Today’s article in the Daily Oklahoman, “I am going to do my job” provides background behind ongoing struggles and accusations involving the Oklahoma City Public Schools’ superintendent and its board. Additional links are available in the article’s sidebar, including a statement released yesterday from the board chairman as well as the text of an injunction filed by the superintendent against all members of the current board. Included in the charges of the injunction is that board members violated open meeting laws which govern school boards in our state. Tomorrow’s scheduled board meeting at 8 am will include a closed executive session which will deal with these issues. According to today’s article, one of the issues concerns the propriety of the superintendent’s decision to purchase a technology solution, alleging:

…he [the superintendent] circumvented the bidding process to purchase Wireless Generation, a computer program to help children read.

According to the website of Wireless Generation, its mClass products function in the following way:

A teacher assesses the student using a handheld computer loaded with mCLASS assessment software. When assessment is complete, the teacher gets a student’s results instantly on the handheld, “syncs” the handheld to a secure, password-protected Web site, views and analyzes Web-based reports on the class and individual students, and then uses the information to tailor instruction to students’ needs.

Technology tools like these which support on-going and immediate assessment of student skills are the darlings of some educational leaders who maintain an outspoken commitment to the effective uses of digital technologies to support learning and student achievement. Unfortunately, in my view, these tools do not (as a rule) tend to support a shift away from the instructionist, teacher-directed, RIGOROUS approach toward education and learning which has persisted in most U.S. public schools since the late 1800s when public schools started.

The last sentence of this quotation from the Wireless Generation website reveals the instructionist assumptions which belie it’s products: “…tailor instruction to students’ needs.” Students don’t need more INSTRUCTION to become lifelong readers and members of “the literacy club,” in most cases, they need greater access to texts and more time to read them. If we really want to help students learn to read better, educators, parents, and educational leaders would be well advised to read Dr. Stephen Krashen’s excellent book, “The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research.” Fancy programs which permit and encourage teachers to constantly test students and obtain immediate results are not the “magic bullet” for improving student reading abilities. As Krashen points out, the biggest key to helping students read better is providing them with access to robust and diverse texts along with large quantities of TIME to read. Student writing abilities are shown in educational research to be closely tied to student reading abilities. If Oklahoma City Public Schools and other school districts sincerely want to improve students’ reading abilities, they would be better advised to invest money in school libraries as well as insuring teachers are providing large amounts of TIME each week for students to engage in reading. I would add (based on my own experiences and reading of other academic research, not Krashen’s) that implementing 1:1 laptop learning initiatives which focus on student writing and CONTENT CREATION (in multimedia forms as well as traditional text) consistently help bolster student literacy skills as well. Buying and implementing “drill and kill” software programs and software which further entrenches school cultures focused on testing, fear, and summative assessments do not.

I do not have any personal knowledge or insight into this current situation involving Oklahoma City Public Schools or the Wireless Generation technology products, beyond what I have read online and linked in this post. It is sad to see, however, that “goal 1″ of “aim 1″ on the listed “Oklahoma City Public Schools Aims/Goals” on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting is:

Adhere to consistent, rigorous, relevant academic PASS standards.

The myopic focus on RIGID standards which goals like these support, along with the perpetuation of the myth that education can or should be “standard” or “consistent” for every learner irrespective of their background, skills, interests, abilities or disabilities, is unfortunate.

Rather than a commitment to “rigor and relevance,” I would prefer to see our school districts establish the goal of providing appropriately differentiated opportunities for learning for all students. The last thing I want for my own children in their school is a “standardized educational experience.”

The other thing I found interesting in the series of articles published today and recently on these Oklahoma City School district issues was in the short piece “Two district leadership positions?” The article states:

The Oklahoma City School Board is unique in that it is the only board in the state with a chairman elected by the general public instead of selected by fellow board members. By law, only the Oklahoma City and Tulsa districts have the option of having a popularly elected chairman…After the Oklahoma City School Board voted to add the position of chairman, Cliff Hudson was the sole person to file. The chairman is re-elected every four years, but no one filed to run against him again in 2004.

Clearly “interesting politics” are involved in this situation. It will be instructive to follow this news thread in the weeks ahead.

Oklahoma City Public Schools is the second largest school district in our state. Tulsa Public Schools is the largest. My personal involvement with Oklahoma City Public Schools to date has been limited to several meetings with the district’s instructional technology staff, and a keynote address I shared at the OKCPS districtwide “technlogy enhancement day” last June titled, “Welcome to the Global Education Conversation.” I also helped facilitate a connection for students and teachers at the Oklahoma City Kipp School (a charter school within OKPS) to participate in our statewide Pearl Harbor Attack Survivors Videoconference on December 6, 2007, which was part of the USS Oklahoma Memorial Dedication learning project.

Hopefully the conflicts and problems involving leaders of the Oklahoma City Public Schools will be resolved soon. As the second largest district in our state, there are certainly MANY challenges the educators, parents, students, and other constituents of the district face. Good leadership matters, and it is needed in all school districts to effectively meet the myriad challenges which beset us all in education.

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