Sunday, April 03, 2011

Technology and Schools

Two thing prompted me to want to write this thread.  One was from the thread "This or That" about what readers think are important in the budget.  Here's what "Joanie" had to say (and I believe this person is a teacher):

Sorry I didn't say it all in one post. Teachers' plates are getting fuller and fuller. I watch the board meetings fairly often and the teachers and parents who appear seem to be ignored most of the time. I agree with much of what I hear. Now Dr. Enfield is creating another way for teachers to communicate with parents: turning the school website into a potential blog site that will be monitored by teachers. Good Lord! That's not what we need. How much money has been spent on IT in the Distrist already. Put it at middle and high schools where kids can make more of it. Elementary schools do not need more IT. More bandaids for appearances. They need to change the paradigm.

And, with all the money that has gone into IT, TEACHERS ARE STILL DOING REPORT CARDS BY HAND. Can anyone explain that? At least at my school.


First, just to let you know Joanie, that first sentence was one of the pleas I made to Dr. Enfield.  No more new stuff.  Too much new work for teachers, too much for parents to absorb, too much work at central.  A moratorium on new initiatives for at least a year. 

Second, this issue of compounding work is something I have told the Board, repeatedly.  I think Central staff has so much work to do that they may not be doing a great job which leads to poor audits and mistakes made.  I'm not sure it's the quality of people but the quality of work at Central.

Third, I'm going to have to find out about this "blog" idea for each school.  I predict - poor use at some schools, parents worried about anything they say getting back to their teachers and well, it could be a disaster.  I'm not sure if a school is already keeping an up-to-date website (and most don't), how a blog will help.

Fourth, the issue of IT development.  The NY Times had an article about this last week entitled, "Amid Cuts, City to Spend More on School Technology." 

The question, of course, is not whether we think schools need technology.  Of course, they do.  The question is whether this is the best use of capital money...right now.  I would rather see safer buildings.  (Another "this or that".)  I would rather see salaries for capital staff come out of the Operations budget and the money be used for schools.  Here's what the Times' article says:

Despite sharp drops in state aid, New York City’s Department of Education plans to increase its technology spending, including $542 million next year alone that will primarily pay for wiring and other behind-the-wall upgrades to city schools. 

The surge is part of an effort to move toward more online learning and computer-based standardized tests. But it comes just two years after the city declared a victory on the technology front, saying that every classroom in every school had had plug-in Internet connections and wireless access set up, an undertaking that cost roughly half a billion dollars over several years.  

Some local officials are questioning the timing, since the city is also planning to cut $1.3 billion from its budget for new school construction over the next three years, and to eliminate 6,100 teaching positions, including 4,600 by layoffs. 

While state law prevents capital funding, the source of much of the technology spending, from being used for salaries, both moves are likely to make class sizes rise.

It's interesting because if you go back (and I'll try to this week), there has been a lot of spending in our district over the last 10 years on technology.   This drive for more and more, I believe, is over MAP testing and any further kind of standardized testing that could be given on a computer. 

So what's the driver in NYC?  Ah, the ability for more students to be able to self-teach with the teacher as overseer. 

Instead of a lonely desktop or two at the back of a room, officials picture entire classrooms of students going online simultaneously, taking Internet-based classes or assessments to measure both their and their teachers’ performance. This school year alone, the city has issued $50 million in contracts to build an online course-management system, called iLearn NYC, as well as to provide training and to pay companies like Rosetta Stone and Pearson Education to provide content. 

The front line is called the Innovation Zone, or iZone, a group of 80 schools (out of the roughly 1,700 in the city) that are testing more intensive ways to use computers, like by having them design individualized lessons based on each student’s progress and weaknesses. Teachers would still be needed as guides, but the goal would be to try to solve the age-old problem of how to teach a group of students with a wide range of abilities. The plan is to expand the zone to 125 schools next year, and 400 schools by the end of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s third term. 

The cry is that "our kids need to learn to use technology" but is that what it really is?  Or a future way to cut costs ( fewer teachers, bigger classes and you probably could use all TFA recruits if all you do is oversee a lesson).  

One big issue is whether you could ever have enough bandwidth capacity if you had, say, a school of 650 students where every single class was on-line at the same time?  That's a lot to ask but if the direction that education is going is more and more computer teaching and assessments, then that's where the capital money will  go.

