Thursday, March 31, 2011

Texas Can Do Better

Indeed, Texas can do better when it comes to the way our current state leadership is trying to balance the budget using a "cuts only" approach. I became aware of the video below via a post on Miguel Guhlin's Around the Corner blog. It is sponsored by the Texas Can Do Better campaign which is sponsored by the Texas American Federation of Teachers.

I am not an AFT member, but I am 100% supportive of efforts by anyone who is trying to get the truth out there, which is:
  • We will continue to hit this same education finance wall every two years until our state leaders choose to fix the structural deficit that is built into the budget due to an under-performing business tax that is supposed to be financing education.
  • A "cuts only" approach to balancing the Texas budget will result in 65,000 jobs being lost in public education, which will reduce programs intended to support and enrich the learning of Texas children.
  • The state should use the majority of the Rainy Day Fund to mitigate the current budget shortfall while concurrently passing legislation to permanently fix the structural deficit.
The video below from Texas Can Do Better is a compelling explanation of what is at stake if we do not insist that our legislators prioritize education funding and find a permanent fix for school finance in Texas.


Letter to My Texas House Representative #TxEdBudget #SaveTxSchools

On Friday, April 1st, the Texas House will begin debate on HB 1, their budget proposal for the next biennium. Below is the text of the letter I just sent to my representative. If you are a Texan who cares about education, I hope you are also making your position known. A short and sweet email or phone call is better than nothing at all. We elect them; they represent us. They need to know our views.

Dear Representative Gonzales,


On Monday, March 21st, I visited your office and spoke with your Chief of Staff to advocate for extension of the telecommunications discount for school districts (HB 2765 and HB 3258) and for HB 6 which will create an Instructional Materials Allotment to give school districts flexibility in purchasing digital instructional materials and the technological equipment needed to support those materials. I appreciated the courtesy of your staff and later when I ran into you as you were leaving the Capitol after the House session was over, I appreciated that you took a few minutes to chat with me and a few of my colleagues by the elevators about our reasons for being at the Capitol that day.

As your constituent, with 18 years of experience in Texas public education and a concern for the future of our schools and the teaching profession in our state, I am contacting you today for a different reason.

As your constituent, I urge you to

- Vote AGAINST HB 1 as it is currently written.

- Directly contact superintendents and school board members in the school districts you represent and ask them how and why the current proposed budget cuts are forcing them to lay off employees.

- Realize that not all of your constituents agree with Governor Perry and the Tea Party in their stance that the budget should be balanced by cuts only. Finding new revenue streams is a viable and possibly necessary option.

- Have courage to advocate for and work for a permanent fix to the structural deficit and resulting school funding crisis we are in so this same budget crisis does not revisit us again in two more years.

- Consider further use of the Rainy Day Fund to help mitigate this crisis while a permanent fix is instituted.

I urge you to vote AGAINST HB 1 when it comes before the House on Friday. The cuts that it makes to public education are too steep to be absorbed without large scale employee layoffs which will impact the quality of the programs school districts are able to provide for Texas students. Not to mention the resulting impact on the Texas economy as former school employees begin to collect unemployment.

Surely you have heard of the 142 layoffs in Georgetown ISD where I work. Or the 280 current and 70 more projected layoffs in Round Rock ISD where I live. Whether these are classroom teachers, instructional specialists, program administrators, or support staff, these are people who work to ensure a quality education for the over 90% of the children in District 52 who attend public schools.

As an adult, I have primarily voted Republican because of the conservative values the party has held to in my lifetime. But conservative should not mean unwise or without compassion. It is unwise to decimate the systems which provide an educated citizenry so key to the continuing existence of our democracy. It is politically expedient, but uncompassionate, to point fingers at local school districts and say they are responsible for laying off teachers when in fact it is the State of Texas that is not meeting its financial responsibility to school districts due in part to the recession but in larger part to the existence of a structural deficit built in to the school finance system in the form of a historically underperforming business tax. In the midst of the finger pointing, the needs of our school children and those who serve them are being forgotten.

Representative Gonzales, I encourage you to vote AGAINST HB 1 and while it goes back to committee take time to look at this issue from all sides and do what is best for the citizens and school children of District 52 and the State of Texas.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

NOTE: The all caps for emphasis were used not to shout but because emails are submitted via a form on a website; I couldn't bold the things I wanted to emphasize.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Testimony in Favor of Texas SB 6 Instructional Materials Allotment

Today I gave testimony in favor of the passage of Texas SB 6, which institutes an Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA) in lieu of the textbook allotment and the former Technology Allotment. SB 6, if passed into law, would give local school districts in Texas more discretionary control over how they spend state monies designated for instructional materials. No longer would they be compelled to purchase textbooks each year, but they would have freedom to choose digital content and the technological equipment necessary for students to access the digital content.

Jennifer Bergland has written about the companion bill in the House, HB 6, at the TCEA Advocacy blog here and here if you would like more detailed information. More information than you might ever want to know about the bill can be found on the Texas Legislature website.

Speaking of Jennifer, I owe her a thank-you for getting me involved in this process. I'll be writing more in a later blog post about my sudden involvement in the legislative process, but I don't want to wait until then to let Jennifer know how much I appreciate her guidance and encouragement.

Below is the content of my written testimony, which I summarized in a three minute oral testimony as well.

Thank you for hearing my testimony today.

My name is Sandy Kendell and I am a career educator. I have a master’s degree in Educational Technology Leadership and 18 years of experience in K-12 public education, including 8 years in the classroom, 6 years as a campus-level technology facilitator, and 4 years as a district-level instructional technology specialist in Georgetown ISD.

It is from all of these perspectives that I am here today to support the passage of SB6 and the resulting institution of an Instructional Materials Allotment. There are three primary reasons for my support of this bill.

First, the time when textbooks encompassed the sum of all knowledge needed in a course of study has passed us by. During the master’s degree I just completed, my learning came from traditional textbooks, video and multimedia presentations, articles pulled from research journals in digital format, online web resources, and an online textbook with links and multimedia embedded throughout to help me delve deeper into the curriculum I was studying. Everything I accessed was an instructional material with content relevant to my course of study. Expanding the definition of “instructional materials” to include but also move beyond a traditional print textbook acknowledges what we know to be true about the nature of education in 2011 and beyond – relevant instructional content can be found in a variety of formats, and each of those formats has the potential to speak to the diverse learning styles of our students.

