Sunday, December 06, 2015

Millions for Joplin R-8 technology- but no evidence that it helps students

Of all of the outrageous things that have been said at Joplin R-8 Board of Education meetings over the past few years, probably the most outrageous occurred at the March 24 meeting, courtesy of Executive Director of Elementary Education Jennifer Doshier.

Board member Debbie Fort asked Doshier and Executive Director of Secondary Education Jason Cravens if there was any data that showed that students' learning had improved with the district's heavy investment into technology.

At that point, Joplin was already four years into using the laptops that came as a result of a $1 million gift from the United Arab Emirates. Almost two years had passed since middle school students had been given iPads. Technology of all kinds had been added at every level. Fort was asking a fair question.

Naturally, you would expect that Doshier, who has overwhelmed the teachers under her charge with meaningless data during the time since she was promoted after her disastrous tenure as McKinley Elementary principal, would have the answers at her fingertips.

If you would think that, then you obviously have never watched Doshier during any of her presentations at R-8 Board meetings.

Her answer to Fort- "We don't know. We haven't collected any data on that."

Those two sentences were an indictment of everything that was wrong during the C. J. Huff Administration. Millions of dollars worth of technology was added to the classrooms after the tornado. At first, teachers were under orders to integrate the technology into their classrooms without having any training.

After that, any training they received was geared toward the idea that the students have the technology, so it is time for the teachers to get out of the way and allow students to take charge of their own education, which, of course, has always been the idea behind education. But the idea that the teachers should serve as facilitators and not teach is something entirely new.

Even if you toss out the first year, considering the emotional hit the district took after May 22, 2011, there should still have been enough data in the three succeeding years to give R-8 officials an idea of whether their head-first dive into so-called "21st Century" learning was working.

Where was that evidence? Who knows? Jennifer Doshier certainly didn't have it.

Fort's question came during a discussion over whether the district should buy replacement laptops for all students. The cost for 2,300 Mac Air laptops was $1.5 million- half a million a year over the next three years.

The following passage is from the March 24 Turner Report:

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."

The board, with Fort dissenting, agreed to pay the $1.5 million. 

Perhaps that kind of discussion is the reason why Anne Sharp is no longer on the school board and why Mike Landis would have had zero chance of being re-elected if he had not decided to take his ball and go home when he did not get his way.

Paul Barr said the money for the computers would come from "future revenues I am quite confident will be there." That would most likely be the $24 million in "errors and omissions" money the district is counting on coming from FEMA and SEMA to solve all of its problems. These "errors and omissions" are the things that were added to the original approved FEMA items, apparently without any consultation from the government agency. We may receive all $24 million or we may receive just a small amount.

And an incredible amount of money has been spent and the push to integrate the new technology into every aspect of nearly every class has moved forward without a single moment taken to reflect on the damage we may be doing to our students, as well as to our bottom line.

Consider these comments on the use of technology in the classroom:

Using computers seven hours a day in class -- plus more time spent at home to study or do homework -- isn't exactly healthy. Most parents and educators wouldn't want to put their kids in front of a television screen for that amount of time, so why is it acceptable to do the same with a laptop? Don't we already spend too much time staring at screens instead of physically interacting with our families and friends? According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, it's estimated that, on average, young people spend up to 7.5 daily hours in front of a TV, computer, or video game. These hours are outside the school day. But the biggest drawback to the laptop learning platform is a decline in the quality of education.

-The comments did not come from a stick-in-the-mud teacher who did not want to change his way of teaching. They were written for the Huffington Post by 2014 Joplin High School graduate Laela Zaidi, when she was one of the first recipients of the United Arab Emirates' gift.

Today's Washington Post featured an op-ed article by an elementary teacher whose students recently received iPads. She notes the effect the technology has had on her students. They have become so attuned to the screen that they no longer develop the social interaction that is a vital part of the school experience. She concludes with this:

We have also known for years — at least since the 2012 report “Facing the Screen Dilemma” from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood — that screen time for younger children in particular comes with a huge opportunity cost, depriving them of hands-on learning, time outdoors and “face-to-face interactions with caring adults.” Digital-savvy parents in Silicon Valley made news way back in 2011 for enrolling their children in steadfastlyscreen-free schools. They knew that their kids would be swiping and clicking soon enough, but there are only a limited number of childhood years when it’s not only really fun to build with Legos, it’s also really good for you.

Some proponents of one-to-one initiatives portray “analog classrooms” as gray spaces where bored teachers hand worksheets to uninspired kids — and tablets are the energizing cure. The One-to-One Institute, a nonprofit that helps school districts go digital, says on its Web site: “Research is clear that to ensure student success, education must move from a teacher-centric to a learner-centric approach. One-to-one programs create the opportunity for authentic personalization of teaching and learning for each student.”

But jumping from the “sage on the stage” teaching model to a screen for each kid skips over critical territory in between, where children learn from, and build their social skills with, one another. Classrooms run by worksheets won’t be magically transformed with tablets, and classrooms where teachers skillfully engage their students don’t need screens — and the extra baggage they introduce — to get great results.

Teachers striving to preserve precious space for conversation are not lazy, or afraid of change, or obstructionist. They believe that if our dining tables should be protected for in-depth discussion and focused attention, so, too, should our classrooms. They know that their young students live in the digital age, but the way children learn has not evolved so very fast. Kids still have to use their five senses, and, most of all, they have to talk to each other.

