How is the E-rate impacting learning?

With E-rate reformed, educators must consider new learning-centered questions

In the beginning, E-rate focused principally on telephone service, which was the most basic and universal way individuals communicated 20 years ago. While the focus on communication has remained, technology has changed radically throughout the past two decades. During this period, E-rate adapted by broadening the range of eligible services to include mobile phones, pagers, voicemail, email, school websites and basic collaboration tools.

As the program evolved, the definition of “new technology” grew increasingly inexact and complicated. It became clear that E-rate was in need of a refresh. Advocates for change, including legislators, the Federal Communications Commission and organizations such as ISTE and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), hoped to address the question: How do we increase internet bandwidth available to our schools and provide ubiquitous wireless coverage?

Practical questions to ask

To answer this question, we needed to both increase E-rate funding and stretch every dollar. In an effort to make dollars go further, three main objectives were identified:

  1. Focus solely on digital transmission services and internet access.
  1. Eliminate services, such as paging, voicemail, email, text messaging and web hosting.
  2. Simplify the application process by only accepting electronic submissions.

Simply put, E-rate is now all about bandwidth.

After enacting these changes for the 2015-16 school year, the next move was to petition Congress for additional funding. Mission accomplished: The FCC approved a $1.5 billion E-rate increase, bringing the annual funding cap to $3.9 billion.

The new focus on connectivity is great, but now we must ask ourselves another question: “How will this connectivity improve learning outcomes?” In other words, what are we going to do with this bandwidth? The situation might be likened to a public utilities initiative to build huge infrastructure to get water into homes while neglecting the pertinent question of where we will get the water?

Our water is digital content, learning management systems, homework submission tools, live-stream video, all products and solutions that can impact learning. From a broader perspective, additional questions should be asked:

  • What products and services support learning outcomes?
  • What cloud-based services allow teachers and students to be more effective?
  • How are we training teachers to deliver those outcomes?

When the lone goal of E-rate centers on bandwidth, practical questions like these don’t get answered. Bandwidth alone will not help create anytime, anywhere learners using technology geared to a student’s unique interests and abilities.

We should be excited about the modernization of E-rate. But when E-rate is all about bandwidth, practical questions about the products and services that will use that very same bandwidth don’t get answered.

Bandwidth on its own is not enough. We have to find meaningful ways to use that bandwidth to impact learning and to create anytime, anywhere learners.

Jeff Patterson is the founder and CEO of Gaggle.


E-Rate Survival FAQs

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Should K-12 schools teach financial literacy? The answer is yes-here’s how

Wherever schools are on the financial literacy education continuum, selecting the right resources can help them make progress.

Financial literacy, and the role of K-12 schools in promoting it, is getting lots of attention these days. To date, some states have developed standards for teaching financial literacy, but where do schools turn for resources to implement those standards and who do they turn to for advice on what aspects of money management they should teach and when?

As a country, our financial literacy skills are dismal. Nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic financial literacy test, and data from the Federal Reserve show that consumer debt hit an all-time high in early August.

For youth, the outlook is not much better. In 2015, the PISA financial literacy assessment found that 15-year-olds in the U.S. scored below the OECD mean. Clearly, education should be doing more to ensure that students are graduating with financial literacy skills, and while most K-12 teachers understand the importance of teaching financial literacy, as shown in a 2016 survey, only 12 percent teach it.

This article offers suggestions for how to teach financial literacy.

Where States Stand on Financial Literacy

First, educators need to understand the landscape when it comes to implementing state-wide financial literacy standards. The Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy provides this overview of state K-12 efforts:

  • 45 states (+DC) include personal finance in their literacy standards.
  • 37 states (+DC) require the standards be implemented.
  • 22 states (+DC) require a high school class be offered.
  • 17 states (+DC) require a high school class be taken.
  • 7 states (+DC) require a standardized test on personal finance concepts be administered.

In states that do offer financial literacy, implementation of the standards varies widely. At the high school level, financial literacy curriculum is often delivered as a separate course within social studies, consumer science, or business. In elementary and middle schools, there is often debate over which traditional subject should incorporate the standards. However, given the research on the importance of numeracy, a solid math education will go a long way in promoting financial literacy.

(Next page: What to teach and where to find materials for financial literacy)


Professor: The 3 innovative skills we’re giving new teachers and why

Associate Professor of educational technology discusses the updated skills today's teachers need to be edtech-savvy...and why it's critical.

