Archive | Miscellaneous RSS feed for this section

Farewell, Dr. Glass

Des Moines to Eagle County

Regular readers of this blog know that I don’t always agree with Dr. Jason Glass, Director of the Iowa Department of Education. But I’m going to be one of the first to say how sorry I am that he’s leaving Iowa for his new position as Superintendent of the Eagle County (CO) Schools.

I have ongoing concerns about some of the directions that Iowa educational policy is heading. Like in other states, we have seen policy proposals in recent years that hurt kids, schools, and our state. From teacher ‘accountability’ to third grade retention to assigning schools letter grades, these policies play well to certain fringes of the ‘ed reform’ crowd but have nothing to do with transforming education in ways that facilitate deeper thinking, student agency, or relevance in a digital, global world. Unfortunately, our policymakers also are not immune to the influx of outside monies. When the Governor is a founding member of ALEC and the largest political donor in the last legislative race is StudentsFirst, Iowa can expect to face some significant issues regarding inappropriate outside and/or corporate influence on policies that affect its children, teachers, and schools. In a state where most educational professionals either don’t have an online voice or aren’t willing to use it, I have felt the need to sometimes speak against some of the lunacy.

For the most part I think that Jason has been a moderating influence on much of this. Despite the policy positions from above (or outside) for which he’s sometimes had to stand behind, he’s pretty middle of the road on most things. Every conversation that I’ve had with Jason has been nothing but congenial and respectful. In addition to his advocacy for strengthening the teaching profession, he’s been a strong supporter of competency-based education (which, along with technology, I believe has the greatest potential in our state for upending school as we know it). He has tried to help us learn from high-achieving school systems and he’s facilitated the expansion of online learning. He fostered the #iaedfuture Twitter hashtag (which has become an important channel for conversations about Iowa school policy) and has been exceptionally accessible to the larger public via his blog and Twitter. And he always, always is proud of and talks highly about the work that Iowa educators and schools are doing. One of our greatest strengths in our state is the tremendous interconnectedness and mutual support that Iowans and their educators give to each other. We have a long history of caring about education, we are small enough that everyone seems to know each other, and it’s relatively easy to get positive movements started. Jason has always understood this and, in his way, tried to leverage these strengths to do good things for kids and schools. Although I have expressed occasional concern about the possibility of Iowa becoming one of ‘those states’ (yes, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, New York, Tennessee, etc., I’m talking about you), we have a number of fantastic things happening here when it comes to education. Some are a direct result of Jason’s leadership. For others – such as the grass roots 1:1 computing movement or the burgeoning standards-based-grading awakening – he has known when to stay out of the way (a much less appreciated but critically important characteristic of effective leaders).

So I’m going to miss you, Jason. Thanks for taking the ACT with me. Thanks for the public Twitter exchanges that everyone saw and the private email exchanges that everyone didn’t. I hope you have a smooth transition back to a place that was once home and wish you the very best in your new role. And if you ever want some help or support on the technology front – particularly with your building- and district-level leaders – please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Techno- and edu-babble

This video is making the rounds. It seems like you ought to understand it, but it’s complete gibberish. Watch a minute or two…

How often do we techno-enthusiasts sound like this when we proselytize to less tech-savvy educators?

See also the educational jargon generator (“unleash synergistic infrastructures,” “engineer innovative convergence”). Spot on…

Congratulations, Drs. Cox, Grundmeyer, Sauers, and Urich!

It’s highly possible that my favorite thing about working in higher education is Commencement. I’m a sucker for the pomp and circumstance, the medieval regalia, the joyous singing of the alma mater, etc. So while graduation ceremonies can be quite long, the smiles on students’ and families’ faces are worth every second of sitting in uncomfortable chairs and bleacher seats.

