When the Network is Useless/Powerless

In May 2008, Texas Education Agency announced it was finally going to require all public school districts to prove 8th grade tech literacy in an annual report. The tool was not given, and each school district was left to its own to make the best choice for itself. Through the kindness of Kari Rhame at Deer Park ISD, I moodleized an objective piece they had been using with their 8th graders. It was not the assessment I really wanted, but with a short timeline, we had to make due. I believe we shared that Moodle course on our server with about a half dozen school districts that did not have a Moodle of their own. I am not really sure how many times the file was downloaded from our wiki, but I suspect quite a few since it was freely offered via the TCEA Tech Coordinators‘ List Serve.

Anyway, TEA also announced the same day that they would be requiring the reporting of teachers’ tech literacy in the same report. Again, this was really no surprise since our district had been discussing it for a few years at this point. The surprise was that TEA is only requiring the STAR Chart self-evaluation as the instrument of choice. While this is definitely one way to do the assessment, I find it the weakest and worst choice. For one reason, the STAR Chart is the tool we use to show need in the district for training and funding (grants, budgets, etc.). Once the teachers find out that it is counting as their self evaluation with the state, they are going to ratchet up the scores to make themselves look better (not an unexpected happening). The bad thing here is that it will knock many school districts out of grant work because the need will not show through (TEA recently used the STAR Chart to decide who qualified for the large Vision 20/20 technology grant). We need a more performance-based assessment with the self-evaluation tool built into it. We are pursuing ePortfolios, but that is for another post.

Now, this is where I was headed with the network not working. The third component to be reported to TEA was a surprise. They decided that we would report administrator tech literacy at the same time. The issue here is that there was no tool/instrument in place and we would have to wait for its creation. Realizing that the NETS-A from 2002 was going to be the driving force behind its creation, I set out to see what was already out there. Enter Dr. Scott McLeod and the Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE). Scott’s work had already taken him down this road, so he created the Principals Technology Leadership Assessment (PTLA) self-assessment for administrators. Basically, it took the NETS-A and used a Likert scale for what is a simple self-evaulation tool. Perfect. This is what we are needing for the current requirements. An email and discussion board conversation with Scott ended up with his full permission to utilize the tool however we needed. As a matter of fact, this is what the PTLA site has to say about how much CASTLE will do to help out:

The PTLA will be made available to K-12 school organizations and educational leadership
preparation programs as follows:

1. PDF Download. School organizations can download the PTLA assessment and instructions in
PDF format. Organizations are responsible for their own data entry and analysis using Excel,
SPSS, or some other data analysis software program. This option is free to K-12 school
organizations and educational leadership preparation programs.

2. Questions Download. School organizations can download the questions on the PTLA
assessment in Microsoft Word format. The questions then can be cut-and-pasted into
organizations’ own online survey software. Organizations are responsible for their own data
analysis using Excel, SPSS, or some other data analysis software program. This option is free to
K-12 school organizations and educational leadership preparation programs.

3. CASTLE online survey. Organizations are welcome to use CASTLE’s own online version of the
PTLA. CASTLE staff will send the resultant data file to organizations in Excel format.
Organizations are responsible for their own data analysis using Excel, SPSS, or some other data
analysis software program. This option is free to K-12 school organizations and educational
leadership preparation programs if they grant CASTLE permission to use the data (anonymously)
as part of its ongoing nationwide research related to principals’ technology leadership knowledge and preparation.

4. CASTLE online survey and data analysis. CASTLE not only will host the online version of the
PTLA for organizations but also will analyze the data for them. This option is available to K-12
school organizations and educational leadership preparation programs on the same terms as
Option 3 but also will involve a small charge per PTLA participant to cover CASTLE’s personnel
and time costs.

CASTLE believes in making the PTLA as freely available as possible to school organizations. The
PTLA also is available for a small licensing fee to for-profit corporations and other entities that stand tomake money from their usage of the PTLA. We are open to other creative possibilities for the PTLA; please contact us if you are interested in using this assessment.

Can you ask for anything better than that? I just knew this was what TEA was needing, and it was going to save a lot of state time/money in preparing a tool/instrument for use. In less than a week of the announcement, we had what they were looking for.

After a few emails and phone calls, I ended up with the right person in charge of the instrument creation at TEA.  Now, I am going to skip some of the details because they would confuse you as much as they did me, but basically I was reassured that the NETS-A was the tool to be used (I think they meant guidelines, but my requests for clarifications about this were just met with copy and paste version of the NETS-A). Finally, I got word that they NETS-A was being given to the IT department to create an instrument to use. Yeah. The IT department. At this point, I had linked to the PTLA in several emails, offered to meet with them in person to discuss what Scott had created, and even offered to meet with them at NECC with Scott so he could answer their questions personally. No response.

