By Alexander Russo
When Michael Lach isn’t going to meetings and writing memos as the head of the Chicago Public Schools science initiative, he’s often posting his thoughts on his personal weblog, called Teach and Learn ( www.teachandlearn.org).
Most of the posts on the site are education related. But not all of them. Lach also posts music reviews and favorite cartoons from The New Yorker. He muses about whether the doctoral degree he’s getting is really worth anything. Thus far at least, Lach has refrained from posting about his social life as many other bloggers do, though that time may not be far off.
There is a disclaimer in the top right corner of Lach’s blog: “Opinions are the author’s and not necessarily shared by the Chicago Public Schools, but they should be.” Still, Lach’s blog—and the small but growing number of similar ones being created by teachers, principals, administrators, and even board members—are very different from the first wave of education blogs, many of which were set up for classroom-related activities and other instructional purposes. More and more, it seems, blogs aren’t just for teachers sharing classroom ideas or students posting their assignments. And sometimes, these new blogs create controversy.
This summer, a California parent became upset when her child visited her teacher’s blog, Right on the Left Coast ( http://rightontheleftcoast.blogspot.com), which featured a link to a nude antiwar protest in Berkeley. The parent threatened to turn in the teacher, a Sacramento-area math instructor. In another case, the frustration-filled blog kept by a high school English teacher was discovered by a student, who recognized herself and others and told her mother about it. Word of the blog spread quickly among teachers, students, and administrators.
For these reasons, many bloggers use a pseudonym, or change the names and identifying characteristics of those who are described. Others limit their use of blogs to more traditional professional development. In some ways, the issues involved have to do with free speech and professional conduct. “If a teacher feels the need to write on his blog about a social movement or anything else, does the employing school or a parent have any right to censor that speech?” asks another teacher on his blog, the Daily Grind ( http://ahighcall.blogspot.com).
For the most part, these new blogs seem like they are a constructive part of the educational landscape. One superintendent has a blog ( http://schoolreferenda.blogspot.com) showing others how to get a school referenda passed. Another uses his blog to share ideas, as well as to solicit them from parents and community members. The site is hosted by a local paper.
So far, Lach’s site hasn’t created any noticeable strain on his working relationship with other administrators—or endangered his job. “The chief education officer saw the site and said she loved it,” says Lach. “All the comments have been positive.”
One reason is that Lach, like many others who have created blogs, is simply trying to explain a hidden part of the education system. “I do this to make it clearer about what large urban school system bureaucrats do,” says Lach. “When I was a teacher, I always wanted to know what people in my position were thinking. I believe strongly that by engaging in a dialogue we collectively deepen our understanding and our practice.”
Prince George’s County (MD) Public Schools awarded a $4.1 million software and services contract to MAXIMUS, which will implement its SchoolMAX student information management system. District officials aim to improve the ability to manage critical student information, track and facilitate the learning progress of students, communicate and collaborate with parents and the community, and meet critical NCLB reporting and compliance requirements.
The state of Missouri is issuing 10-digit identification numbers to nearly all of the state’s 905,000 public school students, which will follow them from preschool age through high school. Officials say the system will save money and enable more accurate individual data by precoding test booklets with student information. The state is working with ESP Solutions Group of Austin, Texas, to implement the $600,000 program.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education (SDE) has renewed its contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill to develop and implement the Oklahoma End of Instruction tests in algebra I, biology I, U.S. history, and English II. SDE plans to offer End of Instruction tests online through a two-year phased-in approach for schools preferring online administration.
By Matt Bolch
The first day on the job is daunting for any first-year teacher. Getting a working e-mail address and being able to log on to the student information database should be the least of his or her worries. Some of those in charge of technology at school districts around the country have developed systems and checklists to make sure that new teachers are prepared for the start of classes from a technology standpoint.
Teachers just starting in the 26,000-student Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District in Texas take an online course about the system’s technology and pass a test before their access codes and log-ins are activated, says Andrew Berning, CTO. Teachers then have access to e-mail, the student information system, the curriculum management system, the staff development system, and a personal web site.
These teachers also attend a two-day orientation program, which includes sessions on the district’s classroom performance system and how to use the various devices on the technology cart in each room. “We want to make sure new teachers have e-mail before the first day,” says Berning, who notes that 400 instructors will join the district this year. “I’ve seen places where teachers really can’t do anything, and we won’t let that happen here.”
