Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hunting Mammoth - Feedback on TA:TEKS Comments


When I first reviewed the revisions (K-2; 3-5; 6-8) to the Technology Applications:Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TA:TEKS), I immediately sent a copy of my favorite revisions to the TA:TEKS teachers I had the good fortune to work with. After all, it's important to keep these changes in mind when looking at the future. It is easy to feel jaded or depressed when considering the course of technology in Texas continues to be, as Tim points out, an after-thought, something school leaders do when it garners positive press.

Technology is, at best, a caged beast, dangerous to unleash, valuable to possess...not for what it does, but for what it is.

Tim Holt recently shared his opinion quite succinctly:
The TA-TEKS need to be woven into the fabric of the core curricular TEKS, not laid on top like an afterthought.
 He detailed his specific suggestions in a long blog entry about it. From that long entry, the following resonated with me:
The TA-TEKS are separated completely from the rest of the curricular TEKS. The TA-TEKS are not related, except theoretically and through implication in the rest of the core curricular areas.  Teachers and districts are still given an “either/or” choice when it comes to technology because the documents are not interwoven with each other, and how the core curricular TEKS are written. 
Simply, the TA:TEKS are irrelevant to how we approach teaching, learning and leading in Texas K-12 public schools. However, given that they are irrelevant, I'm not sure that fighting for relevance is entirely wise at this time.

Consider the following facts:
  • The State Legislature is facing an $18-$20 billion dollar hole in the budget.
  • The State Technology Allotment--which is what funds technology programs in many school districts, although it is intended to be used to support implementation of the Technology Applications:TEKS in schools--is currently funded through federal stimulus funds. Part of the legislators' job this year will be to determine how to fund the State Technology Allotment, if at all.
  • We already know that the allotment is being diminished.
If we should integrate technology into core curriculum without mandating changes in Curriculum & Instruction Departments, from Superintendent level on down, it's likely that the funding will disappear without any change at all in behavior of C&I Departments.

Let me try to be more blunt. If we integrate technology into core content areas, it will NOT be integrated when it comes time to implement. The reason why is that 1) Most administrators and C&I staff lack the training; 2) The right attitude; 3) The technical comfort level (not proficiency, comfort); 4) The top-down mandate and support required to change their practices.

As Doug Johnson (Blue Skunk Blog) points out in this blog entry on Do We Need National Technology Standards....
My experience is that few districts:
  • Know how they compare to other districts in their technology implementation efforts;
  • Can determine the direction they should be moving to improve technology utilization;
  • Can visualize a technology infrastructure that fully supports learning, teaching and managing. 
When I consider some districts I've worked with, I find they usually die on the third bullet above. In spite of school district's best efforts, even after they collect data (e.g. STaR Chart which is laughable assessment, the LOTI which is better, TAGLIT, etc.), the political will and effort at crafting a strategic technology plan is beyond them. Often, Texas ePlans are lists of objectives of what has gone before (therefore safe to include in a plan) or deceptive documents that fail to address the nitty-gritty work of implementing technology district-wide.

Vision fails because funding is in short supply. And, to be blunt, improving test scores is the FIRST and ONLY priority of schools in Texas. Is it wrong to focus on that goal instead of blending technology into the daily work?

As a veteran instructional technologist, there is much to NOT like in Texas schools' approaches to technology. From drill-n-practice, tutorial software pushed down from above to off-set the perception that teachers can't teach or learn too slowly to the idea that technology can be uniformly sprinkled in schools and magically, scores increase.

Those points aside, I agree with Tim. We shouldn't segregate technologists, technology from the rest of core content. The problem is, I am 100% sure that core content would do it's best to resist, if not throttle, the changes brought about by technology. We are not dealing with reasoning individuals, but the unreasoning fear of change. Why would any core content specialist, sitting on the vaunted high horse of curriculum expertise dictating marching orders to legions of teachers slogging away in the trenches of calcified classrooms, listen to a technologist constrained to tiptoe and whisper in her ear?