Last night I had the pleasure of ‘hooding’ my final four Iowa State University doctoral students:

  • Dan Cox is the principal of Hoover Middle School in the Waterloo (IA) Community School District. His dissertation was titled School communications 2.0: A social media strategy for K-12 principals and superintendents.
  • Trent Grundmeyer is the principal of Indianola (IA) High School. His dissertation was titled A qualitative study of perceptions of first-year college students regarding technology and college readiness.
  • Nick Sauers is a former Iowa principal and currently is a Lecturer in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky. Nick also blogs at 1 to 1 Schools. His dissertation was titled 1:1 laptop implications and district policy considerations.
  • Jill Urich is the principal of Northview Middle School in the Ankeny (IA) Community School District. Her dissertation was titled Implementation of standards-based grading at the middle school level.

Please extend hearty commendations to Drs. Cox, Grundmeyer, Sauers, and Urich for successful completion of their doctorates. Ph.D. programs are long, arduous journeys and they made it through with smiles on their faces!

Pictures are below (apologies in advance for the lighting and my poor photography skills). Dan, Trent, Nick, and Jill, it was wonderful working with you!

Dan Cox

Dan Cox

Trent Grundmeyer

Grundmeyer

Nick Sauers

Sauers

Jill Urich

Urich

Taking the ACT a quarter century after high school

Roosevelthighschooldesmoines

[Warning: Long post ahead]

Yesterday I took the ACT college entrance exam for the first time. At age 44.

It all started with Ira Socol’s blog post, which argued that if politicians think that the standardized tests they are espousing are so important, they had better be able to pass those tests themselves. I then sent these tweets:


Neither Iowa Governor Terry Branstad nor any state legislators responded (surprise!) but Dr. Jason Glass, Director of the Iowa Department of Education, said that he would take the ACT if I would too. The good folks at ACT said that they would be happy to administer a retired test. And that’s how I ended up in a small room at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines with Jason and 8 students who took the exam for practice.

How was the experience?

I took the SAT when I was a kid so the ACT was new territory for me. I’ll break out my thoughts by test area…

English. The English test was primarily a test of grammar, sentence formation, and paragraph flow and structure. I was asked many questions about punctuation and phrasing and word choice (e.g., who or whom or whose or who’s). Occasionally I was asked about spelling (e.g., its v. it’s) or whether a particular sentence or paragraph should be inserted, deleted, and/or moved elsewhere in a reading passage. The focus was primarily on writing composition. At times I felt like I do when I’m helping edit one of my students’ doctoral dissertations! With the caveat that I’m not a writing expert, I felt that this test did a fairly decent job of assessing whether students could identify grammar errors, poor wording, stilted sentence flow, and other technical mistakes in written passages.

Testingdonotdisturb

Math. I know how to do a number of advanced statistical procedures, including linear regression and hierarchical linear modeling. However, I still thought that this would be the hardest test for me since I haven’t done any geometry or trigonometry since I took those high school courses almost 30 years ago. Most of the test focused on algebraic and geometric concepts. There were a handful of trigonometry questions, plus I was surprised to see a question on logarithms. I correctly completed more problems than I thought I would but – probably due to lack of day-to-day immersion and practice – was correct about the pacing. I had to pencil in last-minute random guesses for several questions because I simply ran out of time. My biggest concerns about the math test relate to the fact that much of what is assessed is math that – and I think I’m safe saying this – most of us will never use again (how many of you have needed to calculate the cosine of an angle recently? how many of you have needed to determine the formula of a circle on a standard coordinate plane?). This is a curricular issue more than an assessment issue since the ACT draws off of the math courses that most high school students take. Smarter people than I have weighed in on what math courses high schoolers should take and I’ll defer to them before I reveal too much of my ignorance. I know some of the arguments about ‘inculcating habits of mind’ and ‘more students might be turned onto higher-level math and science’ and so on. It just bothers me a great deal that we’re herding many, many students through math classes that are largely irrelevant to their future life success (most high school students don’t get much probability and statistics, for example, even though that’s what I think they’ll need most often beyond foundational numeracy). My other big concern about the math test was that the problems generally were either decontextualized pure math problems (students: who cares?) or pseudocontextual word problems (students: who cares?) of the type that Dan Meyer rails against regularly. There wasn’t much on the math test that I think would be of interest to typical high school students outside of the artificial environments of classes and testing. [Note: I'm happy to be proven wrong on any of these concerns, so have at it in the comment area.]

