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:
-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:
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?