Friday, November 5, 2010

All You Had to Do Was Ask

The title of this post alludes to a trend I think is more and more common in schools. Increasingly reformers are asking for "data" on kids to determine how they are performing and in the process too often becoming oblivious to the voice of experience and wisdom. Data does indeed have a place in reform but is it becoming too important? My school system could be a case study in this folly of innovation and reform, but then again that is just my opinion and no one is asking for it. So according to all this effort and all this testing how are my kids doing? I already know.

Recently our division signed on with a slick corporate Student Information System. With lots of bells and whistles it is a powerful tool that integrates records, grades, testing, curriculum, name it. Now it does not do any of these things particularly well and I have come to feel it was actually designed by folks who never thought to consult teachers, counselors or school administrators. Frankly there are numerous issues with basic functionality. So in a way it seems a perfect tool for the current wave of reform. As we "work out the kinks" it becomes apparent that all too often this "solution" with which we have been provided only creates more problems and makes simple tasks much more complicated.

The obvious problem is that this platform was not really designed by or for teachers. Taking attendance, properly calculating grades, printing a transcript, all are among the major issues. I cannot imagine the experience for a more seasoned teacher who might be less comfortable with technology. I don't think this is really a tool for me. It was implemented to make us more efficient and to measure and improve performance. The worst part is it currently does nothing to help me teach.

On the front end I can give an online test. I was doing that eight years ago. Creating and setting up these tests is like going to the DMV or the dentist for a root canal. It is a painful and laborious process which takes way too much time, something I am already lacking. Point being that once I administer this "benchmark assessment" I will be able to identify which kids are under performing in any specific curriculum strands.

Here's the rub. I already know that. This is just a way for someone else to look that up and then measure a specific teacher's performance. This system tells me what my overall grades already show. So "grades" no longer seem as valuable in the realm of data driven decisions. Where I am having trouble is finding ways to use this which allows me better serve my students. Worse yet, the people who are paid money to create, run and improve the system have yet to make it clear how that will happen.

Teachers are the first to get on board with technology if it is easy to use and helps them do their job. Maybe that's why I can't find too many folks around here who feel that way about this particular technology. All I can find are people who feel the opposite. We have to input our questions, share our resources, populate it with materials and only then will we be able to actually "get" something from it. Where it is most sorely lacking is that in the race to be fancy, integrated, web based and flexible it has missed the main point of effective education reform. It does not help kids learn and it doesn't really help teachers teach. It just says which individuals among those groups are not doing well. To accomplish that all someone had to do was ask.

1 comment:

  1. Several cases in point:
    1) After laboring over creating a gradebook in Excel my first year, I was pretty excited about the first real gradebook program we got.
    2) Powerpoint is pretty old school now, but I remember how eager I was to get on board.
    3) I'm using Blogger for more than just Teaching Underground. (
    4) Kids were in my first period class the other day using netbooks to play Quia review games for World History.

    The classroom and the classroom teacher are excellent examples of "web 2.0" development. When we find something that works, we develop it and pass it on to others who modify and improve and then pass it back. When we try something that flops, we move on and do better before we've invested too much time, energy, and student frustration into it.

    It is difficult to change when new systems are introduced, but we adapt. It is downright painful to have to implement systems and strategies that don't seem to support student learning and teacher development.