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It’s the first day of school (again)!

In honor of the first day of school here in Ames, Iowa, here is the checklist I posted last year at this time. Hmmm… I wonder if schools have made any improvements on this list over the past year?

Beginningoftheyearchecklist

Can we afford to give every child in America a laptop?

[cross-posted
at the TechLearning blog
]

A few back-of-the-envelope
calculations
here (estimating conservatively when in doubt)…

A. Number of students and teachers

50
million
public school students
+
3.3
million
public school teachers (full-time)
=
53.3
million
teachers and students

B. Cost per laptop (a regular laptop, not the OLPC laptop)

$1,993 average district cost per client computer per year [from the three One-to-One CoSN Total
Cost Per Ownership (TCO) Case Studies
]
x
1.5 (I’m adding 50% just to
err on the safe side)
=
$2,990 average district cost per client computer
per year (let’s call it $3,000)

C. Total cost to give every student and teacher a laptop

53.3 million teachers and students (see A above)
x
$3,000 average
district cost per client computer per year (see B above)
=
$159.9 billion
(let’s call it $160 billion)

D. Gross domestic product (GDP)

$13 trillion (United States GDP, overall)
x
3.4%
(percentage of United States
GDP spent on K-12 education
)
=
$442 billion (amount
in United States spent on K-12 education)

E. Percentage of GDP

$160 billion (see C above)
/
$442 billion (see D above)
=

36% of the overall United States K-12 education expense to
give every teacher and student a regular laptop

$160 billion (see C above)
/
$13 trillion (see D above)
=

1.2% of the overall United States GDP to give every teacher
and student a regular laptop

Obviously this is very rough, but hopefully it’s also thought-provoking. It
is highly possible that my numbers are incorrect somewhere. If you think I left
something out or miscalculated, let me know. Also, of course, opportunities for
savings abound (e.g., open source software, bulk discounts, buying OLPC laptops
instead of regular ones) and those would have to be factored in as well.

So can we afford to give every child (and teacher) in America a laptop? You
tell me…

Principal blogging not allowed

On Monday I got an e-mail from an elementary principal:

Scott, it looks like I won’t be able to follow through with the [Principal Blogging Project]. Our
district technology person has decided not to open up access to blog sites,
therefore I cannot access the site from school (our filter blocks
it).

In other words, the principal cannot set up a blog to communicate with his
school community because the district technology coordinator, who is in a
support position, won’t let him. Here was my reply:

This is disappointing. As Director of CASTLE, I work quite a bit with
principals, superintendents, and technology coordinators. I’m always sad to hear
when technological decisions are made that get in the way of enabling
administrators’ / teachers’ work. I think that technology should be about
enabling good educational practices, not gatekeeping or shutting them down
because of fear / safety concerns. There are many, many schools and districts
where principals, superintendents, teachers, and others are blogging to both
internal and external communities. Why can’t your district be one of those
places? How are you going to expose students, teachers, parents, and
administrators to the technological transformations that are revolutionizing
American and global societies if you shut it all down? If things change (or if
there’s any way I can help you maybe persuade someone to think differently about
this), let me know.

Here is the principal’s final e-mail to me:

I agree. I tried to work it through and was not successful. I loved the
blogging idea, it was nice and easy for me, and I knew that I would be able to
get staff on board. Unfortunately, not everyone is as forward
thinking.

This tale’s been told before. Technology coordinators who are more concerned
with disabling than enabling. Technology personnel that we would hope would be
progressive, forward thinkers regarding digital technologies but instead are
regressive gatekeepers. Teachers and administrators that try to move into the 21st century but run into the brick wall of supervisors or support personnel. Superintendents that allow such situations to occur
rather than insisting that their district figure out how to make it work (like
other districts have). Educators that fail to understand that the world around them has
changed and that their relevance to that world is diminishing daily.

This tale’s been told before, but it’s still depressing.

P.S. See
my previous post
.

Well? What’s your answer?

[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

K-12 and postsecondary education would be very different if we asked ourselves
this question more often (thanks,
Stephanie
). Is your organization ready to take this inquiry to heart – to
really, truly critically examine its current practices and assumptions in light
of this question? Mine isn’t.
Are we doing what is best for our students, or are we doing what is most convenient for us?

Minnesota is below average

Minnesota is used to being at the top. Our accolades include being one of the best states in the country in which to raise a family, being at the top on child and adult health measures, and being one of the highest states in terms of adult educational attainment. The state consistently is at the top when it comes to academic achievement on national and international tests as well. But when it comes to K-12 technology we’re not doing so well.