P-12 schools see a wide variety of technology in use, from overhead projectors and transparencies, to wired computer labs, mobile learning devices such as iPads and other tablets, and the more recently burgeoning use of Chromebooks with Google Apps for Education (GAFE).

In such an era where rapid technology change, both in the use of the old and the development of the new is the norm, providing adequate tech training to teacher candidates faces previously unanticipated challenges. Great diversity and multiplicity of options creates dilemma for many, college technology instructors being at the forefront.

Such situation elicits some basic questions: what kind of technology training do we provide for our teacher candidates and how do we do it? What about the relationship between tools and mindset? What about ethical issues? These are big questions to which the answers beg for systematic research and in-depth discussion.

What We Teach Teachers

My inquiries to these questions start from redesigning and refocusing “EDU315 Critical Media Literacy: Values, Education and Society.” EDU 315 is a general education (GE 12) requirement for the childhood/early childhood education majors, and a major goal of this course is to help pre-service teachers develop understanding of and competence in meaningful integration of technology into P-12 curriculum.

In redesigning and refocusing EDU315, we focused on the following aspects:
• Mindset: candidates’ conceptual understanding towards appropriate and meaningful use of technology – critical medial literacy;
• Tools: candidates’ competency using tools and in integrating technology tools into the content areas, and
• Lifelong Learners: candidates’ development of lifelong learning skills which will be transferred to and extended during their future experiences as teachers or other personal or professional endeavors.

Below are a few teaching and learning examples, as part of the inquiries by my students and myself:

Skill #1: Learning How to Learn

With the exponential increase in the number of Web 2.0 technologies and other teaching tools, it has become impossible to teach students every tool or online learning resource. Learning how to learn is, then, the essential skill for both pre-service and in-service teachers.

Sir Ken Roberson in “learn, unlearn, relearn” suggest that what is most important for modern students is for them to know how to learn, unlearn, and relearn (Toffler, 1973). In other words, students should be coming to class to learn how to fish instead of getting a fish (after the aphorism, “Give a man a fish and you have fed him for today; teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime”). The students are given an adequate amount of preparation work to lay the foundation for learning how to learn; the main focus in class is learning by doing, in a learning community where a positive climate is nurtured and learners are encouraged to explore and experiment with new tools and gadgets through trial and error from the very beginning of the semester.

While most of the course projects are well defined with specific requirements, there are also loosely defined projects provided in the course, such as the project “Come to the Edge.”

Instead of teaching individual tools, the students are given a pool of tools to explore and tinker with. They are expected to explore as many tools as they can, and create some minimum number of products using the tools.

As a result, students receive exposure to different tools. They are encouraged to make sense of the tool in their individual way, and apply them to appropriate content areas.

At this point in the students’ progress, their examples may not yet constitute meaningful integration, since they have yet to teach in real classrooms. Instead, the focus is on knowing the tools that they have picked out and practicing their application, which is a necessary step on the way to meaningful integration of tools into content areas, the mindset.

Shared below are screenshots of the “Come to the Edge” project completed by two students (See Figure 1 & Figure 2).

Figure 1. Come to the Edge Products by Alexis

Figure 2. Come to the Edge Products by Gretchen .

(Next page: Innovative teacher skills 2 and 3)


Blog: Dysart Unified School District Prepares Students for the 21st Century

Part of a blog series celebrating schools recognized by Innovate to Educate, Ed-Tech Awards sponsored by Xirrus.

A few years ago, former Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, said of teachers and schools, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

Children today have never known a world without technology. And they exist in a society where they’ve never had to wait. As a result, the brains of young people today are literally “wired” differently. From sending a message to someone on the other side of the world with the tap of a button, to Google searching any information the mind can think of, those coming of age today are accustomed to things happening instantly. Not only has this caused them to cognitively think differently than people of previous generations, children don’t view the digital world as separate from the physical world—to them it is one in the same.

Dysart Unified School District, the fastest growing school system in Arizona, infuses its curriculum with creativity, innovation, information fluency, communication, and critical thinking for the 21st century. Unlike the focus of a decade ago, these schools are in the middle of a transformation from learning “what” to learning “how.” That’s because kids (and adults) must adapt to new technologies at a rate we’re not used to. Every few years, technology changes rendering that which came before it obsolete.

