Disrupting students’ opportunity gaps will hinge on networks

Recently, Stanford researcher Raj Chetty came out with yet another new study on the jagged landscape of opportunity facing America. Analyzing the relationship between young people’s exposure to innovation and the likelihood that they would go on to become inventors, the study highlights an alarming rate of what the authors dub “lost Einsteins”: young people who show promising potential but who, due to lack of exposure to innovation, appear far less likely to pursue careers as inventors. Perhaps unsurprisingly these gaps fall along demographic lines. Children from high-income (top 1 percent) families are 10 times as likely to become inventors as those from below-median income families.

The consequences of Chetty’s specific findings are profound. Society is passing up entire reservoirs of latent innovation potential in the next generation.

Related content: How one middle school is closing the tech achievement gap

The findings are also a microcosm of a broader reality facing the education establishment in an age of stark income and geographic inequalities. If Chetty’s research tells us something about schools, it’s that all the academic interventions in the world may not add up to tackling opportunity gaps that shape students’ ability to realize their potential as inventors or otherwise. In recent years, education reformers have focused relentlessly on K-12 achievement gaps and college graduation rates as proxies for leveling the playing field. But Chetty’s data suggests that opportunity gaps don’t merely spring forth from gaps in achievement or attainment—they are based on exposure. They are also social and geographic in nature.

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eSchool News Digital & Mobile Learning Guide

The eSchool News Digital & Mobile Learning Guide is here! It features strategies to help you effectively use digital and mobile learning resources, along with tips to support digital and mobile learning initiatives. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!


How do U.S. students’ computer and information literacy skills stack up?

U.S. eighth-graders scored above the international average for computer and information literacy, but they also struggle with some key 21st-century employability skills, according to an international study.

The International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS) measures eighth-graders’ ability to use computers to investigate, create, participate, and communicate at home, at school, in their future workplace, and in their communities. The 2018 study’s results were released in the United States by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), marking the first time that U.S. ICILS data are available.

Related content: 5 strategies to help students build digital literacy

“The study shows that the idea of the ‘digital native’ is more myth than reality,” says Peggy G. Carr, associate commissioner for assessment at NCES. “Today’s eighth-graders were raised in a world in which computers and smartphones are commonplace, but the majority of them were unable to execute basic tasks independently. Clearly, we have work to do to ensure that our students are prepared to use digital devices to successfully navigate all aspects of life.”

While 90 percent of U.S. students demonstrated a functional working knowledge of computers as tools and were able to complete simple tasks, such as opening a link in a new browser tab, an alarmingly smaller group–25 percent of U.S. eighth-graders–was able to independently use computers as tools (such as for gathering information or managing work) and successfully distinguish the reliability of web-based information. The assessment found that girls in the U.S. and internationally scored higher than boys in computer information literacy.


How districts are addressing adolescent mental health

Research from a recent white paper highlights the increasing crisis in adolescent mental health. In a recent edWebinar, presenters emphasized the need for school districts “to intervene with students as quickly as possible to keep them safe.”

The rise of anxiety and depression

Anxiety and depression rates are increasing, and suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for 10- to 19-year-olds across the spectrum of race, gender, and socioeconomic levels.

Related content: 3 no-cost ways to support mental health in schools

Seventy percent of teens cite anxiety and depression as a significant problem for their friends and their peers, and 40 percent of students report that bullying, substance, and alcohol abuse are affecting fellow students. More than 10 million students between the ages of 13 to 18 need professional help for a mental health condition.

This situation is a “mental health tsunami,” moving very fast in schools across the country, and the pressure is on. Some of the underlying causes of adolescent stress identified by mental health professionals include academics, social media, and childhood trauma such as homelessness and abuse.


Strategies to help your institution combat cyberattacks

It doesn’t matter where you look. Today, technology is everywhere. In educational organizations, tech has become a crucial part of the daily learning process, fundamentally changing the way students learn, how teachers educate, and how learning institutions operate. Whether doing research in a computer lab or conducting classwork on a personal tablet, students and teachers are more connected now than ever before. Of course, with such connection, there comes potential of cyber threats and cyberattacks.

Cyberattacks are happening in schools nationwide

Since 2016, there have been 688 publicly-disclosed cybersecurity-related incidents involving U.S. public schools and 61 public school districts have experienced more than one cybersecurity incident.

Related content: How to avoid a cyberattack

One might ask, “Why are attackers targeting schools?” Beyond the troves of personally-identifiable information (PII) on students and staff, there is frequently sensitive—and lucrative—data associated with research projects being conducted at the schools.


Teaching writing one word at a time

As the writing facilitator for my district, I model writing instruction for other teachers all the time. It gives them an opportunity to see effective instruction in practice, of course, but modeling writing itself is an important component of how we teach our students to communicate effectively.

I didn’t always appreciate the power of modeling. It’s something I began to focus on after adopting the Empowering Writers (EW) approach to professional development a decade or so into my career, and these days I’m a big advocate of teaching by example. A recent experience with one of my 6th-grade students really brought home the power of modeling for me.

