American Schools Need Way More Than an Hour of Code

The “Hour of Code” that has swept America off its feet this week is fine and all, but what happens after that hour? America children are wonderful consumers of technology, apps, devices, and screens. It is generally not until high school that they may encounter a sustained experience in programming skills. The topic is rarely visible in the middle schools and practically completely non-existent in the elementary schools. Sure, there are pockets of success here and there, but even within districts that may say they teach these skills to students there is no uniform curriculum for it. One class does it while the neighboring class doesn’t.

Here’s why the American approach is both outdated and dangerous: learning to code teaches you how to think. That is hard to visualize if you’ve never coded. Programming helps develop design and problem-solving skills that are foundational for later academic success. Rewriting spelling words 3x in ABC order doesn’t do that. Nor does monotonous skill-n-drill math homework sheets. Our approach of avoiding, rather than embracing, programming skills is dangerous because we are risking leaving an entire generation of would-be-coders behind. Young children are actually interested in this. They love seeing how things work, how to make them move, and how to deliver commands. Their inquisitive minds are ripe for these experiences. Instead, we are focusing more on other more testable skills like close-reading and break apart math. While those may be necessary as well, it should not be at the expense of learning a vital skill to the world economy right now and in the future. These stand alone hours and days (I call them ‘side-shows’) are really useless. It might pique a child’s interest in the topic, but then what? Can they continue coding on school time? Can they get a loaner laptop from the school to take home and continue coding? Can they skip a math worksheet if they can make the purple alien fly across the screen instead? What is the point of what we are doing now with programming in schools and what goals or problems are we looking to solve? Right now, I believe we are just looking to check the box as more of a PR stunt; “Do your students code?” Yes. We have computer science week because American schools don’t yet see the value in getting ALL students to learn to program. Add the fact that there is no standardized test for it and you can piece together why we’ve failed our children to date.

According to the the recent joint ACM and CSTA report, “Running on Empty”: “In 2009 and 2010, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) conducted a joint study and found that most public schools in the U.S. focus only on the consumer aspects of using computers.”

Meanwhile, here’s a sampling of what schools in the rest world are doing.

In Estonia, the new programming initiative is looking “to turn children from avid consumers of technology into developers of technology.”

In England, the entire computer technology curriculum was redeveloped so students as young as 5 are learning programming skills in the classroom and algorithms. No need for a hour of code there and some fancy posters and political photo-ops.

In Hong Kong, they are looking to have programming taught in at least 20% of the primary schools by 2016.

Even in tech-rich Singapore, they are starting to move towards teaching the little ones how to program. For years, they’ve been like American kids and viewed as just consumers of technology.

There are thousands upon thousands of programming jobs right here in America. A recent search for just one term (computer programming) returns over 58,000 job listings in just one job listing site. Change the search term to app programming, mobile programming, software developer or any other relevant combination and you will find thousands upon thousands of openings. Many of these won’t be filled by Americans. At what point to we seriously look at ourselves and ask why? The American job market has been dubbed as being in bad shape, but improving. All along thousands of ‘high-tech’ positions have remained open and there for the taking. Our society wasn’t ready to fill the need. Our society was (is) still looking for the job descriptions of the 1980s. Will we allow this to happen again in the next version of the worldwide digital revolution? Will our young students be able to develop and create ‘things’ like this:

Forget the hour of code. Really. Do your students and children a favor and give them hours of meaningful coding instead. Weave it into daily school activities. Encourage them to spend less time tapping away at Angry Birds and more time figuring out what makes the birds fly.

Get your students and children learning programming with these resources:
Tynker
HopScotch
Scratch  and ScratchJr
Move the Turtle
Learning to code while playing Minecraft

What Does Unchecked Tech Spending Look Like?

So, here’s why unchecked spending on tech costs taxpayers, teachers, and students. I predict a similar situation in NY after the recent passing of the $2 billion NY Smarter Schools Bond. Are the systems currently in place able to track what will be purchased under that bond? Doubt it. Do your local districts have control over their tech inventory right now? Doubt it. Ask ‘em what their annual IT audits look like. Is everything accounted for? Having been responsible for the audit in a local district many years ago, if only for a brief time since I inherited it as a job task, I can tell you with certainty that most districts can’t match their in-use inventory with actual live databases. Old and outdated equipment is probably equally an inventory mess.

