Survey: Teachers could improve their content knowledge

NCTQ releases list of education colleges most effective at preparing teachers with content knowledge

content-knowledgeHigh school teachers may not be getting sufficient opportunities and training to learn the very subjects they are teaching–and students are taking notice–according to new findings from YouthTruth Student Survey and a new analysis on education colleges conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

According to new findings released by YouthTruth, a national nonprofit that harnesses students’ perceptions to help educators identify needs and accelerate improvements, 32 percent of surveyed high school students do not feel positively about their teachers’ content knowledge of the subject matter being taught.

“Across the country, with changing academic standards and increasingly diverse learning environments, the role of teachers is of paramount importance,” said YouthTruth’s Executive Director Jen Vorse Wilka. “At YouthTruth, it has always been our goal to represent students’ voices as the catalyst for positive improvements in schools and districts. With this latest round of findings, we hope education colleges across the country can focus on giving future teachers a strong foundation for content knowledge, so that they are as prepared as possible for the reality of the classroom.”

Drawing on responses from nearly 130,000 high school students across the country, the findings also identified that only 67 percent of students surveyed are challenged by their teachers and their coursework.

Additionally, only 59 percent of surveyed students reported that their homework assignments help them understand the subject.

Research has shown that teachers’ mastery of content knowledge is directly correlated with how effectively they communicate subjects to students. Undergraduate programs are responsible for ensuring that future high school teachers receive meaningful subject matter preparation so that they can pass this information along to their students.

According to a new NCTQ data analysis, 35 colleges and universities across 16 states – among 800 measured – are both selective in which teacher candidates they admit and demonstrate effectiveness in preparing future teachers for knowledge in their anticipated subject areas. That list of colleges and universities can be found here.

“Teachers deserve the opportunity to be prepared, and we congratulate these colleges and universities for leading the pack in taking steps to give teachers a solid base in subject knowledge,” said Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ. “The most critical step is to make sure that the coursework is rigorous and strong, holding students accountable for achieving mastery in the subjects they intend to teach.”

Consumers can now view information on these 35 programs, as well as other education colleges, universities and alternative certification programs on Path to Teach, a free search tool allowing anyone to quickly find meaningful, reliable information about the quality of over 1,100 schools of education that prepare over 200,000 new teachers every year.

The 35 colleges and universities stood out for earning an “A” on NCTQ’s “high school content standard,” which considers specific state regulations on teacher certification standards as well as individual institutions’ course content offerings, degree plans and admissions selectivity.

All education programs are scored through four major steps of analysis:
1. Examination of secondary certifications offered in each state.
2. Evaluation of licensure test adequacy for each certification.
3. Identification of the majors leading to certification for each program.
4. If licensure tests are not adequate for a specific certification, examination of the coursework preparation required by individual secondary majors.



Most Popular of 2015, No. ten: Are digital textbooks worth it?

Early digital textbook adopters share their pros and cons

Ed. note: We’re counting down the top stories of 2015 based on popularity (i.e. website traffic) to No. 1 on Dec. 31. We ran this feature on the challenges and opportunities of going digital early on — Jan. 28 to be exact — and in our January print edition. Writer Mary Axelson’s reporting was engrossing, and her case studies struck a chord with readers: While the original story ran across four pages, an unusually-above average number of you read it all the way to the end.

discovery-textbookIt has been nearly three years since the FCC and Education Secretary Arne Duncan rolled out the Digital Textbook Playbook and challenged schools to go digital within five years. It’s safe to say schools are not there yet. While going digital looks certain, arrival in two years looks doubtful.

The potential benefits for schools transitioning to digital curriculum—specifically, replacing their print textbooks with digital ones—remain compelling. As schools move to the Common Core, and Pluto shifts in and out of planetary status, information can be updated on the fly. Interactive quizzes, comments, and discussions live within the text itself. The addition of video, audio and interactivity allows for multi-modal, personalized, accessible and interactive learning; it’s lightweight for backpacks; and there are cost savings down the road from not printing.

Of course, widespread adoption relies on a robust infrastructure. Wireless bandwidth must be able to handle the load, and filtering must let advanced material through. Students need reliable devices at school and home, and the content needs to be designed for whatever platform they might have. Importantly, teachers need time to learn a new way of running a classroom.

Here, three early adopters of digital textbooks share their experiences, from conveniences and triumphs to pitfalls and setbacks. Their stories provide a glimpse into the present, still-evolving world of digital textbooks, and a hint into where it may be headed.