Last year Education Week gave Minnesota a D when it came to K-12 technology policy and practice. This year its annual Technology Counts issue bumps Minnesota up to a C but notes that the state is still below the national average. Here are some of the relevant tables from the Minnesota report (click on each for a larger image):

2007techcountsmn01_2

2007techcountsmn02

2007techcountsmn03

You can see from the charts below that we lag the nation as a whole when it comes to closing the digital divide (click on each for a larger image). On average, our poor and/or minority students have less access to instructional computers than do similar students in other states.

2007techcountsmn04

2007techcountsmn05_2

How did your state do? Visit Education Week to find out.

Women of the Web Administrator Supershow

As promised, here is the link to the Women of the Web 2.0 podcast and chat transcript from March 20, 2007:

Thanks to all who joined us, including Pete Reilly (who was a last-minute but very welcome addition) and everyone who participated in the quite-active chat space.

For those of you who are interested, here is my "money quote":

I believe we’re scheduled to rejoin the Women of the Web 2.0 on May 1 for a follow-up session. I’m looking forward to it!

Virtual leadership

I had a very interesting conversation yesterday with a woman who works for one of the Big Four auditing companies. She’s essentially what I would call a virtual employee: her supervisors are in cities across the globe, her peers are across the globe, the employees she supervises are across the globe. In other words, they’re basically doing everything over the phone or online using various collaboration tools. I felt like I was immersed in Wikinomics.

She then proceeded to ask me some really hard questions about ‘virtual management’ and ‘virtual leadership development’:

  • How do you effectively lead a workgroup of people you’ve never met face-to-face (and may never meet)?
  • How do you effectively supervise the work of these people?
  • How do you facilitate those often ad hoc, ongoing opportunities for leadership development (for yourself and/or those you supervise) in such a work environment?

Having never been in this situation, of course I had no good answers for her. I did recommend that she contact some of the big technology companies or other global companies that are her firm’s clients and ask their Human Resources people her questions. I’m guessing that they have done some work in this area as they develop their geographically-disparate workforces.

Any thoughts on this issue? Anyone know of work that’s been done in the business arena on this?

Legal obligations re: technology

[cross-posted at The Gate]

Someone recently sent me the following quote from a school administrator
(regarding legal concerns related to technology initiatives):

The school district is legally obligated to protect our students
from the outside. It is not legally obligated to prepare them
for the outside.

Ouch.

On its face, this statement gives precedence to legal concerns over whatever
moral, professional, and/or ethical responsibilities schools have to prepare
students for their future. This statement elevates CYA thinking over social
justice concerns about technology
access/usage
and workforce
preparation
for disadvantaged students. This statement is reactive, not
proactive, at a time when we desperately need forward-thinking school leaders.

Since when did schools not have a legal and societal mandate to provide an
adequate education for students? As
Kagan notes
, every state’s constitution requires the state to provide its
children with an ‘adequate’ education. Every community expects its local schools
to prepare kids to be competent, functional adults in American society. How well
do you think the ‘we don’t have a legal obligation to prepare your children
for the world
’ argument is going to play with parents and politicians?

We can reasonably disagree about the qualitative definition of what
constitutes an ‘adequate education’ (e.g., we’ve seen this play out in both the
school
funding
and special
education
arenas). But as people become increasingly aware that the Internet
and digital technologies are necessary requirements for most adults’ productive
lives and careers, this administrator’s statement that technology doesn’t fall
under schools’ legally-required mandate to provide an adequate education for
students is going to become increasingly unpalatable.

Decision-making department

Does your school organization make decisions because they sound good or because internal analysis shows they’re the right decisions to make? In other words, what department do your decisions fall under? Marketing or R & D? 

Mac and cheese

I have three young kids, so macaroni and cheese is a staple in our household. But the box drives me bonkers.

Mac_and_cheese

To open, push here.‘ Are there any more dreaded words for mac and cheese lovers? You know it isn’t going to work. You know you’re going to have to rip the entire top off the box, and yet you try it anyway, hoping against hope that this time the little cardboard button will work the way it’s supposed to. But of course it doesn’t and you have to rip it open with your bare claws, or use kitchen shears, or a chainsaw…

To open, push here‘ is a classic example of design getting in the way of purpose. I mean, let’s face it, the mac and cheese box only has three purposes:

  1. to entice us to buy it,
  2. to protect its contents while shipping, and
  3. to allow us access to its contents so we can eat them.

The box fulfills the first two functions pretty well, but fails miserably at the third.

Now, let’s extend this metaphor to our own technology (and other) initiatives in our schools. Like the mac and cheese box, what elements of our design and delivery get in the way of us achieving our purpose(s)? Lack of adequate training? Insufficient support? Failure to allocate appropriate time? Unreasonable expectations? As school leaders, if we don’t want our initiatives to fail (‘To open, push here‘), we have to attend to these issues if we want to get to the yummy goodness inside.

Is your school organization aligned to get the results it says it wants to achieve? If not, what’s getting in the way and what are you going to do about it?