From Laggards to Leaders

Digital Learning Day Event

Secretary Duncan joined FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a Digital Learning Day town hall at the Newseum in Washington. Feb. 1, 2012. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

The numbers tell the story.

Two million students, 18,000 teachers, 36 states plus the District of Columbia, 26 national organizations, 24 companies, and 16 state governors joined forces on-line last week to celebrate the first ever National Digital Learning Day.

Their message was clear: Digital technology powers learning.

Technology in the classroom is not just about the latest tools; it’s an imperative for a country with a high dropout rate competing in a globalized world.

As smart use of digital technology expands, it could boost high school completion. More than 1 million of our students drop out every year — something that’s referred to as the “leaking pipeline:”

Across the country, 24 out of 100 9th graders are below “Basic” on NAEP reading scores and only 72 will graduate from high school. Forty-four of those students will enter college, but 16 will need remediation, and only 20 will finish with a college degree.

Digital technology makes it possible for teachers to differentiate more effectively by personalizing the learning to meet the needs of each student at every level. With the right use of technologies, we can shift our time from classroom management to focused learning on HOW to teach depth of content and concepts. This is especially critical for our newest teachers.

Mooresville Graded School District in N.C., understands the important role digital tech can play. The district made a huge push to integrate digital technologies, and raised its graduation rate by 25% and is now 3rd out of 115 school districts with one of the lowest per-pupil expenditures in the state.

But what I most appreciate about digital technology is what it does for the teaching profession.

Smart use of technology simply develops our skills as teachers.

“As a teacher, I’m no longer just a repository of information. My role as a teacher has shifted. With technology, students are engaged,” said 25-year teaching veteran Esther Wojcicki, who teaches journalism in Palo Alto, CA.

And for those who think technology is not feasible because our teaching force isn’t ready, we need to clarify.

America’s teachers know technology. The number of Americans who have grown up on touch phones, Google, Facebook, and Twitter is growing. At the same time, we know that technology has gotten easier and more compelling for everyone: We all use it for work, to research, and to socialize.

So it’s not the technology that we need to train teachers on; it’s the pedagogical shift that needs to happen to use that technology well.

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama asked us to think about an America that leads the world in educating its people and digital technology can help do just that.

Secretary Duncan was right when he said, “Technology going forward is going to revolutionize how we provide education.” As a teacher, I can’t wait to be a part of that.

Learn more about ED’s National Education Technology Plan and the Digital Textbook Playbook.

Claire Jellinek is a 9th-12th grade social studies teacher at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque, NM and a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

NEA Foundation Launches Gaming Challenge on ED’s Open Innovation Portal

How can interactive technology and game-based learning help engage students to learn?

Challenge to Innovate LogoThe next great teaching frontier is light years away from chalk and erasers. Outside the classroom, students are fascinated and engaged in interactive technology and game-based activities.  If these tools are being used for entertainment, why not take advantage of their educational value? By applying the appeal of video games – the characters, interactivity, strategy – into classroom instruction, educators can redefine learning. Moreover, interest in technology at a young age may increase the likelihood that students will be interested in technology when they choose their careers.

Recognizing the educational potential of interactive gaming, the NEA Foundation, in partnership with Microsoft – US Partners in Learning, is launching the C2i: Gaming Challenge on ED’s Open Innovation Portal. They want to know your best idea for how interactive technology and game-based learning can improve teaching and learning.

Now that you’re interested, here’s how it works.

  • Submissions will be accepted until March 5.
  • A proposed solution must effectively incorporate game-based learning and interactive technology.
  • Portal registrants can also review, comment, and vote.
  • At the end of the review period, up to 10 solutions will receive $1,000 cash awards from the NEA Foundation.
  • The solutions selected will be shared by the NEA Foundation and Microsoft – US Partners in Learning via multiple outlets.  

Get started and submit your idea today!

The (C2i) initiative is open to anyone with an interest in improving public education. Last June, the NEA Foundation awarded five individuals $1,000 for the best ideas around mobile devices.

