Friday, January 14, 2011

Dissecting the NETP: Part Five- Productivity: Redesign and Transform

This is part five of a new blog series where I want to take a closer look at the newly released National Education Technology Plan. I outline my plan for this series in this post.

Part Five: Productivity - Redesign and Transform

Section Goal: Our education system at all levels will redesign processes and structures to take advantage of the power of technology to improve learning outcomes while making more efficient use of time, money, and staff.

This section is titled with the somewhat ambiguous "productivity" tag. As I read through it, I realized that this is the catch-all section- there seem to be ideas in here that they couldn't really fit neatly into the preceding sections so they flopped them in here. Not to say that they're bad ideas, necessarily- they just don't cohere neatly.

What I liked
  • The document points out right off the bat that reforming education is not really about pouring more money into the system. I agree. It's not about adding more money- it's about spending it more wisely and more focused on the right things (in my opinion, not textbooks, test prep, or testing materials and departments).
  • There is a clear and consistent call for increased transparency, especially in the budget process in schools and counties. It correctly states that many districts have areas of spending/funding that are labeled much too broadly - "instructional support", for example. They make the case that there should be clear, transparent methods of showing how money is broken down and spent within school systems. I'm 100% on board with this- the more transparent, the better. There shouldn't be secrets in these areas and all constituents have a right to know how money is being spent and have the ability to question priorities and programs being funded.
  • There is a call for districts to hire technology directors that have curriculum and instruction backgrounds. I believe firmly in this shift.
  • There is a neat little case study on page 65 that I found to be a good use of data collection in schools. It outlines a data system in the state of Michigan that allows educators to collect data that can help them identify students that are at high risk of dropping out. They then use this data to provide support to these students in order to keep them in school. Now...I'm not going to get into all my feelings about high school dropout programs (the #1 reason kids drop out is because school is boring yet so many programs focus on all the peripheral reasons instead of working hard to make school more interesting and relevant....but I digress), but I do find this type of data collection a positive thing for kids.
  • The plan makes a point I hadn't considered in a while- that we need to be working on useful metrics that show how technology is being used in schools (or not used). It states that "Very little information on how technology is actually used to support teaching, learning, and assessment is collected and communicated systematically." (p. 67) I agree with this statement and the first spot I'd look to gather this type of data is from the students themselves. It would be great if every teacher would simply poll their students on how well they feel technology is being used in their classroom (teachers should be asking students to evaluate all other aspects of their teaching and classroom environment too). The simple asking of students can provide a lot of insight to teachers, administrators, students, and parents alike.
  • The plan advocates moving away from standardization in the classroom and in assessment procedures. It talks at length about the positives surrounding competency-based assessments, where students have to SHOW their proficiency. It denounces using seat-time as a method of showing proficiency. It denounces how we organize students by age rather than interest or ability level. This plan says a lot of things that are very progressive in these regards- that we need to move away from this traditional/industrial model of school. But stay tuned in "What I didn't like" to hear more about my feelings on this- they're talking out of both sides of their mouth...
What I didn't like
  • This plan talks out of both sides of it's mouth, or at least those that put it together have little to no input or effect on actual federal and state policy that dictates many of the conditions this plan seeks to transform. On one hand, they decry the rigid organization of schools and on the other hand they praise a charter school that has significantly lengthened the school day / seat time each student is required to attend. It talks about how learning needs to be individualized and timely, how "it no longer makes sense to give every 13-year-old the same set of 45-minute American history lessons" (p. 68), but it makes sense to test them all the same way? And then label schools, districts, and now teachers based on standardized tests that allow the linguistic and logical-mathematical kids to shine and the others to wallow? It leaves a sour taste in my mouth when policy writers or politicians say one thing they believe and then their actions completely undermine what they supposedly believe in.
  • This plan seeks to extend learning time. As in, longer school days. I'm in the camp of- let's fix the time we spend with kids now, before we start asking them to stay longer.
For a catch-all section, it had some good ideas. But they lacked focus and were disjointed. They didn't all have to do with productivity and that made the whole section read like a hodge podge. As I approach the final (tiny) section on R&D, I can feel my overall thoughts on the plan starting to form. Stay tuned- I should be able to catch up on those last two posts soon!

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