Professional development app helps schools personalize training

Observation 360 is currently available on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.

With budget cuts slashing districts’ ability to provide intensive professional development for their educators, PD 360 and its mobile component Observation 360 are offering schools a way to access learning resources quickly and easily.

“[PD 360] is basically an on-demand professional development system, so it has a series of video segments that cut across a huge array of topics for teachers, stemming from teaching reading, to classroom management, to differentiated instruction,” said Mary Esselmann, assistant superintendent of professional development, assessment, and accountability in the Kansas City, Mo. school district. “It pretty much runs the whole gamut,” she said.

PD 360 offers more than 200 hours of research-based video content, as well as tools for follow-up, tracking, reflection, and group training. Observation 360 is tightly integrated with PD 360 and allows for effective classroom observation and walkthroughs.

“We use it on our iPad, and you can also use the web-based version,” Esselmann said. “When schools are using peer-to-peer, they can [use it to] input the observations directly,” she said.

Esselmann said that the programs’ custom template ability was a major bonus for her district.

“We actually have a standard observation template that’s aligned to our teacher evaluation…and all of our teachers and schools are built into it,” she said. “It’s just a matter of touch, touch, touch. You touch the school, you touch the teacher, you bring up the template you need, go through the walkthrough, and it allows for comments you can immediately upload or save for later,” Esselmann said, adding that the data then provides for an immediate district read of how well teachers are performing in terms of key standards.


Schools plan to reopen after deadly storms

Storms destroyed school buildings, disrupting the rest of the school year in many cases.

The storms that chugged across the South last week killed at least 44 people in six states, destroying school buildings and leaving residents to wonder when, exactly, they would return to their daily routines.

Ultimately, this deadliest swarm of twisters in three years, which battered up to 15 states, could turn out to be among the top 10 three-day outbreaks for number of tornadoes, though experts can’t be sure until all the reports are sorted, said Greg Carbin of the federal Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

Students in the tornado-ravaged southeastern Oklahoma town of Tushka won’t be back in class until April 25 as officials scramble to find teaching space after the storm nearly wiped out the town’s only school, the local high school principal said on April 18.

“This has been a state of complete chaos, so I hate to say anything is concrete,” Principal Matt Simpson said. “But we do have plans. The long-term plan is we’re going to rebuild the school.”

Tentative plans call for students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade to attend classes in local church buildings, while the district’s high school students likely will attend classes and take end-of-instruction tests at the Kiamichi Technology Center campus in nearby Atoka, he said.

Because the district’s 481 students will be out of classes for six days before school resumes, the last day of school, now scheduled for May 20, will likely be pushed back, Simpson said.

The tornado, the most powerful of at least 21 twisters that hit the state late on April 14 and early April 15, killed two people, injured at least 43 others, and destroyed 149 homes and businesses, many along the town’s two main streets.

The school–a collection of buildings housing grades K-12–was all but gone.


New bill focuses on U.S. graduation rates

Reports show that high school graduates have a positive impact on local and state economies.

New legislation introduced in Congress proposes to reduce the U.S. high school dropout rate in an effort to reach a national graduation rate of 90 percent. The bill also would require states to use a consistent method to report graduation data.

The Every Student Counts Act, introduced April 7 by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., notes that according to a 2008 Department of Labor report, by 2016 almost 90 percent of the fastest-growing and best-paying jobs in the country will require at least some postsecondary education.

Track the bill’s progress in the U.S. House of Representatives here, and in the U.S. Senate here.

Roughly one out of every three students entering ninth grade each year will fail to graduate from high school four years later. Almost half of black and Hispanic students who enter ninth grade fail to graduate within four years.

Stakeholders say that “dropout factories”—schools with exceptionally high dropout rates—play a large part in the graduation epidemic. Roughly 10 percent of U.S. secondary schools produce about half of the nation’s dropouts. In fact, the number of seniors in such schools is consistently 60 percent or less than the number of freshmen who entered the school three years prior.

For more on graduation rates, see:

eSN Special Report: Keeping students on a path to graduation

High school graduation rate is increasing, report shows

A November 2010 report, “Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic,” revealed that the graduation rate for U.S. high schools increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008. The report also indicated a decline in dropout factories—there were 261 fewer dropout factories in 2008 than there were in 2002, which is roughly a 13 percent decrease.


Maine leads once again with Common Core pilot

The pilot uses online double-blind scoring to grade student essays.

With Common Core State Standards (CCSS) now on 44 state agendas, it’s time to start thinking implementation. But leaders are saying it takes more than vendor press releases and simple classroom curriculum supplements—it takes research and a focus on teaching—and one state is leading the way in 21st century learning…again.

Maine, already known for its Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) and successful 1-to-1 computing program, is now in a unique collaboration with the University of Southern Maine’s research center and a Portland-based educational software company, AcademicMerit.

The collaboration will explore the use of technology-based solutions to help schools meet the demand of the CCSS through a pilot involving more than 23 schools, more than 30 teachers, and almost 1,500 students from districts all over Maine.

