Saturday, January 31, 2015

Would you hire these people to use technology to teach your kids?

“The future of assessments is online, but so is the future of teaching and learning,” the state assessment task force declared. But our state education department’s use of technology is not exactly an advertisement for technology’s power to inform and instruct.

Yesterday the state Department of Education posted a website designed to rate all of the state’s schools against one another on reading and math test scores. Set aside for the moment whether that’s a good idea; after all, our legislators made them do it. But the site is a mess.

Here’s an example of a graph designed to show the reading proficiency of the kids at my local elementary school:

What are we to make of this graph? How is the green line (labeled “Students Meeting Proficiency”) different from the blue bar (labeled “Meeting Proficiency”)? Why is the green line a line at all? Does the x axis have any meaning whatsoever? If not, what do the dots on the lines mean? And why are the little informational boxes positioned to block the view of the orange and blue bars? (It gets worse.)

Meanwhile, see if you can find your school’s dot on this graph.

Meanwhile, see if you can find Iowa City’s West High School in the site’s drop-down menu. Not so easy.

You might try to figure out what’s going on by clicking on the “More Information” drop-down menu, which has links for “Website Introduction,” “FAQ,” and “Report Definition.” None of the links work.

The site worked even less well on a mobile device than on a desktop.

These are the people who are going to tell us how to improve our kids’ education through technology? These are the people who are going to implement the proposed high-tech (and debacle-prone) Smarter Balanced standardized tests?

More on the rankings here.


Chris said...

You might think that the green and purple lines are the lines between “proficient” and “not proficient,” but this graph would seem to disprove that idea, since I’m assuming that we don’t have different definitions of “proficiency” for Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites. So are the lines supposed to represent the statewide rates, while the bars are the local rates? It would have been easy enough to make that clear. And again, what do the three purple dots signify?

pooter said...

At least it's future-focused.

Chris said...

Pooter -- At least it’s nearly impossible to use the site for its intended purpose, which is probably for the best. New DoE slogan: “We fail at doing harmful things.”

Too bad it probably cost a lot of money.

Chris said...

Iowa City users, beware: Shimek and Garner are listed under “B,” Horn is under “E,” Lemme is under “H,” Van Allen is under “J,” Borlaug is under “N,” and Lucas is under “R,” because sometimes (but not always) schools are listed under their namesakes’ first names.

And just what is “Central Elementary School (Iowa City)”?

M.L. said...

It's clear to me that 83% of those meeting proficiency are meeting proficiency. Where's the confusion?

Matt Townsley said...

I see the intent of your post, however I wonder if the title ("Would you hire these people to use technology to teach your kids?") is misleading? Teachers teach kids and I believe the Department of Education, not teachers, created the school rankings site.

Chris said...

Matt – I don’t know. I do think the people at the Department see themselves as educators, and they are (at least administratively) in charge of how and what Iowa kids get taught. I think the state hires them to “teach” our kids in the same way that we elect the President to “enforce the laws,” even though he does not do so personally.

On the other hand, I suppose it’s true that just because you wouldn’t hire someone to be a teacher, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t hire him or her to be an administrator.

In any event, I often feel that the Department (and the legislators themselves) have a greatly inflated sense of the value they add. They seem to have a bottomless confidence that their judgment is better than decentralized judgments would be, yet their policies and work product don’t exactly shine. How much time and money went into making this crappy website? Even if it were well executed, why would it be a good use of resources? Will anyone be using it for anything even three months from now? So why would I hire these people to supervise, administer, direct, or have any influence over my kids’ education?

The Governor and the Department want us to spend millions to adopt the Smarter Balanced tests, which are going to be a real tech challenge. Even if I thought the tests were both beneficial and worth the cost, would I trust this group to handle the challenge of implementing them?

pooter said...

I think maybe you ought to move your blog to a more modern platform that notifies commenters. Google is not doing that for me!

Chris said...

Pooter -- A thousand apologies for Blogger and its lousy comment system. I'd switch to another platform but I always like to think that I'm the verge of quitting blogging altogether. I just keep falling off the wagon . . .

Julie VanDyke said...

At this point, I pretty much expect about this much from the IDE...and while they may not be teachers, all teachers have to meet IDE requirements of what they have to teach...which I'm sure Pam Ehly can say in way fancier words than I can.

My guess would also be that the IDE is staffed with Branstad (Mr. 0%-1.25%) appointees and hirees so, if out Governor doesn't value Public K-12 he's not going to support it financially either, he's going to break it because it's a toy that didn't do what he wanted it to. Remember too, Branstad apparently planned to bust the teachers unions in the state with his failed Blueprint for Education unsuccessfully "sold" to the public by Jason Glass.

Branstad didn't get his Blueprint passed though the Teachers Leadership and Training Grant was part of the Blueprint in a previous incarnation.

What he seems to have set as another fine personal goal, is to bust all unions, and he surely does want to bust AFSCME in this state at the rate state employees jobs have magically turned over from being bargaining unit covered to "professional" jobs with no security, no voice, and definitely no union representation.

In my opinion, this Governor holds a grudge and he doesn't forget it...It appears t me that he's still mad that he didn't get his way on the Blueprint and is targeting teachers and public education now to punish them for fighting it and winning that round.

In fact, the thing in this blog post that worries me most Chris, since, as you say, this probably won't even exist in 3 months, is this sentence:

“The future of assessments is online, but so is the future of teaching and learning,” the state assessment task force declared.

I've been wondering for a while, keeping a watchful eye for where it might go, whether the governor was going to try to replace teachers (at college level too) with online robot classes...I think that sentence tells us where he's going or trying to go with, hmmmm, if he gets the 1.25%, I wonder if we'll discover it was not an accident of stupidity or hubris, but his next round of attacks on teachers who, because there will be layoffs and positions not hired and all that great stuff if he gets this budget passed at anything less than 6%, and it's going to be unimaginably brutal if he gets his 1.25 - because, we won't be able to adequately staff classrooms we already have - hmmmm, this appears to have bust down the teachers union future written all over it (too bad about the kids). When every district in the state can't do adequate teaching staff coverage because he's underfunded them, bet he pushes them into online ed to fill as many gaps as he can, increases it over time, and does his very best to smack down those teachers for speaking out against his BluePrint for Less Education for kids...and for the demise of the teachers unions if he can get away with it.

Matt Townsley said...

Julie - I think it could be helpful to clarify that the only Dept of Education employee working at the pleasure of the governor is the director. The bureau chiefs and other employees down the hierarchy are all state employees hired by their respective supervisors within the DE.

Julie VanDyke said...

Matt, there is not a state employee that doesn't "really" serve at the pleasure of the Governor. Ask Larry Hedlund.
Whether direct or indirect, this Governor is about to become the longest serving one in history and his influence and preferences have permeated and affected the employment hires, retention, and structure of of state employees and the departments they work for.
He doesn't hire the teachers either, but, if State Supplemental Aid is passed at his requested 1.25%..or even 2, 3, or 4%, instead of 6%, we will see hundreds of teachers lose their jobs, and our students lose their teachers, all over the state.
So call it what you want to...but it doesn't change the fact that every state employee and those paid from state funding like State Supplemental Aid all serve or don't serve at his "pleasure".