This panel was during the TCEA 2014 Convention on Tuesday evening at 5pm.
Representative Jimmie Aycock
Representative Marsha Farney
Representative Ken King – out due to snow
Mitzi Neely – Assistant Superintendent at White Oak ISD
Moderated by Jennifer Faulkner – Director of Instructional Technology – Alamo Heights ISD
TED Talk Video – Why Kids Hate School – Nikhil Goyal (TED Link)
Question 1: In the TED talk, Nikhil said that schools waste my time. How does HB5 help Texas students?
Rep Aycock – I’m hopeful HB 5 will help children find the relevance of what kids need from school. Will provide flexibility. Unless a child finds relevance we will cont to see kids fall by the wayside.
Rep Farney – I think a great strength of HB 5 is that its very student centric. The parents get to sign off on what endorsement the child chooses. We need to continue to have local control on what electives are offered. More student centered and addresses the needs and interests of the students.
Mrs. Neely – From the school district perspective we value the freedom and flexibility HB 5 brings to the table. We will have to be focused on what the students interest are. We have to be diligent with colleges to ensure that the students are able to follow the pathway they choose.
Question 2: HB 5 is designed to give students more flexibility. If every student had these options (all of the endorsements), your vision would be realized. How can technology give equitable access to these endorsements?
Rep Farney – Tech is going to be critical in being able to offer all of these endorsements. Many schools are limited in what they are able to offer their students. One of the things that different school districts within her district are doing is looking at online options to offer their students. There is going to have to be a way to use technology to make more offerings to students. Virtual learning opens up many other options for our schools. Would like to see local businesses offer internships in order to give students hands on opportunities. I am in favor of pulling more people from the community into the educational process.
Mrs. Neely – One of the pluses is that Virtual ed is online anywhere, anytime. With 5 endorsements, we will have to look at the virtual options. Colleges and Universities have already been approaching us. In my small district of 1450 students, we don’t have auto tech. We do have two large 5a high schools very close that we could partner with. Invest in a person to run our virtual lab all day instead of just two periods a day. Increase use of virtual ed.
Rep Aycock – For small districts it will be a challenge. it will require some partnerships to be developed between districts, jr. Colleges, universities, etc. Travel time will have to be accounted for, money is always an issue, partnerships are critical in terms of course delivery and course development. To fill those voids, courses will have to be developed.This will all need to be a part of the equation.
Question 3: HB 5 reduced the number of required HS assesments from 15 to 5. Business uses technology to assess their performance. How can school districts use technology to better evaluate and assess in an ongoing manner?
Mrs. Neely – Assess the outcomes is what we do in the schools. We survive and thrive on data analysis. As a district though, how do we survive? How do we assess our teachers, how do we meet the expectations of our stakeholders? While we are skilled at the student piece (teaching and learning) we have to figure out how to adjust to the new information and challenges we are facing. We are going to have to take it one step at a time.
Rep. Aycock – It looks like, after last weeks reports, if you take the present Jrs and roll forward their results. Combine that with the fact that most haven’t taken their end of course exams. 25% of current Jrs are not on track to graduate. If you roll forward a few years, you will see a strong trend of immediate knowledge on the instructors part of how the student is progressing. It will not take long for teachers to be able to provide immediate response to a student and address their needs right away and not later. The teacher will not be replaced by a computer, but the computer will be used to provide data for the teachers in an ongoing manner.
Rep. Farney – I think there are a lot of opportunities there for Staff Development. When I was admin, I would fill in for teacher so they could go observe another teacher. When I worked for TEA, I was on a committee that compiled their best lesson plans, from across the state. That’s an opportunity for Staff Development (Project Share?, DANA Center?) – I didn’t have that available to me. Something they are doing in Rockdale, the Science teacher was also the track coach. He would post his lessons each morning. Then, even when he left early for track, they could get their lessons and get feedback immediate. Even if they weren’t in the class. Also, they can flip lessons. My son is in 6th grade who has a great teacher that I never got to see until now. Now I can watch videos of the math lesson with my son and home. I get to see the teacher, know the terminology, know what’s going on in the classroom. Then he goes to school and practices what he learned. It’s a matter of being innovative. If you are ignoring technology, you will be left behind.
Question 4: In addition to the standardized testing, HB 5 allows the community to set goals. What do you envision schools evaluating to determine if their district has a successful “digital learning environment”?
Rep. Aycock – It was fuzzy to be quite honest with you. For some of the communities it’s very fundamental. Some of them simply need bandwidth. If you’re in Houston, it’s not a big issue. If you’re in more rural areas, it’s a big issue. The local districts need to figure out what the top priority is for their district. If it’s bandwidth then that’s what the district needs to be able to put their focus on. Each district needs to focus on what they need. I am very big on local control.
