When you’re not hearing constantly negative reports, it might be tempting to believe that things are getting better. Doing so would be a mistake. Over the past two years, I’ve posted regularly about the decline of the educational quality in our schools here in Huntsville. If anyone bothered to respond to my concerns about teacher morale, obsessive testing, or wasted time as a result of the “digital transition,” the response was, “Be patient. It will get better.”
I think we’ve been patient long enough. It isn’t better.
Testing for the Test
This past Friday, after schools had been cancelled due to snow on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the district leadership, in their infinite wisdom and deep concern for the education of our children, scheduled a stress test for the district’s networking infrastructure.
You see, we’re getting disturbingly close to the end of school, and the district had to make sure that the network, after two years, would be able to handle having everyone in the district log on to the system at once. After all, testing would soon be upon us.
Wait, you say, the end of school? It’s only February. Have you lost your mind?
Take a look at the district’s testing calendar. You’ll notice that beginning the first week of March the district starts testing. They will take a single week off, and follow that by two weeks of testing before Spring Break. Once the students return after the break, the entire district will be testing for the next two months.
So, effectively, the teaching of new material (you know, school) will be coming to a close in just a few weeks.
But that’s good, right? It’s good to test the network to make sure it’s ready, right? It’s good to test our students for the last two months of school, right?
Wardynski certainly thinks so.
So, on Valentine’s Day, after a week away from school, the district had everyone from third graders to tenth graders log on at 8:30am to see if they could get on the ACT Aspire network so they could take the ACT Aspire test in a few weeks.
Anyone want to guess what happened?
Surely the network issues that the district faced last year (and that they blamed on ACT, by the way) have been resolved?
Nope. They haven’t.
So our kids spent about an hour on Friday attempting to log on, downloading and updating Java on the district’s computers (you know the computers that are supposed to update automatically at night), until they ultimately decided to call off the test. For now.
Yet another hour of instructional time lost to insufficient infrastructure and out of date computers.
Worried About Lost Time
I estimated about a year ago that our students have lost nearly 30 minutes a day of instructional time to computer issues. That comes up to two weeks per year.
On Friday alone, the entire district lost at least an hour.
I think it’s time to up that estimate.
So, how did the district respond to this lost instructional time? Well the principals sent out the following request from Dr. Cooper in the central office:
The Digital Curriculum allows for ubiquitous learning for HCS students. In viewing social media over the past 2 days, many teachers have taken advantage of the technology and posted assignments on Edmodo. We are interested in determining how many students were able to continue their learning when given an assignment. Upon returning to school we are requesting that you collect data regarding the number of students who were able to access the technology and complete assignments posted by the teacher. We are a data driven school district focused on continuous improvement. This is an opportunity for us to learn how we can better use the technology in the event we are out of school for an extended time due to situations beyond our control. Please publicly thank all teachers who took advantage of the two days to continue learning. This demonstrates a true ‘change of practice’ in the way we educate our students.
Have a great day.
Dr. Barbara Cooper
Teachers were required to fill out an excel spreadsheet and return it to the principal’s office by 2:45pm Friday afternoon so that the principals across the district could give the “data driven” central office the positive data that they could use to promote Wardynski’s folly.
Let’s assess this for just a moment.
What We’ve Really Lost
We’re losing at least two months to district testing. (And with all the other testing included, it’s going to be much closer to three.)
We’re losing at least 30 minutes a day, and probably more likely closer to an hour, to computer issues.
We’ve lost 669 teachers and district employees to either retirement or resignation (which includes the 8 that the board approved on February 6th) since August 2011. We’re still maintaining a rate of 23 departures every month. Anyone want to bet that we’ll match that rate by the end of this month as well? Anyone?
But despite all of that, what the district is really concerned about is how many of our students did some homework during the snow days.
And they’re so concerned that they want teachers to take time out of their instructional day to submit a report so this can be tracked.
“Data driven” indeed
Wouldn’t it be nice if the district worried as much about not interrupting the daily instruction as they do about interrupting family time? (For the record, I don’t have any problem with a teacher assigning work on a snow day. I don’t have any problem with a teacher who doesn’t. I do have a problem with teachers not having the freedom to make that decision on their own.)
Oh, but you see, that instructional time doesn’t really matter. All that matters is our ability to show that our students are growing in their ability to take a standardized test.
All that matters is our ability to run off some of the best teachers in the district.
All that matters is that Wardynski has the “data” to make himself look good to Pearson or whatever other position he’s jockeying for.
The educational quality of Huntsville City Schools has not improved over the past two years. All that has improved is Wardynski’s ability to pretend that it has.