Kasich appoints A.J. Wagner to State School Board

Just in:

A.J. Wagner of Dayton (Montgomery Co.) has been appointed to represent District 3 on the State Board of Education. He will assume the seat on August 4, 2014, and must run in November 2014 to retain the seat for the unexpired term ending December 31, 2017. Wagner is replacing Jeffery J. Mims, Jr., who resigned.

The State School Board is woefully short on people who have common sense and really care about our kids. A.J. will be a good addition.

As far as I know, there were no other candidates running in the November election.

Only 1 write-in candidate in Montgomery County- for Dayton School Board

The deadline to file for write-in candidate status was Aug. 16, 2013 – Monday. Bet you didn’t know that. No one talks about write-in candidates much, because it’s believed to be an impossible task. That wasn’t the case in Detroit recently, where Mike Duggan came in first in the run-off primary. The Board of Elections really doesn’t have much to do with write-in candidates, other than set the deadline and put the write-in option on the electronic ballot.

But in the Dayton School Board “race” where we had 4 candidates for 4 slots, now we have a fifth option. Since this is kind of a guerrilla race with the top four candidates advancing, the only way a write-in stands a chance is if almost all the voters choose to NOT vote for the same candidate on the ballot.

That all said Walter J. Hickman Jr., who took out petitions but didn’t turn them in, is now the proverbial fifth wheel running for Dayton Public School Board of Education. He will face incumbents Joe Lacey, Ron Lee, and newcomers Adil T. Baguirov, and Hazel G. Rountree as you learned in this post: No reason to vote in Dayton Public School race

Hickman’s only chance comes if there are a lot of people like me who don’t bother to vote for unopposed candidates, and his supporters only vote for him, but that is a long shot.

Of course, if the Supreme Court would act on the William Pace candidacy, there may be one more write-in candidate, but at this point, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

[update] I’ve been informed by the Montgomery County Board of Elections that while a write in space will appear, only names of registered candidates, “Walter Hickman” will be counted. Even if someone had more votes, they would be reported, but would not be elected. The major question is how much leeway will they allow- is “Walt Hickman” good enough, or will it have to be “Walter J. Hickman Jr.” to be counted?[/update]

Why a digital Dayton matters

I was hanging a basketball net yesterday behind a pretty rough looking apartment house. As I pulled up, in my Volvo wagon, to ask if they’d like a new net, I was thinking it’s good that I have a magnet on the side of the car saying “Esrati puts nets on rims” – because I definitely got the feeling that I was intruding, going someplace where I wasn’t welcome. After I hung the net- did my stencil on the ground, put a sticker on the pole and gave away a t-shirt for one of the kids who hit three threes, I was confronted with “but if I vote for you what are you going to do for me?” I tried to point out that I have my answers on my campaign piece- but he didn’t want to read it- he wanted to hear it.

And so I launched into my digital Dayton plan. I told him that there isn’t a job a kid can graduate high school and get without a computer and computer skills, and that currently Dayton Public Schools only had one computer for every four students. I told him that we’re already behind the curve on 1 to 1 computers- that 5 years ago other districts, cities and even states had figured it out.  I said that even giving every student an iPad- that would cost about the same or less than what was squandered in the speculative real estate deal for a new Kroger at Wayne and Wyoming, was a start- but without internet access, it wouldn’t mean anything.

I went on to say Dayton was all excited when it was in the running for Google Fiber- where an entire city would get gigabit speed, 20x faster than what passes for broadband in the region- and maybe 30x what is available in the city where fiber isn’t currently available at all to residential users. But when Google went to Kansas City and then to Provo UT and Austin TX- we sort of forgot about it here- where we actually run a fiber network to control our traffic lights, but nothing else. I said we could put fiber into every neighborhood to build a beachhead where kids could go after school to get online- and then start working to city wide wi-fi. This is also nothing new- the entire country of Estonia has been covered in wifi for over a decade.

