Talking Points For Digital Conversion


By going so far as to produce talking points, it seems that the district really wants the public to support the idea of their one to one technology plan. They’re going so far to even distribute these  to teachers. Honestly it has much more of a political campaign feel than it does an educational decision made in the best interests of the children.

A Political Campaign

Compare this political campaign, for example, to their nearly silent support for the 6.5 mil ad valorem tax renewal, which actually was a political campaign. They held one joint press conference with the Mayor and City Council that lasted about 10 minutes, and then the superintendent mentioned it a few times at the end of a couple of board meetings.

They didn’t develop a FAQ.

They didn’t develop a thirty-minute video about it. (I wonder if they actually had parental permission to use the kids faces in that video from last Tuesday?)

They didn’t take children out of school on a “brief” bus ride on the third day of school as a testimony to how badly the tax renewal would be needed. (I’m hearing, regularly and often, that the superintendent did not get parental permission to take the kids out of school and off the Chapman campus for this bus ride photo-op. If any parents would like to provide some information about this, I would appreciate it.)

Talking Points Campaign

And they didn’t, absolutely didn’t, develop two pages of talking points that would later be shared with teachers so they would know what they could, and could not, say about the ad valorem tax.

Called “Key facts/discussion points regarding the Digital 1:1 Initiative,” the document contains 21 district approved talking points about the digital conversion.

In case the document is taken down soon, I thought it might be helpful to browse through the highlights of the talking points to see just how accurate they are. Surely, a document so important that teachers are being told it contains all the information that they need to share with parents about the conversion will be completely accurate, fair and balanced. Right?

The Agreement with Pearson 1:1 Learning will cover work at all 40 schools.

And right off the bat, we have a problem. There are actually 42 schools in the district according to the district’s own web site. And this list doesn’t include The Pinnacle Schools (thank goodness). An inattention to detail is one of the biggest problems that we’re facing in this digital conversion. I wonder which of the two schools are being left out? Is it possible to move my kids to those schools?

Perhaps the second talking point will provide more substance.

The date of school board approval of this initiative happens to also be the eighth anniversary of the day the first civilian spacecraft was piloted into space. It was on June 21, 2004 that SpaceShipOne, financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, flew to space with Mike Melvill as the pilot. Now, on June 21, 2012, the Huntsville City Schools will launch to a new frontier for learning for our students.

Okay, even I’m speechless here.

Someone, some cheerleader, in our district believes that a crucial point to understand the need to convert our district over to the Pearson way of doing education is to mention that the board approved the decision on the eighth anniversary of the first successful private journey into space. (Just curious, how many of my readers knew that the first private pilot was Mike Melvill? Okay, how many knew the first American in space on the public’s dime was Alan Shepard? Or that the first man on the moon was the late, and amazingly great, Neil Armstrong? Seems that the public venture was a bit more, um, historic?)

I wonder what else this foolish decision by our board commemorates? Just a few of the more relevant events might include:

  • In 1527, Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince, and hero to dictators everywhere, died.
  • In 1964, Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner were murdered in Mississippi fighting for civil rights.
  • In 1970, Penn Central declares bankruptcy, the largest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history up until that time.

Clearly these events are just as important to commemorate, right?

On to the third:

The Wi-Fi will be operational but the district will not have all of the bandwidth in place at the start of school to provide the full access to the digital resources in every school. This is the transition year for the program.

Well, this is news isn’t it? When Wardynski was presenting the transition to the board in June, he told them that the bandwidth would actually be available at the start of the school year. On June 21st, Wardynski said:

So inside our schools we’ll have gigabit rate bandwidth to transfer data between kids and the data sources, this is the curriculum sources and so forth. Uh, the key question is will we have do we have the bandwidth coming into our schools. And so, LaQuita has been working that very hard with our consultants from PPT and we’re going to be moving from I think it was, correct me if I’m wrong, I think about 10 Megabits per elementary? . . . And now we’re up to 50 for the elementary and a 130 for the high schools? So we think that will be adequate. And if it’s not, we’ll adjust. And a good bit of that is coming from Alabama SuperComputer. And is under their e-rate provisions. Uh, a portion of it is under our e-rate provisions. And that should all be online as well now, in time for school’s start.

It wasn’t. It still isn’t. When the board made their propaganda presentation last week, they made no mention of the bandwidth issues. They were trying to cover it up. During the presentation, the only problem they would admit to knowing was that Huntsville Center for Technology was still having bandwidth issues.