One story from the west coast:
FBI seizes LAUSD iPad documents; 20 boxes carted away in surprise visit
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-fbi-agents-take-ipad-documents-from-la-school-district-20141202-story.html

One story from the east coast and closer to home:
Stringer Audit: New York City Schools Lost Track of Technology
http://observer.com/2014/12/stringer-audit-city-schools-lost-track-of-technology/

The NYC story is even more distressing than the LA one. The audit only checked 10 schools and the actual NYC DOE offices! Imagine if they looked at all 1800 schools. Disgraceful misuse of funds, equipment, and public trust. Plus, how did the prior city comptroller not uncover this? Who the heck does the annual IT audits? But hey, your kids data … that’s safe with us. Don’t worry about this. Data … we got that over here … over maybe here … or there.

Is Giving Up All Your Data Really Worth a $.50 Coupon?

This topic has been on my mind lately and I was so happy this week to catch this post. I will dig into the details of their research a bit more when get the chance arises. For now: Carnegie Mellon Gives Privacy Grade to Android Apps

Here’s the summary –> We are all downloading and installing apps on our devices that have way more access to the info on the device than they actually need in order to function. This includes the Apple fans who need to obtain every new device and app out there, the Google fans who must have the resources of Google at their fingertips, and the schools who rush to get the latest-and-greatest devices and apps in the hands of their teachers and students.

If you use a smart phone, tablet, or any other device that uses apps, do yourself a favor and start to show some concern here. Here’s what you need to do to see how out of control data collection is:

1. Pick the name of a big box store. Make sure it isn’t already an app you have installed on your device.
2. Go into the app store on your device and search for that big box store app.
3. When you find it, read the details of the app permissions. Sometimes you have to touch to install in order to see these permissions. Don’t install it, just read. And read. And read.

Now, you decide if you think the app really needs those permissions. I’ve posted a screen shot below of a popular one. This store needs access to your phone and call logs? The last calls you’ve made? To read your contacts and calendar? Names of connected Wi-Fi devices? Whether a call is active and the remote number connected by the call? Why? Yet, millions of users voluntarily give up this data. Store apps, education apps, game apps … they all want data. And lots of it. Heck, even Plants v. Zombies wants to know if your phone is in a call and the remote number connected by the call. That means when your mom, who doesn’t have a smart phone calls you on yours while you are playing the game, her phone number could be sent to the game manufacturer, EA Inc. No one even questions this nonsense?

DD_app_permissions

Ask yourself if the once a month free coffee you get from the app is worth giving up tons of personal data details from your device including the details of those you may be interacting with on said device. We literally have no idea what is happening with all these newly created data points. Will the data that indicates you ‘check-in’ to a lot of local drinking establishments someday make it’s way to your health insurance provider? When you are using the Maps app in combination with GPS enabled, is data going to one day be sent to your state’s DMV or police department to let them know how fast you drive? If you are ok with this, fine. That’s your call and I will work hard to make sure that data is not misused while you sip your coffee and drive fast. If you aren’t fine with this, great. Join the fight to #ProtectData, especially the data of educators, their students, and their families.

Schools and educators need to step up and start to ask more questions. Stop the rush to get the device and apps and start to figure out why you need them and what you hope to accomplish with them. Review Terms of Service agreements and stop skipping past them. Check app permissions and ask app creators why they have a need for such device access. Find alternatives. Protect student, educator, and family data.

Does Healthcare Data Mirror Education Data

I’ve long predicted the education world will look very similar to the healthcare world in terms of data breaches. The education folks haven’t been learning from the 15 years or so of breaches in the healthcare industry. As education moves very rapidly into the cloud, to mobile devices, to unchecked data collection/sharing/transmission and more, it would be a wise move to slow down for a minute and actually think about this from start to finish.

