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EdTech Update





Low income families and Internet access: Connectivity is not enough

Computers and online connectivity are becoming increasingly important to ensuring that educational opportunity is open to all children, regardless of their economic status. Whether it is keeping up with school assignments and tracking grades; selecting an appropriate new school; watching tutorials on how to complete a math problem; researching papers and typing essays; investigating colleges and financial aid opportunities; looking for local after-school activities and community resources; or taking advantage of educational software, games and videos—digital tools have become key components of children’s education.


Most low- and moderate-income families have some form of Internet connection, but many are under-connected, with mobile-only access and inconsistent connectivity. Nine in ten (94%) families have some kind of Internet access, whether through a computer and Internet connection at home, or through a smart mobile device with a data plan. Even among families below the poverty level, nine in ten (91%) are connected in some way. However, many lower-income families are under-connected. For example, one quarter (23%) of families below the median income level and one third (33%) of those below the poverty level rely on mobile-only Internet access. And many experience interruptions to their Internet service or constrained access to digital devices. Among families who have home Internet access, half (52%) say their access is too slow, one quarter (26%) say too many people share the same computer, and one fifth (20%) say their Internet has been cut off in the last year due to lack of payment. Among families with mobile-only access, three in ten (29%) say they have hit the data limits on their plan in the past year, one-quarter (24%) say they have had their phone service cut off in the past year due to lack of payment, and one fifth (21%)

Rideout and Karz Opportunity for all? Technology and learning in lower income families. Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, Winter 2016.

Like most districts, our school district is increasingly providing learning resources and activities online. These for our district include:

Thankfully, I thought, our student surveys indicated that about 95% of our families had home Internet access. For others we are providing hotspots and 3G enabled Chromebooks for check-out and strategizing other ways to increase student access to Internet connectivity outside of school (See Helping Close the Digital Divide, Educational Leadership, February 2015)

Yet now this striking report from the Joan Gantz Cooney Center indicates our work may be just be beginning in creating equal digital learning opportunities for all our students. It's not enough to have a phone with a data plan at home, broadband and access to a more robust device is crucial as well.

Increasingly we are also becoming aware that some of our immigrant families may need special help in getting online when only English directions and instructional materials are available. Close collaboration of the technology department and cultural liaisons is needed to make sure households for which English is not the first language can take advantage of the digital resources we provide.

Over the past few years, I have been amazed by how teachers have extended their classrooms beyond the traditional 50 minute, single lesson. Using video lessons to "flip" the classroom, organizing and differentiating materials using the learning management system, and providing voluntary free reading materials through collections of e-books have grown learning opportunities immensely.

But we need to make sure that these opportunities are available to every child. Not just some.



A guide for new users of men's rooms

Of all the non-issues that the MN legislature could be addressing, who pees in what bathroom seems to be one of the all time dumbest. Our roads are crumbling, our schools need funding, and our rivers and lakes are getting greener by the year. Yet our lawmakers are worried that the wrong person might, what, see something he or she ought not to see when using a bathroom? If I wanted this sort of legislative thinking I'd move to North Carolina or Wisconsin.

Personally, I think people should go wherever they please. Growing up a farm kid, the entire outdoors was pretty much a place to "take a leak." One modestly stood behind a tree or building or at least turned one's back if others were present. I believe my grandsons' potty training was successful in part because they found it more fun to pee outdoors at Grandpa's house on the lake than in their diapers (especially off the deck).

I still have no qualms about using a women's rest room (single use facility only) when some idiot seems to have taken up permanent residence in the men's room. My prostate is now 60+ years old and it sometimes lacks patience. I have been using the all-gender bathrooms at Macalester College when attending meetings there for nearly a year. I don't think doing so has done me any emotional damage.

So for anyone who reads this blog and does not regularly use men's restrooms (and for Minnesota legislators, I guess), let me describe a rigorous etiquette that I and most men follow, just so you commit no faux pas should you decide to use one:

  • Never use a urinal directly beside one already in use (See the Urinal Man Quiz).
  • Always look straight ahead or directly downward when at the urinals.
  • Never, under any circumstance, talk to another person while urinating.
  • Make as little commotion in the stalls as possible when doing other business.
  • Courtesy flush when necessary

You're welcome for the guidance. And as far as I'm concerened, you are welcome to use the men's room. Just don't take up permanent residence in a stall when there's a line.

Oh, I am not aware of similar laws governing the use of women's or unisex bathrooms, other than put the seat back down and aim precisely. Guidance?

An aside: At the local YMCA the men's and women's locker rooms are side-by-side and their entrances look exactly the same except for the small placard indicating the gender to which they have been assigned. I've caught myself on more than one ocassion nearly entering the wrong locker room by accident. This happened to an older woman last winter when she came full bore right into the men's locker room by mistake, where as usual, there were a bunch of us old farts in various states of undress. The woman was horrified and her plight was made even worse when a geezer near the entrance stood up buck naked and turned to her and asked gruffly, "See anything you like, baby?" I'm guessing that the poor woman may still be plagued by nightmares.


My "gap" year

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Growing evidence also shows that a structured “bridge year” can be a game-changer for low-income students by helping them develop the growth mindset and grit associated with college persistence and completion. "Don't Send Your Kids to College. At Least Not Yet." Abigal Falik, NY Times, April 5, 2016.

Falik argues that all students should have a "gap" year between finishing high school and starting college. Citing high college dropout rates, ever increasing amounts of incurred college debt, and few employer-valued skills on graduation, she suggests:

What if college freshmen arrived on campus not burnt out from having been “excellent sheep” in high school, but instead refreshed, focused and prepared to take full advantage of the rich resources and opportunities colleges have to offer?

And this could happen if students took a "structured" year away from school. It's a great idea.

I took a "gap" year. It wasn't structured. It wasn't spent backpacking across Europe. And it was between my freshman and sophomore years of college rather than between high school and college. But it taught me a lot.

In 1971, the summer after my college freshman year, I had lined up a job driving a silage truck in Vermillion, South Dakota, the home of the University of South Dakota where I was attending school. I was married, poor, and putting myself through school. Not working was not an option. The second day on the job I wrecked the truck and the small building I crashed into and was instantly unemployed. The only other job I could find was working as a hod carrier for my wife's kind-hearted uncle in Ft. Collins, Colorado. I liked Colorado and instead of returning to school that fall, I decided to keep working that calendar year so I could get in-state tuition at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

That was my "gap" year - working construction, delivering furniture, and eventually driving a laundry truck for a nursing home chain. All tough, manual jobs, that paid minimum wage (except for the construction). I dropped 20 pounds the first two weeks working construction. I ate two suppers each night. I learned to like beer and to swear like, well, a construction worker. I learned to budget money. I learned to do self-repairs on my cars. I learned how to file my income taxes and pay doctor bills. I learned how to have a good time without spending much money in the process.

But the biggest lesson I learned that was that I did not want to be a laborer all my life. I looked at the "old" guys on the construction crew who were probably in their early 30s and swore that at their advanced age I would not be shoveling sand, setting scaffolding, or thawing frozen water tanks. I realized that an education did not just open doors, allowed one to escape a kind of prison created by a lack of education.

When I went back to school in the fall of 1973, I was a new father, a full-time student, a full-time delivery driver, and an assistant apartment manager. And I went from being a C student to being an A student with a career path.

The gap year worked its magic on me.