Dear Birmingham logo

The spotlight's on education

11.16.2007 by André Natta · → 7 Comments

Read Offline:

With comments about a domed stadium, urban revitalization and other things, concern about our local educational system is rampant and dominating everything else, especially after word that the state wants the ctiy’s board of education to shut down 20 schools. There will be many that ask whether or not the closings need to happen, pointing to the same heartstrings that seem to control a great deal of the decision making that occurs in our region. There are those that do not want to see things to change; they like the way that things were. Unfortunately, we will only see the Birmingham that we want to exist if we allow ourselves to let go of certain “rules,” including those that keep us pining for the past while preventing us from reaching out for a new standard.

There are many that question whether or not Mayor Langford’s plans for a laptop in every school-age child is a good one. They say that there are more pressing issues that should be solved. It is an idea, and if nothing else it is something that will force the conversation about what needs to be done with not just our school system, but several suffering systems throughout the country, into the limelight (which is where it truly needs to be). It seems to be doing the job right now.

The focus of the forums, blogs and websites in recent weeks is the idea that a program for that was aimed at third-world countries will be tried in Birmingham. If we cannot help our own children, it makes us look just a little hypocritical to want to help others while turning a blind eye to our own problems.

The bigger issue is that the topic of education is one that people love to point to as one of great concern, but very few are willing to really make very hard decisions about what needs to be done for the good of the children and the city. The issue definitely ranked high among young professionals in our poll from earlier this month. A solution that many have looked to often is running to the next town over, not realizing that the problems will eventually follow them, if not in a different form. An overcrowded school is just as detrimental to a child’s educational future as a school that is not adequately funded. The problem continues to be one of our own making.

While Birmingham’ declining population has led to the need for these schools to be closed down, that does not mean that we need to lose the schools. If we can’t afford to run them and provide a quality education for our children, then we need can always reduce the financial strain by closing them and focusing on larger student populations with excellent resources. The closings may also allow us to renovate those “closed” schools during this period preparing them for a return to use later on, though on a much slower schedule than would have been necessary before.

The eternal optimist in me believes that if we’re successful in doing what needs to be done with those schools that are left open after this round of closings, that we’ll need to re-open those other schools. The immediate desire to sell them off or tear them down for new development opportunities will remove the ease at which the problem that we all want to see occur, an overcrowding problem, can and would be easily solved in the coming years in Birmingham than how it must be addressed with each shovel that must be turned in the ground of our surrounding neighbors.

The issue of laptop distribution is one that I think may serve a greater good. If all of the students have access to a laptop, they have a key to knowledge that is undoubtedly beneficial to our city and region. They may be willing to share ideas with each other and, with proper supervision, with others outside of our immediate area.  It’s also something that’s a bit selfish as the more people with access to a laptop, the more that become more comfortable with the notion of sharing information online and eventually carrying that conversation into action through Jones Valley and over the mountain. It’s a long term benefit to a long term solution to a long term problem.

What are your thoughts about the future of education in our region and what can be done to help it improve? Do you believe in the plan proposed by Mayor Langford?

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. To submit letters in response to this commentary or to contact for general information, use any of the methods listed on our contact page.

Read Offline:

Filed under: Alabama · Birmingham · Commentary · education

6 comments
Jim
Jim

Unfortunately, $ and laptops will not solve the educational problems in Birmingham. The real issues are much deeper and begin at home. There are some "great parents" in Birmingham. But sadly, many are not doing their jobs. Children do better when there are parents at home teaching them strong values and monitoring their activities closely to ensure that they stay on track. These parents know when a home work assignment is missed, and when a child is falling behind, well before a poor grade appears on a report card. They are involved in their lives. They may be coaches on the ball field, teachers at Sunday school, or the scout leader. They ensure their children's friends are good influences, and they reward positive results with more praise and affection. They not only "say" they care but they show it every day. The sad reality is that many kids in the Birmingham system are not getting that kind of support from home, and it's a much more difficult journey without it.

