The key issue to watch in 2017 is the spiraling drive to privatize public schools through digital learning.
One way this is done is through charter schools. Another strategy could be by not funding the upkeep of public school facilities then recreating them as blended learning schools.
Allowing schools to crumble in order to justify all-digital learning programs is a concern.
Remember Detroit? They had schools with mold growing out of their walls and other horrors. Local and state school administrators claimed there was no money in the midst of corruption.
School conditions impact student learning. You can be the best teacher in the world, but if your students are taking a test in an overheated classroom, under a leaky roof, worried about rats, or not getting a break due to lousy playground equipment, or repeatedly coughing do to the mold-induced asthma, it will affect testing results.
I revisited Detroit’s schools online today to see if school conditions improved after a year. I learned something surprising.
A.L. Holmes Elementary in Detroit, which had mice a year ago, has converted to a school with blended learning!
Here is the May 2016 write-up about it. I don’t know if they still have mice.
While schools in Detroit have been allowed to rot, and district and state administrators have had poor mouths, in 2011, A.L. Holmes got a $2.8 million school improvement grant from the State of Michigan. They invested in technology—netbooks, iMacs, smart boards and broadband—and contracted with Matchbook Learning. Matchbook is a nonprofit that provides online teachers.
Matchbook works primarily with charter schools, so the fact that they are working with traditional public schools should give us pause.
Matchbook has the usual personalized learning promises. They will fix low-performing public schools, even though there’s no proof they will succeed. They use SPARK which looks at where a student is working, and they collect lots of data as the student progresses.
One good thing for A.L. Holmes is that they did not continue with Matchbook and insisted upon having real teachers. I think that was a smart move on their part. Research indicates that tech plus real teachers works best.
But Matchbook also provides microcredentials and badges which replaces college preparation and certification for staff. How did this affect the teachers at A.L. Holmes?
And what happened to the bad conditions at the school facility?
Converting public schools to digital learning is popular in many places. It seems logical and parents and the community are usually excited. But what about conditions in the rest of the school? What are the other priorities?
Look around your school district and see where tax dollars are going. If your school announces a brand new digital learning lab and seem mesmerized with technology, ask yourselves these questions:
- Has the school building deteriorated? Is it in need of cleaning? Are there broken windows and general problems with upkeep? Would you want to work there? Along with the new digital instruction will the school building be rennovated?
- Has the school funded a variety of subjects and activities? Digital labs can be useful if the school has other programs and goals. If all the principal and teachers talk about is academics, blended learning, and flipping classrooms ask more questions.
- If there are partnerships how much will tax dollars fund? What is the underlying reason a company/s are helping to support digital learning?
- Who is the company the school board will be contracting with for digital services? Parents and the community have less say when a school district contracts with outsiders. Outsourcing services is privatization.
- Has the school been a proponent of Common Core State Standards? It seems natural that CCSS will lead to digital learning with its assessments— Smarter Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC).
- What do student classrooms look like? Are they stark with little on the walls? Are they mostly carrels? Are there huge data walls? Do students sit by themselves on their tech devices? Are they overcrowded?
- How are other features in the school? Is the air quality good? Are the restrooms clean with soap and tissue. Is there a library with books? Is the cafeteria decent?
- Who’s teaching? It is important to find out the educational background of teachers. Are they credentialed by an accredited university in the subject area they teach? With new digital learning will there be only a few teachers left at the school? Will there be an over reliance on computers? Will teachers become facilitators?
- Are teachers provided support from the school district? If a teacher has a school facility concern are they respected? Is the problem taken care of quickly?
- Does the district bemoan teacher shortages? I like to check on the number of job openings for teachers when a district claims there is a shortage. It is an easy excuse to say digital learning solves the teacher shortage crisis. Not everyone thinks there is a crisis.
Schools need to update to technology for all students. There is agreement on that. But digital shouldn’t be the only avenue to learning.
Converting public schools to all-digital is a drastic change that is unproven. And it is especially suspect if there has been little money to keep school facilities safe and in working order.