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Tuesday
Jan102006

What gets tested, gets taught

More interesting responses to Sunday's - Lobbying post.

The first comes from Tim Stahmer's Assorted Stuff blog entry  First, Understand The Basic Concept in which he reacts to Tom Hoffman's reaction to my Sunday proposal that quotes ISTE CEO Don Knezek as working against technology integration. (How's that for a chain of events?) In it he concludes:

 But the most disappointing part of this story is the source of the proposal that set Tom off. It comes from the CEO of ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), the largest advocacy group for technology in education. If their leaders are really that clueless, the effort to help teachers truly integrate technology into their classrooms has a very long way to go.

Does looking at information/tech skills as a separate entity mean they can't be integrated into the curriculum as well? I've addressed this question before regarding information literacy skills in a column called Owning Our Curriculum. I'll try to make the same points about technology literacy here that I did about information literacy in the column. (I have a tough time separating info and tech literacy anymore anyway).

  1. Info/tech literacy is a basic skill every student should master. It should be treated with the same importance as the other recognized basic skills  of reading, writing and math.
  2. Teaching basic skills as a separate, non-integrated subject is viewed as good educational practice. We have reading, writing and math curricula, teaching materials, courses, teachers and tests.
  3. Basic skills should be "integrated" (or perhaps a better word is applied) across the curriculum. English teachers want social studies teachers to "teach" writing skills and practice writing, yes?
  4. Integrating skills does not eliminate the need for basic skills curricula, teaching materials, courses, teachers and tests.
  5. The public expects schools to be accountable for teaching basic skills. The current way of being accountable is through testing. (See more on this below in my response to David Warlick.)
  6. What gets tested, gets taught.

 I don't see that integration and viewing information/technology as a separate set of skills to be taught are exclusive. If such skills are only integrated, nobody has responsibility for student acquistion of such skills and everybody has the opportunity to pass the responsibility on to someone else.

In another post, David Walick defends the messiness of authentic assessment in More Loose Change on his 2 Cents Worth blog (and in a reply to the Blue Skunk post Loose Change - follow-up):

...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.

I don't disagree with David, but I would also say there is a place and need testing as well as assessment when it comes to I/T skills if they are to me taken seriously by educators. I am huge fan of Rick Stiggins and his  Assessment for Learning work. Hell, I offer workshops on authentic assessment of I/T skills myself. Good, messy assessments using well-designed tools are critical to the teaching and  learning process. They are good for kids, promoting growth, not simply categorization.

The problem is that we live in a society that believes in testing. And quite honestly, a degree of accountability shown through testing is not all bad. (See Exposing Shameful Little Secrets.) Our problem is that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of testing and the results are being used in the implementation of NCLB punatively. This is a problem with test expectations and result use, not testing in itself.  And hey, you want something taken seriously by teachers just put it on the next high-stakes test. That is the reality as much as we may not like it. Let's use the system we are working under while also trying to change it.

One last thoughtful response comes from Wesley Fryer on his Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog posting Standards and accountability are not the answer. Again, I empathize and agree with much of what Wes says, but he doesn't give me a plan for making the kinds of changes he wants to see. Give me something actionable!

One last lengthy comment came from librarian Diane Chen regarding professional organizations and lobbying which I need to reflect on a little since it challenges my original post for quite another set of reasons.

I hope the conversation continues. 

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?

Sunday
Jan082006

Lobbying for spare change - or real change?

I was delighted to read the following from "My 'wish list' for ed-tech policy in 2006" by Don Knezek, ISTE CEO, in eSchool News:

(2) Let's align NCLB's accountability mechanisms with the skills necessary for future success in the emerging workplace and society, and then both support and measure progress with those. Employers and civic life in this new century require nimble, critical thinkers at ease with technology and with the fact of change itself. We need citizens and workers who can access and analyze information from any media--whether it's text, image, sound, numbers, or other kinds of data.

A reauthorized NCLB should assess learners' progress on the array of essential 21st-century literacies. It should hold schools accountable for how well they help students achieve the skills that maximize future opportunity. Let's measure what's real and meaningful as we prepare students to meet the world they will face. I look forward in 2006 to a lively and systematic debate about how we can improve NCLB and make it more relevant for today's students. 

I am no great fan of mandates. Local control, I've always felt, is the best control. NCLB is more about discrediting public schools than about educating kids. But I am behind Don's "wish" 100%. It's the smart thing to do.

Federal legislative initiatives related to technology and/or school libraries have not been of much interest to me in the past. Most grants are targeted at school districts serving high poverty populations. Many federal dollars go to fund projects that are very local, very limited in scope, nonsustainable, and have no broad impact on education. Funding for E2T2 could double next year and I sincerely don't believe my Mankato kids would be better off because of it. E-rate accounts for less than .05% of our district's technology budget - nice to have, but not exactly critical. Federal programs directed at school libraries are funded at a piddly level.

Reflecting this past week on our school district's past and future, I'm beginning to believe my professional organizations, ALA/AASL, ISTE and MEMO, have approached legislative lobbying the wrong way - focusing on the means to accomplish a goal (mo' money), when we should have been asking for the goal itself (required 21st century skills for which schools should be held accountable). 

We need to change our lobbying strategies for a number of reasons:

  1. Dollars follow requirements. If there is a lesson to be learned from NCLB, schools WILL fund educational efforts when there is the force of law behind them. While only partially funded at best, schools have ante-ed up for the planning, testing, materials, and staff development needed to meet the requirements of making sure all children can read, write and compute on at least a minimal basis. Should, as Don suggests above, NCLB also require that the 4th 'R - information and technology literacy - be recognized as so vital to our children's success that schools be held accountable for all students' mastery of it, the funds for the planning, testing, materials, and staff development needed to make it happen WILL follow. And in all schools across the country. (I could not find in EdWeek's Quality Counts at 10, any mention of how states are doing teaching kids information/tech literacy. If I am not looking carefully enough, please let me know where to find this information.)
  2. Puts the organization higher moral ground. Our professional organizations too often are seen as self-serving, self-promoting. We "advocate" for technology use, for libraries, for schools. We should be advocating the students and the benefits that they will receive as a result of better technologies, better libraries, better schools. Period.
  3. May encourage more educators to get involved, both in politically and professionally. We've got a whole blogosphere who pisses and moans about the sad state of education, reactionary teachers, need for 21st century skills, etc. But are these smart, committed people DOING anything legislatively about their concerns - such as working with professional organizations who hire lobbyists. It might be easier to get these folks to join ISTE, ALA, state organizations if there were well-publicized legislative platforms in which THEY could believe. This is particularly true for our younger members. Read this (and weep) from a library science grad student's blog

ALA gets nothing from me. Not membership money, not time and effort, not publication, not conference attendance, certainly not conference participation. Not now, not ever. That’s what happens when you royally hack off the newbies, guys. I have thirty-some-odd years of career left to go, and ALA won’t benefit from a single solitary second of it.

If ALA had a whisker’s worth of relevance, mind you, that decision would hurt me too. Guess what. I don’t think it’s gonna.

I suppose some radical reinvention of the association might catch my interest again. Guess how likely I think that is.

And I don't think we ISTE leaders should be so smug as to think there aren't young ed tech turks out there thinking the same about our organization.

 
I have little hope that most states and individual districts will seriously address the need for students to have 21st century skills (beginning with Information/Tech literacy) while completely focused on meeting the current NCLB standards. This would change if NCLB took these skills as seriously as it does reading, writing and math. We must lobby for the 4th 'R - now!