One of the forces behind the evaluation push is the private sector, which would like to see the unions go away, vouchers for all, and their profit margins skyrocket.

The teacher’s unions are dead set against poorly put together evaluative methods.

It’s complicated. Evaluating teachers has always taken place. The goal has always been to observe best practices, to offer a critique that is mutually helpful for the teacher and the principal, and most of all, for the children in the classroom.

Evaluating teachers solely on test results of a class, or to have that be a very large part of the evaluation, is, to be blunt, uninformed and quite insane. This is especially true if that evaluation is used in a process to get rid of teachers. Teachers unions and associations are rightfully against that kind of evaluation.

There is no level playing field in classroom education, especially in the K-12 area. The variables, day to day and long term, are very complicated. Unraveling a large plate of spaghetti would be easier than figuring out what those variables are.

In the elementary classroom, which I am most familiar with, each day is different. The mix of children and their circumstances is difficult to know or explain. The children in any given classroom show up each day with very different views on the world.

Some think things are just peachy, others can’t quite make sense of whatever happened at home last night. Not everyone gets a good breakfast each day, a decent dinner every night, or a good, safe nights sleep, or decent clothes or shoes to wear to school.

Not all children have two parents at home, or any at all. Some have parents who are in jail, or so out of it using drugs, that they may as well not be there at all, and often aren’t. Some shuffle between relatives or foster homes. Some are in simply terrifying circumstances, every day.

There are children who get bedtime stories, and who know that education and reading are valued, no matter the economic circumstances of the family, even if they bed down in a car, tent, or shelter each night. Not everyone speaks English.

There are children who show up every day who have suffered some sort of physical or psychological abuse on a regular basis. Others show up clean, well fed, happy, and loved beyond belief.

Children exist in wildly differing circumstances, from the broad normal to the utterly chaotic dysfunctional, neither of which they have any control over. It goes on and on.

I know this because I taught Kindergarten for the last 24 years of my teaching career, after spending the previous 6 working with some seriously troubled children.

How can any teacher be fairly evaluated on the results of a test given over a few days under those kinds of circumstances? The testing days themselves can’t be magically separate from all the other days of a child’s life.

Here’s the short answer: not possible.

Rather than denigrate teachers unions for doing their job of protecting teachers rights, how about helping to come up with a workable, multifaceted approach for evaluating teachers, principals, and superintendents that leads to better practices all around?

The goal after all is to make the entire K-12 educational spectrum better for the children, isn’t it? Or, is it?

As always, assume nothing, verify everything.

 

 

 

 

 

Daydreaming part II

Written by eduskeptic on April 26th, 2014
A child's drawing of a dog

children see the world differently photo credit: DuBoix, MorgueFile

In my last post I outlined an article by Alan Schwartz regarding daydreaming, and the push to have it recognized as an official “disorder” in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual.

This is the follow up. First, follow the money. Eli Lily stands to make a boatload of money if (a) daydreaming becomes a “disorder”, and (b) straterra is the drug of choice to manage or treat the “disorder”.

The catch-all diagnosis for any child who was deemed to be overly active over the last decade or so was one of two: ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Any child, especially young boys, who were deemed to be too busy too often, could be in danger of being labeled with either of those two.

To be quite clear, there are children and adults who absolutely benefit from the diagnosis and treatment of either ADD or ADHD. The issue is how they were diagnosed and when they were diagnosed, and by whom were they seen as too busy in the first place. This is the same question that pops up about daydreaming being a disorder.

Young children are naturally busy. They move from thing to thing rather rapidly when they are very young. There is so much going on around them that is new that everything catches their eye.

From Kindergarten through 4th grade, you’ll find busy children. Some of the most creative thinking and fantastical imagining happen during those years. How could it not? When is it too much?

Here is one scenario to consider. Your youngster, who is in the beginning grades of elementary school, is a boy. He’s just as curious and busy as the next child in his class of 30 children. His teacher is a rookie, having taught 2 years, heading into the 3d one.

This class is an active group. There’s rarely a really quiet moment, always something going on, always someone missing what is being said because he or she is either yakking or daydreaming.

The teacher, who is young, has little experience with this type of class. The stress level builds, and finally, the teacher decides that something is wrong.

Your child is one of the ones who is always coming up with wild explanations for things, and often is seen by this young, inexperienced teacher, as inattentive, daydreaming, as are others in this particular class. At a conference, you are told that your child needs to see someone because of this excessive daydreaming.

