Thoughts On An Educational Technology Plan

In reference to this article,  I believe the 2010 National Educational Technology Plan is a good general approach and should not be over-politicized.  It seems to be moving the ball in the right direction.  The educational community should use it for the good parts and reconsider anything that doesn’t seem to work.  Far better to keep the dialog going than to throw stones as so many seem to do.

I concur that a rubric is a good approach.  KISS and Keep It Positive, Productive, and Collaborative.  Rubrics are good at pointing the way toward increasing improvement.

I also believe, in relation to concerns that technology is moving too fast to respond to or manage, that we can’t lose sight of what the technology is supporting, i.e., learning and development.  If we keep that in mind, I don’t believe any technology will come along that we can’t handle by first considering how it will affect learning, and student/teacher engagement, motivation, and collaboration.

Finally, technology goes well beyond the classroom and standards should be set for administrative use, as well as parental, community, and industry/academic use in support of K-12 learning.  We’re only scratching the surface on the ways that technology can work to support our nation’s next leaders.

Testing and Being Data-Driven, For Improvement

I’m a passionate person. If you’ve attended any of our committee meetings when I have poured forth, you know. I care deeply and sometimes I can overdo it. It’s who I am.

I want to expand on comments I made at our last Educational Affairs meeting wherein I was pretty adamant that we needed to study the data from our recent PSSA testing reports carefully, to include a significant amount of correlative analysis that could bring more insight into what the data is telling us. My comments ran long, so I cut it off.

There are loads of news reports and commentaries about testing these days sparked by the LA Times and their efforts to publicize specific teacher performance. I see that article as mostly a waste of time, almost completely missing the point of testing and not focusing on the right use of test data. The only benefit has been in promoting separate productive discussion on testing. For such a rational discussion of this story see this post by John Merrow, Education Correspondent for the PBS NewsHour.

I want to expand on my comments, first, by saying that I do not see test data as a way to punish or evaluate any person or group based on a single year’s results. These tests are just not that good. There are too many factors that can come into play in any given year to allow for such a short term consequence. This lesson I’ve learned both from extensive mathematical training and good old hard knocks. So I’ll set aside any interpretations of the data that might drive any short term conclusion or action. Instead, let’s focus on all the good this testing can do.

In my comments, I indicated that the data can be correlated with a number of factors such as school conditions, teaching team factors, and even teachers, so I want to also note my intent with such correlations.

First, these correlations should only be done across multiple years, perhaps 5 or more, in order to remove obvious statistical population factors and to focus on the important long term trends. Even this may be too short of a timeframe given that various conditions can change that may influence the analysis. For most things, it would seem to be a reasonable time period to consider.

Next, these analyses should be used to identify areas for improvement. There are plenty of things that can be done to improve and, if analyzing data helps us to focus and prioritize our efforts and resources, then doing some homework is worth the effort.

Also, my list of correlations can be expanded quite extensively to include multiple subgroups within the data that are related to non-prejudicial characteristics of various populations. Subgroups can be based on being new to our district, new to a school, new to a curriculum, etc., as well as the obvious subgroups of ethnicity and socioeconomics that are already included in most analyses. Again, only with a focus on what can be learned and improved on.

Finally, once we have the data, we should spend very little time praising or lamenting any immediate annual results and focus on the long term trend analyses they support. On this point, I hope to see much more work done and will support further analysis so that we can be data-driven toward a productive end…making our schools better and better every year. We have the data.

Transparency – Part 2

Transparency demands are here to stay. This is certainly not lost on me, nor on many other parents and taxpayers across the country. Rather than stew about it or worry that my actions on the board will somehow raise the ire of some watchdog group, I’m really trying to understand what transparency is and how I can be a positive force in making demands for transparency a positive force in educating me on issues and making everything I do effective, whether or not I’m being watched or not. This is the most basic idea of transparency – that there is a fundamental ethical responsibility to be transparent whether or not someone or some group demands it.

I’ve previously written some initial thoughts on this topic and I continue to read about it. There are some excellent resources on the web and in that arcane format, books. For reference, you only need to search for such topics as “school watchdog”, “school whistleblower”, or “school transparency” to find countless examples of stories and sites that reflect extent to which transparency is on the minds of concerned citizens and in the news media. There are many good issues being explored or exposed. It’s fun and educational reading. And frankly, I’m glad I’m not the focus of some of these groups. (At least, not that I know of.)

But I believe the reason I am not yet is that we have a district that responds quickly to concerns with a free flow of information and data to support questions or concerns. Our leadership “gets it” that to do otherwise is both wrong and dangerous. Most of us know very specific examples where the choice to be or not be transparent resulted in dramatically different results (Think about Watergate, Tylenol, or Toyota). Transparency, honesty, and trustworthiness ALWAYS win the day and, as information becomes easier to distribute, the ease of being transparent removes any rationale against it. (Here I’d like to applaud our Board’s decision to discussion land use strategies openly during public committee meetings. Executive privilege is a right of Boards, not a requirement.)

My main concern with some watchdog groups that I see is that they spend so little time actually researching facts, participating in public discourse, or making themselves a part of constructive improvement — choosing simply to throw stones, which is easy. Their actions seem to cause others to disengage, as well.

America was founded on discourse, debate, and on the transparent sharing of goals and objectives. Any action that causes the public to disengage with their communities or to feel they are being left out is an action that is counter to building the strength and resilience of our community. We HAVE to understand each other’s perspectives and we have to get our facts straight to do so. This begins with transparency, but ends with a goal to share ideas and strategies on what to do about those facts, then to move forward… together.