Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Hoboken is Throwing Away All of its Student Laptops - WNYC News

Mothballed laptops locked inside a storage closet at Hoboken Junior Senior 
High School. School staff will inventory them and 
hire a recyclingcompany to discard them. (Jill Barshay) 
Once again the Hoboken School District under the leadership of the political group known as "Kids First" makes national news. This time with their "innovative" laptop program that has been an utter failure. From the beginning, the Board did not allocate enough resources for professional development, training, and effective ways to incorporate laptops into the day to day operation of a school. Additionally, it was well known at the time that laptop programs are expensive, demand many resources, and were never really shown to be very effective. Of course, laptops give the appearance of rigor and quality and were hailed as innovative and cutting edge by a number of board members and district administrators. However, as the article points out, most of the administrators around when the laptop program was initiated are now gone. Another consequence of the instability in administrative leadership in the district (i.e. 5 interim or full time superintendents in 5 years). -Dr. Petrosino 

Inside Hoboken’s combined junior-senior high school is a storage closet. Behind the locked door, some mothballed laptop computers are strewn among brown cardboard boxes. Others are stacked one atop another. Dozens more are stored on mobile computer carts, many of them on their last legs.

That’s all that remains from a failed experiment to assign every student a laptop at Hoboken Junior Senior High School. It began five years ago with an unexpected windfall of stimulus money from Washington, D.C., and good intentions to help the district’s students, the majority of whom are under or near the poverty line, keep up with their wealthier peers. But Hoboken faced problem after problem and is abandoning the laptops entirely this summer.

“We had the money to buy them, but maybe not the best implementation,” said Mark Toback, the current superintendent of Hoboken School District. “It became unsustainable.”

None of the school administrators who initiated Hoboken’s one-to-one laptop program still work there. Toback agreed to share Hoboken’s experiences so that other schools can learn from it.

Despite tight budgets, superintendents and principals around the country are cobbling together whatever dollars they can to buy more computers for their classrooms. This year alone, schools are projected to spend almost $10 billion on education technology, a $240-million increase from 2013, according to the Center for Digital Education. Educational technology holds the promise of individualizing instruction, and some school systems, like Mooresville, N.C., and Cullman, Ala., have shown impressive student learning gains. But districts like Los Angeles and Fort Bend, Texas, which jumped on the tech trend without careful planning, had problems when they gave a laptop or tablet to every student and are scrapping them, too.

By the time Jerry Crocamo, a computer network engineer, arrived in Hoboken’s school system in 2011, every seventh, eighth and ninth grader had a laptop. Each year, a new crop of seventh graders were outfitted. Crocamo’s small tech staff was quickly overwhelmed with repairs.

We had “half a dozen kids in a day, on a regular basis, bringing laptops down, going ‘my books fell on top of it, somebody sat on it, I dropped it,’ ” said Crocamo.

Screens cracked. Batteries died. Keys popped off. Viruses attacked. Crocamo found that teenagers with laptops are still… teenagers.

“We bought laptops that had reinforced hard-shell cases so that we could try to offset some of the damage these kids were going to do,” said Crocamo. “I was pretty impressed with some of the damage they did anyway. Some of the laptops would come back to us completely destroyed.”
Crocamo’s time was also eaten up with theft. Despite the anti-theft tracking software he installed, some laptops were never found. Crocamo had to file police reports and even testify in court.
Hoboken school officials were also worried they couldn’t control which websites students would visit. Crocamo installed software to block pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. He disabled the built-in web cameras. He even installed software to block students from undoing these controls. But Crocamo says students found forums on the Internet that showed them how to access everything.
“There is no more determined hacker, so to speak, than a 12-year-old who has a computer,” said Crocamo.

All this security software also bogged down the computers. Teachers complained it took 20 minutes for them to boot up, only to crash afterwards. Often, there was too little memory left on the small netbooks to run the educational software.

Hoboken math coach Howard McKenzie says he also had problems with the software itself.
“We wanted to run a program for graphing calculators, but it didn’t work very well; it was very sticky,” said McKenzie “We kind of scrapped it.”

Ultimately, the math teacher just showed it to the class on a Smart Board, an interactive whiteboard.
Superintendent Toback admits that teachers weren’t given enough training on how to use the computers for instruction. Teachers complained that their teenage students were too distracted by their computer screens to pay attention to the lesson in the classroom.
Michael Ranieri, a junior at Hoboken’s high school, aspires to be an electrical engineer. He said when he did use the computers for schoolwork, it was mostly for word processing and internet browsing. He would write an essay on the laptop for English class, for example, or research information using Google.

“We didn’t really do much on the computer,” said Ranieri. “So we kind of just did games to mess around when we had free time. I remember, really big, was Crazy Taxis that we used to play. If we found solitaire on line, we used to play it.”
Ranieri said he was relieved to be free of the stress of keeping track of his laptop. Families had to sign papers agreeing to be financially responsible if the computers were lost. Every week Ranieri roamed his classrooms looking for his.