Other parents have been told the same thing. What isn’t overly obvious, unless you’ve spent a lot of time in the classroom, is that this teacher is barely hanging on, and control isn’t a strong point for this teacher. No one in teacher college said anything would be like this.

Now you find yourself in the position of having to explain that curiosity, daydreaming, and being social is what little kids do. Your child doesn’t need to be seen by anyone.

How does this teacher have the expertise to “diagnose” the possibility of this issue in your child? Keep asking until you get an answer, then research the answer. You are your childs main protector. Do your job.

The daydreaming disorder, or ADD, or ADHD, is what is grasped at to explain the reason this group is so out of it. Reality is this: teachers are not trained to diagnose anything having to do with behavioral or medical issues.

What may, and only may, happen, is a glancing bit of time talking about different things that could be disruptive in class, or a one day training by someone deemed somehow to be an expert, on how to spot attention type problems.

Teachers have a license to teach. That’s it. While we are regularly presented with different behavioral issues, we don’t have the license to get into diagnosis, nor do we have the depth of knowledge to do so. Some classes are better than others. Now and again, one comes along that sucks up every ounce of energy and patience that we have, every day, for the entire school year.

Experienced teachers know this and mostly deal with it pretty well. Young teachers, not so much. Even experienced teachers can get so run out that they begin to question their own sanity, and the behavioral weirdness of the class, and call for help from other teachers, specialists, or the school psychologist, who isn’t an actually clinical psychologist at all, but some one who has a masters degree in testing and what the testing results mean.

Should you, as a parent, be concerned about this issue? Yes. You should. It is simply wrong for big pharma to start hunting for another “disorder” to generate huge profits for the pharmacological industry.

I cannot imagine that daydreaming, at any level and intensity, is too much, in children. It is simply one of the building blocks of childhood. Defend it, defend it, defend it.

As always, assume nothing, verify everything.

 

 

Daydreaming is not a disorder

Written by eduskeptic on April 14th, 2014
Let the children play.

Let the children be children. It’s what they do best.

An article in the Sacramento Bee, April 12, starts with the headline: “Daydreaming could be seen as attention disorder.” The article was written by Alan Schwarz of the New York Times.

Here are the highlights, then I’ll give you my take on it.

Schwarz said that experts want more research into “sluggish cognitive tempo.” They do so in order to get it recognized as a “legitimate disorder.” If it enters into that realm, it moves into the arena of being treatable with pharmacological treatment. In short, using drugs to treat it.

“Some of the condition’s researchers have helped Eli Lilly investigate how it’s flagship ADHD drug might treat it.” That drug is Strattera.

In the January issue of The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 136 pages were devoted to various papers describing the “illness.” The lead paper, not named, claims that the question of its existence “seems to be laid to rest as of this issue.”

Russell Barkley, a psychologist with the Medical University of South Carolina, a 30 year proponent of ADHD, has claimed, according to the article, in research papers and lectures that sluggish cognitive tempo “has become the new attention disorder.”

Dr. Keith McBurnett, professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco, has been the co-author of several papers on sluggish cognitive tempo. He, and others, including a few members of the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology’s board, say “that there is no concensus on the new disorders specific symptoms let alone scientific validity.”

This, from the article, a quote from Dr. Allan Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke, “We’re seeing a fad in evolution: Just as ADHD has been the diagnosis du jour for 15 years or so, this is the beginning of another. This is a public health experiment on millions of kids.”

Keep in mind that professors at the University level are required to publish, as in publish or perish. A lot of what is published is pure junk. I once read a published paper in a nursing journal about “loading the spoon.” I kid you not. Research into how to put food on a spoon and feed someone.

OK, that’s it. There’s more but it is all just crazy, which is a very polite way of saying that it’s BS of the highest order. Daydreaming is now a “disorder”? Really?

It is difficult to remain polite about this. As far as I know there isn’t a child on this planet who doesn’t daydream. I don’t think there is an adult who doesn’t daydream. It is an absolutely normal thing to do.

Children, and those fortunate enough to retain some nanobit of childhood, daydream all the time. It’s the reason they can become super hero’s after donning a towel for a cape, become Catwoman just because, or create any number of really cool tools with a stick, or climb into a box and blast off for the moon. It’s how they enter into the story their teacher is reading. They actually are the bear, the bee, that kid who’s lost, the caterpillar who turns into a butterfly. It is an enormously important part of childhood. It is a building block of creativity.

It may be the reason we have computers, airplanes, great art, music, and a rich history of the written word. You’d have to ask daVinci, Michelangelo, Bach, Beethoven, Marie Curie, Jobs, and quite a few other about that. Of course, you’d have to do a bit a daydreaming, and launch out into the everywhere to do so.

