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March 2012

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Cover Story

For the last decade, in districts big and small, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has emerged as the largest private funder of educational efforts. This began with an initiative around small schools in the early to mid-2000s, mostly abandoned now, and has gained traction in the past few years in areas such as teacher evaluation, the Common Core State Standards and district-charter collaboration.


With new Common Core State Standards assessments in K12 mathematics due to be in use by the start of the 2014-2015 school year, many district administrators and teachers do not know what they should know about them now and are not taking steps they should be taking to prepare for them. While they are aware that the assessments are being developed, educators generally do not understand what that means to them, according to Doug Sovde, senior advisor to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC).

Education reform means very different things to different people, President Barack Obama said on a visit last March to a school in Boston. “There is no better economic policy than the one that produces graduates. That’s why reforming education is the responsibility of every American,” he stated.

Predicting the future is now in the hands of K12 administrators. While for years districts have collected thousands of pieces of student data, educators have been using them only for data-driven decision-making or formative assessments, which give a “rear-view” perspective only.

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Although Apple has hogged much of the e-book spotlight since its announcement in January that it would partner with Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to roll out K12 e-Books in addition to its improved iBooks applications, it isn’t, nor ever will be, the only player in tablets in education. On the heels of Apple’s announcement, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski released in early March his plans to get all U.S. students, from kindergarten through the 12th grade, using electronic book titles by 2017—in five years.

Since the launch of the Apple iPad, educators have touted the tool’s ability to engage special education students with autism spectrum disorder through unique, customizable applications and stimulating touchscreen technology. Many still feel, however, that although touchscreen tablets work well as personalized tools, they cannot be a replacement for interactive whiteboards, which help autistic students with social learning in a group setting.

Whiteboards began making headway in the K12 arena in 2006, and their presence in classrooms has increased exponentially ever since.

At almost every turn over the past decade—from innovative instructional technologies to advanced database management—administrators and teachers have discovered a brave new world in education. But a host of experts in educational technology say that for all the progress in districts so far, that world is becoming markedly braver and newer—and in a hurry.


Let’s be honest. Flipping the classroom and using clickers and other new products can only have a modest impact on student achievement. Why? Because the underlying pedagogy of such innovations is still direct instruction, with a teacher telling students stuff and then students working to remember that stuff.

The start of a new year is A time of resolutions and renewal, but for many of us here in Washington, it seems we can’t get rid of old baggage.

We haven’t seen this big a change in education in 500 years. Every learner with an Internet connection can build a personalized, global network of people and information. It’s a shift that Robert Darnton, a Harvard University history professor, compares to watershed moments like the invention of the printing press. To stay current, every educator needs to dive into these networks ASAP. As Bob Dylan once sang, “You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.”


Effective after-school and expanded learning programs can play a vital role in student success. In fact, when researchers at the Harvard Family Research Project analyzed a decade of research and evaluation studies a few years ago, they concluded that “children and youth who participate in after-school programs can reap a host of positive benefits in a number of interrelated outcome areas—academic, social/emotional, prevention, and health and wellness” (Little, Wimer, & Weiss, 2008).

Known for its cultural diversity, Rowland Unified School District (RUSD) in Rowland Heights, Calif., takes the “unified” in its name very seriously, says Superintendent Maria G. Ott—so seriously that the district’s mission statement calls Rowland’s “progressive international community” one that is “united in learning.”

Principal observes teacher for 50 minutes. Principal completes checklist. Principal tells teacher what she needs to work on. Dublin City (Ohio) Schools did away with this archaic method of teacher evaluation in the 2009-2010 school year and put the emphasis on teacher self-assessment, professional learning and student-growth data after developing a tailor-made teacher evaluation tool with the help of a committee of teachers, administrators and the teachers union.


Offering incentives to high school students to complete their courses early is an idea popping up around the country. The Early High School Graduation Scholarship Program bill in the Missouri state legislature, for example, promises scholarships to students completing high school in less than four years. The bill, proposed by state Sen. Scott Rupp in January, was created in hopes of increasing student achievement, encouraging students to pursue college as an affordable option, and perhaps save the state’s school districts some revenue.

The Arizona Department of Education gave the Tucson Unified School District an ultimatum: Eliminate all ethnic studies courses or face massive financial sanctions.

