The WHY of Public Education

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on September 11, 2016

Palm holding card with the word WHYStart of the school year has been notable on Facebook as almost every parent with whom I’m acquainted has shared those infamous first day of school photos.

And as students and staff report back, organizations such as Phi Delta Kappa International, US News & World Reports, and even state departments of education are releasing data and reports that coincide with the start of the new year. The most notable one that has come my way to date has been the Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) article on perceptions held by the public regarding public education.

PDK’s 48th annual public poll entitled “Public Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,” measuring opinions about public education, lacked consensus over the main purpose of public education. 45% of its respondents, representing a random sample of more than 1500 adults covering all 50 states, believe public education is meant to prepare students academically. Another 26% feel the primary role should be to prepare students for citizenship, while another 25% feel the purpose is to prepare students for the workplace.

What I find most puzzling is the lack of explanation of preparing students for citizenship, but even more so that 26% of respondents felt this was the primary intent of education generation after generation. The survey went on to share more data about how students are performing, opinions on keeping schools open when failing, and general perspectives on what our schools are doing to meet the needs of their students. And before I digress too much, let’s take a moment and look at the list of tasks we expect from our teacher, let alone our public schools. We’re responsible for teaching all subjects, receive hefty criticism when students are obese and we aren’t doing enough with physical fitness. We cover sex education and driver’s education, and the list goes on.  I think this picture says it all:

Many words for teacher showing the varied roles a teacher plays

But back to the survey. There is clear confusion about what the purpose is of education, of public education. With the split data shared above, should we be doing our work differently? If only 45% feel we should be covering academics, then should we be doing less in a focus on academics?

When I think of conversations I have with parents about the use of technology, I get push back that a focus of tech to communicate and collaborate should be reduced. Granted, I always advocate for a balance. But yet…we have workplaces with a colossal reliance on technology, and if we focus on the 25% of parents who want us to prepare students for the workplace, then there really is a role for workplace preparedness, which includes technology.

I don’t expect the responses to change. A great deal of expectations are placed on the deliverables of our public education system. I predict that the confusion will also continue – much is expected of us. And much will continue to be expected. And the WHY won’t change.

But it may morph a bit. Stay tuned.

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Will Future Ready Make a Difference?

Posted by Stephen Vaughn on February 26, 2016

Future Ready logo with question mark overlaidMany superintendents of school districts in California have signed the Future Ready Pledge. Many of those districts have begun the process of evaluating the “readiness” of their districts for the future by using the great tools that Future Ready provides. They have developed plans to implement the suggestions generated from the surveys and tools. In some cases, districts have dedicated resources, including funds and people to implement and monitor their progress. However, even with doing all of this, I contend that it won’t be enough to make a significant difference for most school districts. Here is why.

There are still too many barriers to the implementation of an effective plan to be truly Future Ready. The first barrier is the existing employee contracts. Usually, most school districts have contracts that restrict and limit the process for staff development, as well as the evaluation process and the time that employees are in contact with students. The second barrier is the time constraints imposed by the transportation of students. This limits the options that are available for integrating training. The third barrier is the culture of autonomy that exists in most districts. Because most teachers still teach in isolation, they can ignore many of the requirements needed to have a 21st Century instructional program and no one will be either aware of it or able to do anything about it. The last barrier I will mention is the current tenure system. This system makes it very difficult to dismiss teachers who do not have the ability to implement an effective Future Ready program.

I recognize that there are a few districts that are making great strides, but the truth is most districts aren’t radically better than they were five years ago in terms of implementing a Future Ready program.  And I would submit that even in the case of districts that are doing well, the reasons why are tenuous and progress could end if a few things changed, such as the leadership of the district, the leadership of the associations, or the economy.

What do you think? Share your thoughts by clicking “Leave a comment” or by using the “Leave a Reply” form—you’ll see one or the other below this post.

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What can BYOD programs learn from cycling events?

Posted by Geoff Belleau on October 31, 2015

“No child left offline.”Smart phone on bicycle handlebars

That is the challenge California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction has put to schools in our state. All students and teachers should have access to an electronic device that will connect them to the Internet. How in the world can this happen? One possible solution is “bring your own device”—or BYOD as it’s commonly known.

