Monday, May 30, 2011

To Our Fallen Heroes on Memorial Day

"Flags In" at Arlington National Cemetery
for Memorial Day 2008
Photo by Flikr User The U.S. Army
Used Under a Creative Commons License
Today is Memorial Day in the United States. Traditionally, it is a day when we take time to remember the men and women who have died in military service to our country.

From 1776 through today, as citizens of the USA, you bravely answered your country's call to serve. As the daughter of a World War II veteran and a citizen of the United States, I am writing to acknowledge and thank each of you who have paid the ultimate price for my freedom.

It is difficult to write such a thank you, because I know you who truly should hear it cannot. Perhaps taking full advantage of the freedoms your sacrifices made possible is the best way to try and repay, if such an offering can ever be repaid, your lives which were given to make my way of life today possible.

Because of your sacrifice, I have been able to pursue my dream career in education. Not every woman in the world has been allowed to be educated, let alone become an educator.

Because of your sacrifice, I can vote and participate freely in the political process. I  have a say in how my city, state, and country are run. And I can let my elected officials know when I disagree with them.

Because of your sacrifice, I am able to freely write this blog and read the blogs of others, sharing opinions and exchanging ideas with colleagues around the world. Citizens in other countries are not as fortunate.

I often take these and myriads of other freedoms for granted. It is an enduring testimony to your sacrifice that I can live my life taking advantage of the freedoms you have paid for without a second thought.

The words "thank you" are inadequate and always will be. So I will continue to remember all you have done, all you have purchased for me with the price of blood you paid, and I will continue to remind others as well.

The poem below, written by one who knows of the life you lived, explains best what we all should acknowledge this day and every day in the USA.

It Is The Soldier
Charles M. Province
Copyright 1970, 2005

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Rest in peace, Fallen Hero, and know that your sacrifice is not forgotten.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thoughts at the End of a Challenging Texas School Year

Photo by Flikr User redjar
Used Under a Creative Commons License
Today is the last day of school in my district. Usually, this day does not cause me too much pause or reflection because for the last four years since I've worked from the district technology department, it has signaled a transition from "school year busy" to "summer staff development and projects busy." I don't usually breathe or acknowledge the end of school until the first round of summer staff development is done in June.

But this year, things are different. I am acutely aware that when the final bell rings on each campus today, it won't just signal summer break for students or graduation time for the Class of 2011. In my district, it will signal the end of 142 staff members contributing to our educational community and enriching the lives of students. From central administration to campus administration to campus secretarial staff to instructional aides and classroom teachers, positions have been culled and eliminated through attrition or layoffs.

I know some of the faces who are not coming back because they are campus instructional technology staff with whom I've had the privilege to serve for many years. Some of them have been with the district for a number of years extending into the double digits. Their skill sets will be sorely missed by teachers and students alike. I met another face who is not coming back just today when I was out at a campus for a meeting. Gifted & Talented program facilitators have been cut too, taking away a resource from students and adding to the workload of teachers who kept their positions.

All of these cuts are due to the Texas budget crisis, which as of the last articles I read is going to result in a four billion dollar cut in public education spending over the next two years, with no additional funding for student growth. I have blogged extensively about these issues in the past few months.

There is disagreement on what caused the crisis - how much of it is due to the recession and how much due to a structural deficit caused by an under-performing business tax that was put into place in 2006 - but whatever the cause, the results are the same. Fewer educators and school district staff will be serving students across Texas in the coming school year. As of my latest documented count, over 12,000 public education employees will lose their positions when the final bells sound across Texas in the coming days. I do not know if that number will increase or decrease when the legislature finalizes the budget.

There has also been disagreement on how the crisis should be handled. Should the state Rainy Day Fund be used? If so, how much of it should be used? Does the school finance system need to be revamped again? Should ways be found to produce new revenue (i.e. raise taxes on someone somewhere)?

Regardless of opinions on these matters, students and their needs are rarely brought up by the decision makers as they state their positions. I think the people who should be the focus of this debate, the people who have the most to lose (or gain), are the ones who have been most ignored in the conversations. Students.

In a year when Texas is revamping its testing system to up the ante once again and clearly has expectations for continued improvement in its schools, when you fail to address adequate staffing needs, you are ultimately failing to address the needs of students.