Second, one of the aspects of being able to purchase digital instructional materials which excites me the most, and which my superintendent also highlighted when I conversed with him yesterday regarding SB6 and my testimony today, is the frequency with which digital materials can be updated as compared to traditional print materials. Depending on whose research you read, the sum of human knowledge doubles conservatively every five years and less conservatively every 18 months. To rely completely on bound print materials which may not contain the latest information even as they are published is to deny our students access to the latest knowledge. SB6 will allow districts to purchase materials which can be updated as soon as new breakthroughs come to light, whether they are breakthroughs in content or the best methods for delivering the content. Even as we learn more about learning itself, we can incorporate best practices through changing up lesson delivery models. Access to a variety of instructional materials will empower educators to teach students the latest information and problem solving skills using the latest proven instructional techniques.

Finally, inclusion of a provision for purchasing technological equipment and training using funds from the Instructional Materials Allotment is a key provision of SB6. According to the TEA Progress Report on the 2006-2020 Long Range Plan for Technology, released in December 2010, 59.3% of Texas educators rate themselves as developing in their use of technology in their classrooms in a primarily teacher-directed manner with students utilizing technology on an individual basis to complete assignments. Another 37.8% of Texas teachers self-reported as advanced in their use of instructional technology, which means they facilitate students’ use of technology in “work(ing) with peers and experts to evaluate information, analyze data and content in order to problem solve” and engage in higher order thinking and collaborative efforts.

The encouraging news is, Texas teachers are using technology. However, when the 2.1% of teachers who still rate themselves at a very beginning/early tech level are factored in, 99.1% of Texas teachers and classrooms still need to grow to the Target Tech level set by the State by for the year 2020. This level is exemplified by “Students hav(ing) on-demand access to all appropriate digital resources and technologies to complete activities that have been seamlessly integrated into all core content areas, providing learning opportunities beyond the classroom that are not otherwise possible.” School districts have been using the $30 per student Technology Allotment for the last 20 years to continually increase the integration of technology into teaching and learning. In the absence of Technology Allotment funding going forward, it is critical that districts have access to the funds in SB6’s Instructional Materials Allotment to provide the equipment for accessing digital resources as well as the training necessary to facilitate the pedagogical paradigm shift required to fully leverage these resources.

In conclusion, the structure of the proposed Instructional Materials Allotment in SB6 allows districts to move at their own pace in the utilization of nontraditional materials. If they so choose, they can continue to buy textbooks just as they always have. But for those who are moving toward Target Tech, the opportunity to bring in digital resources and the equipment to access those resources is critical. 2020, the date Texas set for Target Tech, is only nine years away, and districts need every resource possible at their disposal reach the target.

I encourage the passage of SB6 and implementation of the funding structure to begin this biennium.

Thank you.

*Statistics and quotations taken from the Texas Education Agency
2010 Progress Report on the Long-Range Plan for Technology, 2006-2020, accessed at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=2147490399&libID=2147490397
During the hearing process, Senator Shapiro, Chair of the Education Committee and sponsor of SB 6, noted that she would be bringing forth an amendment to delay the implementation of the Instructional Materials Allottment until after the most recent textbook proclamation 2011 was complete. I think this would be devistating considering that we will no longer have a designated Technology Allotment in Texas under current proposed budgets. To make that point, I went "off script" a little at the end of my testimony. I followed up this evening with emails to all of the senators on the committee regarding the importance of implementing the IMA as soon as possible. I tailored the emails depending on whether or not the senator was present at the committee meeting, but most of them looked very similar to this one:

Dear Senator X,

Thank you again for hearing my testimony in favor of SB 6 in the Education Committee hearing on Tuesday, March 29th.

I would like to reiterate that I believe it is crucial for the Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA) to be implemented in the 2011-2013 biennium. In addition to the decreased contribution of state funds which Texas school districts will receive this biennium, they have also lost the $30 per student Technology Allotment which has been moving technology education forward in our state for the past 20 years. Access to the funds in the IMA for purchasing digital resources as well as the technological equipment to support those resources is essential as we aim for Target Tech levels by 2020 as called for by the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology.

For your convenience, I have posted a copy of my testimony online at the following link:

http://tinyurl.com/SB6Testimony3-29-11

Thank you again for hearing my testimony and considering my request to implement the IMA immediately upon passage of SB6.

Score one for democracy! Most of the day was spent watching others testify on other bills and then getting my own big three minutes to speak. The senators were gracious and encouraging, which made things easier. Except for the senator who asked me not to read since I had submitted a copy of my testimony, but to just summarize the highlights. That had been my intention, but his saying that threw me a bit. Witnesses claim I remained calm and collected on the outside. I'm glad of that, because my insides were Jello!

Speaking of witnessess, the committee meetings are streamed live on the Internet. I was encouraged to receive this Tweet shortly after my testimony:


Indeed, let's hope they listened! If you are a Texan and want to show your support for this bill, it would be great if you contacted them before Thursday when SB 6 will be discussed in committee again. Here is a list of the Senators on the committee, and here is where you can go to find out who represents you and how to contact them. 

3-30-11 Update: This afternoon, Senator Wendy Davis, who is on the Senate Education Committee but who is not the senator for my district, took time to send me a personal email (not a computer generated response) in reply to the follow-up email I sent her last evening. Here is what she said:

Thank you for sending your comments. I have printed them to review again.

Thank you also for your work as an educator. I am fighting to preserve funding for programs such as yours and appreciate your testimony and email.

Wendy
I was so surprised and impressed! It's a short note, but it is personal, and knowing how busy legislators are during session, the time she took to write it shows me that Ms. Davis is truly invested in her position as a representative of the people of Texas. In addition, during testimony on several bills Tuesday, Senator Davis was very attentive and asked good questions of those who testified. Thank you, Senator Davis, for your dedication to our state!



Gavel photo courtesy of flikr user steakpinball. Used with permission.
Source Link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/60588258@N00/3293465641/

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Texas Leadership is Out of Touch...We Must Not Be Silent!

