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« What gets tested, gets taught | Main | Lobbying for spare change - or real change? »
Monday
Jan092006

Loose change or real change - follow-up

Good to see a little reaction to yesterday's posting that suggested our professional organizations lobby for required information/tech skills at the national level - possibly as a part of a revised, renewed NCLB.

John Pederson at pedersondesigns asked:

... Here’s my concern though. Let’s assume that things are covered competently at Doug’s super macro level…these organizations magically become hugely successful at lobbying for the “4th R”. For the sake of argument, lets say that the feds step in and rewrite NCLB to mandate the perfect “4th R”. Now it’s time to retool our teachers with these skills.

Retooling ISTE’s lobbying agenda = X number of years.
Retooling NCLB = Y number of years.
Retooling teachers = Z number of years.

X+Y+Z = ? Ok, some of this will overlap…let’s just call this number N.
This “new information environment” is about 15 years old. Is N <, =, or > the time it took for things to develop? How many more shifts will occur over the next 5-10 years? Do we have the attention, organization, and sense of urgency at this time to figure all of this out? If “we” (those reading this) answer yes, how about the 99% of others involved in education?

Chris Harris of Infomancy fame, left a good comment on the Blue Skunk yesterday as well as writing on John's blog:

David Warlick and I had a conversation about this when he was up in my region doing a workshop last June. His question was how can we get the ball rolling?

The problem is it turns into a chicken and egg thing. The administrators won't look at it until the state tells them to. The state won't address it until congress tells them to. Congress doesn't move without lobbyists pushing an issue. Educational lobbyists won't push an issue that isn't being called for by the teacher unions. Teacher unions aren't looking at anything but testing. There is no technology test in NCLB. Nothing but NCLB tested subjects is being taught. Teacher prep schools only cover what is being taught. ARGH!!!

I hate to be negative, but it looks like we stick in the viscious circle until something REVOLUTIONARY breaks us out of it. Probably it will be the students leaving the schools and pursuing other educational opportunities a'la Cluetrain.

Doug quoted Dorothea of Caveat Lector as she ranted about the ALA's lack of responsiveness to modern issues. These large organizations are, by their nature, typically rather conservative and slow-moving beasts. CAN these organizations lobby for what we need and in the way we need?

And Tom Hoffman over at Ed-Tech Insider writes:

I hate this idea so much I don't know where to start.

and

I will fight this idea until my dying breath. 

Damn,  I had no idea making Tom mad could be so much fun! Deep breaths, Tom, deep breaths...

I'll admit, the plan is not perfect. I am no fan on NCLB or standardized tests. Yes, I wish we could wave a magic wand and tomorrow change the face of education.

But I still believe:

  1. Information and technology skills will not be taught (even at a rudimentary level) by all teachers to all kids until they are mandated, by either the state or feds.
  2. Standardized testing is the accountability measure du jour. I would prefer performance based assessments, but they are messy. I was very encouraged by the work done by ETS on its online ICT Literacy Assessments.  Perfect -no. Better than what most of us are doing now (which is nothing in terms of assessing student mastery of ICT skills) - yes.
  3. Change can happen quickly. Bush just did a ceremony marking the fourth year anniverary of NCLB TODAY. Where might we be four short years from now with some dedicated political action? Where will we be without getting political? Waiting until the system is so broken that "revolutionary" change occurs? What happens to all those kids in the system who need these skills.
  4. As imperfect as they may be, professional organizations are still our best means of influencing state and national educational policy (short of bribery, of course). If every professional joined, they'd have a lot more $$ to spend on lobbying efforts, as well as good minds working on strategy.
  5. I have yet to read a better idea of how to jump start the effort that all students have 21st Century Learning Skills than mine. Nanny, nanny, boo, boo.

One of my favorite quotes is from a little book called Never Confuse a Memo with Reality by Richard Moran. He writes, “Never take a problem to your boss without some solutions. You are getting paid to think, not to whine.” If I have one grump about the blogosphere it's that we have plenty of people pointing out problems, but I don't hear many solutions being advanced. Even imperfect ones.

I'm delighted to consider any disagreements with a solution to a problem I suggest. It would just be refreshing to have a better solution accompany those sentiments. We have a hell of a lot better minds than mine working here. How do we make sure all kids have 21st century skills?

