Thursday, November 20, 2008

School Board Letter

Dear School Board and concerned citizens,

I want to address my concerns about the way the Microsoft settlement has been handled by our school district.

A little over one year ago, I entered my new middle school classroom and beheld 40 Windows 98 desktops purchased in 1999.  I had been teaching 6th grade math and science the previous four years using multiple strategies including technology to further students' understanding of Earth Science.  I wrote a proposal to teach an aeronautics unit as a full elective, and California's State Assembly awarded me a small grant to buy computers, flight yokes, software, and books.  I subsequently agreed to teach technology full time, not quite aware of how poorly my room was equipped.


I began teaching one class in Aeronautics and four crowded classes of Introduction to Computers to 7th and 8th grade students in the Fall of 2007.  I managed to replace seventeen of the Windows 98 desktops by the end of December 2007, but struggled with the mix of operating systems, cranky networks, and no IT support.  I paid over a thousand dollars for technical support out of my own pocket to keep my room running.


During the Spring of 2008 I attended the Computer Using Educators (CUE) Conference and became aware of the Microsoft Settlement which had awarded $250,000,000 dollars in vouchers to California's public schools for technology. Over $35,000,000 dollars of that amount was designated for the LAUSD. The lawsuit and settlement were finalized in during the Fall of 2006, a full year and a half earlier.


I lobbied to get our byzantine and chain bound bureaucracy to use these vouchers for their intended purpose.  I reached out with e-mails, meetings and calls to district officials and administrators.  I got nowhere.  I realized that I had little voice against the bureaucratic hierarchy which in subtle ways effectively silenced me.


Then Evelyn Larrubia wrote her excellent article for the Los Angeles Times on October 26, 2008, and things started to shake loose.  It is apparent that many school districts have not developed plans to use the vouchers.  Most of the parents, teachers, and administrators I have talked with were not even aware of the settlement. Only through media oversight followed by citizen action has this waste of resources come to light.


It has become even more difficult in this time of economic crisis to upgrade antiquated equipment, get support and service, teacher training for technology, and new software that the vouchers would reimburse.  All monies have been unilaterally frozen.  The facts are that these vouchers can fund the purchase of software, hardware, and ed tech training.


I came from the private sector to teaching only five years ago having worked in a highly visible and technology savvy industry. I love teaching and feel that I have a gift for being an educator.  This waste of resources is heartbreaking to me.  I urge the district to take action and work quickly to implement the settlement.  






Charlie Unkeless

Computer Lab Instructor

John Burroughs Middle School

Los Angeles, California