The Online Educator
All Aboard! Moving Every Child Ahead
in a Digital Age
and the Big Picture: Challenges and Opportunities
These two words best capture the times we are experiencing.
Unfortunately, panic has typified the initial response to the requirement that
Scientifically Based Research (SBR) form the foundation for educational interventions.
Vendors are apprehensive that the scarcity of defensible evidence may render
their products ineligible for purchase. Schools, fearful of the consequences
of failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress requirements, seek to design interventions
guided by research that doesn't yet exist.
Strategies that seemed to work fine year in and year
out are showing signs of eroding confidence when examined in the stark light
of evidence and rising stakes. This is as true for those who use educational
products as it is for those who provide them. Yet beyond the sobering experience
of taking a fresh look at practices and products, to see them as they really
are, education leaders gain power by acquiring reliable information about
the needs of all their students to see what is working to meet these needs.
When they work closely with schools that understand how and why those products
work, vendors gain power by developing products and services that help to
improve student performance.
Shifting to a basis of evidence does not mean that we
must discard everything we've done or all that we know. It simply means that
we will use the power of inquiry to identify interventions based on improvements
that are observable. These scientific methods allow us to see what's working
for groups of students who have historically been left behind by eliminating
alternative explanations, replicating results across multiple observers,
and subjecting results to peer review.
We can meet these challenges and seize the opportunities
by addressing three key components: Accountability, Learning, and Leadership.
Three key sectors of society determine whether these efforts will succeed:
Education, Business, and Government.
Fortunately, groups like the Consortium for School Networking,
ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), and SETDA (State
Educational Technology Directors Association) are working to build bridges
between these sectors to provide new opportunities for strategic partnerships.
This article explores opportunities for action at the local level that are
strengthened by such partnerships.
The I&T Team: Achieving Effective Use of Technology
Under No Child Left Behind, everyone is accountable,
but schools are more so, because the "hammer" of consequences is poised to
fall on them. While decisions about program and purchases are required to be
grounded in scientifically based evidence, only the schools will feel the pain
of the consequences for failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress requirements.
Responses to this challenge fall into two general categories:
Teach to the test (in an effort to raise
test scores by limiting instruction to items included on state-mandated high
By now it is difficult to find any product that doesn't
proclaim itself to be based on (SBR) and until the What Works Clearinghouse produces
its first results later this year, those claims are likely to persist unchallenged.
The recently funded What Works Clearinghouse is a 5-year project that will validate
the quality of educational research that supports product claims. However, rigorous
review of this magnitude will take time, and it may be a year before we can turn
to this source for guidance in developing our plans. Vendors are gearing up to
provide SBR as well, by collecting and categorizing existing research foundations
for products and approaches, by constructing research portfolios for specific
technologies or technology-based approaches, and in some cases, by conducting
original research that meets
the SBR criteria.
Teach to the need (use test data to identify learning
gaps and adjust instruction accordingly)
Meanwhile, parallel trends are already visible regarding
the locus of purchasing decisions: these decisions are moving out of the
school. A review of the QED National Education Database found that the number
of schools identified as site-based has declined by 20 percent from 2 years
ago. Increasingly, decisions about educational technology purchases are migrating
from the library/media center/school level to the superintendent/CIO/district
and even statewide levels. Yet, even more disturbing is the finding that
Dale Mann reported at EdNet 2002: When there is no local "buy-in" to the
selection of software and/or products, often up to 50 percent of these purchases
arrive but are never used at the schools.
As each member of your I&T Team works through their
areas of responsibility touched by No Child Left Behind, you can develop
a consensus of purpose to inform and guide decisions. These include decisions
about how to use the technology you already have, as well as what capabilities
you seek from the range of available choices. Once you've identified your
needs, you can focus on the particular research that supports the contending
products. (This topic will be explored in the March/April 2003 issue of MMS through
a feature about Timber Drive Elementary School in Garner, North Carolina,
where the Information & Technology (I&T) Team performs this and other
vital roles as the hub of learning for the school.)