My highlights from an article published on the San Antonio Express-News website.
  • Gov. Rick Perry has some nerve to suggest that in the face of the state's fiscal crisis, any public school district wants to lay off teachers
  • Fair enough. Budget-cutting decisions by school districts are being made by local communities. What Perry always conveniently leaves out of the picture is the gun he put to their heads. The line from the governor to likely teacher layoffs is direct and starts with the work five years ago of Perry's Texas Tax Reform Commission.
  • Perry was looking for headlines, not push-back. And push-back was what Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn tried to give just one month after Perry and Sharp crowed about their plan. In a strongly worded letter, Strayhorn warned Perry that he was directing lawmakers to “write the largest hot check in Texas history.” Specifically, her analysis showed the scheme was $23 billion short of what was needed to cover the promised property tax cuts over the next five years.
  • Countless news accounts have replayed the reckless legislative act. So it's astounding that Perry would shun accountability and plow ahead as if voters don't know or don't care.
  • He added insult to injury Wednesday with his assertion that schools have added “a rather extraordinary amount” of nonclassroom employees and his suggestion that cuts should start there because they don't affect the classroom.
  • Recent research by Moak, Casey and Associates reveals what can only be described as either Perry's ignorance or his deception. The 1-to-1 ratio of teachers to nonteaching staff has held for more than 20 years. Teachers are central to the classroom, of course. But it's troubling that the governor discounts the support provided by others like bus drivers, custodians, curriculum coaches or counselors.
  • Alamo Heights Superintendent Kevin Brown borrowed a metaphor he's heard in testimony before legislative committees to describe the choices that districts are being forced to make.

    “It's like choosing whether you want your heart or your lungs. What kind of decision is that? You want them both!”
If the disconnect between our state's leadership and the realities faced by Texas public schools wasn't obvious before, it is now. I hope my fellow Texans are communicating with their representatives. There is evidence that more moderate Republicans are seeing the light. It's going to take them to make any kind of headway with the current budget crisis and needed school reform.

It's hard not to give up hope in the face of everything that is going on. But please don't. Please make your voice heard. The children of Texas aren't old enough to vote and tell our leaders what is necessary. We need to speak for them. Please contact your legislators and Governor Perry today!

Texas Capitol photo © 2006 Larry D. Moore, used under a Creative Commons ShareAlike License. Original photo link: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Texas_capitol_day.jpg

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reflections on an Online Master's Degree - The Stuff That Could Have Been Better

In early February I wrote about the positive aspects of obtaining a master's degree online, and although I feel very accomplished in my studies and I'm very glad that I completed my master's degree, I think it is only fair to also write about the parts of the experience that I wish had been different.

Before I begin, a couple of side notes.

First, I intentionally did not name the university where I obtained my degree in the positive aspects post, nor will I be naming it in this post. My purpose is neither to recommend nor to critique a specific program, but rather to share my own expeirences and perceptions of obtaining a degree online. If you are really curious as to the school where I completed my program, a bit of poking around my blog will reveal it, since I had to complete some assignments as blog posts.

Second, I feel it is fair for me to publicly share "the stuff that could have been better" here because I have also already shared these observations/suggestions in end of course surveys throughout the degree program.

Now, on to my wishes for improvement. They are numbered for convenience but not necessarily in order of importance. Well, except maybe #1...

#1 Wish for Improvement: Professors Who Participate in Conversations About Subject Matter

I believe the program would have been vastly improved if the professors were more actively involved in the learning experiences of students. At minimum professors should participate in the discussion boards so that in addition to learning from their peers students can learn from the instructors' experience and instructors can learn from their students who are out in the field.

With few exceptions, each of our courses required us to complete weekly readings and post reactions to those readings on course discussion boards. We were then required to respond to the posts and ideas of our classmates. I can only remember one or two occasions throughout the eleven regular courses I took when the professor or an instructional associate (IA) posted their own thoughts on the readings or any reactions to the students' thoughts.

A few courses into the degree, the professors began offering live web conferences, and these conference opportunities became more regular as I progressed throughout the degree program. Attendance on the part of students at these conferences was rarely required, and they primarily boiled down to a question and answer session about the assignment or project expectations for the week. Other course subject matter or content was never a topic of conversation.

Having done my undergraduate work at a small university where professors personally taught our classes, I had greater expectations for interaction with my instructors. I wanted to ask them questions about course content, and I wanted them to question and challenge me on my learning. We were, in fact, discouraged from directly contacting professors in most circumstances and instructed to only contact our IAs who acted as go-betweens.

I also feel that interaction on on a deeper level would keep the professors more informed on the real-world job circumstances under which each of us were trying to complete our coursework. Staying in tune with the environments their students are working in can only serve to help the professors keep the content of their classes realistic and relevant to the K-12 world.

In the final course of the degree program, which was the culmination of an internship/capstone experienec, the professor was very involved in the discussion boards. The primary purpose of those boards was answering questions about the internship portfolios we were finalizing as we really didn't cover any new content in this course. Due to the high level of interaction with the professor, I felt like the professor truly cared about what I was doing.

Interaction between students and instructors is a key component of pedagogy and learning.

#2 Wish for Improvement: Authentic Feedback on Assignments

Every assignment we were given, including in some cases discussion board posts, had an assessment rubric attached to it. While most of the time I understood exactly what was required of me on an assignment, I never received any truly helpful feedback beyond a grade and comments like "Thank you for completing Week 3 Assignment" from the IA. Grading stopped with the rubric. I started my degree in June 2009, and I blogged about my frustration with rubric-only assessment at about the midpoint of my degree program. Unfortunately, it never really improved.

Why was I bothered by not receiving more individualized feedback or a few comments? There were several reasons it bothered me. First, I felt like I was just completeing activities on someone's checklist, and they were just being glanced at and checked off. When I put in several hours of work on an assignment, there wasn't any evidence that it had been thoughtfully assessed. Second, I didn't know if my ideas/approaches to completing the assignments were practical/useful/real-world possible in someone else's opinon. It's fine that it met a rubric, but could it translate to a real-world application? Third, no one is perfect. Even if I scored high on an assignment, I needed reasons why someone thought it was good (so I could replicate it in the future) or ways it could be improved or expanded. It did not help that when points were missed, I often had to email the IA for an explanation as to why; this information did not come automatically with the grade.

Again, in my final course, I had an IA who gave specific comments/compliments on different components of my internship requirements. The specificity she provided gave me a sense for the first time that someone on the other end of the "upload" button was really looking at my work.

#3 Wish for Improvement: Professors Should be Familiar With the Courseware/Learning Management System (LMS)

More than once during my classes when we got questions through to the professors via emails facilitated by IAs or web conferences, the professors admitted to not knowing how we (the students) were supposed to upload assignments or where something was located in the courseware. They frequently pointed us back to the IAs or even the technical help contacts for the courseware. Through information shared during the degree program and research I've done since completing the degree, I believe a third-party company was uploading all course content and the professors may not have had direct access to administrative features of the courseware.

Having been through training in the use of an LMS and having had to turn around that training to others, I understand that LMS's can have a steep learning curve. I also believe, however, that to maximize the effectiveness of thier pedagogy, an instructor needs to be familiar with and comfortable in whatever environment they are teaching in, whether it is a physical classroom or an online environment.

