Not in the Education World

I’m not sure if this story is a reflection on the political nature of education reform or on the superficiality of MOOC.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education is offering three MOOCS — massive open online courses — with “convenient, self-paced modules to accommodate busy schedules” to help you do more to “advance and effectively implement trending reforms.”

So, who are the wise and experienced educators leading these courses?

Along with [Joel] Klein, the former chancellor of New York City public schools, and [John] King, the former New York State education commissioner who is now a top adviser to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, you will hear from people including John White, Louisiana state superintendent of education; Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Bush foundation, who sent the e-mail announcement; and Greg Hughes, Utah Speaker of the House. The 18 people shown on the foundation Web site who are involved in the courses come from the policy and legislative (and not the education) world. [my emphasis]

That “not in the education world” part pretty much summarizes the entire approach to education reform in this country.

Educational Gimmicks

Remember when the superintendent for Los Angeles Unified School District had big plans to give an iPad to all 640,000 of their students?

Well, they have a new superintendent.

“I don’t believe we can afford a device for every student,” Cortines told the Los Angeles Times, “Education shouldn’t become the gimmick of the year.” Cortines added that LAUSD had never made a definitive plan for how teachers would have used the iPads during instruction, nor had it planned how it was going to pay for the tablets over time.

I’m not sure what he means by education “becoming” the gimmick of the year since, for as long as I can remember, we’ve had a new gimmick almost every year. Sometimes more than one.

And that gimmick was often some kind of technology, distributed with vague plans for instructional use, and no sustainable funding plan.

Lacking Leadership

Here in the overly large school district we are having a big argument over the use of Chromebooks. But the merits of that particular device is a discussion for another post. This particular rant concerns the huge leadership vacuum we have around here when it comes to the larger issue of instructional technology.

The Chromebook conflict involves our little group in the instruction department, many of our school-based trainers, and some of our principals versus the IT department. And, as is usually the case in conflicts like this, IT prevails. Not because they have solid research or compelling facts or even good anecdotal evidence on their side. No, what IT has is a leader willing and ready to express a vision for the place for technology in our educational process.

That the IT vision is a very narrow one, incorporating educational clichés often drawn from tech industry publications, and skewed towards what is most convenient for their technicians to set up and manage is totally irrelevant. When an instructional technology issue is raised in our system, their leaders are most often the people called to respond, the people who jump in front of the microphones to answer the questions. The IT voice is the one that fills the silence.

So where are our leaders on the instructional side? The ones with actual teaching and school administration experience who are supposed to represent the needs of teachers, students, and schools?

When it comes to a vision for technology in teaching and learning, we find that huge leadership vacuum. The superintendent, her deputy super, and other assorted members of her “leadership” team offer nice phrases about “21st century” this and that, they’re concerned about inequity, suggesting that we need programs like 1-1 computing, and they rave over photo-op sidebars like BYOD.

What they lack, however, is any kind of cohesive, clearly articulated concept of the place of technology for instruction. How all the devices and connectivity, on which we already spend tens of millions of dollars a year, might alter and improve the traditional educational process. Where should we be heading in the future.

Certainly we have teachers, school administrators, and others of us who are trying to shake things up, attempting to fill in the empty space and articulate some forward-looking ideas. And that kind of grassroots, guerrilla-style approach to leadership can be very effective, especially in a large bureaucratic structure. But it’s also a slow, scattered, largely unfocused approach to changing a system that is in love with it’s past successes, and which values inertia over almost everything else.

Ok, so none of my ravings here are meant to disparage the people in our IT department, most of whom are nice, very talented people doing a great job with the given resources. But the bottom line is that IT should not be making final decisions on what tools and techniques are used in the classroom. It should be the job of our instructional leaders, beginning with a clear definition of our instructional needs.

If they would only accept their responsibility.

More Than a Mission

Lots of companies and organizations have mission statements, the people at Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, have written a creed for themselves instead.

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

Over the years, I’ve been involved with writing more than a few mission statements for schools, offices, departments, and districts. However, with a few edits, that Automattic creed would be a great replacement for one of those bland collections of nice phrases strung together, assembled by committee and saying little of substance.

I especially like that their creed is about the members of the community, rather than a statement from the building.

Twitter Droppings

Being a small collection of links from my Twitter posts of the past week that deserve a few more than 140 characters.

Last week Google announced that HTML 5 would be the default format for all videos on YouTube. Most YouTube have no idea what that means (or the explanation in the post) but in the larger picture of the web, it’s good news. And one more sign that Flash is dying as a media distribution format, which can’t come fast enough for those who do understand since the technology is still buggy after all these years, not to mention a major security hole.

After last weekend’s Super Bowl, no one should be surprised that the NFL has annual revenues of $9.5 billion. What should shock you, not to mention the people leading this country, is that they are still a tax-exempt nonprofit organization. And it gets worse when you add in the billions of subsidies from state and local taxpayers that are used to pay for stadiums and other team facilities. “You really couldn’t ask for a better symbol of everything that’s wrong with US predatory capitalism.” Indeed!

Last week, the FCC decided to make some changes to reclassify internet service providers (like Verizon and Comcast) as “common carriers” under something called Title II. What does that mean to most of us who use the internet? David Weinberger asked an expert and their explainer is well worth a read. The issue is not that complicated but this is a major change that goes a long way to maintaining a “neutral” internet.

And finally, Fast Company speculates on why introverts are the best networkers on Twitter. I’m not sure I buy the premise, but much of the advice in the article could still apply to working with introverted students. And with helping everyone make the best use of social media.