My basic question is, “Why do we need this program?” Surely there is some problem it is intended to fix, or some deficiency it is designed to remedy. I consulted the HSE 21 web site in detail with just this question in mind.
The Roll Out Plan FAQ (link) asks:
“Why is the district so far behind other school districts? Why is HSE behind the curve of technology integration?”
This is nothing more than the logical fallacy of “begging the question“; assuming that one’s conclusion is correct.
Looking past that, however, in what way could HSE be “behind” other districts? HSE is among the best-performing districts in the state on standardized tests. I’m not a fan of standardized tests for judging student, teacher, or even school performance. But broad, aggregate measures – across time for trending and individual, or across larger cross-sections like district, county, or even state (for national tests) – are an appropriate use. This would suggest that HSE is not functionally “behind” other organizations.
I don’t have any data on these next items, but I suspect HSE is among the top-ranked Indiana districts for percentage of students attending college, and also in relatively good shape regarding the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch. If someone does have data on these, I would be happy to update this point as evidence indicated.
In what other measures could HSE be “behind”? Surely there is the problem with the State of Indiana and the school funding formula, but that’s a measure of resources, not performance.
In short, the above statement from the Roll Out Plan FAQ is simply false. This is why significant grant funding was difficult and ultimately impossible to get. It’s is hard to “catch up”, and get someone else to pay for it, when one is already ahead of the curve.
Then there is the second half of the supposedly “frequently asked question” regarding technology integration. This is also a logical fallacy, both begging the question and oversimplifying the issue. There are indeed other districts in Indiana that have implemented 1:1 device programs with iPad or Android. Consulting the map on the IDOE Office of eLearning (link), these implementations show certain trends:
- The majority of 1:1 initiatives are in districts much smaller than HSE
- Most of the implementations are in rural districts where grant funding was more likely to be awarded or state funding per student is unfair (i.e. from the perspective of HSE)
- Most of the 1:1 initiatives are for a limited span of grade levels
The HSE 21 program far outstrips all these initiatives. I’ll discuss in a later post the headwinds programs similar to HSE 21 have faced, but the simple fact is that there are no large-scale, broad grade-level tablet programs that have succeeded in completing implementation. Internationally, most programs are with low-cost PCs; roughly 1% are with iPads. There are several tablet programs in the US that have tried, and either stalled or been cancelled entirely. So the case for being “behind in technology integration” is also clearly untrue, since there are no peer organizations that have made this type of program work. There are some example articles I have found that suggest there are limited benefits to be had, in limited grade levels, but the key word here is “limited”. I will examine these in more detail in a future post.
The next statement I found in the Textbooks & Digital Curriculum FAQ (link):
“The print-to-digital shift in K-12 education is happening gradually worldwide.”
This is stated as if it is an intrinsic good, with no data or evidence to back it up. There are many free resources available, but the digital resources that have been available to HSE for current and past textbooks have not been praiseworthy. Difficult to navigate, impossible to browse, they were/are useful only when you knew exactly what you were looking for and where to find it. While CNN had a recent positive article on digital textbooks (link), this is more of a recent trend than a consistent, strategic resource on which to bank our children’s future.
So why is HSE 21 moving forward without clear examples of successful implementations in large districts? Why is HSE 21 moving forward without a well-defined problem to be solved?
“We must ensure that our students develop a strong academic edge through experiences with rigorous academic content and effective information, communication, and technology skills. Our students’ future education and career choices require critical thinking, creative problem solving, and the ability to work together with others to successfully compete in today’s world.” -HSE 21 Main Page (link at side).
This is a noble statement, but it is little more than a heap of buzzwords and ambiguous terms; it is not actionable, and frankly borders on the useless. It also offers no compelling reasons for millions of dollars in corporation and parent expense, and a massive distraction and disruption to how our students are educated.
Finally, from the Classroom Management & Accountability FAQ (link):
“How will you ensure that teachers actually use the devices with the students?”
Once again, there is no justification for why they should use the devices. This prescription is a one-size-fits-all approach that assumes HSE teachers are deficient unless they use the technology pervasively. HSE teachers should be, and many are, offended by this viewpoint. Technology as a tool may or may not help new or under-performing teachers, but by disrupting your best teachers for questionable benefit, you don’t move the average at all. In Part 2 of this post, I will examine more closely the drivers and evidence for why this program is – or is not – justified.