Over the past few months I have participated in several organized cycling events. One was to raise money for diabetes. The other, the “Tour de Tahoe,” was for a similar purpose and took us all the way around Lake Tahoe. In both events, a group of people got together and rode for a cause, for fitness and for fun.

Parallels abound

I see parallels between BYOD for computing and for cycling. Obviously, in both cases you bring your own equipment! But more importantly, BYOD is about the experience and not about the device. In the Tour de Tahoe, there were expensive bikes and cheap bikes. There were people with lots of experience and expertise and others who looked like they had just jumped on their bikes for the first time. Those who are novices have a harder time than those who are “in-shape.”

In both situations, lots of things are assumed. In the cycling event, there were no directions on how to get around the lake, how to ride a bike, or how to put your helmet on.  Similar expectations tend to apply when we ask students to bring their own computing devices to school. We assume that if they own them, they know how to use them.

Both involve issues of equity. Like bicycles, computing devices vary in features, style, power, and capabilities. Users vary in their own abilities which may dictate specialized equipment; in our Tahoe event,  one gentlemen “pedaled” around the lake with his arms, rather than of his legs, and had a partner who rode with him to make sure he was always seen, since he was only about six inches off the road surface! Equity also suggests we need to provide devices for those participants who do not, in fact, own their own.

Planning is key to success

Finally, BYOD in either case needs planning, organization and coordination to succeed. In the Tour de Tahoe, everyone knew the cyclists would be out there. There were rest stops and Support and Gear (SAG) vehicles to help give worn out cyclists a ride when needed. BYOD in schools requires similar advance planning and special arrangements such as solid WiFi and good policy to keep everyone safe and allow students and educators to communicate, create, and collaborate in school as effectively as they do when they are outside the doors of their school.

Remember it is about the journey, not the device, and the trip around the lake is always more fun and safer with a friend.

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From Digital Immigrant to Digital Colonist

Posted by Geoff Belleau on June 17, 2015

School’s out for summer and the digital natives are beyond happy about it.  So are the teachers and administrators! We’re all ready for a break. It gives us an opportunity to slow down and think about things.

Old auto with people coming from Dust Bowl to California
Photo by Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress collection

One of the things I’m thinking about is the whole idea of digital natives. That’s what we call kids today; but if they are digital natives, what are we? Many people have gone with the term digital immigrants. However when I think of immigrants, I think Grapes of Wrath. I picture the hopelessness, despair and tribulations of people fleeing the Dust Bowl to make their way to California. They have hope. They seek opportunities and things that are new.   Yet still, I picture a guy in dusty overalls—maybe John Malkovich’s Lennie in Of Mice and Men. Such images are not a ringing endorsement for encouraging others to try something new.

Several years ago though, I read an article in which the writer coined a new term, digital colonist.1  Digital colonists are the ones who not only move but move in. They build a home in their new place. They make a living. They thrive. For a late Gen X like me this idea struck home and really made me think about how I try to grow my “digital colony” with others.

This spring, for the first time, TICAL held a regional workshop in the Capital City area.  To attract participants, we were getting the word out via the usual digital colonist ways—emailing flyers, tweeting, posting information on LinkedIn. As I was doing my part to publicize the event, it dawned on me, “I don’t think the people I want to be there use these tools!” Only a small number of school administrators use Twitter professionally. Many have set up a LinkedIn page but their effort ends there. How do we reach those dusty digital immigrants and help them set up shop in our new digital colony?

Here are my ideas.

Go old school. Create and print a flyer with the workshop information, then actually take the flyer to those you are targeting. Get it into their hands. You’ll be able to get the flyer to some people yourself, but for others you’ll need help. Tweet a link to the flyer and say, “Friends help friends tweet. Print this and share it with someone you know,” or “Help your principal! Print this and give it to them.” Another approach I took was to post the flyer on my Pinterest Board with a note for teacher to invite their principals. There are some teachers who ignore all other media, but if they follow your board, you have their attention!

