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Comments of the week: On technology, retention, and dentistry

GothamSchools commenters didn’t take much of a vacation this year. This week, they were already back in action, releasing some steam and sparking a few debates worth highlighting in our regular weekly roundup.

(As a reminder, each Friday we highlight a sampling of our favorite comments from the week. Review our commenting policy to find out more about what we like.)

Our story describing the report out this week from Governor Cuomo’s education reform commission sparked a discussion of education technology. Digging into the report, readers picked up on one of the recommendations we’d given less attention — the suggestion to create “innovation zones” to spark novel uses of technology in the classroom.

A technology teacher named Steve Kinney who said he works at a school involved in city’s iLearn pilot applauded the recommendation. “I can only imagine,” he wrote, that the “innovation zone” idea “is based on the similarly named program in New York City,” which he applauded for improving on itself each year.

The program has allowed us to offer courses to our juniors and seniors that we would not have been able to offer otherwise (most notably: AP courses). It allows us to be more flexible with our scheduling and use the time students spend with their teachers having rich discussions about the content they were introduced to outside of the classroom. Additionally, as part of the program, we now have access to a wide number of instructional media like NBC Learn and Discovery—not to mention the equipment we’ve received as part of the program, which has been a tremendous blessing.

Basically, it’s saved us money and allowed us to do a better job serving our students and I’d like to see something similar at the state level and based on what’s happening in New York City.

“I noticed that…” replied skeptically, pointing Steve to a dispatch by Diane Ravitch about the Rocketship program’s blended-learning model, which Ravitch described as a way to cut costs by replacing teachers with computers. The commenter wrote:

I strongly feel that everyone should look, with the an overt sense of leeriness, into the fervent push for too much technology in schools at the cost of human decapitalization.

Pogue chimed in, saying, “I think children in front of computers is a poor and lonely way to learn.”Kinney replied by explaining how the blended learning model works at his school:

I don’t think I ever said anything about sitting students in front of a computer and passing that off as learning. In fact, I said the opposite. Students have been doing work at alone at home (outside the classroom) for years—it’s called homework and—in my experience—it’s a pretty lonely ordeal.

At my school, we roll with a blended model. The online learning piece allows students to collaborate when they’re not sitting in the same room together. It’s the opposite of lonely. In addition, students have had the chance to review the material and familiarize themselves with it. When they come in to class, the teacher can skip the boring chalk and talk and dig in to interesting projects that let students apply what they’ve learned to the real world.

Another reader, “celt,” revived a discussion from before the holiday about the role of alternative certification programs in rising teacher retention challenges.

Commenter “mg,” who identified himself as a member of an alternative certification program, had argued in a comment that funding for the program should be redirected to supporting veteran teachers.

Celt replied by describing how most of the alternative-certification cohort celt attended, from CUNY’s Teaching Opportunity Program, had actually stayed in the classroom for the past decade. But celt endorsed mg’s broader point that certification programs should make long-term retention a goal:

I agree with mg; the only point of any alternate track program is to put quality teachers in the classroom. I reject the idea that since jobs are hard to find, it’s OK to teach for a few years and then abandon the students who’ve begun to rely on you. Other careers, OK, but you shouldn’t even think about teaching if the students are not your first priority. DO SOMETHING ELSE!

Another story this week, about a trip by United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew and several mayoral hopefuls to look at a program in Cleveland, raised a discussion about community schools.
Mary Conway-Spiegel commented that bringing nonacademic services to schools would return the city to its roots:

As a former public school student I saw a dentist at my local community elementary school in Manhattan when I was 7 years old. Many of us who went through the system and now have children in Traditional Public Schools remember the days of being able to walk to and from school, then a center of the community and we wish the same for our children today – in fact we’ve begged for it. Our begging has been for naught.

It’s common sense: return to the Community School model and the Community becomes a stakeholder, becomes part of the circle of accountability.

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