Just as QED provides the education industry with timely,
accurate data analysis, schools need to develop these capabilities to analyze
their own data in a meaningful way. Help is available in doing so. enGauge:
Data-Driven Decision Making and Accountability: What Does It Look Like in
Practice? [http://www.ncrel.org/engauge/framewk/sys/data/sysdatpr.htm] is
a great resource. enGauge suggests, "More data does not necessarily translate
directly into better decisions. In fact, too much information can be as much
of a handicap as too little, if it is not used well. Systematic use of data
to improve teaching and learning requires leadership, training, and the development
of a culture of use." As Mike Schmoker, author of Results: The Key to
Continuous Improvement (Schmoker, 1999), puts it, schools need to move
away from "continually adopting innovations" and instead "collectively focus
on goals and regularly measure the impact of the methods."
Revisiting the foundational concepts of the scientific
processes of inquiry, in the light of their implications for education leadership,
can greatly reduce the anxiety and paralysis afflicting far too many schools
(and publishers) today. The National Research Council has identified six
characteristics for SBR. Procedures based on these scientific processes should
do the following:
Pose significant questions, which are observable.
As you work with vendors to decide about your educational
technology purposes from these perspectives, it is important to ask four key
Link to relevant theory in developing a hypothesis.
Use tools that are valid for addressing the questions.
Rule out counter explanations of observed evidence.
Replicate findings across groups and observers.
Submit results and processes to the scrutiny of
colleagues and the public.
What is the research foundation for this
How do these practices demonstrate the application
of research to improved instruction?
What's the recommended dosage (what duration and
frequency of interaction with the materials are required to produce the
targeted levels of student improvement)?
What assessment design strategies work best to
provide relevant evidence of effectiveness?
Accountability: Ideas for Action
The (I&T) team at the building level can prevent
the disconnect between buying and benefit. Borrowing from the roles described
in Information Technology for Learning: No School Left Behind, the Principal
(Pilot), Library/Media Specialist (Scholar), Teacher Leader (Guide) and Technical
Specialist (Hard Hat) each have vital contributions to keeping Accountability
on track for learning.
Meeting these challenges is fundamentally a knowledge
management problem: Information concerning the progress of subgroups specified
in the legislation exists at your school, but it is typically fragmented
and difficult to synthesize into meaningful trends. For example, data must
be disaggregated into the following subgroups:
It is one thing to know how many students you have in each
of these groups. It is quite another to know who they are and what their teachers
are doing to prepare them to succeed on the tests. Since the unit of measure
for accountability is the school, the Principal, as Pilot, owns responsibility
for these actions. The I&T team members who can help the most in applying
the power of technology to this knowledge management problem are the Scholar
and the Guide.
Each major racial and ethnic group
English proficiency status
Students with disabilities compared to all other
Economically disadvantaged students compared to
students who are not economically disadvantaged
Tools such as "Data Connections: Using Assessments to
Improve Teaching and Learning"from the Appalachia Educational Laboratory
(AEL) represent an important example of how the I&T team can help to
assist the entire school with accountability [see http://www.dataconnections.org/].
The I&T team can help teachers to analyze and interpret standardized
test data, use data to plan for effective instruction, develop classroom
assessments that align with standards, and prepare students to perform at
their best on standardized tests. The bottom line: Your I&T Team is now
in the research business to determine which of your efforts is most effective
Learning: Harnessing the Power of IT
It is important not to confuse accountability with learning.
Learning in the 21st century goes far beyond the "cutoff score" design of accountability
measures, as well as the capabilities of existing measurement tools. We must
design for this higher standard, to properly serve every child and strengthen
Signs are encouraging. QED data show impressive gains
in the spread of technology throughout K-12. Today, access to the Internet
for teachers and students is nearly ubiquitous (98.8 percent for teachers,
95.5 percent for students in school, with 93.8 percent for teachers and 83.1
percent for students in classrooms). The figure for teachers with school
e-mail accounts has grown from 68.2 percent to 85.3 percent in the last 2
years, and more than half of these can access their school e-mail from home.
