Textbooks…throw them out (I mean recycle them)

I just finished reading an article by Alex Johnson on MSNBC.com called "A Textbook case of failure: Politically driven adoption system yields shallow, misleading materials" from May 16th, 2006. The article discusses the "scandalously bad textbooks" Americans students are using in our K12 classrooms. Some quotes from the article:

"But glaring in [NCLB's] omission from the program is any siginifcant examination of the most basic of classroom tools, the textbook."

"few if any textbooks are ever subjected ti independent field testing of whether they actually help students learn."

"As younger, inexperienced teachers are thrown into classrooms to meet new federal standards, as much as 90 percent (my emphasis added) of the burden of instruction rests on textbooks"

"AMerican textbooks are both grotesquely bloated and light as a feather intellectually, flitting briefly over too many topics without examining anf of them in detail."

Diane Ravitch – "[Textbooks] are sanitized to avoid offending anyone who might complain at textbook adoption hearings in big states"

"the politics of the boards adopting the books in Texas and California shape what is, to all intent and purposes, a defacto national curriculum"


We got rid of all or almost all textbooks in the K12 environment and provided professional teachers with a budget to purchase materials they wanted for their curriculum and we provided time to collaborate with colleagues and access to Internet/Web resources to "roll your own"???


Throw out the textbooks (or even better, send them back to be purchased in the pre-owned textbook market and use the funds for…)

Have teachers develop their own materials during PD and collaboratively

Provide funds for some books (that students keep), web resources, pdf's, student personal libraries, etc

Use current textbook funds to support new materials (research how much last year, avg. 10 years???)

Work with current text book companies as they move online to personalize content

Teach teachers and administrators during college how to make their own materials


"School officials, however, cannot or will not devote sufficient amounts of money to copyrighted materials. Public schools were spending around $275 billion dollars total in the 1993-1994 school year, and approximately $209 billion if one excluded pupil transportation, capital outlays, debt service, and expenditures for adult education or community service. According to Market Data Retrieval of Shelton, Connecticut, a service used by textbook publishers and other K-12-related vendors, just $1.727 billion went for textbooks. Spending on other copyrighted works amounted to $3.677 billion, bringing the total to about $5.404 billion, or about 2.6 percent of the $209 billion. With a total of 43,637,734 students in public schools, the $5.404 billion would be just $124 per student in the 1993-1994 school year. Another market research service, Quality Education Data of Denver, Colorado, reported that schools were spending some $22.50 per student on educational software in 1993-1994."

“Technology versus Education” and/or “Integration versus Transformation”

I am constantly struggling with this…..I am the Director of Technology of a small/medium sized school district. My life, at times, seems consumed with technology and technology that has little to nothing to do with education. I want to be in the classroom facilitating learning. I really want to be in teacher planning sessions helping to design lessons. I really really want to be involved in the curriculum creation process so that I can impact the design of content and instruction. I don’t want to simply integrate technology I want to help transform it (which means looking and rethinking every area to get the most/best opportunities for all students not integration which means we are accepting the existing policy, setup, bell schedule, calendar, etc and trying to squeeze tech into it.)

Pearson “buys” PowerSchool!?

So news is leaking out that Pearson has just bought or partnered or both (with/from Apple) PowerSchool.

I have some questions:

What does this mean for my beloved PowerSchool?

Pearson owns a product almost identical to PowerSchool  called CenterPoint?  Whats does this meanfor CenterPoint?

How is this monopolist wannabe (Pearson) going to ruin PowerSchool?

50% is easy…. 100% is hard

Teaching in an educational system where the expectation or goal is to educate the top 50% of students is easy.  When the goal is 100% it gets much harder.  What was the expected percent in this country 20 years ago? What is the expected percent in the rest of the world now?

A laptop for every student….one way

It would appear that the budget for new and replacement desktops and laptops for Stonington Public Schools next year is going to be around $80,000. Forget the fact we have students needs K-12. Forget the fact that we don't know what we will get next year. Forget the fact that we have many, many, many other needs (including the need for more tech support.)

There are approx. 800 students at Stonington High. $80,000 divided by 800 students is $100. Lets assume we get that for 3 years (and there are no toher district needs). So we can theoretically apply $100 per year for three years to student technology.

Lets also say that students/parents are able to kick in $20 per month.  This could be earned thru service learning work, raised via fundrasiers, or simply from parent pocketbooks.  Over the ten month school year that is $200.