Click the photo to enlarge and read the complete
message our librarians sent!
A bright spot at the end of this morale-challenging year took place in our technology department Wednesday. Our district librarians brought us some treats, and among those treats was the message you see at the right. We each received a copy. And when I say each, I mean everyone in the department, from the director to the instructional staff to the student information systems staff to the administrative assistant to the technicians.

What our librarians understand is that it takes everyone in our department to support their efforts and the efforts of the district. Instructional staff are important, but the supporting cast members play a vital role as well.

This analogy plays out over entire districts, too. Without the proper number of instructional staff, the primary mission of a school district - the education of children - is hindered as each instructional person has a finite amount of attention they can give to each student, even when their desire to give is infinite. Larger classes and fewer programs staffed ultimately means less opportunity for students.

The folks in favor of cutting spending no matter what the consequences have tried to make their position more palatable by trumpeting the fact that "only" 50% of Texas public school employees are classroom teachers. The implication being that if you aren't a classroom teacher you aren't valuable to a school district or a child's education. You are a burden on the system and a waste of taxpayer money. Never mind that the 50% statistic has held true for the last 20 years and no one seemed bothered by it before. Never mind that the 50% of employees who aren't classroom teachers directly impact the quality of student learning because they are the ones who feed children, drive them back and forth to school, keep the classrooms clean, fix water fountains and toilets, maintain and repair computers and network equipment, coordinate instructional programs, get messages to students from their parents, and professionally develop classroom teachers to keep them informed on the latest educational approaches. (On a related note, it is untrue that there is a 1:1 ratio of teachers to administrators in Texas public schools.)

If support staff are cut to keep more teachers in classrooms, then duties which belonged to those support staff may now fall back to classroom teachers. Duties such as one-on-one diagnostic testing or covering a class on your planning period to save substitute costs or having to research intervention strategies to help a student instead of having access to a specialist for consultation. Again, as teachers must assume more responsibility because of staff reductions, their time focusing on each child in their classroom is negatively impacted.

As I reflect on the 2010-2011 school year and wonder what the next school year and budget cycle holds, my biggest desire for the future is that educators, policy makers, and legislators will find ways to come together and truly discuss the issues based on actual facts. Truly understand what is at stake and what it takes to meet the needs of the diverse learners in our classrooms and the high expectations of our citizens.

Education should be apolitical; a strong public school system is in the best interest of our society and it should be a no-brainer that we need to prioritize ways to fully fund it. We have plenty of accountability built into state and federal law so the public knows how its money is being spent and what they get for it. Let's work together to continuously improve student achievement and graduate readiness instead of constantly pointing fingers at lawmakers or demanding better products from schools at a reduced price.

Photo by Flikr User goldberg
Used Under a Creative Commons License
Let's remember we are not trying to improve the manufacturing process for widgets and cogs. We're investing in our most precious natural resource - our children.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Voki in the K-12 Classroom

As part of my research into Web 2.0 resources for possible use in our school district, today I looked into Voki, a website which allows users to create talking avatars. There are many options for creating the avatars, ranging from realistic looking people to fanciful animals. The speech of the avatars can be typed speech that is then spoken by a computerized voice, or it can be the recorded speech of a live person. Voki also has a portal aimed specifically at using the tools in education.

The tools for creating the avatar are quite intuitive. In about half an hour today, I was able to create the Voki you see below. (It would have taken far less time if I had not cared so much about my wardrobe and hair color!) I played with the computer generated voices, but in the end decided to record the Voki's message in my own voice. Take a listen, then read on for more on Voki, because I have some questions and resources for you!

I had fun making my Voki! :-)

How Are You Using Voki?

If you are experienced in using Voki with students, I would appreciate your responses to any or all of the questions below in the comments section of this blog:
  • Do you just have the students create Vokis without creating an account on the site, and then immediately copy the link or embed code to access the Voki later?
  • Do you allow students to create their own Voki accounts and save their own avatars? Or do you create a master account for yourself or the class and let the students save all of the avatars under that account?
  • Voki's Terms of Service allow users under 13 to use the site with parental consent. Do you get signed permission from parents for students under 13 to use Voki or do you simply act "in loco parentis" and oversee the students' accounts? Do you have different policies for students who are 13 and older?
  • Do you have examples of ways you have used Voki for teaching and learning? If so, please share! If any of your Vokis or Vokis your students have created are posted somewhere on the web, please provide a link!