These are projects that empower our citizens and give them the ability to grow. They save us from having to pay for data plans on our cell phones- or worry about caps- it provides the ability to connect people with jobs- with services- with each other using tools like NextDoor to organize their community and to coordinate resources.

And even though he knew that I was talking about giving our kids a chance, he didn’t believe me, because we’ve grown to not trust politicians and their promises. We’ve been lied to, too many times. And considering the horrible job we do at informing voters of upcoming elections and candidates and issues, why should he have any clue who I am, despite having run for this office many times over the last 20 years.

The reality is, information is power- and by wiring our community and making it possible for as many as possible to connect, would change the political game and disrupt the party that the party has been having with its friends and family running the show.

I was talking to him about the most critical issue of segregation we need to overcome in America today- the “digital divide” and it isn’t something to pay lip service to, it’s the key to the future.

From the New York Times about a week ago:

Administration officials and policy experts say they are increasingly concerned that a significant portion of the population, around 60 million people, is shut off from jobs, government services, health care and education, and that the social and economic effects of that gap are looming larger. Persistent digital inequality — caused by the inability to afford Internet service, lack of interest or a lack of computer literacy — is also deepening racial and economic disparities in the United States, experts say.

“As more tasks move online, it hollows out the offline options,” said John B. Horrigan, a senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. “A lot of employers don’t accept offline job applications. It means if you don’t have the Internet, you could be really isolated.”

Seventy-six percent of white American households use the Internet, compared with 57 percent of African-American households, according to the “Exploring the Digital Nation,” a Commerce Department report released this summer and based on 2011 data.

The figures also show that Internet use over all is much higher among those with at least some college experience and household income of more than $50,000.

via Most of U.S. Is Wired, but Millions Aren’t Plugged In – NYTimes.com.

Those numbers, those people being left out- that’s most of Dayton. It’s all the people who don’t read Esrati.com and vote. It’s the unemployed, the under-employed, the uneducated and the uninformed. I don’t believe government does a good job of creating jobs, but I do believe we can help create an infrastructure that encourages our “social capital” to have maximum access to jobs and to information.

And while my nets on rims campaign is innovative and interesting and newsworthy, you haven’t seen it on the local news, and you probably won’t. Why? Because I won’t be buying TV ads like other candidates, because when I win – I prove that you don’t need to spend $360K to get on the ballot- and win. Local TV is living off political campaign money, and when we all switch to the Internet and YouTube, Netflix and streaming- they become dinosaurs.

No matter how much the incumbents brag about bricks and mortar projects as proof that they deserve re-election, they aren’t answering the question “what are you going to do for ME?”

A digital Dayton is something that empowers all Daytonians, especially our students. It gives them, and their parents and grandparents access to what my readers on esrati.com take for granted. That’s powerful stuff.

If you think this matters, I ask you to do one of three things:

Without those three things, a digital Dayton won’t happen anymore than the Kroger at the corner of Wayne and Wyoming.

No reason to vote in Dayton Public School race

Unofficially, Kim A. Johnson did not turn in enough signatures to qualify for the November 5 ballot- leaving 4 candidates for 4 seats.

Hazel Rountree, who has the backing of Ms. Thompson turned in early, and signatures were certified on Aug 5th.

  • Adil T. Baguirov 630 Maryland Ave., Dayton 45404
  • Kim A. Johnson 4536 Kings Hwy., Dayton 45406
  • Joseph E. Lacey 207 E. 6th St. Apt. 305, Dayton 45402 Blog, last updated in 2009 http://joelaceyblog.blogspot.com/
  • Hazel G. Rountree 2530 Archwood St., Dayton 45406
  • Ronald C. Lee 247 E. 2nd St., Dayton 45402

via Uncertified candidates for Dayton School board- 2 open seats.

This means 2 new faces on the School board. It means no need to campaign, print campaign materials, put up a site, explain your positions.

It means, democracy isn’t really an option for School board. The big question is- will they allow write-ins? That could make it interesting.