So what does the tool look like that TEA is going to use? Well, no one has seen it as of yet, but I was told it is a five or six question Likert scale self-assessment. It truly is quite shorter than what CASTLE offered, but it lacks any level of detail that would prove helpful to the person charged with creating professional development for administrators. Worse, the main goal of the piece created was to provide administrators with a “quick and easy” self-assessment that would not scare them off. What? The STAR Chart that the teachers complete takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to fill out, and it provides a decent level of feedback. Since it is (was?) all anonymous, most teachers were quite honest about their skill levels and their opinions of other aspects of technology in the school district (budgeting, infrastructure, leadership, curricular support, tech support). The PTLA would have taken the same or less time and offered just as much feedback, yet it was either ignored or deemed too time consuming for leadership to complete (not by the local leadership to be clear).

So, you see, the network has failed. Not my network, mind you. My network came through like the champions they are. That is why they are my network. Who would question the experience, leadership, dedication, and sincerity of passionate educators spending their off time sharing resources with other like-minded educators? The sad thing here is that the state did not trust one of its own to help it out in a bind. It instead chose to use more state resources (which is already over-burdened from state mandates and being short staffed). Worse than that, it chose to use minimal standards to gather data apparently just for the sake of gathering data. I hope to see the bigger picture in this as we move further through the process.

Sad, really. Does it mean that the state leadership doesn’t understand the power of the network it leads? Does it mean that without the lobby power of textbook companies you cannot get a serious audience in the state office to hear you out?  Or does it simply mean that in government, it is business as usual? Whatever it means, it will not deter me from working toward a system in Texas that is efficient, effective, and focused on the main thing: providing the best education to the kids of Texas.

Facilitate, not Frustrate

At a teacher conference in Austin today I had the opportunity to speak to a group of educators from Region 7 about the importance of technology use in the classroom and keeping our legislators informed about what we are doing. Part of my conversation was based on Miguel‘s notes from the CTO session with Hochberg, Strama, and Eisler. Having our students tech literate has always been important, but now that Texas is requiring school districts to PROVE that proficiency there is a whole new focus being placed on it. And the biggest step we need to make here is to educate our legislators on the fact that the state standardized content area tests have nothing to do with whether computer use is valid. But that is for another post.

Well, that conversation led to two teachers from a Region 7 school district (one high school and one intermediate) sharing how they cannot use technology in their district. Obviously, there was some hyperbole involved in the comment, so I asked for clarficiation. They shared two things that drive the tech boycott by the staff in the district:

1. The filter is so clamped down that the students cannot do legitimate research. The teachers are equally as frustrated, so they don’t use it for lesson preparation or even as part of the course work. Basically, the Internet is useless. I have heard this complaint before, and it is definitely a frustrating situation to be in. I always wonder what higher power gives these tech directors the authority to lock down the network so tightly. This is a continual debate on the TCEA TEC-SIG list serve, and there are no winners in the debate but plenty of losers: students. I’m fortunate enough to not have this issue in White Oak.

2. Two teachers witnessed a major student incident in the hall. In the midst of the teachers emailing each other notes on the incident to make sure they had evertyhing noted to present to the campus administrator, the superintendent shows up to talk to the two of them. The superintedent wants to know why these two teachers are conspiring against a student like they are. Now remember, all of the conversation was done via email. They later find out that the tech director is reading EVERY email going through the district’s system and decided that he/she (a non-educator) knew enough about the situation to report the two teachers to the district administrator for ganging up on this student.

So I have a few take aways from this conversation:

– If there is a job in a school system that offers a person that much time to just make teachers’ lives miserable, then it is a waste of tax payer dollars.

– If there is a position created in a school district that does not have student learning as the MAIN focus attached to it, then it is also a waste of tax payer dollars.

– Why do campus administrators continue to let someone so obviously out of touch with teacher and student needs control such a large part of what happens (or should happen) on their campuses? One would assume that there is at least one person willing to step up and share the importance of access and use with this individual and eventually that person’s boss if needed. These anal controllers of the DISTRICT’s network have no business in education since they only work to hinder it. There have to be some limitations to protect data, access to inappropriate sites, cyber-bullying, etc., I know. But when it gets to the point where staff and students give up using any technology, then there is a major issue.

– Those of us in the tech side of the school district need to remember that curriculum drives the technology and not the other way around. Our job is to facilitate technology use, not to frustrate it.