Why do we collect so much educational data? Who has access to it? Who needs access to it? Why? For how long? How is data destroyed? Who audits the security of said data? Who audits the Terms of Service (TOS) of every 3rd party with access to student information and data? The questions at the moment (many of them unanswered or uncertain) far outweigh the desire for any more data collection, use, and sharing tied to questionable benefits in both short and long term. The “don’t worry, we’ve got this” approach that the data-lovers in the education world take just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Data = money and the education world is the next target.

To borrow a comment from an online post about education data: “And the slew of data breaches gets ignored, and the sale of PII student information continues unabated. When will we wake up to how our children are being used as poker chips in the big gamble for education money.”

Here’s the link that got me thinking some more about this topic:
State data breach numbers sound alarm – Healthcare ranked second worst behind retail in California
http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/state-data-breach-numbers-sound-alarm

NY’s Proposition 3 Passes – Now What?

NY’s $2 Billion Smarter Schools Bond Act passed statewide:

Yes 48.97%  1,806,939 votes
No 30.29%  1,117,639 votes
Blank 20.72%  764,417 votes
Void 0.02%   760 votes

Total statewide votes 3,689,795 out of 10,827,434 active registered voters (approx 34% voter response). Only approx 10% of registered voters marked a Yes on this proposition. Totals as of Wednesday Nov 5 11:30pm

Results from the two counties here on Long Island:
Suffolk
Yes 47.07 %    151,325 votes
No 34.35 %    110,442 votes
Blank 18.56 %    59,669 votes
Void 0.02 %    53 votes
Total votes  321,489 out of  ??

Nassau
Yes  49.84 %    155,187 votes
No  30.66 %    95,446 votes
Blank  19.44 %    60,524 votes
Void 0.06 %    189 votes
Total votes  311,346 out of ??

Once again, a minority of the voting population makes the decisions that impact the majority of us. In the NY City counties of Bronx, Queens, Kings and Manhattan the blanks were even higher varying in the upper 30% to mid 40% range. I feel there should be a 60% minimum needed to pass any statewide proposals (Florida and other states have this threshold).

Here’s what this means for ALL NY’ers.

1. Blanks? Really? 1 in 5 voters did not vote on it statewide. However, 100% of NYers will suffer the long term debt and interest payment for these expenditures. The man filling out his ballot next to me mumbled under his breath “I don’t have time to read all these” after he flipped his ballot over. That’s exactly what the politicians expect and it is exactly what they get. Nearly as many blank votes as No votes is incredible. It impacts every single tax payer. Everyone complains about school taxes being too high and here we have a chance to prevent a massive borrowing scheme used for questionable items that NO DISTRICT ASKED FOR. Only roughly one-third of registered voters even bothered to have their say on the issue. That is very depressing.

2. I’ve documented enough why I felt this bond  should have been voted down. What to do now? Hammer your local district once they release the spending plan for their share of the bond money. Question everything and ask for detail. Find out not just how and why they are buying and building now, but how they plan to pay for it next year, in 3 years, in 5 years and more. For example, if they want to build out classrooms for new pre-K programs, how will they pay for staff, supplies, and more? How many kids are they expecting will fill those rooms? Based on what data that they have? How many pre-K kids do they anticipate they will have in 5 years from now? Etc…

3. Districts are REQUIRED to involve parents (see FAQ posted here). Make sure they do and make sure you have the chance to publicly comment and discuss the expenditures. Send emails so you have a documented paper trail of questions and responses.

4. Hold the districts accountable for the expenditures. In 1, 3, 5 years time make sure they prove the worth of the expenses.

5. These new tech purchases will cement computer based Common Core testing in NY. The state can now move to quickly adopt the PARCC exams. Wait till you see how much these tests will costs districts (and the state) next year and the year after and after. After the dust settles, start to do your own research about PARCC and ask lots of questions of your districts. When they say they are now buying new devices, get them on record as saying they will not be used for testing purposes (or that they will be used for that purpose). Districts across the country have literally bought computers and tablets that are used for nothing more than testing.