Related content: 5 ways to gamify writing

Plenty of access to language—but no English

This little girl had just moved to our district from Europe with incredible language skills. She spoke 15 different languages, but none of them were English. She was extremely smart and she walked around with the sweetest smile on her face all day, but she didn’t really know what was going on around her.


How two districts tackle the digital equity gap

Students expect easy and immediate access to technology tools and high-speed internet in schools, and recent research shows that 99 percent of school districts are offering enough bandwidth to support digital and mobile learning in classrooms. But the digital equity gap isn’t so easily solved.

While many schools have reliable high-speed internet access, many students leave school and go home to unreliable internet access, or no internet access at all. This means that even if students have a school-issued take-home device, or a device of their own at home, they have no internet.

Some districts are hoping to close this digital equity gap by giving students take-home Wi-Fi hotspots with filtered, district-provided internet access. Kajeet‘s SmartSpot is one such example. Kajeet’s SmartSpots are filtered mobile hotspot devices designed to give students safe wireless internet connections. Kajeet partners with five major U.S. wireless networks to offer coverage.

Leaders in New York’s Beekmantown Central School District wanted to push instruction in new directions, and solicited participation from teachers across the district. Gary Lambert, the district’s director of 21st century learning, says the district team expected 10-15 volunteers to sign up for the digital literacy initiative, but nobody was expecting nearly 40 teachers to volunteer that first year. Participation grew to about 95 percent of district teachers.

The initiative, which is in its fourth full school year, promotes the use of technology when appropriate, when it offers something new and different, and when it contributes to learning in ways that wouldn’t be possible without technology, Lambert says.

As the district built its digital literacy initiative, educators knew there were important puzzle pieces that needed to be in place to ensure the initiative’s success. One of those puzzle pieces was a hard look at digital equity.

Related Content:

eSchool News Digital & Mobile Learning Guide

The eSchool News Digital & Mobile Learning Guide is here! It features strategies to help you effectively use digital and mobile learning resources, along with tips to support digital and mobile learning initiatives. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!


Profile of a technologically literate graduate

When school leaders set out to create a profile of their ideal graduate, many trip up on defining technological literacy and subsequently struggle to select the right edtech to get students there.

One way to simplify this process is by connecting the criteria to your school or district’s computer science (CS), edtech and STEAM initiatives. Start by incorporating CS and STEAM into instruction through classroom projects that also address digital equity and digital citizenship while teaching science, math, ELA and other subjects.

Related content: Redefining “college ready”

Using the four steps below, you can thoughtfully create a profile of a technologically literate graduate.

STEP 1: Have a model and unpack it

To jump-start the conversation within your school, use your division-wide or statewide profile of a graduate. Many departments of education have developed such profiles that are helpful for educators to review.

First, choose the knowledge and skills that every graduate must have. In my state of Virginia (like many other states), we focus on these four:

  • Content knowledge
  • Workplace skills
  • Community engagement and civic responsibility
  • Career exploration

Since these categories are very broad, you’ll want to describe how they apply specifically to CS and STEAM education. You can start by presenting a model of what a student maker looks like.


Class Size Matters: Understanding the Link Between Class Size and Student Achievement

The discussion about the importance of class size has been ongoing for decades. While some still argue that class size doesn’t make a noticeable difference in the quality of education, research has shown that is not the case. Understanding the connection between class size and student achievement, as well as teacher retentions, is critical to the future of our educational system.

The Link Between Class Size and Achievement

Research into the impact of class size on student achievement has been ongoing for decades. According to an article in the Seattle Times, the effects “have been hard to isolate and measure,” which has led to disagreements over the results. The article suggested the disagreement may have more to do with benefits outweighing the costs as opposed to actual effectiveness. In fact, The National Center for Education Statistics points out that after the 2008 recession, pupil-teacher ratio increased.

Even with some disagreement about the cost effectiveness of chasing the benefits of small class size, most researches agree that it does have a positive impact, particularly on students in younger grades.

Perhaps one of the most famous studies to come to this conclusion was the Tennessee Student Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) project in the 1980s. The STAR project randomly assigned students to either small classes (13 to 17 students per teacher) or large classes (22 to 25 students per teacher). In the kindergarten years alone, the study found a “definite advantage for small classes in achievement.”

In 2011, the Brookings Institution reviewed the study and confirmed its findings that the 32% reduction in class size increased student achievement, giving those students an achievement advantage equivalent to an additional three months of education after four years.

Twenty years after the STAR project was completed, the National Education Association (NEA) published a policy brief concerning class size. The NEA examined the research on STAR students and focused on the long-term results from the follow-up studies. Some of the long-term results of the students who were in the smaller classes include:

  • Higher student achievement levels in grade seven language, reading, science, math, and social studies classes
  • More positivity reported about participating in learning
  • High school transcripts indicated that STAR students who were in smaller classes for a minimum of three years were substantially more likely to graduate from high school

These outcomes aren’t insignificant, suggesting there are many benefits to smaller class sizes. Let’s look at some in more detail.