At Dysart schools, students in 1st grade use iPod devices to record themselves reading aloud so that they can play the recording back and correct themselves. This helps develop language skills more effectively. The devices don’t replace instruction, but they offer teachers different ways to interact and allow students to feel more confident learning things on their own. In 8th grade math class, students use iPads for learning math. By taking the class out of a traditional lecture mode and into a collaborative, interactive environment where students work together to solve equations, they not only learn math skills but also communication skills that help them work together in groups.

Though originally skeptical this technique would be anything more than a novelty to hold student interest, teachers admit that the iPad lessons have become a vital part of the classroom. After ten weeks of using them, teachers found they couldn’t go back to the old way of teaching without losing some of the effectiveness the technology gives them. By working in groups using a device, students take charge in their own learning and comprehend more in 10 questions using this format than with 50 questions the old way.

Other devices are being tested in Dysart classrooms as well. Since these kids are ‘digital natives,’ raised with technology embedded into their lives, the lines between learning and play are already blurred. This deeply rooted acceptance gives kids a unique perspective on how technology can help them innovate for the future. It’s schools like Dysart that will help young minds develop skills that will endure into tomorrow. Xirrus is proud to offer Wi-Fi solutions that keep students connected around the world.

To see New Century Learning in action, watch this video.


This no-brainer tool combats teacher turnover

How to combat teacher turnover with data and interventions crafted around data.

Teacher turnover has an impact on all stakeholders in the school environment, and research shows that students struggle to perform well in schools with turnover year after year. Retaining effective staff can be a big challenge for schools and districts, as can figuring out how to solve the issues around this problem.

In “Using Data to Combat Attrition and Keep Good Teachers,” Henry Wellington, CEO and founder of Upbeat, discussed issues that cause teacher turnover and how schools and districts can intervene.

Although 30 percent of teachers leave for reasons outside of schools’ control, the other 70 percent are leaving due to issues that occur within the school environment, and lack of data makes it difficult to find out why.

Why Data Makes the Most Valuable Tool

Without data on the school or district, it’s hard for schools leaders to gauge the significance of individual complaints, even if the complaint is valid. It’s also challenging to understand the factors that influence turnover for different types or demographics of teachers. Last, teacher survey data can often be unreliable if it is not anonymous.

Teacher turnover can be caused by a variety of factors involving:

  • School climate
  • Instructional leadership opportunities
  • School resources and practices
  • Individual characteristics of the teacher

Examples of issues influencing turnover include principal/teacher trust, influence in school administration, quality of professional development, collaboration with colleagues, and other characteristics like work-life balance. External stakeholders, like parents, also have a large role in the school and teachers must be satisfied with the communication between them.

Wellington suggested, “This can be gauged by asking teachers, do they think that parents and teachers at their school think of each other as partners?”

Getting the Right Data

So how can schools begin to address teacher turnover? Getting feedback from teachers on the staff culture is essential, and teachers should also be involved in reviewing that data since they are closest to the issues.

“Gathering data and discussing it with your staff in an organized format can unearth significant ideas about improvements that can be made around staff culture,” said Wellington. There should also be an action plan, and school leaders should be communicating updates to staff on a regular basis throughout the year.

There are many strategies to combat teacher turnover. School leaders can talk to teachers to figure out what’s lacking, and then form a committee in that area to bring teachers into the policy development process, giving them more influence in the school administration.

Schools can also issue get-to-know-you surveys, or have principal office hours or open-door policies to improve principal/teacher trust.

To strengthen parent/teacher communication, principals can create curriculum with clear opportunity for parent involvement for the entire year, and provide parents opportunities to support the school in ways that work for them.

With the right data, schools and districts can figure out areas in need of improvement and create plans to intervene.

About the Presenter

Henry Wellington founded Upbeat—an organization that uses predictive analytics to enhance schools’ approach to teacher retention. Before starting Upbeat, Henry played a key role in the implementation of blended learning and evaluation of education technology products for Citizen Schools. Prior to Citizen Schools, Henry supported education technology companies in their sales and marketing strategies at Whiteboard Advisors. He also taught middle school special education in New York City District and charter schools before his time at Whiteboard Advisors.

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InsideK12: Boost Your K12 Purchasing IQ is a free professional learning community that seeks to empower K-12 stakeholders with knowledge of hidden factors affecting our schools.

This broadcast was hosted by and sponsored by Noodle Markets.

The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

[Editor’s note: This piece is original content produced by View more events here.]


App of the Week: Making politics fun with sims

Charming political campaign sim mixes data analysis and civics.

Ed. noteApp of the Week picks are now being curated by the editors of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Click here to read the full app review.

What’s It Like? 