Concluding Thoughts

I am very thankful that I had the time, resources, and opportunity to complete my master's degree online. As I stated in my "Good Stuff" blog post:
Overall, I am glad I completed this degree online and I definitely see where I have grown professionally as a result of completing it. My perspectives on education and educational technology have been broadened. My interest in online teaching has also been piqued, and as a result I hope to find ways to facilitate online professional development courses for educators in the near future.
I do wish, however, that I had been able to interact with my professors more and glean more from their perspectives and experience. The interaction with my peers was exteremely beneficial and broadened my perspectives, but the lack of instructor involvement definitely left me with a "missing piece" feeling throughout my degree program.


Because of the way the courses in this program were delivered, I also have an overarching concern. I am concerned that the program is turning out graduates who may be in charge of online or e-learning initiatives in their schools and who may think limited involvement on the part of the instructor is quality practice because of the model they experienced while completing the program.


I believe based on my limited interaction with the professors that they have good intentions, and I realize I was in one of the first cohorts to complete the program. I sincerely hope that the feedback given by myself and other students throughout the program will lead to continuous improvement in the instructional delivery of the courses.


Have you or are you completing a degree online? What are your concerns about the experience (if you have any)? Post comments or blog about them and post a link below. Most importantly, make sure you are sharing your concerns with your professors/school when you are asked to do course evaluations.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Epsilen Experience: Power Users Share Their Stories #SXSWedu

Notes from SXSWedu 2011 breakout session

Panelists:


Evan Nisonson - Epsilen
Leann Ingram - Comanche ISD High School English and Dual-Credit College English
Carrie Barnett - Dublin ISD Director of Federal Programs
Lannon Heflin - Region XIII Instructional Technologist, Program Manager for Edtech Initatives

Ingram - Comanche is one of the first districts to be using Epsilen with students. Using calendaring, messaging, and drop box features. Comanche is 1:1. Ms. Ingram's classroom is close to paperless. Posts screencasts and lectures for students to review and see when they are away from class for illness or school activities. Homework has now become reviewing the lecture and the problem solving is occuring in class. Student achievement has improved on grades and TAKS tests.

Barnett - Two hours away from Region service center in Ft. Worth. Using professional learning communities to help get PD to teachers on site. Cuts down on time needed for F2F meetings. Discussions by teachers are more in depth via the online discussions.

Heflin - Supports Project Share for schools in Region XIII. Sees it as an answer to having to find third party solutions for wikis, blogging, etc. Has hosted hands-on F2F trainings and provides on demand on-site support. Feels Epsilen is a robust platform once you get past how overwhelming all of the features are. Encourages districts to look at Epsilen as an opportunity rather than a "new problem". No new problems!

How does Epsilen help focus on the problem of learner engagement?

Ingram - Students are wired from birth to use technology. Epsilen provides a medium they want to use and makes it accessible to them. Web 2.0 tools can be integrated into Epsilen and bring all of the content into one area. It's like the "WalMart" of programs.

Barnett - Solved a huge problem for providing professional development. Now teachers who have been isolated can interact with teachers all over Texas. Dublin is now 1:1 from 2nd through 12th grade and has implemented CSCOPE in the last 18 months. Did some things "on the side" to get interest from teachers in using Epsilen. (Presented first to elementary faculty with principal support, then other teachers found out and wanted to do more.) This has helped with all of the change the district has gone through in the last year and a half. They start teachers invovled in the Connections Grant by asking them to post to Epsilen about what they are doing with technology. They are also finding information from other Connection Grant groups in other districts in Epsilen which gives them ideas for what they can do in their districts.

Heflin - Platforms like this challenge students to be authentically engaged because of the wider audience that sees their work. Engagement becomes intrinsic. As engagement goes up, a teacher's job does get harder, but it is what is right for students. Learning matrix in Epsilen is a good tool for shaping learner advancement.

Share a specific story in your experience with using Epsilen which made it "click" for you:

Ingram - Started w/ AP English class at start of the year. Students keep a dialectic journal over summer reading and should have read novels and be ready to discuss them. When students move in over the summer, counselor gives students link to Ingram's Epsilen site and gets them set up with an account. All of the info they need to accomplish the task is there and they aren't behind when the school yeare starts. Has cut down on students needing to drop the class because they are too far behind.

Heflin - Supports education specialists at Region XIII who have to become familiar with Epsilen as they go out and present it to districts. Had to present iNACOL standards to 35 specialists and make it relevant to their postitions. Set up a group and discussion forum. Topics were the iNACOL standards. In teams of three, read standards they were responsible for and post a summary in the discussion board, then go and read the summaries of other teams and comment. Now, education specialists are using this approach with teachers they are training in the region.

Barnett - Keep putting things out to keep the teachers encouraged. As they become involved, it will take off and do it's thing. The Kinder group had a teacher that created lessons for the teachers and used to share by a flash drive that everyone had to chase around. When she learned how to use the Drop Box, it streamlined the process and the teachers are much better organized. Alan November came and spoke to the district and a lot of chatter rose up in Epsilen discussions around how teachers were using the tools he had suggested.

Ingram - The finished work posted to Epsilen creates ePortfolios that stay with the student.

Nisonson - Excitement seems to be about connections with students and the learning advancements that are taking place.

What is the impact on teaching and learning? How has PD been fundamentally changed?

Ingram - Maximizes F2F time with students. Students do work and have you there to help them even at home when the lectures/notes are posted to Epsilen.

Barnett - Helps teachers understand that they too must be learners, not just their students. Teachers are finding ways to be more engaging for students. Professional learning conversations that weren't taking place before are now happening.

Heflin - Biggest paradigm shift has been the move to a Flat Texas. Professional developers need to differentiate for audiences who have a wide variety of technology backgrounds. Also need to post robust resources that teachers can refer to over and over again. It is probably information overload for some. But PD providers are no longer collectors of lists of resources, but providers of facilitated professional development. Allows for more "just in time" professional development across a state-wide common platform.

Q from audience: What is the experience of orienting teachers to the platform?

Heflin - Has learned over time to target the PD at a specific issue they have in their district and show them just one or two features at a time. Wishes he could retrain his first trainees. Starts with specific resources like OnTRACK and other state developed resources and courses, then goes to portfolios, then groups and etiquette. Courses are left to last. Talks about networking last for novice starting teachers. Visit his eportfolio at epsilen.com/lheflin where he is posting his resources.