Districts are starting to provide Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) to educators
(mostly administrators). Teachers' use of the Internet in teaching has grown
from 75.7 percent to 90.3 percent in the past 2 years. Even the portion of
this use with students in the classroom has grown to 58 percent.
However, there is a great difference between "buying
stuff" and "using stuff" to produce improved student results. As one participant
at the recent EdNet 2002 conference said, "Beware of vendors bearing solutions!" Rather,
seek vendors who see themselves as partners in discovering and supporting
applications of technology that are designed to address local problems and
Enter the Learning Management System (LMS). The foundational
concept for an LMS is making the right data available, to the people who
need it, by their preferred method, at the right time. The needs of different
users center on their different purposes, ways they use the data, and environments
in which they work. Computers are not the only way people interact with information.
Parents might need access by phone or in print. Administrators might need
access from anywhere in the school district. Teachers might need access from
home as well as their classroom. The network must be designed to support
each user and their needs, in order to remove barriers to their participation
No matter what you call them, no matter which combination
of capabilities they offer, there are four key elements that a successful
Learning Management System provides:
Did students learn the targeted standards? Who did this
lesson reach; do I need to rethink it? Do students remember what they studied
last semester? Are some students ready tomove on to the next lesson? Do some
kids meet their learning goals more consistently when they share their progress
with the rest of the class? What strategies have other teachers used successfully
to meet challenges similar to those of students we're having trouble reaching
now? Each of these questions touches all four aspects that must be addressed
by a comprehensive LMS.
There are a growing number of examples of vendors who
have incorporated extensive research into the design of their LMS products
in ways that both challenge learners and provide teachers with real-time
performance data that can shape instruction. Here are three to consider.
Scholastic's READ 180 is a powerful example of technology-based
reading intervention that has been proven effective in raising the achievement
of struggling readers across varied student populations. Based on more than
a decade of scientifically based research and standards-aligned, Scholastic
READ 180 is a highly motivating program that provides intensive daily instruction
for at-risk students in grades 4 through 12, including individualized reading
instruction on computers; high-interest reading materials for independent
and modeled reading practice; small group instruction with the teacher; and
ongoing assessment. The READ 180 software includes a sophisticatedmanagement
system that collects data based on individual student work, adjusts lessons
to meet each student's needs, and creates detailed reports for teachers that
inform their instruction. READ 180 is currently used in over 2,000 schools
nationwide, and The National Center on Education and the Economy has recommended
its use in its more than 450 America's Choice schools across the country.
America's Choice schools utilize a standards-based school design that focuses
on achieving results using assessments, delivering sound, research-based
instructional programs, and implementing an organizational system of planning
and management all aligned to standards.
Pearson Education Technologies' High Stakes Management
component of SuccessMaker goes beyond accountability compliance. Steve Gardner
writes, "To meet rigorous accountability requirements, educators need to
see more than just a mapping of curriculum content to state standards. They
need to see student progress through the curriculum as it pertains to performance
on standardized testsand they need to see it in real time, not months later." The
ultimate aim of High Stakes Management is to help schools monitor and manage
student achievement on high-stakes tests while promoting the genuine learning
required by broad educational standards. For more information, see Pearson
Education Technologies' white paper on the MultiMedia Schools Web
site at http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools/WhitePapers/default.htm.
The LMS built into Riverdeep products is powerful and
innovative. While it is increasingly common for Web-based products to align
their instruction with state standards and measure student growth that happens
while students are interacting with a vendor's curriculum, Riverdeep's offerings
bring together a school district's intellectual property, as embodied in
its curriculum, lessons, and the practices of its staff. Their Destination
Math and Destination Reading programs have the potential to integrate with
every other aspect of the school's practice, collecting data and feeding
it back as needed, on demand.
The bottom line: It's how you use the tools you
have to reach your educational vision, rather than how many tools you
have in inventory.
Leadership: Making IT Work for Sustained Support
Leadership's first priority is to decide how to accomplish
the closely related goals of Accountability and Learning, by assembling the
support, resources, and civic participation to make your school a place where
learning demonstrably exceeds accountability performance goals. Every member
of the I&T team is an instructional leader for the school. But schools
require processes and partners to accomplish this mission. The Consortium for
School Networking is a valuable source of each type of support. See the Sidebar
on page 17.
