Is facial recognition in schools reassuring–or invasive?

School leaders are grappling with the pros and cons of upgrading to top-of-the-line facial recognition in schools

In the wake of all-too-common school shootings, school and district leaders are confronted with decisions about how to prevent–or respond to–violent incidents. Some are turning to facial recognition in schools as a way to track visitors and keep schools safe.

Technology is a double-edged sword, and it’s no different when applied to school security. Some argue that advanced emotion-detecting AI technologies and facial recognition in schools infringe on privacy and can’t always identify people correctly or aid in prevention, while others see the technologies as yet another tool to keep students and educators safe.

Schools in Florida’s Broward County plan to use an experimental surveillance system in order to boost safety and security efforts in a district now known for the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 were killed.

The AI-powered system from Avigilon is a combination of cameras and software and can be used to track people based on their appearance, according to news reports.

Read more: 5 new developments in physical and network safety

In July, RealNetworks announced that it would make SAFR for K-12, its AI and machine learning based facial recognition solution, available for free to K-12 schools.

The SAFR system uses existing IP-based cameras and readily available hardware to recognize staff, students, and visitors in real time. Company representatives say the system encrypts all facial data and images to ensure privacy, and all facial data and images remain exclusively within the school’s domain as part of, or complementary to, an existing school ID system.

St. Therese Catholic Academy in Seattle is well into its first year of a pilot using SAFR.


5 things you don’t know about K-12 virtual learning

Think online learning means boring content, poor teacher support, and low student success rates? Think again!

Online learning has come a long way since its early champions saw it as a supplement to classroom learning. Skeptics initially questioned the viability of the new model, wondering if it would provide the right levels of support, curriculum, and engagement needed to ensure student success. And while online learning has more than proven itself to be both an alternative to and complementary offering for traditional classroom instruction, some misconceptions still persist.

For example, because virtual instructors aren’t physically present in a classroom, their qualifications and expertise can come into question. The subject matter itself—often thought of as “boring” or “unengaging”—is another area where myths persist. And finally, online skeptics are still talking about issues like lack of teacher support and low student success rates.

Dispelling the myths about virtual learning

To help dispel these myths and provide some insider knowledge on how online education really works, here’s a five-point list of things that you may not have known about virtual learning.

1. It hasn’t reached its peak yet.

Students of all ages are learning online—from the third-grader who wants to get a jump on her foreign-language skills to the college student who takes half of his credits online to the supply chain executive who wants to learn about the latest tech trends in her industry.

Related: An insider’s advice on creating an effective virtual learning program

According to Stratistics MRC, the global e-learning market accounted for $165.21 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $275.10 billion by 2022, growing at a 7.4 percent compound annual growth rate during that time. Key drivers behind this growth include flexibility in learning, low cost, ease of accessibility, and increased effectiveness through animated learning.

2. Online teachers know their stuff.

Anyone who is teaching online coursework in public schools must have a teacher’s license. Online educators must meet the same education standards as their non-virtual counterparts, which means earning a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in teaching (depending on what grades he or she is going to teach).

The problem is that online courses offered by for-profit providers often have high student-to-teacher ratios, limiting the time teachers can spend one-on-one with students. This leads to issues ranging from boredom to an inability to understand material to students feeling like they’ve been left out in the cold and unsupported.


5 key network steps for supporting educational technology

Today's IT directors need to be smarter than ever about emerging technology

Today’s K-12 students are coming to the classrooms toting three or more mobile devices, from smartphones and laptops to tablets and smart watches. Teachers are putting more of their educational content online and streaming it to their students, administrators are storing more student information in the cloud, and district officials are automating more of the schools’ operations. There is the Internet of Things, digital signage, and video being used to monitor cafeterias. Technology continues to shape the future of how we educate our children and operate our schools, from flipped classrooms to the use of augmented and virtual reality.

At the center of all this is the network, and more and more the wireless network. Where connectivity was once a nice luxury, it is now a must-have, and increasingly the focus of many school district CTOs is making sure that those networks are up 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that they’re secure.

Here are five network issues that tech directors must focus on.