Adam Bookman and Rich Wilson are the administrators of ED’s Open Innovation Portal

i3 Grant Puts “I” in Team

As a 9th grade counselor at St. Louis Park Senior High School in suburban Minneapolis, Angie Jerabek was jarred by the 45 percent failure rate posted by the school’s freshmen in 1998.  She responded to the challenge by developing a structured, tag-team approach called Building Assets Reducing Risks (BARR) that cut her school’s 9th grade failure rates in half. It also more than doubled the number of students choosing to take rigorous Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes over the past 14 years.  St. Louis Park—a diverse school of about 1,300 students with about one-third of them low income—additionally credits significant decreases in truancy and discipline problems to BARR.

St. Louis Park Students

St. Louis Park students get extra math help at a learning lab implemented this year as part of the Search Institute’s i3 grant. From left to right are 12th grader Sam Lieberthal, Math Resource Teacher Will Tanberg, 12th Grader Shukri Ali, 10th grader Avril Bowling, and 9th grader Eric Ndon. Photo courtesy of St. Louis Park Senior High School.

In 2010, ED awarded a $5 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to fund BARR’s expansion to 10th-12th grades at St. Louis Park, and to 9th grades at three high schools in Maine and California. The grantee is the Search Institute, the long-time training and technical assistance collaborator with BARR. Another partner is College Possible, a nonprofit that employs AmeriCorps members to help low-income students get into college and succeed there through intensive coaching. 

I visited St. Louis Park earlier this month to learn firsthand about this innovative program and had the opportunity to talk with Jerabek and others. The premise is simple. Currently, teams of 9th-grade teachers, counselors, social workers and others are assigned “blocks” of freshmen. They regularly collaborate to discuss individual students’ progress, identify challenges and prescribe interventions as needed. All team members are responsible for the overall progress of all students in their blocks.

“High school teachers tend to work in silos,” said Jerabek, now the i3 BARR Innovation Project Director for the Search Institute.

“We have a different mindset here.  We’re teaching people, not math,” said St. Louis Park Principal Robert Metz, a former elementary school principal. He sees correlations between the strong teacher-student relationships typically developed in primary grades and the connections that BARR builds in high schools.

The team concept itself isn’t new to all high school teachers, and “some arrive at St. Louis Park jaded by other districts’ efforts,” said Justin Barbeau, a veteran teacher who is now St. Louis Park Public Schools’ i3 coordinator.

“The difference here is the structure,” said Barbeau.  “Not all teachers are good at making or leveraging relationships.  BARR provides training and clear steps that make this work.”  The i3 funding expands that training to St. Louis Park’s teachers who work with 10th - through 12th-grade students. It also includes scaling up the program for 9th grade teachers and students in Bucksport and Sanford, Maine and Hemet, Calif. schools.  Ten new positions have been created at St. Louis Park as a result of i3 funding, and it’s supporting four new jobs at the Maine and California schools.

The individualized attention afforded students through the BARR approach also makes strong impressions on parents—critical partners in the program’s success. “A mom—new to St. Louis Park – raved about a call she’d gotten from a teacher,” said Brad Brubaker, a teacher helping to lead the 10th grade transition. “The teacher just wanted the mom to know that her daughter was doing really well in all of her classes. This mother had never gotten a call like that from a teacher before.”

Julie Ewart, Office of Communications and Outreach, Great Lakes Region   

A Grand Challenge for Development

Whether it’s the instructions on your bottle of shampoo or a funny Facebook status update, most of us don’t give our ability to read a second thought. What many of us forget is that literacy is at the foundation of our country’s well being. In a blog post during International Education Week in November, Secretary Duncan noted that “literacy opens doors to better living conditions, improved health, and expanded opportunities. It empowers people to build more secure futures for their families.”

Duncan’s blog post announced an exciting initiative called the All Children Reading Grand Challenge for Development. The Grand Challenge is a global competition to find innovative solutions to advance children’s reading, particularly in low and lower-middle income countries.

