Sunday, October 28, 2007

Constancy and Change

I think educational leaders should approach rapid change from the inner strength that comes from their "universal bones." For instance, those who think change should drive a new understanding of ethics or democracy should instead, let their understanding of ethics and democracy drive their approach to new technologies. I can think of no better example than the confrontation last year between Elliot Schrage, of Google, and a group of congressmen over his defense of Google's practice of helping the Chinese government to oppress its people.
Schrage is a "Corporate ethicist," a lawyer and consultant with a huge resume (and real achievements) on issues where human rights and global commerce meet. With a very agile mind, he attempts to defend Google's actions as working toward the greater good in a complex world. The congressmen had a simpler understanding, and typically expressed outrage at what Google was doing. They were informed not by the "new technological landscape," but by their own sense of democracy and right and wrong. I am saying they were on firmer ground, and Schrage, in this case, was wrong. No matter what the "greater good," it was wrong to participate in oppressing China's people, regardless of whether this was legal in China. I think as teachers we are stronger when we rely on an armature of truths about democracy, morality, human rights, etc., and I am not comfortable with the relativism so many pundits seem to be expressing. Rapid technological change is here, yes. It needs educational leaders with backbone and purpose!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Standards in Chugach

I am always looking for working examples of a standards-based K-12 educational system. For me, this means getting away from the traditional “time-in-grade” system, where time is fixed by semesters, grading periods, etc. according to a group pace for learning. In a real standards-based system, time becomes the variable. You only pass when you complete the work. A “course” is determined by a body of work or a set of “performances” that demonstrate the skills or knowledge needed to pass. You don’t pass or fail when the course is over. Instead, the course is over for you when you complete the work. To me this is common sense. I am sure it would be for anyone who, like me, did not connect well with school. But each day I work with educators who loved school, who loved the way it worked for them, and who think of every change as another hula hoop. Most principals I know also don’t really have a practical understanding of (or frankly much interest in) changing the system. That’s why I think places like Chugach, Alaska, are important:
Read this series of articles and tell me again why standards can’t work.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Leadership is still a barrier to "Integration."

I believe the biggest barrier to teachers' use of technology is not their oft' bemoaned inability or unwillingness.

I think it is the inability of the leadership, to:
1. Provide solid, reliable, technology with support levels that don't leave teachers hanging for days with a problem.
2. Show the teachers clearly what they are expected to do with the technology provided.
3. Have an accountability structure, to make sure they do it.

I believe it's fundamentally a challenge for leadership. This includes state agencies, superintendents, principals, school boards, politicians, etc. We should stop blaming "reluctant teachers." Where are their supervisors? Step #1 above is not cheap, and most leaders would say we are already spending sufficient funds. We aren't. Also, many school leaders would say the technology works, yet they almost never assess whether it works. Is 90% up time OK? Many public schools don't even have that. Most schools lack support levels that industry takes for granted. There aren't many Bartlebies at L.L. Bean who "prefer not to" use the technology. Industry gets tech done (at a much higher cost than K-12) or fails. We have trouble getting it done, because if we don't, everyone keeps showing up and paying for it. At least for now.