More Ideas for Using Voki in Teaching and Learning

If you would like to explore using Voki with your students or would like more ideas for how to use Voki, here are some resources I have found:
And last but not least, K-6 technology teacher and integration specialist Mary Beth Hertz shares how she used Voki with her 6th grade students:

Please don't forget to share how you approach Voki account management and use Voki with your students! Thanks in advance for contributing to the learning!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Do You Use Animoto With Students Under 13 Years Old?

Photo Courtesy of MorgueFile User mzacha
There is no doubt that multimedia creation is an engaging activity for students who have grown up in a world saturated with video games, MP3 players, and videos and music everywhere they turn on the Internet. I am researching a few Web 2.0 tools that teachers in my district want to use with students. One of them is Animoto, a multimedia video creation tool. I've read a great deal about Animoto in the past couple of years and even seen presentations on its use at education conferences. I must admit, I've never used it myself, but the videos created with it are pretty snazzy.

Part of my research into Animoto included looking at the site's Terms of Service. I could not get past this glaring detail as I thought about using the site with K-5 students (generally ages 5 - 11 in the US):
You must be 13 years of age or older to be a User of the Site. By continuing to use the Site, you are warranting that you are at least 13 years old and you have the authority to enter into these Terms of Service. If you do not agree with these Terms of Service, immediately stop using the Site.
There is not even a "with parental permission or consent" clause in Animoto's Terms of Service.

Since Animoto has an Animoto for Education site and I've seen the site recommended regularly at conferences and on edtech blogs and websites I read, I thought surely there might be an exception for the education focused branch of the service. But, when I searched the help forums, I found out quite the opposite was true. You can read for yourself the answers to these two questions from the Animoto forums, which confirm that Animoto's policy applies even to education use:

So, what are your school's or district's policies on the use of Animoto, or really any web tool, that according to the site's Terms of Service should not be used with children under 13 years old? 

And if you do allow students under 13 to use such sites, how do you reconcile that decision with the fact that you expect students and teachers to follow your own district policies, whether they be technology acceptable use policies or general school/district rules and policies? 

Please post your answers in the comments. I look forward to the conversation!

NOTE: You can post a comment anonymously if you have used Animoto with students under 13 and want to share your thoughts on it but don't want to identify yourself.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Learnings from Participation in the Texas Political Process

I have been learning a great deal about the political process since the start of the 2011 Texas legislative session by participating frequently in legislative matters pertaining to public education. As the Texas budget crisis and its implications for our public schools drew my attention to politics in a way it had never been drawn before, I called, wrote letters, and emailed Senators and Representatives with my opinions. Thanks to the Texas Computer Education Association's (TCEA) Educational Technology Day at the Capitol on March 21st, I learned how to visit with my Senator and Representative (or their staff) in person to advocate for my views on pending legislation. Also thanks to TCEA's legislative activities, I even had an opportunity to testify before the Senate Education Committee regarding proposed changes to the Texas Education Code which were favorable for moving from traditional textbooks to digital materials in Texas public schools. (It looks like HB 6, the companion to SB 6 which I testified on, is going to pass!)

The Team of Concerned Parents, Educators, and Citizens I
Traveled the Capitol with May 21, 2011
Through my connections on Twitter and Facebook, I learned about the Save Texas Schools coalition and participated in a rally of 11,000+ concerned Texas parents, citizens, and educators on March 12th. I participated again in a Save Texas Schools event just yesterday, as a Rally in the Capitol was held while legislators were working to finish the legislative session before the end of May.

My Comfort Zone

I learned from these various experiences that I am much more comfortable with traditional, interpersonal forms of communication on matters of public interest than I am with protest rallies. While rallies are good news makers and can get an issue on everyone's radar, I think dialog has more chance of making a long term impact than does a protest rally. Dialog is also much more in my element, or comfort zone, than shouting protests at the doors to the House of Representatives. The Save Texas Schools Rally in the Capitol actually helped cement these perspectives for me, because it included time to visit the offices of legislators as well as the actual organized "protest" time outside of the House doors. I learned new perspectives by talking with the legislative staffers, and also learned that some of them agree with the positions I hold. I probably learned the most, though, from those who disagree with me. Not that they changed my mind, but they did help me to see a different side of the issue. I think in understanding the positions on all sides we have a better chance of meeting somewhere in the middle, hopefully for everyone's benefit.

