Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It's a digital whirl ...

The Observer recently ran one installment of the New York Times series on "Grading the Digital School," focusing on how the nearby Mooresville Graded School District has emerged as a national model for digital learning.

For those who are trying to make sense of the technology revolution, the whole series is well worth a read. The Mooresville article focused on the benefits of the widespread use of MacBooks, but the series shows just how complex the decisions facing educators and families are.

There are serious questions about whether the benefits justify the expense (see the first and second stories in the series). There are companies that stand to make huge profits doing their best to wow educators. There are schools resisting the notion that young children need digital devices, and educators worried about the tradeoffs that come with a surge in technospending.

Meanwhile, I'm working my way through "From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom,"  a collection of essays by education/technology writer Marc Prensky,  who introduced the idea that today's young people speak the native language of technology in a way that we older  "immigrants"  can never fully master.  Prensky argues that until educators drop their focus on the past,  stop fretting about short attention spans and create a radically new way to prepare young people for their future,  schools will function more like jails than like beacons of enlightenment.

"For 21st century students,"  Prensky writes,  "the classroom is a dark,  dark place,  compared to what they already know and can find out  --  and its contents provides no more useful light to them than would a tiny 10-watt flashlight on a sunny beach."

And on Tuesday, LaTarzja Henry, head of communications for CMS, gave the school board a quick tour of the changes in technology a high school senior has experienced in her 13 years of school.  Henry is  making a pitch for two multimedia specialists who can keep the district up to date on social media, webstreaming, video production and monitoring what people are saying about CMS.  (I couldn't help noticing that in CMSworld, there is apparently no daily newspaper covering education in 2012.  Wishful thinking?)

It's a fascinating time to be engaged with education,  and more than a little daunting.  Among the over-50 crowd,  I feel like I'm doing a better-than-average job of keeping up.  Unfortunately, that's a lot like being a pretty good reader for a 4-year-old.


Wiley Coyote said...

There is technology and then there is noise.

Many people believe Twitter and Facebook are some sort of digital holy grails. They are just noise.

I wonder if they teach classes on how to walk and keep your head down engrossed in messaging nonsense so you won't run into people.

Take the time to sit and watch people at the airport walking from gate to gate or to baggage. The vast majority are walking with their heads down, looking at their "smart phone".

Just recently, in one of Ann's articles, it was stated that nearly all Cochrane Middle School students had smart phones and over half had internet access at home.

The problem is that this school ranks 29 out of 32 middle schools in performance and 89% are on FRL.

Pathetic test scores and free lunches, yet they have all this "technology" that costs money.

In Mooreseville, those who can't afford the $50 computer repair fee all students are required to pay, is waived.

Here we get back into the FRL debate of who really qualifies, because more money will be wasted using the same bogus FRL data that free sports, school supplies, testing etc drives.

If all FRL students in CMS had a $50 fee waived, that would cost CMS right at $4 million dollars per year.

I'm all for an efficient use of technology if it can be a vehicle to help teach kids, but I see the potential for this to become another huge black hole of wasted money if CMS does what it almost always does - screwing it up.

Scott Babbidge said...

All the more reason to break up CMS into smaller, more focused, more efficient districts WC.

SPARK and SMART have not drawn up boundaries, and in fact have thrown out splitting CMS into 3 districts as a common sense idea whose time has come. Does that mean it should be split into 3? Maybe it should be split into 4, or 6, or 12. But the reality is that small, locally controlled school districts are better for parents, teachers, students and taxpayers. The superintendent in Mooresville asked for a 4 cent tax increase, and in the smaller more efficient district, the parents and taxpayers said you are delivering results and we want to spend more to help you keep doing that, so take 5 cents instead of 4!!!

And WC you are right, its not just about throwing money or technology at education. It's about doing it intelligently and thoughtfully, with small efficient administrative staffs and teachers and principals who are empowered to do what is right for kids.

Its not easy, most teachers need additional training in how to use technology to improve their delivery of education - because as more and more technology is introduced teachers still play an extremely vital role, and in fact the job gets even more difficult because they become facilitators - and facilitating the individual learning and pacing of 22 or 25 or 30 kids at a time is a daunting task. Most teachers understand this, and will do what it takes, because they are committed and dedicated professionals.

