Surveys Present Contradictory Findings
More than 50 percent of school districts have revamped their curricula to include higher math, science and technology standards and nearly 50 percent are now using new assessment measures for 21st century skills, such as problem solving, teamwork and critical thinking, says the new Annual National School Boards Association Technology Survey.
The NSBA poll results were released on the heels of a different nationwide poll from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills revealing that some Americans are deeply concerned that the nation's schools are not adequately preparing young people to succeed in a globally competitive workforce environment.
The NSBA findings were culled from a survey of approximately 1,400 registrants of the NSBA Technology + Learning conference and members of NSBA's Technology Leadership Network. The survey polled district leaders on their use of technology and the extent to which it supported changes in 21st century learning opportunities for students.
"We believe this is a good indication that school districts are moving beyond the basic requirements of No Child Left Behind and really looking at the advanced skills that students are going to need to perform well in the workplaces of the future," said NSBA executive director Anne L. Bryant during a press briefi ng at the conference.
Respondents to the survey also said by a wide margin-92 percent-that technology in the classroom increases educational opportunities for students.
In contrast, fifty percent of the approximately 800 voters who responded to the Partnership survey-almost 70 percent of which were nonparents-said that the country is moving "in the wrong direction" in educating our youth to instill in them the skills necessary to compete. (Forty-four percent said the country is moving in the right direction.) Additionally, 42 percent of people surveyed think other developed countries are doing a better job than the United States in preparing their children for 21st century jobs, compared to only 13 percent who think the United States is doing better.
In light of the Partnership survey, Bryant says of the NSBA findings, "I was pleased by this data. It says that people who actually know what's going with these technologies in schools are doing it, much more than the public knows."
Both groups agree that 21st century skills and "new literacy" technologies are very important for today's students.
"Such skills as problem solving, innovation and creativity have become critical in today's global economy," says Partnership president Ken Kay.
Henry Lee Offers Technology Insights
Renowned forensic scientist Henry Lee recently addressed educators at the joint Connecticut Educators Computer Association (CECA) and Connecticut Educational Media Association (CEMA) Conference in Hartford, leading them through high-profile cases solved using observation and technology. "In my early days of teaching I used blackboards. Then I used overheads and next slides. Now I have a computer. I still don't know how to use it, but I have 475 presentations and 86 cases on it," said Lee. He reminded everyone that technology can't replace people, but that people use technology.
Lee's cases, from O.J. Simpson to Jon-Benet Ramsey, make for a who's who of crime detection and offer a real picture of the hard work and dedication it takes to solve crimes.
"Technology is a lesson we all have to learn," said Lee. "It changes the world, not only the field of education. - Ken Royal
One-Stop Shopping for Grants
Bridge multimedia and the National Center for Technology Innovation recently announced the launch of the fourth edition of www.EdTechOnline.org, a free, user-friendly Web site that offers "one-stop shopping" for the latest information on federal grants to support educational technology.
The site links state and local educators, technology directors, vendors and publishers to the latest data on current and upcoming grants. It was featured at the National Center for Technology Innovation's Annual Technology Innovators Conference in November.
Pennsylvania's Classrooms for the Future
In September 2006 Pennsylvania governor Edward G. Rendell announced the selection of more than 100 high schools to participate in the first year of the state's three-year Classrooms for the Future initiative. Th e state's secretary of education Gerald L. Zahorchak spoke with District Administration assistant editor Zach Miners about the state's high school reform agenda and how various forms of technology-including laptops, SMART boards and video cameras-are helping to provide students with 21st century skills and excite them about learning.
DA: How did the Classrooms for the Future program get started? ZAHORCHAK:
We started with a project called "720"-720 days from ninth to 12th grade-to advance our high school reform agenda. We set expectations for kids so that all of our students can be ready with 21st century skills, which include fundamental literacy skills, problemsolving skills, and skills to work together as teammates. We asked the question, "What can we do to help change the culture of teaching and learning?"-where learning becomes more self- directed, toward end goals with teachers serving as education facilitators. And in doing so we added to the project Classrooms for the Future, which is now a $90 million initiative toward a $200 million end project.
DA: And the funding comes from federal and state sources? ZAHORCHAK:
The $200 million is over a three-year period of investment and comes completely from the state government. More important than laptops on every desk in core academic subject areas and "smart" classrooms with projectors, scanners and whiteboards was this year's $13 million for the Pennsylvania High School Coaching Initiative, where instructional coaches trained in pedagogies work with teachers not just to harness technology, but the best pedagogical practices to advance student achievement. This is where we have a blend of federal and state funds. We have a coaching initiative at the heart of this project.
