Opinion

Tenth Street School and the rumor mill | OPINION

Seattle’s KIRO reported that Marysville’s Tenth Street Middle School “Goes all iPad.” Like most absolute statements, going ALL iPad may have stretched reality a bit. And in stretching reality, KIRO delivered new grist for the community’s rumor mill.

Critics with raised eyebrows asked, no books? Since every tax-paying citizen shares memories of a time when the answer to every test question was found in a book, they can’t be other than suspicious of the iPad announcement. Or downright hostile. The heat was such that one could almost imagine wild-eyed teachers feeding a midnight bonfire with textbooks while irate villagers descended on them brandishing torches and pitchforks.

During my visit to Tenth Street School I found a brand new set of textbooks racked up on a counter for processing. So KIRO’s suggested end of textbooks was a bit over the top. Tenth Street’s staff isn’t about to lump book-reading in with text-messaging during class. They share every reader’s appreciation for books as indispensable to the imaginative, creative and intellectual mind, including e-books.

They also recognize that the universe of good internet material has leaped ahead of what any school can provide in the way of print-resources. That includes school libraries. In fact, accessing the web with iPads is a practical way to connect students with a more vast resource base than all the print-books in the Library of Congress. The opportunity is so huge and timely that it would be irresponsible for educators to let it pass by.

If a worry still exists that books and reading will be forsaken, fear not. An iPad can store more books than the average student will read in a lifetime. It can contain and display searchable textbooks, newspaper subscriptions and breaking news. And a lot of garbage too, but the bad stuff can’t be much worse than some of this fall’s TV offerings.

Though much of Public Education hasn’t fully awakened to the fact, the technology genie is out of the bottle. Information technology and web-based instruction have passed the trial and error phase. In medical terms, the Tenth Street experiment could be termed, beta testing. Tenth Street is one of eight schools in the state using iPad-type devices to determine just how effective web-based education might be. Tenth Street students are demonstrating how it can be put to work. Look to the staff for careful critiquing of results and mid-course corrections.

Call it the Tenth Street Experiment. To the Marysville School District, it is a measured response conducted in a limited student population backed by solid support from parents. To the community, it is a test case to demonstrate advantages and disadvantages of a type of instruction that’s largely foreign to Marysville’s adult population. As reports on the effectiveness of the new program filter in, let’s hope that we get a balanced view of how electronic sources might benefit every school’s program.

But what about the cost? When school budgets are cut to the bone, how could the school district justify a $300-$500 outlay for each Tenth Street student?  Which opens another misunderstanding. It was the school’s boosters who raised enough money to make it possible and they didn’t stop with iPads. They recently raised $13,000 more for the math books mentioned above. Supportive parents sold cookies, organized a pledge-run and a fitness fair. When school started, one hundred students showed up with parent-supplied iPads, allowing the fund to cover the remaining 80 with school-supplied devices.

But worries still persist about accountability. More than any other faculty in the district, Tenth Street’s teachers are painfully aware of accountability. Since each supervises the education of the same children for three consecutive years, their desks might as well carry signs saying, THE BUCK STOPS HERE. Should one class not do well in math, there is one teacher responsible. That level of transparent responsibility leaves nowhere to hide. In other words, Tenth Street’s organizational structure commands top performance from teachers.

iPads solved another issue, that of Washington State’s mandate that all students should achieve certain standards in information technology. Like every 180 student school, Tenth Street lacked the flexibility to plug a tech class into its schedule. So it opted to integrate computer technology into the existing program by using iPads. In so doing, hand-held computers deliver the full power of the internet to every student in every period in every classroom.

Tenth Street isn’t so much closing the book on books as opening the promise of web-based instruction and information. The only other time when such a revolution in information technology took place was when Guttenberg invented the printing press. The newly hatched protestant movement took full advantage of it while the Church of Rome stuck to hand-penned documents. And that crippled its cause, a warning Tenth Street is heeding.

Watch the performance of Tenth Street’s students. It may well be that we’re witnessing educational history in the making.

Comments may be addressed to robertgraef@comcast.net.

 

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