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The Mooresville (N.C.) Graded School District dream team solves problems. Clockwise from top left: Robert Lane, Robert Rhyne, Frank Mukina, Scott Smith, Jeff Martin, Kim Cline and Michael Hiskey.

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.

American underachievement and the best ways to reverse it has become an ongoing and urgent national conversation among educators and politicians, as well as a public embarrassment every three years when the OECD’s (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) tables are released. The next PISA results are due later this year, and for many reasons, we can guess that the United States will not be at the top of the list.

The increasing incorporation of digital materials and resources into school and district portals and repositories has given rise in recent years to a new focus on the issue of identity management in K12 education.

From the outset, President Obama placed teacher quality at the center of his Education Plan. In a speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., in March of 2009, he stated, “To complete our Race to the Top requires the three pillars of reform—recruiting, preparing and rewarding outstanding teachers. From the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents. It’s the person standing at the front of the classroom.”

Time and money can be

With Over 60 percent of school districts considering staff reductions to balance budgets (Kober & Renter, 2011), class size is likely on many educators' minds. With money tight, schools are seeking to focus available funds on those policies and programs most likely to have a positive impact on student learning. Although the effects of class size have been debated for decades, Tennessee's STAR project in the late 1980s seemed to settle the argument.

Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools class warfare

Simon & Schuster, $28

Enrolling in college was not part of the path for graduates of the San Antonio (Texas) Independent School District, where 93 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. Shortly after Superintendent Robert Duron, known for raising achievement in the Socorro ISD in El Paso, arrived in 2006, he began to raise the bar in this 55,000-student, predominantly Hispanic, urban district.

Celina (Texas) Independent School District, roughly 100 miles north of Dallas, has 2,000 students across its four school campuses—and they're all Bobcats, says Lizzy Kloiber, secondary curriculum director, referring to the district's unifying mascot. The community is tight knit, she adds, with most teachers having grown up in the district, and families regularly mingle at church or at high school football games each weekend.

Synergy Charter Academy, which is one of three charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District operated by the husband-wife team of Meg and Randy Palisoc, spent its first six years (2004-2010) in a cramped church space in south LA. Equipment and supplies had to be packed up on a daily basis because the church needed to use the same space. The Palisocs, both former LAUSD teachers, opened the school there because they could not find another space in the heavily industrial community without incurring millions of dollars in environmental remediation costs.

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