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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