Uncertified candidates for Dayton School board- 2 open seats

The Montgomery County Board of Elections hasn’t certified the signatures on the petitions yet,  however, as reported earlier on this site, incumbent Stacy Thompson will not be seeking reelection, nor will the most senior member of the School Board, Yvonne Isaacs, leaving 2 empty seats. Incumbents Joe Lacey and Ron Lee will be running, meaning at most there could be 3 new faces.
Hazel Rountree, who has the backing of Ms. Thompson turned in early, and signatures were certified on Aug 5th.
  • Adil T. Baguirov 630 Maryland Ave., Dayton 45404
  • Kim A. Johnson 4536 Kings Hwy., Dayton 45406
  • Joseph E. Lacey 207 E. 6th St. Apt. 305, Dayton 45402 Blog, last updated in 2009 http://joelaceyblog.blogspot.com/
  • Hazel G. Rountree 2530 Archwood St., Dayton 45406
  • Ronald C. Lee 247 E. 2nd St., Dayton 45402

If any of the candidates would like to provide links to their sites, or have an interview with me, please contact me. Of course, I’ll be seeing them all on the campaign trail and will be posting video of the events online for all.

 

Dayton’s most popular elected official not running again

Stacy M. Thompson, who was appointed to the Dayton Board of Education in 2006 and got more votes than anyone else in the 2009 election, has decided not to run for another term. This leaves at least one vacant seat to fill in November, with petitions due in August with 350 valid signatures (sorry, I don’t know the turn-in deadline- and can’t find it online- Aug 7 by 4 pm).

Other seats up for re-election this cycle are Ron Lee, Yvonne Isaccs and current school board president Joe Lacey. There are several people who have taken out petitions (see list below), but as we all know, this means nothing until the signatures are verified by the Board of Elections. Last time, they had to pull a rabbit out of a hat to find an extra 4 signatures for Nancy Nearny, who didn’t appear to have enough on initial turn-in.

Stacy has been one of the few people who has been wiling to stand up and speak out without fear of censure. She was vehemently against the 30-year tax break for General Electric and was outvoted by the staunch Democratic block of Sheila Taylor, Joe Lacey, Ron Lee and Nancy Nearny.

It’s unclear is Yvonne Issacs, the sole remaining “Kids First” board member, will run again as well.

Stacy was very clear to me, the decision was hard, because she didn’t want to let our kids down, but, with the level of insider politics on the board and lord Joe at the helm, she felt her energy could be better put to use elsewhere. She’s also in charge of her father’s care, and wants to make sure she gets to spend more time with him.

Stacy’s voice will be missed on the campaign trail as well as on the school board.

She’s the only elected official ever to endorse me publicly. For that, I’ll always be one of her number one fans.

Best of luck Stacy. Thanks for your service to our community.

The board of elections has the following list of candidates who’ve taken out petitions, but so far, only Hazel Rountree has filed:

Adil T. Baguirov, 630 Maryland Ave., Dayton 45404 6/27/2013 8/7/2013
Walter James Hickman Jr., 2804 Princeton Dr., Dayton 45406 5/15/2013 8/7/2013
Yvonne V. Isaacs, 4812 Northgate Ct., Dayton 45416 5/28/2013 8/7/2013
Kim A. Johnson, 4536 Kings Hwy., Dayton 45406 5/2/2013 8/7/2013
Chad W. Kingsolver, 2861 Revere Ave., Dayton 45420 2/23/2012 8/7/2013
Joseph E. Lacey, 207 E. 6th St., Apt. 305, Dayton 45402 8/7/2013
Marcus J. Rech, 425 Dayton Towers Dr., 12 E, Dayton 45410 5/22/2013 8/7/2013
Darshawn Phillip Romine, 126 W. Fifth St., Apt. 610, Dayton 45402 5/17/2013 8/7/2013
Hazel G. Rountree, 2530 Archwood St., Dayton 45406 5/1/2013 7/22/2013 8/7/2013
Stacy M. Thompson, 105 S. Williams St., Dayton 45402 5/6/2012 8/7/2013

Pay for performance in public ed is here- for education mercenaries

Much is being debated about the metrics for “pay for performance” in public education. How much of the weight should be given to classroom evaluation and skills vs. performance of students.

