U.S. Far behind in Integrating Technology in Schools

July 24, 2011

Sadly, this headline isn’t breaking news; it’s a condemnation of the ongoing failure to integrate technology into our schools. States and school districts continue to cut school budgets, slashing technology spending and teacher training on what will be our most critical competitive fronts for future generations of workers.

I spend a great deal of time in schools. Some are shining examples of where the future of education needs to go with embracing technology, customizing education to individual students and building real world problem solving skills. But far more schools are battening down the hatches, sticking to old-school approaches, trying to maintain a ‘walled garden’ approach to the internet, and not insisting upon teacher training in technology.  While I’m at it, I’ll give the evil eye to some within school unions who are so entrenched in defending the status quo they are a contributing factor in the decay in education.

In stark contrast to the U.S. scene came the news earlier this month from South Korea announcing they will have completely replaced textbooks with tablets by 2015. And plan to offer every citizen access to 1 Gbps Internet speeds by 2012.

As the LOOKBOTHWAYS Foundation (of which I am president) beta tests the first few lessons in our NetSkills4Life online interactive curriculum with schools, many of these technology hurdles leap to the forefront. And these struggles are in schools that are keen on adopting the curriculum!

These schools struggle with ridiculously slow connections, to few (and old) computers, policies that prohibit access to quality content on sites like YouTube, a shortage of headsets for students in individualized learning, inadequate tech support and anxious teachers who want and need better training.

It’s an economic death sentence.

The U.S. won the industrial revolution in part because we did not have old factory infrastructure that we were still trying eke out returns from, as England did.  Now we’re the ones entrenched in antiquated systems and approaches – and we can either cut the losses and leap forward, or hang on and watch as nimbler countries leap ever further past us.

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center published a report showing that large swaths of the world see, or expect to see, China overtake the U.S as a global superpower. Look at this list; it includes France, Spain, Britain, and Germany – all once superpowers in their own right, but each failed to stay ahead of the technology advances of their day and therefore fell to the countries that did make investments for the future. Each of these one-time superpowers became smug in their belief that their position was unassailable. They failed to continue innovating, content to reap profits from their existing – and increasingly outdated – infrastructures and woke up one day to find themselves a has-been.

We’ve placed our country and our youth on the cusp of has-been, and we’ve done it in less than 20 years.

The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, now ranks the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.

The OECD report also noted that investment in education is paid back many times over saying “Boosting US scores for reading, math and science by 25 points over the next 20 years would result in a gain of 41 trillion dollars for the United States economy over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010. Bringing the United States up to the average performance of Finland, the best-performing education system among OECD countries, could result in gains in the order of 103 trillion dollars.

The United States has fallen so far behind in education that the percentage of 15-year-olds, who are enrolled in school, is third from the bottom of the OECD countries – only Mexico and Turkey have smaller percentages.

Though this year saw an improvement in U.S. high school graduation rates, only 8 of the OECD countries have a lower high school graduation rate than the United States. And our college graduation rates have slipped from 2nd in the world to 13th between 1995 and 2008– not because we have fewer graduates, it’s because we failed to increase our number of graduates while other countries improved their college graduation rates by leaps and bounds. We’ve also failed to graduate students in core areas like engineering and science.

Change is inevitable – what the change will be is a choice

We either decline or we increase our investment in developing competitive capabilities in our youth, our infrastructure, and our businesses.  Do your part. Vote to support technically progressive education. Let your elected officials hear your demand for technically progressive education. Demand your schools adopt and embrace responsible technology integration in education.

Stop saying ‘no’ to your child’s interest in developing their online skills and instead work with them so they master the skills they need and accept the responsibilities of being a digitally literate citizen.  And start demanding more of your children in school. School should be hard – otherwise kids aren’t learning to their potential, or achieving a sense of real accomplishment.

Whether you step up out of love of our children, for love of country, or for the pure love of money, I don’t care. Just step up.



Linda In the News – Your child and cyberbullies

October 2, 2010

Linda Criddle was interviewed for the article Your child and cyberbullies

published this week in Baltimore’s Child.

Here’s an excerpt:

“The schoolyard bully that kids once faced at recess for 20 minutes a day seems tame compared with the online bully who can harass a victim 24 hours a day,” notes Linda Criddle, a Seattle-area Internet safety expert and founder of the website ilookbothways.com, which provides information on Internet safety, security, privacy, and ethics.

Following are among the tips Criddle offers on her website to protect against cyberbullying.

