A Common Sense Approach to Internet Policy

Posted by Bob Price on September 28, 2012

At some point we’re just going to have to trust people to do what’s right when it comes to use of the Internet in schools.  In my district we have spent countless hours keeping our appropriate use polices up to date, implementing the latest in filtering technology, and monitoring to the best of our ability, what people are doing while they’re on the Internet.  We have had Internet connections available for students and staff since 1995.  During that time we have had only a handful of appropriate use violations.

Is all the time and effort to keep the system locked down really productive?  As we have provided increased technology for our staff and encouraged them to use the technology in their classroom instruction, the number of complaints over blocked sites has skyrocketed.  The number of appropriate use violations has remained very low.

A typical scenario goes like this.  A teacher searches the web and finds some great video resources to support a planned lesson.  What better way to use the new classroom projector?  After spending hours in preparation, the teacher arrives at school excited about the new infusion of technology into the instructional process.  Trying to access the resources at school, up comes a message that the content is blocked for one of many reasons—none of which make sense to the disappointed teacher and students.  Requesting to unblock sites is somewhat cumbersome and unpredictable.  Maybe we need to lighten up a bit.  Perhaps it would make more sense to have teacher computers unblocked and then take action if we find there is abuse.

For students the issue is a bit more problematic.  We are required to have Internet filters on computers for student use.  The trust factor is a bit more dicey with students.  However, we have not had many instances of inappropriate use of the Internet by our students.

I’m sure we can strike a balance between protection and access if we really try.  So in my district, that is what we are going to do.  If a teacher wants access to YouTube, the teacher will get access.  If the teacher chooses to visit inappropriate sites, we will deal with that teacher rather than blocking access for everyone.  Students, at least for now, will have to live with the restrictions.  However, when they need to visit a site to make a presentation or report, they can always use the teacher’s computer with supervision.    Hopefully this will turn out to be a common sense approach that allows teacher to take advantage of some wonderful online resources.  Or, it could make my last year as Superintendent very challenging.

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Everything is Amazing and Nobody’s Happy

Posted by James Scoolis on February 29, 2012

The school district I work in just offered a sizable cash retirement incentive for teachers and administrators age 55 or older with at least ten years of district service.  About a third of the district’s teaching and administrative staff was eligible for the incentive, and that includes me, an older digital immigrant.  So of course I looked into it.  What I found was that despite being a twenty-eight year retirement system veteran, for me, even a $50,000 incentive (the amount offered if forty or more teachers agreed to retire), wasn’t enough to make up the difference in annual retirement payments two more years of service would provide.  So, here I will be for two more years.

Am I ready to retire?  Psychologically, yes.  I do love being around these children, now our second or third generation of digital natives.  But frankly I can’t seem to deflect the stresses and pressures—and the tragic aspects of some of their lives—as well as I used to.   Or perhaps it is true, as many of my generation are saying, that it just is getting to be ever more sad and tragic out there.

We just marked the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s wild ride.  I was alive then, not quite yet in kindergarten.  I remember sitting in front of the black and white console in my jammies watching the blast off.   It has been fifty years since Bob Dylan recorded his first album.  John F. Kennedy was president, but he didn’t survive through my first grade year.  Telephones had curly cords and sat on tables and desks, and you had to walk over to them and stand there to use them.  Television had three channels and all our news came from Walter Cronkite or the newspaper that was actually printed on paper that made your fingers black.   The majority of music was printed on 45 RPM discs but the primary way to hear music was on a transistor radio.

I may be an older digital immigrant, but at least I was one of the first pioneers.  When I was a young inexperienced teacher, I helped unpack Apple II computers in an inner city Los Angeles school with another teacher who knew how to set up a lab.  I learned how to use LOGO.  I have seen the Mac and Windows wars won and lost and then won again—and that argument now rendered basically irrelevant.  And now behold the flat-out amazing handheld computer.   Thank you and may you rest in peace Mr. Jobs.  What an amazing fifty-five years it has been.

I agree with the insightful and hilarious Louis C.K.  who posits that we live in a time where everything is amazing and no one cares.

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Tech Equity: It’s not just for kids

Posted by Bob Price on November 28, 2011

Like most districts, we want our teachers to have access to powerful instructional technology.  And, like most districts, technology purchases for us have been made with a mix of limited district funds, some grants, and site categorical funds.  This has led to a situation where there are haves and have nots in terms of access to instructional technology.  A recent grant allowing for most of our math classes to have access to Promethean Boards caused our teachers of other subjects and grade levels to ask about access to these powerful technology tools.  When we took an inventory of the technological tools available to our teachers, we were surprised at the discrepancies across the district.  Our classrooms ran the gamut from full Promethean tools with document cameras to a single overhead projector sitting in a corner.  We realized we had a serious equity problem.

Our model of allowing sites to drive the educational technology available in classrooms had created a situation where student and teacher access technology varied dramatically.  A student could experience a relatively rich or embarrassingly poor access to technology tools depending on the luck of what teacher he/she was assigned to.  It was possible for students to spend their entire K-8 careers having only had access to teachers with an overhead projector.  Or they could be the lucky ones that had teachers with state-of-the-art technology.  This unacceptable situation led us to initiate our Tech Equity Project for teachers.