Ingram - Teachers have an extra planning period called a Technology Integration Period (TIP) for learning about and planning for teaching with technology. (WOW!!!) This has helped with getting teachers accustomed to using the tech with students.

Barnett - Encouraging use for even small conversations helps the students get more comfortable. Giving teachers access to each other encourages use. PD can be what individual teachers need when they need it. Don't be in a hurry and take baby steps.

Dynamic Digital Portfolios #SXSWedu

Notes from SXSWedu 2011 breakout session...

Carol Teitelman
Region XIII Distance Learning

Link to Prezi from presentation: http://prezi.com/xty5ijclree_/dynamic-porfolios/

Dr. Helen Barrett
http://www.electronicportfolios.com/balance/index.html

Portfolios fall into two different types. (Epsilen allows you to do both at the same time.)
  • Internal (learning or reflection)
  • External (showcase or accountability)
Reflection a key part of keeping a portfolio. Why is this artifact in my portfolio and why do I want to keep it here?

The showcase aspect of a portfolio can be a PR tool for yourself and what is going on in your classroom. Share what your students are doing with the world.

Portfolio Tools
Mashups
Examples
Online Tools - How do we embed these in portfolios?
Portfolios need to be dynamic, living documents. The web is not a place to park stuff

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

iTunes U Unleashed! #SXSWedu

Notes from SWSWedu 2011 breakout session...

Tom Burnett, PhD
Manager Stategic Initatives
Apple, Inc.

Education Trends Near and Dear to Apple
  • User Created Content
  • Mobility
  • Learning Communities
Digital Learning Environments: - A new sequence of learning
  • Create
  • Access
  • Distribute
The 21st Century Learning Environment Provides Access to Numerous "Knowledge Points" - Places where students can find the information they need.

"Culture easts strategy every day of the week."
Example: Can we keep kids from using the all the technology at their disposal, or can we teach them to use it appropriately and use it for learning?

University Channels

Duke University - Approached Apple about posting lectures to iTunes and gave every incoming Freshman an iPod. Another set of Univeristies Followed - MIT, Yale, UC Berkeley, Stanford. Now, almost 500 universities worldwide have created their own iTunes U sites and are sharing their content freely with the world. For FREE!!!!

Just click the iTunes U button at the top of iTunes...

MIT Channel - Walter Lewin, Science professor and "national treasure", has his entire Physics I course lectures on their channel - FREE!! (Look up his awesome kinetic energy lecture where he tries to smash his own face!)

University of South Florida - College of Education - Lit2Go - Professional Readers have read 200 classic books; they can be downloaded and listen to for FREE! The text of the book will also display on a Touch or iPhone!

Apple provides the architecture for Universities and Colleges to create iTunes U channels for FREE!!

Beyond Campus Channels - Look under Quick Links on right side of iTunes U screen

Libraries, museums, organizations
KQED, Library of Congress, Connexions from Rice University, Kahn Academy, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Supereme Court

Kahn Academy has entire courses posted in their channel.

KQUED Quest - Science lessons

Rice University Connexions - Open source textbooks - Algebra II textbook is actually on the state adoption list in California

K-12 Education Channels - 20 States Have Channels - Including Texas!

Virginia - paying for education apps to be developed - just noticed they have tech tutorials

Tennessee - Presenter's favorite channel - They are putting all of their state shared content in iTunes
Example: Four minute lesson on Nouns for 2nd Grade

iTunes U has 400,000 pieces of content, educator created, vetted, and FREE!!!

In a school setting, you can block all the rest of iTunes out and just get to iTunes U (Need to investigate how to do this...)

Trending Fast in iTunes U
  • Playlists - can combine thematic information into playlists and share with students on their iPods
  • ePUB - Newest format supported on iTunes; Lets you interact with content. Can make electronic "sticky notes" in books you are reading, look up words in dictionary and thesaurus. CK12 and Connexions have ePUB books in iTunes U
Burnett demonstrated creating an e-publication using Pages on a Mac. Put in text and added lectures he had downloaded from iTunes. They play within the Pages document. You can export the document as an ePub. Add the ePub to your iTunes library, sync to iPad or iPod Touch, and Presto! A self-published ePub document, customized for your students! Way cool!! I bet this doesn't work on Windows...

Top 10 Reasons to Use iTunes

10. Builds a strong statewide "band" for wuality content
9. Become part of a worldwide learning and PD community
8. Quickly get conetnt to meet needs (ie new standards)
7. Cross platform: Mac &  PC
6. Share greata content/buld community of learners and developers
5. Saves time and money
4. High quality PD - on demand
3. Anytime/anwhere access to conent
2. Aligned vetted conent ins safe environment
1. Increased student achievement!

Robert Scott - Texas Education Commissioner - #SXSWedu

Scott is very imprssed with the turnout at SXSWedu. It is an honor for Project Share to be chosen as the focus of SXSWedu.

Scott testified for 2.5 hours before the House Appropriations Committee this morning. Like having multiple root canals done at the same time.

Use of technology at state and district level can help us overcome a $9.8 billion shortfall.

Scott observes his own children connecting globally with friends via Skype and using their laptops seamlessly in their schooling every day. His son is vice-president of his theater company and its webmaster. His daughter helped create a monage video for their 8th grade class before they all went to separate high schools for 9th grade.

Scott visited Texas A&M with his senior daughter and two of her friends. He saw fully interactive operating rooms with VR manequins that act as patients for students to learn with. Our kids need to be prepared to funciton in these environments.

Texas is very data rich and information poor - we collect a lot of data but we don't push it back out.

Education is finally starting to embrace technology as a necessity rather than as an afterthought.

Need for online courses will become more and more apparent in the wake of budget cuts. Ex: High school in Austin has laid off their German teacher for next year; how can students complete German next year? Online courses will be necessary.

Special education and special populations benefit from technology. A west Texas child with an immune deficiency disorder can attend school and interact with his peers via a robot that represents him. Students with communication deficiencies can use iPad apps to communicate.

Spontaneous translation of language via phone is on the horizon. This technology will be a game changer in content instruction for second language learners.

A father in England losing his voice to a health problem is recording it so he will be able to "read" to his baby as his child grows up, even after his voice is gone for life.

Skype allows students in a DAEP setting can get instruction from the original teacher on their home campus.

Freedom and accountabilty, rather than state mandates, can empower teachers to make the best decisions for their students.

Online professional development saves money on travel for teachers.

Scott is committed to Project Share. 277,000 teachers have accounts in Project Share. He will find the money even in the wake of budget cuts. Even if the legislature doesn't fund it, he'll find grants or private funds. (People in audience clapped at this!)