Rep. Farney – Local control is key. What works in one district may not work in a neighboring district. Powerpoint used to be awesome, but is old school now. We need to be able to invest in libraries for internet research. Libraries should have plenty of internet access. Have the infrastructure for internet access is key.
Mrs. Neely – A lot of schools are still processing and assessing what they have and what that looks like. We are working on knowing what that is and how to evaluate it. We are not 1:1 and may never be. We are one of the first BYOD district. Our community and parents buy into this. Our school library is also our community library. We are an open network – you can come on our campus and connect to the Internet – no password required.
It also about teacher training, monitoring the devices, how far up the tech ladder we go, how we evaluate and assess that, accept there will be failure to learn. It should be second nature to have that technology, just like pen and paper.
Question 5: What barriers do you see that Texas schools have in providing students like the student in the video with the instruction and tools they need?
Rep Farney – I think funding is key. I was visiting with CTE groups this week but surprised to see how expensive it is to get some of these course up and running. For example a pharmacy course, at one of my local districts that we recently looked into, was going to cost $15,000 and has to be renewed yearly. As we talk about the barriers getting people behind that is key but I feel that funding is the biggest barrier. Sometime I had to go to local business and community members and ask them to help with initiatives and found that people were more than happy to give. Most of the time they simply do not know what the need is. Community engagement is huge. Give them the opportunity to impact a child’s life. And when you say it like that, it’s hard for them to say “no”.
Mrs. Neely – Funding is a key issue. Many districts have an education foundation. We want so much for the legislature to be courageous with allowing local control. Teacher training is also important. Proper PD gets buy-in from the teachers. Have content on devices so they can get to it without having an internet connection. Curriculum and technology is a seamless department. Not one decision is made without all players coming to the table. We have to have the funding. We have some planning ahead and are thankful to the true intent of HB 5.
Rep Aycock – The funding is critical, the bandwidth and technical issues, the personnel training, hardware, software, etc. are critical. The real issue comes from those people that are reluctant to change the way we’ve always done. The entire discussion on HB5 raised some intriguing, fundamental questions about the role and purpose of education. There is a great reluctance to innovation in education. There are folks that have had a lot of control over education/decisions and they are reluctant to change that. They believe that there is only one path, but that is no longer true. The money, etc. will be there, whether they want it or not. We must step out of that paradigm.
Questions from the Audience
Question 1: If we turn to the existing state opportunity of TxVSN, (the scholarships for those have all gone away) is there any plan to develop courses and continue the TxVSN?
Rep Aycock – I think you’ll see a lot more interest in seeing this move forward. The funding is going to be the issue. Where does it go and where does it come from?
Question 2: (Mike Gras) Consider the reason for the reluctance. We have been forced to standardized testing. “If you are successful on Pearson, you will be successful in college.”
Rep Aycock – The standardized bubble test is one of the most troubling thing that has come along. It has tried to standardized everyone and everything and, most troubling, it has taken the joy out of learning. Students need an innate desire to learn.
Rep Farney – Not only did it change the way the students learned, it changed the way teachers taught. The love and joy of learning has been diminished. It has changed teaching and learning. Hopefully HB will allow the change to bring the joy back to learning.
Question 3: Virtual courses require a high level of understanding. Alg 2 would be a breeze, compared to most certification courses. What is the plan to deal with the reluctance? Where will you get the teachers?
Rep Aycock – I think you’re on to something. Across the state many admins do not fully understand that this comes in three parts (testing, curriculum, and accountability). Most school folks work on the gold star concept. They want things to look good. They want to gold stars. When admins look at what is required in order to get the gold star they are going to be a little surprise. The high standard is important. You said you wanted flexibility so here it is but it comes with a high standard. Now go get the gold stars.
Mrs. Neely – Starting to pull those things in and looking at high expectations, looking at our choices, what’s got to go into that, etc. The high level of critical thinking that they have to have to do that and the investment of time by students and schools will help set high standards and what we need to get there.
White oak is not hiring new teachers – we are working with what we have. It’s a multi-year process.
Question 5 (Scott Floyd): Listening to TEA staffers, I have a concern that they do not have a full understanding of what students need. How can you as a legislative body, encourage higher ed and TEA to discuss the true needs of students and how they can be prepared for their future?
There is an expectation from many legislators that one size really does fit all. I think they will see the need for this as this plays out. That’s not really my biggerst concern. My bigger concern is where are we going to find the teachers to teach these courses that these students need. And we know they need them.
Know who your SBOE rep is. Personal letters with personal stories are important to them. Not the form letters, the personal ones like the story just shared. They don’t always know what’s going on. They need to hear from you, you are the expert. Even if they have experience – it might not be current experience, it might be irrelevant. You are the expert and they need to hear from you.
Special Thanks to Zach Snow and Dodie Maddox for helping me liveblog this event. I could not have done it without them.