Friday, January 21, 2011

The National Education Technology Plan - Final Reflections and the Way Ahead

It was important to me to really read through this plan so that not only I could see what the future holds, but also to make sense of what kind of policy is being put together in the federal ed tech department. I'm going to once again state the biases I had going into this process (had these on the first post, but want to make sure they're here too):

My biases:
  • I think standardized testing and standardized anything is harmful to students. Anything that promotes rote learning, filling in worksheets, spitting out simple facts without digging deeper is something I will naturally push back against.
  • I believe teachers are an integral part of the classroom process and should be given the freedom and support to deliver classroom instruction and create their classroom environment how they see fit. Teachers are the foremost experts in the education system because they are firmly grounded in the everyday reality of classroom life.
  • I firmly believe that in the 21st century we need to be pushing our students toward collaborating, creating, and publishing their work online.
  • I have qualms with the idea of "scaling up" reform. In other words- taking something that appears to be working well in one school and stamping it on top of other schools. It rarely works, mainly because the reason the first school was successful is not simply because of the program they were running- it's because of the people running the program. People/educators make the difference, not templates.
  • After reading Diane Ravitch's excellent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, I have a much more realistic and cynical eye on any type of federal policy.
Here are links to my previous posts on each section, if you're interested in more thoughts of each:

Here are my overall thoughts on the National Education Technology Plan...

The Good
  • I felt that section three on teaching was the most powerful and persuasive. The model of teaching as connected practice is a good one. That is definitely a direction that we need to move in and technology should play a huge role in making that happen.
  • This plan calls for putting computing devices into the hands of students and puts forth ideas for making it happen in cash-strapped times (including letting students bring their own devices to school)
  • While I'm skeptical of rhetoric from federal policymakers, I did appreciate that this plan calls for more individualized learning and technology being a driving force behind making this happen
  • There were good and helpful case studies throughout. These were often the strongest parts of the plan- multiple times in each section there was a case study that highlighted a real example of the piece they were presenting. These were helpful to see notions of what the writers felt were exemplars of the pieces of the puzzle they were trying to put together.
  • This plan promotes transparency in budgeting processes. I think this is a huge piece in terms of keeping policymakers honest and showing folks exactly where money is being spent is always a good idea.
The Bad
  • Overall, the feeling I got from this plan is that it devalues teachers and what great things are already happening in classrooms. When it spoke of assessment, it made it seem like formative assessments are something that just don't happen in schools- that the federal government needs to come in and tell teachers how and when to do formative assessments. But good teachers are always....always doing formative assessment. That doesn't mean it is ever entered into some unwieldy data system, but it is taking place. I felt that teachers were also devalued when the plan promoted the use of an integrated system that tracked these assessments, told students what they should be trying next, re-introduced concepts, etc. This is what good teachers already do, and I don't like how this is put forth as some sort of novel idea.
  • I really don't like that there isn't a stronger push in this plan for more curricular support for teachers in their endeavors to utilize technology more effectively with students. I think this is a very large disconnect- teachers simply need help to not only get started using technology with their kids but also to maintain it. I've watched it many times- if a teacher does not have support for use, the technology does not get used. There needs to be a certified person in every school that specializes in helping teachers and students use the technology at their disposal effectively.
  • Having looked at the authors of the plan, the vast majority are professors. Out of the 15, it appears that only one is a classroom teacher. I am not saying that these folks are unqualified, but what I AM saying is that this is obviously a trend in education policy for the past ten years (and probably beyond, of which I've not researched yet)- not including classroom teachers in the process. In my opinion, their voice and STUDENT voices should be the most important and valued ones in the room. There is definitely a need for professors, superintendents, and other community members to have input, but from what I've seen- when policy is being created, it is being created by folks that simply don't walk the walk in a K-12 classroom. This is how we get things like "All children will be 100% proficient by 2014". And I'm disappointed that this trend continues in this plan.
The Ugly
  • This plan definitely has some great ideas in it and some good vision. But a lot of the best pieces are going to be naturally overridden or completely twisted by Race to the Top. The push for more individualized, differentiated instruction flies in the face of the increased standardized testing that RTTT promotes. It makes no sense to instruct for the individual and test them all the same way.
  • I've already seen the future of RTTT and this plan in my county, and in practice it looks pretty ugly. Formative assessments that check student progress regularly so that teachers know exactly where they stand sounds great, right? But here's the reality in my county (and I'd wager many others soon, if not already). These assessments will be rote, multiple choice format. They will be delivered online. What does this mean in practice? 1) Our computers will increasingly be test taking devices instead of tools for creation, collaboration, and publication. 2) assessments will not be competency-based. 3) The focus of these assessments will be to get better and better at taking the BIG standardized test at the end of the year, which means more narrowed curriculum and more teaching to the test instead of learning. Those are the real outcomes here. And I'm already seeing it happen in my county.
Moving Forward
So, where does that leave me, and us, moving forward? I will say that our voices need to be heard as these initiatives are rolled out so that we can help keep the focus on learning. I'd say that the knowledge of what this plan entails and how it might play out is a crucial step in affecting how it impacts our schools and local situations. The more knowledge you have about what is coming down the pike, the more aware you can be in order to help shape implementation. I can say for sure that now that I've read and reflected on this plan, I will feel much more comfortable sitting down with admin in both my building and county to discuss how this affects teachers and students. That right there is gold, in my book, and I hope these posts help others to be able to find a solid voice as well!

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