“Last year was frenetic, with states and districts making promises and submitting proposals left and right,” said Ogden Morse, chief executive of AcademicMerit and an English teacher on leave from Falmouth High School in Maine. “This year is what I refer to as ‘the pregnant pause,’ with many of those same folks asking, ‘So how are we actually going to do what we promised?’ As a result, right now, there are a lot of people in search of ‘what works.’ This pilot is an opportunity for the rest of the country to point in our direction and say ‘Well, look at what’s going on in Maine…’”

And though ultimately the goal of CCSS implementation is to improve student learning outcomes, one of the pilot’s main professional development goals is to help teachers assess student work.


Stakeholders decry EETT elimination

Funding that helps students access technology has been slashed from the FY11 budget compromise.

After narrowly avoiding a government shutdown, Congress has approved legislation that would cut $38 billion from the Fy11 budget–including the complete elimination of the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology program, which educational technology advocates say will devastate state technology programs in schools.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill on April 15.

While programs such as Race to the Top and Investing In Innovation received funding, a host of ed-tech leaders and stakeholders say they are upset with the elimination of a dedicated educational technology funding program.

Without EETT funding, the nation’s schools could fall even further behind competing nations, said West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The program provides much-needed funds for teachers to access high-quality professional development opportunities.

For more on the budget compromise, see:

Ed-tech stakeholders protest budget cuts

FY11 budget details: a mixed bag for education

“Education has trailed most other sectors in effectively applying new technologies to boost productivity and outcomes,” Wise said. “By pairing teachers and technology, the nation can create a powerful force multiplier that permits teachers to deliver high-quality content in new and innovative ways to all students, rural or urban, including in difficult to staff subjects such as math, science, and foreign language.”

“As America’s public school systems and their educational leaders step up to meet the challenge of preparing students to be internationally competitive, federal education policy must recognize the important role that education technology plays in providing a world-class education,” said Dan Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).


School IT staff must do more with less

“You have to use tech to manage the tech,” Sexsmith explained.

Mobile devices, automated help desks, personalized learning resources, software virtualization, and cloud-based services are becoming the norm for K-12 schools around the country. But with shrinking budgets and staff reductions, school IT departments say it’s getting harder to juggle so many moving parts.

“The problem of three years ago—how to do more with less—is still here today, it’s just becoming even more of a problem for schools and IT officials,” said David Castro, director of public and private-sector marketing for Kaseya, a company that provides IT systems management software for some 500 schools and districts in the U.S.

Kaseya conducted an informal survey of nearly 200 IT directors from public and private schools around the country to better understand the nuances of the problem. According to the survey, school IT professionals said there are three main goals they need to achieve in their department:

  1. Provide a higher-quality learning experience;
  2. Do more with less; and
  3. Cut costs.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents said their biggest IT challenge right now is “dealing with budget cuts,” along with “keeping all equipment online and operating,” which came in second.

The survey provides a snapshot of what school IT leaders are being asked to take on and how they’d like to accomplish their goals.

Two-thirds of respondents said they currently use automation—managing routine day-to-day maintenance tasks without human intervention—for some IT functions, such as software patches, updates, and computer performance monitoring.

However, a whopping 76 percent of respondents said they are either considering automation for the first time this year or are exploring even more ways to automate various tasks.

“Automation isn’t going anywhere,” said Castro, “because it’s one of the only effective ways to do more with less.”

Staying ahead of the game

Knowing the challenges ahead, one county decided it was time to take some of the pressure off its limited IT staff.


Will GOP scrutiny change the way professors use eMail?

UW released some of Cronon's eMail messages after a university review.

Professors and researchers might shy away from using their university-issued eMail accounts to discuss thorny political issues, turning instead to personal eMail, after a University of Wisconsin (UW) professor’s electronic exchanges were made public in accordance with a request from the state’s Republican Party.

UW history professor William Cronon came under scrutiny last month during Wisconsin lawmakers’ battle over legislation that would severely curb labor unions’ ability to collectively bargain. Cronon wrote a post for his blog, Scholar as Citizen, that questioned the origins of the union-busting bill.

Cronon also wrote a New York Times opinion piece critical of the Republican-backed legislation. Using Wisconsin’s Open Documents Law, conservative groups filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking eMail messages from Cronon’s UW account that mentioned key words in the labor union political fight, including “recall,” “collective bargaining,” “union,” and “rally.”

UW Chancellor Biddy Martin said in an April 1 statement that the school had handed over an undisclosed number of Cronon’s eMail messages in accordance with state law.

Read the full story on eCampus News


$15K awards for safe drivers

To enter, simply create a 25- or 55-second video about driver safety and upload it to the Bridgestone site by May 13. The top 10 videos will be posted on the site, where it is up to the public to vote on their favorite. The top three winners all receive a $5,000 scholarship.


Matching funds for document cameras

Digital Wish will contribute $100 towards each ELMO product purchased for the classroom. Schools and classroom supporters alike can now stretch their funding dollars further to make their favorite educator’s technology wishes come true.  The TT-02RX document camera is available as a stand alone item, or included in a choice of two bundles.