The New Tech Network, which began in 1996 as a nonprofit school improvement organization, made a splash at the Educon conference in Philadelphia earlier this year, explaining how it reformed 86 schools in 16 states. And the difference with the model is that communities, not schools, fund them. Through fundraisers, donations and other contributions, the community “invests” in the change that happens.

Move over Groupon and Living Social; Schoola is the newest deal-of-the-day Web site, and its mission is to help schools raise money.

Schoola, launched by Savvy Source in February, helps school supporters, such as Parent Teacher Associations, work with businesses in their community to create a deal. Schoola hosts and facilitates the fundraiser online, handles the purchases and sends the proceeds to merchants and schools. To reach a larger audience, schools can partner with other schools to reach a larger audience and increase visibility.

Michelle Rhee is back. Rhee’s grassroots organization, StudentsFirst, metaphorically descended on the state capitol in Alabama last month, ready to persuade state legislators to reform K12 education. With more than one million members, including parents, grandparents, teachers, principals and policy makers, StudentsFirst advocates for education reforms, via state or federal legislation and policies, that will improve student achievement.

Warning: All school districts that use two-way radios will have less than one year to comply with the Federal Communications Commission’s narrowbanding mandate, or risk losing all communication capabilities. Narrowbanding is part of a continued effort by the FCC to ensure efficient use of the spectrum and greater access for public safety and non-public safety users. Narrowbanding, which operates at 12.5 kHz, will allow additional channels to exist in the same spectrum and support more users.

In November 2011, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) polled its 600,000 members and found that 82 percent had faced skepticism around climate change education from their students, and 54 percent faced skepticism from parents. Most notably, NSTA reported that several of their respondents noted the political polarization of climate change education and the effect it has on their teaching. Climate change has been a divisive issue, particularly regarding its role in the classroom, for a number of years. In 2007, President Barack Obama—then Sen.

Persistent tardiness is rampant in Boston Public Schools as a result of miscalculated bus routes, according to the Boston School Bus Drivers Union. According to a grievance filed against school bus provider First Student, Inc. by the union obtained by the Boston Globe, the drivers felt a new GPS computer software system installed failed to account for the heavy traffic in the city and generated routes that are poorly timed.

Shelly Landry, Minneapolis Public Schools’ lead counselor and former president of the Minnesota Counselors Association, swears that Naviance has transformed the district’s guidance department, which manages nearly 34,570 K12 students. Landry says that the program, an online tool for tracking students’ progress in preparing for college, has improved the rate of graduates headed to college.

Getting a National Nod

Deborah Delisle, a former state superintendent from Ohio, has been nominated to serve as the U.S. Department of Education’s assistant secretary of education. Delisle left her position last year when Republican Gov. John Kasich was elected.


Tourette’s Investigation

Environmentalist Erin Brockovich and a team investigating soil samples were ordered off the grounds of LeRoy (N.Y.) Junior-Senior High School in January. Since last summer, 15 students at the school have presented Tourette’s symptoms.


Retirement options for teachers and other school district employees could previously be compared to the “wild, wild west,” says Bruce Corcoran, managing director of institutional development for the K12 market at TIAA-CREF, national financial services company serving educators and other non-profit workers. Since the 1960s, public school workers have had a plethora of retirement options through 403(b) plans, although teachers have recently begun relying on them heavily as their pensions continue to shrink.


Looking Beyond Our Borders

Here is feedback from our February 2012 cover story, “What Can U.S. Schools Learn from Foreign Counterparts,” from some prominent K12 leaders:

A World-Class Education: Learning From International Models of Excellence and Innovation stewart
ASCD, $26.95

First-ever national Digital Learning Day on Feb. 1 attracted participation from 39 states, 15,000 teachers and 1.7 million students . – Alliance for Excellent Education (2012)

We at DA keep our ears to the ground and our noses to the grindstone always looking for new stuff to keep you, our readers, well informed. Much of what we’re hearing these days points toward the growing use of predictive analysis—looking at student data and seeing where kids are going, rather than looking at where they’ve been, as is used with data-driven decision making. Sophisticated modeling software is beginning to move from the corporate world and higher education admissions to K12, and the potential is huge.