Through the Grand Challenge, USAID, AusAid and WorldVision are mobilizing resources to gather new ideas, engage new organizations and people, and advance innovative solutions from around the world.

USAID and its partners are looking for innovative applications from eligible institutions to support the Grand Challenge. Click here to read more about the competition and how your innovation could be eligible for the  $7.5 million in grant money available under the challenge.

‘Investing in Innovation’ Creates STEM Awards

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

The Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) competition provides funding to school districts and non-profit organizations around the country to develop new approaches to longstanding challenges in education.  Today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 23 applicants who will receive grants from the 2011 i3 competition. For the first time, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education was a priority of the competition.  Five of the 23 awards will address that critical area and include programs devoted to:

Other areas that i3 grants will address include teacher and principal effectiveness; high-quality standards and assessments; turning around low-performing schools; and improving rural achievement. Some of the projects in these areas will:

In addition to the $148 million in funding provided by the Department of Education, the applicants raised $18 million in private-sector commitments from a wide range of philanthropic organizations, local businesses, and individuals.

More information about all of the 2011 grantees is available on the i3 website. Information about all applicants is available at data.ed.gov.

Jefferson Pestronk is Special Assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the Department of Education

Recognizing the Excellence and Promise of America’s Community Colleges

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Community colleges play a critical role in preparing the American workforce for prosperity in the economy of the 21st century. Americans now more than ever need a postsecondary education to learn the skills they need to be successful in the workplace and to keep our businesses thriving in a globally competitive environment.

Community colleges are educating the next generation of American workers and leaders by providing more Americans than ever with training for success in a knowledge based economy. Our best community colleges are on the cutting edge of innovation, showing us what can happen when a college reaches beyond its campus to partner with businesses and four-year colleges in order to expand opportunity, provide intensive preparation for career, and ensure excellence leading up to graduation and into the workforce. As the unsung heroes of higher education, these schools are shining examples of what can happen when institutions work hard to improve student learning and increase degree completion.

We acknowledge the important work of our best community colleges in developing our citizens, our economy, and our nation. At the National Press Club on Monday, Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took time to salute to the finalists and winner of the inaugural Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. In these community colleges, our Administration has a strong partner in endeavoring toward the President’s 2020 goal to again lead the world in college completion.

The first-ever winner of the Aspen Prize is Valencia Community College from Orlando, FL. Demonstrating a strong commitment to completion, Valencia offers clear pathways to student success, from associate’s degree programs with guaranteed admission to the selective University of Central Florida to technical degree programs that have career advisers embedded in each program. The environment at Valencia is marked by professors and administrators taking responsibility for student success, consistently asking what they each can do to improve student outcomes. And with a strong data system in place, the graduation and workforce results are clear. These outcomes are important to Valencia’s diverse student body (about half are Hispanic or African American), a significant number of whom come from lower-income households.

Monday’s ceremony also shed light on the outstanding work of finalist institutions for the Aspen Prize. Through their applications, Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD), Miami Dade College (Miami, FL), Walla Walla Community College (Walla Walla, WA), and West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, KY) all demonstrated bold commitment to results in preparing students for academic and professional success. Each one is a leader in career preparation and student achievement, supporting strong pathways to successful completion of four-year degrees and jobs in their communities.

As leaders in innovation and outcomes, Valencia Community College and the four Aspen Prize finalists are blazing a trail of prosperity for more students in the 21st century. The President praises the important work of these community colleges as we strive toward graduating ever more students ready to compete in the 21st  century economy.

Melody Barnes is the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

ED Small Business Awardee Wins Industry Award for Innovation

A recipient of funds from the U.S. Department of Education, Massachusetts-based firm Fluidity Software, Inc., won the top prize for the “Most Innovative Technology Product” and was the runner-up for “Most Likely to Succeed” at the Innovation Incubator competition on Nov. 29 in New York City. The Innovation Incubator event was hosted by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) through its Ed-Tech Business Forum. FluidMath won the award among a group of 29 applicants and 11 finalists.