Biggest Takeaway

My biggest takeaway from this legislative session? I have a voice, and I need to use it. We elect legislators to represent us; they cannot read the minds of their constituents. Voting in the election is just the beginning of our responsibility. We need to stay informed on the issues and act on the information. And if you want to get past the sound bites in the media, you're going to have to do a little digging, or stay connected to others who are digging like professional organizations or grassroots watchdog/advocacy groups. If possible, get information from a multitude of sources; somewhere in the middle of it all is a course we can all set and live with.

Becoming informed also puts you in the position of being able to inform others. Based on the information I was taking in, I was led to create a website to track educator job losses and try to inform others about how Texas public schools are funded. I can easily point friends and colleagues who have questions to that site. Creating it helped me internalize important information that I used when communicating with legislators, or when I heard our Governor cite statistics that were not accurate.

Second Biggest Takeway

Perhaps my second biggest takeaway was this: The citizens and legislators involved in the political process are all human beings, just like you and me, and I truly believe that citizens and legislators, no matter which side of the issue they come from, want what is best for their communities. We may not all agree on what is best or where the highest priorities should be, but we are all involved for the purpose of making today and the future better for ourselves and those who will come after us.

I may be a Pollyanna, but after all of the interaction I've had with stakeholders and legislators over the past few months, I refuse to believe much of what I've heard and read regarding an unspoken agenda on the part of some political groups to destroy public education. If there are such people out there, I believe they are in a fringe minority. What the majority of us want is improved public education. There is of course, a great deal of disagreement on how to improve our public schools. We need to keep the conversation going around what it takes to improve education. Assertions that there are organized groups trying to undermine education take energy and focus away from dealing with the real issues such as an equitable funding system for Texas public schools and the overemphasis on standardized testing as a measure of educational success for students and teachers. If we can meet at a table in the middle of all this and talk with each other instead of hurling accusations, maybe we can finally make headway in improvement of our public schools.

My Representative Listens

In all of this, I also have to give kudos to my representative, Larry Gonzales, and his staff, for taking time to meet with me and talk with me on the phone on multiple occasions this session. During the March 21st TCEA Educational Technology day, I saw Representative Gonzales at the Capitol elevators and took a moment to introduce myself to him. I could tell he was in a hurry, so I was not going to repeat to him what I had already spoken to his chief of staff about earlier in the day, but he stopped and took time to ask me why I was at the Capitol that day. A few weeks later, he phoned me personally to let me know he had voted for one of the bills I had been there to advocate for. Just yesterday, I stopped by his office, not to share any opinions about anything but just to say thanks for all the work he and his staff were doing and for always politely taking my comments and calls during the session. And he remembered me when I walked in the door, as he mentioned  our meeting at the elevators two months ago and remembered the school district I work for. Wow! He then took time to update me on legislation he had worked on and share some of his perspectives on current legislation. All this while his wife and two kids were there trying to grab a little lunch with him since he has been quite busy the past few weeks.

I do not agree with every vote Representative Gonzales has made, as I'm sure you don't agree with everything your Representatives and Senators have done, but one thing you should acknowledge is this: They stepped up. They ran and now they are in Austin working for you. It is largely a thankless job since you can never make everyone happy. It is truly a sacrifice of time and I am grateful for the men and women who fill these positions and keep our democracy working.

And It's Far From Over

The legislative session may be coming to an end, but my learning in this area is far from over. There are also consequences to be faced based on the at least $4 billion in cuts to education spending that are coming. I only hope we can keep the conversations going in the interim between now and 2013 and that we can work together to find permanent solutions to school finance and do what is best for the future of public education in our state. Even when people disagree, if they are willing to dialog and work together to find solutions, then there is hope.

New Look for EdTechSandyK Blog

If you visit this blog with any regularity, you'll notice there's been a bit of a makeover to its look. I loved the techie look of my previous template, but because it wasn't originally a Blogger template, and because it was designed before Blogger rolled out features like the ability to create multiple pages and the "links to this post" feature, I was limited in trying out some new Blogger tools.

