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– Money borrowed and used to buy technology that will be outdated and in need of upgrades just two or three years after purchase.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?

_____________________

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.

________________________
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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2 Comments

  1. Thank You, NY Voters, For Leaving Prop 3 Blank | The "999"ers: Something is not right.
  2. NY’s Smart Schools Bond Commission Report – Followup Post | The "999"ers: Something is not right.

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