A Screenshot of FluidMath

Fluidity’s product, FluidMath, was funded in part by the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program at the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The purpose of the SBIR Program is to stimulate technological innovation; increase small business participation in federal research and development; foster and encourage participation by minority and disadvantaged persons in technological innovation; and increase private sector commercialization of technology derived from federal research and development.

The FluidMath software and its accompanying Web-based Online Professional Development (OPD) modules enable teachers and students to create, solve, graph and animate math and physics problems, all in their own handwriting on digital-ink enabled devices such as tablet PCs and interactive whiteboards. For teachers, it is designed to assist in creating dynamic instructional materials for the classroom and providing engaging learning experiences. For students, it is designed to help explore and understand concepts in mathematics and science. Click here for a video demonstration of FluidMath.

In addition to FluidMath, a second IES SBIR funded product was a finalist in the Innovation Incubator  competition. Minnesota-based firm Seward, Inc.’s First 4000 Words (4KW), funded by IES in 2008, is an interactive web-based program used to teach the 4,000 most frequently used English words to English Language Learners and struggling readers in grades 1 through 4. This research-based and field-tested program is designed to help students develop the necessary reading skills to succeed in school. Click here for a video demonstration of the 4KW.

(A reminder from ED’s lawyers: The Department has provided the information and links in this blog post as a convenience to educators, parents and students. The U.S. Department of Education does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, completeness or effectiveness of these resources. The inclusion of particular resources is not intended to reflect their importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed or products or services.)

For information on the 2012 Small Business Innovation Research program solicitations, and for video demos of more than 20 products supported by this program, click here.

Edward Metz

Edward Metz is a Program Manager at ED’s Institute of Education Sciences

Countries Gather to Talk Education Innovation

Earlier this month, deep in the Canadian Rockies, delegations from 19 countries and a mixture of research institutions, foundations, and professional education organizations attended the International Conference on Innovative Learning Environments in Banff, Alberta.

For three days, participants met to discuss inspiring new forms of learning environments and strategies for scaling up those considered most successful.

As a teacher, I was excited to lend voice to a policy dialogue that intimately addresses what’s going on in my classroom. Participants highlighted exemplars of innovation in extraordinary circumstances. I also appreciated prominent policymakers noting the danger of continually showcasing the “shiny examples,” given the resource challenges many educators face.

Several significant concerns also were discussed during the conference. In a climate of cutbacks and acute testing scrutiny, policymakers are concerned that school improvement agendas are perceived safer than innovation agendas. It’s simply a tough time to take risks.

As a teacher on the ground, the conference raised for me two questions: How do we highlight, tap into, and scale up the innovations that are already going on? I have seen many very low-income schools successfully innovate to meet their needs in an economically taxing climate.

Further, how do we decrease judgment around new practices so that more school leaders are willing to take the risks necessary to support the innovative ideas?

In the end, delegates walked away understanding that innovation is not just about technology products, but could and should also be about process. It’s not about more resources. It’s about designing systems that are more efficient so that we foster stronger learning environments, period.

Claire Jellinek is a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

There is no question that innovation is a critical focus of President Obama’s education agenda. In his State of the Union, where he said that education is “our generation’s Sputnik moment,” the President invokes the word “innovation” nine times. In his recent American Jobs Act proposal, he alludes to modernizing 35,000 schools, and installing science labs and high-speed Internet in classrooms all across the country. The Investment in Innovation Fund (i3) and Promise Neighborhoods are powerful examples of initiatives that reward innovation in learning.

I believe that this truly is our “Sputnik moment.” Education has captured a front seat in national and international dialogue. I hope we seize this opportunity to welcome ideas around meaningful change.

Claire Jellinek is a 9th-12th grade social studies teacher at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque, NM and a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

Navigating Technology and Art at a School of Contradictions

In the 19th Century, the London Bridge was a marvel of technology and an example of artistic creativity, and nearly a century later, one innovative American town dismantled the original masonry of the London Bridge and rebuilt it to handle modern traffic.