The Fairfax Learning Curve
Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, with 12,000 students per grade level, is a pioneer in the digital textbooks space. Craig Herring, the director of Prek-12 curriculum and instruction, explains that they started using some Pearson online textbooks in 2009, back when they were essentially PDF versions of the printed books. The next year, they flipped that model by buying online social studies books with some hardcopy backups. Those online textbooks included some new features, and they rolled that out to all grades, 7-12, in 2011.

Next page: The huge mistake that nearly derailed Fairfax’s program


Editor’s Picks 2015, No. ten: The 3 trust questions to ask every ed-tech vendor

Vendors need to answer these questions when establishing trust with administrators

Ed. note: This year the editors selected ten stories we believe either highlighted an important issue in 2015 and/or signaled the beginning of an escalating trend or issue for 2016 (look for No. 1 on Dec. 31). This story isn’t specific to 2015, but as schools continue to ramp up ed-tech investment, these “trust questions” are worth bearing in mind.

trust-questionsThe educational technology procurement market is enormous: $13 billion is spent annually. Just last year a historic $2 billion of investment capital was pumped into ed tech startups. As an educator, how do you know who to trust when it comes to meeting your district’s technology needs? Do you trust the established companies fighting ever harder to keep their market share? Can you trust their overpowering marketing machines? Should you trust the new, innovative, and exciting start-ups? Do they have bandwidth and capacity to keep us “online?”

These are the questions I ask as superintendent of Howard-Winneshiek Community School District in northeastern Iowa. To help answer them, I have developed three baseline questions that have been essential in building trust with vendors we work with. They have served my district well through myriad procurement cycles, including a recently launched one-to-one Apple device initiative.

Does the vendor understand our core business?
Our core business in schools is learning. You may be thinking, “Well, that’s really obvious John. And next you’ll tell me, ‘Iowa has corn, too!’” But it’s surprising how many educators and vendors forget this. Profits, commissions, and shiny features can be placed squarely ahead of learning. Does this sound harsh? Maybe, but considering it happens more frequently than anyone wants to admit, it is essential this question is asked first and not overlooked.

Whether it is an LMS, professional development provider, hardware or software, we listen to whether vendors truly focus on learning. We establish this early on in our conversations with vendors. “How will this solution positively impact my students and the teachers that support them?” we ask. Trust is built with those that do.

Next page: Don’t let vendors set the direction


6 STEAM tinkering tools for the holidays

Engage kids of all ages with these STEM and coding learning toyssteam-tools


The year that was brought with it a renewed, and much welcome, interest in science and technology, as STEAM, makerspaces, 3D printing, and coding all became hot topics. Each year, as parents look to celebrate the various holidays with our kids, many of us rack our brains trying to find gifts that are both fun and educational. This year is no different and fortunately, the latest STEAM push has made many of the learning tools very desirable as holiday gifts.

The following are six ed-tech tools that will undoubtedly spark the creative and innovative side of kids of all ages (parents and teachers included). These tools are dynamic, engaging, and fun for everyone. Best of all, they’ll help students focus on higher-order thinking skills as they make, design, create, and code their way into 2016.


Designed for kids ages 5-13, this unique gaming accessory works with an iPad to offer interactive learning experiences through five games — Tangram, Words, Numbers, Newton, and Masterpiece. One of Time Magazine’s “2014 Best Inventions of the Year,” more than 7,500 schools are already teaching with Osmo. From spacial to literacy skills, the learning games that come with Osmo give kids an opportunity to practice social skills while learning critical thinking skills. Aimed at bringing “iPad addicted kids back to life,” as the Wall Street Journal put it, the Osmo…is meant to break the zombie-like stares and bring more of the real world back into the mix, by providing games that interact with just about any physical object—pen, paper, blocks, even toys your kids already own.”

Makey Makey

Make some magic this holiday season. Inspired by the Maker Movement, this JoyLabz created invention kit for all ages combines computer programming and hands-on maker tools limited only by imagination. Whether your plan is to turn a banana into a piano, play Super Mario Bros on a Play-Doh game pad, design a pencil joystick to play Pac-Man, or create floor pads to master Dance Dance Revolution, your child’s creativity will be pushed, pressed, and plugged-in as they think critically and have a blast.