Recommended book to read: The Global Achievement Gap

States using the common core standards will become Microsoft - monolithic; Texas will become Apple - being responsive and innovative. Project Share is a part of that innovation.

In the next week when the House starts to move on the budget, legislators will become uncomfortable with the cuts they are looking at. Negotiations will begin in earnest. There will be cuts. The question is what the extent of the cuts be?

End of course and STAAR tests are at least two jumps in rigor ahead of TAKS. We can't meet these expectations with severe budget cuts. Mr. Scott testified to this in front of the legislature this morning. (Much clapping from the audience!)

There are no silver bullets, but there are killer apps like Project Share.

It's not about students being able to read a texbook online and saving $50 on the book; it's about providing collaboration and authentic feedback. Example: Students design bridges and professional engineers assess them and interact with them.

Project Share is being promoted on PBS so educators will be made more aware of the program.

OnTRACK for College Readiness: Digital Tools & Resources #SXSWedu

Notes from SXSWedu 2011 breakout session...

Paula Moeller
University of Texas Institute for Public School Initatives

OnTRACK will be available free through Project Share for all students in Texas.

Join onTRACK Advocacy Group in Epsilen for announcements about onTRACK roll out: http://www.epsilen.com/grp/119586

OnTRACK overview
  • Online learning tools (lessons) for students in math, science, ELA, and social studies developed to increse student preparedness and performance on STAAR high school assessments leading to a higher degree of College and Career Readiness.
  • All learning tools are being developed within TEA's Project Share platform.
  • It's free - use as much or as little as you need. Students don't have to take an entire history course, they can just review the part on the Civil War if that is what is needed
Project Goals
  • Help students exceed the minimum score required on each high school STAAR assessment in order to meed graduation requirements.
  • Prepaer all students to meet the college-readiness component of the Algebra II and English III STAAR assessment.
Math courses
  • Algebra I - 6 units, 61 lessons
  • Geometry
  • Algebra II
Science Courses
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
Social Studies Courses - Available May 1st
  • US History
  • World History
  • World Geography
English III - Coming in April
  • Based on the 5 CCRS Content Standards
Search for onTRACK in courses in Epsilen to find offerings.

The onTRACK courses do not cover ALL TEKS. They are not replacements for actual instruction. It is supplemental to current instruction.

Firefox is the recommended browser for these courses. Each course has a plugin checker to make sure you can check your computer for compatibility.

All videos and applets that they had permission for are embedded in the course - this should help with districts that have YouTube blocks. Externally linked content is only used when there was not permission fromt the owner to embed in the course.

All science lessons were written by Texas science teachers.

In some courses, students work using Take Notes in Epsilen so teachers can look at their work later.

Teachers can have access to see the assessment results from the end of each lesson.

Ultimately, teachers will be able to copy the course to their own account and manage it for students they are instructing.

Can be used for whole class instruction (via projector) or assigned to individual students and monitored through Take Notes assignments in Epsilen.

Mutiple interactives throughout all of the courses - video, audio, drag-and-drop.

These resources look very well developed! I can't wait to share this with our teachers!

A Project Share Story: Ensuring a Successful Implementation #SXSWedu

Notes from SXSWedu 2011 breakout session...

Jill Galloway
Coordinator of Instructional Technology
Irving ISD
jgalloway@irvingisd.net
Twitter: @ajillgalloway


Irving ISD has had a very peaceful roll out of Project Share. They are sharing things they wish they had known ahead of time today.

All Irving ISD high schools are 1:1 with laptops. Middle school migrant students also have laptops.

Irving has Blackboard in their district and it is heavily used, but Galloway sees great potential for Epsilen and feels it is more of a 21st Century platform.

Questions to Ask:
  • Who will manage institution?
  • Who will pilot? Irving is a large district with 35,000 students, so they wanted to find a small group for piloting. They decided to start with T3 grant participants, instructional technology specialists, and high school math teachers who needed access for training materials. T3 teachers saw a lot of potential for students, but student accounts cannot be created without email addresses, and Irving ISD doesn't have student email addresses.

    Tipping Point: Presented Epsilen to upper administration, who started using it in ways they had not planned yet but were happy to see.

    Special Ed department began creating online professional development courses in Epsilen, which helped them leave a mark since their positions will not be funded next year.

    Grant writers are using it for grant facilitation. They can collaborate with other districts participating in the same grant.

    Principal of a new middle school is using Epsilen to network with the teachers she is hiring for her campus.
  • What about the kids? Irving wanted to use ePortfolios with their students. They created ePals email addresses for one 8th grade teacher's students so he could pilot with them.
  • What will students access? You can choose the level of access for any type of user. Irving did not change access levels at first, so they had to go back and enable some features during roll out. For example, students by default cannot search for courses. Irving enabled this to make enrollment in online courses easier than the "invite to course" method. They use access codes so just anyone cannot enroll in the courses.
  • Who can access ePortfolios? Irving has decided to keep the ePortfolios within Irving for now since they are using with 8th grade and 4th grade and are not applying to college at this time.
  • Will students be searchable? Irving did not enable this at this time.
  • Will students have profile pictures? Irving does allow this.
  • Will students blog? By default they do not have rights to blogging features. Irving turned this on because of its potential for instructional use.
Initial student roll out - Can create student role in Epsilen and give certain access rights
  • 8th grade science and 4th grade class.
  • Students are using ePortfolios and enjoy uploading their information to them.
  • Interactive notebooks
  • Students post projects for presenting to peers
  • Homebound instruction - Homebound instrutor works with a homebound student this way. Teacher back on campus uses drop box with student to look at work and give feedback.
  • Stay connected with each other. One teacher who was at a training away from campus used Epsilen chat feature to communicate with his students back in the classroom. Teacher can also hold virtual office hours in the evening.
Tips in Hindsight:
  • Have a training plan. Hands-on workshops initially, but then met one on one with teachers who were interested in using it. Also did a lot of webinars through illuminate. In the beginning overview trainings were very much in demand. Also how to work with your ePortfolio. Course creation is a popular topic. If you know these three topics you can use the rest of the system.
  • Teachers can create courses, and those must be approved by an administrator. NOTE: Administrator does not get an automatic notification when a new course is submitted in Epsilen for approval.
  • Pick a starting point for users. ePortfolios - charge teachers with creating one for themselves. One district (not Irving) required teachers to create ePortfolios.
  • Populate the system with content for your staff. Get teachers using the system so they'll see the benefits of it.
  • Course Tips:
    - Make all teachers certified faculty so they can create courses
    - Define student acess levels ahead of time
    - Simplify the course menu so as not to overwhem students. Don't have features you are not using enabled on the menu. Teachers have this control over their courses
    - Turn on drop box notifications so teacher knows when students turn in their assignments. Date and time stamp is very helpful!
    - Collaborate across classrooms with Workgroups. Can create groups with kids who aren't even in the same class. They complete group projects. Sharing files, leaving notes for each other. True 21st Century collaboration!
    - Facilitate a virtual classroom via chat (virtual office hours, interact with students when you are away from school.
    - Save often in Take Notes - especially if wireless access is an issue. This has been Irving's biggest challenge
    - Back up your course content with Resources
    - If a teacher leaves, institution admin can change the administrator or instructor of a course so it can be reused
  • Student oversight - Teachers can delete inappropriate content inside course blogs. Institutional admin can delete content from individual student blogs. Not sure if teachers can get to student email. Make sure students are signing an AUP every year and incorporate Epsilen into it.
Irving ISD's next steps: New middle school coming online is trying to be as paperless as possible. They are putting forms in a course in Epsilen. Using embedded Google forms inside Epsilen pages. A course gives them more tools to use than a group.

