Special Education: A Fiscal Challenge

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Wow!  It is amazing how involved I can be in one branch of education, without knowing about the battle taking place in another, special education.  As I was completing my EdTech 541 assignment, Assistive Technology, not only was I amazed about all the products and companies that exists for those with special needs, but I began to notice the cost of these products, and I kept thinking, “That’s a lot of money for just a few students.”  When I finished that assignment, I read my professors prompt for this week’s reflection.

Rationale for Assistive/Adaptive Technology: In this forum please respond to the following: Schools, universities, and libraries are struggling with tight budgets. How can we justify spending a lot of money to buy assistive technologies that might only be used by a small number of people?

When I did a quick Internet Search for “the cost of special education” most hits returned articles or publications that paint a grim picture.  Marsha Sutton (2012) of the Del Mar Times, discusses the fiscal dilemma facing one school district in California, but in a lot of ways, her article represents a fiscal crisis in school districts in all of the United States.  Some of her report include:

  • $354,000 to transport about 30 special education students in 2012-2013. That’s almost $12,000 per student, more than it costs to educate a student for an entire year.
  • In 2010-2011, San Dieguito’s cost for all special education services was over $18 million, and for 2011-2012, unofficial numbers are $19 million. The district’s total budget is about $102 million.
  • In 2010-2011, federal and state funds paid 63 percent of the costs… But in 2011-2012, federal and state funding will only cover 53 percent, forcing SDUHSD (the school district) to pay 47 percent – about $8.46 million.

The purpose of the article was to inform of the situation of costs related to special education.  Most of the focus was on transportation, contracted services, and staff salary.  There was not mention of technology initiatives.  However, William W. Sofka Jr. (1997) seeks to offer solutions.  Even he wrote “Evaluating the Cost and Benefit of Special Education” approximately 15 years ago, it shows that this debate was very active in that time.  This implies that the debate about the amount of funding for special education will continue, regardless of the economic climate.  However, he does lay out a model that helps administrators to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of special ed programs, comparing it to the costs.  He suggests bringing ideas to the discussion and label them in the following four categories: 1) Low Benefit, High Cost, 2) High Benefit, High Cost, 3) Low Benefit, Low Cost, and 4) High Benefit, Low Cost.  These four categories can be very useful in evaluating the various technology options.

Universal design for Learning (UDL) is another principle that has emerged in an effort to find solutions for people with special needs, while benefiting people in the general public (Roblyer & Doering, 2012).    The logic is that if everyone can benefit from it, even those with special needs, there is no need to label it as a special education resource.  The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) has specifically looked at technologies role in serving people with special needs, but also provide greater usability and access to general users.  Many standard features in today’s technology equipment are available on resources that the schools already have.  Educating the teachers and administrators on these pre-installed features can help offer solutions at no extra cost.  CAST also provides a resources page, UDL solutions finder, to help educators seek out the best options for serving the needs of all your learner goals.

It is staggering to evaluate the total cost for special education that goes for services, programs, and products.  However, very few will argue for any initiatives to cut this funding because they realize there is a need in a civilized society to reach out and help those with limited abilities.  However, many, like Sofka Jr. (1997) will advocate a need to carefully evaluate those who qualify, so that the system is not abused, and other initiatives, like CAST, are looking for creative ways to make the world a better place for everyone.

References:

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POETRY IN MOTION: Mobile Learning – iTECHNOW: EdTech 541 Final Project

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POETRY IN MOTION: Mobile Learning – iTECHNOW: EdTech 541 Final Project.

One of my classmates put this together, and I thought I might be able to use it sometime.

A Living Evolution: Technology in Education

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Image by CCPR Computing

Passwords can be troublesome even for me, but I have adopted certain patterns for being able to produce and recall the secret codes for my many online accounts and identities.  However, many students are challenged with creating and keeping passwords, which at minimum will cause hassles in productivity.  Technology is much more efficient than the old ways of record keeping, but as more data becomes digital, organization of data is crucial.  This is even more important for password recall because it is the key to give you access to the information or tools that you need.

Technology integration into the curriculum has many challenges.  Teachers, administrators, and parents form a wide variety of stakeholders in any educational system, and among these groups, there are people who resist technology for many different reasons.  Students, on the other hand tend to embrace technology, but perhaps aren’t always aware of the responsibilities or organizing a digital life.  In my English classes, I have seen this first hand.  When students don’t remember their passwords it causes major hindrances in the lesson.

In my school, students already have to keep track of at least 4 passwords just for school related online activity.  This does not count digital information from their private lives.  As I come across useful web 2.o tools that can be integrated into my lessons, sometimes I am hesitant because it requires yet another password.  There are so many wonderful sites and activities that are language based, which will allow students creative ways to express their understanding in written, visual, and oral forms.  However, to prepare students for the onslaught of online resources, they need to have a plan for organizing their digital lives.

Geoff Cain (2011), Director of Distance Education at the College of Redwoods, has proposed an idea in his blog, DE 101: Preparing students for online learning.  He basically lays out the need for a preliminary course that puts students in contact with web 2.0 tools and other software, prior to taking content specific courses online.  This will help students learn these skills in true academic context, but at the same time it builds a foundation of knowledge that they can apply to the content specific courses as part of their later studies.  I strongly support this notion, and similar to Cain, many universities have a similar approach to preparing students for online programs.  Unfortunately, there is very little evidence of such strategies at the K-12 level.  For the most successful integration, curriculum planners should see the necessity of technology training and platforms that can be used across all subject areas.