Ozobot Bit

Measuring in at slightly more than an inch, this bite-sized programmable robot is one of the world’s smallest — but great things come in small packages. The Ozobot’s multi-level interactive capabilities make it perfect for a beginning programmer that would like to explore a color-based coding language, as well as the seasoned programmer looking for a bigger challenge (via OzoBlockly-a block-based visual editor). There is something for every type of thinker with this tiny tinker robot. According USA Today, “With…Ozobot Bit, Kids can graduate to “if,then” programming.”

Dash and Dot

Parents will find themselves dashing through the snow to pick up Wonder Workshop’s adorable robotic duo this holiday season — Dash and Dot. Kid-friendly and programmable, the pair come with five free apps to explore a variety of skills including coding, sequencing, measurement, problem solving, and critical thinking. Dash and Dot come fully assembled and ready for their first adventure only minutes after taking them out of the box. Like any well-maketed toy, don’t forget the accessories. Some favorites include Dash’s Xylophone, Building Brick Connectors, and even a launcher! From the 2015 National Parenting Gold Award to the Time To Play Magazine 2015 Holiday Most Wanted List, and a myriad of other awards, Dash and Dot have an award case that makes other robots jealous.

Gizmos and Gadgets Kit

Gizmos and Gadgets is LittleBits’s most popular kit, and embraces true STEAM curricular integration. The well-designed kit comes with 15 electronic building blocks and easy-to-follow guides and instructions that include both text and photos, as well as accessories to fire up the imagination and spark creativity. “With more than 60 color-coded modules, there’s nearly an infinite amount of hacking, programming, and playing that kids can do with this easy-to-use playset,” writes Time.

Sphero SPRK Edition

The clear polycarbonate shell of this transparent ball of robotic fun enables students to feel closer to the robotic action inside by viewing all of the components that make it maneuver. SPRK builds confidence for beginning coders, while providing veteran programmers an opportunity to flourish through a variety of user-friendly apps. This programmable Sphero robot will SPRK the imagination of any student as they navigate their way through rolls, spins, flips, and color changes (build an obstacle course and try and get Sphero through for an added challenge). Its text-based programming language, OVAL, is hidden behind an easy-to-use block-based format. Collaboration is encouraged by free access to the SPRK Lightning Lab, which is a hub of learning and sharing for all Sphero users, both iOS and Android. Also, if your child is a fan of Star Wars — and who isn’t this week? — check out the Sphero’s droid-inspired BB-8.


Whether it’s coding, making, or building, there’s something for every child this holiday season that can help them tap creativity, develop high level thinking skills, while learning through play. These six ed-tech learning tools are sure to be a hit this holiday season, as well as something teachers will appreciate and kids will love.


Tapping into UDL for online courses

Catch up on the most compelling K-12 news stories you may have missed this week

news-picEach Friday, I’ll be bringing you a recap of some of the most interesting and thought-provoking news developments that occurred over the week.

I can’t fit all of our news stories here, though, so feel free to visit and read up on other news you may have missed.

In this week’s news:

10 steps for making your online courses accessible for all students

Incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in online courses not only benefits students with disabilities, but can have significant benefits for all students, ultimately increasing retention and improving learning outcomes.

New Va. high school to focus big on coding

A group of 13 Richmond-area school systems have banded together to start a new regional high school that will allow students to meet their core requirements while getting an education focused on computer science.

Top 5 IT and technology trends for 2016

Chief technology officers and IT professionals in the K-12 field have a lot on their collective plates these days, what with the continued proliferation of technology in their schools, new governmental programs and compliance requirements, and the push to effectively integrate their technology in the classroom. Here are five key trends that CTOs will be watching and reacting to in 2016.

Creating flipped video in 60 seconds 

Time strapped teachers need support—we all know this. Now there is a quick and easy way to create even more flexible video tutorials for your blended or flipped learning classes. The tutorials can then be watched over and over. Best of all, this solution uses PowerPoint, which many teachers are already comfortable with.


Digital rights group alleges Google invades student privacy

Complaint alleges Google collected students’ internet search requests through Chromebooks

student-privacyGoogle is being accused of invading the privacy of students using laptop computers powered by the internet company’s Chrome operating system.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, depicts Google as a two-faced opportunist in a complaint filed in early December with the Federal Trade Commission.

Google disputes the unflattering portrait and says it isn’t doing anything wrong.

The complaint alleges that Google rigged the “Chromebook” computers in a way that enables the company to collect information about students’ internet search requests and online video habits. The foundation says Google is dissecting the activities of students in kindergarten through 12th grade so it can improve its digital services.