Utilizing a highly motivated Tech Vision Team, we developed minimum standards for technology for teachers.  After much discussion, it was decided that each classroom should be equipped with a teacher laptop, sound system, smart projector and document camera.  Funding for equipment would come from excess bond funds.  Sites agreed to pay for maintenance, repairs and supplies with the funds they were allocating previously to purchase hardware.  Our Tech Vision Team members offered to provide the necessary professional development at their sites in exchange for access to new technologies.  After much planning, meeting with vendors, and individual meetings with teachers and principals, our vision will be realized when teachers return from Winter break.

The next step in our vision will be the issue of equity of student access.  We have the same problem of haves and have nots with student technology.  Our goal will be to have all classrooms with an internet device available for all students within the next two years.  Whether that device will be a notebook, netbook, or tablet has yet to be decided.

The other big issue for us is whether our teachers will utilize all of this technology in powerful ways to improve student achievement.  One thing is certain.  No one will implement technology they do not have.  We are looking forward to the next steps in our journey.  Parent, teacher, and community support for our Tech Equity Initiative has been overwhelmingly positive.

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Launch Technology Projects During a Fiscal Crisis?

Posted by Kevin Silberberg on October 31, 2011

Most District administrators are aware of the service FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis Management Assessment Team) provides each day in the way of the top education related headlines throughout the state. If it involves schools, and was in the paper, you can be sure that FCMAT captures the link and makes it very easy to read how school districts up and down the state are making the news.  Usually, it is a good day when you don’t see your district as a link on this website.

That being said, an article caught my eye today that speaks to the dilemma we face in California better than anything I have seen in years.  The article, “What happens if city schools go insolvent?,” describes the San Diego Unified School District’s possible financial collapse that could require a state takeover to keep the district afloat.

As a district administrator, I know well what state takeover would mean.  It is a cliff you walk over and seldom fully recover.  Here are the first actions that you can look forward to.

  • The superintendent would be immediately fired and replaced by a state appointed administrator.
  • The school board would lose all powers and become an advisory panel.
  • The state administrator would essentially become the district’s new leader and have the power to unilaterally make decisions, such as which property to sell, what academic programs to cut, which schools to shutter and who to lay off. After labor contracts expire, the administrator could impose district-wide cuts to pay and benefits.

Very depressing!  But this doesn’t tell the entire story.  Earlier in my day of reading, I had read with great envy an eSchool News special report on a visionary technology program that was being implemented in—you guessed it—the San Diego Unified School District.

Two years ago, the district embarked on a five-year journey to transform its classrooms and completely revamp the way San Diego students learn.  Since that time, the Interactive Classroom Initiative (i21) has expanded into more than 1,300 classrooms and has distributed some 78,000 netbooks and other mobile devices to teachers and students.

I can only imagine the planning, effort and vision the district has into this project.  To get all the stakeholders together on the same page to move forward is amazing and should be applauded.  The professional development alone in this program would be the envy of school districts who dream of one day moving their teachers and administrators forward embracing the appropriate use of technology that helps teachers teach and students learn.

So here we have the problem facing most schools in California.  Schools have to live within their means to make it in this economy.  With triggers about to be pulled and mid-year cuts on their way, we can in no way pull off projects like the i21 program and expect to stay away from state takeover.

Would financial insolvency mean the end of the SDUSD i21 program?  I hope not.  Unfortunately, the lesson many district officials may read into the San Diego Unified School District financial problem is: don’t risk any new initiatives; fund highly traditional low-tech expenditures; and make it through the toughest times ever experienced in California public education.

The better lesson is: we can’t do it all, and sustaining is the name of the game.  We must strive to prepare students for the technology-rich world our kids will enter while managing to stay solvent in these turbulent and trying economic times.

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The Professional Development Dilemma

Posted by Tim Landeck on September 27, 2011

All K-12 employees need to receive professional development in their field. Teachers need to learn about new and better ways to deliver instruction. Classified staff needs to learn about the new programs and district initiatives. Administrators need to learn about ways to manage their staff and facility in a more effective and efficient manner. Technical staff needs to learn about the new technology developments to select and implement the systems that will assist in making everyone’s life easier and more effective in education.

Can any of these job areas do without their trainings and if so, for how long? When will the lack of funding to support forward movement in professional development be felt by the students and community? It seems that professional development funds are usually cut soon after the funding for the district grant writer. In other words, it is one of the first items cut from the budget.

In these lean times in education the technical staff is faced with a large dilemma.  We need to keep up with the latest and greatest in technology for the K-12 arena; however, there are not funds available to send staff to trainings where they learn about ways to do more with less and improve the technical workings of the school site, district or county. These individuals are already highly skilled and trained personnel but we need to keep them this way. With limited, or no professional development funds available, how can we keep our staff up to speed with the ever changing world of technology?

The technology staff is expected to integrate the latest technical innovations as they are released.  It seems to me that the technical staff’s lack of continued professional growth would be felt sooner by their “clients” than the other groups. Everyone needs to continue to grow and model being lifelong learners, but when we cut the training to the technical staff, there is no opportunity for growth in the technical department and this equates to stagnant progress that affects everyone in the organization, from staff to students to community members.

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