The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN): A Resource
for School Leaders
In the early 1990s, forward-looking educators concluded
that K-12 schools lacked an effective national voice to address the use of
telecommunications and information technologies. In 1992, these educators incorporated
a new nonprofit organization called the Consortium for School Networking, or
CoSN. Today, CoSN continues its mission: to serve as the premier national voice
for promoting use of the Internet and telecommunications to improve K-12 learning.
Here is why your district should be a member, if it is not already: CoSN is
the one place that brings together all three sectors for conversation leading
to purposeful action: Education, Business and Government.
Your school and district can derive great benefit from
CoSN membership, because its audience is made up of leaders in K-12 education
who make technology decisions. As it has in other areas of society, technology
has become a strategic resource in elementary and secondary education. For
that reason, CoSN believes that technology decisions cannot be left to technologists
alone. People not directly responsible for technology must participate in
decision making, and to do this, they must have the knowledge required to
make intelligent, well-informed decisions about what technologies to acquire
and how to use them in their schools. Moreover, only when the voice of school
leaders informs and aligns with leaders in business and government is any
coherent, sustainable effort possible. Leadership is not just something that
happens "inside the Beltway," and No Child Left Behind has shifted the center
of power out to 50 state capitals and local school districts as never before.
CoSN's Public Policy Leadership Network is building
a grass-roots network of advocates for investment in education technology.
Network participants receive training in the best approach to educate and
inform decision makers, as well as timely alerts on pending federal issues.
Most important, they provide the bridge between what's going in the schools
and classrooms across America and the legislative offices inside the Beltway.
The annual CoSN conference highlights the best practices from a diverse group
of leading districts. This year's theme is Achievement, Assessment, Accountability.
(The conference runs February 23-27 in Washington, DC. See http://www.k12schoolnetworking.org/
for more information.)
CoSN continues to build upon its successful history
of providing vendor-neutral analyses and advice to K-12schools about technology-related
issues. Its "Taking Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) to the Classroom" [http://www.classroomtco.org] and "Safeguarding
the Wired Schoolhouse"[http://www.safewiredschools.org] projects
are but two examples of the leadership role that CoSN plays in educational
technology. The TCO initiative takes concepts pertaining to budgeting for
technology developed in the business community, then modifies and applies
them to the elementary and secondary school settings. The "Safeguarding the
Wired Schoolhouse" effort lays out various management choices pertaining
to inappropriate access to information on the Internet in a vendor-neutral
Conclusion: Winning Teams Know Their Roles
Is our teaching effective? Who's being left behind?
Which skills must our teachers master next in order to help students move ahead?
How can we prepare students for mandated assessments without tunnel-vision
teaching-to-the-test? How can we begin to collect benefit from the dollars
we've invested in education technology? How are we going to get the money,
the time, and the talented people we need to sustain improvement?
Questions like these are the fuel that propels I&T
teams at schools where IT works in the service of learning. Meeting the challenges
of No Child Left Behind is fundamentally an information-based problem. The
people with the expertise to address this problem are already at your school:
the principal, library/mediaspecialist, lead teachers, and technical specialists.
As in sports, each position has a specific job, but no matter how skilled
the person is at their job, they will never have a championship team unless
every player understands the roles of the other players and how they relate
to each other. When we apply the expertise found in these roles to the tasks
of Accountability, Learning, and Leadership, we are ready to begin building
the relationships and expertise required to thrive in 21st century learning
Serim, co-founder of the Online Internet Institute, is editor of Information
Schools magazine and as well as editor of the Big6 eNewsletter. He is author
NetLearning: Why Teachers Use the Internet and
From Computers to
Community: Unlocking the Potentials of the Wired Classroom. He presents keynotes
and seminars throughout the U.S. as well as internationally; phone: 905/690-6039;
fax: 505/466-1901; e-mail: email@example.com.