Julie
Julie

I am involved in a national grant program promoting higher education for English Language Learners. At out initial meeting in Las Vegas, a gentleman from the school sytem that includes Greeley, CO was there. As part of an initiative to get more PARENT involvement, all of the ELL students' (at two schools) familes were provided with laptops. They were also guaranteed interent access. The laptops were provided to improve compuetr skills for both the parents and the students and to improve communication. We all know how much easier it is to communicate with email. This has been a huge committment for the teachers and students. The teachers have provided Internet only lessons that are for the parents and the students to complete. This long and involved story brings me to my point... with planning, training and a HUGE committment, laptop programs can be successful. As an educator myself, anything that can get the family involved in the educational process (besides fighting against closing schools) is worth it. If parents become truly involved, student success is guaranteed.

Andre
Andre

Sometimes those posts without solutions lead to them. I think that you have to keep the conversation active, which you have. The solution is there, at least the suggestion of one. That's more important for this conversation than anything else as it continues. Talking it through will help bring the solution to light. Making sure that the students know how to use them is important, though I'd be quick to point out that most children could run circles around most of us web users if given the opportunity :) That said, the ability to make sure they're comfortable with them and that they don't become a distraction is most important.

convulso
convulso

i've always thought the pursuit of tech without a well-defined academic mission and / or implementation plan, especially at the K-12 level, is inane. having worked for the head of the Banner implementation team (and under the chair of a faculty grant committee for experimental tech) at auburn university, i'vc witnessed a fair amount of due diligence-style hand-wringing amongst those who have to explain how adopting a technology will benefit a program academically. i would hope for at least a modicum of that process in this instance as well. yes, there is less at stake financially (up front), but what is the instructional goal? i'm not arguing that there is no benefit in the city schools' case; i'm just wondering whether the notion of providing laptops to a rigor-starved system has received any attention beyond the PR stage. if so, surely the curricular implementation plan(s) would be made public before the first laptop ever arrives. that, too, would be good PR. my only reluctance in posting this kind of comment is that it offers no solution. comments like dystopos' (with which i obviously agree) and mine are great fodder for the 'do something' crowd. i don't want to be a curmudgeon. ideas like this, though, need criticism and review, and lots of it. much is at stake. most people who read the forlorn editorials on this subject (*raising hand*) give it a head shake and a 'tsk,' then forget about it as soon as they fold their newspapers. op-ed readers, as a demo, don't send their kids to bham city schools. so how to generate real hands-on concern among the larger community? i dunno. more talk=more interest, so i suppose this is a first step for me.

Andre
Andre

I think you're right about the fact that folks are not quite sure about how these machines will be used. It will be interesting to see how they're used in relation to the standardized tests that have become the focus of education. I'm also concerned about whether or not the machines will be of much use at home if internet access is not available to the student easily. One could say that it encourages students to visit libraries that have free wifi, but your point about how the machines are used come back into play. I'm assuming that there will be some kind of program installed that will make it easy to control. There's also the fact that the machines currently use Linux as their primary operating system and not Windows, though there are plans to introduce it on the laptops in the near future. One hopes that the distraction will not be permanent, but one also hopes that the other tools needed to make it really successful are provided by the business community, including expanded WiFi capabilities.

Dystopos
Dystopos

I don't know what current problem free laptops are meant to solve. If I heard a lot of teachers talking about how putting laptops in the kids hands will make a big improvement in their ability and motivation to learn the subjects needed for advancement, then I'd be a big fan of this initiative. However, I suspect that the plans for how to utilize these laptops are not very well developed. I suspect that they will present more of a distraction than an opportunity. I suspect that teachers will take on new responsibilities of managing and supervising the use or abuse of the laptops to the detriment of more basic classroom functions. And I suspect that in less than three years we'll be debating whether to replace them with new equipment or abolish them altogether. I'd love for people to demonstrate the error of my suspicions.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Mayor, has approached the good folks at MIT about procuring thousands of laptops for the Birmingham school children (to use, not to own).  Katapodis is Harvard-educated, so perhaps he has some pull with the […]