My students already had so many challenges and so much ground to cover. We put tablets in their hands and made their loads that much heavier.

Is this what we have done in the Joplin R-8 School District (and other districts that have taken the all-in approach on one-to-one technology)?

Have we taken a desire to keep up with the Joneses and without any legitimate data to back it up committed millions of dollars to a program that could end up damaging our children?


Anonymous said...

i have no confidence in Paul Barr's ability to manage money, and no confidence in the ability of Dosier or Cravens to lead. They are followers who know nothing and can only repeat what they are told to say. They have both proven they will do the dirty work of corrupt administrators. The question is why are any of these three still employed? I don't understand. I hope that the December meeting will bring a change for the better. If it does not, then I will find a better place to work for next year. All of the central office administrators are corrupt, as well as many in the lesser jobs. Keeping them on just creates distrust and fear in the building employees who have seen what they will do. It's time for a drastic change if the district is going to become solvent and if academics are going to improve. These people have already demonstrated that they can't do the job.

Anonymous said...

Joplin's scores suck. It's pathetic. I would say that's evidence enough of a failed idea. Didn't these two leaders have access to state scores? The data is already in, I'd say, even if JD is too scared to say it herself. What happens if FEMA doesn't come through? It didn't sound promising at the last BoE meeting. What happened at their appeals meeting? The public hasn't been informed yet. Are they transparent, or are they just more of the same? How will they make up that 24 million? Joplin is a disaster of its own making.

Anonymous said...

I would say it is impossibly naïve that data has not been collected, or rather that it was collected and did not meet administrations expectations requiring it to be dismissed. In which case, it should be termed an educational malpractice to make adjustments to student learning and financial budgets which impact student learning. Data has been driving the educational scene for a number of years and is extremely easy to access and then to analyze.

Anonymous said...

Guess what? The Springfield school district is following in Joplin's footsteps. From the 1-1 technology to low staff morale to administration issues. The only difference is that I do not believe our school board members are aware of any of it, because I think the majority of them would do the right thing. People are starting to jump ship. I would love to have Dr. Ridder back.

Anonymous said...

When you have regular education students in high school that cannot do basic math operations like multiplication (7 x 8 = 56 for example), I have to wonder what benefit technology has when students do not know basic facts. I am all for using technology to enhance teaching but it is not, and should not be, an all-encompassing means to learning.

As you read this article, think to yourself of how much time a teacher spends trying to keep students from playing computer games instead of doing an assignment or "learning" on the computer. If you are a teacher, then you know that is it frustrating. As a teacher, I spend way too much time redirecting students from games to doing actual research and completing assignments.

As for budgets to finance the purchase and upkeep of computers, money has to be spent to also hire people to maintain computers, "monitor" their usage, and learn ever-changing programs, etc. That is money that can and should be used to hire classroom teachers and give them the pay raises that they deserve instead of bloating the technology department's outlay of cash.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer Doshier should be fired. Not only for her being inept in any capacity as an administrator, but also for the total and complete unprofessional behavior she has exhibited through the past 8 years. Again, she is not a person who practice sweat she preaches. Where you have poor teachers scraping by at $36,500 a year and working from sunrise to sunset, you have Doshier only worried about planning her next meal and picking up the Big R's off her shirt. And all of this while collecting ZERO data. What a joke. Jennifer Doshier is a complete embarrassment to the Joplin School District and should be relieved of her duties so her and Stevens can make dinner plans.

Anonymous said...

I know...who uses technology anymore? They need to start buying textbooks again.

Anonymous said...


I agree with your sentiments completely. Her unprofessional behaviors extend from using her staff for transportation, asking staff to pay for auto repairs, intimidating teachers at Besendorfer's command, and dressing in a way that does not reflect district requirements. I notice Ms. Tina ignores that. I bet she wouldn't if it were one of us. Any administrator who has done the damage that Doshier has done should be dismissed.

Anonymous said...

Back to the original subject at hand, who is monitoring what the students do with the computers when they AREN'T at school? So many of these kids are addicted to the Internet (YouTube, games, Netflix, Facebook, etc.), that we may find that the district is culpable for their addiction. I agree with 1:38. It is an impossible challenge to keep them on task when they are using iPads or computers. All they want to do is play games. I take the computer away when we are at home. There are too many studies showing that too much screen time is hurting our children emotionally, socially, and academically, as well as adding to their hours spent staring at a screen when they need to be outside playing. Technology in the classroom has gotten way out of hand, as it has at many homes. I don't want equipment purchased with my tax dollars to be used by students to play violent games, look at sexually explicit materials (or make their own), or to fall into the propaganda trap. Go back to your books, R8. You'll have more control then. That's what I want for my children. I doubt I am alone.

Anonymous said...

"Technology in the classroom has gotten way out of hand"......classic.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if they ever measured the effectiveness of textbooks. I mean seriously...if you're going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on books, you should be collecting data to prove they work!

Oh wait.

This argument is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Two things I'd note here:

The high schoo lwas in a unique position in that they had to either buy all at once all the paper books required for the fall 2011 term, or as they chose, computers and licences for ebooks.

A school system that doesn't enforce basic discipline, to the point that teachers such as our host can be assaulted without repercussion, has much more fundamental problems that computers vs. paper books and so on.