  • Encourage your child not to share personal information (such as an address or phone number), feelings, or photos online.
  • Encourage your child to tell you if he or she is being bullied—and stress the importance of not bullying others. Also, keep in mind that a bullied student who thinks his or her parent will take away his or her cell phone or ban Internet use might avoid revealing a problem.
  • If your child is being bullied, address the situation immediately. Do not respond directly to the bully, but do save any applicable messages should you need to provide evidence to law enforcement.
  • Report bullying to the service whose tools were used to do the bullying—such as the Internet service provider, social networking site, chat room, and/or email platform—and block contact from that person (or people). Reputable web services have clear instructions for reporting abusive or inappropriate content.
  • If you feel your child is at risk physically, call local law enforcement immediately. If the bully is attending your child’s school, inform the school.
  • If you know who’s bullying your child, determine whether or not speaking to the parents would be a good idea. Be cautious and make your first contact in writing so as to document what you know.

Assess what help your child may need, including counseling services. Also, make clear to your child that it is the bully who is at fault—not your child.


8 Tips to prevent student hackers from accessing school computers

September 2, 2010

Back-to-School time means hacker-proofing school’s computers. While protecting students online safety is a must, so is protecting school computers from malicious students.

It’s an administrator’s nightmare – students hacking school databases to change grades, stealing computer passwords, infecting computers with key-stroke logging malware, accessing secure sections of school sites, posting pornography or hate content on school sites, or hijacking a school’s website.

And it is a reality schools across the country struggle with.

“Students are very, very tech-savvy. Far more savvy than the majority of adults at our school,” says Michael Wilson, the principal of the 775-student Haddonfield Memorial High where keystroke logging malware was used to discover passwords and gain access to protected areas on the school’s computer network.

School systems are uniquely vulnerable to hacking, says James E. Culbert, an information-security analyst for the 135,000-student Duval County schools in Jacksonville, Fla. “In the case of our school system, we’ve got 135,000 [potential] hackers within our district, inside of our same network that houses our student-information systems and HR systems.”

Staying ahead of would-be hackers is not a one-fix solution; it’s an ongoing process that periodically assesses new and existing threats and updates security practices.

If you’re school is struggling with hacking, or you are unsure of the steps your school is taking, review the 8 Tips to preventing student hackers from accessing school computers:

  1. Ensure school computers have up-to-date security software installed, and that it automatically updates. Be sure firewalls are set, and enforce the use of  strong passwords.
  2. Set the ground rules that outline what is (and isn’t) acceptable use of school computers, and make sure students and their parents are aware of both the rules and the consequences for hacking, harassment security breaches, or failing to adhere to the schools acceptable use policy. Talk about these standards periodically, not just during the first week of school.
  3. Leverage content filtering technologies that help prevent students from seeking out inappropriate online content.
  4. Swiftly and consistently, address any misuse of the schools computer system.
  5. Require each user – teacher or student – to use a unique login. Some schools have strengthened their networks by clearly identifying if it is a teacher or a student who is logging in. Some also time-stamp when the account was last accessed allowing teachers to quickly see if their account has been compromised.
  6. Use two networks – one for students, another for teachers and staff. This makes it harder for students to hack into sensitive information.
  7. Educate teachers, staff and parent volunteers about the school’s internet access policies so they can stay vigilant in monitoring students online use and actions.
  8. Teach internet safety and digital responsibility to help students develop a strong online ethic.

Its the start of a new school year, let’s get it started securely.


Seattle Schools To Hold Students Accountable for All Online Postings

August 27, 2010

The Seattle School Board voted this week to enact a new policy for this coming school year that holds students accountable for anything they post on a social networking site, forum, text etc., even if posted from home or private computer.

“The safety of our students and the security of our students is our first concern,” said Teresa Wippel with Seattle Public Schools, and adds that the Seattle School Board voted to approve the measure so schools can respond to kids who may be planning something on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or by texting that will be “disruptive”, according to a Komo News report.

At issue is what is defined as disruptive?

When Komo interviewed Wippel, she said, for example, a threat to fight another student after school, or bullying another student would be considered disruptive. When asked “But what if it’s a student saying something negative about a teacher? Is that free speech or is that disruptive?” Wipple responded “I think, again, that would be up to the principal to decide after he’s taken a look.”

The accountability policy won’t involve actively monitoring sites such as MySpace and Facebook according to district representatives. Instead, the policy is to prompt an investigation when a parent or student notifies the school or district that someone wrote something online that could be disruptive.

It’s easy to understand the intent of this policy, but there are troubling issues that need to be resolved to ensure that the intent and the reality are aligned, that privacy is maintained and that the policy remains within the appropriate bounds of the law.

The ACLU says they are taking, hard look at the district’s new policy, and this is an issue worth following.