6. This vote was actually about an education issue that the people could change. We could have made a difference and prevented a massive amount of financial borrowing. Instead, voter apathy won the day.

7. Governor Cuomo threw this bond, seemingly from out of nowhere, into the state budget in January 2014. No one asked for these funds including the state Board of Regents who only asked for $1million more in the budget for tech spending. So now he got what he wanted even though he recently said this about NY public schools:
““I believe these kinds of changes are probably the single best thing that I can do as governor that’s going to matter long-term,” he said, “to break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies — and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly. The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations — I get it,” Cuomo said. “I feel exactly opposite.”

Problem is that’s not what the teachers have said. At all.

8. Once an expenditure plan is created, start looking into any and all possible data privacy issues associated with any new purchases, subscriptions to online services, contractors, etc.  All the data related questions you’ve heard about over the last two years are in play here with any 3rd party service and vendor. It is finally on everyone’s radar so make it the focus on your research.

Above all, please educate yourself, family, and friends on not just candidates, but the issues and proposals before heading to the polls the next time. A 20% blank rate is not acceptable. Take a stand for or against something and leave your mark.
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References:
http://nyenr.elections.state.ny.us/home.aspx
http://ballotpedia.org/New_York_Bonds_for_School_Technology_Act,_Proposal_3_(2014)
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/10/30/10bond.h33.html
http://www.empirecenter.org/publications/smart-sounded-good-to-62/
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/10/30/10bond.h33.html

Thank You, NY Voters, For Leaving Prop 3 Blank

Thank you to the over 20% of NY voters who chose not to answer the ballot proposition #3. Thanks. Really. Thanks for taking the time to care. I am convinced that the majority of voters had no clue what the proposals were for and what they meant. They read the few sentences and voted yes or left blank based on that little info. That is scary. The pols who put those proposals there know that and they could do anything they wanted and it would most likely pass. Prop 3 will probably pass with under 50% of the vote being yes.

http://nyenr.elections.state.ny.us/home.aspx

Here’s percentages of voters as of 10:45 pm that left Prop #3 blank:
Bronx 42%
Queens 36%
Manhattan 28%
Kings 37%
Rockland 33%
Suffolk 18%
Essex 27%

Thanks again for those blank votes. But I do know this: 100% of voters will be paying for the outcomes of this $2 billion of NEW borrowing you just gave the Governor and his chosen few. You will be paying for this for up to 30 years with over $155 million in interest payments alone every year. This will now officially put NY pretty much at it’s state debt ceiling limit. After all, this was just free money, right? Who says no to that.

And on top of it NY voting numbers and turnout are dismal. Once again a minority of the people making decisions for the majority of us. 2% of NY voters left blank their choice for governor. That’s half as many than voted for Green Party candidate Hawkins.

All politics is local.

(Data from link above as of 11:15pm 11/4/2014)

NY’s Smart Schools Bond Commission Report – Followup Post

First, thank you to all who read and shared my original post about the Nov 4th vote on Governor Cuomo’s Smarter Schools Bond Act.

Gov Cuomo’s Smarter Schools Commission just released a detailed report yesterday (Oct 27, 2014), to the governor, outlining suggestions for spending the bond money … a week before the vote on the bond. I asked my local district last week if they saw the report since the Governor’s Office had previously indicated it would be available this fall. The district did not reply to that question, but I knew they did not see it because last week it did not exist. It does now and in my opinion, the report makes several suggestions that do not appear to jive with the four bullet points listed as items that can be obtained with the grant.

Specifically the new report lists the following 7 “Keys to Success”

1. Embrace and expand online learning which will break down geographic barriers, provide access to the best sources of instruction in the world, and level the playing field for students in rural and smaller school districts.
2. Utilize transformative technologies, such as tablets, laptops, and interactive whiteboards to deliver differentiated instruction tailored to students’ specific abilities and needs that lets them learn and advance at their own pace.
3. Connect every school to high-speed broadband using technology that is capable of scaling up over time and deliver sufficient wireless capability to serve every student.
4. Extend connectivity beyond the four walls of the classroom so students from all backgrounds have equal access to the information superhighway.
5. Provide high-quality, continuous professional development to teachers, principals, and staff to ensure successful integration of technology into the teaching and learning experience.
6. Focus on in-demand STEM skills to ensure that students graduate with 21st century skills.
7. Plan, plan and plan again.