Quick question: if the district knew it wouldn’t have the bandwidth available, why are they still insisting that every classroom be online the entire day?

Let’s leave that and move on to the next few questions.

Pearson is imbedding a team on the ground in Huntsville for two years, with other support rotating in and out. Pearson’s goal is to help HCS develop the capacity internally to support the initiative.

This partnership will move Huntsville’s entire curriculum to digital. Pearson will provide Huntsville schools hardback textbooks for the classrooms to make sure each room has a hard-copy of the digital curriculum while the district is transitioning to digital. This will help make sure that every student learns every day during the transition. This is important because this shift to digital is being phased in during the 2012-13 school year, and not every student will have access to all the digital resources at the start of the year.

Again, this is the first time they’ve admitted this little issue. Oh, and the imbedded Pearson teams are less helpful than they’ve claimed.

Just as the superintendent underestimated the cost of going digital, just as he overestimated the bandwidth, he has underestimated the impact this transition has had on student learning particularly since teachers are being threatened for not using the computers in the classrooms enough.

Moving on to point number six:

This effort gives Huntsville schools a common standard across the district, and educators will be able to make sure that students are progressing at their own pace.

The simple fact is that the transition was not necessary to bring standards across the district. Neither is it necessary to enable educators to allow students to progress at their own pace.

In fact, the laptops are actually taking time away from instruction as they are implemented now. Imagine that you want your students to read a certain passage before you discuss it in class. If you have a classroom of textbooks, you have your students take out a book, turn to a page and begin reading. The entire process takes less than a minute.

With the laptops, they have to boot, log-in, connect to the Pearson web site (making sure you’re going to the right one–there are multiple sites for every class), log-in to the Pearson site, find the reading, slowly advance the text to the right section, and then begin reading.

Suddenly, what once took about 60 seconds is now taking 10-15 minutes before reading can even begin depending on the technical skills for the students, the availability of the network, and the speed of the computers.

Talking point number six claims that computers will allow for individualized instruction. What it actually does is limit the amount of time available for individualization.

Point seven is perhaps the most honest of all the points made in the document:

This is part of the effort to bring a business-like approach to education.

I realize that people differ on their opinions here, but the simple fact is that Education is not a Business. A business has one goal: to improve the financial standing of the organization. Education has one goal: to prepare students for life. Those two goals are not the same, nor should they be. Those who wish to make them the same are simply demonstrating their complete lack of understanding of either paradigm.

This isn’t an attempt to excuse educators or schools from working hard; I would argue that few careers work harder than teachers. This isn’t an attempt to free educators from accountability. This is the realization that education’s purpose is not simply to allow students to get a job. Education’s purpose is to enhance the width and breadth of the human experience. It is designed to open us to new experiences, new ideas, new worlds in a safe environment where children, youth, young adults and adults can explore. As Dr. Gutting explained in the New York Times:

In our capitalist society, education must not be primarily for training workers or consumers (both tools of capitalism as Marxist might say). Rather, schools should aim to produce self-determining agents who can see through the blandishments of the market and insist that the market provide what they themselves have decided they need to lead fulfilling lives. Capitalism, with its devotion to profit, is not in itself evil. But it becomes evil when it controls  our choices for the sake of profit.

This move to convert schools into businesses is a move by businesses to control the American consumer. Those who are uneducated are far more likely to be swayed by advertisements and propaganda than those who are. The ideal American consumer is one who is therefore un-educated at best and under-educated at least.

Undoing education is the ultimate goal of those who wish for education to take on a “business-like approach.”

This partnership will give teachers and staff the resources and the training to make this adjustment to a digital learning environment to more effectively teach children.

The partnership with Pearson hasn’t accomplished this yet, and they’ve been working in the district for the past five weeks dropping in on classrooms for a few moments at a time to address emergency situations. They are not helping teachers teach more effectively. Often teachers are being told that Pearson cannot help, or that they will have to email them about a problem. On one occasion a teacher was told by Pearson, “I can’t help you. You’re special education.”

The Pearson assistance certainly isn’t worth the millions we’re paying for it.

One-to-One learning has been around a long time. A number of school districts around the country have made the shift to digital. The Huntsville district will be one of the largest to make the shift to digital district wide. In the past, traditional school structures and tools have forced teachers to teach to the middle. This will let teachers personalize the instruction much more.

