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Jun 2010

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Cover Story

You can take this prediction to the bank: Within five years, each and every K12 student, in each and every grade, in each and every school in the United States will be using a mobile learning device, 24/7. How can we say that when today 99 percent of the schools ban cell phones? Because mobile is bigger than the Internet.


Every fifth grader in Cimarron Elementary School in the Katy (Texas) Independent School District has been using MLDs since October 2009. The suburban district west of Houston has about 58,000 students. Six general education teachers and one special education co-teacher are participating. Students are using their MLDs for more than half of the school day in science, reading, language, social studies and math. They are using their MLDs at home, as well.

The North Rockland Central School District in Garnerville, N.Y., started its MLD program in January. Eighty fifth graders, along with three teachers, at Haverstraw Middle School have been using smartphones in a one-to-one pilot project.

When you look at Florida, the state legislature has always been interested in education, and our governors have always been interested in school reform," observes Nikolai Vitti, deputy chancellor of school improvement and student achievement for the Florida Department of Education.

In the six years since her appointment as superintendent of Volusia County (Fla.) School District—a district that has 63,000 students in 16 cities, including Daytona Beach, in the heart of Florida's east coast—Margaret Smith has had her share of success. But what makes her so different from other superintendents is her ability to reach out.

Although the Internet has revolutionized communication and provided powerful new educational tools for student learning, it has also created risks and raised ethical issues for students of all grades, as it has created many opportunities for illegal, inappropriate and unsafe behavior among all participants.

Increasingly, K12 educators are seeing the need to not only utilize the Internet in instruction, but also to teach students the knowledge and critical thinking skills needed to be safe and responsible digital citizens both inside and outside of school.

With a national teacher shortage projected to start peaking this year as baby boomers retire and budget shortfalls restrict state and local funding for teachers, rural school districts are working to keep the teachers they have while seeking new ones at little if any additional cost.

While St. Marys is a small, rural town in west central Ohio, over 800 students and 49 staff members are using mobile learning devices (HTC Touch Pro2s) in grades 3-7. The one-to-one 24/7 mobile learning project started in October 2008 as a small, 60-unit pilot, but it has exploded into the largest one-to-one mobile learning project in the nation. The students use the MLDs for at least 50 percent of the school day for all their academic subjects and then use them for homework outside of school.

Starting in December 2009, Watkins Glen Central School District, in a small, rural town in upstate New York, put HTC 6800 smartphones in the hands of about 200 fifth- and seventh-grade students and 20 teachers (including special education support teachers) in three schools. We had felt that it was too risky to give students access to cell phones and texting with all of the problems associated with them, but when Verizon Wireless said they could turn off the voice and texting capabilities of the devices, we jumped at the opportunity to do a pilot study.


Following the publication of a 2004 report by the Alliance for Excellent Education (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004), the topic of adolescent literacy emerged as an issue of concern. It recently has received increased attention thanks to the latest round of studies and calls for additional federal funding (Cassidy, Valadez, Garrett, & Barrera, 2010).

Since 1999, Scott County Schools in Kentucky has been a leader in digital storytelling thanks to its director of technology, Jeanne Biddle, who with the district's previous tech coordinator, Leslie Flanders, launched a tool to help teachers improve the writing skills of their students in preparation for state assessments.

IF the Walnut Creek School District needs extra funding, it turns to the Walnut Creek Education Foundation (


With budgets cut to the bone, music education programs in many districts have been trimmed and even eliminated. Student interest in them, however, has never been higher. A new study released by the National String Project Consortium (NSPC) indicates that, just prior to the economic meltdown, the number of students playing string instruments had increased from 18 percent in 1997 to 29 percent in 2009. While the study confirms promising news for interest in music education, it also predicts a national shortage of string teachers for 2010 through 2013—a loss of 1,000 teachers each year.

Education reformer and writer Whitney Tilson, who helped launch Teach for America in 1989, has a dream: that little boys and little girls of all economic backgrounds in the United States have the same education.

He put his dream into a documentary film, A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform, which was released in April 2010 and produced by documentary filmmaker Bob Compton.

An experimental initiative that tests the potential of augmented reality for K12 education began in San Diego in April, that equips fourth-graders from city schools on field trips to the San Diego Museum of Art with specially developed smartphones.

The emerging field of augmented reality is in its infancy. In the most general sense, the term "augmented reality" refers to mobile technology that enhances, or augments, the physical environment around the user with digital information.

Two New Hampshire school systems, the Pembroke School District and Winnisquam Regional School District (WRS D), are reducing their carbon dioxide emissions by transitioning to biomass- fueled plants to heat their two largest facilities. Partnering with Honeywell, a private energy technology manufacturer, the districts will save an estimated $3.7 million combined over the next 15 years by switching to plants that burn wood chips. The Pembroke District completed its first phase in 2008, and WRS D expects its plant to be completed by fall.

In what is its third and final phase of an ambitious plan to renovate their district, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) will be putting the final touches on 25 refurbished buildings that the district expects will receive the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification seal of approval. IPS, encompassing 65 schools and over 34,000 students, began its comprehensive sustainability project in 2001 to update infrastructure and reduce energy costs.

A new report released in May finds that although a majority of K12 educators believe that financial literacy is an important content area that should be taught in schools, only a small minority feel qualified to teach it or have ever taught the topic in class.

As district administrators nationwide are cutting summer school programs due to budget shortfalls, with some using the last of their stimulus money to retain teaching positions, other districts are prioritizing these programs. They know that, particularly for high poverty students, cutting programming means learning setbacks and a precarious time with few opportunities for physical activity, academic and cultural enrichment, creative exploration, or in some cases, proper nutrition.

With oil continuing to spill into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon drilling explosion and experts scrambling to discover the elusive solution that will halt the unceasing flow of pollutants, it's time to begin grappling with the necessary question that legislators, bureaucrats and everyday citizens must now address: How do we prevent this kind of disaster from happening again?

As the nation prepares for common core standards in math and English language arts, a framework to guide new science standards in elementary and secondary education—where students are showing only mediocre achievement compared to other nations—is getting closer.


Under Fire

Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, is being sued by the DPS school board for interfering with academic decisions. Bobb has filed an appeal against an injunction banning him from these actions.


DA's New Curriculum Newsletter Draws Praise

Congratulations on the March 3 issue of Curriculum Leader! This is an excellent example of the type of materials I like to present to administration and faculty. Your compilation of topical subject matter is timely and relevant to the needs of curriculum directors.

Laura Beltchenko, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, Wauconda (Ill.) CUSD #118

In the United States and around the world, interactive whiteboards continue to be one of the largest and fastest-growing segments of classroom education technology. According to market research firm Future- Source Consulting, more than 300,000 interactive whiteboards were sold in the United States and 750,000 globally in 2009, which represents an increase of 34 percent over 2008. The firm also forecasts a 27 percent increase over 2009 this year, to nearly 1 million units sold worldwide.


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As I've edited this publication over the last several years, the line between what is deemed the responsibility of parents to teach their children, and what educators are expected to teach students in nontraditional areas of learning seems to be getting fuzzier all the time. With each issue, I waver on this parent-educator conundrum. In DA's September 2008 issue, we ran "Districts Weigh Obesity Screening"—a feature article about the trend toward mandating the measuring of students' body mass index, with parental notification. These initiatives seem intrusive and make me feel uneasy.

Q: Your role as national PTA president is slightly different from previous presidents.