I say #4 and #5 are not listed as items you can obtain via bond money when you compare it against the list available here. Am I wrong?

#6 is even debatable as everything I have read says there are currently too many STEM graduates and not enough STEM jobs (see here and here and here). Plus, in-demand today is not in-demand in say 10 or 20 years. It is a short-sighted approach that panders to certain audiences.

Additionally, I found the example of a shining school on page 16 of today’s report to be suspect. The district mentioned, Colton-Pierrepont Central School District, is a Chromebook district. Chromebooks are Google. Google is Eric Schmidt. Eric is one of the 3 on Cuomo’s Smart Schools Commission who prepared the report and will help determine how funds are used. Here is district mention of their Chromebooks here and here.

Page 33 of the report also lists Clifton Fine Central School District listed as shining example in the box at the top. Also a Chromebook district here.

Showcasing the Chromebook districts in the report is exactly what I, and others, ‘feared’ with Schmidt on the panel. He clearly has an interest in seeing this bond pass. Hold up, as a shining examples, what districts have done with his Chromebooks.

The Mineola School District shows up as another example of districts that are integrating tech. What I found odd about that mention is how this bond will ‘work’ compared to a district’s regular budget process. Here the Superintendent of Mineola details how districts can pay for tech purchases through regular budgets while working with their local BOCES offices. As far as I understand it, that is clearly not what this bond is setup to do.

“How did you afford all of this technology? (from interview here)
There are many ways you can afford to purchase things. We go through our local BOCES, which is a collaborative which allows us to pay for things over time. So we purchase everything on a five-year lease purchase on the end. What that allows us to do is that in year six we can go back to year one and determine do we want to replace everything that we purchased in year one or do we want to buy new technology? But the beautiful thing is that it’s already built into your budget. If you build a budget over time, you won’t feel the massive effect of $100,000 hitting your budget at one time. You can pay for that $100,000 of equipment over five years so it’s only $20,000 hitting your budget at one time. Those methods really make it easy if you plan how you can phase things in.”

Additional points about the report include:

Page 23 lists CK-12 as a resource for Open Educational Resources, which they are. However, one of their technology ‘partners‘ is Google.

Page 30 discusses expanded student broadband access AT HOME! Put taxpayers on the hook for increasing home broadband speeds? Don’t think so. “As was previously discussed, students’ connectivity needs do not end when they walk out of the school building at the end of the day, so districts may consider pursuing community projects that enhance students’ connectivity outside of school as well, including projects that impact public libraries and students’ broadband access at home”.

Also from page 32: “By improving access to reliable, robust and cost-effective broadband in school and at home, we can ensure that New York’s students are prepared for digital learning.” I wasn’t aware that this bond covers improving HOME Internet access. That’s not listed in the talking points from the Governor’s office.

I can’t spend the time to research line-by-line and page-by-page the details in the report. However, I did immediately see this inconsistent wording:

(bottom of p.31): “Over 500,000 households lack access to basic broadband service that meets New York State minimum broadband speed standards.  More than 4.6 million households in New York lack access to broadband speeds of 100 Mbps. Worst of all, five percent of all New York students lack even basic access to the Internet at home, leaving students in these households unable to complete even simple school-related online tasks at home.”

(bottom of p.32): “Addressing broadband gaps not only requires robust broadband networks at the school and home, but also includes affordable broadband service and computer equipment. With more than 6 million New Yorkers not subscribing to Internet services, broadband affordability at home presents a major challenge. In New York State, approximately 30% of students, particularly those from low-income households, are still not connected to the Internet at home.”

Funny, how one can play with data, isn’t it? Which is it 5% or 30% of students don’t have access to the Internet at home?

