Thursday, April 28, 2016

3 Largest Barriers to Learning for Students Today

Our nation spends a lot on educating its youth, yet it fails to allocate adequate resources to remove the three largest barriers to learning that innovative educators have to face day in and day out.  These three barriers are responsible for the inability of teachers to update their practice and cause today’s students to remain stuck in the past once they enter school doors.

These three barriers prohibit teachers from supporting students in doing real and relevant work.
  1. Internet Speed
    We promise college and career readiness, yet no business or college would thrive without reliable internet access. While schools may technically have internet access, it is not sufficient to support the needs of the school resulting in speeds so slow, that students and teachers simply give up trying. There is currently no effective plan in place to adequately fund and provide one of the most important elements for student success to our schools in the near future.
  2. Filtering
    Even when they can get online, they can’t access the sites they want. Teacher’s say filtering is a major barrier to using the digital tools of our world because there is just so much they can’t access.  For example, most kids will tell you that YouTube is their go to site for learning anything, yet this wealth of educational content is blocked from many schools. Companies like Google are trying to make it easier for organizations to manage such sites, but often those in charge of safety have no incentive to be up-to-date on the latest innovations. Mary Beth Hertz, tech teacher and coordinator in Philadelphia recently explained in the Atlantic that what many districts get wrong is listening too closely to lawyers without hearing the voices and meeting the needs of students and teachers. She says this:
    CIPA leaves a lot of room for interpretation and some districts opt to choose a strict interpretation to protect themselves rather than engage families, parents, teachers, and students in these digital-access decisions. We should be blocking what the law requires, but unfortunately the phrase ‘harmful to minors’ to some districts means everything and anything that could offend or embarrass kids and their families.” She also reminds us that blocking content doesn’t teach kids how to “effectively, respectfully, and responsibly use the Internet.”
    You can read The Atlantic’s coverage of how the filtering divide is hurting families in low income schools here.  Hertz is not alone in her thinking. When it comes to filtering and CIPA (the Children's Internet Protection Act) the American Library Association (ALA) advises that filtering won't protect our students and provides this cautionary advice:
    "The use of Internet filters to block constitutionally protected speech, including content on social networking and gaming sites, compromises First Amendment freedoms and the core values of librarianship. Internet safety for children and adults is best addressed through educational programs that teach people how to find and evaluate information. 
    Research demonstrates that filters consistently both over- and underblock the content they claim to filter. Filters often block adults and minors from accessing a wide range of constitutionally protected speech. Content filters are unreliable because computer code and algorithms are still unable to adequately interpret, assess, and categorize the complexities of human communication, whether expressed in text or in image. 
    The negative effects of content filters on Internet access in public libraries and schools are demonstrable and documented. Consequently, consistent with previous resolutions, the American Library Association cannot recommend filtering." 
    The filtering divide, or gap, as some now call it, affects our nation's poorest schools who rely on federal funding for internet access. Those who don't need this funding are empowered to free access and share information.
  3. Testing
    Time and time again innovative educators are pumped to use an innovative program that will help children, but they can’t. In most districts, not only is the year driven by test prep which is completely disconnected from the learning students and the world outside school cares about, but in many places there are two full weeks of testing for students whose families did not choose to opt them out.  The time of year when plants bloom, is no longer known as spring.  It’s now known as “testing season.” Placing learning on hold has become an accepted job hazard.

Innovative educators, students, and their families understand these barriers must be removed so teachers can do their jobs effectively and students can learn most effectively, but who is listening to them and what are they doing to be heard by those in charge? What have you done? Have you had any successes? Please share.
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