Monday, January 23, 2012


The old saying is that bad news comes in threes.  Humility may come in six-packs.


In a prior SQUINTS, it was related how research on K-12 classroom performance had been well on the way and churning out findings even before NCLB was launched, and continued with vitality through Bush’s first term.  This contradicted the SQUINTS’ assumption that research on K-12 processes had not blossomed until the latter part of last decade.  Subsequently, the issue became a bulldozer NCLB that appeared to dampen or actually block both funding and enthusiasm for legitimate research that might contradict any of NCLB’s premises.

Another dose of humility issued when today’s SQUINTS was being researched.  The assumption, that competent work on how to assimilate digital technology into K-12 classrooms was still missing, proved as inapplicable as the above blog faux paux.

The first cut of research for sources on technology in K-12 classrooms churned up over 50+ solid journal or blog works, and dozens of texts targeting our K-12 educators.  Just for perspective, 20 percent of those 50+ references had already issued prior to the year 2000.  One-half issued in the following decade.   The remaining 30 percent are of recent origin.

Dry as dust numbers, but the implications are not so benign; juxtapose the solid examples of integration of technology with other learning rubrics in place in a fraction of excellent K-12 schools, versus a likely majority of K-12 systems either faking technology assimilation or lacking the insights to adopt the tools.  Egregiously, there are no solid numbers, compared for example to the outpouring of simplistic data about standardized test results.  (Parenthetically, a prior SQUINTS burst Ohio’s bubble by showing that its standardized testing is allegedly a poor predictor of genuine district learning outcomes.)

Based on looking at numerous references to public K-12 technology programs scattered across the US, an admittedly rough guess is that fewer than 10 percent of public K-12 programs reflect excellence in such applications, and fewer than a quarter of America’s K-12 systems are currently equipped to adopt and integrate digital technologies.

The Technology Muddle

An enduring mystery is why incorporating digital technologies into K-12 learning strategies and tactics is still denigrated by many commentators.  The attacks span the arguments that last century’s methods are good enough, through the technology solutions just sit on top of valid teaching, to the technologies are too costly to be applied to K-12.  This is akin to insanity given the trajectory of virtually all contemporary economic and infrastructure functions, US and world, plus that many of the desirable software offerings for K-12 are cost free.

On the one hand, our society is regaled with the admonition that education and STEM competence is the currency of future economic performance.  On the other hand, the hypocritical reality is that dollars are being poured into beating K-12 education into some irrational submission with reductionist testing, while being diverted from the research and creative work needed to improve genuine classroom learning outcomes.

Disconcerting, there is also a flaw in the reasoning that the US critically must educate to produce a technologically literate work force, but those charged with creating and executing educational content are frequently technologically illiterate.  Does anyone sense a wee problem?
Lastly, the message has been test till they conform. Then the message became test, teach, and test again, putting the teacher on the bubble to figure out how to improve present test performances or be terminated.  Pejoratively, the aggressive and well funded advocates of present standardized testing, and so-called value-added assessment, have invested little to move beyond now obsolete test designs to research and create testing protocols that can assess critical thinking, problem solving, and acquisition of the skills to produce creative outputs. 

Nor have these resources demonstrated the wisdom to at least invest in parallel in research that will either better characterize the learning models in operation, or provide more valid assessment of the teacher’s role versus other learning stimuli, or demonstrate how technology is integrated into mainstream classroom learning.  The depth of this crater in US pedagogy is demonstrated by the incredible, rhetorical garbage dump represented by USDOE’s alleged “National Educational Technology Plan,” an avalanche of wordiness without a hint of genuine technology norms, opportunities or needs of US K-12.

Is There a Role?

Given the above, the question is, what role can be performed by the very best technology integration in K-12, or is the contribution frozen until core concepts of 21st century classrooms and learning are fleshed out and adopted, and testing mania subsides?  Reading current education news, an answer seems to be, the mission will be very trying at minimum.