“It was usually under my desk in English class,” he said.
Superintendent Toback inherited the laptop program when he arrived in 2011. At first, he tried to keep it going, but he faced skyrocketing costs, which hadn’t been budgeted for. The $500 laptops lasted only two years and then needed to be replaced. New laptops with more capacity for running educational software would cost $1,000 each, Toback said. Additionally, licenses for the security software alone were running more than $100,000 and needed to be renewed every two years.

And the final kicker: the whole town was jamming the high school’s wireless network.
“A lot of people knew the username and password,” Toback said. “So a lot of people were able to walk by the building and they would get wireless access. Over a period of years, you had thousands of people. It bogged it down, it made it unusable.”

Allison Powell said Hoboken’s headaches are not unusual. Powell is a vice president for state and district services at iNacol, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, where she works with school leaders on how to use computers to personalize instruction by delivering different lessons to each child.

But Powell said many schools continue to make Hoboken’s mistake of shopping for technology without a plan to make teaching in the classroom more effective.
“Probably in the last few months I’ve had quite a few principals and superintendents call and say, ‘I bought these 500 iPads or 1,000 laptops because the district next to us just bought them,’ and they’re like, now what do we do?” Powell said.

This summer, Hoboken school staff will go through the laptops one by one, writing down the serial numbers and drafting a resolution for the school board to approve their destruction.
Then they’ll seek bids from recycling companies to figure out how much it will cost Hoboken to throw them away.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet at Teachers College, Columbia University. Read more about how schools are bringing technology into the classroom.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Hoboken Selects New Interim Superintendent - 5th superintendent under Kids First in the past 5 years

Update: On Thursday July 17 the Hoboken BOE picked a retired suburban male to be the interim Superintendent. In true fashion, Kids First bypassed their own minority assistant superintendent in favor of a non-minority to run a mostly minority district. More details to follow. 

This is the 5th superintendent under Kids First in the past 5 years.....

Here is what is being said on Hoboken Patch about this appointment

OOC July 17, 2014 at 11:05 PM
Update: Tonight the BOE picked a retired suburban guy to be the interim Superintendent. In true fashion, Kids First bypassed it's minority assistant superintendent in favor of a non-minority to run a mostly minority district. Here we go folks. The circus is about to add a new clown.
BBG  July 18, 2014 at 01:29 PM
Happy to see my cohorts are trashing the BOE, I would have made a better BOE member but I lost. I hope nobody figures out my new name either, it should hide my identity well.
OOC July 19, 2014 at 04:30 PM
In true Kids First "do as I say, not as I do" fashion, they met behind closed doors on three separate occasions, totally excluding any public input or discussion and selected a retired double dipper to lead the Public Schools for two years. It's amazing how Kids First can look the other way when it is to their advantage to skirt their own self proclaimed "transparency". Was it the fact that they hired someone who has absolutely no urban education experience that made them want to avoid the public? Was it the fact that they wanted to hide that the guy will be collecting a public pension and getting over $600.00 a day from the taxpayers? Maybe it's the fact that the guy never worked in an Abbott District? Or was it the fact that they bypassed a minority assistant Superintendent in favor of a guy who never worked in a District serving mostly minority students? Could it be that they just want to hide the continued chaos they cause by promoting the constant revolving door of Superintendents and Business Administrators? Kids First sure does know how to operate behind closed doors while pretending to be the real "Reformers". Seems to me that the micromanagement of the District by Kids First keeps chasing away superintendents and Business Administrators. Really, who wants to deal with the chaos except maybe a guy who will now come close to doubling his take from the public dole? Good job, Kids First!!! Can't wait to see the next School Report Card and QSAC results.
CH July 20, 2014 at 05:45 PM
Outofcontrol, Could you fill in some info? How many people applied for the interim position? What were their names? What is the name the person they selected? Did the current assistant apply for the position?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hoboken Board of Education- AGENDA (SPECIAL SESSION) Thursday, July 17, 2014

"Hoboken Heights", Ernest Lawson, circa 1905
7:00 P.M.

This is the second SPECIAL SESSION planned for this week (previous planned special session was on Tuesday, July 15). Any updates or additional details will be posted when made available. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Community Eligibility Option (CEO) - Breakfast and Lunch for ALL Students

Dedication of 14th Street Viaduct by Freeholder Romano
Hoboken, NJ July, 2014 

Community eligibility is the newest opportunity for schools with high percentages of low-income children to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. It increases participation by children in the school meal programs, reduces labor costs for schools, and increases federal revenues. In short, it allows for a healthier student body and a healthier school meal budget.
Included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, community eligibility completely eliminates paper applications. Instead, schools are reimbursed through a formula based on the number of “identified students” – those certified without application for free school meals because they are in foster care or Head Start, are homeless, migrant or living in households that receive SNAP/Food Stamps, TANF cash assistance or the Food Distribution on Indian Reservation benefits. Under the Community Eligibility Option program many qualifying school districts can offer free breakfast and lunch to ALL district students. Chicago has just adopted the program as has Detroit and other cities across the country. -Dr. Petrosino 

