Teacher: What school reformers don’t know

Policy makers and pundits don’t stop giving their opinions but we don’t hear enough from teachers in the debate about school reform, the Washington Post reports. Many teachers ear their jobs may be jeopardized if they express their opinions; others say they have no time sit down and write a thoughtful piece. One who accepted my invitation to write about the most pressing issues is Lisa Farhi of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, who has worked as consulting teacher within the school district’s professional growth system, a kindergarten classroom teacher and now a staff development teacher…

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How to realize ed tech’s game-changing potential

The move toward digital education comes with a number of important considerations.

During a recent webinar, the nation’s director of educational technology highlighted how technology can support more effective instruction—and a North Carolina superintendent revealed how his district has successfully made the shift to a digital teaching and learning environment.

With support from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and modeled by local school districts across the country, school district leaders can identify goals that will help them make this shift themselves, while at the same time boosting student access, learning, and engagement.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in February that U.S. schools should transition to digital learning in the next five years, and in 2010 ED released its latest National Education Technology Plan (NETP), spearheaded by Karen Cator, director of ED’s Office of Educational Technology.

The plan has three aims. The first focus is on learning, which Cator said includes examining how people learn, opportunities for learning during and outside of school, and personalized learning environments. Teaching is the second aim, and this includes the changing role of the teacher as ed tech expands students’ learning opportunities, teachers’ ability to use data to inform their instruction, and the ways technology can help increase teacher-student interaction and engagement. The plan’s third focus is assessment, and how this can give teachers valuable data to hone instruction to students’ needs, identify specific groups of students who need more support or who need to be challenged further, and provide daily pictures of how students are performing instead of once- or twice-yearly reports.

Infrastructure plays a crucial role as well, Cator said, because school leaders and policy makers must ensure that students have access to broadband internet both inside and outside of school, and that they have access to devices that facilitate learning.

Cator pointed to a number of trends that are making it possible to give students, teachers, and community members the tools and resources they need to improve teaching and learning.

Those trends are…

  • Mobility: Students can take personal or school-owned devices between home and school to have 24/7 access to learning. Taking device and broadband access issues into account, this kind of increased mobility gives students access to rich learning opportunities both in and out of school.
  • Improvement of social networking for learning: Networks of experts on any given topic are available online through communities, message boards, and forums to answer questions and give their input. Students can gain access to valuable expert opinions, and many experts or enthusiasts are happy to help students who have questions about a problem or assignment.

Fostering tech talent in schools

Leandre Nsabi, a senior at Rainier Beach High School here, received some bluntly practical advice from an instructor recently, the New York Times reports.

“My teacher said there’s a lot of money to be made in computer science,” Leandre said. “It could be really helpful in the future.”

That teacher, Steven Edouard, knows a few things about the subject. When he is not volunteering as a computer science instructor four days a week, Mr. Edouard works at Microsoft. He is one of 110 engineers from high-tech companies who are part of a Microsoft program aimed at getting high school students hooked on computer science, so they go on to pursue careers in the field…

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California governor signs bills to make textbooks lighter on wallets and backpacks

The younger generations may one day never need to lug around heavy and expensive textbooks for their classes, Tecca reports. California Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills yesterday that will fund the creation of 50 open source digital textbooks and will launch the California Open Source Digital Library to host them. The law could help bring down the ballooning expenses of college for students and their families. The 50 titles will be selected by the California Open Education Resources Council. The group will pick the textbooks from public, post-secondary classes, then collect bids for the creation of those materials as digital books in 2013…

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Five ed-tech topics you’d like to see covered—and how we can help

Here are stories and resources that pertain to the five ed-tech topics readers say they’re most interested in.

You’ve spoken, and we’re listening.

Each year, we survey our readers to find out what ed-tech topics you’d like to learn more about. This year, you’ve told us you’d like more information about Common Core standards and testing, free websites and apps for education, special education and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and more.

In response to this year’s survey results, we’ve put together this handy guide to stories and resources we’ve published that pertain to the five ed-tech topics you’re most interested in reading about.

Common Core State Standards


Common Core could boost U.S. math performance.” The Common Core State Standards in mathematics have the potential to enhance students’ academic performance if properly implemented, but most states have a long way to go, according to research from William Schmidt, a University Distinguished Professor and co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University…

How secondary school principals can master the Common Core.” As states move toward implementing the CCSS, school principals must ensure they are fully equipped to help classroom teachers incorporate the standards as effectively as possible…

Report tracks states’ progress toward Common Core Standards.” As the CCSS continue to gain momentum, states say they are more rigorous than previous standards, but many cite challenges in fully implementing the standards, particularly where funding is concerned. “Year Two of Implementing the Common Core State Standards: States’ Progress and Challenges,” a new report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP), sheds light on states’ progress as they work to implement common standards in English language arts and mathematics, and it identifies areas in which states anticipate a struggle as they implement the standards…

Tips for making the move to online assessments.” As states move toward implementing online assessments in 2014, a panel of experts agreed that school technology leaders must ensure that districts have the capacity, manpower, and foresight to see that the transition is a successful one…



School Reform Center: Interested in more stories about school reform and curriculum and assessment changes? Be sure to check our School Reform Center microsite here, or by scrolling down the “Resources” tab on our homepage and clicking “School Reform Center.”