Galloway is a Google certified teacher and had Google Apps for Edu at her previous district. She feels Epsilen and Google Apps are excellent compliments to one another.


This was offered up from a member of the audience: Join 6tech group in Epsilen. Region 6 has developed a trainer of trainers document that you can get for free!
http://www.epsilen.com/grp/119578

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Project Share Support Center #SXSWedu

Notes from SXSWedu 2011 breakout session.

Project Share Support Center: Scaffolding for a New Platform

http://projectsharetexas.org/support
Presentation Handout: http://projectsharetexas.org/support/pdf/sxswedu_agenda.pdf
Presentation Prezi: https://prezi.com/secure/4cf2d078d1ad3e8f9f53cf43b51ba7536f2210e4/

There is a Project Share support center course where these tools are shared in Epsilen. They are also developing some of the OnTrack courses. Search for OnTrack courses to see lesson samples.



Presenter has been using Epsilen "out of the box" for about five months. Charged with creating content that was relevant with no "bling for bling sake".

21st Century Learners are networked. They create and share content almost instantly.

Scaffolding addresses novice, proficient, and expert users.

Novice
  • Has opened an account
  • Can navigate MyPortal
  • Exploring lefthand nav menu
  • Developing ePortfolio
  • Navigating online courses
Novices can
  • Microblog (updating their status; many know how to do this b/c of Facebook and Twitter)
  • Use wikis and forums straight out of the box (have seen message boards on the Internet before)
  • Blog (have seen professional blogs before)
Proficient
  • Created or participated in groups
  • Tried to create a course
  • Has used Web 2.0 tools to enhance teaching and learning
Proficient users can
Experts
  • Work with embedding Flash and other multimedia assets in to Adobe PDF files
  • Extensive working knowledge of HTML and CSS
  • Program using Java
  • Customize the look and feel of Epsilen course content (change background colors, embed Java script interactive tools)
Experts can
  • Create interactive PDFs for students - they can type in then roll over an area to self-check an answer
  • Embed Flash and other multimedia including audio
  • Use inline styles within the Epsilen HTML editor
  • Import external style sheets/CSS in HTML code - more info on how to do this in the PS Support Center
  • Goal is to posts snipits of java code on the support center to assist with helping others customize their content in Epsilen
Take-aways
  • Epsilen space capabilities vs. external server use
  • Browser recommendations: Firefox (NOTE: In another presentation I heard varying recommendations on which browser to use.)
  • Width issues while embedding files and graphics with NYTKN articles

"Always On" Education with Project Share #SXSWedu

Notes from a breakout session at South by Southwest Edu 2011

Presenter: David McGeary, Harris County Department of Education, Digital Learning Specialist

McGeary helped build the first version of the Texas Tour in ProjectShare

Hybrid or blended learning fills the gap between what we teach in the classroom with what they do in the real world. It helps students create within online spaces and solve authentic real-world problems.

Godin: "If you think the fall out in the newspaper business was dramatic, wait until you see what happens to education."

Project Share is one of a multitude of resources out there. It is unique because it is statewide. New York and North Carolina are also starting to use Project Share, widening the collaborative community.

Students at school spend 240 minutes every day processing printed information. 31 minutes per day doing digital interaction. At home, they spend 38 minutes per day using print media, but 429 minutes per day accessing info via digital resources. (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation Study - m2 Millennials Study)

An online digital resource helps bridge the gap between what is going on at home and what is going on at school.

By 2014, every single student in college will take at least one course online. By 2020 50% of all college material will be online, and K-12 students will be taking at least two courses online.

To see where technology and the value of online spaces are going, watch what teenagers are doing. This can be awe inspiring AND terrifying! (Why we need digital citizenship in our curriculum).

There are multiple models of hybrid learning, but it all boils down to interactions. (See Anderson and Garrison, 1998, interaction triangle). In 2004 the model had to be revised because social networking and peer interaction. Student interaction with students, content, and teachers all contributes to the online learning experience. Having them all in the correct balance makes learning very rich.

Students understand they can get their voices out on the Internet. The interactions are very potent - and sometimes negative when outside of well defined social circles. EX: YouTube video commenting...

Collaboration, Moderating, and Leading are the pinnacles of online learning.

The models of hybrid learning we borrowed from higher education don't necessarily work well in K-12 education.

Effective hybrid models:
  • System provides some way to support students
  • Does not rule out the role of the instructor, it magnifies it 100%. F2F time becomes critical for processing. (Large criticism of totally online courses is students miss classroom interaction).
Types of hybrid models
  • Extended Course Model
    F2F Course is taught, as usual
    Additional resources added online
    additional activities are added to support new content
    course time extended well beyond F2F
    Student involvement must be optional
  • Comprehension Coupling Model
  • Content Support Model
    F2F course is taught, as usual
    support/review resources added online
    content provided makes use of digital nature of the LMS
    Course time not effected beyond F2F
    Student involvement must be optional
  • Social Collaboration Model

Considerations for Every Unit
  • Small group socialization - research says 3 is minimum, 6 is maximum
    Building Trust between members of a collaborative group
  • Set small, measurable goals early. Break them in easy and have them accomplish tasks in small chunks
    Help students track their independent contributions
  • Will your students be able to complete all tasks in time? Create focused online objectives. Be specific in your expectations and make sure students know exactly what is expected of them.
    Can you grade and provide feedback in a timely manner?
Connectivism - a new model of learning. Value of information increases as we share it.