Under a relatively new program called the Community Eligibility Option (CEO) all school meals will be free starting in September 2014, the district confirmed to WBEZ Thursday.
This September, however, will be the first time "well-off" schools join the program as well. Entirely free meals reduce the labor of cash collection and tracking which students have to pay full and reduced prices for their food. This tiered system (with incentives for schools reporting higher poverty levels) led to fraud among CPS employees in the past.
“This transition will also allow us to improve quality of food and infrastructure in our lunchrooms, allowing us to redirect the dollars we no longer have to subsidize back to the classroom,” the district said in an email to WBEZ Thursday.
Under the CEO program, the federal government reimburses the district based on its percentage of low-income students, and CPS officials say that the continued rollout of the program has already meant savings.
“Our predominantly high [low-income] population—nearly 90 percent—allows us to meet the threshold to ensure that reimbursement rates won’t cost the district revenue,” a CPS spokeswoman said in the email . “In FY14, due to our expanded participation in the Community Eligibility Option (CEO) program (from 200 to 400 schools this year), we no longer had to subsidize the program with general fund dollars. We've also received a larger blended reimbursement this year of $2.93, up from $2.76 last year.”
CPS representatives also says a swipe card payment system will be rolled out for all students in the district by the end of 2014.
More Information: CLICK HERE 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Becoming an expert takes more than practice

Hoboken, NJ June, 2014
Practice doesn't make it perfect.
Deliberate practice may have less influence in building expertise than previously thought, according to an analysis by researchers at Princeton University, Michigan State University and Rice University.
Scientists have been studying and debating whether experts are "born" or "made" since the mid-1800s. In recent years, deliberate practice has received considerable attention in these debates, while innate ability has been pushed to the side.
The recent focus on deliberate practice is due in part to the "10,000-hour rule" coined in Malcolm Gladwell's 2008 book "Outliers," which says that amount of practice is the key to success in any field.
The new research, from psychological scientist Brooke Macnamara of Princeton and colleagues, offers a counterpoint to this recent trend, suggesting that the amount of practice accumulated over time does not seem to play a huge role in accounting for individual differences in skill or performance in domains including music, games, sports, professions and education.

deliberate practice graph
Overall, deliberate practice — activities designed with the goal of improving performance — accounted for only about 12 percent of individual differences observed in performance.
"Deliberate practice is unquestionably important, but not nearly as important as proponents of the view have claimed," said Macnamara, who received her Ph.D. from Princeton in June. As of July 1, she is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Case Western Reserve University.
The new analysis by Macnamara, David Z. Hambrick of Michigan State and Frederick Oswald of Rice is the subject of their paper, "Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education and Professions: A Meta-Analysis," published online Monday, July 1, by the journal Psychological Science.
The researchers scoured the scientific literature for studies examining practice and performance in the different domains.
Of the many studies they found, 88 met specific criteria, including a measure of accumulated practice and a measure of performance, and an estimate of the magnitude of the observed effect. The selected studies had a total sample size of 11,135 participants. The researchers took those studies and performed a "meta-analysis," pooling all of the data from the studies to examine whether specific patterns emerged.
Nearly all of the studies showed a positive relationship between practice and performance: the more people reported having practice, the higher their level of performance in their specific domain.
The domain itself seemed to make a difference. Practice accounted for about 26 percent of individual differences in performance for games, such as chess and Scrabble; about 21 percent of individual differences in music, such the piano and violin; and about 18 percent of individual differences in sports, such as soccer and wrestling.
But it only accounted for about 4 percent of individual differences in education, such as an undergraduate psychology class, and less than 1 percent of individual differences in performance in professions, such as soccer refereeing and computer programming.
Furthermore, the findings showed that the effect of practice on performance was weaker when practice and performance were measured in more precise ways, such as using practice time logs and standardized measures of performance.
"There is no doubt that deliberate practice is important, from both a statistical and a theoretical perspective. It is just less important than has been argued," Macnamara said. "For scientists, the important question now, is what else matters?"
Macnamara and colleagues speculate that the age at which a person becomes involved in an activity may matter, and that certain cognitive abilities (such as working memory) may also play an influential role. The researchers are planning another meta-analysis focused specifically on practice and sports to better understand the role of these and other factors.
David Lubinski, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University who has studied talent identification and development, said the researchers' work highlights the importance of accounting for ability, commitment and opportunity to explain individual differences in human performance.
"Although overly stressing one of these critical components may attract attention, the authors show why all three are required for a comprehensive understanding of human performance," he said. "The view that essentially anyone can do essentially anything is not scientifically defensible."