There were code hacks I could have done, but I avoid messing with code as much as possible since I'm pretty novice at it. So, there you go! Now you know why my blog has received a bit of a face lift. Some day, maybe I'll invest in a professional template, but Blogger's template designer has a pretty nice selection of design tools for the average user like me. If you use Blogger, or are interested in starting your own blog, they're worth investigation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Learn to Separate Fact from Fiction via Governor Rick Perry

Yesterday I noticed my blog was getting a great deal of traffic courtesy of the website. I'm always curious about these things, and when I went to investigate, I found that TexasISD had linked to my blog post about the inaccurate information Governor Perry is spreading regarding teacher layoffs and teacher to administrator ratios in Texas public schools.

I found it ironic, to say the least, that just above their link to my blog post, TexasISD had linked to an article published in the Austin American-Statesman titled "Perry: Learn to separate fact from fiction." It turned out to be an editorial written by Perry himself.

On reading the editorial, the gist of which was that a disinformation campaign across Texas is not accurately representing the Governor's record on funding research in higher education, I was struck in particular by two quotes:
One proven tactic of propaganda is that if you want to distract people from the conversation you should be having, don't be afraid to lie ... and lie big.


Public debates about university excellence and accountability are necessary and healthy. But these false claims about university research are damaging our universities and Texas as a whole.
I agree wholeheartedly with Governor Perry's points here. And I wonder if he realizes he himself is guilty of the damaging tactics he is pointing out as he continues to insist that widespread education layoffs are not occurring and that there is one administrator for every teacher in Texas schools?

I also wonder if anyone else notices that the second quote above could still be true with just a couple of word substitutions:
Public debates about Texas K-12 education and accountability are necessary and healthy. But these false claims about Texas public schools are damaging our education system and Texas as a whole.
How I wish we - that's all of us, on all sides of public education issues in Texas - could live up to the ideal that HONEST public debate is necessary and healthy.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Governor Perry Is Wrong About Texas Teacher Layoffs & Public School Staffing Ratios

Official Photo of  Texas Governor Rick Perry from
Yesterday, I listened to a radio interview Texas Governor Rick Perry did with KRLD 1080 AM radio in Dallas via Scott Braddock's website.

Today, I am writing to say he is wrong about the extent of educator layoffs in Texas and that he is also wrong about the staffing ratio of teachers to administrators in the school districts in our state.

Below is a recording of the interview, and below it is a transcript of the relevant portions of the interview which I myself transcribed. To hear the portion of the interview related to this blog post, click the play button, and after the audio file streams down (you'll see the sound wave pattern fill up across the screen), drag the play bar to the 4:15 mark and listen through the 6:06 mark.

Governor Perry on Immigration, School Funding, and Texas Wildfires by Scott Braddock

The portions of the interview to which I am referring are found between time stamps 4:15 and 6:06. Any emphasis in the transcript below is my own for the purposes of my responses.
4:15 Question from Caller: I’m asking what happened to the financial stability that he campaigned that Texas had when now we’re having massive cuts in education and all other types of programs and he campaigned and touted about the fact that Texas had a surplus. What happened to that?

4:35 Host: What did happen to the surplus, Governor?

4:37 Governor Perry: Well what we said was that we had a rainy day fund of nine billion dollars. We knew there were going to be challenges from the standpoint of our current budget. Texas is still creating jobs. We’re still the strongest economy in this country. But the idea that we’re some island in these 50 states is…no one said that we weren’t going to be impacted by the national economy…

5:06 Host: What are we going to do with all these laid off teachers?

5:07 Governor Perry: Well first off I think you’re seeing a substantial misinformation campaign going on out there. There’s not some huge, “massive” as she used the terminology, number of laid off teachers. And here’s a more important question. In Texas now, we’ve hired a huge number of non teachers into our public schools. Administrators, etc.

5:34 Host (talking over Perry at first): Yeah. Do you stand by the number that you gave…Governor Perry I’m sorry…Do you stand by the number you gave previously…Do you stand by the number you gave previously that there was 1 to 1 ratio of administrators to teachers?

5:45 Governor Perry: That is absolutely correct. And the issue becomes the local school districts and the local administrators are the ones that are going to decide how to manage their personnel loads. And if they’re laying off teachers while they’re keeping administrators on, then I think you’ve got some real questions to ask of the school boards and the administrators at that particular point in time. 

There's not some huge, "massive"...number of laid off teachers...

