Archive for February, 2011

School boards across Canada are habitually crying poor and the local and national media are filled with stories about “education cuts” threatening to “devastate the system. ” When asked, where can cuts be made, school officials and teacher unionists respond with blank stares or proclaim, rather lamely, that there is “no fat” whatsoever in the system.

Money is tight in public education, or so we are told, when “educuts” are on the table. Potential cuts to administrative and classroom expenses are then openly debated, except when it comes to the matter of investing in computer technology. Why, I wondered, is Information Technology (IT) so sacrosanct?

Several months ago, Paul Taylor of the British Columbia firm Blue Curl, but based in New Glasgow, NS, contacted me with what seemed to be an outlandish claim. School boards could reap “major cost savings ,” he insisted, if they abandoned their current Information Technology (IT) policy and infrastructure, embraced “N-Computing” technology, and implemented “virtual desktops” on a larger scale. Not only would the education system dramatically cut costs, it would also greatly expand computer access points in our public schools. http://www.bluecurl.ca/

Almost everyone in public education circles seems to accept that putting computers in schools costs big money and IT would be the last place to look when cutting costs. Besides, promoters of the “21st Century Skills” curriculum simply assume that plenty of public-private partnership funding will automatically materialize for IT-driven school reform. Few Canadian educators are even aware of the divisive public debate raging in Detroit, Michigan, over “cutting teachers, while adding computers.” http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2011/01/budgeting-cutting-people-adding-computers.html

Desktop virtualization is not really new, but you would think so, judging from official response across the Maritimes. NComputing was founded by Californian Steven Dukker in 2003, and it now leads the world in producing virtual desktop computer devices. It greatly reduces the cost of computing by allowing multiple people to simultaneously share a single computer.

With the release of its new L300 model featuring enhanced video capabilities, the NComputing product has taken-off and sold 500,000 seats in the 18 months ending in September 2007. Since the, it has now been adopted by America’s largest school system in New York City as well as in California, Macedonia, Mexico, Nigeria, India, and all over the Asia Pacific. http://www.smbworldasia.com/en/content/ncomputing-cusp-changing-economics-it

While Nova Scotia is lagging, NComputing pilots are underway in New Brunswick’s District 16, Newfoundland, Labrador, and Prince Edward Island. Most of these small scale experiments involve retiring 10 aging PCs in favour of one much cheaper L300 virtual desktop system at a minimum saving of 50% per seat.

What’s behind the resistance within the system? Most school superintendents still depend heavily upon the computer experts in setting policy and defining the priorities. Many IT directors are “old guard” computer science teachers or techies. They not only tend to favour name brands like Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, and Apple but are products of a system based upon segregated computer labs and restricting student access to the Internet on school property. http://www.zdnet.com/blog/education/tablets-netbooks-thin-clients-cheap-desktops-what-to-buy/4378

Many school boards have also grown dependent upon the Industry Canada model of distributing “hand-me-down” donated computers to the schools. That is why Nova Scotia has 60,000 computers in a system serving 127,000 students, many of which badly need replacement.

Blue Curl’s Taylor sells what was once called “thin client” technology and he puts it much more bluntly. “Many in the IT field, believe it or not, are wedded to the ‘fat client’ model, favouring products where parts break down and upgrades prove lucrative.”

Nova Scotia’s technology consultant, Wayne Hamilton, is typical of many educational techies. He’s known about “virtual desktops” for 7 years and has personally experimented with the NComputing product. Initially, he found fault with the devices, questioning the quality of the prototypes, software licensing costs, and the potential band-width challenges.

In a public system, saddled with hundreds of broken-down computers, Hamilton was spooked by use of “open source software” and the need to invest in better “parent” computers. Reducing the number of computers requiring servicing, also threatened jobs, posing another significant deterrent.
Adopting NComputing will save significant tax dollars. In the Chignesto-Central School Board, some 23,000 students now are served by 12,000 aging computers sucking tremendous amounts of electrical power. Implementing NComputing, Taylor contends, would cut IT costs by 50 per cent and save on power usage. Indeed, many schools could aspire to having carbon neutral computer labs.

Cutting “the fat” in educational computing is bound to ruffle a few feathers. Yet Taylor is one determined Nova Scotian computer salesman. After months of flogging his NComputing technology, cracks are appearing in the passive resistance. He takes heart from small victories in Northern New Brunswick, Cape Breton and Indian Brook First Nation. In school computing as in personal life, slimming down requires self-analysis, setting achievable targets, and sheer determination.

Back to the fundamental question: Why is a serious scrutiny of IT expenditures in public education rarely, if ever, undertaken? Do new innovations such as NComputing’s virtual desktop have the potential for significantly reducing the costs while maintaining or enhancing service? If so, why do senior bureaucrats and IT managers resist such initiatives?