The complaint contends Google’s storage and analysis of the student profile violates a “Student Privacy Pledge” that the company signed last year. The pledge, which covers more than 200 companies, contains a provision guaranteeing that students’ personal information won’t be exploited for “non-educational” purposes.

The foundation is calling on the FTC to investigate Google, stop it from using information on students’ activities for its own purposes and order it to destroy any information it has collected that’s not related to education.

Google applauded the Electronic Frontier Foundation for caring about student privacy, but said it believes it is following the laws enforced by the FTC.

“Our services enable students everywhere to learn and keep their information private and secure,” Google said in a statement.

Chromebooks have become particularly popular in schools because some models sell for less than $300 and can be easily maintained by Google over the internet.

But the way Google has managed some of its other products have previously gotten the Mountain View, California, company into trouble for violating its users’ privacy.

In 2012, Google paid a $22.5 million fine after the FTC concluded the company had created a technological loophole that enabled its digital advertising network to shadow the online activities of people using Apple’s Safari browser without their consent.

The agency determined Google’s Safari surveillance violated an earlier promise not to mislead consumers about privacy issues. That pledge came after Google set up a social networking service called Buzz in 2010 and exposed people’s email contacts. Google agreed to period privacy audits as part of that settlement with the FTC.


U.S. graduation rate hits 82 percent

Latest graduation rate data shows highest level in 5 years

graduation-rateU.S. students are graduating from high school at a higher rate than ever before, according to data released today by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

The nation’s high school graduation rate hit 82 percent in 2013-14, the highest level since states adopted a new uniform way of calculating graduation rates five years ago.

“America’s students have achieved another record milestone by improving graduation rates for a fourth year,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “The hard work of teachers, administrators, students and their families has made these gains possible and as a result many more students will have a better chance of going to college, getting a good job, owning their own home, and supporting a family. We can take pride as a nation in knowing that we’re seeing promising gains, including for students of color.”

“A high school diploma is absolutely critical, absolutely attainable and key to future success in college, in the workforce and in life,” said Delegated Deputy Secretary John King. “It is encouraging to see our graduation rate on the rise and I applaud the hard work we know it takes to see this increase. But too many students never get their diploma, never walk across the graduation stage and while our dropout numbers are also decreasing, we remain committed to urgently closing the gaps that still exist in too many schools and in too many communities.”

Since 2010, states, districts and schools have been using a new, common metric—the adjusted cohort graduation rate—to promote greater accountability and develop strategies that will help reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates in schools nationwide. For four consecutive years, graduation rates have continued to climb, which reflects continued progress among America’s high school students.

To ensure the economic strength of our country, students must graduate high school ready for college, careers and life. The Department has invested more than $1.5 billion in early learning; implemented strategies that improve achievement and close opportunity gaps, and awarded billions of dollars through such grant programs as Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, and School Improvement Grants; and expanded college access and affordability for families.

To view the graduation rate data—including a state-by-state breakdown—click here.


10 steps for making your online courses accessible for all students

New report highlights 10-step plan to applying Universal Design for Learning online

universal-UDL-learningAccording to a new report, incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in online courses not only benefits students with disabilities, but can have significant benefits for all students, ultimately increasing retention and improving learning outcomes. UDL is tough enough in a face-to-face environment, but the real challenge might be how to implement the principles in an online world where students’ abilities and learning styles differ drastically.

The recent report, written by three professors at Montana State University, aims to help educators involved in online learning implement UDL for teaching both general and diverse populations, including students with disabilities.

The authors note that while, ideally, UDL allows students with disabilities to access courses without adaptation, it can also help to improve learning—and, therefore, retention—among all students.

“The concept of universal design is as longstanding as cuts in sidewalks, which were originally mandated to allow access for wheelchairs, but which ultimately ended up with the unintended consequence of benefiting babies in strollers, people on bicycles, and children on skates,” the authors write. “The philosophy and principles of a UDL framework are similar to UD and are meant to provide pedagogical strategies for instructors to maximize learning opportunities for diverse groups of students including those with physical and/or learning disabilities.”

Knowing Where to Start

The theoretical framework for the report includes the work of Rose and Mayer and their three overarching principles of effective UDL course design: Presentation, action and expression, and engagement and interaction.

In presentation, the course provides learners with various way of acquiring information and knowledge. In action and expression, students are provided with various routes for demonstrating what they know. And in engagement and interaction, an instructor is enabled to tap into students’ interests, challenge and motivate them to learn.