Fulton County (GA) Schools provides its neophytes with technology training during a weeklong orientation session, says Katie Lovett, CIO of the 78,000-student district. (Fulton County encompasses Atlanta, which has its own school district.) The training consists of one day at a central location, with the remainder at the teacher’s school. Fulton County began issuing laptop computers to teachers two years ago, so much of the technology training component is centered around how to use the laptop.
Because the Wake County (NC) Public School System stresses local autonomy, all e-mail account and password information for starting employees is sent to the principal at each school and given to the new hire, says Bev White, CTO. “All of our schools are truly site based,” says White of the 114,000-student district. “The reason we feel OK [with this system] is because it’s a onetime password, which the user is prompted to change even before he or she is allowed into the system for the first time.”
The district expects to hire 300 teachers to keep pace with rising enrollment, in addition to teachers hired to replace those who have left. Wake County Public Schools is the second-largest district in North Carolina and the 23rd-largest in the nation.
White says that most principals conduct one-on-one instruction with new teachers, which is bolstered by group orientation and site-based media specialists or technology contacts. Employees just starting out receive an extensive information packet from the human resources department, which includes information available on the instructional web site and materials concerning the Blackboard, Inc., technology at each school. “We push technology out so schools have that autonomy,” says White. “We have 140 schools and 140 flavors of doing things.”
Principal Mel Riddile’s students come from more than 80 different countries and speak more than 60 different languages. Sixty-six percent of the students at J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, Virginia, are ELL. And when Riddile began there as principal eight years ago, 76 percent of the students were more than one standard deviation below grade level.
So what compelled President Bush to deliver his policy speech on high school reform at Stuart High School earlier this year? The school’s remarkable turnaround. Today, more than 90 percent graduate and attend postsecondary programs.
Was it difficult to get teachers to incorporate reading instruction in their classes?
High school teachers have never seen themselves as reading teachers, and we had to change that. We did pre-assessments and asked the teachers to write students’ reading levels in their grade books beside the student’s name as a constant reminder of where the students began. One of our teachers asked, “How can I teach Romeo and Juliet to someone who’s reading three years below grade level?” Then the next question came: “Should I teach it?” But the third question has to be, “How can I teach it?”
How do you train high school teachers to also be reading teachers?
We have a literacy coach who goes into the classroom and teaches our teachers how to teach reading. We don’t take teachers out to seminars or workshops. We give them job-embedded training. Research shows that there’s a significantly higher retention rate when you train in-house.
How do you encourage teachers to use instructional technology to support literacy?
Technology creates a low-threat environment, particularly for older students. We’ve found over the years that kids would rather be dead than embarrassed, so we’ve created a situation in which they can put on earphones and go through a structured program, with the aid of a teacher, that supplements what they’re learning in class.
For students who have low skill levels, it’s not a question of their ability, it’s a question of motivation. It’s not that they can’t learn, it’s that they don’t do what’s necessary to learn. When trying to educate the hard-to-reach, teachers need high-interest, enriched materials that are easy to access. Teachers can use a CD-ROM as a launching pad to a whole world of material that isn’t available in a single textbook. Technology should be used as a booster rocket to get these kids into orbit.
FRONTIERS IN EDUCATION CONFERENCE
Pedagogies and Technologies for the Emerging Global Economy
The Westin Indianapolis
The conference promotes the dissemination of innovations that improve computer science, engineering, and technology education.
Colorado Convention Center
Find information, resources, and a community of educational technology colleagues ready to communicate, collaborate, and connect.
SOLUTIONS FOR SCHOOLS
Park Plaza Hotel
K–12 administrators and suppliers discuss advances in assessment, professional development, data management, hardware, student information systems, and digital content solutions. The conference features a keynote from Scott L. Campbell, vice president of K–12 sales at Dell, and a number of in-depth panel discussions with speakers from such leading districts as St. Louis Public Schools, Fremont (CA) Unified School District, Sheboygan (WI) area schools, and the Connecticut and Pennsylvania Departments of Education.
Want to see students intensely engaged in a curriculum that combines the arts, technology literacy, geography, and social studies, all done after school hours and at no cost to their schools? Go to www.flickr.com, a free online photo-sharing network, and type classroom into the search bar.
Part of the popularity of Flickr is the ability to “tag” photographs with keywords that create a sort of grassroots classification system. A simple search using the keyword school generates tens of thousands of returns. While not all approach the composition of the images featured here, the number of high-quality results is striking. Maybe there is a reason for camera phones after all.
Click on the links to the right to see examples that were all taken by students and instructors and posted on the site in 2005.