Pushing this to become a disorder in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual is nothing more than a push by Eli Lilly, and others, to add to their profit line. I do think that some children benefit from drugs that allow them to concentrate. There is no doubt in my mind that some children, who fit a strenuous and narrowly defined diagnosis by a highly qualified medical professional, benefit from Eli Lilly’s flagship drug for ADHD, Strattera, or Adderall or Concerta.

The article outlines some concerns about excessive daydreaming. Who, exactly, is in charge of the excessive daydreaming label? As parents of school age children, it is important to allow your children to simply be children, free from some of the crazy babble of adults.

Stay tuned for part II on this subject. I cannot stress enough what a rolling tragedy for children, and what a huge profit maker for big pharma companies, this will be if it gets placed into the DSM.

As always, assume nothing, verify everything.

 

 

 

The tenure dance continues

Written by eduskeptic on March 11th, 2014

There doesn’t seem to be any let up in the “let’s change tenure rules” dance. Somehow, if this issue is simply repeatedly written and talked about, then the other bigger issues can’t get either air time or enough attention to get the hard stuff done.

In the Sacramento Bee, on February 23, another article appeared regarding tenure, “Make school tenure rules work better for students.”

The article, on the Viewpoints page, was written by George Miller, Congressman from California’s 11th District, and the senior Democrat on the Education and Workforce Committee, and Pam Chirichingo, who is a teacher at the L.A. Unified School District’s Buchanan Street Math, Science, and Technology Magnet Center. Pam is a former Teacher of the Year in the L.A. Unified School District.

The article highlights a lawsuit by a group of students who want to overturn state teacher tenure laws. It is extremely doubtful, in my opinion, that these students are actually behind this lawsuit. The real question is who is funding the lawsuit.

The same argument is put forth: low income and minority students are likely to have “…the least effective teachers, a problem exacerbated by funding shortfalls and inequities.”

They go on to say that “The current system wrongly places greater importance on a teacher’s seniority than on the education of a child.” That’s just simply a false statement, but it is one that designed to raise a bit of dust. It’s just a ridiculously lame and meaningless statement. It is also an insult to the entire teaching profession.

In large unified districts, there are schools that are tough to teach in. Veteran teachers may have already taught a few years at these schools. When the chance comes to leave, many do. Quite a few stay. Not everyone is cut out to tackle the unique problems in problem schools.

It’s important to note that every school has issues that are unique to it, and not all the problems have to do with poverty, gangs, rotten leadership, or district office ignorance.

What Runner and Chirichingo put forth is what amounts to a re-statement of many other re-statements from many others over the years about how to make teachers and their assignments better. Here’s what they propose:

“Provide teachers-in-training with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the classroom before they start teaching.”

Oddly enough, that was the major focus when I went through the credential program at Cal. State Fullerton in the early 70’s. It seems as if every single do-it-better track includes this kind of statement. It’s not new, just re-stated.

“Insure the meaningful induction and support that early career teachers deserve.”

That has been in place, at least in California, for a very long time. The current support system, one that’s been around quite a while, and proven to be very good, is called BTSAA, Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment.

Rookie teachers are assigned a mentor teacher, and for 3 years get hands on how to do it mentoring. It is a good system of support for new teachers. It works. I’ve seen it in action, and beginning teachers I have spoken with have greatly appreciated the mentoring. This is in addition to the grade level support that teachers within a school enjoy.

“Provide teachers with the chance to grow in the profession through real career ladders that enable them to share their expertise with their peers and reach more students, and offer a range of advancement over time.”

That’s quite a mouthful. If this is all you read, you might come away thinking that such opportunities don’t exist. They do.

Teachers have every opportunity to improve their skills. They do so at regularly scheduled grade level meetings, staff development days, conferences (when there is money to go to them), further course work, inter-district meetings, and various mentoring opportunities that school districts around the state offer.

As for the career ladder it is unclear what this means. What teachers do is teach. They may move between grade levels, or to different schools. They may take on leadership roles within their districts or county offices of education. If teachers want to move out of teaching into the administrative ranks, they go back to school and earn the appropriate credential.

Everything in the school system involves the appropriate credential. The “career ladder” doesn’t actually exist within classroom teaching.

Teachers who venture into special district programs don’t actually advance up any kind of ladder. They may broaden their skills and expertise by doing some district level teaching, mentoring, or programatic job, but those generally don’t come with bumps in pay or a step up on a ladder of any kind.

