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EdTech Update





Show me the data...

“The final result is that technology aids our thoughts and civilized lives, but it also provides a mind-set that artificially elevates some aspects of life and ignores others, not based upon their real importance but rather by the arbitrary condition of whether they can be measured scientifically and objectively by today’s tools.” Donald Norman, Things That Make Us Smart, 1993.

I was struck by an LM_Net  posting yesterday from Brenda a librarian who was asked for  library "data" by her teachers to support what sounds like a building improvement plan. Brenda was, to say the least, frustrated and angered by the request. She finally asks:

Does anyone have recommendations for good "library skills" books with lots of reproducibles, so I can collect plenty of mostly meaningless data for these teachers?

"Proving" the effectiveness of any program, resource or method in education with empirical data is both difficult and dubious - and as a result, frustrating. Perhaps it's time we as practicing educators stop wasting time on data gathering and go back to using our common sense and hearts to determine what is worth having in schools and what is not. How DID we get hoodwinked into buying into the "if you can't count it, it ain't valued" mentality?

Keith Lance has done a great job using regressive data analysis in showing correlations between good library programs and higher test scores. But the true empiricists won't be convinced. (Correlation is tricky - mother's level of education, amount of green space surround a school, etc. have also  been noted as "predictors" of educational success.) Ross Todd's Ohio study is a lovely collection of anecdotes and an important work. But again, many a researcher is happy to remind you that "the plural of anecdote is not data." Yes, of course, I will use the numbers from the Lance and Todd and other state studies with decision-makers when ever I can. It's the best we have and the best we can do for those who want empirical data.

I know of no reliable way at a district or building level of determining whether a good library, library program or librarian causes test scores to go up. (Or a technology implementation.) What school is willing to give half their students library experiences and half not for an extended number of year, ruling out all other possible variables in order to do a true controlled study? What building is willing to try only one new thing a year to improve test scores? Who has the statistical knowledge at a building level to determine whether  a change is significant?

Yes, it doesn't hurt to collect and report some numbers to let our administrators know that we are doing more than napping behind the magazine rack - circulation numbers, number of library visits, number of collaborative units taught, number of inservices given, tech requests answered - whatever.

But maybe, just maybe, we should change tactics and simply say "Libraries are so good they need no justification." Since when did we have to start justifying our efforts to create kids who love to read by calling it " free voluntary reading" or "practice reading." Why does doing puppetry and folktales now result in "cultural literacy" and not just fun? Since when did having a safe, welcoming, interesting and exciting place where kids and teacher want to be require numbers to stay open. Why, along with art, music, sports, drama, chess club, dance, computer lab, woodshop, and just about anything that kids really like, should libraries not just be considered a prima facie good in schools?

It's time, fellow subversives, to rise up and shout "Show me the data that shows data driven decision-making has improved student learning!" Otherwise let me follow my heart in advocating what my experiences show is good for kids.


I Will (as a teacher)

Once again, I am riffing from a John Pederson posting, I Will.  This was posted on the Abilene, Kansas High School Dialogue Buzz website:

Let’s have a little competition at school and get ready for the future. I will [as a student] use a laptop and you will use paper and pencil. Are you ready…?
  • I will access up-to-date information - you have a textbook that is 5 years old.
  • I will immediately know when I misspell a word – you have to wait until it’s graded.
  • I will learn how to care for technology by using it – you will read about it.
  • I will see math problems in 3D – you will do the odd problems.
  • I will create artwork and poetry and share it with the world – you will share yours with the class.
  • I will have 24/7 access – you have the entire class period.
  • I will access the most dynamic information – yours will be printed and photocopied.
  • I will communicate with leaders and experts using email – you will wait for Friday’s speaker.
  • I will select my learning style – you will use the teacher’s favorite learning style.
  • I will collaborate with my peers from around the world – you will collaborate with peers in your classroom.
  • I will take my learning as far as I want – you must wait for the rest of the class.
  • The cost of a laptop per year? - $250
  • The cost of teacher and student training? – Expensive
  • The cost of well educated US citizens and workforce? - Priceless
Could a teacher offer the same challenge?

Let’s have a little competition at school and get ready for the future. I will use a laptop and you will use paper and pencil. Are you ready…?

  • I can provide up-to-date information to my students - you have a textbook that is 5 years old.
  • I can find and change all my instructional materials, worksheets, study guides, tests, every year - you better hope the master is good enough for one more photocopy.
  • I will model 21st century skills - technology, information-problem solving and life-long learning - you will lecture about them.
  • I will provide my visual learners an accessible means of grasping concepts through multimedia resources - you can use simpler words..
  • I give my students a world-wide audience for their creative work – you will share your students' work with the class.
  • I will give my students access to study materials and resources for my class 24/7 - you hope they remember to bring home the textbook.
  • I will communicate with my students and parents electronically - you can hope to catch them after class or at home in the evenings.
  • I will give parents real-time access to how their children are performing in my class - you send our report cards and have two parent-teacher conferences a year.
  • I will use the information gathered from computer enabled value-added testing to know exactly what my individual students' strengths and weakness are - you will use whole group instruction.
  • I will communicate with educational leaders and experts using email – you will try to remember the advice of the instructor in your college methods class from 1980.
  • I will honor the variety of reading abilities of my students by providing materials on a topic at a variety of reading levels - you will use the basal reader.
  • I will collaborate with my peers from around the world – you will stay behind your classroom door.
  • I will allow my students to take their learning as far as they want – you must keep everyone at the same place at the same time.
  • The cost of a laptop per year? - $250
  • The cost of teacher training? – Expensive, but no more so than other staff development activities
  • The cost of effective schools? - Priceless

 And what might you add?


Small schools - no libraries?

From Library a chapter in school's past by Alex Katz, a staff writer for Inside the Bay Area:

OAKLAND — If students at Castlemont High School want to check out "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" or find books on Polynesian culture, they'd better have a bus pass or some good walking shoes.

That's because Castlemont is the only major high school in the city without a school library — the closest public library is about 14 blocks away at the Eastmont Town Center.

It has been that way for going on two years, since the large high school on MacArthur Boulevard was split into three smaller, specialized schools in an attempt to raise attendance and improve student-teacher relationships.


The trend is to small, folks. Let's face it. And that's not all bad, but it does pose some serious concerns about how good library service can be provided when there is no economy of scale. A full-time librarian in a school of 100 students takes a much larger percentage of the budget that a full-time librarian in a school of 500 or 1,000 kids. The cost of a good print collection is the same whether shared by 75 or 750 kids.

One place where small tends to be rule is in the charter school movement. And ironically, I don't know any charter schools that have school libraries, even when "project-based learning" is the focus.

Part time librarians might be the answer to providing library services in smaller schools. A combination classroom teacher/librarian might be another solution. (This is how I started my library career as a half time English teacher and half time librarian in a junior high school of 150 students. A marvelous job.) Might a professional librarian serve multiple small schools, each with good clerical staff? Might a school contract for library services with the public library or an entrepreneurial library professional?

Should students in small schools have access to good library resources, including a professional librarian? As Stephen Krashen in a message to LM_Net puts it:

Castlemont High's students could certainly use more access to books and the services of a credentialled librarian: Fewer than 14% scored at the proficient level or higher on the CST language arts test last year, well below the [California] state average (about 40%) of a state known for low reading scores.

How have the small schools you know provided library service - or have they? If the trend is to small, how do we adapt?