Education Secretary Rod Paige—who served as superintendent of the Houston Independent School District before joining the Bush administration—joined three other exemplary superintendents in discussing how technology can be used to break down barriers to student achievement at the 133rd annual American Association of School Administrators (AASA) conference in Orlando Feb. 16 to 18.

Paige said there are many ways technology can be used to enhance education: “It’s just a matter of the amount of imagination we bring to student learning.”

In addressing a question about linking student achievement to technology, Paige asked whether pencils or overhead projectors advanced student learning and warned that schools can’t view technology as an end to itself.

“Technologies are simply tools to help good teachers refine skills,” he said. “There are great uses of technology, and there are uses of technology that are completely meaningless.”

Paige was joined in the technology discussion by David Clune, superintendent of the Wilton Public School District in Connecticut; Raymond Yeagley, superintendent of the Rochester School District in New Hampshire; and Neil Pedersen, superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School System in North Carolina.

Paige encouraged administrators to set high standards, since this motivates people to do outstanding things. As Houston’s superintendent, his rule was “no school is going to be acceptable anymore”; instead, schools had to be exemplary.

He also said creative teachers are key to making good use of the internet in schools. “The very best way to get good use of the internet is to get creative teachers,” Paige said.

The Houston public schools use the internet to offer rare courses, such as Russian, through distance learning. Also, Apex Learning provides Advanced Placement courses, such as World History or microeconomics, to the district’s students via the internet.

“We can have that student stay in their own school and take that course,” Paige said. “It gives us an opportunity to maximize scare resources and ignore geographical boundaries.”

Pedersen said educators must reinforce the idea that anyone can publish material on the internet, so what is posted isn’t always accurate.

The AASA conference offered school administrators several opportunities to examine leadership in all areas of education—including dealing with parents, relating to the community, improving equality among students, and using technology to improve education.

“School leaders truly have a unique opportunity to shape and form our schools,” AASA President Ben Canada said during the opening session. “Leadership, it’s in our hands.”

He reminded school administrators that most is not all, and much more needs to be done to ensure that all kids succeed. “Our purpose is to educate ‘all’ the children,” Canada said.

Paige also was honored as AASA’s National Superintendent of the Year.

“The life span is so short for a superintendent,” Paige said during his acceptance speech. “We cannot solve long-time problems with short-term leadership.”

Paige said President George W. Bush is serious about his goal, “No Child Left Behind.”

“You and I both know some children are not getting an appropriate education,” Paige said. “You and I have an ‘appropriate education gap’ to close.”

He said the new administration will help educators close that gap by offering schools more flexibility, in exchange for greater accountability.

Exhibitor news

AOL Time Warner and online test preparation provider TestU have teamed up to offer free SAT preparation to all students through the AOL@School web site. In an effort to equalize the playing field for all kids going to college and also to increase its brand name, TestU has provided a four-week SAT “crunch” course on AOL@School, which receives millions of page views each month.

“AOL is this huge megaphone,” said Richard Bolton, TestU’s president and chief executive.

TestU’s SAT course diagnoses a student’s ability and then provides the student with a customized curriculum based on his or her strengths and weaknesses. Students who practice for the SAT with TestU’s service generally increase their scores by about 130 points, Bolton said.

Since students in kindergarten through second grade have limited reading skills, AOL@School has added a pictorial search tool that lets students search for appropriate web sites using picture buttons, such as an animal button. Also, AOL’s parental controls, which filter internet content, recently were rated No. 1 by Consumer Reports, the company said.

Learning.com, based in Portland, Ore., announced its online courseware that teaches core computer skills to students in kindergarten through grade five, called the Easy Tech Instructional System. This software program systematically teaches students computer concepts—such as typing, bolding text, and making graphs and spreadsheets—so teachers can focus on applying those skills, rather than teaching them.

Easy Tech is delivered over the internet, and its lessons are correlated to the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) at each grade level. The lesson content draws from traditional subjects such as math and language arts, so the time students spend with Easy Tech reinforces other learning objectives, the company said.

NetSchools Corp. is providing a complete, bundled hardware package, called NetSchools Constellation, that gives every student a wireless, kid-proof StudyPro laptop made by Hewlett-Packard Co. The StudyPro lacks a disk drive, but because it’s wireless, students can beam their work to their teacher or the printer. The StudyPro laptop also comes with Microsoft Office, Netscape’s internet browser, and a patented anti-theft device which shuts the computer down completely if it hasn’t made a connection with the school’s network within eight days.

The NetSchools Constellation program also gives each teacher a fully functioning HP OmniBook notebook computer and a subscription to NetSchools Orion, which features links to more than 47,000 web sites correlated to state standards and an assortment of online tools, including eMail for keeping in touch with parents.

Plato Learning announced that it now offers computer-based courseware for students in grades K-12 as a result of its acquisition of Wasatch Inc., a provider of K-8 educational software. Wasatch, of Salt Lake City, provided software to a reported 1,500 schools in 600 districts.

“Plato will integrate the Wasatch K-8 courseware with its comprehensive Plato Learning System for middle and high schools to become [a] truly comprehensive and … contemporary online curriculum for the K-12 market,” said John Murray, president and CEO of Plato Learning.

The ScholarChip Co., which sells a smart card with a micro chip imbedded on it, launched at AASA. Not only does this card serve as an identification card, but students can use it to buy lunch, gain entry to locked areas, and to permit their access on the school’s network.

“Students who are receiving free or reduced lunch, for example, sometimes feel embarrassed,” said Roberta Gerold, superintendent of the Miller Place School District on Long Island. “The ScholarChip card can be used as a debit card—no one needs to know the lunch code is funded through personal dollars or through financial aid.”

TaskStream, which offers online staff development, announced the TS-Tracker, a tool that lets administrators monitor, manage, and assess the effects of professional development on classroom teaching. TaskStream’s professional development teaches educators a new skill and then helps them create a lesson to implement the new skill in their classroom. All the work is captured in TaskStream’s database. The TS-Tracker lets administrators see this information for purposes of evaluation.

Vantage Learning debuted its Intellimetric technology, which reportedly grades long-answer questions using artificial intelligence with the same accuracy as human scorers. The company says its technology lets teaches assign more writing assignments to students without the extra burden of marking or delays before students get any feedback. Intellimetric already is used by Edison Schools and the College Board, Vantage Learning said.

Links:

American Association of School Administrators
http://www.aasa.org

Houston Independent School District
http://www.houstonisd.org

AOL@School
http://school.aol.com

TestU
http://www.testu.com

Learning.com
http://www.learning.com

NetSchools Corp.
http://www.netschools.com

Hewlett-Packard Co.
http://www.hp.com

Plato Learning Inc.
http://www.plato.com

TaskStream
http://www.taskstream.com

Intellimetric
http://www.intellimetric.com