But there is a new brand of education professional these days- the “education mercenary” – who promises to do a turnaround and may or may not stick around as the next carrot gets dangled.

David White falls into that category. After success at a charter, he was brought in to “settle down” Belmont High school 4 years ago. He was allowed to hand pick his lieutenants, and brought discipline issues to a halt in a building that some had called a “jungle.” Other Dayton Public Schools principals weren’t too pleased knowing that he was getting a $15K premium just to walk in the door. He moved to Ponitz Career School, last year, ostensibly as a reward for his performance at Belmont, but one year later, he’s heading to Trotwood, where supposedly he was offered a better compensation package.

There are also mercenary superintendents available as hired guns for hire. Dr. Kurt Stanic came to Dayton as a mercenary, and while he was generally merciful in his compensation requirements (which were all gravy since he was already drawing his pension) he had total control of the School Board because he was there on his terms- and he never let them forget it. (This is how his buddy Bill Burgess got the no-bid marketing contract without a peep from the board.)

With the new common core standards scaring the hell out of administrators and school boards, the value of these hired guns with promises of progress but zero commitment to stay, are going up. Falling performance indicators will make it increasingly harder to pass school levies and justify superintendents’ pay packages. White told me that he believed common core standards will cause a wave of superintendent retirements as old dogs realize that their old tricks are about to be revealed for what they are.

One thing that truly reeks about the mercenary model, is that superb, loyal, high performers like Erin Dooley at Stivers, aren’t paid what they deserve unless they leave what they’ve built or threaten to leave. At some point, superstars need to be granted bonuses based on their steady performance, to stop them from following in the footsteps of Mr. White.

Every one of us knows that all teachers aren’t equal. As a student, I knew who was great and who wasn’t, although it wasn’t always instantly recognizable. There are teachers, principals and even custodians who are exceptional at setting the example for students, it’s time for all of us to realize it. If there is one thing I’ve never understood about unions it’s their willingness to fight for members who their peers know don’t cut it. I understand that eliminating biases of all types from the workplace is admirable, but I’d also like to eliminate mediocrity and the idea that a teacher’s value is somehow related to years on the job. The real superstars, won’t stick around long enough to get longevity pay if we don’t recognize their value.

16 years of education, and not a single memorable worksheet

Tonight, Dayton has the opportunity to hear one of those “experts” come in and tell us the secret to education. This one is a “Sir” as in knighted by the queen, as an “educationalist.”

Sir Kenneth Robinson will be giving a free talk at the UD Rec Plex gym at 7:30 pm. But, you can watch these two videos and get a good idea of what he’ll say.



Sir Ken’s specialty is talking about the teaching of creativity. The arts- the non-mass production of education. To bring passion back into learning and the educational process. And while I agree that creativity is one of the most undervalued skills in education these days- and, possibly in life, the problems of our education system may well be mostly moot compared to research about talking to your child before age 5, as pointed out in an opinion piece in today’s NYT:

the key to early learning is talking — specifically, a child’s exposure to language spoken by parents and caretakers from birth to age 3, the more the better. It turns out, evidence is showing, that the much-ridiculed stream of parent-to-child baby talk — Feel Teddy’s nose! It’s so soft! Cars make noise — look, there’s a yellow one! Baby feels hungry? Now Mommy is opening the refrigerator! — is very, very important. (So put those smartphones away!)…

All parents gave their children directives like “Put away your toy!” or “Don’t eat that!” But interaction was more likely to stop there for parents on welfare, while as a family’s income and educational levels rose, those interactions were more likely to be just the beginning.

The disparity was staggering. Children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour. Working-class children heard 1,200 words per hour, and children from professional families heard 2,100 words. By age 3, a poor child would have heard 30 million fewer words in his home environment than a child from a professional family. And the disparity mattered: the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school. TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental.

via The Power of Talking to Your Baby – NYTimes.com.

