A story from California reminding us that reformsters are not responsible for every single stupid thing that school administrations do.
Chowchilla is a small place, located on the highway between Bakersfield and Modesto, just a little north of Fresno. So, not the lush, money-soaked part of California. This story comes from the Modesto Bee.
Union High School English teacher Kim Kutzner thought she could team up with her husband to help her students out, and the two of them bought a reported almost $80,000 worth of used laptops at auction. The mister refurbished the ninety computers and hooked them into a custom-made classroom network. The classroom network has no internet access; Kutzner talks mostly about using the computers for writing projects.
Chowchilla is not a large place, with a population of around 19,000-- counting the population of the men's and women's prisons in town. Otherwise it is an agricultural town, "completely surrounded by farmland and dairies." Free and reduced lunch school population runs around 67%, but with a graduation rate of 92%. The high school has about 950 students, and over 50% of them are Hispanic. The school has some computer labs, but few classrooms have sets. The school has one computer tech and one IT director (whose education includes Evergreen Valley, San Jose State and University of Phoenix).
So you would think having someone who wanted to go ahead and provide the equipment and expertise to wire up her own classroom would be counted as a win.
But the district says no. Well, at first it said, "That's great of you." Then it said no. The report is a little fuzzy on why, exactly.
Chowchilla Union Principal Justin Miller said the concern is with district policies about outside equipment and whether student data, and what students have access to, is protected under Kutzner’s custom system.
“The biggest concern the district has is making sure that it’s safe and passes all the rules and state and federal governmental regulations, since it was brought in from the outside,” he said. “Depending on the filter and things like that, they might not be safe, so we are reviewing everything and trying to be as safe as possible.”
"Outside equipment." I am trying to imagine a school okaying every piece of... well, anything, that was to come into a building. But it's the technoconcerns that are facepalm-worthy. Kutzner's network is not connected to the internet, but even if it were connected, it would be through the school's internet which the school could then monitor. I'm looking at the school on Google maps, and the only free wi-fi in town appears to be at a Starbucks, a KFC and a Micky D's, all several blocks away from the school. I teach in a school that has one-to-one computing and wi-fi for BYOD (bring your own device) coverage, and every single thing that gets in and out of the building over the internet passes through our firewalls and is monitored. Is it perfectly undefeatable or supremely secure? Of course not. Neither are the cell phones all my students carry.
My point is that if a school is scared that any activated computer can let the demons in that will let students do Terrible Things, A) welcome to the 21st century and B) there are technological tools for dealing with these issues.
But to freak out because somebody brought a computer into the building without having it expressly approved is just kind of bizarre. Do Chowchilla students bring computers from home? Do they carry smart phones?
And to spank a teacher who used her professional judgment and access to donated expertise to upgrade her own classroom is just one more example of an administration's failure to trust the expertise of their professional staff. This is, after all, a teacher described by the superintendent as "one of our best teachers in the district."
I appreciate the district's desire to be cautious about what their students come in contact with; that's an appropriate stance for a district. But it's 2016 and way past time for administrators to have more than just a smattering of technological savvy, and not just view pieces of computer tech as some sort of scary monster that might make Vaguely Bad Things happen.