President’s Message – Doug Johnson
Minnesota Media 2004
I write this at the midpoint of both the 2003-04 school year and my MEMO presidential term. I am not sure if it is all uphill or all downhill from here, but regardless of elevation, a midpoint is a good time to stop and reflect.
Like a number of recent years, 2003-04 has been proof that the Chinese saying “may you live in interesting times” can be a curse. The state has eliminated a four billion dollar deficit without raising (state) taxes. The ramifications of No Child Left Behind with its huge testing requirements are dawning on nervous local decision-makers. Children Families and Learning is back to being the Minnesota Department of Education, but is still under-funded, under-staffed, and is now ideologically further to the political right than of most of those it tries to lead. New state standards in science and social studies have been released and seemingly rejected by the teachers who need to make them work. Much of the library community is still struggling to create a library agency independent of the DOE. Rarely has winning the lottery or early retirement looked better to many professional educators.
But in the stormy skies of the education and library world, there are some bright patches. The DOE has shown some support of school libraries. During the Yecke/Pawlenty administration, it has:
- Added school library staffing as a quality criteria on school report cards.
- Added school library media programs as an area that must be addressed in districts’ long-range technology plans.
- Included a school library media person on the interview team for the new state librarian. Hey, it is actually trying to hire a new state librarian!
- Shown the need to improve access to good information by students and the general public by supporting and expanding the ELM databases.
- Made a genuine effort in encouraging schools to apply for LSTA grants. LSTA grants for a second round of the school library census and a professional needs survey have been awarded.
- Shown a willingness to discuss how school library media programs can be promoted.
- Included library voices during the work on the state technology plan.
- Shown support for telecommunication funding to equalize Internet access costs throughout the state.
As an educator, parent, and employer, I am concerned that the new curriculum standards will undo much of the Profile’s constructivist approach to learning. These hands-on, process-focused methods have had a positive impact on student achievement as measured on state-to-state test comparisons. And under the Profile, school media and technology programs had a clear role – to support inquiry-based learning. The new standards seem to stress the 3 Rs of Rote, Restraint and Regurgitation in an attempt to return to a “good old days” of education that really never were all that good. I am confident, however, that educators, the DOE, and the public will find a sensible middle in which both higher level thinking and content knowledge are valued in the standards.
I also predict school libraries will increasingly be recognized as having a critical role in helping build the literacy rates necessary to meet the goals of NCLB. Research shows that all readers, especially those who are struggling, get better when they practice reading materials that are of high interest, are at a proper reading level, and address their personal needs and questions. The only feasible way to do this economically is by building a shared, carefully selected, highly accessible, and actively-promoted collection of reading materials. Something like a school library media center, perhaps?
Speaking of predictions…
I’ll confess - I take writing long-range tech plans seriously. We in Mankato even had one in place before they were state-mandated. How sick is that? All Minnesota districts who wish to receive e-rate funds need to write or at least revise their LRPs this school year as well.
Our LRP has always had a small section on “trends” - a brief look into a crystal ball for directions technology use seems to be heading. I am no Amazing Kreskin, but I will share our district’s list below. Since futurists are rarely held to account by anyone, this should be fairly safe.
Prognostications for libraries, technology and education 2004-08
- Less emphasis on “technology’ as a separate area of concern; more emphasis on technology as a means to achieve goals of other areas. Greater need for procedures that allow for joint decision-making among all technology users.
- Greater need to train students and staff on ethics, safety and civility when using technology, as well as the ability to evaluate the reliability of information found and to use it purposely.
- Greater need for a secure source of adequate technology funding. Strategizing for decreasing “total cost of ownership” through maintenance outsourcing, use of thin client architectures, use of single-purpose devices (AlphaSmarts), adopting handheld computers by staff and students, and purchasing upgradeable devices. Greater accountability for technology expenditures and impact on school effectiveness.
- Increased desire by parents for real-time student information available via the web. Higher parent expectations of schools and teachers to provide comprehensive information about school programs and individual student achievement.
- Increased importance of the (technology-based) tools and knowledge needed to do good data-driven planning and decision-making by administrators, building teams and individual teachers.
- Continued integration of technology skills into the content areas to meet specific state standards, leading to increased demand for individualized technology training by staff. Re-examination of software designed to help low-achieving and English Language Learners learn state-tested skills.
- Continued, accelerated move to information in digital formats such as e-books, online databases, web-based video conferencing, and video in digital formats on demand. Increased ability for individual teachers to create and make available materials accessible from the web. More capacity for electronically submitted student work.
- Increased efforts to assure data privacy, data security, and network reliability.
- Increased educational options for all learners including more choices of schools, more online course offerings, more interactive video offerings, and more computer courseware options. This will result in an increased need for school marketing efforts and increased “consumer-driven” choices made by school officials.
- An accelerated blending of “technology integrations specialists” and “school library media specialists” into a single job that takes responsibility for the instructional and curricular uses of technology, supported by more narrowly defined district-level positions of MIS Directors, network managers, technicians, and student information system managers.
- Increasing in-school use of student-owned technologies including cell phones, PDAs, and laptops. Most of these will connect wirelessly to each other and to the Internet, creating new security and ethical challenges. More emphasis on anytime, anyplace access to personal information through web-based personal file space, calendars, and wirelessly networked hand-held devices. The “digital divide” will grow.
- Continued “bare-bones” funding of the state’s educational system forcing schools to make tough program choices. If programs can’t quantitatively demonstrate they make a difference in achievement, they and the people in them will be subject to the budget axe.
It looks like we will continue to live in “interesting times” for quite awhile. What gives me hope for the rest of this year and for the coming years is my deep-seated belief that what libraries and technology can do for children is both unique and vital. I also believe that the school library media specialists and technology specialists who don’t just have jobs, but are on a mission from God (as the Blues Brothers put it) will find the personal and financial resources needed to keep their programs in place.
I have faith in the faith of MEMO members.
All the best,