Lead with them. Invite someone to go to trainings with you. It’s always more fun to do things with someone else. If you just know a little more than the next guy, you are the expert! It helps those around you know that you are “in.” The personal touch goes a long way for all of us. When we get a personal invitation to go, be honest, it makes one feel special and one of a kind. Who doesn’t want that? It is our job as leaders to build up those around us, and doing it with them, no matter what “it” is, will make them want to come and take notice.

Be an advocate. For as little as you may feel you know, you are still better equipped than anyone else to make a digital change. A teacher may go off to a training and get excited with creative ways to teach and lead these digital natives, but then policies at school, district and state levels prohibit them. Some policies need to be updated, but some can’t be. As leaders at district, county and state level, we are positioned to bring about policy change if needed, and also must be the best communicators and advocates for our students, teachers, and parents. If George Washington popped out of TARDIS today, one of the only things he would recognize is the classroom. We must be as courageous as George to bring about the policy changes needed to accommodate and support digital learning.

The bottom line? We are preparing students for their future with the digital tools of today, not the analog tools of our past. We’ll do a better job when we have friends around us in our digital colony.

What do you think? What other ideas do you have for bringing the immigrants into the digital fold? Leave your comment below!

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1Stern, Ben. “Troubleshooting Advice from a ‘Digital Colonist’ (EdSurge News).” EdSurge. N.p., 24 Dec. 2012. Web. 17 June 2015. <https://www.edsurge.com/news/2012-12-24-troubleshooting-advice-from-a-digital-colonist>

 

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Print books are still da bomb!

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on June 16, 2015

With the expansion of technology and the social media world accessible to our youngest of generations, it’s no wonder Kindles, Nooks, and iBooks are growing in popularity. In our household, iPads have been the norm for years. But like the emerging trends of the 13–17 year olds in households and schools, our nine-year-old twins prefer…you guessed it…print books!

Girl on couch reading a book.

Recent statistics report that, despite being tech savvy, the 13-17 age group aren’t big e-book consumers. While 20% of teens report purchasing e-books, 25% of 30–44 year olds and 23% of 18–29 year olds buy digital copies.1 While younger readers are open to e-books as a format, the age group continues to express a preference for print that may seem to be at odds with their perceived level of digital savvy.

Are my twingles any different than their older counterparts? It’s doubtful. Several factors play a role in the preference of teens toward print publications, and they are similar to what my mini-me’s have in play.

First of all, their mother still prefers print, be it the traditional get-your-fingers-a-bit-dirty newspaper each morning, the paperback novel that welcomes a dog-ear, or the ability to share a book with a sibling, a friend, a parent. Or maybe it’s the giddy role model I provide when, traipsing around the country, I find a used bookstore full of treasures!

Secondly, the word of mouth power of print books or magazines is much greater than their electronic counterparts, as I recently witnessed with a group of little girls after a football tailgate party. “Oh, I loved that book,” exclaimed one of seven, when looking at a paperback copy of one of the recent Goddess Girls books strewn on a bedroom floor. “Me too!” exclaimed another. My twins watched, and I couldn’t help but ask, “Have you read one?” I would have been stunned if my dirty pant-kneed tomboys had said yes, as the others, clearly girlie girls, headed toward the makeup and music. Yet two days later, having picked up one copy at a used bookstore and coerced one of my daughters to read “just the first fifty pages,” the Little Blonde One admitted the rest were going on her list to Santa.

Finally, my daughters aren’t very visible on social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or blogs unless I’m closely supervising their use on my accounts. However, the teens out there benefit from the bandwagon effect that social media can create around reading resources, especially series. If an author can gather a following with just a couple of books, sales of more are soon to follow.

Guess a screen can’t replace everything.

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1“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: Tech-Savvy Teens Remain Fans of Print Books.” Newswire. Nielsen, 9 Dec. 2014. Web. 16 June 2015. <http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/dont-judge-a-book-by-its-cover-tech-savvy-teens-remain-fans-of-print-books.html>.

 

 

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