Tuesday, March 24, 2015

R-8 administrator: We have no idea if laptops have helped the students

During tonight's meeting, the Joplin R-8 Board of Education committed half a million a year for each of the next three years to buy 2,300 Mac Air laptops for high school students- even after hearing one of the district's top administrators say she had no idea whether laptops are improving student achievement.

The vote was 5-1 with Debbie Fort casting the dissenting vote. Shawn McGrew was absent.

Fort asked Executive Director of Elementary Education Jennifer Doshier and Executive Director of Secondary Education Jason Cravens if there was any data to show that students had improved due to the technology.

Despite the fact that the laptops provided through contributions from the United Arab Emirates and matching donors after the tornado have been in use for four years, as well as added technology on the middle school and elementary levels, Doshier admitted, "We don't know," adding, "I have not collected data on that."

Fort's questioning on the purchase of the laptops was not limited to their educational value. She said she was concerned about committing a half million dollars a year when the school district already has low reserve levels.

CFO Paul Barr said the initial $500,000 under the lease purchase plan was already in the technology department budget for this year. Fort asked him what would have to be cut in order to make the payments for the next two years.

"We're not having to cut," Barr said. "There are future revenues I'm quite confident will be there."

"Is there any way we can get one more year out of the computers?" Fort asked.

Technology Director Eric Pitcher said too many of them are starting to break down. Both Fort and board member Lynda Banwart asked if there were compromises that could be made, such as buying new laptops for one grade at a time.

Superintendent C. J. Huff indicated that would be a problem since teachers would have to deal with classes in which some students had the old Mac laptops and others had the new Mac Airs and that it would not be fair to either teachers or students.

Fort asked Barr if the money that is being spent on the laptops could be used to build reserves and pay employees more.

"Yes," Barr said.

After a long discussion, board member Mike Landis, who apparently does not like long discussions (or Dr. Fort, for the matter), snapped that the money was there for the purchase. "That's what he does," Landis said, referring to Barr. "That's his job."

Board President Anne Sharp asked Cravens, "Is this what's best for our students?"

"Yes," Cravens said, though he never explained why.

Doshier commented about children using technology at earlier ages and Huff noted that the board had said years ago that it wanted a 1-1 program. "We've accomplished that," he said, adding, "Unfortunately, it took a disaster."


Anonymous said...

Not only should you have collected data, but you should have 3 examples of evidence! Practice what you preach!

Anonymous said...

A natural disaster took our schools, some of our students, and wreaked havoc across the town. But it was poor decision making on the part of the Huff administration that led to the disaster we now find our district in. Ms. Doshier and Mr. Cravens do not need to collect the data. The state has already done so for many years. Academics have been in a downward spiral since Huff got here, but the speed accelerated after the tornado. The decision to make such a radical change was a poor choice, but to change now would deny CJ the Media Whore the opportunity to make videos about his innovative style of education. His poor decisions are costing our kids and our community. It is so obvious that even Mr. Cravens could not defend it, but seemed to take a vow of silence. Doshier would have been bettter off to have done the same. There is nothing to be said in the defense of this mess.

Anonymous said...

Mike Landis has to be the most unprofessional little jerk that ever lived. And, since everyone wants to point out where everyone's kids are enrolled, perhaps he would like to have it pointed out that his oldest son is home making music instead of attending that innovative school that Landis keeps forcing down the throat of the community. I find it difficult to believe that a child homeschooled at the Landis house will learn much. This man is a perfect stooge for CJ Huff. He's there only for the attention and he knows nothing about education. He's also crooked as a snake.

Anonymous said...

If Paul Barr knew his job, we wouldn't have had to borrow an additional $74 million, Mr. Landis. What an asshat remark following that horrible audit and the week after borrowing another $29 million dollars.

Anonymous said...

Huff is a damned disaster. The kids will tell you they hate the computers and want their books back. But you won't dare admit that, will you, Huff. You don't get a lot of attention for doing something practical that works. My kids hate those computers.

Anonymous said...

So much for consulting the patrons. It's only what Cj wants, no matter if it even works...

For our kids

Anonymous said...

Some of the kids love the computers. They can make homemade porn and do drug deals on them and watch movies all day. They make great homes for bedbugs. Yeah, this is a great way to use my tax dollars.

Anonymous said...

I have recently PLEADED with JHS to provide the kids who don't perform well with the macbooks an alternative of some sort. Before being issued a macbook my child was earning mostly As and Bs. Now what started as interest in technology has morphed into a full blown Internet addiction. My child rarely has access to the macbook at home. I recognize how dangerous it has become. My child is thrilled to get back to campus each day where it is easy to watch videos, play games, use social media and generally waste time all day long.
I would love for someone, anyone to give a damn that those laptops don't work for all the students. There's no time in the schedule for even the smallest amount of individual attention to be paid to any single student...not even one on the verge of dropping out before the end of 10th grade.
I shared copies of my recent emails regarding these laptops with board members and individuals running for board seats. So far no one has responded nor do I have any reason to believe my correspondence was even read.
I've spoken up numerous times now and have either been ignored or treated like a trouble maker. I've even been told that this is "just a parenting issue".
I may be a trouble maker but I'm pissed off and I vote.

