Today at lunch during day one of our November Celebrate Oklahoma Voices workshop, I had a chance to ask Julie Cook of Crescent Public Schools how their 1:1 laptop initiative with students in grades 9-12 is going. As far as Julie knows, Crescent is the only public school in Oklahoma currently with a 1:1 laptop initiative where students are permitted to take their laptops home to use. To take laptops home, parents of students must take out an insurance policy which costs $70 per student for the year. There were a few families who had not taken out the insurance policy, but local benefactors stepped forward to cover the costs for those students, so all students can take their laptops home at this point. Students in grades 9-12 at Crescent received their laptops this fall for the first time, but this project has been underway for over five years. Crescent is not a wealthy school district, but under visionary leadership it has mobilized to secure the resources required to make 1:1 learning a reality in very challenging fiscal times for Oklahoma schools.

Laptop initiatives here in the midwestern United States in public K-12 schools are still VERY rare. Julie thinks there are only three public school districts in Oklahoma (where we have over 500 school districts) with 1:1 laptop initiatives presently. The last I heard, the state of Kansas has 20-30 school districts with 1:1 initiatives. I don’t know how many are in Texas, but I heard of the 22 original TxTIP middle school immersion campuses only a handful are continuing now that grant funding has run out. When I was in the Chicago area several weeks ago, I learned that the Illinois one-to-one technology immersion pilot project faltered and failed before it even got off the ground. Many laptops were not given out to students before testing was over in late spring. Bureaucratic obstacles held up implementation and choked the dreams of innovative learning for both students and teachers. Stories like these can be depressing. One to one learning offers so much promise, yet many of our leaders in educational systems as well as political circles fail to understand these potentials and mobilize the resources necessary to sustain digital learning initiatives. In this learning landscape, the innovation and vision of superintendents like Steve Shiever and dedicated educators like Julie Cook stand out like beacons in a dark, stormy night.

twin tower beacons

All the high school teachers at Crescent are putting their courses and instructional materials online via Moodle this year. Julie said ideally, teachers are supposed to stay “five days ahead” of the students in Moodle, but this is a daunting challenge.

I am so enthused to learn about the progress of Crescent’s 1:1 laptop initiative under the leadership of Superintendent Steve Shiever. I believe the 1:1 learning path which Steve and his teachers have been working toward for over five years now is the path all our Oklahoma school leaders need to follow.

path of light

What do we need to help our students acquire digital literacy skills along side traditional ones in our Oklahoma classrooms? Visionary and inspired LEADERSHIP. Where are these leaders in many of our school systems? While many, many districts are scrambling to purchase as many electronic white boards as their budgets will allow, very few leaders are focused on creating student-centered learning environments where students are able to regularly create, communicate, and collaborate with peers as well as outside experts. In the United States we’ve spent over $20 billion in the past ten years on educational networking technologies via our E-Rate program, but in many of our schools educators have still not allowed the students to touch the computers for any purposes other than basic Internet research, drill and practice, word processing, and online testing. I positively shudder to think how much money we have (as taxpayers) paid Pearson in the past few years for our state’s online testing system. There are so many better ways to spend public education dollars… It is a tragedy we are wasting so many resources thanks to an NCLB-inspired, myopic focus on summative assessment. There are many factors to blame for this, but one individual stands out with clear responsibility. As a voting citizen, taxpayer, parent and educator, I for one am very glad to see him leaving office soon– to no longer be my governor ruining the school system of my former state, or my President wrecking the school systems of our nation.

In our recent election campaign, I saw a television advertisement for the Oklahoma Lottery that almost made me physically ill. The ad showed photos of smiling kids, and asserted falsely that the lottery has meant more money for students in Oklahoma schools. This is a LIE. Rather than using lottery funds to supplement rather than supplant funding, our Oklahoma legislators have kept funding for education flat and not even kept up with inflation, despite inflows of new dollars thanks to the gambling risks of thousands of Oklahomans enticed to throw their money away in our lottery system instead of saving their money or using it to help their own families. This type of marketing duplicity in the education arena incenses me. I live and work in a state whose legislators may pay lip service to public education, but via their allocation of money continue to prove over and over again that they really don’t give a flip about our schools, our students, our teachers, or our future as a state. We remain FOURTY-EIGHTH in the nation in teacher salaries. When I decided to leave AT&T this past Spring, I seriously considered going to work for Crescent public schools as a teacher or grant director. I was shocked to see the benefits package, however, which is available to ALL Oklahoma public school teachers. The lack of care and financial provision which our legislature and we as citizens provide for the public educators of our state is embarrassing and ridiculous. I, for one, am sick and tired of the failure of our state officials to adequately fund education and pay our teachers. I am ready for changes not only at the national leadership level, but also at the state level when it comes to the causes of school funding and constructive educational reform.

In this dark, foggy night of educational despair and ridiculously low teacher salaries, there is hope.

a light in the foggy night

The hope I have is seated in the fantastic work I see students and teachers doing in Oklahoma to prepare students for their future, not our past. I am inspired by stories like those of Julie Cook and others at Crescent. I am inspired by the work of Creative Oklahoma and the ideas of other members of our education sub-committee. I am inspired by the work and success of Oklahoma A+ Schools. I am inspired by the amazing stories our Celebrate Oklahoma Voices educator and student participants continue to create and share, and the power of collaborative, interactive technologies to connect our hearts and minds together.

My voice is small, but my heart and dreams are big, and I know I am not alone in my desire to see the educational opportunities for our children and our students in our state grow to meet the scale of our imaginations. A new political day is dawning for our nation in Washington D.C. National political leaders can cast a vision and establish priorities, but despite increased federal spending and intervention in education it still remains largely a local and state-funded enterprise. As Gandhi said, we must be the change we want to see in the world.

Educator leaders in Crescent, Oklahoma, are casting the vision and making dreams a reality for students and families. We need leadership like this all over our state and in every one of our schools. The reality is, however, you can’t “boilerplate” inspired, passionate leadership. We can share our passion, however, and strive to inspire others to follow as well as take over a position of leadership.

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