Political Animals is an election simulation/political strategy game set in a fictional world filled with animal candidates and constituents from mice to pigs to crocodiles. While they look adorable and cartoony, the characters run the gamut from rule-abiding to corrupt. The goal of the game is to choose a candidate, mold a platform, and win the election. Along the way, players can discover just how corruptible or incorruptible they are.

Price: $14.99

Grades: 8-12

Rating: 5/5

Pros: Appealing artwork, data-rich statistics, and infinite strategies guarantee replayability.

Cons: High learning curve and no final wrap-up or postmortem to aid learning.

Bottom line: It’s a highly entertaining and surprisingly deep way to help students see the strategy — as well as ethical choices — involved in elections.


Video of the Week: Discover the learning in ANY game

Think of games as experiences rather than instruction--as field trips, not textbooks.

Ed. note: Video of the Week picks are supplied by the editors of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Click here to watch the video at Common Sense Education.

Video Description: Every game has potential for learning. Consider the educational value in some of the more popular, entertainment-focused games that your students (and you!) already enjoy at home. Of course, not all games are school-appropriate, but you can approach any game from an educational perspective. Think of games as experiences rather than instruction–as field trips, not textbooks. It’s a perspective that’s as valuable for students as it is for teachers. To learn more about using games in the classroom, visit our collection, Find the Learning in Any Game.



Report: Which districts show a higher OER adoption-and why?

A new survey takes stock of how districts select and adopt curricula materials

Only one-third of school districts said they are aware of both the term “open educational resources” (OER) and its licensing, according to a report from the Babson Survey Research Group.

The report, funded by a grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, found more encouraging news when it comes to OER adoption–two-thirds of participating districts are aware of at least one open full-time course curriculum alternative, and more than one-third have actively considered at least one.

What We Teach: K-12 School District Curriculum Adoption Process examines the degree to which K-12 districts are aware of and have adopted OER, as well as the process districts use to select and adopt full-course curricula materials.

Open licensed full-course curricula materials have been adopted by 16 percent of all districts.

(Next page: Which districts show a higher OER adoption?)


7 must-knows from blended learning’s early adopters

Blended learning mavericks reveal what works and what doesn’t for K-12 blended and personalized learning implementations.

Earlier this year, the Highlander Institute, The Learning Accelerator and The Christensen Institute teamed up to bring together a conference on blended and personalized learning in Providence, R.I. The goal of the event was to focus on the practical elements of blended learning and personalized learning by surfacing the tactics that teachers and leaders from around the country were deploying on the ground.

These tactics are highlighted in the report, From maverick to mainstream: Takeaways from the 2017 Blended and Personalized Learning Conference, out this week. Seven key tips surfaced from innovators at the convening:

#1 Modify Models to Expand Relationships and Collaboration

For teachers and school leaders with sound processes for a blended-learning program in place, they are looking for ways to double down on teacher-student relationships. For example, Jonathan Hanover of Roots Elementary in Colorado described how his school has wrestled with balancing personalization with the communal experience of school. The school’s original instructional model included four academic content experts and a Habits of Success coach to maximize its ability to customize every student’s learning experiences across various subjects. “Out of the gate, we optimized too much for personalization and have since iterated on the model to find a better balance between the individual and the community,” Hanover said.

#2 Go Slow to Go Fast When Implementing Competency-Based Models

When pushing the needle toward competency-based learning approaches, leaders stressed the importance of earning community buy-in. “We epically failed in our first year by rolling out a competency-based report card without talking to parents, and they were incredibly angry and vocal about it,” Erin Mote of Brooklyn LAB Charter School said. “We called an all-school town hall the next week to both explain and to provide a traditional report card alongside a more competency-based one.” Mote advised schools to think of a competency-based learning approach as a multi-year plan. “Find a way to work within the existing [student] schedule in year one…You have to hold some things constant in order to have license to innovate.”

#3 Make Students Agents of Their Learning

Although blended and personalized models may begin to better customize to students’ needs and strengths, not all such models provide students with voice and choice. Leaders in the field are taking deliberate steps to increase student agency.

For example, in Mineola Public Schools in New York, leaders reframed their assessment system to focus on agency. “We don’t want to just grade students. We want to recognize students when they exhibit ‘habits of mind’ behavior,” said Michael Nagler. When students demonstrate success in a new standard, they earn badges, which incentivize learning and also ensure that each step of student learning is accompanied by meaningful feedback.

(Next page: 4 more must-knows from blended learning experts)