DA: How many high schools right now are participating in the program? ZAHORCHAK:
We have more than half of our high schools-over 340 schools.
DA: And every student in these high schools benefi ts from the program? ZAHORCHAK:
Yes, because every student takes core academic subject areas. It's remarkable. I mean the changes that are going on with student-directed learning. There's just such an enthusiasm. There's engagement-kids wanting to be there. Pennsylvania State University is doing research on things like academic achievement, engagement and attendance. And early results are telling us that kids are much more enthused about high school- they're seeing some relevance in it-and they're engaged in project-based learning as opposed to just teacher lecturing. For this project I've even been on soccer fields where kids are kicking and throwing soccer balls and applying it to mathematics- and getting the essence of math probably for the first time in their lives.
DA: Can you elaborate on examples such as those? What's going on that is getting students so much more excited?ZAHORCHAK:
Think about it. When you study a mathematical concept, and you are in the "old school," your teacher's at an overhead projector, you're all in seats looking at the overhead, and the teacher is showing you one process for getting at the final answer. Now all of a sudden you're on a soccer field and you're looking at the probability of scoring a goal, you're actually recording it with a video camera, you're coming back and plotting it with computer software, and you're working in teams of four. That's a whole different approach. And kids are seeing multiple approaches to getting the answers, and bringing their competencies together.
DA: So it's about using technology to open up new approaches and ways to apply it to things students enjoy. ZAHORCHAK:
Yes. And we use it to get access to information, to do our constructive work, to do our teamwork. Technology will continue to change. We hope to keep up with it. But the technology is a piece of it-it's not the heart of it. The heart of it is changing the instructional approach so that learning is at the center of the classroom activities.
DA: How do the laptops factor in? ZAHORCHAK:
One answer, of course, is all of the above. When you work across those 21st century skills, sometimes students are using laptops for assisted instruction, or to work on a spreadsheet, or to bring in video that they're going to analyze. Sometimes they're just doing simple or high-level research via the laptop.
DA: And when the program ends, do you want to see the underlying philosophy behind it stay in place? ZAHORCHAK:
Yes. We will eventually change out. We will hit that last day running-promise you that. And a new administration will come in with the luxury if being able to build on a really strong foundation of teaching and learning.
Dramatic Enrollment Growth and Challenges in Rural Schools
As urban schools struggle with limited resources and face crippling sanctions for failing to meet proficiency requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law, a new nationwide report from the Rural School and Community Trust (Rural Trust) draws attention to similar conditions in rural America.
"Why Rural Education Matters 2007: The Realities of Rural Education Growth," is the fourth in a biennial research series from the Rural Trust. It is a close examination of rural education using a "changing set of indicators to examine its complexity and diversity," says Jerry Johnson, Rural Trust research and analysis unit manager.
Data from the study show a 55 percent increase in rural minority student enrollment, with states such as New Hampshire, Iowa and Illinois experiencing increases well above 100 percent. Conversely, the report found an overall increase of only 1 percent in public school enrollment in rural and nonrural areas. Total enrollment in rural schools increased by 15 percent between 2002-2003 and 2004-2005.
The report cites high poverty levels, low student achievement, low teacher salaries, meeting the needs of English Language Learners and uneven distribution of Title 1 funds among the challenges rural schools continue to face.
"Rural education is evolving and growing, but the funding support and other resources for rural schools are not keeping pace," says Rachel B. Tompkins, Rural Trust president. "It is time for action-not just acknowledgment that help is needed," like keeping schools small, concentrating resources in high-poverty areas and maximizing rural school effectiveness with technology.
Special Ed Advocate Extraordinaire
Spectrum K12 School Solutions, the leading provider of comprehensive data management solutions for special education students, announced at the National School Boards Association Technology + Learning Conference in October holly lu conan rees as the recipient of its 2007 "Special Education Advocate Extraordinaire Award." (As an act of selflessness, conan rees does not capitalize her name.)
Conan rees founded and continues to chair the Tennessee Disability Coalition on Education, and is an active member of the Advocacy for the Rights of Individuals with Disabilities Organization.
"I am proud to receive this prestigious award, but the real star is my son, Samuel. He has been my inspiration since the day he was born 24 years ago with a rare chromosomal anomaly, Ring Chromosome 15," said conan rees at the awards ceremony. "All of us who work with children are constantly presented with challenges that involve informed decision making, care and risk. It has been a great privilege to concentrate on meeting those challenges head on."