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Friday, March 15, 2013

Recess Deployed Ubiquitously

First, I'll skip to the highlight.  From atop Rocinante, a recent article in Education Week reads like this:  blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah [it's a long article with a paucity of graphs] blah blah blah blah blah blah blah "Would I give up using federal dollars to pay for cellphones...? You bet...." blah blah.  Have I found a Sancho Panza to assist me in tilting against the cell phone windmills?

No, my ellipses [in this case, the plural of ellipsis, not ellipse] hide the fact that the quote above is actually in support of mobile data plans.  At least the tech director quoted clearly thinks if something's got to go, it should be cell phones.  But I think I'll have to find someone else to hold my lance.

The article is really about a couple of districts that won grants under the FCC's pilot "called Learning on-the-Go, or LOGO," which allowed them to send devices home with wireless Internet access, and now they want more.

OK, first, who ever called the program "LOGO"?  I don't remember hearing it called that.  The program had a perfectly good acronym, EDU2011, which include a U for Ubiquitously, and made it clear it was a one-year deal.  If we're going to give the program an acronym, let's go back to that one.

Now, on to the policy issue.  I think there is a lesson from the free-phones-with-VoIP-service mess which can be applied here.  Let's look at unintended consequences.  What if the FCC said that schools were allowed to pay for mobile data plans so that students could use their mobile devices from home?  Well, if a school can pay for Johnny to use his tablet at home, why can't they pay for Susie to use a computer at home through a DSL connection?  I mean, DSL costs half what mobile data costs, so it would save the program money.

Every loophole is like the mitten in that Ukranian folk tale.  It looks so cozy in there, and service providers that walk by will think, "I can stretch it just a little more to accommodate my previously ineligible service."  We've seen it over and over: web hosting, free cell phones, on-premise Priority One equipment, video transport.  The FCC creates a reasonable loophole, and service providers try to shove all kinds of services through it.

Here's a good example I heard lately: the E-Rate won't pay for intercom systems, so a school I talked to was looking for a cell phone plan that would allow one phone to call everyone on the plan.  They were going to use cell phones as a lame intercom system.  Because the cell phone plans are 90% off, and the handsets are free.  And if they could incorporate push-to-talk, it would be a decent intercom, and only cost $2 per teacher per month after E-Rate discounts, with no upfront costs.

Please, no mobile data.

But I agree with the idea that if we need to throw something out of the program, it should be cell phones.  Because cell phones can only stay in the program with the help of multiple loopholes.  And let's be honest: no one is giving cell phones to students, and not many teachers get them, either.  Let's fund services that are at least close to the education of students, not services that make it more convenient for principals when they're looking for custodians.

And because I'm punchy from the funding window, I'm going to go on a rant that is not related to E-Rate.  [Long-time readers are thinking, "Most of his rants have little to do with E-Rate.  What will it be this time?  Capitalization?"]  Here's the worst quote in the article: ""We're trying to extend the learning day beyond the duty day of 7:30 to 4:30."  To which I say, "Stop!"  My main complaint with school is not low standardized test scores or any of the other complaints I hear from policy-makers.  My main complaint is that they have taken all the fun out of the school day by slashing the arts and recess, and now they're trying to take the fun out of my kids' afternoons.  First graders with homework?  That is wrong.  And by the time my kids got to high school, the workload was ridiculous.

"Extend the learning day" means "further deprive kids of opportunities for self-directed learning."  Kids are always learning, especially if you let them decide what to learn.  Unfortunately, the standardized tests (by which schools and teachers are evaluated) aren't focused on the things that most kids want to learn, so schools keep trying to get kids to spend more of their time learning things that they don't want to learn.

So don't extend my kids' school day.  And you know what?  Give them art and music every day.  And phys ed, too.  And definitely recess.  You know what?  Recess twice a day.  Really, what kind of idiot expects a 10-year-old to sit at a desk for 6 hours a day without running even a little?

Today's rallying cry:  "Recess twice a day, and no mobile data in the E-Rate program!"

[Grammar note: did anyone else notice that I used "E-Rate" anarthrously a couple of paragraphs back?  I did it twice in a row.  If you didn't notice, it means you spend too much time on this program.]

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