In other words, educators need more than just assistive technology to create a UDL-friendly online course.

“Currently, many students with disabilities utilize technology such as screen readers, close-captioned videos, seating arrangements and a test environment that minimizes distractions that contribute to their success in higher education,” note the authors. “However, Coombs notes that for online courses there should also be an accessibility to the learning infrastructure, and accessibility to the actual course content and the student needs to be well-versed in the assistive technology that is provided by the institution.”

The authors also highlight that courses using UDL should ensure that the learning goals of the course “provide an appropriate academic challenges for the college student and that the assessment is flexible enough to provide accurate, continuous information that helps instructors revise instruction to maximize learning for diverse learners.”

Next page: The 10-Step Guide


New Va. high school to focus big on coding

Students will enter an innovative program that teaches core graduation skills alongside industry internships and computer science

coding-schoolHigh school isn’t what it used to be.

That’s the consensus of a growing number of educators who say how and what students are taught must change in order to better prepare them for a rapidly changing workforce that demands new skills.

With that goal in mind, a group of 13 Richmond-area school systems have banded together to start a new regional high school that will allow students to meet their core requirements while getting an education focused on computer science.

The school, now known by the project name Richmond Regional School for Innovation-CodeRVA, is set to open next school year with a class of about 80 ninth-grade students.

The idea is to make sure graduates are better prepared to enter a job market that requires a set of skills not currently taught at schools. Skills, educators say, that are valuable even to students who don’t go into the computer science field.

Students at the new regional school will spend their freshmen and sophomore years taking core classes needed for graduation while also taking computer science and technology courses.

They will then spend their junior and senior years learning real-world job skills through internships while working toward earning a two-year degree from local community colleges.

“If you look at the history of high schools, the high school model of today was built 100 years ago,” said James F. Lane, superintendent of Goochland County Public Schools, who is leading the effort.

“We want to create a high school environment that’s more reflective of modern education and preparation for the modern workforce.”

In making the case for a $50,000 high school innovation planning grant for the new regional school, local officials cited research showing a high demand for software developers and system engineers.

Next page: How the coding-focused high school will operate


Top 5 IT and technology trends for 2016

Libraries, connectivity, and more are big issues for IT professionals


Chief technology officers and IT professionals in the K-12 field have a lot on their collective plates these days, what with the continued proliferation of technology in their schools, new governmental programs and compliance requirements, and the push to effectively integrate their technology in the classroom. Here are five key trends that CTOs will be watching and reacting to in 2016:

The modernized E-rate program. Since it was established 18 years ago, the E-rate program has focused on connecting schools and libraries to the internet. Now, the FCC’s Second E-rate Modernization Order (adopted December 2014) will address the connectivity gap — particularly in rural areas — maximize high-speed connectivity purchasing options, extend the program’s budget through 2019, and increase the E-rate funding cap to $3.9 billion. Keith R. Krueger, CEO at CoSN – the Consortium for School Networking, said the fact that the modernized E-rate hones in on broadband and more robust networks is a net positive for K-12 IT departments and their CTOs. “Many networks for learning were designed under scarcity, and by managing bandwidth and telling people what they can’t do,” Krueger explained. “Now, we may be able to flip the conversation and look at what it takes to enable the learning that we truly envision.”

Broadband equity. In December, The Office of Educational Technology released its new National Education Technology Plan titled, Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education. In it, OET discusses its vision of equity, active use, and collaborative leadership to make “everywhere, all-the-time learning possible.” In a nutshell, the plan calls on the American educational system to “ensure equity of access to transformational learning experiences enabled by technology.” The organizations points to “finding new and creative ways to make sure the connected school does not end when students leave for the day” as a critical part of that mission. “Equity and accessibility were major themes in the new plan,” said Krueger, who sees human resistance to change as an impediment to equity in an era where technology infrastructures have become more robust than ever.

Sheryl Abshire, CTO at Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Lake Charles, La., sees the work that the FCC does via its Lifeline Program for low-income consumers as a step in the right direction. “This will be a first step in minimizing the digital divide and providing broadband to under-served communities,” said Abshire, who points to wi-fi enabled school buses and schools that remain open after hours as two other steps in the right direction. “Broadband isn’t a luxury anymore,” she says. “Our citizens can’t participate in learning, government, or other activities if we as school leaders don’t do our part in helping to erase the digital divide.”

Next page: Privacy and libraries take the spotlight