Sunday, February 9, 2014

#TCEA14 Legislative Panel 2/4/2014

Notes from TCEA 2014 Legislative Panel 2/4/2014

Notes are summaries of what I understood the panel members and questioners to be saying, and as such should not be taken as direct quotes.

Panel Members:
Representative Jimmie Don Aycock - Killeen, TX
Representative Marsha Farney - Georgetown, Texas
Mitzi Neely, Assistant Superintendent at White Oak ISD (Part of High Performing Schools Consortium)

Panel Moderator: Jennifer Faulkner, Director of Instructional Technology, Alamo Heights ISD

The panel began with a viewing of the first four minutes of this TEDxYouth@BFS talk by Nikhil Goyal:

First Question: In the TED talk, Nick Perez was quoted as saying school wasted time until there was no more time. How does HB 5 help students like this?

Aycock: Unless students find relevancy in school, they won't want to be there.

Farney: HB 5 is very student centric. Parents have to sign off on the graduation endorsement a child chooses. More personalized for students. Not one size fits all.

Neely: From school district perspective, values freedom and flexibility that HB 5 brings to the table. Need to focus on options for students that they might not have had before. Parnter with community colleges and universities. Knowing the value of this bill starts at the top to make sure due diligence is done to make sure advantage is taken of this flexibility.

Second Question: HB 5 allows districts to offer five endorsements with many courses involved in the endorsements. How can all schools offer all of the courses?

Farney: Not all school districts can offer all of the courses in the endorsements. Districts in HD 20 are trying to find ways to work together to have students come to their schools for some of the programs or work on online ways to share. Virtual learning and technology is essential. Greater opportunities for businesses to sponsor courses or to come in from the field to help with instruction.

Neely: Virtual or online is anytime/anywhere. May need to partner with other districts or colleges/universities to offer courses for all of the endorsements. Invest in people who can have blended and face to face learning to support online only learning.

Aycock: Partnerships need to be developed between districts, community colleges, and universities. Course delivery and course development are places where partnerships can be essential and beneficial. Legislative and policy needs to modify as well. For example, seat time will now need to include travel time.

Third Question: HB 5 reduced required high school assessments from 15 to 5. How can the education community take advantage of technology to assess student and system performance?

Neely: We look at data when we plan curriculum and assessment for students. There will be challenges to assessing what we offer collectively. Community/stakeholders are now included in accountability. There is a lot of decisions and responsibility before us. It's going to be a growth process.

Aycock: 25% of present juniors are not on track to graduate based on current results and fact that not all of them have taken their social studies exam yet. Rolling forward a few years, there will be more emphasis on real time evaluation. This will take rich digital environments. Teachers can intervene more quickly in this situation. Wave of future is for computers to become tools for instructional assistance and giving immediate feedback to teachers. (Computers will not replace teachers.)

Farney: Great opportunities for staff development as far as system-wide improvements and performance. Texas teachers are currently sharing lessons through Project Share. Gave example of track coach pre-uploading lessons that he could check on the way back from track meets. Also example that her sixth grade son is getting his math videos ahead of time to view at home, then doing the practice and application with the teacher in class the next day. [Personal Note - I know this phenomenal teacher; he is from one of our Georgetown ISD middle schools!]

Fourth Question: HB 5 requires evaluation of the digital learning environment. What did the legislature have in mind for this?

Aycock: It was fuzzy to be frank. Wanted communities to be able to assess where they are and what they need. For some districts, it might be a fundamental discussion of bandwidth. Local districts need to have discussions of what will work in their communities.

Farney: We need to make sure we are investing and prioritizing what is needed in each school/distriict. Flexibility is key.

Neely: A lot of schools are trying to process and evaluate what this means to them. It's about teacher training, evaluating device uses, how far up the tech ladder do we go, knowing there is failure in the learning curve and we can learn from that. Want tech to be second nature, like pen and paper.

Fifth Question: How can the legislature help overcome barriers to getting more technology in schools?

Farney: Said she's putting her neck out and saying it comes down to funding and having technology in place. Some courses, like pharmacy tech, require $15,000 to get started plus a $7,000 fee every other year. Students in one program need $1200 for their uniforms. Businesses can help but many do not know how. Schools need to also communicate with businesses and community, offering them the opportunity to enrich the life of a child.

Neely: Thankful for education foundations who help schools. Legislators need to be courageous to allow local control and flexibility. Need dollars to be invested in teacher professional development. Also to provide students with devices with content on them if they don't have internet at home. Curriculum and tech are seamless in White Oak. All decisions are made collaboratively, and the superintendent gives them the autonomy to do that. All of this needs extra funding to make it work. thankful for true intent of HB 5.

Aycock: Funding, bandwidth, personnel, training, are all critical. Real pushback to getting tech in edu, though, comes from folks who are reluctant to change the way we do things. Fundamental questions about the purpose of education came up at the State Board last week. We like control of all of these things. Great reluctance to allow innovation in education. This is a bigger issue than funding, bandwidth, and all of the other issues combined. Hopefully some of the flexibility in HB 5 will show that less control is a better.

Questions and Comments From the Audience:

TxVSN - Scholarship funds for this are no longer available. Is there any discussion of funding to support course development or to help pay for students who use those courses since virtual courses will be needed to help with meeting new course requirements?

Aycock - Believes funding will be fought for for these purposes.

Comment from Audience - Educators' reluctance toward change is largely tied to the current testing paradigm in education.

Aycock - Agrees that standardized testing has taken the joy from learning and is troubling. Still needs to be looked at.

Farney - It hasn't just changed learning, it has changed teaching. We focus on bubble sheets now. Hopefully HB 5 will help us go back to letting teachers teach.

HB 5 - Virtual course requirements are now higher than requirements for face-to-face courses. What is the plan to deal with reluctance to use virtual courses because of this?

Aycock - Across state many administrators have not yet figured out that the standards have risen. When requirements are thoroughly looked at, a high bar will have to be met by the districts and campuses. They will not earn accolades unless they do raise those standards.

Neely: Over 70 amendments just occurred next week, so we're still wading through it. There is a high level of critical thinking to get national and international certifications. Some will take several years to get students to where they can get to those certifications.

Where will we get the highly qualified teachers to teach courses for endorsements?

Neely: Keep existing staff, look at certifications, use virtual courses, rearrange days. Will need to ramp up our current staff. Multi-year process.

Aycock: It won't happen over night.

Concern that SBOE members and TEA staff do not have an understanding of what we need in education. For example, a student taking vet science should also be able to take a marketing class because a vet will need to be a small business owner.

Aycock: Still hearing one size fits all from higher ed people. But we should not be hemming students in to one spot. Leave them room to maneuver around. Choice in technical education has been dismantled in last 15 or 20 years. It will take some time to build back.

Farney: Everyone needs to know who their SBOE member is. Personal letters to them are very valuable. (Dr. Farney was an SBOE member before she became a rep). Become their friends and experts. Roughly 1.8 million people in each SBOE district. Your opinion matters greatly because you are there. State reps also need to hear from you because you are the experts!

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