Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Powers That Be Have Been Informed - Our Young People Continue to Wait for a 21st C. Education Worthy of Their Attention

My Testimony to the City Council
(New York City, that is).

In June of '06 an Oversight Hearing on Improving Classroom Instruction Through the Use of Technology was convened. While the record will reveal that representatives of the Dept. of Ed. responded to questions about 'how' the equipment in city classrooms is being used to impact learning by talking about the numbers of computers purchased, installed, and maintained instead, I presented a sensible take on the current situation - one in which an educational program not truly worthy of 21st Century youngsters persists. Here is the testimony I submitted:

Testimony of Mark Gura

Meeting of the Committee on Technology in Government:
Oversight Hearing on Improving Classroom Instruction Through the Use of Technology

June 17, 2006

My Professional Background:
* 31 years of service to New York City Public Schools – now retired.
1. 18 years as a middle school classroom teacher in East Harlem
2. 13 years of experience in instructional supervision
3. Held the position of Director, Office of Instructional Technology (under the direct supervision of the Deputy Chancellor for Instruction) 1996 – 2003.
* Author “Recapturing Technology for Education: Keeping Tomorrow in Today’s Classrooms” and many articles in popular magazines on the theme of Instructional Technology
* Currently: Senior Fellow – Center for Digital Education and Director of OUTREACH, Regional Educational Technology Center (Fordham University)

I. Effective ways to define the correct path and determine the progress of NYC Schools -
Over the past few years through my association with the Center for Digital Education and as an education journalist, I’ve had the opportunity to exchange important ideas about Educational Technology with many of the prime decision makers of the nation’s largest and most influential school districts. Consequently, I have come to see that many of these districts have successful classroom technology programs and that the components of these programs vary from district to district. In effect, this combined body of program components forms an important body of practice.

Suggestion to the Committee: In assessing NYC’s efforts in Improving Classroom Instruction Through the Use of Technology, its program can be best understood by comparing it to the above referenced body of practice, which was developed in large measure by large urban school districts operating in much the same circumstances as New York City.

Useful questions to pose would be:
* What types of program components and resources have other systems developed, acquired, and provided?
* How many of the preferred program items adopted by the extended community of school districts has our local system adopted? And to what extent and of what quality?

Following is a brief list of examples of essential resources provided by school districts to promote the use of technology in their classrooms:
1. Online and Interactive Curriculum/Teaching Guides involving the use of technology in core curriculum areas (Chicago Public Schools provides a “Standards Based Internet Resource Guide” that provides resources & activities for Language Arts – Math – Science – Social Studies aligned to the standards for which students are held accountable.)
2. Online Instructional Content (Miami Dade schools provide an online content portal with Literacy, Math and other content free to all students. This can be accessed anywhere, school or home, 24/7)
3. Parent Portals: (robust, highly interactive websites that make it easy for parents to stay continually informed about school programs, contact teachers, and get more involved in their youngsters’ learning. are springing up across the US. I recently authored an article entitled Power to the Parents for Ed Tech focus on k-12 magazine, June/July 2006, that details the efforts of numerous school systems in this area.)
4. Online Professional Development (on June 21 the State Dept of Ed in Arkansas announced the launch of “IDEAS Internet-Delivered Education for Arkansas Schools” an online PD portal for all teachers including the use of technology… a few years back NYC public schools had its own online PD portal with 10 courses highlighting technology that was made available to all teachers)

II.The Important Indicators of Improved Classroom Instruction are Related to Technology Use and Not to the Quantities of Technology Resources Provided. -
In April ’06 the NY Post reported NYC schools having 296,011 working computers. Earlier, in October of ’03, the Post quoted the chancellor as saying that technology is “one of the most underutilized assets in terms of the future of educating our children.” This was in the same article entitled “Schools striking up the bandwidth” that announced a DOE plan to increase bandwidth by 300 percent.
If the above were reported correctly, 296,000 thousand working computers would give the NYC system a computer to student ration (the standard measure in this type of program) of better than 4 to 1. This is an enviable ratio for any large urban system.

However, in addressing the committee’s mission to determine NYC’s progress in Improving Classroom Instruction Through the Use of Technology these figures reveal only capacity, and not progress or achievement. A technology program really ought to be measured by how (the types of instructional practice in use), how well, and the extent to which such resources are put into instructional use.

Suggestion to the Committee: A separate hearing to analyze the pedagogical application of the system’s extant technology equipment and infrastructure should be held.
Furthermore, a mechanism by which can be understood the types and extent of technology-supported teaching and learning are being made to happen in NYC classrooms (on an ongoing basis) should be called for. Until such a mechanism is developed and in place, reports on numbers of computers and thresholds of Internet access will remain a minor part of an unclear picture about the state of classroom technology use, and of minimal value.

III.At the conclusion of the ’06 School Year, Instructional Technology ought to be a mainstream educational resource. -
In understanding the efficacy of a school system’s Instructional Technology program it is most effective to consider the common, day in - day out use of technology in classrooms. It is crucial to look at what is the experience of the vast majority of students, rather than a few anecdotal examples of model technology use that illustrate what is possible. Such anecdotes can be found on the web in the tens of thousands signifying that we have moved beyond this type of measure into an era in which technology should be a fully integrated facet of the general, overall instructional program.