But some teachers are still doing report cards by hand.

9 comments:

seattle citizen said...

We need to carefully consider IT. It has many potential benefits and just as many pitfalls.
Consider the debate about that new online college, Western Governor's University (here is a pro argument and a con argument from last week's Times editorials.)

Pros: access to a variety of information, medias, and lessons, among other things;
Cons: the diminishment of learing to mere bytes, of teaching to digital transmission and receptio, and its concurrent measurement system.
Teaching to the test takes on a whole 'nother level of significance when materials are online, lesson is online, content is online...asessments are online...sort of depersonalizes the whole thing, wot? Turns it into a digital information brain-packing machine without human mediation.

But that's a worst case scenario.

Overall, beware its use as a cost-cutting device: If it increases eficiency in good ways, fine, but if it cuts out critical elements of teaching and learning, beware.

Word Verifier thinks digital instruction in Italian language, sans human inflection, nuance, etc, puts it in a comatio

seattle citizen said...

We need to carefully consider IT. It has many potential benefits and just as many pitfalls.
Consider the debate about that new online college, Western Governor's University (here is a pro argument and a con argument from last week's Times editorials.)

Pros: access to a variety of information, medias, and lessons, among other things;
Cons: the diminishment of learing to mere bytes, of teaching to digital transmission and receptio, and its concurrent measurement system.
Teaching to the test takes on a whole 'nother level of significance when materials are online, lesson is online, content is online...asessments are online...sort of depersonalizes the whole thing, wot? Turns it into a digital information brain-packing machine without human mediation.

But that's a worst case scenario.

Overall, beware its use as a cost-cutting device: If it increases eficiency in good ways, fine, but if it cuts out critical elements of teaching and learning, beware.

Word Verifier thinks digital instruction in Italian language, sans human inflection, nuance, etc, puts it in a comatio

This or That said...

$93 cut per elementary pupil, $193 cut per middle school pupil and elemination elementary counselors vs $3M IT?

Anonymous said...

when problems with mechanics such as

f(-1/4) = -3/5x^2 + 2/9x,

or f(-.25) = -.6x^2 + .222x

result in groups of students arguing whether the answer is 755 or -2198 or .99345 ... with their calculators

Let's Hire More Power Point Con$ultant$ to tell the math coache$ how to teach Be$t Practice$ and group work!

Dr. Power Point ToDaMoon

cascade2008 said...

Agree that the new district website is an imposition on teachers. Our elementary school has had their own site, and parent volunteers have taken on the classroom websites, mostly posting homework, calendars, etc. The message we're getting is that with the new website teachers are responsible for material and they won't be able to delegate to volunteers. Makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

I teach at a West Seattle school and we had our website training class. We were told using the teacher section of the website was optional. Now our school finally have a site that is easy to set-up and maintain. We can look as good as the rich schools. From my perspective, all the SPS schools and teachers now have have the same tools at their disposal.
In a larger sense, the technology tools in SPS are wonderful. I have an up-to-date teacher computer and presentation station in my room. I wouldn't be surprised if the SPS teachers would say that the document camera and projector are the most important teaching tools in Seattle. I have heard that the admins downtown don't even realizes how important these tools are, except the people that support them.

dan dempsey said...

Oh how true the following is:

" I think Central staff has so much work to do that they may not be doing a great job which leads to poor audits and mistakes made. I'm not sure it's the quality of people but the quality of work at Central."

W. Edwards Deming wrote ... "personnel deficits are responsible for at most 15% of problems".

In the SPS it is the "System" that is the problem.

The continued avoidance of evidence-based decision-making is the SPS hallmark.

To Improve a System requires the intelligent application of relevant data.

Instead of "Improvement" we get more "political posturing".

Patu voted against S. Enfield for Interim Superintendent in a 6-1 vote. Thank You Director Patu for an evidence-based vote.

Mary said...

Teacher stations and docucams are great. They are tools that enable better teaching. Report cards by hand? Something doesn't synch here. I agree with technology but in the appropriate time and place and age. IMO teachers should be teaching elementary kids reading, writing, math and thinking. And it is about money. As much as people like technology, bells and whistles, remember that something is off the plate when something new is put on it. I've seen lots and lots of promises that computers are the be all and end all in education; but, I've yet to see it change a child's life. A good teacher can do that.

Mary said...

Here's an article that might explain some of this:

Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools