Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rebel U Take 2


This week, the entire teaching staff at Godfrey-Lee Public Schools spent a day in a sort of mini-EdCamp to prepare for the oncoming school year. Organized by Tech Integration Specialist Sarah Wood (@woodsar) with help from the entire Tech/Media Team, teachers and administrators volunteered to present on their favorite tech topics and tools in six concurrent sessions throughout the day.  This was the second year school kicked off with this type of professional learning event but it was obvious from my point-of-view as an observer and participant that the tech skills of our staff have grown significantly.

The district, grounded in the concept of learning "anytime, anywhere, and with any device," took another giant leap forward with this event while we continue expanding our 1:1 technology plan. Our students and staff have access to our network and Internet learning tools anytime and with any device - theirs or ours. This year we'll ramp up our emphasis on teaching digital citizenship as well, taking it down into the elementary grades where "internet footprint" will become a common phrase, even in throughout the kindergarten.

What an exciting time to be an educator!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Teachers, school leaders, and students make a positive difference at Lee High School

The district was notified this morning that Lee High School is no longer on the 5% list of schools ranked as persistently low achieving (PLA). This is a great accomplishment after more than a year of hard work, planning, and robust implementation of the federal school improvement grant plans by everyone involved.

Read more about the school's first year success with its transformation plan and what will be coming up in years two and three at GLPS Superintendent's Notes)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Should WE Even Care That Schools Didn't Make AYP?

Julie Mack, the Kalamazoo Gazette's education reporter, often writes thought-provoking blogs and newspaper articles questioning both sides on issues related to school reform. I enjoy reading them and her analysis often helps to balance the oft one-sided arguments usually found in other local news sources.

In one of her latest blogs, she asks, "Should parents care if their school doesn't make adequate yearly progress?"  She points out the evidence close to home where two local Kalamazoo high schools were recently ranked by the Washington Post as top schools in the country.  Just two weeks later, they find themselves, along with 717 other schools, on the list of Michigan schools not earning adequate yearly progress. In the minds of simple media folks, and public school haters, this equates to being on a "failing schools" list and wearing a badge of shame.

Another idiosyncrasy of NCLB, incidentally, is that most disabled and non-English-speaking are treated the same as other students. Those students are tested and their scores are included in the AYP analysis.

NCLB is fraught with problems starting with comparing all schools as if the communities they serve are equal, a fact any reasonably sane person knows is not true. And while the premise of setting a goal for all students to achieve at exactly the same level is admirable when presented in speeches and photo ops, in reality, not all students have similar obstacles in front of them nor do they have similar community and family support systems. Burying our heads to these realities and continuing to judge schools solely on the basis of an annual one-day bubble test in reading and math will not reform our educational system, nor will it better prepare our students for the 21st century learning and career skills they need.

Not that we should ever stop trying to help students get past the baggage they bring with them to school each day, but at some point in time reasonable minds need to prevail and realize that to do so requires community, family, government AND school reform to reach this utopian vision. Merely expecting the schools to do more so that parents and society can continue to shirk their own responsibilities is a band-aid approach to an ever-increasing problem. If NCLB has accomplished anything, it has demonstrated that band-aid approaches don't work and neither does the concept of a nationalized education industry bent on producing widgets that are exactly the same size and shape, unable to think and reason in rich, diverse ways that will eventually contribute to solving real world problems, devoting the bulk of their time preparing for bubble tests that only measure a narrow band of knowledge, disregarding application, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, contribution and a whole host of other critical skills.

So should parents care if their school doesn't make AYP?
No question, it's a big deal for educators who have to deal with the public-relations fallout as well as extra scrutiny from the state Department of Education.
But most educators acknowledge that AYP is not a very accurate measure of school quality. It's certainly possible for a high-performing school not to make AYP.  It's possible for a school -- especially a small school with a homogeneous population -- to meet AYP standards with mediocre performance. 
AYP gets a lot of attention. From the standpoint of parents judging school quality, that attention is probably undeserved.

This is not what real education was intended to be and NCLB's AYP system is not an effective measure of results.

Monday, August 15, 2011

School Achievement and Income


Several articles were posted this weekend on Mlive and carried across the state in various local editions of Booth newspapers. The articles lay out the premise that income and school achievement are linked. This is not new news by any means but the 2010 census and achievement as measured by NCLB-mandated test scores appear to validate what educators have known for decades.

School achievement closely tracks with family income in Michigan, Census 2010 figures show

Differences in family incomes, education levels reflected in student test scores
Income gap can be bridged, starting with expectations, educators say 

The articles miss the boat in that they isolate economic status and fail to look at other critical factors that may in fact be more causal than how much money a family earns. In many cases, family income may in fact be the end result of other social conditions, such as:

  • level of education for each parent (past research seems to indicate the mother's education level is a greater factor than the father's)
  • single or two-parent family
  • English language proficiency (both for the parents and the children)
  • whether the children who do not speak English as their first langage are proficient grammatically in their first language
  • transiency of the family and the amount of time a child has spent in the same school or district
  • whether reading is valued in the home and books, magazines or newspapers are available
I suspect there are more social and personal conditions that contribute to whether a child is ready for school, whether it be the first day of kindergarten or the first day of any school year. And while schools have to confront all of these conditions and do their best to overcome them - the same as a military unit on the battlefield has to overcome a myriad of obstacles between it and the objective - communities that hide their heads in the sand and ignore them only make it more difficult for schools that serve predominantly low income students to succeed.  

The state and federal government can begin by cutting back on administrative red tape and requirements that have little to no connection to student learning, thereby freeing up existing school funding to be used to support longer school days, extended school years, and rigorous teacher training. This would certainly be a giant leap forward to helping our kids break the cycle of poverty.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Computational Thinking


The explosion in technology and rapid expansion of careers in computer science, engineering, medicine and other tech-related fields has illuminated the need to help students think and learn using critical computational skills.

We believe that today’s students need these skills to meet workforce demands of the future and to help solve some of the most pressing, intractable problems of our time. Today’s “digital natives” have grown up in a world where technology is evolving rapidly, creating new fields of study, new types of jobs, and requiring new sets of skills. As educators, we can help today’s students gain computational thinking skills so tomorrow’s professionals in medicine, history, law, education, or other fields, will be valued contributors in solving problems and making new advances. (p. 3)

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) collaborated with leaders from higher education, industry, and K–12 education to develop an operational definition of computational thinking and teacher resources for employing these skills in classroom learning.  The vocabulary and progression charts on pages 8 and 9 are extremely helpful guides. Grade-level guides and sample activities begin on page 12.

You'll find a copy of the teacher resource by visiting the ISTE site or downloading it from this link: Computational Thinking: Teacher Resources 1st Edition.

Other resources can be found at the Carnegie Mellon Center for Computational Thinking as well as Google: Exploring Computational Thinking (includes an imbedded TED Talk video by Conrad Wolfram: Teaching kids real math with computers).