Reading. 4 multi-paragraph reading passages pulled from 1 fictional novel and 3 non-fiction essays or books; 10 questions per passage. Could I pull out essential details from what I read? Could I infer authors’ intent? Could I decipher meaning and voice? Could I make reasonable conclusions based on the text? A classic test of reading comprehension. Yes, I could do these things. This was the test on which I scored best.

Science. This test had 7 passages, each of which contained one or more often-interconnected tables, charts, graphs, maps, or diagrams. Most of the passages described various scientific experiments and most included additional narrative text. This was the hardest test for me, despite having taken numerous advanced science courses in both high school and college. I am comfortable with electrical, genetic, geological, kinetic, chemical, and other scientific terms and concepts and, as a professor, regularly spend time deciphering research studies and policy reports that present information in complex ways. The challenge for me was not understanding the material but rather navigating the sheer amount of information presented and answering the questions within the time given. I easily could have used another 10 to 15 minutes. Like for the math test, I had to hastily pencil in some random guesses and did worst on this test. I am very impressed by any high school students that score well on this test. I’ll also note that ACT admits that the science test doesn’t directly assess scientific knowledge or skills (although some familiarity with scientific concepts and terminology helps for comprehension purposes). Instead, what the test assesses is the ability to decipher various ways of presenting scientific information and to then make appropriate inferences and conclusions. That’s a worthy goal but I wonder if renaming the test to something like ‘Information and Data Analysis’ might be more accurate.

Writing. We didn’t get to take the writing assessment, primarily because of ACT’s desire to do same-day scoring of our results.

Boxoftests

How do I now think about the ACT?

Jason and Governor Branstad have proposed legislation requiring every Iowa high school student to take the ACT. Here are some of my thoughts about the exam and its desirability as a statewide mandate…

The issue of time. Time is an issue for any assessment. Students shouldn’t have unlimited time to finish but neither should they have inadequate time. The ACT is intentionally designed to be an assessment that sorts, sifts, selects, and ranks participants. Having now taken it, I wonder how much of that sorting and ranking function is accomplished by benchmarking time of completion to those students who are quicker at computation or faster readers. This is different than benchmarking to difficulty of task. I have a feeling that many students might be more successful if they simply had more time to navigate the assessment and show their understanding.

Cognitive complexity. I confess that the exam often was more difficult than I thought it would be. Despite being exposed beforehand to some practice questions, the overall experience was more demanding and draining than I expected. I didn’t take any practice exams (which might have helped with my pacing) but did spend a few hours reviewing some math formulas and familiarizing myself with the other tests.

Content of the tests. With the exception of the math concerns that I expressed above, it’s hard for me to contend that the skills tested on the ACT aren’t worth knowing. Students and citizens need to be technically-competent writers. Students and citizens need to have knowledge of at least some more-than-basic mathematical concepts. Students and citizens need to be able to comprehend complex texts and information displays. And so on.

I think we can do better. Despite being more impressed with the ACT than I anticipated, I still left the exam wanting more. Although my overall experience was positive and I learned a lot about the exam, I still have the same disposition toward it that I had before. Unlike many school and university assessments, the ACT doesn’t assess too much factual recall. I think that’s good. The exam does, however, focus heavily on procedural knowledge (and provides a variety of contexts in which students can show that knowledge). Occasionally it assesses – in a fairly-limited bubble test way – some application, synthesis, analytical, or inferential skills. But for the most part, the exam does not get at higher-order thinking skills in any substantive, applied, hands-on, performance-based way. Even the writing assessment (from what I can tell from ACT’s materials and what I’ve read about it) can be successfully completed in fairly rote, formulaic ways. If we’re going to ask every student in the state to take a college- and career-readiness exam, it should be an exam worth taking. Despite its long history and deep roots, I’m not convinced that the ACT is it.