1. Casting a wide net with the network

Picture a school district with 160,000 students who each have three mobile devices; that’s almost a half-million devices that need to be supported, regardless of the platform they run on. Teachers and staffs also have their own devices, and the one-to-one program may include different devices for various grade levels.

The wireless network needs to be agnostic, able to support whatever device and platform is brought in by the students or used in the curriculum. School CTOs must ensure their networks are sustainable and flexible from the beginning, because the worst thing that can happen to a technology department is to go down one path and find out that the superintendent is buying iPads. If the network doesn’t already support Apple iOS devices, changing directions can be costly.

2. Keeping the network up and running

Students, faculty, and staff need to access the network at all times of the day and night from both inside and outside the school facilities. Flipped classrooms call for students to be able to view instructional content outside of the classroom. Teachers increasingly want to live stream video into the classroom and more and more content and information is being stored in and accessed through the cloud. In addition, state testing is now done year-round. A district’s network must be up and running at all times.

Administrators are increasingly leveraging tools—often automated tools—that allow districts to proactively troubleshoot and resolve issues. There are a lot of components between mobile devices and the core network and if something happens to take the network down, it can take time for the tech staff to find and solve the problem. A network management tool that gives instant visibility into the network, proactively monitors a network’s health, and can instantly pinpoint any issue and give guidance on how to fix it is invaluable.

Related: Spotty internet access for rural students limits achievement

3. Securing the network and protecting privacy

School districts are not immune to cyber threats like ransomware. Going hand-in-hand with managing the networks is protecting them. The visibility tools that help administrators find network problems also can help detect attacks. Content filtering and firewall technologies also are being leaned on to help protect the networks and the apps and data that run over them. And with districts continuing to be hacked, administrators are evaluating cybersecurity insurance to protect them from the millions of lost dollars an attack can lead to.


6 tips to help teachers pull off collaborative learning

These tips can help teachers adjust student groupings and elevate learning

The gifted group. The slow group. The behavioral issues group. Grouping in schools fell out of favor partially because educators—and parents—felt like kids were getting labeled and that groupings didn’t help students improve. While not calling for a return to those rigid structures, in their edWebinar “Flexible Grouping and Collaborative Learning: Making It Work,” Dina Brulles, Ph.D., and Karen L. Brown, M.Ed., both education consultants, advocated for using groups to assist student learning. They discussed how adjusting student combinations, adapting teaching methods, and preparing students for group learning can lead to successful outcomes.

1. Base groupings on information: Use pre-tests, formatives assessments, learning styles, and even student interest surveys to divvy up the students. Align the educational needs and passions of students to make sure that students within the groups have a shared goal.

2. Keep groupings flexible: Students should not be in permanent groups with the same set of students for even a semester, much less the school year. Teachers should create groups for a specific learning goal or project and then reassess for the next lesson. This helps students avoid labels and learn to work with all of their peers.

Related: Bringing the 5 Cs into your classroom

3. Don’t assess and forget: For groupings based on ability or readiness, don’t just plop the kids together and assume they’re all set. Keep gathering data. If grouping is based on readiness to learn multiplication, for example, keep track of student progress. Based on assessments, you might find that some students need to change groups in the middle of the unit.

4. Use a variety of assessments: Not all evaluations need to be formal pencil-and-paper or computer-assisted exams. They can be as simple as talking with students and discussing where they are with the lessons. Using different methods of assessment, teachers can get a clearer picture of student mastery and abilities.


Student achievement begins with the family

A superintendent explains how his district focuses on families and community coalitions to support student success

At Wichita Falls Independent School District in Texas, we believe every student deserves to begin their academic career at the same starting line. It’s an issue of fairness and equity, certainly, but it’s also a practical matter. When students fall behind in the earliest years of their education, around ages 5–7, it becomes much more difficult to bring them to grade-level reading as they grow. Simply put, the biggest bang for our buck in developing strong students across grade levels comes from starting early and making sure they have a solid foundation.

Related: Can technology help teach literacy in poor communities?

The students who need the most help, however, often face a slew of other challenges in their lives, from unstable home environments to poverty and hunger and other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). We’ve found that committing to focus on school readiness, partnering with community organizations, and looking to technology for an assist when needed, can go a long way toward helping provide students with the right tools to succeed.

