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April 2012

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Cover Story

The federal government last formally assessed the state of the nation’s schools in the 1999 report “Condition of America’s Public Schools,” which estimated that it would take $127 billion to bring our nation’s schools to “good condition.” The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issued its own report card the same year. In “The Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” the ASCE gave schools a D grade and estimated an even greater dollar amount ($322 billion) was needed over five years to bring schools into good condition.


On Feb. 23, Steven Anderson, instructional technologist for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County (N.C.) Schools, celebrated his three-year anniversary—on Twitter. Anderson began exploring Twitter in 2009 as a way of finding people with similar interests, opposing views, and resources on integrating technology in the classroom to share with teachers and staff in his district of 57,000 students.

The global economy demands globally educated workers and citizens. About 1,300 schools in the United States—and a total of about 3,200 in 141 countries worldwide—have turned to the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum as their ticket to educating students who are worldly-wise.

District CIO

Scott Smith once led efforts for North Carolina’s technology educators, when he served as president of the N.C. Technology in Education Society (NCTIES), the state’s affiliate of the International Society for Technology in Education. Now, he is chief technology officer for the Mooresville (N.C.) Graded School District—a suburban town located 20 miles north of Charlotte. It’s one of the only public school districts in the country to issue laptops to every student in grades 3-12.

Until recently, student electronic devices, from cell phones to iPods to laptop computers, were the forbidden fruit in schools. But with technology budgets languishing and such devices becoming more powerful, affordable and omnipresent in students’ lives, district technology leaders are now eyeing a welcome educational harvest through bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs.


I’m not a Luddite, or even a technophobe. I just don’t have time to waste on technology that promises the world but fails to deliver. I’m the “show me” administrator, the doubting Thomas of school leaders. I write not about the latest and greatest technology for those administrators on the avant garde. Rather, this is a cautionary tale about letting the digital cognoscenti dash ahead to pastures new while we figure out how tried and tested technology can help us now.

Data from the 2007 WISQARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System) provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that unintentional injury is the leading cause of death for 13- to 18-year-olds in the United States, with motor vehicle accidents accounting for approximately 70 percent of deaths. In total, 3,733 teens died in the year 2007 from motor-vehicle-related accidents.

The textbook, The lecturer and the classroom are three pillars of modern-day schooling that date back hundreds of years. Each was invented to solve a problem.

The textbook was invented because information was scarce, the lecturer because teachers were few and the classroom because learning was local. These enduring icons persist into the Internet age, shaping our view of learning and driving the popularity of their digital grandchildren, things like iPad “textbooks” and the Kahn Academy “lectures.”

I was bullied in ninth grade. An older kid used to wait for me outside the cafeteria, and as I left he would taunt me in front of his friends—even push me around. It went on for most of the year. Although I was scared, I never told a soul. I felt awful that I couldn’t stop it on my own. I had never been bullied before and have rarely been bullied since. Those memories are so vivid to me, as if the bullying happened yesterday. Sadly, when I sit back and reflect on that entire year of my life, I can remember little else.

It’s becoming clearer by the minute that, as Web technologies open more and more doors for learners, they also pose more and more challenges to traditional thinking about schools. At the center is figuring how best to prepare students for the vast learning opportunities they have outside of the traditional education system. While the challenges are different for each individual school and district, all will be forced to come to terms with five new realities in the short term.

If we want children to memorize the capital of each state or the presidents of the United States, then 3x5 flashcards, at $0.99 for 25, is a time-tested technology.


Two-thirds of California’s elementary school teachers feel unprepared to teach science, according to High Hopes—Few Opportunities, a study of science teaching and learning that was conducted recently by the University of California at Berkeley. On the state science test administered to fifth-graders last year, only 55 percent achieved or exceeded proficiency in the subject. On the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, California ranked near the bottom in fourth-grade science scores.

For an hour and 15 minutes every day, 2,000 students at EdVantages charter schools in Ohio and 1.000 students in Performance Academies charter schools in Ohio and Florida expend physical energy. More specifically, they rotate playing tennis, playing soccer and practicing martial arts a week at a time. For the rest of the six hours and 45 minutes in their school day, they study math, reading, social studies and science.


There is a shortage across the nation of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in schools, which has caused some districts to choose virtual speech therapy, which, according to current research from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), a professional association for SLPs, can be as effective as traditional speech therapy.

When H.R. 3989, the Student Success Act, reached the House floor in late February, the controversy surrounding it followed. The Student Success Act is a bill sponsored by Rep. John Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, that would revamp No Child Left Behind. The bill was approved in the education committee on a party line vote by Republicans on March 6.

Monitoring a child with severe food allergies is no easy task. Monitoring hundreds of such children within a district of 30,000 students is even harder. This is why Colorado Springs (Colo.) School District 11 adopted a new software system from a local provider this past fall that details the ingredients of every meal served at every school.

Like most districts, the Camdenton (Mo.) R-III School District has filtering software to block content deemed inappropriate for students. Until recently, however, Camdenton was blocking Web sites geared toward supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. On Feb. 15, a federal district court ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a lawsuit filed in August 2011 on behalf of a Camdenton student.

In 2002, Andrew Moore, the science and society program manager at the European Molecular Biology Organization in Germany, wrote a report following the first PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) assessment, “Learning from PISA.” Moore writes that to inspire students to remain competitive, our teachers in turn must also be trained with rigor and widely respected, as is the case in many countries around the globe, many of which outperform the U.S.

Disarming America

On Feb. 18, 2010, a spontaneous combustion occurred at South Bay Elementary School in the West Babylon (N.Y.) Union Free School District while the gym floor was being refinished on the final day of the school’s winter vacation. Although no one was injured, the entire school was set aflame and left nothing for the 300 students expected to return the following day. Though considered to be the worst school fire in the greater New York region, South Bay was rebuilt in less than two years, opening this past fall, and students only missed one day of school due to the fire.

“It’s a three-dimensional textbook,” says Jeff Elliott, architect with JCJ Architecture, of the aquatic-themed Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton, Conn. The school, located on the Connecticut shore near New London Harbor and designed by JCJ, first opened its doors to roughly 100 ninth- and tenth-graders this past fall. It includes nautical features such as large windows for observing the aquatic culture and a first-of-its-kind ship simulator for learning how to navigate ships in ports.


I have a monthly email communication with Elliot Soloway, a University of Michigan professor and the chair of ISTE’s Special Interest Group on Mobile Learning, who writes our Going Mobile column with Cathie Norris. Somewhere within the email thread, Soloway is sure to write words such as these: “Someone has to tell the emperor he’s naked.”

While Facebook and Google+ are popular social networks for everyday life, dozens of other networks have been created to provide safe and effective social learning environments for K12 education. Social learning networks (SLNs) allow students to learn 21st-century skills. Students can build online portfolios and resumes and collaborate with peers through project-based learning, which will help them in college or the workforce.