The Benefits of Small Class Sizes

As mentioned above, smaller class sizes offer positive results. Small class sizes give both teachers and students several benefits that result in higher student achievement. Some benefits of a small class size include the following:

Better Teacher/Student Relationships

For a student, individual attention can make the difference between effectively developing skills and just coasting along. Generally, in smaller classes, students can establish stronger relationships with their instructors.

Tyrone Howard, a professor of education who writes about research into students’ relationships with their teachers, said “I think schools in many ways have put the cart before the horse. What they’ve done is they want to jump right into academics and really dismiss or minimize the importance of relationships.”

Those relationships matter to students and teachers and can lead to better outcomes for both.

More Customized Instruction

Teachers need to identify the specific problems that each student may have to be effective. In large classes, this may be a challenge for educators, not because their instruction is wrong, but because they don’t have the resources to do so.

In an article in The Edvocate, Matthew Lynch, professor of education and author, stated:

Small class sizes work because they give teachers an opportunity to offer students more personalized instruction, which is probably the reason that academic achievement goes up. Teachers don’t necessarily change what they are doing, they are just able to increase their efficacy.

Teachers who can spend more time with each student is able to tailor their teaching to specific students’ needs and, in turn, learning outcomes improve.

Classrooms Become More Collaborative

In large classes, students tend to interact with people they know. It’s easy for some students to become outsiders or for cliques to form. In smaller classes, students will engage with each other and form relationships. The effect is a cohesive group of students who support and learn from one another.

When students feel more comfortable with all their peers and their teacher, they’ll likely feel more relaxed engaging and asking questions. This can make it less likely for a student to fall behind and encourage them to become more engaged in their learning.

Topics are Explored In-Depth

Small class sizes let teachers reduce time spent on discipline and organization, meaning they spend more time with instruction. With fewer students in the classroom, teachers can explore topics in-depth and expand on themes that students show interest in.

According to a statement from the National Council of Teachers of English, “In smaller classes students spend less time off-task or disengaged from the work of the class.”

When teachers have more time to engage all their students consistently, students will likely get a deeper education on more topics. When their questions and interests can guide how a teacher dives into a topic, they’re likely to be more receptive to the lessons, as well.

Teachers Stick Around

Small class sizes make it easier to manage the learning environment and give educators a sense of pride in the classroom. Teachers are happier and feel more fulfilled when they can provide quality instruction. This means they will stick around longer, giving every school or university the benefit of expert instructors.

Class size is a frequently cited reason teachers leave their jobs, with 10% of teachers who had left the profession or moved to another school stating that class sizes were the motive for making their move.

Reducing teacher attrition is an important goal as the teacher shortage looms. Smaller class sizes are a step toward the goal of keeping experienced teachers in the profession.

Lead the Way to Better Class Sizes

Tomorrow’s teachers will undoubtedly need to take leadership roles in ensuring that education meets their student’s needs. Bethel University is ahead of the curve with small class sizes that have a positive impact on student achievement.

Our online master’s degree in educational leadership program features a curriculum designed around the needs of working educators and builds on your current knowledge to help you advance your career. You’ll study topics like community relations, ethics, meeting the needs of diverse learners, budgeting, research, and more.  With accelerated seven-week courses and six start dates per year, you’ll be able to begin, pause, or expedite your learning at any time. Plus, our full-time program can be completed in as little as one year.


3 amazing findings about digital and mobile learning

In order to support digital and mobile learning, students in K-12 classrooms need access to sufficient bandwidth, scalable and affordable broadband infrastructure, and robust Wi-Fi.

And for the most part, they have it.

Educators and school IT leaders have worked tirelessly toward this end, and according to the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, 99 percent of school districts across the nation are now on scalable fiber connections with a “clear path” to supplying enough bandwidth for digital and mobile learning in every classroom.

Related content: 6 realities about district broadband connections

The 2019 State of the States report is the latest in an annual look at school connectivity, taking stock of school districts’ progress toward meeting the digital and mobile learning needs of students and teachers.


Building an attitude of gratitude among students and teachers

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, now’s the time for principals like me to take a moment to be grateful. It’s also a time to inspire an attitude of gratitude among teachers and students.

At my school, Brookwood Elementary, our mindset of the year is “Live to Give,” so our social-emotional learning (SEL) lessons this fall have been focused on serving each other and the community. One of the many benefits of sharing our skills with others is that it makes us grateful for what we have and, more importantly, who we are. Here’s how we’re putting four tenets of the 7 Mindsets’ “Attitude of Gratitude” into action.

Related content: Helping all students feel like they belong

1) Treasure yourself. Learning to value yourself starts with asking, “What am I good at?” Whether they are quirky, dry, or introverted, we want our students and teachers to see that they are wonderfully made. As part of our SEL lessons, we spend a week finding what students are good at and what’s important to them.