Find your focus

At the heart of our student readiness success is focus. It’s that simple. We decided to make early learning a priority and the rest followed from that.

In practice, that means we hired a director of early learning, Dr. Travis Armstrong. He concentrates exclusively on students who are not yet in school through those in kindergarten. We have an early learning specialist and a curriculum specialist who are both working in that area coaching teachers. We also have three dedicated Head Start campuses, a pre-K campus, and Head Start or pre-K programs running at 13 other campuses.

As part of our Parents as Teachers program, we have a director and six full-time teachers who go into kids’ homes once a week beginning at about age two. They help parents learn to become their child’s first teacher so they are in a better position to prepare them for school. This work is possible in part through a grant from the Texas Home Visiting Program that we received from our partnership with the North Texas Area United Way that focuses on children who are not already enrolled in a Head Start or pre-K program.

This leaves us with approximately 100 learners who aren’t receiving quality educational opportunities, whether that’s because of a lack of transportation, childcare arrangements, or some other reason. For those children, we offer a blended learning solution called Waterford UPSTART, which provides an online kindergarten readiness curriculum.

Families who can’t afford it are provided a free laptop and Internet connectivity. Children spend 15 minutes a day, five days a week working on kindergarten readiness. Dr. Armstrong says that, in all of his years in education, this is the first time he hasn’t had to turn any families away from school-readiness opportunities due to a lack of resources. Waterford UPSTART has really helped us to close that gap.


How we reduced mobility and improved outcomes in low-performing schools

This large Louisiana district used data to fix the way mobility negatively impacted performance


Rapides Parish School Board in Louisiana serves more than 24,000 students. The district has 47 buildings and 70 percent of its students are economically disadvantaged.

Biggest challenge:

Several schools in the district had been identified by the state as failing and the state needed to see progress. With high poverty and high mobility, finding solutions to address the needs of this community required out-of-the-box thinking, good data, and community support.


Rapides Parish identified 12 buildings and roughly 10,000 students that were in a high-mobility, high economically disadvantaged area. Each move was causing school disruption.

The Parish broadened the attendance zones, made each building grade-specific to reduce disruption and mobility, and created community zones. Within each zone, there is one building for kindergarten, one for grades 1-3, one for grades 4-5, one for 6th, one for grades 7-8, and high school remained the same.

Three community zones were created in a part of the overall district that had low performance and high mobility. They used GuideK12 geovisual analytic software to create scenarios and maps and share the zones with the community so they could visualize the proposals and understand the dynamic changes.

“We listened very carefully and found many unexpected wins as the plan unfolded. For example, families moving schools a lot require different uniforms, which is hard for families on a tight budget. These new zones eliminated the need for new uniforms because the students stayed in the same building so the uniforms stay the same,” says Cari Jeansonne, a program analyst for the district.

Lessons learned:

  • Getting the teacher’s support was critical.
  • Community support and communication was extremely important. The district had many meetings, listened to a lot of viewpoints, created visuals (maps, graphs, charts), and responded to input.
  • The community zones created a teacher community, support, and a network for the teachers.
  • Learning to work with the data changed everything. “GuideK12 made it possible to analyze student populations, draw maps, draw natural logical boundaries, and
    communicate to stakeholders. Without a visual representation of the proposed
    changes it wouldn’t have happened,” says Luke Purdy, technology director.
  • With multiple teachers teaching the same grade in a building, it created more consistency and opportunity for new ideas.
  • Every move didn’t require new uniforms for highly mobile families, saving money.
  • The community liked that the students stayed together during their school years and that it would build stronger sense of community.
  • The zone format reduced the disruption from mobility, which increases class consistency and ultimately outcomes.

Next steps:

At the end of this school year, the district will assess performance, tweak, and continue to improve the process. Initial feedback has been very positive.

Next week:

Come back and see how a district turned around its reading program.


How Our High-Poverty School Reduced Suspensions By 97%

School leaders created an environment that would yield better social, emotional, and academic outcomes for students

Student behavior can have a positive or negative impact on academic achievement. Even just one student who is misbehaving can affect how much and how well an entire class is learning.