In response to the Governor's statement that "There's not some huge, 'massive'...number of laid off teachers," I submit as a counterpoint a website I have been updating with published reports of confirmed school district layoffs. This is not "misinformation." These are published reports.

I will concede that not all of the 12,211 job eliminations and layoffs documented here (as of the writing of this post) are classroom teachers, but a major portion of them are. And all 12,211 of those positions represent people involved in the education of children in our Texas public schools. I am not sure what the Governor defines as "massive", but I think any industry that is experiencing layoffs in the tens of thousands might qualify as having large-scale layoffs. When it is also taken into consideration that only 66 of our 1,234 districts are represented on the site, it is quite possible that the 12,211 number is just the tip of the iceberg, and it is a predictor of more layoffs to come if the legislature cannot find better solutions to our current budget crisis. It is disingenuous under these circumstances to continue to deny that massive education layoffs are occurring.

There is a "1 to 1 ratio of teachers to administrators" in Texas public schools...

My second response is to the Governor's statement that it is "absolutely correct" that there is a "1 to 1 ratio of teachers to administrators" in Texas public schools. To make my point, I first need to define "administrator" the way most of us who work in public schools define "administrator". If you ask educators who the administrators in their school or district are, they will likely answer with the names of people whose titles are principal, assistant principal, superintendent, deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent, chief financial officer, and director.

By this definition, and according to the Texas Education Agency's own statistics as represented in these charts, only 4% of Texas public school employees qualified as administrators in the 2009-2010 school year.

The breakdown for 2009-2010 is as follows:
  • Teachers - 50%
  • Professional Support* - 9%
  • Campus Administration - 3%
  • Central Administration - 1%
  • Instructional Aides* - 10 %
  • Auxiliary - 27%
*According to TEA, “Support staff are defined as therapists, psychologists, counselors, diagnosticians, physicians and nurses, librarians, department heads, and miscellaneous other support roles. This category does not include secretaries.”  Support staff often work directly with students during the school day. Instructional aides also work directly with students alongside teachers. (Information quoted from Texas Association of School Business Officials via Texas

With teachers comprising 50% of the employees of Texas public schools, and administrators only comprising 4%, it can hardly be argued that there is a 1 to 1 ratio of administrators to teachers in our schools. As a professional educator, I myself would be appalled if that were so.

One could still argue that more than 50% of public school employees should be teachers. After all, it is true that the majority of a school's mission is accomplished through teachers working in the classroom directly with students. I, and many other educators would point out, however, that without nurses, custodians, bus drivers, maintenance workers, computer technicians, special education diagnosticians and therapists, professional development specialists, human resources staff, secretaries, instructional aides, and people fulfilling other essential support roles, the mission of the teacher in the classroom would not be possible. Without these important people working to support teachers and students, teachers would have added responsibilities that would take away from their time focusing on student instruction.

An analogy I've heard several times is apt: Would you run a hospital staffed mostly with doctors? Fewer support staff means doctors would have to run all of the tests, process insurance, meet basic needs of patients, and so on. There would not be enough time to meet with patients to diagnose their ailments and plan treatments. Teachers would be in a similar position, not adequately supported to focus primarily on their students, if they had to attend to the tasks the support personnel in their schools and districts take care of every day.

The 1 to 1 ratio of teachers to administrators only works if you count all non-classroom teachers as administrators. Lumping maintenance staff in with principals is inaccurate at best and purposefully deceitful at its worst.

If you are interested in even more in depth analysis of the ratio of teachers to non-teachers in Texas school districts, I highly recommend the following links:

Concluding Thoughts

I understand our state is in a financial crisis and that there is disagreement on how best to address it. What I would like to see, however, from anyone on any side of the budget and education debates, is accuracy and honesty. If we truly believe our approach is right, we should not have to twist the facts or leave out important details in order to persuade others to support our solution. If spin is necessary, then I am tempted to conclude there is more to the agenda than just balancing the state budget.

Note: On Wednesday, May 18th, I posted a brief follow-up to this blog post.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Texas HB 400 - The Final Stand Thursday, May 12th

Well, today is it! It is the last day that HB 400, legislation which would make PERMANENT changes to Texas law in response to what should be a TEMPORARY budget crisis.

Instead of addressing the real issues - including a structural deficit that has been well documented - legislators are attempting to remove class size caps,weaken the very few contract rights that Texas teachers have, and do away with the state minimum salary scale. All of these moves are detrimental to the quality of education Texas students receive and the caliber of educators that Texas will be able to retain and recruit in the future.