Epsilen Features

See sample course in Epsilen: http://www.epsilen.com/crs/1114923

Reliable courses have a syllabus that students interact with at least twice per week.

Drop boxes are a good place to keep a large amount of course content because students frequent the area.

Announcements area is one of the most overlooked and underused areas of an online course space. Epsilen makes announcements difficult to ignore which is a nice feature. Research shows students are more likely to pay attention to an announcement than they are to a course email.

The notes area can contain multiple types of media, are date and time stamped, and can be sent out to other course members via email, mobile phones, etc. Very clever system for having students keep up with their content. It could be used as a simple assessment of what students are learning. Have them take simple notes and send them to you.

Wiki area - The more you can keep learning in the LMS shell itself, the more successful students will be. (See sample collaborative wiki in McGeary's sample course in Epsilen).

Forums - asynchronous so students don't feel pressure to be there at a certain time. Provides for student/student, student/content, and student/instructor interaction. Student to instructor interaction is very important in these areas. Research shows student to instructor interaction here is very powerful. If you are not participating in the discussions in your online classes, you are doing your students a disservice. Research shows that discussion forums are the most frequented areas of online courses in K-12 online learning, especially right before a test or when a project is due.

Tests/Quizzes - Great ways to do pre-assessments to see what the students know before they ever walk through the door. Can help you focus your F2F content.

Lessons - Provide simulations and real world materials that you could not normally bring into the classroom.


How do classroom teachers do this stuff?
  • Start small
  • Pick a tool that makes sense for what you are teaching and master it
  • Goal is to instill in students that online collaborative spaces are useful and powerful for learning
David M also helped create Earth to Space, a fully online TEKS aligned course. Can be counted as a senior level science course on the 4 X 4. You can go through professional development in Project Share. Earth to Space online group in Project Share will give information for getting access to this course. Can be used for blended learning or fully online. Contains a huge amount of NASA material.

Also offer a course for teachers interested in becoming online instructors. They also do consultation trainings for school districts

dmcgeary@hcde-texas.org
dcmcgeary - Twitter

http://trngexamples.wikispaces.com

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I've Written My Representatives; Have You? #TxEdBudget #SaveTxSchools

They are word processed, printed, signed, stuffed in envelopes, addressed, stamped, and waiting to be mailed in the morning.

What are "they"? My letters to Governor Rick Perry, Senator Steve Ogden, and Representative Larry Gonzales. That's what.

If you are Tweeting and Facebooking and blogging, great. If you are consuming information on the budget crisis, also great. If you are talking to your educator and noneducator friends, even better. But make sure you don't forget that the people who most especially need to hear you are in Austin, Texas, right now. And they won't hear you if you aren't emailing, writing, and phoning. Often.

Below is the text of my letter to Senator Ogden. My letters to Perry and Gonzales were similar, although I customized them a little to each person. For example, I thanked the governor for his support of the Texas Virtual Schools Network and mentioned to Representative Gonzales that I know he's close to public education issues since his wife is an educator.

Feel free to read my letter and use ideas from it if you like. Your letter will be more impactful if it is full of your ideas, however. They need to hear each of our individual voices in Austin.


The Honorable Steve Ogden
P.O. Box 12068
Capitol Station
Austin, Texas 78711

Dear Senator Ogden,

I am writing you as your constituent, a proud Texan, and a professional educator who has spent my entire eighteen year career investing in the education of children in Texas public schools. I am gravely concerned about the future of our children’s education.

Governor Perry’s words from his governing principles regarding education in Texas speak volumes toward my concerns:

"The single most effective step a person can take toward a better life is getting a great education, and Texas has made a concerted effort toward creating better, more accountable schools to make a great education easier to achieve during a time of increasingly global competition."
Source: http://governor.state.tx.us/initiatives/education/

Texas public schools and the educators they employ have made concerted efforts toward meeting the high goals demanded by the citizens of Texas and our federal government. They cannot continue to make these efforts, however, if they are not adequately funded. They simply cannot cut operational and program costs to the degree necessary to make up for a projected $10 billion shortfall in education funding from the state. Without adequate funding, school districts who dedicate 85% of their budgets toward salaries will have no choice but to lay off teachers.

An estimated 100,000 educators out of work when the final school bells ring in May 2011 will be devastating to the ability of school districts to properly differentiate instruction for students, offer them innovative programs, and continue to increase student achievement as new testing requirements come into play in the 2011-2012 school year.

I urge you, Senator Ogden, to lead during this budget crisis and encourage the use of the Rainy Day fund to mitigate the projected budget deficit. I also urge you and our legislature to come up with a reasonable and sustainable plan for funding schools in Texas. The current plan, which ties districts to target revenue from 2006, does not take into account cost increases for goods and services, and it further restricts districts by withholding state funding if they increase local funding, effectively giving them no recourse to increase revenue to make up for the looming state shortfall.

I also believe an increase in the state sales tax or another means of increasing revenue for the state should be considered. When there is not enough money to make ends meet, sensible spending cuts can be made and supplemented with additional revenue streams. This is how families and companies balance their budgets. Texas should do likewise.

According to the Texas Legislative Study Group, our state has the second highest public school enrollment in the nation, but ranks 38th in expenditures per student, 43rd in our high school graduation rate, and dead last (50th) in the percent of adults 25 and older with high school diplomas (Source: http://texaslsg.org/texasonthebrink/). To increase these standings and stay globally competitive, Texas must prioritize funding public education to provide the best education it can for its students and attract the best educators to its schools.

Senator Ogden, you have had my vote in each of your elections. As a concerned citizen and voter, I hope you will take a hard look at the devastating effect a “cuts only” approach to balancing the budget will have on our children who are the future of Texas. I also hope you will prioritize addressing our current budget and funding issues while putting new initiatives on the back burner. I must admit, I was confused as to what your priorities might be when I read about the recent constitutional amendment you proposed to require Texas to fund textbooks for private schools at a time when we do not have enough money to adequately fund public schools.

I will be closely watching how education budget issues are addressed during the 2011 legislative session, and my future voting decisions will be heavily influenced in favor of state leaders who are proponents of a strong education system in word and who follow up their verbal support with the financial support our schools desperately need.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and concerns on education funding in Texas.
I've done my civic duty. Now it's time for you to do yours. Not sure where to start or need to catch up on some facts? Check out my previous posts on the Texas education budget crisis.


Mailbox photo used with permission from http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/733099
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