Educators–at least the savvy ones–know exactly what it takes to give high school students a genuine shot at academic success, and on July 23, some of the nation’s savviest came together to spell it out . . . right on Congress’s doorstep.

At least, that was the core message the nation’s lawmakers could have absorbed at a meeting convened in unison by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) and the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE). It was said to be the first joint program produced by the two organizations.

Here, as these educators described them, are the essential ingredients for high school reform: Effective technology, integrated by well-trained and competent teachers, and solid longitudinal data that provide not just accountability but also a compass by which to keep teaching and learning on a true course for each unique student.

SETDA Executive Director Mary Ann Wolf and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE), introduced a panel consisting of local and state educators and a valedictorian from a District of Columbia high school to talk about programs proven effective over time in real-life schools.

“There are 20,000 high schools, and 2,000 of those 20,000 high schools account for a majority of the dropouts,” Wise declared. “So we know where the dropout factories are.”

The mission of AEE, he explained, is “to promote high school transformation to make it possible for every child to graduate prepared for postsecondary education and success in life.”

AEE seeks to replace those “dropout factories” with well-functioning, successful high schools. It’s critical that America do this, Wise said, because “some 7,000 students drop out of high school every day.” Meanwhile, 90 percent of the fastest growing careers “require a secondary education,” he said.

Wolf had worrisome statistics of her own.

Only 5 percent of U.S. students now go into math or science, she said, and between 1989 to 2001, U.S. patent applications from Asia grew 759 percent, while applications from the U.S. itself grew by only 116 percent.

Yet, Wolf expressed optimism. “It’s not too late to make a real difference for these students and our country,” she insisted, citing positive examples of effective ed-tech programs across the U.S., such as the Technology Immersion Pilot (TIP) in Floydada High School in Texas, where thanks to a successful combination of professional development, assessment tools, and integrated technology, test scores in language arts, math, and science among 10th graders grew 24, 26, and 34 percent, respectively, from 2005 to 2006.

Wolf pointed to legislation pending in the U.S. House of Representatives that she said could help educators replicate those kinds of gains. The bill, if passed, would be known as the Achievement Through Technology and Innovation (ATTAIN) Act. Now, SETDA and AEE are encouraging lawmakers to introduce a version of that bill in the U.S. Senate. (See New bill would revamp ed-tech funding http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=7092)

With adequate support and proper implementation from a measure such as ATTAIN, the meeting organizers said, the reforms described by panelists at the Capitol Hill meeting would not be isolated triumphs but could be disseminated to high schools from coast to coast.

Panelists, such as Jeanie Gordon, superintendent of the New Franklin School District in Missouri, gave their personal examples of success. Gordon talked about the eMINTS program, which raised student test scores by as much as 15 percent compared with scores of students in classrooms without eMINTS. (See Study: Missouri’s ed-tech program pays off http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=3673) eMINTS stands for Enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies. Today, the program has blossomed in nine states.

Gordon emphasized that data are imperative for student achievement, saying “we need data to know where we need to make changes…. [S]tudent achievement has many variables, from attendance to learning style, from special needs to personal health, and we need data to vary teaching methods–methods that include the use of technology to help these students.”

Another panelist, Bruce Umpstead, director of educational technology and data for Michigan’s Department of Education, said “leadership and fundamental technology are critical” to student success. He gave examples of Michigan’s effort to support ed-tech and data through the Freedom to Learn Initiative.

Frances Bradburn, director of instructional technology for North Carolina’s department of public instruction, gave examples of success through her state’s Impact schools.

According to Bradburn, Impact schools, which offer technology tool sets and professional development training, turn at-risk students into bellwethers of success: “You can see [through students’ increased participation and enthusiasm for learning] that these tools are changing things.” Impact schools have “shown increased achievement levels in math and science, more than other schools, as well as a decreased dropout rate,” Bradburn reported.

Lan Neugent, Virginia’s assistant superintendent for school technology, spoke of the need to link statewide assessment to individual student assessment to ensure success. Neugent said a major component of improvement in Virginia is “24/7 student access to education” made possible through technology.

Perhaps the most compelling testament was given by Ciara Belle, a recent graduate of McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C. Belle, valedictorian of her class and a Gates Millennium Scholar, stressed classroom innovation. “When we talk about needing technology in the classroom, we’re not just talking about using a laptop to type a book report,” she said. “We’re talking about using outside-of-the-box thinking to foster learning.” Belle gave the example of a student learning math so he could develop a video game. “There’s a lot of geometry and physics involved in creating a video game,” she said. “If you want to design your own game, you have to know the basics.”

This year, Belle’s McKinley High School had the highest graduation rate in Washington, with over 90 percent of students graduating, she said.

Panelists gave many other positive examples of how data and technology can improve student achievement, but they also warned of the problems. Gordon cited the lack of financial support and an inadequate IT infrastructure as two significant obstacles. Umpstead said Michigan has “create[d] pockets of excellence based on Title II D, but lacks full funding in order to achieve statewide excellence.”

In response to those problems, panelists advised policy makers to support district-wide funding, try rolling out reform more quickly, focus harder on comprehensive teacher training and professional development, and get more students, not just adults, involved in future forums.

In summation, Wolf enumerated the common themes set forth by the panelists:

“As you look across these examples, you begin to see that this good teaching, this individualized approach using the resources that meet the needs of each student, the possibility of student-centered instruction–all lead to an increase in the skills needed for our students to graduate and be college- and work-ready. Themes quickly emerge:

1. Leadership provides vision and support;
2. On-going professional development changes teaching and learning;
3. Data drive decisions;
4. High-quality resources and tools support engaged learning and high-quality teaching, and
5. Communication across the district–with parents and all stakeholders–is key.”

In spite of the numerous and grave challenges confronting education, the meeting ended on an upbeat note. Every day, we are educating more children who need and deserve excellent education, Wolf pointed out. “We haven’t missed our opportunity.”

Links:

ATTAIN
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=7092

eMINTS
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=3673

TIP Floydada
http://www.educ.ttu.edu/tip/

Freedom to Learn Initiative
http://www.ftlwireless.org/

Impact Schools
http://www.impactschools.org/

PASS Schools
http://www.pen.k12.va.us/VDOE/SchoolImprovement/pass.html

Alliance for Excellent Education
http://www.all4ed.org/

SETDA
http://www.setda.org/