I used this convenient tool from Texas Can Do Better to send an email to my representative on Tuesday, when HB 400 last came up. I customized the email, although you do not have to do that. It is important that you contact your representative TODAY. The Texas Can Do Better tool makes it very easy. You have no excuse for not acting!

Here is my previous post on HB 400 which outlines many concerns (information on the Phillips amendment is no longer pertinent, as sadly, it has been defeated), and the text of the email I sent Tuesday is below.

Please join me in letting our legislators know we want the REAL problems of the budget and deficits dealt with instead of "work-arounds" that wind up hurting public education in Texas. Now, go write and call without delay!

Subject Line: Vote no on HB 400: A temporary revenue crisis is no excuse for permanent repeal of all these educational quality standards and employee safeguards

Dear Representative Gonzales,

I am writing once again to urge you to vote NO on HB 400. I was extremely disappointed to hear that the Phillips Amendment, written by your fellow Republican and which made the provisions of HB 400 temporary, was tabled yesterday. I hope it comes back up for consideration.

I understand you are a co-author of this bill. I do not understand why you believe permanent changes to law that fall heavily on students and teachers are necessary for what should be a temporary budget crisis.

HB 400 permanently eliminates the 22-to-1 cap on the size of K-4 classrooms, by changing the standard to a district-wide average. Both this average and a new 25-to-1 cap for individual classrooms also would be subject to waiver. The bill also wipes out special requirements of smaller class sizes for students at risk of failing standardized state tests.

HB 400 permanently eliminates the state minimum salary schedule for teachers, counselors, nurses, and librarians, replacing salary floors with a mandate to districts to institute test-driven “performance pay.”

A "performance pay" driven salary system is unfair in many aspects, not the least of which is the fact that not all teachers teach subjects which are tested by the state testing system, and teachers who do teach those subjects teach vastly different populations of students. The teacher of GT students will have little trouble earning "performance pay", while a teacher who has dedicated himself or herself to working with students who struggle academically will have much greater challenges. Why institute a system which potentially punishes teachers who are working with the neediest students?

HB 400 kills teachers’ contract safeguards. It takes away the right to an independent hearing before an impartial hearing examiner for a teacher faced with a mid-contract termination. It deprives term-contract teachers of timely notice of proposed non-renewal, shifting the notice date to the last day of instruction, so teachers must wait five extra, anxious weeks before they know if they are employed for the coming year. Teachers on continuing contracts meanwhile lose one of the main benefits of those contracts: seniority protection in case of layoffs. In a financial crisis, districts might be tempted to release veteran teachers with the highest salaries for layoffs first. Losing experienced teachers is detrimental to our children's education and leaves no one behind to mentor teachers new to the profession.

A temporary revenue crisis is no excuse for permanent repeal of all these educational quality standards and employee safeguards. I urge you to block HB 400 and work instead on limited, temporary measures like emergency class-size waivers based on undue financial hardship and temporary salary adjustments as a substitute for layoffs. Above all, I urge you to work for adequate funding of our public schools to avoid the need for such measures.

Thank you for your time in reading my concerns and considering them as you vote on HB 400.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

YouTube's Google Search Stories Creation Tool

Update March 2013 - It appears the Google Search Stories Creation Tool has gone offline and is no longer being supported as of January 2013. Bummer! More information here.

You know how you open up your Internet browser intending to accomplish something, then you click on a link that takes you on a slight rabbit trail and before you know it you are headed in a completely different direction?

Well, that happened to me this morning. But I'm glad it did, because I discovered YouTube's Google Search Stories Creation Tool, and after viewing a sample story I played around with it to create my own search story. I've embedded it below, but scroll on below it too, because it led me to begin brainstorming ways this tool could be used with students, and it might even trick them into learning some useful search techniques!

So, as I was creating this story, and after viewing a few other stories found at the SearchStories site, I came up with a few ideas for using this tool with students.

