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E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hang up and teach

Well, they're cutting and scrimping over at the Portland public schools, but apparently there's still money around for some nonessentials. An alert reader of this blog sends along a copy of an e-mail message he got as a public school student's parent:

Dear Parent,

Portland Public Schools is working diligently to upgrade phone service across the district with an ultimate goal of delivering in & out phone service in every classroom by September 2011. We are soliciting feedback from parents in PPS schools to better understand the challenges you have or are experiencing using the current old phone system when communicating with staff & teachers at your child's school. This information will be used in our effort to build out and implement a 21st century telephone system that includes a phone in every classroom and voicemail for each teacher.

Please click on the link below to complete the short, seven (7) question survey. Thank you in advance for your time.


Thank you,

Office of Information Technology
Portland Public Schools, Voice Mail/Phone survey

The reader adds his own commentary, as follows:

They must have more money available than they are letting on if they can waste it on a survey and likely purchase of a VOIP system to replace the existing phones in all PPS classrooms. What is wrong with the phones that exist? And why do teachers or kids need to be talking on the phone during school hours? We communicate with our kids’ teachers by email and it works fine. Note, if you click on the survey link, you get an error message – perhaps it burned up on contact from all the blistering responses.

Comments (22)

The phones are for emergency communications with the outside in case a student or group of students decide to commit a violent crime.

You couldn't use one of the 20 or more cell phones that are already in the room?

Those would work, too. But how many students might Twitter about the shooting instead of calling 911?

Some schools have working phone systems; some don't. Your correspondent is fortunate to have kids in a school with working phones, and also fortunate to have access to e-mail, which many PPS parents do not have.

It's ridiculous to imply that in this century we can get by without working phone systems in our schools. This is fundamental, critical last century infrastructure.

Disagree strongly, Jack.

This is not waste. Asking teachers to provide their own voicemail service is absurd in this age, unfair and an invitation to problems. This is both a safety issue and progressive.

For instance, the random cell phones in a room can't reliably get an instant lockdown message, a tape-your-doors-and-windows-message, etc, something that will surely be part of any new system.

This kind of service is a productivity issue no reasonable person goes without these days. Teachers shouldn't be required to operate in the stone age.

These phones aren't demanded by teachers--it's increasingly schizophrenic parents who want constant, multiple forms of contact. all of my teacher friends complain of the blessing and curse of the phone and e-mail access. parents often go either ballistic or get downright inappropriate, often for the most inane reasons. they have a target for their frustration.

in other words--this isn't a frivolous expense launched by schools on a whim.

while we're at it, how about the parents who complain loudly and often that their kids "need" cell phones at all times "in case I need to reach them"?

and so on. once again, the picture of schools is viewed through a distorted, simplistic lens.

I'd also point out that VOIP can result in significant long-term cost savings. For example, at home I currently have DSL and a landline, both of which cost about $40/month. I can replace my DSL and get wi-max for the same amount per month, and then run a VOIP (ooma, for example) system for $0/month, and just like that I've saved myself $40/month.

Telephones in a workplace, any workplace, are not "nonessential". The teachers can use their judgement to set limits on use of the classroom phone.

If my son's teacher has a problem and needs to reach the principal or another teacher, immediately, I want her to have the technology to do that.

If there is already a phone in a classroom, and it works, replacing it is not essential.

Telephones in a workplace, any workplace, are not "nonessential". The teachers can use their judgement to set limits on use of the classroom phone.

Yeah, the "limits" ought to be NO USE except in the case of an emergency.

THe "workplace" here doesn't require the use of phones for the "work" at hand.

What a joke.

Telecommunications simply aren't needed in the classroom.

Because back in my day, we wrote on slate tablets, with lumps of chalk, and it was good enough for us.

In this day and age, telecommunications are very much needed in the classroom. Given how poorly paid teachers are and how many hours of unpaid overtime many work to help YOUR kids learn, I would think allowing them to use school phones for school business is a very good thing.

With a proper VOIP phone system, there is an element of added safety if something untoward happens, a centralized phone system can reach all of the rooms at once.

A VOIP system will be cheaper in the long run when you look at a comparable POTS PBX system and the required upkeep, since a VOIP system can be managed remotely by a smaller team of administrators versus a group of maintenance techs that travel from site to site, or are permanently stationed onsite.

As someone who manages computer systems on a large scale, I can tell you that trying to manage an old out of date phone system while being pressed to bring in new systems on a shoe string budget is a surefire way to end up with unhappy people.