But let's face it, CMS is too large, too cumbersome, and frankly is very poorly run. That's not shocking, not gigantic public sector organizations are ever run well. That's just a reality of government. WC you are quick to use the Wal-Mart analogy, but there is a fatal flaw in that line of thinking. The folks who work at and run Wal-Mart have shareholders that hold them accountable. That is not true of governmental organizations. We can't simply go fire the superintendent or someone on the staff because they have failed. It simply doesn't work that way. Now, we can vote out board members, but having to wait years to toss out someone is hardly effective. Smaller is better when it comes to government, and the proof is all around us.

Wiley Coyote said...


You'll never be able to decide where the boundaries are and how to split the buckets of money coming from federal, state and local government.

You do realize this whole thing smacks of carving out as many minorities and low income students as possible from where you and others live, right?

If not, get the NAACP's opinion on your intentions or better yet, get their blessing.

You get their support, I'll be right there with ya!

Wiley Coyote said...


My Wal Mart analogy is how Wal Mart is RUN and has innovated many systems where other companies have followed them related to saving money using technology, revaming the supply chain and personnel.

It has nothing to do with stockholders.

It's about having people in place to efficiently manage the system.

Anonymous said...

Missing is the information on child brain development and the criticality of eye hand coordination related to brain development. Technology is wasted before the 5th grade for the students. Yes teachers who are more technology savy can effectively improved the engagement of the students.

But as WC and other posters have noted, the Cochrane students do not seem to fit the expectations. There is so much misinformation thrown around about what FRL students have available to them personally or at home. Much is false as has been documented.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Scott and other SPARK supporters, you might want to consider an outreach strategy other than posting a link to your petition on every blog item. Whether you think dividing the district is a good idea or not, it's just not relevant to every single issue in education.

Anonymous said...

Ann, During the testing furor last spring Meck ACTS members posted the link to their petition on almost every comment they made, no matter what the subject. Don't recall a scolding for that--what's different here? In fact, I don't see a link to a petition in Scott's post.

Anonymous said...

MeckACTS gets a free pass at the Observer. They are the "blessed" right now because of thei rinsistance that all CMS children get pulled down to the lowest common denominator and FRL folks get a free pass from accountability.

Ann Doss Helms said...

1:35, I can't recall if it was this persistent, but you're certainly right that there are plenty of oft-repeated themes, from ACTS and the testing petition to Larry's web sites to Wiley's FRL remarks. In my ideal world, every comment would be fresh, original and on topic. Then again, I realize most folks' ideal education coverage might look different from mine. And ... now I'm about to post something that's actually related to the SPARK petition, so I'm opening the doors wide.

Wiley Coyote said...

...too many SPARK posts and we have increased spam security...

Wiley Coyote said...

What do ACTS, SPARK, SMART, LIFT and every other CMS related acronym have in common?


That's why you hear it from me all the time.

We cry about spending/wasting this and that or lack of spending, yet all of it at some point touches the very core or base of public education that is driven by the school lunch program.

Public education will never be fixed until people demand the USDA allow us to help those who truly qualify, kick the rest off and start from that base.

The rest is just status quo lip service and noise.

To paraphrase Emeril:


Anonymous said...

Ann, Can you find out how much it cost to fund an ipad for every principal and AP in the district? How did they find money to fund this?????

Scott Babbidge said...

I hear you on the Wal-Mart thing. My point was that in huge public sector/govt organizations the private sector model does not work.

Also, neither me nor anyone associated with SPARK are saying the boundaries need to be here or there. That misses the point entirely! The point is, CMS is too big and breaking it up and creating smaller, more effective and more efficient school districts is simply and unquestionably the right thing to do. For all I care, the Legislature could break into 3 or 6 or 12 districts. Those details are not for me, or you, or SPARK or the NAACP to decide. ONLY the Legislature can do that.

And there is precedent. Mooresville Graded comes to mind. The Legislature spilt that district off from Iredell County...and guess what, they seem to be performing better than CMS. In fact, the voters and taxpayers up there are happy enough to have said don't increase our taxes by 4 cents as the superintendent asked, but they said slap up with a 5 cent mill rate increase. People WILL pay for public education when they are getting results.

They set the boundaries for Mooresville your funding argument really doesn't hold water either.

And finally, as the Vice-Chair of the National Minority Conservative Convention I am offended at the race comments. Playing the race card as you have done, as Kojo has done, is simply irresponsible. Let's have solutions based conversations. SPARK is ready and willing to meet with Kojo, but its got to be with open minds and focused on solutions. There is NOTHING about the SPARK initiative that is driven by race. Before people start playing the race card, maybe they should look at how diverse so many of our schools already are - come to my house and let's walk up and down the street I live on to see true free market diversity. Its the kind we want and should be striving for....why...because the people who live on my street were not put here by government, but rather they moved here of their own free will and on the backs of their own hard work. Last time I checked, that is exactly the way it is supposed to be!!!