Moving up the “career ladder” means moving out of the classroom in to the administrative realm. Not everyone sees that as a step up.

“Employ rigorous new evaluations that are rapidly gaining popularity with teachers as their evaluation results are connected to targeted professional development that allows them to make more progress with students.”

No explanation of how Runner and Chirichingo came up with “…gaining popularity with teachers…”.

California teachers are required to complete CEU’s (Continuing Education Units) to keep their credentials. What, exactly, are these “rigorous new evaluations”, and who is doing them? Principals already have a difficult time completing the required evaluations of the teaching staffs at their schools. Rigorous? Does that imply that they aren’t now?

Teacher evaluations can be, and often are, very blunt and “vigorous” meetings. Most of the time, the blunt and vigorous part are good for the teacher and the principal.

And finally, to the crux of the entire deal: “Replace the antiquated tenure system with informed tenure decisions that take into account a teachers effectiveness over a sustained period of time.”

Again, the implication is that this isn’t being done. It is being done.

Tenure is not guaranteed to any teacher in California. Tenure does not equal lifetime employment. Administrative staff have very adequate and powerful tools to move incompetent teachers out of the profession.

Yes, it does take time, but the process ensures that the district properly take action only where action is necessary.

What tenure does is protect teachers from being subjected to the political and personal whims of administrators. Due process works pretty well.

It’s not rocket science that the “change the tenure rules” part of their article is the last bullet point. If it was the first, the article may not have been read all the way through.

It’s not that Runner and Chirichingo are shills for any particular group. Maybe they want to be seen as Big Picture People. The nitty gritty is for others to figure out. do They seem to be good people genuinely interested in the betterment of education, as is every teacher and most administrators whom I have ever worked with.

Continually going over the same tired ground simply ignores the greater issue, which has everything to do with poverty, unemployment, and lack of investment in education in general, and not very much to do with tenure.

 

 

 

Schools spending big bucks on computers, not so much on libraries

Written by eduskeptic on February 26th, 2014
Children need good books.

Children need good books.

The continued flow of cash out of district coffers and into the technology providers is ramping up. In a Sacramento Bee article, February 23rd, Diana Lambert wrote a piece outlining what is taking place.

School Districts throughout the greater Sacramento region are spending millions of dollars on new computers. Apple and all of the PC vendors are the direct beneficiaries of what the districts perceive as necessary new tools that are able to sync with the new computerized educational testing that California will require in the 2014-2015 school year.

For the state to push the testing onto an internet reliant, web-based system may seem a bit counter intuitive. The big computer initiatives that the state has launched over the last few years have been resounding flops. The reasons are many, but the flops are real, and have been very expensive.

Sac City spent $9 million on 6,372 MacBook Airs. Elk Grove: $5 million on 8,000 Chromebooks. San Juan: $1.56 million on 4,218 Chrombooks. Folsom Cordova: $1 million on 2,600 Chromebooks. Natomas: $623,000 on 2,100 Chrombooks. These purchases, according to the article, include “carts, headphones, and other technology.” That’s just 5 districts in the Sacramento area. It’s also just a bit more than $17 million. There’s over 1,000 school districts in this state alone. Do the math.

That’s a big risk, in a lot of ways. It is an amazing shift of funds.

It’s so amazing that it bears a very close look at who, exactly, benefits from this spending.

In a related note, down in the Los Angeles Unified School District, schools have shut libraries. LAUSD just finished spending an enormous amount of money on their laptops for all program. I do think that a billion dollars is a lot of money.

In the meantime, elementary students, especially at less affluent schools, are locked out of libraries. It’s partly a union dispute over credentialed librarians versus “library aides” or “media techs”. Most credentialed librarians are gone, and the district put non-credentialed aides and techs in to run the libraries in order to save money.

What has happened is that there’s a few metric miles of perfectly good books, that elementary students love to hold and read and take home, that are out of reach.

It’s a totally sad state of affairs. No libraries? Really?

As always, assume nothing, verify everything. Then, follow the money.

 

 

 

 

The landscape is changing, part 2, or 1.02

Written by eduskeptic on February 9th, 2014

 

picture of router with lots of connections

Lots of wires, enough capacity? Credit: jdurham/morguefile

In the previous post, I wrote about the rapidly changing educational landscape. The speed at which technology is changing, and the extremely embedded nature of it in everyday life, is spurring massive changes across the entire educational spectrum.