Nautilus Elementary School signToday, four miles from where the bridge now sits in Lake Havasu, Az., Nautilus Elementary is using a 21st Century technology and art to help improve teaching and student learning. For all its success, the U.S. Department of Education named Nautilus Elementary School a 2011 Blue Ribbon school.

At the school, technology is helping teachers use performance data to improve education for their students. “Nautilus stands out because from the very beginning, we took standards-based education very seriously,” said Margee Chieffo, a kindergarten teacher. “We taught…to the standards, measured student achievement…then went back and re-taught things that were not comprehensively learned by students.”

To do this, students use “electronic clickers”—small remotes, with which they can answer questions in class—and other tools that give immediate feedback on whether or not individual students and the class as a whole understand an idea or process. With this information, a teacher can focus on particular areas that students are having a hard time grasping.  The school also uses an online program to track student performance and keep teachers and parents up to date.  This management software allows teachers to post and parents to see their child’s grades online at any time.  Through this system, parents can also view video tutorials, and teachers and administrators have access to educational tools.

Teachers, school staff, parents and community leaders join Nautilus Elementary students at the National Blue Ribbon School Award ceremony

While performance measurement and its data is key to designing lessons, the faculty sees teaching as an art to reach each child as an individual person. “My philosophy is this: I don’t teach subjects. I teach children,” said Chieffo.

Carolyn Myers, a 4th grade teacher, expands on teaching as an art: “We know which teachers are better at technology, which are strong in reading strategies, phonics, math. We say, ‘Can you help me with this? I’m just not reaching this child.’ ”

Nautilus Elementary’s students are enthusiastic when giving their perspectives. Andrew, a 6th grader, said, “We have…great teachers. They encourage us to do our best.” Gabby, also a 6th grader, gave her view on why the school succeeds. “Everyone’s like a family…we’re all really close.” Laurel, a 3rd grader, agreed with her 6th grade friends and gave the bottom line on going to school at Nautilus. “We get smarter by the minute.”

Christie Olsen, who teaches a 5th and 6th grade-blended class, recognizes that a school needs the community.  A desert town with the London Bridge and a school named after a sea creature would be expected to have a school that is innovative. That’s the case with Nautilus Elementary—bringing technology and art together to win the Blue Ribbon Award.

Joe Barison

Joe Barison works in ED’s San Francisco regional office.

Leading the Charge in Digital Learning

“Our country has pioneered manned space travel and the creation of the Internet. Yet today, our country is lagging behind other countries in leveraging the power of technology in our classrooms,” said Secretary Duncan Friday at the White House launch of a new congressionally created education nonprofit, Digital Promise.

Digital Promise Launch

Launch of Digital Promise at the White House. (Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover)

When I think about the groundswell of creativity, intelligence, and talent that makes up America’s teaching corps, the very thought is overwhelming.

As teachers, many of us struggle to provide the digital technology training that will prepare our students for a globalized world. I am thrilled to see that innovation in education, including digital learning, is a clear priority for this administration. In fact, with the American Jobs Act, President Obama has proposed $25 billion to modernize at least 35,000 of our neediest schools, and will provide essential upgrades to bring many of America’s school buildings into the 21st century.

Digital Promise, which is the brainchild of a passionate group of educators, entrepreneurs, researchers, and technology companies, is committed to working on three key challenges: (1) identifying innovative technologies in education software; (2) learning faster what works and what doesn’t; and (3) generating demand that drives innovation in the private sector.

At Friday’s launch, I watched the genesis of what is one of the most stirring responses to that problem. As a teacher, I was especially excited to witness entrepreneurs and private sector companies rally behind the education cause with such enthusiasm. As a high school social studies teacher, I am especially glad to see what digital technology can do to help our students access a world-class curriculum, one of this administration’s priorities.

“Digital learning changed me forever,” said Josniel Martinez, an 11 year-old middle schooler from Global Tech High School in East Harlem, New York, who introduced Secretary Duncan at the White House event. Last year, he received a “Promotion in Doubt” letter stating that he was at risk of not passing to the next grade due to poor academic performance. His mother pushed him to use a digital learning program three times a week and in a short time, this young man had completely turned his grades around. At once, his academic growth was tangible and he is beginning to set long-term academic goals for himself.

