10 ways to pursue digital equity with collaborative leadership

School leaders can collaborate and work together toward digital equity for students

digital-equityDespite all of the impact of technology in our schools, there is an unfortunate reality: not all students have the same access to digital technologies – especially at home. We have become a nation with access and a nation without access to the internet.

According to a 2012 Pew Research Internet Project study, only 30 percent of low-income households have smartphones and less than one-half of low-income households have broadband at home. These numbers are more pronounced from the scope of educational achievement. Approximately one-third of adults who do not possess a high school diploma have broadband at home, compared to nearly 90 percent of those people who have a college degree or higher.

Our society is rapidly becoming a “Tale of Two Cities.” Technology is simply that significant–either you have access and are part of the ever-changing and growing community, or you are part of an underclass.

(Next page: 10 steps to digital equity)

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eRate changes aim to cut costs, boost efficiency

New rules encourage greater eRate transparency, volume purchasing

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Greater transparency wasn’t the only rule change intended to control costs.

[Editor’s note: This is the sixth and final article in a series examining the new eRate rules and how they will affect schools.]

Starting next year, eRate applicants will be able to see how much other schools are paying for similar kinds of services, under one of many changes designed to keep costs down and simplify the nation’s school wiring program.

This greater transparency into eRate contracts could lead to better pricing on telecommunications services, internet access, and internal connectivity for U.S. schools and libraries.

The eRate provides discounts ranging from 20 percent to 90 percent of the cost of these services to eligible schools and libraries. Now indexed to inflation, the program will supply more than $2.4 billion in funding this year.

To transform the program into a vehicle that supports broadband in schools, the Federal Communications Commission this summer issued several new eRate rules.

One change requires the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC), the agency that administers the eRate, to post information about the services bought by applicants—as well as these line-item costs—on its website for the 2015 funding year and beyond.

To do this, USAC will work to standardize the information required in Block 5, Item 21 of the Form 471 eRate application.

Many service providers balked at this idea when it was first proposed, arguing that it could lead to unintended consequences—such as higher prices and less competition.

“Competition would suffer if vendors were allowed to see each other’s pricing,” eChalk wrote in comments to the FCC last year. Sprint suggested there was “a risk that publicly posting rate information could … facilitate price fixing or coordinated pricing.”

But the FCC was unmoved by these arguments. “Given the level of public scrutiny of the eRate program, we think price transparency will shine a light on any anti-competitive behavior,” it wrote in explaining its decision.

Keith Krueger, chief executive officer of the Consortium for School Networking, said the new transparency rule would eliminate the secrecy about pricing and should lead to better deals for eRate applicants.

“It’s been hard for schools to know if they’re getting a good deal on eRate-eligible services,” he said. “This will help drive questions of service providers, like: ‘Why were you able to give this district this price?’”

Some commenters had expressed concern that state laws, local regulations, or existing contracts might not allow for pricing disclosure. In response to these concerns, the FCC said applicants can opt out of this disclosure if they can demonstrate an explicit need.

Greater transparency wasn’t the only rule change intended to control costs. Other changes are designed to encourage better eRate pricing through master contracts and volume bidding.

(Next page: More details about these changes—as well as new rules designed to simplify the application process)

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Project-based learning moves into classrooms

Project-based learning is gaining support in education circles

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Students at The Ellis School use the Hummingbird Robotics Kit to explore STEM.

When it comes to classrooms today, students want more than the lectures and quiet classrooms of the past. They want technology to use as learning tools, they want to collaborate, and they want to work on projects that are relevant to their learning and the real world.

Through project-based learning (PBL), students achieve a deeper understanding of lessons as they investigate and attempt to solve real-world problems. Part of this approach’s appeal is its ability to impact students of all ages—kindergarten students can collaborate on and explore problems just the same as high school students.

Educators across the country are integrating PBL into their classrooms.

“It’s about getting away from the ‘perfect experiment,’” said Gary Garber, a physics instructor at Boston University Academy. Garber also oversees the school’s science and engineering lab interns at Boston University and is head coach of the robotics team.

(Next page: How Garber, and two other educators, leverage project-based learning)

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6 ways to improve dropout prevention efforts

Bob Darby, a former educator and district superintendent, shares six critical dropout prevention strategies

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Educators have reason to celebrate when it comes to dropout prevention. In 2014, the latest National Center for Education Statistics data showed that the U.S. high school graduation rate hit an all-time high of 80 percent and is on target to reach 90 percent by 2020.