What might be some alternatives? Although I’m fairly statistics-savvy, I’m not a psychometrician. And although I know a lot about incorporating data-informed practices into schools, I’m not an expert in large-scale and/or high-stakes assessments, particularly those used for college admissions. I have a generalized interest in these topics but do not live in this space on a day-to-day basis. All that said, I look at learning environments like those provided by the New Tech Network or the Big Picture Schools or the Expeditionary Learning schools or the Science Leadership Academy and I want to see more of that for our students. Those schools – and states like New Hampshire – are working hard to assess students with performance-based assessments rather than (or at least along with) bubble tests. Students have the chance to be innovative and creative. They have the chance to do inquiry-based, interest-based, hands-on work. They are able to show that they are critical thinkers and problem solvers. And then I hear about tests like PISA, the College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA), and those given by other countries - tests that purportedly focus on higher-level cognitive skills and give students opportunities to show not just what they know but what they can do with what they know. And I want that for our students too. As it’s currently designed, does the ACT get us there? Nope. Might the ACT be part of a more holistic, multiple-assessment strategy for getting at college- and career-readiness? Perhaps. But it’s not enough by itself. Many hopes are riding on the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments that are being created right now. We’ll see if they can fulfill their promise.

Concluding thoughts

I’ll close with a few additional thoughts about the experience of taking the ACT as an adult several decades removed from initial college entry and the proposed participation mandate for all students…

GoingovertheACT

Try it (again). I think it behooves us as adults – particularly those of us involved in education delivery, educator preparation, or educational policy- and decision-making – to be fairly familiar with what we’re asking our youth to do. Many of us still think that schooling and testing and learning and being a child or adolescent are like they were when we were young. They’re not. Despite our general inclinations to believe that our own time in school was the educational golden age worth returning to, we must recognize that the scale, scope, complexity, and demands of course content, curricula, assessments, and culture all have increased dramatically over the years/decades. If you’ve never shadowed a high school student throughout her entire school day, try it. I think you’ll be surprised. Similarly, I encourage you to retake a college entrance exam like Jason and I did. I believe you’ll find it worthwhile and illuminating. And then see if what we’re asking of our youth is what we really want as parents, communities, and citizens.

You’re so brave! I was struck by the sheer number of comments that Jason and I received that expressed disbelief that we would do something like this. Typical statements included variations of ‘You’re so brave! I could never do that!’ and ‘You’re willing to report your score publicly? Really?’ and ‘There’s no way in hell I’d ever take that exam again!’ and so on. I’m still mulling over what it says about us, our schools, and our society when we’re willing and even eager to have our children submit to experiences that we’re not willing to engage in ourselves as adults.

Mandated participation. Like some states, the Des Moines Public Schools has all of its students take the ACT. I asked Roosevelt High School’s principal what that experience was like for lower-achieving students. She said that a great many of them left the exam utterly humiliated. Jason was less concerned about that statement than I was, saying to the press something along the lines of ‘Far worse things will happen in life to those students than sitting through a 4-hour exam for which they’re unprepared.’ I, however, am greatly empathetic toward those adolescents. Do academically-disengaged students really need yet another formal reminder – this one with state and/or national, not just local, weight behind it – that they’re not up to snuff? How is kicking them while they’re down an incentive toward college or career readiness?

Still searching. Jason and I received a very kind offer from the Council for Aid to Education to also take the CWRA. I’m going to take them up on it and am excited about the opportunity. I wonder if I also can take PISA? I’m on an assessment quest. What else should I investigate or take?

The media. Lesson learned: No matter how much you emphasize that you’re focused on learning about and better understanding the substance and process of the college entrance exam that you’re publicly taking, the media and others will inevitably focus on your results. Jason and I both scored better than we anticipated. If you really must know, Google it.

If you’ve read all the way down to here, I appreciate your engagement and will await your comments and feedback. Thanks!

Image credits: Iowa Department of Education

[cross-posted at Education Recoded]

5 minutes and $25 for a good cause. Will you join us?

Kiva

In 2005, Kiva had a brilliant idea: crowdsource microlending to benefit people in developing countries.

In 2008, Karl Fisch had a brilliant idea: ask his online network to join a Kiva lending team.