The jury isn’t out on anything technology related in schools. Not use of mobile devices, interactive white boards, computers in lab settings, etc. This new report mentioned NOTHING of any opposing viewpoint about use of technology in, and out, of schools. The report also fails to show what success might look like. Does getting all this tech mean increased test scores? Guarantee employment? Make for happy and healthy kid and teachers? Define it. The report ends with :”The Commission was charged with advising the State and school districts on how best to invest the proposed $2 billion Smart Schools Bond Act to enhance teaching and learning through technology” (page 49). I think the report suggests using the funds for purposes (professional development and student home Internet access among other questionable items) that are not listed in the bond act proposition.

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Related resources:
https://www.governor.ny.gov/press/10272014-smart-schools-commission
http://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/default/files/SmartSchoolsReport.pdf
http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/223333/smart-schools-commission-releases-report
http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5389-how-bright-smart-schools-bond-act-prop-3
http://nypost.com/2014/10/07/new-yorks-school-bond-boondoggle/
http://www.lohud.com/story/opinion/editorials/2014/10/26/editorial-new-york-proposal-schools-bond-misplaced/17848377/

NY’s $2 Billion Smart Schools Bond Act – My View

Let me go on record as saying that I love technology. I love our public schools. I love adding technology components to school assignments and classwork and learning. I love technology used to solve very specific academic and administrative problems. I love helping my kids prepare for their future and not my past.

Let me add that I am not anti-educational technology, not anti-technology, not anti-preK, and not anti-security. Not one bit.

On November 4th I will be voting no on the $2 billion NY Smart Schools Bond Act. Here’s why.

1. I oppose:
– Money thrown at solutions to problems that don’t exist. In this case we will have state residents paying for ‘things’ that may be needed outside their region.
– Additional money added to our state’s overall debt putting NY really close to the debt ceiling limit.
– Money thrown towards administrators who haven’t expressed a need for the money ahead of time in the form of a plan or rationale for why such money is needed.
– Money borrowed and used to buy technology that will be outdated and in need of upgrades just two or three years after purchase.
– Having to pay millions on interest for the bonds each year that could be better spent on other more pressing educational needs.
– A member of a the appointed state Commission that oversees the distribution of these funds may possibly profit from the spending of bond money.

2. In the related studies section (linked here) and provided by the state as ‘evidence’ that we need this, two of the four links are vendor supported ‘research'; one from guess who, Pearson, and the other from guess who, Gates Foundation. They can’t even find non-vendor, non-interested party, research that warrants this massive expenditure. The state provided zero non-vendor related resources in their measly “Related Studies & News” section. No long term study on the effective use of “interactive white boards”. No needs analysis. No real rationale for why this is needed other than, “…build out schools and classrooms for the 21st Century to ensure that our students graduate with the skills they need to thrive in the economy of today and tomorrow.”

3. Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch is ambivalent about the bond according to recent reports. (Read here) Governor Cuomo threw this proposal into the state budget that passed last January without any consultation with educators. Note the quote here from a recent story about this act: “Even the State Board of Regents, which nearly always recommends at least a billion dollars more per year be spent on schools, only asked for $1 million in additional money for technology for schools.”

“No education group is actively backing the proposal. And many, including the teachers union and the state school boards, have expressed reservations.” (Read here)

4. Tech will be bought and curriculum won’t be adjusted. I mean REALLY adjusted. Not just the technology side-show that takes place in most schools now. Schools have had over 20 years to figure out what to do with technology. Ask yourself this: “What does my child’s school actually do with technology? How is it used to improve student learning and experiences?” I’ve lived this for nearly 20 years working in the ed-tech field. If the plan doesn’t come first, and the devices do, the initiative always fails. What are the pedagogical reasons for requiring more technology? For increasing WiFi access? For getting tablets? Have districts evaluated their use of technology to date? If so, where are both the local and statewide reports? Where is the local report that examines the return on investment to date of any past technology expenditures? Where is the list of schools districts who asked for this money that also outlines how much they requested?