What kind of change could we make in Dayton Public Schools performance by rewarding neighborhoods that set up neighborhood reading sessions for pre-k kids every day? A community that reads together may create the kind of learning community that can start to overcome the obstacles of poverty that have proven to decrease student performance.

But, thinking back over my own education- there is one indisputable fact: I remember about half a dozen teachers/professors profoundly- Susan Forde, Steven Young, Larry Geiger, David DiCarlo, Dr. Cleary, Dr. Jacobs- but I don’t remember a single worksheet, standardized test, or even textbook.

Great teachers, who stir up emotions, who challenge you to think, to come up with answers that aren’t fill in the blank, or memorization exercises, are the ones who made the difference.

Our new “Common Core” still suggests that one-size fits all, and that people need to know certain things- instead of how to solve uncertain problems.

Life isn’t as easy as fill in the blank. There are always many different solutions to every problem. That’s why I’m interested in hearing Sir Kenneth tonight- to see if he can make me think about things just a little differently. I hope I see you there.

Why our elementary education system is ineffective, inefficient and too damn expensive

Reading Time But...

Reading together. By Michael Comeau

I can read and write at a college level. I could do it in the eleventh grade, because of one teacher, David DiCarlo, at Cleveland Heights High School. He taught Political Science and Comparative Government like a college course. I don’t remember a text book- but I do remember high intensity lectures, every day, with writing assignments almost every night. He made us take a ton of notes, pay attention, and work our butts off. He was also the football coach. After him, college at Wright State was a walk in the park. Teachers that pushed students that hard were rare, but more on that later.

Legislators have come to the conclusion that if kids can’t read by third grade, at “level” they need to be held back. I laugh. I never heard of “chapter books” until a few years ago- I thought all books had chapters from as early as my parents started reading to me. When I was four, my father used to read “Gulliver’s Travels” to me- as I fell asleep. If I didn’t know a word, he explained it to me. If I fell asleep- that was OK too- we’d pick back up the next night. I think he also read “Robinson Crusoe” to me- what’s the pattern of a man alone on an island? Sure, there was Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak, but, for the most part- reading was something that happened in our house everyday- and to this day, my parents are voracious readers and the Dayton Public Libraries best customers.

Kids should be able to read before they get to the first grade. That’s the first fail- and it’s not the fault of the government, or the schools- it’s the fault of parents who think a TV is a good babysitter.

But- unfortunately, our legislators have a better solution- and it’s expensive:

Ohio lawmakers are considering tweaks to the coming third-grade reading guarantee to make sure enough teachers will have the required credentials to work with students who are struggling….

Even with the proposed change, a teacher working with students under the guarantee must have done one of the following:

  • Taken graduate courses and passed a test for a reading endorsement.
  • Completed a master’s degree with a major in reading.
  • Gotten high ratings for her students’ academic growth in reading for the last two years.
  • Earned a credential from a list of approved programs being drawn up by the Ohio Department of Education.

The department also will be taking bids from contractors for a test teachers could take to meet the requirements.

via Criteria to teach reading not set.

Yes, my parents both have masters degrees, but I’m pretty sure I can teach a kid how to read without a masters. In fact, when I was in the 7th grade, we were asked to go work with second graders to help tutor them in math and reading. This emphasis on graduate degrees as a qualification to teach is absurd, especially when the costs of our higher education system have skyrocketed over the last twenty years.

About a year and a half ago, I was in Paris visiting with friends. Her children were in schools that catered to international students- and the 2nd grader had at least an hour of homework every day, the high school junior had between 2 and 4 hours of homework every night. For the last three years, I’ve complained that my kids weren’t bringing home homework- and if they had any at all, it wasn’t challenging at all. My friend in Paris pointed out an article about the education her daughter is enrolled in- “International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme and Pre-U” (yep- the story is in British English):

The IB Diploma is a timeless classic, an icon of educational sense and high standards in a world where educational fashion shifts like hemlines, and much-needed clarity of thinking is elusive. The IB has never been more necessary. First, it believes in knowledge, and enables students to acquire it. It believes in the autonomy of subjects and academic disciplines, but also in their connectivity. It is global in its outlook, truly an education sans frontières. And it is grounded in fundamental values about culture and character. Visionary and inspiring, the IB can liberate and motivate the teacher and student. Practical, instructive and aspirational, it is the best possible preparation for university, for the workplace, and more importantly, for life.