  • After finishing a literature study, create a search story for one of the characters that helps trace the character's development
  • During a literature study, create a search story a character might engage in to resolve a dilemma
  • Create a search story depicting what searches a famous historical figure might have done if he/she had had access to Google during his/her period of history
  • Create a search story that depicts the essence of a scientific or historical topic you recently studied
  • Create a search story which shows a possible educational/career path you are considering
  • Use as a culminating activity for a unit/lesson on research techniques as an assessment - have the students generate a question or research topic and let them demonstrate how they would use Google search to investigate
  • Create a search story for use as PR, like this one from The Mary Louis Academy
  • Create a search story for use as an introductory or summary video for a presentation (this would work well for staff development creators, too!)
  • Whatever kind of search story your students create, require them to use at least three different types of searches, some of which can be chosen in the creation tool itself, but many of which you will have to know the proper Google syntax to use.
The SearchStories Creation Tool only allows seven search phrases and makes a 35 second video, which I think makes it a brilliant tool for asking students to focus on the heart of a topic, whatever they might be depicting. I encourage you to try it out, and as it causes you to brainstorm even more ideas, please share them below in the comments!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Successes & Challenges of a Bring Your Own Device Initiative

Photo Courtesy of User Denharsh on Flickr
Today at ESC Region XIII's ViTaL (Visionaries in Technology and Learning) spring meeting, Joe Griffin, Executive Director of Technology for Keller ISD, spoke about Keller's Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Initiative. Even though he feels like his district isn't very far into this, it sounded to me like they've hit the ground running!

With budget cuts looming/towering/impending over public education in Texas, we need to start getting creative to get more technology learning devices into the hands of teachers and students. I enjoyed Joe's presentation and learned a great deal from it. I thought others could glean from Keller's experiences, too, so I am posting my notes from his presentation below.

Thanks to @cteitelman for arranging to have Joe speak to us today!

Keller ISD Website

Everyone has to be invested and involved for the initiative to succeed.

Started initially with Verizon wireless devices in a 5th grade classroom. Whole district now has wireless access capability.

Most of the content used in BYOD is web based or web enabled so students access content as if they were at home via internet.

Two vlans – one for teachers and one for students.

Next year going to use authentication so they can log in through LDAP and access network resources.

Before rolling out BYOD they revised their AUP. Had teachers involved. Whole model of instruction had to change.

Biggest challenge for instruction is multiple types of devices that the students bring.

No teacher is required to participate. Teacher has final decision making authority as to whether or not they will use devices in their classrooms.

Timberview Middle School – open concept school built with teaching collaboratively in mind. One challenge is what do they do with devices so they aren’t stolen? Parents sign a release, but still expect school to do things to prevent theft. They have had to make arrangements for device storage when students go to PE, electives, etc.

Timberview Website

When they first started BYOD at Timberview, they did not involve parents enough. You need a good strong philosophy and have parents engaged in the initiative from the start. Parents wished they had known before school started exactly the types of activities teachers would be doing with the devices. There was a misconception that the students would just be doing a lot of texting. Bring parents in early – PTA and maybe some others involved in school. Be transparent. Let parents know when you are working through issues. Let them know everything  students access through district wireless goes through their filtered proxy.

Cell phones are not filtered if they are using their cell service. This is incorporated through the AUP – teachers spent a lot of time going over the AUP and making students aware they are responsible for the content they access whether via school wireless or via their own cell signal.

AUP: Overarching philosophy that technology will be used to empower. Up until now, students were not allowed to use cell phones at school at all. Not all Keller schools are choosing to participate in bring your own device at this time.

AUP will be posted on their website in the next two weeks. Looked at Columbine as one of their models.

Start small – start with a campus and teachers that are instructionally strong and willing to take risks because it is not going to go smoothly.

Five other campuses have adopted the model in addition to Timberview. Seems to work best at middle school and high school.

Philosophy cannot be “everyone doing the same thing at the same time”. Research and inquiry seems to work well. Skill and drill does not work as well.

Keller ISD would like to create a group in Project Share with other districts who are doing BYOD in order to share ideas.

Worked with Keller ISD Education Foundation to get MyFi cards for students to check out and use at home if they do not have Internet access.

Because students are using district wireless, they should not incur additional data plan charges.

Keller just signed an agreement with Dell on a BYOD initiative. Some campuses will have optional bundled lists of technology that students can purchase from Dell on payment plans.

Keller ISD Technology Initiatives

NOTE: If you were interested in this post, you might also be interested in my February 8, 2011 post Bring Your Own Devices - How Do You Do It or How Do You Get There?