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'Smart Schools Bond Act' on November NYState Ballot

Taken in 2010, these notebooks already look dated, but the seating design and the central management suggest an enhanced teacher-directed classroom style.  This is one option.
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

There are some excellent resources to be found online to keep up with the ever-evolving political landscape of education. Chalkbeat NY sends out a daily summary of news items from around the State, called “Rise and Shine”. To sign up, go to:

Among the items for September 2nd 2014, there is a critique of Proposition 3, on the November ballot, by Nicholas Tampio, published in LoHud. Were you aware of this Bond Issue proposal? See: :Link to LoHud article about Smart Schools Bond issue, by Nicholas Tampio.

This Bond issue will subsidize up to $2 billion in funding for the purchase, primarily, of new technology, infrastructure and bandwidth for schools throughout the State. This can easily be seen as a massive gift to the technology manufacturers who are driving the current education reforms and related Common Core testing mechanisms. I quote:

  • Cuomo appointed Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, to the Smart Schools Commission. According to a report from Consumer Watchdog, Google could, and likely will, benefit financially from this arrangement. "This is not the fox guarding the chicken coop, but rather the fox building the coop."

Tampio believes that such funding is not in the best interests of our education system, while he concedes that many districts will be supporting the issue in the short term because it gives them relief from the high cost of providing technology services through local funding. But will they catch a tiger by the tail - with its own controlling agenda?

Drawing the connection between the PARCC tests, ( ) which are to be administered online in compliance with the agreement entered into when the State obtained the Race to the Top Federal funding, Tampio points out:

  • But make no mistake: This bond helps cement the Common Core in New York schools. The technology makes possible the Common Core tests, and the smart schools review board is made up of three individuals who support the Common Core. (Nancy Zimpher, Robert Megna, and John King.)

There are many proven and longitudinally researched measures that improve educational outcomes and the quality of schools, most notably smaller class size and more support services. Why funding cannot be made available for these measures, which are highly favored by teachers and parents alike, is a mystery. The appeal of expensive, shiny toys which require huge capital investment, but which, without constant, expensive and expert upkeep and frequent updating, become virtually useless within a very short time, continues to dazzle the Governor and his inner circle. However, as Tampio continues:

  • As a parent, I would rather my children have a personal connection with a great teacher than be warehoused in a classroom dedicated to preparing for online Common Core-based tests. I encourage other parents and concerned citizens to vote no on the Smart Schools Bond Act.

It might be instructive to read another recent article, from New Jersey, to get a better impression of the pitfalls of all this hi-tech expenditure. The city of Hoboken made a massive outlay in computer technology not too long ago. Read the Hechinger report article by Jill Barshay:

Without the benefit of a coherent plan for installation, maintenance, training, curriculum design, and especially security, their investment rapidly became a huge pile of useless metal, broken screens, and disappearing laptops. After all, with technology evolving so quickly, what once looked like a state of the art computer lab now looks like, and is about as useful as, the set of an old sci-fi movie. This isn’t anyone’s fault, since the pace of innovation has confounded the most ambitious predictions! But crucial decisions have to be made concerning management issues such as:

  • centralized or portable/personal computers
  • desktops, tablets, or laptops
  • wi-fi or hard-wired,
  • how to select monitoring programs that allow teachers to track the screens of each student,
  • how and how much to train/support teachers in smart technology
  • how to choose resources,
  • when and how to teach keyboarding; (you thought 100% reading by 3rd grade was hard?)
  • how to administer timed tests for students when some have never used a keyboard before, or are very laborious –

The list will go on indefinitely as more issues become clear. According to the Demming’s Cycle, ( - Plan, Do, Study, Act, repeat) at least a few cycles of small scale testing will have to be done to find out what works and build the staffing needed to keep everything running smoothly. Without this – the expensive shiny objects will become the doorstops of the future. The Hoboken plan was limited to the provision of personal laptops for every Middle schooler, increasing with each in-coming 7th grade, in order to achieve parity with wealthier schools where such tools were commonplace. Sad that such good intentions foundered on practical realities.

To return to the original dilemma of whether or not to vote yes on the $2 billion Bond Issue, what assurances can be demanded that before everyone rushes to spend their money, serious knowledgeable investigation will be undertaken for each stake holder? Answers may differ by locale but this is a very large sum of money; eventually it will have to be repaid, and will we ever know whether it was transformative, or just another way of funneling public money to private vendors, like so much of the CCSS ‘reforms”?

The suggested articles below give some perspective on the Tech debate in other parts of the country, and what is working or not elsewhere. Do take a look through!

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