When you vote no, what are you against?

One recent afternoon a local superintendent called me on the phone and said, “I just had a revelation – there’s no money in education!”  Now, I am thinking to myself that he has flipped his lid because he has been in educational long enough to know that we aren’t in it for the money.  Then he clarified, “We have no way to raise money except for property taxes – we have no way to make money!”  Well, he had a point and it occurred to me that the system is not set up for schools to be for-profit.

If you go back to the history of the common public school, it is clear that public schools were set up as a function of democracy.  Land was set aside in every township and the voters of that township had local control of their school through an elected board.  Obviously, there have been many consolidations and mergers since the inception of the common public school but the system still remains in effect today.  The voters of the school district determine what type of school they would like to have by deciding what levies and school monies to support or reject.  It is the ultimate in democracy, each community is free to determine the quality of the facilities where kids will spend the majority of the first 18 years of their lives.  Communities have the right to determine what type of preparation their children will receive  to enable them to compete for jobs against workers from all over the world.  When you think about it, we have the right to vote yes or no for public education.  You are not just voting for your tax rate when you cast that ballot – you are voting on the quality of facilities and services that our children will receive during their formative years.

A no vote may decrease your taxes in the short term, but as a community, you get what you pay for.  A yes vote is an investment in the future.  Not just the future of the school-age children in the district but an investment for every taxpayer in the community.  Kids who drop out from school and do not attain at least a high school diploma will cost the community more money in the long run.  Consider the following from the Alliance for Excellent Education (2007):

  • The United States could save between $7.9 and $10.8 billion annually by improving educational attainment among all recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, foodstamps, and housing assistance (Garfinkel et al., 2005).
  • A high school dropout contributes about $60,000 less in taxes over a lifetime (Rouse, 2005).
  • If the male graduation rate were increased by only 5 percent, the nation would see an annual savings of $4.9 billion in crime-related costs (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2006b).
  • America could save more than $17 billion in Medicaid and expenditures for health care for the uninsured by graduating all students (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2006a).

So when you pull that curtain and get ready to cast a ballot for your local school levy remember that you are not only voting to determine the amount of taxes that you will pay.  You are also participating in a referendum on public education.  A substandard education has never been so costly and a good education has never been so important as it is today.  Make an investment in the future of your community by supporting your local school levy in the next election.






I have had the pleasure this year of working with a team of high school teachers who are participating in a grant to transform teaching and learning through the use of Web 2.0 tools in their classrooms.  We are about halfway through the year and I have to say that it has really been a great experience.

I was at their school the other day, speaking with a couple of the teachers about how things were going and what I could do to support their efforts.  I had discussions with two of the teachers about why it is difficult to get teachers to adopt technology into their classrooms or integrate it into instruction.  As we talked about it, the point cam up that for technology to impact the classroom today – the teacher has to be using a student-centered rather than a teacher-centered approach.  In other words, if a teacher is using a “telling” or presentation style of teaching; technology can make the presentation flashier – but it will not help to engage the student or to make the student more of an active learner.

However, if the teacher is using a student-centered approach then technology can greatly enhance both teaching and learning.  In a student-centered classroom, students are expected to drive much of their own learning in lessons that rely on a constructivist approach as students learn by building new knowledge and concepts on top of already existing knowledge and concepts.  In these types of classrooms, teachers will see Web 2.0 tools as making their job more effective and more efficient.  Why else would we adopt technology?

So after these conversations and these ideas, you can imagine how pleasant I found this article by Marc Prensky.  Yes, the same Marc Prensky who wrote about Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants.  This article was called The Role of Technology in the Teaching and the Classroom and was first published in Educational Technology, Nov-Dec 2008.

In this article, which is over 4 years old, Prensky talks about the same phenomenon that the teachers and I discussed.  Prensky spells out explicitly what role he believes technology should play in education – “The role of technology in our classrooms is to support the new teaching paradigm.”  What new teaching paradigm you might ask?  The new paradigm of a student-centered versus a teacher-centered classroom.


PBL for Digital Citizens – Sample Projects

Project-Based Learning for Digital Citizens


Andrew Marcinek is an instructional technologist at Burlington High School in Burlington, MA. He is also a regular blogger at Edutopia.org. Follow him on Twitter @andycinek.

It’s award season, so I’m giving my students an award. A major award! I’m honoring them for stepping outside the comfort zone of the school system that they have been subject to for most of their lives, authoring their own learning, and in the process, enjoying it. However, this transition did not come easily, and it took them some time to adjust to this format. It’s a format where they are no longer the recipients of their learning; now they’re the authors.

With this post and the audience that Edutopia reaches, I would like to share their work in hopes that you will steal, adapt or remix some of these approaches in your own classroom. I want to share their highlights and their occasional fails. I do not teach a core subject; however I try to incorporate a variety of skills from other subjects. I teach digital literacy to a mixed group of high school students. I cover grades 9-12, and my class is roughly 20 students. I spend most of my class time serving as a facilitator and a resource for their learning. They do the rest.

I also attempt to make what they learn in this class relevant and applicable to their lives. Instead of a test that assesses basic recall and memorization, they present and demonstrate their learning. I remind them that this skill is imperative for their future no matter what path they choose. At one point they will have to present themselves and defend their work to a potential employer or thesis panel. They will have to adapt to a variety of work environments, people and tasks. There will rarely be a situation where recall and memorization are the only skills that will get them through the day.

Critical Thinking in Action

My classroom procedures are rather unstructured as well. Students know when they walk through the door that they have a task and a deadline. They collaborate with their teams, schedule weekly meetings with team leaders or project managers, and we meet as a class to assess the progress and address any questions or problems. A few of my students that are building and designing our digital citizenship website check Google Analytics daily to see how they can restructure the site so that it appeals to our audience. This is my formative assessment. In fact, it gives me real data that I can work with so that I can gauge a better understanding of my students’ progress.

At the beginning of most units, I present a concept or idea through a video, image or article that leads to a discussion, provokes their thinking and drives further inquiry into the subject at hand. They present understanding through a video, a presentation, and by creating a website or posting to their blog. They’re employing critical analysis and critical thinking by seeking out the answers to the questions they generate. They are discerning between credible and bogus information and understanding how to properly cite, organize and share their findings. They are creating surveys to elicit quantitative data and creating support for their assertions. They are building relationships and making connections. In every scenario, their questions and curiosity motivate their learning, while the technology tools available give them the opportunity to connect, share and promote their work a wider audience.

Awards and Rewards

And for all of their hard work and content creation, I am giving every one of them an award; however most of them wouldn’t accept it. My students get more excited about their reach and how others react to the content they created. They are excited about this post and how many new users will hopefully visit their website and comment on their video.

They will receive a grade for their work, but a grade isn’t the focal point. The focal point is the experience and what they are learning. They’re learning that empathy matters in a digital world. They’re learning that technology can be used to showcase their talents to a wider audience. They’re learning to make the web work for them. They’re learning to discern, filter and organize the information they collect. They’re learning that transparency and responsible sharing can only help them. They’re excited about new challenges daily and learning in a collaborative environment where they are not told what to do, but instead are learning through the decisions they make themselves.

Here is a list of links to the projects mentioned above:

As for me, the only award I need is feedback like this from student evaluations:

“This class has to be one of my favorites so far in high school because Mr. Marcinek is not really a lecturer and allows us to learn on our own and through hands on experiences. Lastly, the collaboration and networking techniques we learn are ones that I will need for the rest of my life and thanks to this class I will be one step ahead.”

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