Anonymous said...

Before JHS can offer something else JSAB will have to provide a Plan B. Teachers are buying their own books and supplies just to try and survive in their classrooms. i came away from conferences with a whole new appreciation for what those people do and I am determined to get as many people I know to vote for Koch, Martucci, and Roberts so we can restore sanity in our schools. Please help the kids out and vote like me.

Anonymous said...


R8 admin never practices what they preach. If teachers taught like they do PD we'd be fired. They are the biggest bunch of stupid hypocrites that ever walked the face of the earth. They don't care that we don't respect them, either. We are too easy to get rid of and replace. That's one reason why they can't get anywhere and their constant new programs fail.

Anonymous said...

How about the administration use the "Mac Air Laptop" funds to start purchasing textbooks again? Technology is a wonderful thing, but what are those students going to do when they are required to crack open a textbook once they get to college? They will not have any skills when it comes time to study a textbook or properly use a textbook for a class. Joplin is doing a great disservice to its students by solely relying on laptops.

Anonymous said...

Do other school districts in the area use books or laptops?

Anonymous said...

As a graduate of JHS during the mall days, I can attest to the utter misuse and disadvantages of the laptops. I attend a private university in which I spend two to three hours a night reading primary source material, textbooks, and a plethora of other readings. When I began my coursework I had to teach myself how to analyze texts and delve into a textbook. The laptops are an obtuse disservice to the students, and perpetuate the cycle of laziness and mediocrity that Joplin Schools has promoted in C.J. Huff's tenor. I have bitterness, animosity, and hatred towards my alma mater. As an aspiring teacher, I NEVER desire to teach at Joplin until the monetary leach of a superintendent is removed from his pedestal and cast out of his superior dwelling in Arbor Hills. Thanks Joplin Schools, for not providing me any benefit in my journey to a more profound understanding of the core skills and values your mindless and baseless rhetoric promotes.

Anonymous said...

Assuming you are who you say you are, your writing would indicate that you learned in spite of your educational environment. Kudos. You are exacly the "self regulated learner" of which they speak. Unfortunately, the vast majority of students are unable to self-educate. As a taxpayer I apologize to you for not providing the educational foundation that you and others deserve and that for which we paid. Good luck in your studies, and I genuinely hope we can fix things so that you might one day consider teaching here.

Anonymous said...

Why do we insist on our children learning Mac when over ninety percent of the world uses PC? Simple. A slick talking marketing professional convinced CJ that the more expensive apple product (several companies make PCs) looks more futuristic. So we spend exorbitant amounts of money on a platform that is actually hurtng our students' digital education as well as academically.

If you don't believe this, go to Admim and see all of the PCs they use there.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @3:53 AM: the build quality of Apple laptops is reliably reported to be vastly better than that of almost all Microsoft ecosystem laptops. Not counting the special models made for nasty environments, only ThinkPads, now made by Levono, are in that class, and Levono is a somewhat flaky company and there are many reports of slowly declining quality. Physical durability is probably the most important factor for K-12 computers.

Microsoft could be a worse and more expensive bet for system software, they've produced 2 catastrophically disastrous releases as of late, Vista and the current Windows 8 (Intel estimates these have cost it a billion dollars). If the district had bought Windows laptops after the tornado, they'd be running Windows 7 right now and would have to buy Window 8,1 laptops for this hardware refresh, which has a new and horrible user interface, or they'd have to pay a very large amount of money for the Professional version of Windows 7, and then have to transition to Windows 10 with its further New and Improved user interface (or a later version of Windows) with the hardware refresh after this one.

Windows is a low transparency nightmare to maintain ... and I wouldn't bet on it being what the corporate world uses in the long term, although I agree it'll be what most of these students have to use when they get jobs. But, again, experience in Windows 7 would do them little good with Windows 8, and Windows 10 is further changed. And being exposed to a different and currently better system now will do them well in the future.

I would also bet the infrastructure needed to support a bunch of Windows laptops would be a lot more expensive than for Apple, Microsoft is much more serious about selling server software and wants or makes you use it. Apple's lower level software is much more standards based, and you should be able to support it almost or entirely with free server software. Although I don't know if the district did that, especially since there was an extreme premium on getting the whole system running after the tornado, and we know they have spyware which I'm sure they paid a pretty penny for running on the laptops.

To the extent these laptops are being used for web access and applications, there are no fundamental differences, ditto I'm pretty sure for the OS X (Apple's Macintosh system software) version of Microsoft Office. Apple has a lot of market share in education for the above reasons, so I'd hope native education applications would be comparable, but I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Not once did the R8 system consider using Google Chromebooks - a demonstrably better alternative to the expensive-to-by-and-maintain MacBooks.

Other school systems across the country use them, and for good reason. They only run Google Chrome, so there is a built-in control on unauthorized software installation. They have Google Docs baked in, which is what Joplin uses for all assignments, email and collaboration. Google Docs works offline in a Chromebook, so Internet access isn't always needed. Finally, the latest Dell Chromebook 11 is $399. $399!!! You can effectively buy and replace 3 MacBook Air's for that price.