5. Money randomly thrown at technology for the stated purposes of catching our kids up to the rest of the world (whatever that means) rarely works. The most glaring example of this was on the west coast where the LAUFSD school superintendent recently, and abruptly, resigned. Let’s learn from the Los Angles UFSD’s iPad debacle, shall we. I am all for adding more technology into the curriculum when it has a purpose other than test taking or simply “getting students prepared for the competitive world” nonsense that is used as a rationale for these initiatives.  (Read here)

“All told, the nation’s second-largest school system has purchased 109,000 iPads so far; 62,000 contain the Pearson curriculum. It was left off devices purchased late last year for use in state standardized testing. To date, the district has spent $61 million on the iPads, including carts to charge them.” (Read here)

Check out one of the comments on the site here:
“Our principal just sent out a message that we are getting 40 iPads for taking the new smarter balance assessment. They will be not used for anything else and when the children are done with the test we are sending them back. They do not get to practice the assessment on the iPad or use it for anything else. That is an expensive test taking machine. I wonder who’s forward thinking this is.”

That’s the predictable road we are heading towards in New York State.

6. I had a lengthy back and forth email exchange with my local district administrators about it (well one admin … no one else chimed in to date). I’ll give you the short version and frankly the wrong administrator responded. The curriculum admin should have stepped up to explain the need for new tech, not the business admin. I was sent a hastily organized series of documents and files as rationale for why our district needed the funds. It was basically a wish list of needs. Computers are old, we need new ones. Servers and infrastructure are old, we need to update it. A long term investment in pre-k is needed. More high tech security cameras, more WiFi, interactive white boards, projectors, art centers (did not realize that was allowable), publication centers, etc. Bullet points of desires. Nothing in the supplied files sent to me, nor in the email exchange, tied these purchases to increased, or improved, student learning or teaching. I scoured my local district site to try and find a current Technology Plan. There is none publicly posted that could find. I was told there is one and I asked to be sent a copy. Still waiting. I also asked if that plan clearly expressed the need for any and all of these ‘things’ the bond may cover. No response to date.

Also as part of this exchange I frequently mentioned two additional points:
– Since I bought my house in this district (10 years ago) enrollment is down 1150 students.
– I asked for the 1 yr, 3 yr, and 5+ yr costs associated with any new purchases.

No comment from district officials to either point. Enrollment down 1150 students at what $15000 per student cost to educate = $17.2 million savings, right? There’s your money for tech upgrades. The pattern of borrow and spend, borrow and spend all while enrollment is declining must stop.

Summarizing: First, show me the curriculum plan, the research on improved pedagogy, the drive towards creativity and innovation. Then, explain to me what tools you need to get there. Anything else is unacceptable and laced with profit driven motives only.

I will be voting no on this bond. My no vote isn’t a vote against my district. Rather, it is a clear protest against the wrong way to pay for technology. I recommend that districts first develop the plan that outlines how much they need, what they need it for, and what educational goals the expenditures are linked to. The plan must include a multi-year approach to using the technology that includes an upgrade or removal path. Take that plan and present it to your community. Then, take that plan and present it to the state. If warranted, funds are granted, used to implement the plan, oversee the plan, assess the plan, and act accordingly.

Telling my local district you may get a blank check for $11.06 million is absurd. Of course they will try to spend that. Almost every district would. After all it’s free money that grows on trees, right?

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Questions for your local district
I would suggest spacing them out over a few emails to the entire board of ed and the superintendent and any other local admin who may have answers (business, curriculum, testing, technology, …). Also, scour your local district web site to find the documentation that indicates there is a need for more ‘tech money’.

1. What is the plan for spending up to $_____ million as our district allotment from the possible passage of the NY Smarter Schools Bond Act on Nov 4th?
(Find your tally to include on the blank line at the web site here.)

2. Considering enrollment is trending down, why should district residents vote yes/no on this?
(Question obviously used if your local enrollment is trending down … mine is and is on a 10 year spiral down.)