Why do I believe this so strongly? The IB develops students that top universities want: students with expert subject knowledge; with the skills good students require – research, essay writing, footnoting; but above all, with the spirit of intellectual inquiry and critical thinking, the ability to challenge, argue and ask questions. Universities are clearly aware of this: the offer rate and acceptance rate for IB Diploma students is notably above other post-16 qualifications, including A levels, with an 87 per cent acceptance rate for UK-domiciled IB Diploma students last year. And in the US, the IB Diploma is a sought-after passport to top universities from Stanford to Yale.

The IB develops the future leaders the workplace needs – people who know how to collaborate and who know the value of teamwork, people with analytical ability, versatility, international understanding. The IB develops what a global society and a local community can’t survive without – individuals who want to make a difference, who have developed the compassion and sense of public duty to contribute.

How does the IB do this? By a mixture of the compulsory and the optional; the IB offers a combination of testing assignments. In addition to traditional written exams at the end of the two-year programme, students analyse world literature (not just their national literature), focus on world events, create mathematical models to investigate them, and show practical skill in the laboratory. An IB student is required to continue studying in all areas of the curriculum at either Higher or Standard Level. All study at least one language, their native literature, maths, the individual and society and at least one science. Within the six subject groups the choice is wide, from French to Japanese, from biology to computer science, from medieval history to ecosystems and the environment.

The IB is assessed in varied and creative ways, including good old-fashioned terminal exams, proper essays, graphical calculator tasks, and the Group 4 Science project, in which students collaborate on a presentation of a broad scientific topic such as “Environment” or “Colour”, drawing on their knowledge across all four science subjects offered within the IB – physics, chemistry, biology, technology and sports health and exercise science. This year students are investigating “Water” and our students will be collaborating with students from around the world through email, Skype and other real-time communication technology to collect and analyse local water samples, explore local environmental issues and present comparative analyses.

But what makes the IB more than the sum of its parts are the three core elements – the Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge and CAS (Creativity, Action, Service). The extended essay is a 4,000-word piece of original research, tackling a specific question devised by the student and supported by a supervisor. Recent research includes the impact of invasive species on sub-Saharan food crops, or to what extent our brains can compensate for hearing loss. Other exam systems have imitated this, but the IB’s original model leads to truly outstanding pieces of work – some at Sevenoaks have led to publication or patents!

Theory of Knowledge remains unique to the IB. More than its imitator – so-called “critical thinking” – “ToK” requires students to think across their subjects, to connect them, and to take one step back from their own perspective. It requires students to unpick their own assumptions, to think with clarity about real and challenging questions, such as the extent to which disagreement sparks knowledge, or how economic and social circumstances prime us to think in certain ways about the world.

And then there is CAS – Creativity, Action, Service – which carries no points but gives students a structured opportunity to allow and reflect upon the flourishing of mind, body and spirit.

The impact of the IB on a school is liberating and motivating. It fosters a shared purpose and common ethos; it brings students and institutions around the world in touch; it validates the belief that there is no limit to intellectual endeavour. Our students prove this daily – they are getting into the world’s top universities, are moving onto employment with relative ease – to the delight of their parents. Employers worldwide know that IB students know a lot, and more, can do things.

via ‘The IB develops the students top universities want’ – Schools – Education – The Independent.

This doesn’t sound anything like what we’re doing in our schools does it?

A friend, who is a veteran teacher in Cincinnati commented on Facebook about his experiences compared to this:

I taught for four years at the largest IB school in the U.S. It’s an incredibly rigorous program that does truly prepare students for the future. We had many students who would return to us at the end of their first year or first semester of college and tell us that college was easy, compared to high school.

