George Couros responded to a blog post of mine (which was a response to one of his blog posts ) with a rather long comment. Instead of cramming everything into a single comment, I thought that what I would do is respond to George in a longer more thought out manner.
Essentially in the post George was responding to, I postulated that buying the cheapest product possible for students is not always the best way to go. Specifically in this case, it is Chromebooks, but it could just as easily be $75 Android tablets or $250 PC laptops. My argument was that if a district is moving towards a BYOD environment, the students that are at the low end of technology use because of low SES are hobbled by giving them low power, mid to low function devices that allows them to do MOST of what a higher end device would do.
So here are George’s questions, and my answers.
Q1: Do you really think technology is the only thing that we should have the “best” in? I bet your art teachers, physical education teachers, music teachers, and anyone else wishes they could have more. As in ANY business, financial decisions have to be made and sometimes things are not as we want them. Unfortunately we work with in constraints of a budget and decisions have to be made. I see a lot of teachers spending time fundraising to really amp up the opportunities for their students and it always bothers me. There time should NOT be spent on that and “fundraiser” should not be added to the list of demands that a teacher should have.
What happens when education is a business
A1: My first off the top-of-my-head response is that maybe we should not be thinking of education as a business. Perhaps that is the root of all the issues to begin with. The closest “business” I can even think of that education is like is some type of manufacturing, where we start with some product at one end of the assembly line (Kindergarten) and produce some product at the other end (Graduation). Larry Ferlazzo has a list of reasons and articles why schools are not businesses here (http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2011/01/12/the-best-posts-articles-explaining-why-public-education-should-not-be-run-like-a-business/). I suspect that Diane Ravitch or any of a number of other ed reform contrarians would cringe at the thought of Kids-as-Widgits. May I suggest reading her new book “Reign of Error” to get a perspective on the fallibility of the school-as-business thinking and what trouble that mentality causes.
Perhaps if you see students as widgets, or cogs, or chicken nuggets, replaceable parts of a machine or assembly line, then you and I have a fundamental philosophical difference between what we think about education. Sadly, that replaceable part mentality is an argument that has taken over the conversation across the country by many on the Right, who see public education as a government imposed monopoly that needs to be broken. When you say “Schools is a business” immediately moves the conversation away from “Not what is best for the students,” but rather what is best for the taxpayers and how can we save money? Schools do not have shareholders, students are not customers, so we can profit share with them. Now if you consider your students widgets, then have a good time explaining to parents how their precious child is no more important to you than a chicken nugget is to McDonald’s.
With that being said, I am not ignorant of budgets, budget cycles, budget restraints and the like. If we truly value education, we should be getting the best of everything for our students. In Texas, you may have heard about the legislature cutting $5.4 billion dollars from the education budget back in the 2010 legislative session. Teachers were laid off, programs closed, or cut back. But in all of that, I never heard of one football game having to be cancelled anywhere in the state or one high school football coach being let go. Funny how we can cut education funding and it does not damage football one single bit. My point here is that every district has priorities. You are of course aware of the troubles in Philly where the “education as a business” model has left them in over a billion dollars in the hole. (I wonder how many football games have been cancelled there?)
Of course, all budget decisions are political. We get what we vote for in this country. Until we change that paradigm, and I would love to hear how to do that, we have to work to change how we present the school to the public, because that is the only way to change minds. Presenting the cheapest technology money can buy and saying that is th best we can do is not the way to go here.
Q2. You talk about “taxpayers” and how they would feel about our purchases. How do you think they would feel if we bought the BEST technology and utilized a very small percentage of it’s capability? If you had, for example, bought a MacBook Air, what if you only did things that you could do on a Chromebook that is significantly less? I think that sometimes “less is more” and allows us to go deeper in our work. If you try to get students to do everything, do they do anything amazing? I think that software such as “Word” have more capabilities than Google Docs, yet many school districts are moving to Google. Why is that? I actually prefer that it has less because kids are spending less time picking a font, and more time writing. Too much choice is not always a good thing (see Barry Schwartz work on this topic.)