All the negativity around SPARK and SMART is unwarranted and unfounded. SPARK wants smaller districts. SMART is a non partisan organization working to advocate for ALL residents of Southern Mecklenburg County. Do you attack the Charlotte Center City Partners with this same vigor? How about the Chamber? Or the Arts and Sciences Council? Those are all groups that lobby and advocate for their groups.

Instead of people throwing up their arms and saying "we can't this" "we can't that", why don't we say, "Hmmmm that's interesting. I'm not sure that it can work but it is worth exploring it as a solution - let me get involved and see if I can be part of the solution." See, being part of the solution is what I want to do. I'm tired of the divisiveness. If we spent 1/10th the time working on solutions as we do trying to derail people who are working for solutions we'd be better for it.

Wiley Coyote said...


I played no race card. I didn't know a White man could have race cards.

I have said for weeks this split would never fly because the NAACP would come out vigorously against it, which they eventually did.

I also stated the very no politically correct, bare bones assertion that what your group was trying to do smacks of racism - which it does. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that. Perhaps your group needs to do a much better job of actually putting forth facts and maps to back up your intentions which shows your "inclusion".

I have no sympathy for the NAACP and stated many times they spend more energy on "what they ain't gettin'" as Kojo has stated than redirecting that energy into their own community and helping to stop all the ills affecting Blacks and their dismal education issues.

All of those other groups you mentioned, the downtown crowd, can all be abolished in my opinion, along with their special tax district(s).

I haven't thrown up my hands. I have very definitive ideas that feel need to happen before public education will ever get out of the gutter, which in many respects mirrors some of what your group is trying to do.

Wiley Coyote said...


I forgot to say in my last comment that in no way do I believe you or anyone else in your group IS a racist.

Only the perception of your group's intent, which is why I said you need to do a better job of communicating how the split would look.

Jeff Wise said...

Before moving to Charlotte, I was part of a technology implementation group with Columbus Public Schools. Our job was to go around to elementary and middle schools and install a handful of Macs in each classroom, load up tons of so-called educational software, network them and make sure it all worked.

This was 1997 right around the time Apple was teetering on bankruptcy (remember those days?). Many of the elementary teachers had no clue how to use computers in the classroom - the overall idea was if only each classroom had a handful of computers then all students would miraculously become brilliant.

Didn't work out that way.

Technology is and will always be a tool to foster learning. It is not a substitute (the exception being a school that's teaching coding or electrical engineering).

I do agree with Ann's recap of Prensky's comments that today's students probably learn differently but I disagree that it's a radical or wholesale change.

Students still need to be taught how to problem solve and think critically - this has zero to do with education.

What pundits like Prensky are really getting at is education needs to figure out how to reach individual students, not classes of students, not grades of students. Every student will learn differently, therefore the challenge will be for teachers/administrators to figure out the best course of action to reach a student as early as possible.

But be wary of anyone who says technology will solve all our education issues.

Wright said...

Scott, You'll never be able to decide where the boundaries are and how to split the buckets of money coming from federal, state and local government. You do realize this whole thing smacks of carving out as many minorities and low income students as possible from where you and others live, right? If not, get the NAACP's opinion on your intentions or better yet, get their blessing. You get their support, I'll be right there with ya!

Scott Babbidge said...

Here's where you are wrong. You think and accuse me of being a White racist bc you think the only reason for wanting smaller school districts is to keep Whites and Blacks apart. You couldn't be more wrong and your comment clearly means you've never even thought of reaching out to me to have a one on one conversation to learn about my thoughts.

If you were to take the time to meet me, listen to me and then give me an opportunity to hear your thoughts I guarantee you'd have a MUCH different opinion of me than you do today. It's easy to assume and be negative towards me because the kinds of changes and reforms I propose represent a vision most don't want to think about bc it requires work and commitment and a reworking of Public Education from the ground up.

If you were to get to know me you would learn I sincerely care about being part of the solution and that it is not me that is racist, but rather the racists are those who think the status quo is better than changes I am pushing for.....clearly I'm a bad guy and a terrible communicator and not very bright bc people still want to take racist swipes at me.....and I may be dumb and a terrible communicator but I am absolutely not racist and there's nothing about me or my views that even remotely approach racism.

My question to you is why are people so afraid leaving a status quo that clearly is an abject failure for an approach designed to maximize the God given potential of EVERY child?