In just the past week alone, Kiva has loaned more than $900,000 to over 2,000 borrowers. Since its inception, Kiva has loaned over $300 million to 765,000+ entrepreneurs in 60 different countries. The Shift Happens Kiva lending team that Karl started is doing its part. It now has 122 members who have made 762 loans totaling $22,775. The team is #6 all-time when it comes to enlisting new group members!

Today I’m asking you to do one of two things:

  1. If you’re already a Kiva member, please add yourself to the Shift Happens lending team.
  2. If you’re not already a Kiva member, please join Kiva, add yourself to the Shift Happens lending team, and make your first loan (it can be as small as $25!).

Can we make it to 150 team members? 200? 300? Can we get our loan totals up over $25,000? $30,000? $40,000? I bet we can.

Kiva is literally the gift that keeps on giving. When your loan is repaid, you can lend it right back out again and help someone else. Repayment rate is nearly 99%.

I know that money is tight for many right now. But just a small amount can go a long way when aggregated with others’ contributions. I just added a birthday check to my Kiva account and will do the same from my minuscule tax refund this year. I figure every little bit helps.

Thanks in advance for joining us. Thanks in advance for spreading this message (hint, hint).

Keeping Students Engaged in a 1:1 Project-Based Classroom [guest post]


Image approved for copy by Creative Commons.
Source: http://bit.ly/vYUkXB

When laptops first arrived in my classroom, I worried about classroom management. How could I create an environment where students used their computers as tools rather than toys?

I was worried for nothing. The following are suggestions for keeping students engaged in a project and accountable for their time with computers:

Students make a plan. 
Students are most tempted to open widgets, games, and social chats when they are faced with a blank screen and have no plan.

Much of the time, students think they have a plan. If you ask them What are you going to do?, the answer is usually I’m gonna make a Power Point about… or I want to make a movie about… Those answers indicate that students are thinking of technology before content.

Instead, ask What are you trying to learn? or What are you trying to communicate? or What are you working on as a writer? Those questions get answers like I want to know more about the horses that Civil War generals rode or I want to convince people that Justin Bieber is the best singer ever or I’m trying to describe the character’s actions.

When you ask about learning and communication, you are signaling that the content is more important than the technology. Pull aside those who are struggling with plans. Let them talk together and encourage them to sketch their ideas with diagrams or bullet points and return to the computer later. Students with a plan tend to stay on task.

Students set time-bound goals.
Once students have a plan, they break the project into smaller tasks that can be finished in 10- to 15-minute chunks of time. Have students write the specific tasks on Post-it notes. Post-its are set beside the computer. On their Post-its, students finish the sentence, “In the next [x-amount of] minutes, I plan to…” They generally write things like…

  • Create an outline for my essay
  • Write my introduction
  • Find three pictures about…
  • Do my voice recording
  • Finish four slides of my Power Point/Keynote
  • Find at least three database articles on…
  • Draft at least three paragraphs
  • Use Google docs to peer-edit so-and-so’s essay
  • Upload my story to Voicethread

Tasks should be specific. I’m gonna work on my project is not specific enough. At the end of class, Post-its become “exit slips”. Students tick off the tasks they have completed and hand the Post-its to the teacher so the teacher can see the progress.

Laptop screens are “fisted” or “put at half mast”.  

Teachers don’t lecture much in a project-based learning environment. However, sometimes student work time is interrupted so the teacher can give reminders or clarify directions.

Ask students to “fist” their computer (or “put the screen at half mast”). Screens should be gently lowered so that students’ fists fit between the edge of the track pad and the screen.

When screens are fisted, students are not distracted by items on their screen nor can they type. At the same time, students do not lower their screens to the point that the computers go to sleep. In an iPad environment, students might carefully face their screens down on the desk.

Fingers indicate the amount of time students need to complete a shorter task.
Some tasks are shorter and need to be completed within a few minutes of class. After students have worked for a reasonable amount of time, ask students to show fingers for how many additional minutes they need. Fisted computers signal completion.

