Writing weekly lesson plans can be an overwhelming chore at times for elementary school teacher Barbara Foster, but technology is making it a less onerous task.
Instead of reviewing hefty documents containing the academic standards her pupils are expected to achieve, Foster can go to her computer and find them online. With a click of the mouse, she also can review her earlier lessons to make sure she doesn’t cover the same ground twice.
“I’m more organized and more complete with my plans. I know that I’m hitting more standards,” said Foster, who teaches third- and fourth-graders at the William H. Hunter School in Philadelphia.
Hunter is among several schools in four states that have begun taking advantage of a new internet program designed to organize a wide range of informationfrom standardized test scores and attendance figures to lesson plansand put it all within easy reach of a teacher or principal.
Known as SchoolNet, the program enables educators to keep continuous track of student progress and adjust the curriculum accordingly throughout the school year, said Denis Doyle, chief academic officer of SchoolNet Inc., the New York City-based company that developed the service.
“What we want to be able to do is provide diagnostic power, so you can have a very clear sense of where you’re going,” Doyle said.
SchoolNet offers three “data-driven decision-making” tools: Account, which creates a central data clearinghouse that allows users to generate reports on attendance, demographics, test scores, and finances; Align, which enables teachers to make sure their lesson plans conform with state academic standards; and Outreach, an internet portal through which families can obtain access to information ranging from bus schedules to homework assignments.
Hunter is one of four Philadelphia schools using the technology in a pilot program funded by $1 million in grants from the state education department.
SchoolNet is also in place in the Spring Cove School District in Blair County, Pa.; in several suburban districts in Columbus, Ohio; in the Red Clay School District in Delaware; and in the Beaufort County School District in South Carolina, Doyle said.
The Beaufort County schools became SchoolNet’s first client in 1996, when it became apparent that the school board was dissatisfied with the length of time it took administrators to retrieve information that would answer “relatively simple” questions, district spokesman John Williams said.
“Our reply would be, yes, we can get you the information, but it could take several days to a week, depending on how many file cabinets we have to open and how many people we have to contact,” Williams said.
Among SchoolNet’s benefits is providing a more complete picture of Beaufort’s student demographics, which show a need for the district to provide more services to Spanish-speaking students, he said.
“We had a huge spike in Spanish speakers, from fewer than 20 four years ago to in excess of 1,000. That’s something we need to track on a monthly basis to determine how many teachers we need for English as a Second Language,” Williams said.
Hunter’s principal, Angela Gilbert, said the program also fulfills her personal goal of improving incorporating technology into the curriculum and improving teachers’ and students’ computer literacy.
“We have some teachers who were raised in the technology era, and then we have teachers who, when they hear the word ‘mouse,’ get up on a chair. We can’t afford to have any fears or reluctance to build this technology into the school day,” she said.