In the computer world, Mac has never held more than a 7% position in the desktop/laptop space. In any other industry, that would be considered a "niche", not mainstream. But, the spending continues...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @8:03AM:

Chromebooks weren't an option right after the tornado, so the question now is should the district change to them? Of course, all this discussion is assuming the district won't go back to dead tree books and paper, and it goes without saying the current administration just doesn't care if MacBooks are more expensive than Chromebooks. But I'm not sure that's true, or significantly so:

What's the build quality of those Dell Chromebook 11s, or, say, the ASUS units I've been looking at that go for $300? If it's low enough compared to the MacBooks, the district might go through enough of them that the MacBooks end up cheaper. Note, I don't do laptops so I don't really know, but that has to be considered.

If they're just being used as web browsers for Google Docs, and nobody ever wants to do anything more with them, there's no real software reason not to move to Chromebooks, but do we know that? For example, are some art students running Photoshop on their laptops (and if not, why not?)? What are the district's sunk costs in applications bought for the Apple OS X operating system their current and new laptops run? We have reason to believe they've got some of the standard spyware, and they no doubt think that's vital :-( Note to any student reading this: put some tape over the webcam!!!).

As for market share, as I understand it Macs have a much larger share in education than overall. There's also the not so minor detail that a lot more people know about administering them than the new Chromebooks, even if the latter are simpler on the surface. Although I note many models allow jailbreaking, one way or another, so software can be installed in brute force ways. There's also a native app ecosystem that Google has tried to create. I don't know how successful that's been, but I do know you can run native apps on them, and I don't know how solid you can make the barrier to that.

There would also be switching costs, the infrastructure to support them is no doubt at least slightly different, although maybe someone's made it easy to change, for there are sure to be budget minded school districts wanting to make this sort of change.

Anonymous said...

In a purely theoretical, computer-as-book-substitute world, Chromebook is arguably the best choice. The Dell 11 was built specifically for school abuse. No, I wouldn't recommend any of the low end models and and you are correct that Chromebooks weren't a significant choice at first.

However, things have changed in the meantime and a MacBook Air is a luxury item, not a school book replacement. In our current situation, I believe "due diligence" is in order from our computer "experts". At least put it on the table. Having 2 students with the current computers in our house, I can attest to their "durability" (fiction) and suitability in an education environment. They're large, heavy and finicky. Even the slightest issue requires a trip to the IT dudes. In addition, we pay those IT dudes each summer to wipe every one of those laptops and put them back to "official" status. That means a full OS refresh and cleaning of the hard drive. On a Chromebook, that's a Reset, Update and done. A handful of clicks and the rest is automatic.

As for infrastructure and "administration", all any of these computers need is a system ID and WiFi access, aside from the snoopware they install. They do virtually all assignments in Google Docs. Chrome doesn't get viruses and, even if one popped up tomorrow, it would be such that a simple reboot would make it go away.

As for software, do they really own a copy of Photoshop for every student taking that class (etc)? I realize there are academic and volume discounts, but that's still a hefty sum and would significantly increase the replacement cost of any student laptop carrying it. I can't imagine...

Wait... yes I can.

Anonymous said...

What I find disturbing is the simple fact that this EGO maniac Huff n Puff wants all these kids computerized like robots. Yes there advantages to use computers in learning, however not every student needs one. Buy a few for each class and they can be shared and not removed from the building. this would prevent all the surfing, downloads of Minecraft, and many other games that are being played instead of learning. Books are still a pivotal part of learning and in college as the a previous poster mentioned who was in this school system. I am sorry my tax dollars go to this waste of an education for so many students and I pray for you. Computers are not the answer to everything.

Anonymous said...

I want to be very clear. On Campus during school days is where my student finds time for gaming, YouTube videos and social networking. At home, we make internet access unavailable right after homework time is over. Because I am successful at limiting internet use at home, my student cannot wait to return to campus each day where it is much easier to do as you like on the internet.

Anonymous said...

Using Apple/Mac was district practice long before Huff & Co.

Chrome Books can't be used for the new testing.

Computers should be used WITH books. Balance in everything.

Anonymous said...

Well, we all know what this means, more data collecting FOR THE TEACHERS. More non-sense work for classroom teachers to do. Thanks JD Hogg and GQ cover boy Cravens for still not knowing what the hell is going on in your district. I hope the new board gets rid of every single one of you. Just what would you do then JD? You couldn't financially make it on a principal salary and guarantee you are still faltering financially. I hope you are fired just like you fired so many hard working educators who loved kids and did their best to try to keep McKinley not for you but truly for the kids. You are all losers at the upper admin building. And the people from that building that come to other districts prove what little they know. Sad.

Anonymous said...

Before May 22nd, Besendorfer told teachers that they should be able to teach in any setting(closets, hallways, gyms, overcrowded classrooms with or without windows and any other cubby hole) and with any available resource. After May 22nd, the school buildings must be 21st Century and all students must have laptops and iPads for real instruction and learning to take place. It looks like she was more right before May 22nd than after.