If a student is far behind the rest of the class, try to determine whether the student got distracted or if the student needs reteaching. Have the student take a screenshot of his or her progress. Screenshots are helpful to guide future conversations.

Circulate the room, conferencing with students.
Walking and talking with students is important with or without computers. In her article 10 Ways to be a Terrible Teacher, Vicki Davis describes the terrible teacher as one who is working on his or her own computer and not paying attention to students. 

Students welcome teacher conversation. They are eager to share their progress and request advice when they’re stuck. You build relationships with students when you talk to them about their work.

Rather than banning chat, teach students how to use it for collaboration.
Chat features are programmed into Gmail and Google products. The first year, I banned chats. Then, I realized that chats can be used for student collaboration.

I glance at the chat windows as I circulate the room. Since students have specific, time-bound goals, most chats are used to ask peers to look over a paragraph or help with another aspect of the project.

Don’t be afraid to have tough conversations with individual students.
Each year, I have to pull aside one or two students to talk about time management. It’s not a punitive conversation. The conversation goes something like this:

I’ve noticed you haven’t made much progress on…I need to know what’s getting in the way of your progress. I’m not asking because I want to get you in trouble. I’m asking because you’re now x-years old and I’m worried that, if you get in the habit of…,then school will be really hard for you in the future.

Many of the suggestions above apply to project-based learning environments both with and without computers. The trick in a 1:1 environment is to maintain focus on learning and communication. Then let technology naturally enhance those outcomes.

What tricks do you use to keep students engaged?

Janet Moeller-Abercrombie is the author of Expat Educator. She has 16 years of teaching experience and currently works full time at Hong Kong International School. Janet is a doctoral candidate with the University of Minnesota and has begun curriculum consulting with administrators and teachers. She is certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. @jabbacrombie

 

[cross-posted at 1-to-1 Schools]

Hashtags for state-, province-, and national-level education conversations [SPREADSHEET]

hashtags

In Iowa we use #iaedfuture to organize our online conversations about education in the state. In Wisconsin they use #wiedu. In the United Kingdom, they use #ukedchat to have similar conversations at the national level. What are other states, provinces, and/or countries using? (beyond the generic #edchat)

I made a publicly-editable Google spreadsheet to organize all of these geography-bound education hashtags. These are different from hashtags for conferences or for particular education topics (e.g., STEM or teaching History). Instead, they’re hashtags that allow folks to talk about the present and future state of education in their area, to share ideas and resources, to propose and push back on proposed laws and policies, and to otherwise organize themselves. It’s often said that the Internet destroys geography. While that’s true in many instances, schooling systems still are primarily organized by geographic regions so boundary-level conversations are still relevant.

I hope you’ll contribute the hashtag for your state / province / country. If you don’t have a hashtag like these, perhaps it’s time to get one started!

McLeod Reads

TrappedThere’s a lot of stuff that comes through my Twitter stream. In addition to independent tweets, there also are my posts from here and Mind Dump, my Delicious bookmarks, things that I share from Google Reader, posts from the other CASTLE blogs, and so on. So I wasn’t surprised to get a message recently that said something along the lines of “I’m overwhelmed by your tweets. Do you have a ‘best of the best’ channel?”

Today I’m launching McLeod Reads (@mcleodreads), which is intentionally designed to highlight not only my own best writing but also the best of what I’m reading from others. I’m a huge fan of Flipboard and Instapaper. I also sometimes use systems like Scoop.it, paper.li, ZiteReadability, TweetedTimes, or Read It Later. My overarching goal for this initiative is to highlight things that I want to read using these tools.

What will be in the McLeod Reads stream? As you might imagine, there will be a lot of stuff related to schools, technology, and/or leadership. But there also will be stuff related to social media, higher education, economics, politics, graphic design, law, publishing and journalism, ebooks, photography, and so on. Sometimes it will be a short blurb or quote that I think is especially noteable. Much of it will be longer-form reading like you might see at LongreadsThe Browser, Longform, The EssayistThe Long Good ReadGive Me Something to Read, or The Atavist (you know, the stuff that you can really sink your teeth into).