Yet, we are still faced with over 3 million young people who exit America’s public high schools each year without graduating.

Typically, the decision to drop out isn’t based on just one factor, but rather several risk factors that result in disengagement from school. Improving dropout prevention efforts means resolving a student’s disengagement as early as possible.

An effective way to do that is to identify and monitor the academic measures and social factors that signal a student is in trouble, so educators can take appropriate action. Over the past five years, I’ve conducted At-Risk Identification workshops for approximately 155 districts and service agencies in 21 states.

From state to state and district to district, the risk factors for dropping out are similar and mirror those demonstrated by leading research organizations. Such factors include absenteeism, reading and/or math assessment scores a full year or more behind grade level, course failure, discipline problems, socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, mobility, and homelessness, among others.

Here are six ways districts can use these risk factors to reduce the likelihood that a student will drop out of school:

1.  Early identification

The earlier a problem can be identified and addressed, the greater the impact—particularly for struggling students. Several education experts acknowledge the strong influence of factors experienced before high school. This means that educators do not have to wait until students’ risk factors become so ingrained that the school system has to expend more time, personnel, and funds to resolve the issue. They should strive to identify these risk factors as early as elementary school or even preschool.

(Next page: Five more dropout prevention strategies)

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App of the Week: Explore the solar system

planet-appName: Planets

What is it? 3D guide to the solar system for aspiring astronomers

Best for: Students and teachers

Price: Free

Requirements: iOS 3.0 or later; Android 2.3 and up

Features: Hold your phone or tablet to the sky and the new automatic orientation feature provides a virtual reality view using your device’s magnetometer, accelerometer, and gyroscope.

Sky 2D: locate planets with flat view of sky
Sky 3D: planetarium style view of the sky
Visibility: shows times when planets are visible
Globe: rotating 3D globe of planets and moon

Link: iTunes and Android

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CTE sheds its stigma

Career and technical education programs have grown into robust training opportunities for students

CTE-edCareer and technical education (CTE) or vocational education: either term used to stir up negative images of students without ambition. But those misplaced reputations are disappearing. CTE has established itself as a path that many high-achieving students choose in pursuit of industry certifications and hands-on skills they can use right out of high school, in training programs, or in college.

Instead of being dismissed as the class for low-achieving or behaviorally-challenged students, CTE has emerged as a way for students to develop practical skills while participating in rigorous and high-quality courses.

In fact, 94 percent of high school students are part of CTE—and this doesn’t include the millions of postsecondary students who also are enrolled in CTE programs, according to the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE).

Students who focus on CTE programs have an average high school graduation rate of 90 percent, compared to an average national freshmen graduation rate of 75 percent, according to ACTE data.

Of high school students in CTE programs, more than 70 percent enrolled in postsecondary education soon after completing high school.

(Next page: What are educators saying about CTE, and how are states supporting CTE efforts?)

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Seven keys to deploying tablets successfully

Marc Fanaroff, a special education administrator for more than 30 years, shares his advice on successfully deploying tablets in schools

-tablets-mobile-devicesAs schools start to mature in their use of technology, moving from the innovator phase into the early adopter stage, we’re getting increasingly wise about the necessary steps to achieve successful classroom implementation.

After my experience implementing tablets into our school, I thought I’d share my advice for a successful investment.

1. Outline your objectives.

The first step is to know from an instructional standpoint what your objectives for the investment are, and how you envision using the resource. This could have implications for the required functionality of the hardware device. While many tablets are designed for consumer use rather than classroom use, in general, a tablet is a tablet.

2. Identify effective learning technology.

Step two is to ensure the technology is effective in the learning environment. It should include appropriate, high-quality learning content. The learning content offered on some tablet devices often can be described as “edutainment” rather than high-quality, curriculum-aligned resources. The supplier of your chosen mobile device should be working with publishers to provide high-quality, curriculum-aligned content, pre-installed on the tablet device.

Research has indicated that the need to purchase, install, and manage new apps is cited by many schools as a significant barrier to adoption. However, tablets also should be easily networkable to allow you to use your pre-existing or purchased content. In summary, your classroom tablet solution must enhance, support, and simplify teaching and learning.

(Next page: Tablet tips 3-7)

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