Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sometimes You Don't Get What You Pay For

Slice of Life Challenge, Day 6

I can't help it. This Slice of Life writing logo has me thinking about orange juice.

Doesn't look appealing, does it? Unless it's in a Martha Stewart recipe.
The adage is true, sometimes you get what you pay for.  Orange juice.  A friend staying with us a few years back woke to find my husband mixing frozen orange juice in our kitchen.  "What are you doing?" he asked looking incredulously at the pitcher filling with tap water.  This is how both my husband and I were raised.  Orange juice from concentrate.  So, it is what we have always done without thinking too much about it.  It took an outsider, our friend, to point out that we were two professionals with stable incomes (at the time we didn't have kids) who could afford to buy fresh orange juice.  And it turns out, fresh orange juice is much better than a frozen gob of goo mixed with tap water.  And same goes for shoes.  A pair of well-made leather shoes will not only last a heck of a lot long that the plastic department store shoes, but feel a lot more comfortable after you've been standing in them for six hours straight talking with students all day.  Well worth the extra cost initially. And this is true for many things: hair products, hand-knit sweaters, socks...sometimes there are things worth spending the extra money on.

And sometimes not.

I hear frustration from educators who have been handed fantastic opportunties - a class set of iPads, new 1 to 1 initiatives, Chromebooks for every students - but unless districts first invest in the infrastructure and professional development, this is wasted money. A lot of wasted money.  What good is a building full of Chromebooks if your bandwidth can't support more than a fifty students utilizing online tools at a time? Before spending money on the newest hardware and software, schools need to be building an infrastructure that will support their future goals.

Photo by Kevin Jarrett
Michigan teachers have recently become painfully aware of this fact.  In 2014-2015 school year, Michigan schools have a state mandate to move all their state standarized tests over to online testing.  The problem with this is not one of schools having older technology or lacking devices.  Although 86 percent of Michigan schools have the technology in the buildings to meet the minimum requirement for taking these tests online, the Detroit News reported in January that "Only 62 percent have the recommended bandwith specifications - 50 kilobits - for online testing, which is expected to replace the paper-and-pencil Michigan Educational Assessment Program." The bandwidth, the infrastructure needed to support this move to online testing, is no where near ready for this change.

We need to stop spending our money on the newest, flashiest, fastest devices because unless we've built up the support for these devices, they are simply window dressing.  When you pay for the devices to fill a school without first building the bandwidth to support a building filled with devices, you are not getting what you paid for.  Just like many of use Understanding by Design to craft our teaching lessons beginning with our end in mind, we need our districts to do the same.  Start with the end in mind.  If you want more students utilizing online tools, you need to spend your money on supporting the infrastructure first.

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