Since this is a school and the VOIP systems typically running on Linux, a case could be made to allow the school's computer club members to help manage the system. This way they gain experience with managing systems remotely in a "corporate" environment, learning responsibility and transparency in their work habits and the schools can reduce the workload on their central management staff.

Finally, it allows the teachers to separate their personal lives from their professional lives while allowing the students and parents a way of reaching their teachers when they don't have access to a computer or e-mail.

Remember when TV in the classroom started? The howling that came from that? How many children watched historic events happen right before their eyes? What kind of sparks did that ignite in their minds do you think? What kind of questions did they come up with? Can you imagine holding video conference classroom sessions between schools? Say between sister cities? How cool would that be?

Anything that can get the attention of the students in a positive way should be encouraged, IMHO.

For many kids, school could be the only exposure to computers they have and a supervised exposure is a better way to get them started than the alternative.

Considering how far behind our kids are in the tech world, anything we can do to bring them closer is a good thing.

Replace the phones, allow the teachers to have their own extensions that they can contact the parents from, provide the parents a single number to call into an operator or digital switch and lets start bringing the education of our children into the 20th century. Who knows maybe we'll get into the 21st century before the 22nd?

Because back in my day, we wrote on slate tablets, with lumps of chalk, and it was good enough for us.

yeah, I know, like that Socrates dude, an that Da Vinci geek. what a couple of losers. how did they manage to get by without an advanced degree, a networked Windows PC and an iPhone?

like Einstein said, we're dumber than the technology we build our lives around. we've got too much, rely on it utterly, and reap the consequences. we think the opposite of constant connectedness is sticks and fires. we whine when denied our toys, and despise balance.

Local government in these parts does so well with computers. I'm sure everyone will rest easier knowing that emergency communications from public school classrooms are going to rely on the internet.

As someone who manages computer systems on a large scale,

Always nice to have an unbiased view of the need for endless technology upgrades.

The silliest part of this is, for every computer wizard we hire at the school, we'll lay off a teacher.

Wasting money on a survey? Huh?

There ain't much money in surveys. But I do wonder why they're not spending their ten or twenty bucks with Zoomerang's local competitor, SurveyMonkey.com.

I think Survey Monkey charges $30 a month to keep a survey going and its data available. But the real money is for the time of the PPS staffer who's going to compile the data, make the PowerPoint presentation, etc. Overtime for attending the board meeting, perhaps?

If phone improvements are needed, the district is going to make them regardless of what some survey says. In this case, the bureaucrats probably figure that the parents are going to scream, "We want the teachers to jump when we call!" Since that likely outcome supports what's already been decided, they'll do the survey. This is what is known as public involvement.

Don't forget that technology often saves human resource costs. When you call a school office to get rerouted to a classroom, someone has to answer the phone and route the call. Sometimes it's a student volunteer (and why aren't they in class learning something, dammit?), but often it's a paid employee. There's a REASON the phone companies installed automatic switching and fired the "one ringy dingy" switchboard operators -- cost savings.

So you're being penny wise, pound foolish to call phones in each room an unnecessary expense.

The silliest part of this is, for every computer wizard we hire at the school, we'll lay off a teacher.

I've seen it over and over--the more tech-centric employees there are, the more "technology" is pushed *into* the classroom--even when teachers are saying "enough! just give us a few things that work reliably and stop trying to "improve" our job."

in other words, technology specialists, who don't teach a single class or interact with a single student, often make the big technology pushes and decisions--with minimal teacher input and participation.

If the parents would support back to basics instead of getting distracted with technology, our kids would all benefit. Throwing money at a phone system upgrade will not teach the kids times tables. I bet all of the teachers would rather know that the public money is spent on securing their jobs. Parents need to stop micro-managing the kids and the teachers during school hours and let them learn. To continue my rant, kids do NOT need cell phones, TV, social network sites and gaming systems. Connect them with life, instead of a screen. Let them do homework, read a book, get some exercise, do some chores and play a board game with your family. The screen is a cheap form of babysitting. Be a better parent and get engaged with them-who knows, you may actually develop a positive relationship with them!

Telecommunications simply aren't needed in the classroom.

Wow. 'Nuff said.

At least in the schools I've visited, the phone systems are pretty old and worn through. Sure, they work, but only because we're spending more time and money on TLC of an old system. Personally, I'm glad that someone is taking a look at this: a relatively small capital outlay that can reduce ongoing operating cost is something that makes sense in a lot of real-world businesses, so why shouldn't the school district be any different?

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