You know, the cheerleaders are right on this point. One-to-one learning has been around a long time. It basically began the first time that one human attempted to teach another human how to do something. One-to-one is the best method of teaching as it allows for education to be perfectly suited to the student and the student’s needs.

The digital conversion is not one-to-one instruction. One-to-one instruction is one teacher and one student, not one student one computer.

In other words, this is an attempt by a district that has dramatically increased class sizes over the past two years to cover up that simple fact. They are lying to us.

How individualized can a computer make the educational experience of a student who doesn’t need assistance working with a computer, but rather needs assistance interacting with other human beings? This new, “personalized” instruction doesn’t meet that person’s needs at all.

Computers aren’t teachers. They are tools, and they can be effective tools of teachers, but they are tools. Plain and simple.

And All Semblance of Reason Leaves the Building

Huntsville led the way in the rocket age with the Redstone Rocket. Huntsville led the way to space with Wernher von Braun and the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Huntsville helped put Sky Lab, the Space Shuttle, and the International Space Station into orbit. Huntsville has been the world leader in science, and now the children of Huntsville will fly into the digital age in the classrooms of schools across the city.

There is no better place in America than Huntsville, Alabama to launch this new digital learning environment in schools.

How dare they compare this fiasco to the work that took us to the moon.

There was no greater example of human initiative, human planning, and human organization than our space program. Comparing the district’s ineptitude of simply distributing computers to students to the Moon program is offensive.

This effort is about preparing our students for success in college and the workforce.

The purpose of education is not to prepare our students for success in college or the workforce. It’s to prepare our students for life. Those are two completely different goals. It’s a shame that our district’s leadership cannot see that.

This effort is about creating a learning environment that is relevant to today’s students.

Computers don’t make a learning environment relevant. Teachers do. And a teacher with no technology other than his or her mind is capable of making the student’s environment relevant. Adding computers to that mix doesn’t do it. Adding good teachers does.

The American education system, for the most part, is run the way it was over a hundred years ago, before mankind even flew in an airplane, much less flew in space.


As new technology becomes available, teachers should and do adopt it for the classroom. But they should adopt it if and only if it improves the educational experience.

Forcing teachers to throw away pedagogical methods that have been successful for hundreds of years simply because HP is kinda-sorta giving us a deal is risky, foolish and stupid.

The decision to adopt new technology in a classroom should be made by the teacher as she seeks to meet the educational needs of her students.

The district exists to support the teacher. It doesn’t exist to rule over her.

Today, our kids live in a digital environment at home and out in the community, but when they come to school they are expected to unplug and logoff, and then study and learn the same old way their grandparents did.

Our students are, in fact, too wired in, plugged up, and logged on for their own good. As Claudia Wallis wrote for Time in 2006:

Generation M has a lot to teach parents and teachers about what new technology can do. But it’s up to grownups to show them what it can’t do, and that there’s life beyond the screen.

Our students need a variety of learning environments, both “plugged” and “unplugged.” One would hope that the top educators in a district already knew this. It seems they don’t since they are forcing teachers and students alike to adjust to the single method that they’re prescribing for everyone.

And that’s the real problem here. Their rhetoric sounds good, but once you scratch beneath the surface, you see that this has much more to do with Dr. Wardynski’s desires and needs than it does with meeting student’s needs.

He seems to want to push this through so he can add it to his resumé.

Dr. Wardynski isn’t involved with students on a daily basis. He doesn’t understand, for example, when he walks into a kindergarten class and sees children playing together that they are actually developing much needed social skills, or that they are developing their hand/eye coordination.

By forcing one single teaching method on the district as a whole, he is making a mockery of the very reasons why he claims he’s doing this transition in the first place.

The cheerleading continues with the following talking points:

This shift to digital learning in Huntsville schools is nothing less than a journey to a new frontier in education.

The students of Huntsville deserve to have the most relevant learning environment and be the most college-ready students there are anywhere.

This new digital frontier means students and teachers will use a high-quality digital curriculum that is aligned to the standards.

Will someone please cue Alexander Courage and William Shatner? We really need a sound track accompanying these points.

Of course the students of Huntsville deserve to have a “relevant learning environment.” They also deserve to be “college-ready students.” Where, oh where is the actual, peer-reviewed evidence that forcing computers into a classroom will accomplish this?

Oh, that’s right, there isn’t any.

The new digital learning environment will allow Huntsville schools to provide 24/7 access for students and teachers, at last doing away with the traditional boundaries of time and space that hamper old-style schools.