As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I have had the opportunity to observe numerous exciting initiatives at ED and Digital Promise is one I am going to keep my eye on.

Claire Jellinek is a 9th-12th grade social studies teacher at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque, NM and a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

Making a Digital Promise to our Students

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Over the past two decades, technology has dramatically transformed the way we live and work. Yet despite this progress, technology has yet to have a transformational impact in the classroom.

I’m a big believer in the promise of learning technologies, and it isn’t just about doing things online that we used to do with pen and paper. Technology can be an extraordinarily powerful tool for helping teachers teach, and for helping students learn. It can provide teachers with powerful new ways of identifying where their students are struggling, and how to reach them before it’s too late.

Technology can personalize and accelerate instruction for students of all educational levels, and it provides the capability of reaching students around the country who otherwise would be stuck attending sub-standard schools.

Countries around the world are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with learning technologies and are far ahead of the United States in creating the classrooms of the 21st century. Education technology is not a silver bullet for improving the United States’ stagnating student achievement, but investing in significant improvements to educational technology has the potential to rapidly advance learning, and to keep Americans competitive.

I’m proud to announce that the Obama Administration is taking an historic step in putting the United States on a path to become a leader in educational technology. Today, the U.S. Department of Education launched a new unique public-private partnership entitled Digital Promise.

Digital Promise is a bipartisan initiative that is championed by a coalition of educators and business leaders. Digital Promise is an independent nonprofit that will help spur breakthrough learning technologies that transform teaching and learning in and out of the classroom, while creating a business environment that rewards innovation and entrepreneurship.

If America is going to continue to succeed in the global economy, it is vital that we transform the use of educational technology. With technology, we can more rapidly increase opportunities for excellence and equity, as well as provide a world-class education for America’s students. And that’s a promise we need to keep.

Read the fact sheet to find out more about Digital Promise.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

A Network of Strong Supporters for Brown Street Academy, Milwaukee

Many senior staffers at the Department of Education hit the road last week as part of Secretary Arne Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour. On Thursday, ED’s chief of staff Joanne Weiss, visited Brown Street Academy, a designated Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was lucky enough to accompany Weiss and several members of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships on a tour of this facility. Later we met with educational stakeholders who are deeply invested in Brown Street’s success.

Walking into the school quickly took me back to my own elementary schools days some 35 years ago. Bright sunshine streamed in through the tall windows as the sound of our shoes echoed on the polished wood floors. I peeked in through open classroom doors to see butterflies on bulletin boards, desks in neat rows, and students peeking back out at me. I began to wonder, “What is so special about this school?”

At the conclusion of the tour, we were led to a room where fifteen individuals were eagerly waiting to share the ways they are engaged in improving reading proficiency at Brown Street Academy. Representatives from non-profit and business groups, parent organizations, teachers and others described their contributions to the i3 Milwaukee Community Literacy Project–now located in seven elementary schools. Students identified as struggling readers are assigned to an AmeriCorps tutor. The tutor is trained by and works closely with the site teacher and University of Milwaukee facilitators. Parent liaisons open up and maintain the lines of communications with parents. Business partners and non-profits augment grants with additional funds to keep everything running smoothly.

Weiss seemed impressed by combined efforts and commented, “I challenge you to continue to promote community connections…and scale up and share what you’re doing with other communities.”

Yes, community partners such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and Milwaukee Public Schools are working together to increase reading proficiency, but they are also promoting a sense of ownership in the process. As Tom Devine, Executive Director of Wisconsin AmeriCorps said, “We are interested in the test scores but we are also really interested to see if these kids volunteer at a later date. When we see neighbors helping neighbors, that’s a success story.”

Leah Lechleiter-Luke

Leah Lechleiter-Luke is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches English and Spanish in Mouston, Wisconsin.

See an article on the OII homepage about early learning projects supported by the i3 Fund by clicking here.