Always remember that education begins at home. The program was driven by parents who demanded much of their kids and much of their kids’ teachers.

I’ll never forget that the first TWO times I got into trouble with my administrator, it was for the same offense: I wasn’t assigning enough homework, and parents were complaining about it.

Compare that to where I teach now. I don’t really assign homework. Why? Students won’t do it. If they won’t do it, the teacher can’t simply give the student a zero on the assignment and move on. It’s expected that we give a second, third, fifth, and tenth opportunity to complete the work. We’re expected to accept work from students even if the work is WEEKS late. For, you see, failure to accept late work would cause a spike in the number of Ds and Fs for that teacher…which means that the teacher will be called into his/her administrator’s office for a lecture and browbeating…because an increase in the number Ds and Fs will threaten the school’s rating on the Ohio state report card.

Thanks for reading. Now, go find a kid, shut the TV off, and read to them. If we built a coordinated network of neighborhood after school programs, I’m pretty sure that my 84 year old mother, would walk down the street every day and spend an hour reading to kids. A few years ago, she had the Iranian kids who lived on the corner in almost every afternoon to help them with their English. If we build the framework, we can fix the problems- and it won’t take more masters degrees.

And, btw- we need more teachers like David DiCarlo- who weren’t afraid to push students way far outside of their comfort levels and make an A almost impossible to get. Thank you Mr. DiCarlo- again.

Bringing your own technology to school

On Wednesday afternoon I was invited to a discussion at Dayton Public schools about the idea of letting students (primarily grades 7-12) bring their own laptops, tablets, e-readers to school. Dr. Melson, their head of IT led the presentation where I learned that by Dec. 31st all Dayton Public Schools will be completely wired with fiber and wifi. Fast access with lots of scalable bandwidth. The problem is what will they do with it?

I’ve advocated for a long time that any school in the digital age that hasn’t supplied its students with a computing device is failing to provide students with the most critical tool they will be required to use as a digital global citizen for the rest of their life. I also believe that when implemented correctly, technology in the classroom can provide huge savings in paper, printing, time to grade and of course, in textbooks which are a major cost to all schools.

This idea of letting kids bring their own computing devices to school is a half-assed solution and will cause more troubles than it’s worth for many reasons. But here are my initial concerns:

  • DPS is an urban district with some families struggling to put shoes on their kids. Allowing some to have tech while others don’t can cause even more trouble than allowing kids to wear their own fashion compared to a uniform (I’m a big fan of school uniforms). We’re basically going to create inequity in the classrooms through this policy.
  • The district is proposing all kinds of rules on what you can and can’t do with the technology- things like taking photos of other students is on the no-no list. My question is how do you enforce these rules? And how many forensics people will you need to be able to “prove” a violation? What right does the district have to search and seize and violate the privacy on a privately owned computer?
  • They are also overly concerned with what the students can access via these tools- and want to totally limit to their filtered content system- as if they truly believe that they can protect kids from what they can see at any public library’s computer.
  • Lastly, without standardized machines with standardized tools, how can a teacher be effective in giving assignments and possibly administering tests etc.?

In short, the premise of this “idea” of “BYOT” is a ridiculous stop-gap measure to make up excuses for not providing the proper tools. This is a clear example of where Ohio should be embarrassed about not solving the school-funding equation, but also embarrassed that they are still utilizing the overpriced, Texas school board approved, curriculum from a few monopolistic text book publishers.

Despite the worries of educators everywhere, technology isn’t a bad thing to introduce, and with the costs of tablets/e-readers costing less than what 1 year’s worth of textbooks is costing it’s insane not to be handing out nooks or kindles as fast as possible.