3. What are the short and long terms costs associated with any expenditures made as a result of this bond? What is the cost of the migration and upgrade both in the immediate first year of install, the 3-yr projected cost to maintain and upgrade (e.g., those 1000 new computers will need a memory upgrade by year 3 … I’ll discount the memory upgrade at that time to $40 a computer x 1000 = $40,000 plus time for technicians to install it), and then 5-year projected cost which is exactly where the NEXT upgrade path will begin. Do the math on all these costs for each server, switch, backup system, etc. that need to upgraded now. What is the 1-yr, 3-yr, and 5-yr cost for training, maintenance and support, then the upgrade path for the replacement of this new tech?

4. As stated here: “Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, the Smart Schools Commission will lead a research effort into best practices into technology-enabled education and broadband connectivity efforts. In preparation for the Commission’s final report that will be developed in Fall 2014, we will invite local and national experts to present best practices for the Commission’s consideration over the coming months at public symposiums and Commission meetings.”

Has the district received this report? Have any district administrators attended these public symposiums and Commission meetings?
(I’ve not been able to find the “Commission’s final report” posted online. There are three presentations from public forums at the link above, but no final report.)

5. Have you had any discussion with parents about this bond and how the money could be spent? If so, are there public records of this?
(The FAQ posted at the link above clearly states schools must discuss this with their community.)

6. Is the district concerned that one of the three Commission members selected by Governor Cuomo, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, has a clear interest in seeing this pass since his company could easily benefit financially from any purchases made as a result of bond spending?

7. Are you concerned that in each of the three public events listed on the web site above, there was no speaker who opposed the use of technology in the classroom? Shouldn’t we hear from both sides before asking taxpayers for this amount of money? Shouldn’t we see verifiable research that this is both needed and useful?
(That leads me to the next question …)

8. Where is the verifiable, non-vendor specific, research that indicates OUR district and students need more “… interactive whiteboards, computer servers, and desktop, laptop, and tablet computers?”

9. What are the specific educational goals you feel the district will reach with the purchase of these new devices that you just can’t obtain without them?

10. How will curriculum be adjusted to integrate the new high-tech purchases?

11. Is this bond driven by the fast statewide move towards PARCC? Do you know if the purchase of any new technology from this bond will be used to administer computer based testing? If so, how much?
(Yet another NEW high stakes testing system…this time one that is computer/tablet based. Read more here.)

12. Where is the local report that examines the ‘return on investment’ to date of any past technology expenditures?
(This is a big question in my opinion because I’ve not yet seen a district have this kind of report. How can you ask for money of anything before first seeing if what you last purchased is actually working and you have evaluated it’s effectiveness?)

13. If the district wants to use the bond for pre-K, there are a whole host of other questions: What does the pre-K program look like now and how will the bond change the picture of it? How many new students will the bond cover? Does it cover costs associated with staffing pre-K? If not, how much will that cost and where will the money come from? Are classrooms going to be reconfigured? If so, how many? Are students going to be shuffled to new buildings? Buildings going to close, open, etc.? How many pre-K students will be accommodated?

14. Does every single classroom need an interactive white board? If so, based on what non-vendor supplied educational research? If only a few classrooms would ‘need’ these boards, which ones? Did teachers specifically ask for them or are administrators deciding the classes need them? How about for the tablets?
(Question obviously used if the district has made it clear they desire interactive white boards and tablets.)

15. Same is true about any stated desire to “incorporate wireless technology in buildings.” For what purpose, a BYOD initiative? What will connect to that expanded WiFi access? Will WiFi be installed only to then be secured and locked down so students can’t use their devices on it? Or teachers as well? Who is asking for an expansion is WiFi? What does WiFi look like now and what do you hope it will look up with acquisition of this bond money? What are the stated educational goals and objectives for needing expanded WiFi? Will there be public access to use of WiFi for open meetings, concerts, sporting events, and other events where the public use the facilities outside of regular school hours? You get the point.

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Related resources:
http://ballotpedia.org/New_York_Bonds_for_School_Technology_Act,_Proposal_3_(2014)
https://www.diigo.com/user/the999ers/Smart_Schools_Bond_Act

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