Free websites and apps for education


New: 10 of the best Apple apps for education in 2012.” Last year, we presented “10 of the best apps for education,” which highlighted some of the best apps for iPhones and iPods. However, with new upgrades in touch technology, HD and 3D features, and the debut of the iPad, we’ve come up with a new list of the best Apple-based education apps for 2012. This year’s list includes some of the most highly rated apps, both by teachers and by Apple, and features a range that spans from simple math games to a revolutionary special-education app, and from 3D imaging of the elements to secure file sharing for students and teachers…


Common Core Standards are a ‘heavy lift’ for districts, educators

Implementing the Common Core State Standards will be challenging–but not impossible–according to experts speaking in New York this week at the Education Nation summit, part of an NBC News initiative, U.S. News reports. The new standards, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, require English and math lessons to go more in-depth to teach students critical thinking and analytical skills, in order to develop students who are more prepared to succeed in college and the workplace. During an informal survey at a discussion panel on Monday, 92 percent of those attending said they thought rolling out the new standards would be either difficult or very difficult.

“It’s going to change what we teach, … how we teach and what materials we use to teach, … how we decide who’s ready to graduate from high school and … who gets into college, and how we prepare teachers,” said Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit, education policy think tank. “It’s a very heavy lift, and it’s well worth lifting.”

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High school students increasingly use social media for college search

As high school students consider their college choices, social media is playing an integral part in the process, U.S. News reports. According to a recent survey of more than 7,000 high school students by Zinch, an online college and scholarship matching service run by Chegg, and Inigral, an education and technology company, 68 percent of respondents noted that they used social media to research schools. Many students are also taking their social media experiences with a college into consideration, with 38 percent of respondents stating that they have used social media as a resource when deciding where to enroll. Admissions offices are not surprised by the trust high school students are placing on social media platforms when researching schools, says Cara Rousseau, social media manager at Duke University

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New Delhi opens solar-powered water treatment plant…and it’s run by high school kids

This week, India saw the opening of a much needed water-treatment center, which is powered by solar energy- the first of its kind in its capital city. But just as startling is that the plant is being run by a group of local high school students, Clean Technica reports. The $45,000 plant was built as part of a project between the Indian government and an organization known as SANA (Social Awareness, Newer Alternatives). Turning waste water into drinkable water is done with the help of solar panels that power the treatment equipment. The final product meets the potable water standards of the World Health Organization, according to Grist.com. Though the plant was constructed by engineers, its operations were turned over to SANA-trained high school students, who will be responsible for treating 5,000 liters of waste water every day. They’re expected to have the capacity to provide potable water to roughly 750 kids, who occupy the surrounding impoverished area…

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Newspaper: Test security inconsistent among states

No Child Left Behind made standardized testing the cornerstone of national education policy—but it offered little direction on test security.

The federal government has no standards to protect the integrity of the achievement tests it requires in tens of thousands of public schools, and test security among the states is so inconsistent that Americans can’t be sure those all-important test scores are legitimate, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The newspaper surveyed the 50 state education departments and found that many states do not use basic test security measures designed to prevent cheating. And nearly half the states, the newspaper found, make almost no attempt to screen test results for irregularities.

That kind of lax oversight contributed to the cheating scandal that swept Atlanta schools in 2009, the newspaper said in a story that appeared online Sept. 29. Evidence of widespread cheating is now emerging in Philadelphia, Columbus, Ohio, El Paso, Texas, and other cities around the country. The Journal-Constitution reported earlier this year that it had found patterns of suspicious changes in test scores in nearly 200 school districts nationwide.

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law 10 years ago, made standardized testing the cornerstone of national education policy. But it offered little direction on test security.

For more news about test security, see:

Students’ online photos of Calif. tests delay release of scores

Tighter security for SAT, ACT in wake of cheating

Rotten apples: Coping with educators who cheat

“To spend all this money and all this energy on testing, and the one area where we haven’t devoted the same energy is standardizing the administration of the test to deter cheating,” said Wayne Camara, vice president of research at The College Board, which administers the SAT and Advanced Placement tests. “To have better or standardized procedures would limit opportunities for cheating.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent interview that test security is the purview of state and local officials.

“So much of this is best done with thoughtful leaders at the state level, not a new complicated federal bureaucracy,” Duncan said. “I don’t think anyone wants a national testing police.”

The Journal-Constitution’s survey—which elicited responses from 47 states—reveals wildly inconsistent practices around the country. Some states require outside investigations of cheating in school districts, but most states permit districts to investigate themselves. Some states look for radical changes in scores from year to year, but most don’t. Slightly more than half send out independent monitors to oversee testing, while at least 19 do not.

And the motivation to cheat could increase as more states and districts tie teacher evaluations, bonuses, and pay to test results.