Technology should not be seen as an add-on, or an extra, or an elective, or a special program. While a small part of its scope is its role as a curriculum area, its truest dimension is as a resource, a tool and enabler across the curriculum, positively impacting every aspect of teaching and learning.

Suggestion to the Committee: in today’s technology dominated intellectual environment an appropriate measure of success in Improving Classroom Instruction Through the Use of Technology, would assess how closely the current program reaches the goal of having all students frequently and continually benefit from the use technology in many or most of their classes.

The majority of expert educators in the fields of Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies call for the inclusion of technology as an important part of the teaching and learning in those subject areas. For instance, the National Council of Teachers of English website on early literacy states “Young children readily learn key understandings about literacy-print conventions, vocabulary, story structure, and literacy… through… traditional storybook reading, as well as (other) forms of literacy like media, and technology.”For full text see: - The International Reading Association’s webpage entitled Integrating Literacy and Technology in the Curriculum states: “The Internet and other forms of information and communication technology (ICT) are redefining the nature of literacy. To become fully literate in today’s world, students must become proficient in the new literacies of ICT. Therefore, literacy educators have a responsibility to integrate these technologies into their literacy curricula.” - Also, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics website on principles for school mathematics states “Technology is essential in teaching and learning mathematics; it influences the mathematics that is taught and enhances students' learning.”

Furthermore, a new body of essential 21st Century skills has come into being since the advent of personal computing and digital technology. These skills represent a crucial body of learning for today’s students if they are to graduate as effective citizens and participants in the economy. 21st C skills are not solely technology skills, but involve the ways that learning, knowing, communicating, and solving problems have changed through the application of technology. They must be learned through the continual and ongoing use of technology.

Recently, the state of Michigan made taking an online course a requirement for graduation from high school. The purpose for this is that learning to work, collaborate, and learn in a virtual environment (a collection of 21st C skills) is now critical for those entering the world beyond school.

Furthermore, the use of technology will make the school experience more relevant for youngsters growing up in the current intellectual environment, fostering greater engagement and motivation and likely resulting in improved attendance and graduation rates.

IV.Better Defined PrioritiesIn discussions about integrating technology for instruction into the overall instructional program, one often hears about priorities. There is a very unfortunate mis-understanding among many of our nation’s educational decision makers that one can either have students involved in learning “technology” or they can learn literacy, math, science, etc.

I count myself among the very large number of highly experienced educational experts who believe that nothing could be further from the truth. The technology dominated age in which we are living and working has established firmly the concepts of multi-tasking and multi-purposing. With proper instructional design, students may learn core curriculum content (i.e. Language Arts, Math, Science) and technology and 21st C literacy skills at simultaneously in the same set of activities.
Furthermore, many believe that through the appropriate use of technology they will learn it better. There is a great deal of research available to support this. One good source is CARET (Center for Applied Research for Educational Technology) an ISTE resource.

Observation to Committee: Many other American school districts have made the use of technology a significant part of the daily educational experience of students. An analysis of how these districts accomplished this while operating under much the same conditions as NYC might be informed and facilitated easily through interviewing some of the many experts in establishing such programs around the country.

V. Better Defining Roles and Responsibilities One key factor in giving technology the importance it should have in our schools is a shift in roles and responsibilities. Continued reliance on “Instructional Technologists” will not suffice to change the current instructional landscape in terms of technology use. Administrators, curriculum experts, supervisors, coaches, etc. within the subject areas must be charged with shouldering this responsibility. Technology can not be pushed into subject area cultures from the outside. It has to be embraced and pulled into them from within, and the leaders of these fields must assume a major role in making this happen.

Recommendation to the Committee: A report on how instruction in NYC classrooms is specifically designed to take advantage of the important benefits that technology can offer will shed light on the committee’s theme of this meeting: Improving Classroom Instruction Through the Use of Technology. Such a report will be most revealing if it is prepared for the committee by central instructional staff whose purview involves guiding very large numbers of teachers in instruction in the areas of Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. The report ought to include explanations of curriculum, instructional resources (i.e. software), and pedagogical practices, as well as professional development and accountability measures. The scope of the report ought to reflect the extent these elements affect the total number of teachers currently in classrooms.

VI.Tapping existing technology to solve some of the problems of making use of technology in our classrooms.
In many cases the solution to providing items like professional development to very large numbers of teachers is the technology itself. In addition to the previously mentioned content and professional development portals and online conferencing and group work applications (all of which currently provide other school systems cost effective solutions) I have been involved in a program at Fordham University called Podcast for Teachers (PFT) which can serve as an important model. PFT is a weekly 30+ minute presentation of important Educational Technology practices and resources (primarily K – 12), many of which are free. In the 10 months Fordham has provided this resource (also free) through the web, it has been downloaded by educators around the world more than 150,000 times. This resource is available to all teachers everywhere ( However, in addition to the value of its content, PFT provides a model of how any school system can produce professional development very efficiently and disseminate it on a near no-cost basis. Fordham’s Regional Educational Technology Center is available for guidance, training and assistance in beginning such a program specifically tailored for NYC teachers.