So two Twitter feeds. What you see on @mcleodreads also will come through @mcleod. But most of what you see on @mcleod will never appear on @mcleodreads (i.e., no bookmarks, no unfiltered ‘bot’ tweeting, and no random conversations).

Will Richardson has his Instapaper feed. Carl Anderson has his Ed Tech Feeds twitter account. This is my attempt to create a purposeful, carefully-curated feed of some great reading. To start, I’ve loaded it up with some older posts and some things that caught my eye this morning (so apologies in advance if you’ve already seen much of what’s there now).

To see the unfiltered stream of what I’m sharing, subscribe to @mcleod. To see the unfiltered stream of what I’m reading, check out my shared feeds. But if you’re interested in a more curated experience, subscribe to @mcleodreads and try it out. Let me know what you think (good or bad). And we’ll see how this experiment goes.

Happy reading!

School superintendent to Governor: Please make my school a prison

TrappedA school superintendent in Michigan has written a public letter to the editor asking Governor Rick Snyder if his school can become a prison instead. The full text is below. What do you think?

—-

Dear Governor Snyder,

In these tough economic times, schools are hurting. And yes, everyone in Michigan is hurting right now financially, but why aren’t we protecting schools? Schools are the one place on Earth that people look to to “fix” what is wrong with society by educating our youth and preparing them to take on the issues that society has created.

One solution I believe we must do is take a look at our corrections system in Michigan. We rank nationally at the top in the number of people we incarcerate. We also spend the most money per prisoner annually than any other state in the union. Now, I like to be at the top of lists, but this is one ranking that I don’t believe Michigan wants to be on top of.

Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.

This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!

Please provide for my students in my school district the same way we provide for a prisoner. It’s the least we can do to prepare our students for the future…by giving our schools the resources necessary to keep our students OUT of prison.

Respectfully submitted,

Nathan Bootz, Superintendent, Ithaca Public Schools

—-

Image credit: Bars

Middle school band, videoconferencing, and the Iowa National Guard

It was about 95 degrees as we strolled into the Ames Middle School band concert Tuesday night. Although the outside air was stifling, the air conditioning inside was blissfully cool. We settled into our seats and perused the program: ‘A Salute to Veterans,’ featuring classic band fare like Fanfare Americana and Home on the Range and Highlights from The Music Man. Excellent. The band is ready. The audience is eager, anticipatory, and silent. And then two projectors turn on, beaming their rays of light across the dark auditorium. The images resolve themselves and …

There on the sides of the auditorium, bigger than life, is Capt. Sean Taylor, Iowa National Guard member, father of a 7th grade trombone player, and uncle to a 7th grade percussionist. Unable to attend in person because he’s on medical evacuation from Afghanistan, Capt. Taylor is attending his family’s concert virtually instead. The band begins to play, and the grin on Capt. Taylor’s face is as wide as the horizon.

In between sets, Capt. Taylor is kind enough to share some news about the Iowa National Guard and its role in World War II, Iraq, and Afghanistan. His wife and children are in the crowd. His son and niece are recognized by the band teachers. Everyone does their community and country proud.

AmesBandTwitter

The concert closes with another surprise appearance, this time by the Ames High drum line. They’re joined by the entire middle school band in a rousing, roof-shaking rendition of 76 Trombones. As the crowd gathers their children and shuffles out the door into the parking lot, the buzz and excitement are palpable.

Why don’t we do more stuff like this in our schools? The videoconferencing worked flawlessly. We have the ability to pull in distant family members, luminaries, scientists, poets, artists, and authors at any time, from anywhere, into our auditoriums and theaters and classrooms. This shouldn’t be a special event. It should be an everyday occurrence. The technology is there. Where’s our will to use it? Where’s our creativity?

A hearty pat on the back to the Ames school music programs, the Ames school district technology staff, and Capt. Taylor. It was a joyful, tearful, amazing evening for everyone. Thank you for reminding us that, rather than isolating us, the true powers of our new technologies are their ability to bring us closer together in ways that were formerly unimaginable.

Switch to our mobile site