In the very kind essay Living in Constant Fear, Miguel Guhlin reflects on my last post and the difficulty of making changes in education. Read it now. It's OK, I'll wait...
At the end of the post, Miguel suggests:
While Doug is writing about the challenges he faces, I'd like to see him write about how he created the sense of urgency to bring about the changes he's referring to. . .
I don't like being the bearer of bad tidings, Miguel, but I am rarely able to bring a sense of urgency to technology-related projects in the district. I can't think of any pedagogical changes* that have ever risen to the level of urgent in our schools - including those involving technology.
We are putting out no fires with either IWBs or GoogleApps.
In fact our district, like many, suffers from the "good standing in the way of the great" syndrome. We are good enough. We graduate enough kids, satisfy enough parents, make AYP in enough of our schools. We are prudent, traditional and safe. We neither soar to great heights nor dip to great lows. No one is in jeopardy of losing his or her job because of poor student performance.
Most of the projects I undertake would fall under Quadrant II - Important, Not Urgent in Stephen Covey's Time Management Matrix:
And the "not urgent" bit makes them difficult to accomplish. A collaborative writing tool? Interesting, but we've gone for years without one. Engagement with an interactive program on the white board? Nice gimmick, I suspect.
I sense little "urgency" in any facet of public education:
- No one is rewarded or punished because of test scores or other measures. Nobody's salary is based on student achievement. (When this is suggested, educators howl. And given the kind of metrics popularly used to determine student achievement, there is justification for concern.)
- There is little local educational competition to pull students (and their funding dollars) away from public schools. Most parents cling to neighborhood schools regardless of overall performance. Students en masse have not moved to online classes.
- It will be years and years before our graduates discover they may not have the skills they need for a changed world. And by then, K-12 will have post-secondary to blame for this.
- Old computers, old programs, blocked websites, inadequate networks, computer illiterate teachers, and traditional teaching methods are just not a major concern for school administrators. Hey, lecture/textbook/seatwork was good enough for me as a kid...
About the only "urgent" thing in most schools is getting rid of those damn trouble makers who advocate for change - or make the rest of staff look bad when the kids are engaged and enjoying learning.
Sorry, Miguel. This turned out a little more cynical than I wanted. But don't count on "urgency" as a mover in educational change. I suspect were a kid's hair on fire, for most educators it would take at least a couple studies, a few Education Week op-eds, and maybe a Ning discussion or two before they are firmly convinced that while something needs to be done, there is no consensus on just what it ought to be...
* Administrative changes, usually brought about by state or national testing/reporting mandates, are often urgent. This is why I've long argued for state/national requirements ala NCLB for information/technology literacy.