Another argument, the genre needs to resolve that role quickly, because its students, daily, enter their K-12 classrooms with technology in their pockets frequently a level of magnitude beyond the mastery of many if not a majority of America’s public K-12 administrators and teachers.  In parallel, much evolving technology will enhance social and inter-student learning paradigms, exacerbated by formal K-12’s failure to adopt technology.  More and more of effective learning will be diverted from the traditional classroom.  For example, banning rather than exploiting evolving communications technologies and collaborative learning opportunities simply further diminishes the school’s total learning role.

The original premise of this version of SQUINTS was presentation of some concordance between the learning forms expressed by Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning in its most current dress, and the various digital technologies now accessible to K-12 schools. Multiple educational thinkers have already attempted and left a useful trail of ideas for integrating digital technologies into classroom learning objectives and processes.  Some of the more interesting (linked here) are a sophisticated “wiki” and open source educational community based in San Francisco, a blog by Forehand at the University of Georgia, and a blog by Kahrbach.

Any reader can follow the trails being forged above; the key point is that the thinking to inject technologies into classroom pedagogy is out there, as are the technologies.  In many cases both are being practiced in creative learning situations, and the challenge is to incent more K-12 educators to follow the leads and do their own adaptations to serve their own learning environments. 

The other message is there is zero excuse for shorting America’s K-12 students the best technology the nation can muster, and that the faults are in the training, support, desire to innovate, and lack of leadership by those who hold that responsibility in our schools.

Beyond Technology

The last point touches an issue that foots so much of the present debates surrounding improving especially public K-12 and that goes way beyond technology; that is, why has that establishment been so resistant to self-reform, to change of any form including aggressive adoption of relevant technology, when there is a massing albeit largely ignorant army of activism and extremism trying to bury US public education? 

Is it the human resources that have cumulated in the present public educational establishments?  Is it how both K-12 teachers and administrators have been trained, therefore, what’s deficient or distorted in most present schools of education? Is it in certification standards, or in post-employment human resource development? Is it less benign; human failings that have fostered arrogance, defensiveness, fear, and an unwillingness to either collaborate with other education stakeholders or provide transparency of practices?  Is it the self-evident failure of many K-12 administrators to possess or practice contemporary organizational design or management knowledge? Did the teachers’ unions simply strategically leave their heads jammed into the sand a decade or more too long?

On another front, is it the frequent failure of poorly selected local school boards that almost universally misunderstand their responsibilities, or are constituted to represent special interests rather than, first, a community’s children, then, those who elected them and fund the schools.  That is the enormous hidden cost of so-called local control so emotionally sought, but little understood by most parents and community residents?

In the end the issue of adopting and integrating modern digital technologies into our K-12 learning is no different than the place US K-12 schools must generically go to meet the nation’s increasingly urgent need to upgrade education of its youth – changing a culture that has been resistant to change, and the challenge of seeking excellence rather than just a comfortable and unimpeachable safe harbor for its educational practitioners.

Michael Fullan, long-time educator and educational author extraordinaire, is currently Special Advisor to the Canadian Premier and Minister of Education.  Much of his recent work details the positive actions that are central to achieving change in education.  A quote from his 2001 book, Leading in a Culture of Change, rings true:
“Leading in a culture of change means creating a culture (not just a structure) of change.  It does not mean adopting innovations, one after another; it does mean producing the capacity to seek, critically assess, and selectively incorporate new ideas and practices – all the time, inside the organization as well as outside it.”
Perhaps the tragedy of much of the present angst surrounding K-12’s alleged reform is that Fullan’s words might have to be interpreted then drilled to even register with too many of public K-12’s present leadership and oversight.

Appendix:  K-12 Technology and the 21st Century Classroom

Amazon offers at least a couple dozen texts by recognized educators addressing incorporation of technology into teaching and classrooms.  A search on “technology in education,” or “learning technologies,” or “21st century classroom” will bring up many viable books that should be on every K-12 administrator’s and teacher’s bookshelf; better yet, a target of intense professional adult education.

A start is Leading 21st Century Schools:  Harnessing Technology for Engagement and Achievement, by Lynne Schrum and Barbara Levin (ISBN 978-1-4129-7294-9 or -6).

Below (all linked) is a roster of online resources that cover the spectrum of fitting digital technologies into this century’s classrooms and mission definitions.  In a later SQUINTS, the most provocative of the harvest below will be categorized and reviewed, along with review of key texts:

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