So we are talking 3 year, $100 + $200 = $300 for student technology.  This could be done every year.  Students get a laptop freshman year.  They use it for 3 years.  Get a new one Senior year and are prepared with a laptop for college or an underclassman could purchase and take over payments for 2 years.

Financing could be done thru vendors or posisbly thru larger salary accounts of the BOE.

$900 for a digital device (laptop)….free, open source, and web2.0 software….minimal but solid wireless infrastructure to support the laptops with mobile printing and projection kiosks.  Then we can actually get to teaching and learning……….

What if we threw it all away? (K12 tech infrastructure)

I have been having an especially frustrating day with my district's technology infrastructure so take all of this with a grain of salt…

What if we threw it all out and started over? What if we relied on students buying their own laptops (subsidized with built in scholarship by the district) and thus outsource the maintenance headaches? What if we gave a basic description of what students should have/need to be prepared for school (like many colleges)? What if we leveraged the many free and open source technologies to replace what we are trying to re-create/buy for our schools? Hang some wifi access points connected to fiber connected to leased lines and let students have at it. Setup printing kiosks (main terminals connected to a dedicated printer) and provide multimedia projectors. What would the total cost be for this alternative as opposed to what we are doing now? Outsource the purchasing decisions to families. Outsource the support of the end user devices to the computer companies. Outsource the software and services to the companies making them. Use your existing staff to provide a bare-bones infrastructure and have them help integrate and suggest solutions that students can go find (and of course admin and teacher machines). Isn't this the constructivists approach to educational technology???  How would we do it?  I think this would be a great unconference topic….

Open Education Contest – Build the Ultimate Learning Environment

It seems to me that many people (many of them very smart and thoughtful and many of them not) have put a lot of time and energy into trying to come up with what educational technology should look like for today's students. Microsoft has their version, Apple has their version, numerous other software and hardware vendors have their version and so on and so forth. I was thinking this morning that wouldn't it be nice if students had a say in what educational technology should look like!?

But of course my colleagues have tried putting students on task force panels, facilitating round table discussions with students, and of course students have filled out endless surveys, but in all cases (I am assuming) students were always under the current constraints of educational technology and the typical (and broken) way we currently do business.

I was also listening to a podcast this morning from David Warlick. He was facilitating a discussion at an edtech conference about open source. Most of the questions revolved around financing and supporting open source environments. However, no one mentioned what I am coming to believe open source is really all about…freedom. Not freedom as in "free lunch" but freedom as in liberty or libre. Free and open source software is great because it is free to educators, but what if we took the freedom that open source provides and allow students (in collaboration with other students and teachers) to use the freedom inherent in open source to create the learning technology supported learning environment that they want.

This is what I am proposing:

A contest to build the ultimate educational technology student learning environment. It would have to include only open source and free (flash, IM, adobe reader, etc) software and code. Students would be able to modify any number of linux and other OSes, grab software titles, write their own code, add games, etc. and build the ultimate learning environment. If a student feels that Doom 4 should be part of the ultimate learning environment so be it. If a student feels Open Office should be part of the ultimate learning environment so be it. If a student feels that FreeBSD should be the underpinnings of the ultimate learning environment so be it. If a student thinks that the latest version of Ubuntu with a whole bunch of code hacks thrown in is the ultimate learning environment so be it.

The judges of the ultimate learning environments should be the community. Prizes should be awarded to all entrants with larger prizes going to the top winners (maybe an iPod with a linux mod). All entries would be made available to everyone. Let the cream rise to the top. Lets students create LiveCD versions to share with all their friends. Let innovation take place on the edges. Let innovation take place in the schools. Let the promise of open source be released thru more then a "free lunch" but thru the active recruitment of thousands of students. Make collaboration easy so non-coders can meet virtually with geeks to put their $.02 in. Open source all entries so we can all build on each other….


Money Sponsors (UConn or Linux companies or non-profit edu vendors or media comapnies or Larry Lessig or open source foundations…)

"Get the word out" Sponsors (Warlick, November, Jukes, Susan Patrick, Taking ITGlobal…)

Rules Committee
-what should entries look like (LiveCD or install)
-minimum hardware specs to run on?!
-examples of what is acceptable and not
-ideas to get started
-adhere to open source and free
creative commons license
-Should this be USA or Global??