We should let Einstein know that the cheerleaders have re-written his theories. Do we really need 24/7 access for students and teachers? Doesn’t there need to be at least a few moments of sleep? Recreation? Play? Exploration? Reading an actual book? Going to a party? Talking to other actual human beings, face to face?

And again, where’s the evidence?

And My Head Explodes

The next to the last talking point wins the prize:

The difference in learning will be enormous. For example, students will be able to learn more about writing and effective communication because the new digital curriculum will allow teachers to assess 20,000 written compositions in the time it would have taken them to assess one composition. So teachers will be able to actually get back to teaching children how to write and effectively communicate.

What the cheerleaders are talking about here is Automatic Writing Evaluation, and frankly there is so much wrong with this talking point, it’s a wonder they saved it for next to last. First, the new digital curriculum doesn’t “allow teachers to assess 20,000 written composition in the time it would have taken them to assess one composition.” The new digital curriculum has a feature known as automatic writing evaluation (Pearson calls it, Knowledge Technologies or KT) that evaluates student writing via computer.

These compositions are not evaluated by teachers. They are evaluated by a computer program. It seems to be a fairly sophisticated computer program, but it is still a computer program. This technology has been in development since the 1960s, and to this day, the best that can be said about it by anyone other than the companies developing it is that we’re just now beginning to understand how best to evaluate it. 

In other words, would you like your child’s writing ability evaluated by an untested computer program, or your child’s teacher?

I write on a computer every day, nearly all day. It’s how I write. But no computer ever inspired me to write. That was done by a small group of writing teachers at Georgia Southern University and at Statesboro High School. There names are Dr. Curtis Ricker, Mrs. Sandra Rabitsch, Dr. Patricia Gillis, Dr. Fred Richter, Mrs. Elizabeth Brannen, and Ms. Shirley Hemsley.

Each one of them helped me to develop a love of writing. Dr. Ricker was the first teacher to push me to learn to create on the computer. But the reason they helped me learn to love to write was simple: they read my work. Dr. Wardynski and his cheerleaders are stripping away the best part of writing: being read.


And finally:

2012-13 will be the year of conversion to digital the digital learning environment. This is not an event, it’s a process. It will take time before every student can fully access all of the digital assets.

Should it take time for every student to be able to access their textbooks? How much time? A few weeks? A few months? A few years? How exactly is this benefiting our students and promoting student learning?

And those are the district’s talking points in support of the digital transition. Can someone please remind me of why the district felt it was necessary to publish these points? Could it be that they know they’re promoting snake oil?

Let Your Voice Be Heard

Tonight Dr. Wardynski was interviewed on WHNT by Jerry Hayes in a story called, “Taking Action Special Report: Tech Trouble.

I wonder why Mr. Hayes never thought to ask the superintendent why not one teacher was willing to speak on the record about these issues. It seems that people are afraid to ask the superintendent questions, particularly if they work for him. Intimidation indeed.

The Huntsville Times is asking for comments on the question of “How is the Huntsville schools district’s digital transition working for you?”

Please contact Ms. Bonvillian and let her know your thoughts and opinions.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. It is now your time to provide the public with what is really going on with the in this technology innovation. Please go and provide The Huntsville Times the truth! If there is any documentation telling teachers they can’t use paper please provide it.

  2. Why do we have to reveal our personal information to al.com (or be on facebook) to comment on this? Is this not part of the problem also?

  3. So now the news media is interested in this issue? Hate to say it but I think this will be more Dr. Wardynski and the Board are just wonderful propaganda.

    Here are some must reads (Talking Points) for those concerned about public education and the future of our republic.

    Corporate Media’s WAR on Public Education

    Virtual School in Tennessee Strikes Out

    Occupy Your School Board

    Why didn’t the Huntsville Times report that 24 lbs of Maarijuan were confiscated December 9, 2011?

    What if Dr. Ann Roy Moore were in charge of this Cluster F*&k?