When we arrived at Betty Best Elementary in Houston in the summer of 2014 and dug into the school’s data, we saw there were 627 office referrals during the previous year. The problem was that there was no information behind that number. There were no reasons listed for the referrals. There were no breakdowns of the data by students, demographics, grade levels, departments, or teachers.

We set out to create an environment that would yield better social, emotional, and academic outcomes for students. From 2014 to 2018, we reduced the number of office referrals by 37 percent, in-school suspension days by 52 percent, and out-of-school suspension days by 97 percent. During this time, students’ passing rate on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) increased by 17 percentage points as well.

Here are five important steps we have taken to change our school’s culture—and a few lessons we’ve learned along the way.

1. Take a positive approach to classroom management.

At our preK-4 school, 93 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and the mobility rate is 33 percent. When students arrive on the first day, some know how to behave appropriately in a classroom, but others don’t because they were never taught. So, in 2014-15, we implemented a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system incorporating the CHAMPS™ framework from Safe and Civil Schools. CHAMPS is a proactive, positive approach to classroom management that overtly teaches students how to behave responsibly. Following the CHAMPS strategies, we established behavior expectations for every classroom activity and transition. Our teachers teach these expectations to students in the same manner as any core curriculum subject. They also narrate positive behaviors as they see them to provide students with real-time verbal feedback on what they’re doing well.

Related: 4 ways to ensure a successful school culture initiative

One issue we had, however, was that by the end of that first year, office referrals had increased over the previous year. While establishing and communicating student-behavior expectations were important first steps, we learned that ew needed to do a better job tracking and reinforcing those behaviors—particularly for students who struggled.

2. Track the behaviors that matter.

To support our PBIS initiative, we began using a classroom behavior management system called Kickboard. We customized the behavior buttons in the app to match each of the CHAMPS components. Now teachers use their smartphones, tablets, or computers to record student behaviors in real time with just a tap. Each of these “taps” creates a data point that will combine with other data points to provide a more complete picture of each child’s strengths and areas of need.


Taking personalized learning to scale

Cross-curricular connections are key to a successful personalized learning effort

iNACOL defines personalized learning as “tailoring learning for each student’s strength, needs, and interests—including enabling student’s voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn—to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.” Dr. Monica Burns, curriculum and educational technology consultant and founder of, in a recent edWebinar, echoed this iNACOL concept. Before designing learning experiences that are personal to individual students, it is critical for classroom teachers and school leaders to identify student engagement, student interest, student choice, student voice, cross-curricular connections, and differentiated resources.

When it comes to student engagement, Burns said, “We want to make sure that we are capturing student attention by having students’ eyes where we want them to be or their hands where we want them to explore.” At the same time, it is essential to recognize that engagement looks different for every student in a classroom. By listening to what students are excited about and identifying their needs, teachers can provide a flexible learning environment that supports, energizes, and engages all individual learners.

Student choice and voice happens when students have opportunities to share what makes their interests unique and are active participants in conversations around success criteria and curriculum-based norms. How students demonstrate what they’ve learned and celebrate their learning journey is as important to the personalized learning process as engagement, interest, voice, and choice.

Related: How can we make personalized learning work?

Students can celebrate and share small learning wins through a variety of personalized options such as text, graphics, collaborative discussions and digital tools such as podcasts and videos. With their interests identified and supported, students get into the flow of learning and see the purpose of what they are doing in class.

Expanding your personalized-learning practice

To put personalized learning into practice, there are a variety of cross-curricular connections that need to happen across a grade-level team, school, and district. Through curriculum mapping, school-wide goals, and thematic exploration, school districts can establish norms and clear standards connections for personalized student experiences. Resources should be curated and differentiated and ready for individual students, “whether it is based on their particular reading levels, the way they like to engage with content in online and offline modes, or whether it is merely thinking about what gets them interested in a topic,” said Burns. Resources can be distributed to individual students using digital tools so that students experience content that is relevant to their goals and interests.


6 things to prepare teachers for Digital Learning Day

Digital Learning Day lands on February 28--here are tools to help get ready

Digital learning plays an integral part in helping students build the skills they need for academic and personal success. In fact, it’s so important that it has its own day, and this year, Digital Learning Day is on February 28.