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After thirty years, the Canadian grand wizard of “school change,” Dr. Michael Fullan, is still on top and controlling the public agenda. His seminal work, The New Meaning of Educational Change, first appeared in 1983 and today Michael Fullan Enterprises, Inc., is promoting its latest variation, billed as Motion Leadership, while selling over 20 different school change manuals and videos, including the International Handbook of Educational Change. As a “Senior Advisor” to the Ontario Premier and Minister of Education since April 2004, and a former Dean of Education at University of Toronto (1988-2003), he exerts a powerful but largely hidden influence over the school reform agenda in Ontario, Britain, and far beyond. http://www.michaelfullan.ca/

“Motion leadership,” Dr. Fullan now proclaims, is the latest wave. In his new series of instructional videos, he provides “The Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpZMj9hbLhE He appears, looking much as he has for three decades, as the rather dour eminence gris of “school change” pontificating on how to translate change theory into practice in public school systems. His latest project, involving six North American school districts and 17 schools, has exported his brand of “motion leadership” from York Region in Toronto’s GTA to Fresno, CA, Sugar Land, Texas, and Honalulu, Hawaii.

While governments come and go, and public education lurches radically in one direction, then another, Fullan continues to hold sway in Ontario, across Canada, and increasingly in the United States. Public education, it seems, is perpetually in crisis, but the architect of many previous change initiatives remains unsinkable. Thousands of superintendents, principals, and leadership consultants now spout his theoretical principles, ranging from “pressure and support” to “ready-fire-aim” to my personal favourite “simplexity.” Vocal critics on the education left now accuse him of the “global privatization” of educational policy-making. http://dailycensored.com/2009/11/06/the-global-privatization-of-education-policy-lorna-earl-conflict-of-interest-is-the-tip-of-the-iceberg/

Fullan is the undisputed dean of Canadian educational consultants. He has parlayed his former public roles and professional contacts to build a mini-empire and promote himself as a private consultant working in the public interest. He somehow manages to spearhead reform initiatives, such as the multi-year Bachelor of Education degree program and “teacher-driven instructional reform” plans, and then be hired to evaluate the success of his own efforts. The 2010 OECD report on Ontario’s “exemplary” professionally-driven, system-wide school reforms (2004-2009) bore testimony to the Fullanites’ uncanny ability to influence educational “research” outcomes.

Over the past three decades, Fullan has also attracted some formidable allies, known as “Fullan’s army.” Much of his success has been derived from tapping into the practical skills and talents of leading Ontario educators. Among those considered Fullan favourites are OISE education colleagues, Dr. Ben Levin and Dr. Lorna Earl. Most recently, he has championed the remarkable leadership success of the York Region District Board “crowd,” led by former Director Bill Hogarth, former Associate Director Avis Glaze, and YRDSB consultant Lyn Sharratt. It represents the core of ‘motion leadership” and is now branded as the latest iteration of Fullanism.

From the beginning, Dr. Fullan was viewed as an “OISE change theorist” who appeared scary to most classroom teachers. After completing his PhD in Sociology in 1969, he haunted the University of Toronto and was a PD Day “favourite” of principals right across Ontario. In the late 1980s, he joined with the Brit educator Dr. Andy Hargreaves at OISE to form the “British connection.” Together with Hargreaves, he published the What’s Worth Fighting For? pamphlet series. It was aimed at principals and teachers and preached “empowerment” with a blatant teacher union orientation.

In the 1990s, Fullan and Hargreaves promoted the “teacher empowerment” reform agenda. They quickly became darlings of Bob Rae’s NDP government and when Rae went down to defeat, Fullan and Hargraves sought out greener pastures. During the hiatus, Fullan went on to reform Britain’s ailing education system working with Tony Blair’s new Labour government. He also began to morph into a quiet supporter of “school improvement” utilizing standardized testing. After the creation of Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office in 1997, he also turned more and more to OISE colleague Lorna Earl, one of the very few researchers with any interest in student testing and evaluation.

The restoration of the Ontario Liberals in 2004 proved to be a godsend for Fullan. The fresh-faced Premier, Dalton McGuinty, proclaimed himself an “Education Premier” and named the veteran educator Fullan as his “Special Advisor” or de-facto education czar. In his new incarnation, Fullan teamed up with Ben Levin and began trumpeting “building leadership capacity” and “teacher-driven” system-wide reform.

The rejuvenated Michael Fullan has gone international. Since founding his private consulting practice, he has devoted much of his energy to exporting Ontario reform initiatives and establishing “a growing presence on the national and international scene.”

Surveying Fullan’s writings and line of products, it is next to impossible to identify where he actually stands on the goals and purpose of school reform. Ten years ago, he lauded George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind agenda, while expressing reservations about the “too narrow tests, short time lines, little capacity building, and punitive strategy.” Since then, he has been serving on the Advisory Board of Microsoft’s Partners in Learning and advocating large-scale system change that produces “real results.”

Conservative school reformers remain as skeptical as teacher unionists about Fullan’s real motives, strategies, and objectives. Michael Fullan Enterprises Inc. rides the sharp edge of the North American school reform divide. “ A big feature of our work,” he now says, “is to play down accountability in favour of capacity building, and then re-enter accountability later.”

Spooking educators and parents with his “school change” theory, systems analysis, and models is no longer his mode of operations. Thirty years on, he has discovered what American educator Robert Evans once called the vital “human side” of school change. “If you lead with accountability,” he now acknowledges, “people are immediately on the defensive and it doesn’t work so well.” In all of his ventures, “building capacity” takes so much time that one wonders if that promised “accountability” ever arrives.

Three decades after he burst on the scene, Dr. Fullan is not only still standing, but controlling the school change agenda. What motivates Fullan and his army of disciples? And what’s the secret of his longevity and saying power? Most importantly, why has no one come forward to effectively challenge his hegemony over educational change?

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