 

We have come a long, long, way since the days when a computer was a big deal in a classroom. What we have now is a plethora of computing devices in classrooms, from Kindergarten to Graduate school. It’s not just one kind of device, running on one operating system either. It’s multiple devices running on Android, Apple, and Windows systems.

 

The idea of 1:1, which is one device for one child, is already out of sync with reality. That initiative was aimed at having every child in a school district have a tablet or lap top of some kind. What happened is this: “every child”, especially as they move up through the grades, probably has their own device, an iPad, lap top, tablet, nook, kindle, smart phone and so on. Now, districts have to plan for, and accommodate, far more devices, most of which they have no control over.

 

The advent of X:1 presents quite a few issues that districts have to deal with. The issues aren’t equal across districts either. Small, rural, or less affluent districts will face a different set of issues than larger, more affluent districts, not in the scope of what needs to be done, but in the ability to fund, short term and long term, the infrastructure needed to support what is taking place.

 

Simply having enough tech staff available to keep the system running is somewhere near the top of the list. Along with those support staff, districts have to have a clear notion of what and how they will support these various devices. Considering that a district like Twin Rivers can’t even get heating systems installed and running, this could be a biggie.

 

If children are bringing their own devices (BYOD), the burden on the district to supply devices goes down. The other side of that is how the district will support the school supplied devices and the devices that come from home. If all those devices are going to be able to access the school’s local area network, who is going to manage that?

 

If the district has that many devices on the school’s network, how much traffic can that network stand? If the capacity isn’t robust enough, to what extent does the district increase capacity? It’s an interesting question. If the system chokes up, everything chokes up.

 

School supplied tablets, iPads, and so on, are relatively easy to keep track of. Not so when it comes to the personal iPad, tablets, smartphones etc. that come along with X:1. Security of the devices is always an issue.

 

Does logging into the school’s web system require passwords? How secure is that system in the face of all those devices jumping in? The districts will need to make certain, as much as is possible, that devices that are logged into the school’s system are clear of malware, and that there’s a robust firewall that will keep unwanted sites and code from infecting the entire school net.

 

Expanding the concept of “classroom” will be an interesting conversation. What is clear is that distance learning, in-house online learning, and learning from home will probably increase. It would be stunning if that didn’t happen. The entire school family, parents, students, staff, and community, is going through an exciting time in education right now. Nothing is static. Put your seat belt and helmet on.

 

As always, assume nothing, verify everything.

 

The landscape is changing

Written by eduskeptic on February 8th, 2014
This used to be the top of the technology pile. Credit: Chodra

This used to be the top of the technology pile.
Credit: Chodra

 

 

1:1. X:1. Common Core. BYOD. MOOC’s. Distance learning. Bandwidth. Anything here sound familiar? No? You probably aren’t alone.

Eduspeak has always been a bit on the snooty order. Only those in the know, knew. If you didn’t have the secret handshake or the correct pucker factor, you weren’t going to know. For very busy parents, and those outside the system, staying plugged in to current trends can be a bit of a challenge.

There is also an age factor involved in all the acronyms. If you are solidly in the Boomer Generation, it’s probable that you are less likely to know what any those terms means. Anyone below that Boomer mark probably does, and for those who are way below it the probability goes way up.

All of those terms have to do with schools, and they are all related. Not only that, but the pace of change will mean that some of them won’t be around in their present form for long. Technology is a rapidly moving issue.

1:1 means one device for one child in a school district. Tablets, iPads, ThinkPads, laptops, and so on, are the devices. X:1 refers to a number of different devices for each child, not all of which are supplied by the district. That ties into BYOD, Bring Your Own Device, which results in X:1.

That relates directly to Bandwidth, which is the electronic pipeline that the internet flows through to your home, school, or business. More devices require more bandwidth. Distance learning is related to all of it. The traditional classroom isn’t the choice for everyone, and in the traditional classroom, learning isn’t restricted to the physical classroom. The lesson could just as easily be from somewhere else, or where ever you are becomes the classroom, which is distance learning.

MOOC’s are related to all of it too. Massive Open Online Courses is what that stands for. In order to either have one, or participate in one, you need bandwidth, a device, and the ability to connect from where ever you are. All of this is part of the ever changing landscape of education. How is Common Core involved?

There is a heavy technology component of Common Core, and all of it revolves around the various iterations of local area and wide area networks. None of these, by themselves, drives the education machine. All of them, together, drive it.

What isn’t covered in this particular piece is how all of this works, and what it takes, and will take, to make it work. That’s a whole different subject, one that is absolutely welded to the entire ball of wax. Stay tuned, and as always, assume nothing, verify everything.