A2. My argument is not a Macbook Air vs. Chromebook. My thoughts were more along the lines of Chromebook vs. iPad. As I have explained here, and here, the iPad offers a deeper learning experience AND provides students with the ability to CHOOSE which device on a single device they should use. Everybody, including you it appears, are enamored with the low entry low price of Chromebooks, without taking into account the value add that iPads offer. By the time you buy student response systems, interactive whiteboards, cameras, instruments and all the other things that an iPad can replace in the classroom, your value equation is laughable. Let me push back to you and ask what would you say to a taxpayer that asks “Why didn’t you spend just a few bucks more and buy a device with greater capability?”
And why are we stuck in Google Doc-ville anyway? Apple provides iCloud for free which includes better formatted word processing, spreadsheets and presentations than anything that Google can do. And yes, they are collaborative, and yes they work on all devices, and yes there is free online storage. And yes, it is free.
As for being beholden to the taxpayer, I don’t know about where you are, but in my neck of the woods, everything from school lunches, to toilet paper, to crayons to musical instruments are always low bid. “Low bid is the go bid.” How business-like is that? Imagine of every business in the world just used the cheapest material available? What message do we send when we tell society that kids are worth it. Worth it as long as it is the low bid because that is what taxpayers want. Nice message. The most precious thing we have in society is our children as long as they don’t cost too much.
Q3. What device do you use that does EVERYTHING that you want it to do? I often go between my iPhone and my computer to different tasks. We are aspiring to an idea Ryan Bretag shared on “Combine Our Devices” that provides a consistent technology that students use that we can help teachers utilize, while also encouraging students to bring in their own devices.
A3: It is not a matter of some device that can do EVERYTHING. There is no such animal. If you are talking about providing devices to students, wouldn’t you want to provide the one that is the most versatile? Versatility as a value add to any device. The “Chromebook can do 90%” of whatever argument is a silly one. A motorcycle can do “90%” of what a car can do if you just consider getting from Point A to Point B the criteria, but that extra 10% that a motorcycle cannot do is impressive such as oh, maybe shielding you from the environment, or holding 4 or more passengers.
As I have pointed out before , some devices are simply more versatile than others. Desktops more versatile than thin clients. Laptops more versatile than desktops. Tablets more versatile than laptops. Chromebooks are thin client laptops. They are not nearly as versatile as tablets. If the criteria is cheap, then the less versatile devise wins. If that is your criteria.
Yes, kids need to know how to use a variety of devices, but really, we see in tablets the convergence of a variety of devices. Why not take advantage of that?
almost as good as the original
Q4. As in any business, you have to make choices. I am curious what school you have seen have the technology that you are talking about, and have all (not 90% since you have used that as a measure) of their teachers and students using them to their full capabilities? If you spend a lot of money on something that is not used well, is that a good investment? I am against something that is just a piece of technology and is cheap but I think there are some cheaper options that are great for the things that we are trying to achieve for learning in our schools. The money that we save in not buying the “best” thing out there often goes into professional development and is spent on developing people so that they can utilize the things that are in front of them.
Many people want to get where you are at, but there are steps to get to this point. The best leaders have and communicate a vision of where they ultimately want to go, but they can break it down into smaller steps that are achievable and build the confidence of others along the way. There are so many variables that have to be accounted for but I appreciate that you are pushing thinking in this topic.
A4: There are MANY reasons that tech is not being used. Poor administration, bad training, crappy infrastructure… But to limit your choices because you don’t think people will use it..Wow. I have never driven my car as fast as it can go, but that didn’t prevent me from buying it. My thinking was never “You know, I don’t plan on going 120 mph, so I just shouldn’t buy this car.” (the car is a Kia Optima BTW). I have an oven that will go to 500 degree F. I have never used it at that temperature. By your reckoning, I should not have bought it.
I don’t ever say we have to buy the best of anything (and by BEST you really mean most expensive right?). But that does not mean we have to cheapest either. The iPad for instance, is not the most expensive device but many would argue it is the best for doing a lot of things.