When a prerequisite course or training is established for students, the educator can begin to build digital organization skills.  The first thing to establish is a reliable storage platform where students and teachers can safely store their passwords.  Lifehacker (2008) offers 5 recommended solutions for managing passwords.  Whether or not the computer equipment is standardized, a teacher can establish a password management system.  Even though organization requires personal commitment, we can strive as educators to create a learning environment that rewards organization.  Richard Byrne (2011) wrote Cool Tools: Digital Aids for Staying Organized, which lists some ideas for organizing information with efficient online tools.  Teachers can benefit from standardizing a particular tool so that students are not only equally informed of course content, but also can grow their organizational skills.

In conclusion, I believe an English course can benefit from having a strong technology foundation where students are prepared to organize their digital existence.  However, I believe if any educational institution is going to integrate learning platforms and learning tools, all content areas could benefit from students taking a preliminary technology course.
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Lost in Translation: Reaching Out to English-Language Learners | Edutopia

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Lost in Translation: Reaching Out to English-Language Learners | Edutopia.

 

A great statistic reading as well as problem solving reading for ELL.

Do’s & Don’ts For Teaching English-Language Learners | Edutopia

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Do’s & Don’ts For Teaching English-Language Learners | Edutopia.
Good Reminders for my profession.

Can Technology Change How You Teach Content Areas?

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When it comes to road-trip planning, I must admit that I am a little old fashion.  I have not yet adopted the use of GPS, so before I take off, I have to consult a map to look for the best route.  It doesn’t matter how much I pre-plan a trip, there is usually something unexpected that comes up in the journey.  What’s worse, is traveling on a known route, just because I always have gone that way.  Even though they have added many traffic lights and it is much more congested than before, I don’t bother considering other options.  Just because we have always traveled down the same road, doesn’t mean that it is the best route to take.  This analogy is intended to advocate the use of technology to accomplish certain goals in education; the process of learning is the trip and the route is the method.

The primary purpose of this assignment is to consider how technology integration can benefit content area instruction.  Since the topic is rather broad, I have decided to narrow the focus on access that technology provides between the teacher and student.  The term social presences refers to the amount of individual attention a teacher can give a student during a lesson cycle (Kemp, 2012).  Considering the traditional approach to education, a teacher has a set period of time per day that a group of students is present.  This is one reason class size has always been an important topic in education.  As budgets are tightening, school administrations are encouraging newer approaches for educating their students, because rather than reducing class sizes, likely they will increase if the traditional approach continues (Education Week, 2012). However, through web 2.0 tools, students and teachers can communicate directly with each other in written and spoken form.

Sometimes, regardless of the content area instruction, a teacher needs to have individual contact with students, whether is be for specialized instruction or assessment. A traditional class with 20-40 students makes that very difficult.  Besides the obvious vigilance that a teacher must give to a whole class at any given time, there are other social issues to consider for the timid learners, who may not feel comfortable voicing doubts or opinions in front of a group of peers.  Although traditional learning environments have benefits of social engagement with students and teacher, there are social distractions too that can cause a learning environment to not be optimal for delivering content.   Therefore, I believe technology offers a solution for giving students better individual access to a teacher’s guidance.  Teacher communication done through web 2.0 tools allows students to access the information when needed and when it is more relevant, plus it can be viewed multiple times. As many administrators are considering online delivery of content courses, learner-centeredness becomes and important approach to helping students set and achieve their learning goals (Rice, 2011).

Going back to the road and map analogy, we can say that there is more than one way to arrive to a destination.  Though curriculum calls for a well designed plan before you start the trip, often the reality is that there are many unforeseen obstacles and perhaps even some detours along the way. In time, I believe that some technology will act as a GPS system for education.  We start the journey in the right direction, then we let the GPS system guide us to the best route.  The more education begins to harness the power of technology to review student performance data and cater instruction to a student, the less dependent it will be on curriculum road mapping.  Secondly, some teachers have been traveling the road of a particular content area for a while and the way that they have always gone, may be the best way for them to deliver that content.  However, as time passed, more options have become available, and there may be more efficient ways to span the distance. The further removed the approach is from the learner, the less they can relate, and the more traffic lights will be added to hinder that route.   

Therefore, I see technology integration as a benefit to educators.  It has the potential to engage all learners, but for some learners, technology offers them other options for engaging, where they might not feel as comfortable in a classroom social setting.  It also has the potential to be more relevant to them, especially when different options are available to them for arriving to the destination.  Lastly, technology integration has the potential of providing real time directions for delivering the content, and the more student centered the content can be,  a more authentic learning experience will take place.

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Technology Tidbits: Thoughts of a Cyber Hero: Top 10 Digital Book Creators

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Technology Tidbits: Thoughts of a Cyber Hero: Top 10 Digital Book Creators.

I may have reason in the future to seek out publishing options for a student novel that I wrote.  This site may lead me to something useful.