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[school-discuss] Re: Typical school / local gov't employee retention rates?

on Mon, Dec 20, 2004 at 07:08:44AM -0500, Aaron Tyo-Dickerson (aaron@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx) wrote:
> Karsten M. Self wrote:

> >One of the costs associated with Linux tools is training.  Which if you
> >think about it, is really an investment in staff.  Which then amortizes
> >in a manner strongly dependent on employee retention.
> >
> >While I've worked in tech environments with 20%, 50%, or even 200%
> >(yes!) turnover, I suspect that most educational settings have a far
> >more stable workforce.  Say, 5-10% a year, and likely the lower end (one
> >reference cites 6% for Tennessee[1].
> >
> >Which means that if you have to engage in retraining, ten years down the
> >road, you've still got 50% of the staff around[2].
> >
> >Contrast with PC hardware, assuming a service lifetime of five years
> >(probably typical for educational environments).  If you're rotating out
> >HW annually, that's a 20% rate of age-out on your investment.  Given the
> >proprietary industry's typical "HW/SW" upgrade lock, and product
> >lifecycles of 3-4 years, that also means you're probably looking at
> >maintaining and supporting at least two major versions (and likely 3-4)
> >on your network.

> Kartsen,
> I really enjoyed reading this posting from you and enjoyed your cited 
> sources as well. 

Thanks ;-)

> You refer to the relatively stable staff in schools as a support for
> making Linux deployment work. There is, however, the odd twist that
> while teachers are very likely (relative to, say, those in the tech
> sector) to stay in their jobs, those at the start of their careers
> (within the first 3-5 years) are overwhelmingly the most likely to
> leave. Study after study has shown that not only do new teachers not
> stay in a particular school, they also leave teaching altogether
> (again, relative to other career fields).

Right.  I've got some proximate experience with this myself through
friends, etc., who've either entered or exited teaching.  I suspect
another factor is that new teachers are often assigned to "hardship
cases".  One long-time childhood friend spent a couple of years in South
Central LA, he's now pursuing a medical career....
> <extrapolation src="personal experiences"> What all of this may mean
> for Linux adoption (and the general deployment of new desktop or
> system software) is that there are two kinds of teachers: the lifers
> and the newbies. In my experience as a regional trainer for our nine,
> K-12 school districts, lifers tend to resist change, having seen many
> educational "fads" come and go over the course of their careers. They
> often include technology in this list of fads and either believe that
> instructional technology itself is an educational trend or, at the
> very least, that the technology changes too much for their tastes.

I think there's a *lot* to be said for fads, political initiatives,
mandates, etc., etc., etc.  And there's a lot to be said for seeing such
fads as what they are.

There's a lot of evidence, too, that technology has been *grossly*
oversold to schools, often at a steep cost premium to boot.  Todd
Oppenheimer (_The Flickering Mind_) is among the leading critics of
mindless ed-tech boosterism, and many of his criticisms are well

That said:  I think Free Software addresses a number of these concerns.
In the context of computers as computers, it tends to point to learning
from principles and foundations.  For other tools, there's a lot of
flexibility in how free software tools can be used and what can be done.
For the basics -- Web research, writing, illustration, etc., the tools
available rival anything on legacy MS Windows.

You also tend to get many of the vendor promotional issues out of the
way.  There's a lot pushing products which really don't fit a need or
even work particularly well, typically on staff which are overwhelmed
and can't really identify needs.  Free Software tends to advance on
merits, not marketing budgets.

And then there's the advanced stuff.  From recent work experience:  we
received a couple of proprietary audio mixer packages (Super Dooper
Music Looper and Acid from Sony) for a lab of 10 workstations,
networked.  My install SOP is to copy the installation media to the
Samba server, and install from there.

  - Neither package would install from network.  Instead, the software
    needed to be installed, from disk, separately on each machine.  And
    required the installation media to be in place to operate.

  - The licenses were for a single instance.  OK.  I've got ten systems.
    And I can't install on more than one....  What's wrong with this
    picture?   Mind:  this software was available freely through a grant

So I took a look at Audacity, which I'd parked in the Software share,
but hadn't got about to installing yet.  Install was a breeze, worked
over the Net, and features were largely comperable with the proprietary

Simply put:  it was easier to provide a uniform deployment with the free
software than proprietary software, even whent the proprietary stuff was

Oh, and the kids loved it ;-)

I'll grant that there's a lot of Free Software that's got its issues
with bugs and the like.  But on balance I've had better luck with it
than proprietary solutions, particularly in low-overhead niches such as

> Newbies, on the other hand, are the fresh-out-of-college, early 
> adopters. They have used computer technology in college (to write 
> papers, communicate with faculty and classmates, maybe even taking 
> online courses) and have been explicitly taught to integrate technology 
> into their teaching style. They are, in my experience, eager users and 
> willing to change and adapt and often express frustration at their 
> lifers colleagues' foot dragging. </extrapolation>

Fortunately, we're reaching a point at which pretty much _everyone_ has
had some exposure to computers.  This isn't the situation we had a
decade or two back, the stuff's ubiquitous.

There's a lot of lack of knowledge about specific or advanced
capabilities.  But ToK users[1] are a lot rarer than even a few years
> I would very much like to hear back from you and others on this list
> regarding practical experiences with introducing Linux or open-source
> desktop applications to classroom teachers. Have there been strategies
> that work very well (or very poorly)? What about the differences
> between teachers and various levels of willingness to accept the new
> paradigm of free, open-source software?

In my own experience, the problems I encountered were largely
programmatic vs. experiential.

I'm working in an environment (non-profit, sponsor relationships, many
of these with their own agendas to push.  The environment itself is
somewhat ad-hoc:  there's no guarantee a kid will be present on a given
day, the lab is an available opportunity.  Some kids are pretty much
always present, some show frequently, others drop by occasionally, and
some visit in "packs" when the mood strikes.  Kids vary widely, there's
a broad age range (6-18), and a huge span of motivations and interests.

...all of which means that continuity is somewhat hard to maintain, and
paced or progressive materials are hard to do.

What worked a lot better was to offer focussed activity sessions, during
which a balance of activities could occur.  An hour for homework (with
some effort being made to ensure that homework was, in fact, being

I try to keep a fairly large amount of time open for free exploration
and help.  There are kids who'll spend much of the day doing homework
(really), one who's building his own GNU/Linux box, art, and others.
And you've got to realize that if you've got an eight year old who wants
to spend six months working on the same six-line "letter", you know,
that's not all bad.

Then there's specific activities, the best of which have some sort of
goal in mind.  This is where the programmatic stuff actually _does_ work
somewhat, if there's a competition or contest at the end.  You've got
something specific to do, and a date by which to do it.

And a lot of time is spent on basics:  logging in, navigating menues,
etc.  Our setup is WinXP clients w/ a GNU/Linux backend.  This is one
place where a more pure-play GNU/Linux configuration would be easier to
deal with:  kiosk logins and such.  You have to allow a lot of patience
when working with kids.  OTOH, finding the smart ones and having them
help out others is a real lifesaver.



1.  Terrified of Keyboard.

Karsten M. Self <kmself@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>        http://kmself.home.netcom.com/
 What Part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
   What doesn't kill you makes you stranger.
   - Karsten M. Self, misreading as usual, San Marcos Pass Rd., 1988

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