Digital Learning Day celebrates educators who create and implement strong instructional practices that use technology and tech tools to connect students with meaningful learning experiences.

The focus isn’t on edtech for edtech’s sake, but instead looks at all the tools used to support and empower teachers and students, such as online courses, blended learning, and digital content and resources.

Each year, states, districts, schools, and classrooms across the United States and around the world hold thousands of events to celebrate Digital Learning Day. Anyone planning to participate in Digital Learning Day 2019 should add their event to the Digital Learning Day map.

We’ve gathered some digital learning data, resources, and fun facts below to help you get ready for Digital Learning Day 2019.

1. K-12 classroom teachers say their top two digital learning challenges are juggling multiple digital tools for teaching and learning and student access to technology. Teachers’ top priorities are integrating new edtech tools into the classroom, along with improving assessments, reporting, and data-driven decision making.

2. The Pickens County, S.C. school district laid out a careful plan to be “digital from day one of learning.” That plan included beginning with a vision, researching digital platforms that would work for schools, and making sure chosen tools will actually benefit teaching and learning.

3. It might seem overwhelming to go digital on day one, but it’s possible. Sometimes, a tiered approach can help districts of all sizes improve the way their digital applications work together. It all starts with making a district-wide commitment, and it evolves into advanced strategies to ensure digital learning systems are learner-ready on day one.

4. Once educators embrace digital learning, it’s often tough to ask them to give up the tools that are essential in making teaching and learning seamless and impactful. Here are 11 tools educators say they can’t live without.

5. Administrators’ top digital learning challenges are providing relevant and effective professional development, dealing with technological infrastruture such as wi-fi and security, and device management. Top digital learning priorities are providing ongoing professional development, encouraging instructor collaboration, and rolling out new devices or device strategies.

6. Digital Learning Day isn’t limited to students and classroom teachers. Librarians play an integral role in digital learning, and they have excellent advice to guide fellow librarians as they help teachers and students learn to use edtech.


5 strategies for becoming an effective, present teacher

Here's how to continually evaluate your instruction to improve your impact on students

Homework, assessments, projects. Grades, lesson plans, conferences. Teachers can get caught up in the day-to-day parts of the classroom and forget to take time to consider whether or not they’re teaching effectively. In her edWebinar, “Make Learning Visible in Your Classroom,” Cari Wilson, innovation and technology lead teacher at West Vancouver School District, BC, explained how she continually evaluates her instruction to improve her impact on students’ learning.

Wilson bases her strategies on Professor John Hattie’s theories on Visible Learning and Teaching. Hattie’s research focuses on enhancing effectiveness by having teachers evaluate their own practice as well as helping “teachers see learning through the eyes of students and help[ing] them become their own teachers.” From this, Wilson identified five key actions she’s adopted that she thinks can have an immediate impact.

1. Make the classroom a safe place

This means that the teacher works on building a relationship with the students and developing a classroom environment where the they trust each other and feel comfortable taking risks. For the room itself, Wilson advocates creating displays that focus on student work over what the teacher wants to share. Give the students visual evidence that their work is valued. Regarding teacher-student relationships, Wilson works to have at least one meaningful interaction with each student every day. For example, when students leave at the end of the day, she says goodbye to each one, asking them a question and acknowledging their presence for that day.

2. Evaluate your impact

Wilson shared stories of teachers who set up their academic calendar a year in advance and who teach the same unit on the same day every year—whether or not the students have mastered the previous lessons. Instead, she says teachers need to take a step back and ask what mastery actually looks like for each unit. Then, they need to adjust lessons accordingly based on student progress. One class may be right on schedule; another might need more time on the first task.

3. Collaborate with colleagues

While teachers do work together on one-off projects, Wilson believes collaboration should be built into their professional schedules. It doesn’t have to be about their students working across subjects on projects, although that can happen. Some of the best collaboration can be teachers working together to explore and improve their teaching strategies. Administrative support is essential, such as building time into school hours for teachers to meet.

Related: How I gave my students voice and increased collaboration