  4. Just to let you know, at the meeting last night at HCES, there was a teacher and a child that got up to demonstrate how wonderful the computers are and how they are supposed to work. The teacher was going on about how this new technology is allowing her to determine which of her students needs more individualized attention on which topics in math, for example. She then stated that she would then be able to spend more individual time with each student than she was before reteaching topics that a student may need. Watch out for demonstrations such as these, I think they are anticipating exactly what you are talking about in this article. Just thought you should know. I did ask the question last night about the lack of bandwidth in the school because my 2nd grader wanted to know why his class can’t all get onto their iPads at the same time. All I got was a song and dance and that the teacher should let the central office know. Please, even my 7yo said it was stupid to give the whole class iPads if they can’t all use them at the same time! There were many complaints and questions about having access to actual textbooks, especially to some of the new curriculum that doesn’t even have textbooks available, and supposedly Pearson is working on putting “hard” copies of the books on the computers so that the kids won’t have to be logged into a wifi to access those. Then there were the questions about what will happen in the event of a power outage and the lack of books, but there wasn’t a good answer. It was very apparent that many of the problems were not thought out and that this was a poor plan from the beginning. It probably would have been a better idea to bring on a couple of grades at a time to work out the kinks, not the whole system, and at the same time completely redo the curriculum so that some of the teachers don’t even have textbooks to fall back on in the mean time.

    1. Thanks for the heads up. Yes, they grown far more determined in their propaganda.

      Problem is that there simply isn’t empirical evidence to back it up. A one-to-one demonstration of one teacher and one student is not evidence of anything.

      My daughter wishes for textbooks as well.

  5. Excellent post. … my 4th graders are HATING school this year and that is very much unlike them. The teacher is all over the place and exasperated, causing the parents to be frustrated and well you know what that is doing to the kids, anxiety, frustration and hatred of school. Nothing is getting done in class or at home for that matter. I just spoke with on eof the 4th grade teachers this morning. She told me that they were given permission in their faculty meeting yesterday to go back to using paper and hard copies (hmmmm…. kind of interesting don’t you think right before the WHNT news story about teachers being told no paper and Dr. W denying that??) So today she said is a whole new plan and procedure going forward. She said they may not even get on the computers today… So 4 weeks into school and this class is still on Day ONE…

  6. “This move to convert schools into businesses is a move by businesses to control the American consumer.”

    As much as I agree with so much written here, crazy talk like this just makes my head want to explode. This reminds me somewhat of the guy who starts off talking about needing to control the size, scope, and spending of government, but then ends up ranting about the FBI implanting computer chips in his head. There is no grand conspiracy to “corporatize” the schools in order to brainwash society. Keep in mind that Eli Broad — Wardynski’s mentor — is a huge Obama supporter.

    If the idea is to end up with uneducated citizens, the current education system is already doing a bang-up job of it — no need to change a thing.

    The goal — misguided though it may be — of “running schools like a business” is to make them more efficient and to quickly put best practices to work helping students. The problem, as you said, is that basic education is fundamentally different from business. But there’s just no reason to go straight to the grassy knoll here. You have some powerful things to say on these issues, but you allow yourself to be easily dismissed as a kook when you gambol off to La-La Land like that.

    You also stated: “How dare they compare this fiasco to the work that took us to the moon.”

    Simple: EVERYTHING is compared to the Apollo mission, especially in this town. According to Will Culver, the fact that we went to the moon means we can all accept public housing in our neighborhoods with nary a complaint. I’ve heard this same lame analogy used for just about anything you can think of. So why not?

    One more thing: “The purpose of education is not to prepare our students for success in college or the workforce. It’s to prepare our students for life.”

    Nope. It’s for all three reasons, but the actual primary reason is to prepare them to be good and productive citizens. And that includes economic productivity.

  7. When I first heard Huntsville city school district would be getting laptops I didn’t think much of it. I thought it might be a good idea to be able to access textbooks on the computer so we wouldn’t have to carry them around. Now I’m thinking we should really get textbooks back.I mean, at least in my school, I find the laptops are hindering education not helping it because most of the students have found out they can put games on flashdrives and play them in class. Also, I was taking a math test today on the pearsonsuccess,net website and the internet froze during so I had to reboot the whole computer just to get it to work. I think “Dr.” Wardynski was probably a good soldier, but with this new digital conversion idea, I don’t trust he will make a good superintendent.

  8. Not sure where to post this, but this looks like a good place. My niece and nephew both have HCS laptops. Sometime yesterday afternoon, both laptops lost their wifi connection at their house. All other wifi devices worked, but not the laptops. So they take a cable and plug directly into the router. Neither laptop recognized the connection. They, with their mom, then drove to our house last night and sat in the car using our wifi network to do their homework. I guess its only a minor glitch if you’re the one not sitting in someone’s driveway doing your homework.

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