Considering “reading is fundamental” – one should wonder why we aren’t trying to get these devices into the hands of pre-schoolers. Think about it. In homes where there are no books, you can hand a kid a kindle with hundreds of classic books that are in the public domain and let them read to their hearts’ content. Here is a list of 1oo public domain books for every humanities student that are totally free: http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread435830/pg1 An entire library for every student on a device that costs $70 or less? In high school I had to buy 6-12 paperbacks a year of “classics” – plus had to have a library stocked with multiple copies, what’s the savings just with an e-reader?

But, let’s move on to what happens when we give them a smart device with web access. All of a sudden, we can put our syllabus online, allow them to type their papers and turn them in electronically, take exams and even read the Dayton Daily News for free (if we give them something that can read the “iPad Edition”). Now, they have access to everything from Wikipedia to their own wikis where they can assemble a body of knowledge working alone- or collaborating with their classmates or even students across the globe. Things change quickly. Judging by the number of “worksheets” and forms and newsletters that my kids bring home, I’m guessing each school goes through a tractor trailer worth of paper a year. How much of that is just garbage? And the costs?

I don’t recall getting worksheets in elementary school at all- sometimes we might get “mimeographed” handouts, but for the most part, we wrote down the questions from the teacher, or worked out of a textbook, and they were used year in, year out. Now, my kids get a single year textbook that’s also a workbook- and probably costs $30+ per copy. Really?

It’s time to reconsider what can and should be done in education. Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, an awesome self-paced online education resource, talks passionately about flipping the classroom- letting kids watch the tutorials/lectures at home at their own pace, and then spending school time working on the homework- with the teacher investing time working one-on-one to help the students overcome obstacles. It’s a fascinating look at the power of data in identifying where kids are stumbling- a kind of data set that the conventional classroom can’t achieve. Watch this TED talk:

After watching the curriculum and methodology offered by Khan Academy, are you wondering why we’re spending money on textbooks at all? Not only is there Khan Academy, there is a whole movement toward “open courseware” at all levels. Why learn physics from Joe Average teacher, when students can watch lessons from an MIT master?

Educational freedom isn’t provided by giving choices between public and charter schools- educational freedom is available now on the Internet- the only thing needed is a device and access. Which brings me to the biggest problem facing the DPS student- internet access is only guaranteed at school. Programs like Khan Academy require a live connection, while access to books do not.  Either we provide the digital infrastructure to narrow the digital divide by somehow putting inexpensive internet access into every school kid’s home- or we restructure the educational rubric of where you do your reading and where you do your math etc. Khan talks about flipping the classroom into the study hall, but, it’s only partially possible until we bridge the access gap.

If we look at all of our very expensive standardized testing and “no child left behind” garbage and compare it with its single point snapshot of student achievement to the dashboard of real-time progress that Khan Academy provides (for free) it should be obvious that we’re missing an amazing opportunity to transform our educational process and systems by giving our students the digital tools to learn at their own pace. Khan has even added gameification to the system to award points and badges for achievement, something our current system of teaching and grading is sorely missing- instead, always telling students where they aren’t proficient and failing.

The crazy part to me is that Nicholas Negroponte at the MIT media lab has been building an inexpensive laptop, the XO, from the One Laptop Per Child non-profit for distribution to every other third world country- and we have nothing like it for our own students. It even provides for it’s own networking system, so students can build ad hoc networks no matter where we are.

I’ve talked about this before on this site- feel free to search: xo laptop for instance. The sad part is DPS is only now starting to catch on, and other school districts, even wealthy ones (Lakota’s policy for BYOT was being passed around as a model) aren’t on board with the savings and value technology can bring to our schools. Yes, voters are correct in voting down school levys- as long as districts are still using dead tree textbooks and not fully utilizing the resources of the internet in the classrooms. It’s time to demand a total re-evaluation of the teaching model at all levels in this country.

The saddest part I heard in the meeting was that school administrators somehow don’t think that iPads are somehow ready to be used in the classroom, or that kids can’t be trusted with them. Somehow I don’t think educators who aren’t using this technology should be trusted with teaching our kids, because we’ve only just seen the beginning of the information revolution and it’s happening too fast to wait to jump in.