Doug Johnson suggests a rubric to measure technology use in schools. Here is a checklist that reflects the expectation of a mandate:
  1. The Superintendent makes technology integration a requirement of employment for all staff, requiring teachers to achieve Level 5 of the Levels of Teaching Innovation (LOTI). That is, using technology to extend learning beyond the classroom walls. Level 5 assumes using technology as a tool to identify and solve real life problems, collaborative uses of technology at a distance, and the apt selection of information management/literacy tools.
  2. Curriculum & Instruction staff--from the top down to the lowliest district specialists--are required to stop crafting curriculum manuals/guides/scope and sequences until they have mastered the use of technology within their content area.
  3. Set aside 30% of local funds to upgrade technology in all schools and ensure ubiquitous access.
  4. Stop hiring outside curriculum consultants (like Willard Daggett, etc.) and inviting them into stoke the flames of fear. Instead, require all staff to institute their own professional learning network.
  5. Statewide testing efforts include technology applications.
I know, 4 simple suggestions. I remember an older colleague's reaction over 10 years ago when a new mandate came out. "You might as well be shoving it down their throats!" He hoped for people to come along willingly, making the change in their character on their own.

Sadly, the change wouldn't have happened in many districts until the requirement was put in place. How do I know this? That's what he and I were told when we visited districts that we served.

There's a lesson in that...if change is to be made, Tim's blog entry suggests that it must be mandated, perhaps as my colleague said, "forced down their throats."

For the majority of behemoth districts ambling along, content to chew their content like mammoths chowing on cud, reform seldom comes as a result of a few hunters armed with spears. . .instead, it comes as a cataclysmic charge off the top of a cliff that lay unperceived, in the opposite direction of goads and taunts.

My reflections on this are probably all wrong. What do you think?


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Richard Smith said...

You and Tim Holt have written on the same topic. I hope that you don't mind if provide much of the same comment that I just left on Tim's blog a bit earlier this morning. Accordingly, here is the guts of what I wrote.

"From the time I started implementing technology projects in schools with the Houston Independent School District in 1982, I have observed that much of what drives technology implementation in schools results from the efforts of computer and software companies to sell their products. It has little to do with facilitating instruction or improving the ability of students to learn. Interestingly enough, young students (and adults) seem to be able to be able to master the use of technology when they have the need to use it. For example, it is a rare young person who cannot use a Wii game when offered the opportunity and even the rarer adult who cannot figure out how to buy a product with eBay. However, here is a more interesting problem for teachers. If educational planners were to do a systematic analysis of how to best apply technology in education, they might decide (based upon a cost-effectiveness study) that much of instruction, especially at the high school level could be outsourced to countries where English is spoken well, such as India. Thus, they could educate American students at a far lower cost than is done at present. If you don't think that would happen consider; twenty years ago would you have thought that charter schools would appear, or that home schooling would sweep the nation?"

Miguel Guhlin said...

@Richard, what I hear you saying is that our American school system is due for a profound change, and charter schools and outsourced educations are signs of the impending transformation.

These discussions, arguments, about technology integration are out of date and worthless. The world has changed and we're still arguing about yesterday's approach. In a real sense, the Titanic is sinking and education technologists haven't found out yet.

Richard Smith said...


We seem to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while closing the water tight doors, having failed to notice that the gash in the hull is too large to control. At any rate, it will be a case of follow the money. Now that the door has been opened to distance education and the teacher certification process has been weakened, chances are that the chant will start with, "face-to-face education - good; distance education - good." Then as state legislatures realize that they can hire outsourced teachers in areas such as math and science for a fraction of what they pay American teachers, the chant will change to "face-to-face education - good; distance education - better!" The next step will be to hire teacher aides instead of certified teachers in high schools (to manage the students) and have much of the instruction delivered by low paid outsourced teachers. Then the chant changes to ""face-to-face education - bad; distance education - good." Hey, reread "Animal Farm" by George Orwell. : )

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