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Reader Comments (7)

Well, for starters we could elect some Democrats this year.
January 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman
I agree with your goals, Doug, but not your means. Standards and Accountability are not the answer. (I would have send you a trackback ping, but couldn't find a link.) My thoughts are on http://www.speedofcreativity.org/?p=629
January 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWesley Fryer
Doug,

Three ideas came to mind as I read through your recent posts and their comments. One is that although performance/production based assessment is messy, messy is what teachers do. Certainly multiple-choice/true-false assessments have always been a convenient crutch to many teachers. But project-based/product-based teaching, learning, and assessment were much easier to implement before high-stakes testing. The critical change is that communities have lost confidence in their teachers (for no good reason), and education has begun to lose confidence in itself. I think that we need to empower teachers and then turn education back over to them, the experts.

Idea number two (and this is actually a barrier) is that education reform is not part of the public dialog right now. Citizens, going about their lives, do not think much or talk about schools and classrooms. We're pretty comfortable with our own memories of our classroom experiences (happy or not), and do not see the connection between what and how children are being taught and the rapidly changing world that we are all trying to adapt to. We, educators, need to get the conversations going. I think that our school and classroom web sites are our best opportunity, but we need to work out what that would look like.

This last idea concerns me greatly, though I usually get really blank and confused stares when I suggest it. Of all aspects of the education community, the one group that is in the most powerful pivotal point are our students. One day, I'm afraid that they are just going to say, "No!". "I'm not going to take your tests any more." "I'm not going to read your ancient textbooks any more." "I'm not going to listen to your boring lectures, fiddle with your ridiculous worksheets, or worry over your irrelevant grades any more."

Many of the students in our classrooms today have absolutely no tie with the 20th century. They have lived their entire formative lives in the new century. They and most of their older brothers and sisters are true millennials. They have only one direct and obvious tie to the previous century -- their classrooms -- and I don't know how long they are going to put up with it.

Think about IM speak, the abbreviated text that students use when they are messaging each other. We mostly disregard it and blame these habits on declining interest in proper language usage. But think about it. These kids have invented a new grammar, one that is perfect for this new avenue of communication that their generation identifies so much with. ...and they did it in collaboration. We would have established a committee of standards to create new grammar rules, then spend years teaching the new rules in our classrooms in the same boring ways that we have for centuries. These kids did it on their own. This is so impressive and indicate so much power of networking, that it almost scares me. It's like a horse. As long as the horse thinks you're stronger than he is, then you're OK. But as soon as the horse realizes that the balance goes the other way, then look out! I'm looking out!

2ยข Worth!
January 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Warlick
One way I started was to head on over to Warlick's Hack the System Wiki ( http://davidwarlick.com/wiki-warlick/index.php?title=Hack_the_System ) to do a little editing and adding to David's talking points for change. The edit history for that page is looking a bit sparse...
January 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher Harris
Doug,

Have we identified the groups of students NOT getting Information Literacy skills? My bet is that if the wealthier schools weren't getting what they deserved in this area, then and only then, would the laws change. I'd also venture a guess to say that poorer schools can't even entertain the thought of a digital classroom or T1 line for that matter. No?
January 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteramy
Hi Amy,

Without state-wide expectations and assessment, there is no way to answer a question like "who is getting these skills and who isn't."

The e-rate program had given Internet connectivity to 90% of schools. That can be verified. I might guess due to Federal and state grants aimed at poorer schools. They've been some of the big investors in computer courseware related to reading, writing and math.

All the best,

Doug
January 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson
I think that many parents don't even realize that their students should be getting information literacy skills training in their schools. I work in a very large district which does not value libraries or librarians. We have 6 elementary schools and one "district library coordinator" for those six libraries which are run by aides. There is no written Information Literacy curriculum.

In my building I am struggling to get teachers who are willing to work with me after years of a librarian who didn't want students in the library because they kept him from planning what would happen that afternoon at football practice.

I graduated from this district, so I've got a relatively long "view" of the situation despite the fact that I'm only in my second year here. In high school, I was so turned off by the library/librarian (even though I was an avid reader) that I did not enter the library after my freshman year, except with an English class each year who brought us to look at literary criticism.

I see little advocacy for use of the rich resources we have access to through state contracts. I know that some of my colleagues think that it's okay that the students "prefer to use Google" and don't encourage, much less require use of our PowerLibrary before moving on to the WWW. I am working on this in my individual building, and I do have teachers who will make the PowerLibrary a requirement, but once the kids leave me, they're on their own.

While we're not a wealthy district, I do believe that many think we are based simply on size. I also know that unless things change, our students will end up farther and farther behind.

I have to agree with you Doug, unless it's mandated, it won't happen. At least not here.
January 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKim

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