At Jones Elementary School in Springdale, Ark., the number of students reading on grade level has almost tripled — from 26 to 73 percent — in eight years. “Our students succeed because we have teachers who expect them to succeed,” explains Principal Melissa Fink about this and other achievements of the schools’ nearly 600 students, 99 percent of whom live in poverty. In addition to believing in each student’s potential, she and the Jones Elementary faculty work to strategically remove obstacles to learning, make teacher teamwork a top priority, and effectively use data to improve teaching and learning.
Every organization can benefit from an internal group that focuses on promoting and creating game-changing innovations.1 To avoid falling behind, organizations must look to the future while also improving performance and practices in the present. Here at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), we’re working hard to build the foundation for an advanced research infrastructure that can uncover breakthrough innovations so that our schools, educators, and students once again lead the world.
Before joining the team at ED, I spent 22 years in different Department of Defense (DoD) research settings, working closely with a variety of civilian research agencies. What I learned leading projects at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is that most research (both public and private) is stove-piped into two categories: basic and applied. Basic research seeks new knowledge and understanding, while applied research — as the name suggests — takes existing knowledge (i.e., the results of basic research) and creates new applications for it. Applied research can improve performance incrementally by leveraging the results of already-established basic research. This is an important and essential function. But by definition, the impact of applied research is limited by the horizon of current knowledge, which means it is not well-suited to producing dramatic breakthroughs.
The entrance halls and ground floor public spaces of the U.S. Department of Education are filled year-round with color, creativity, and powerful ideas, thanks to the talents of young artists from the United States and around the world. In November, ED conducted a host of special activities celebrating the 15th anniversary of International Education Week, including an opening reception and ribbon cutting for the 2014 VSA international children’s art exhibit Yo soy…Je Suis…I am…My Neighborhood, presented by the Office of Very Special Arts (VSA) & Accessibility and the Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program. Each year VSA, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, receives over 700 international and national entries from students with disabilities, ages 3–22, and competition winners display their artwork at ED.
More than 100 exemplary school superintendents will convene at the White House today, November 19th, for the ConnectED to the Future Summit. As part of the President’s ConnectED Initiative, these leaders have committed to advancing technology-enabled instruction in their districts. The Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) supports several of these districts’ efforts to use technology to personalize and enhance student learning. OII is pleased to release a report that highlights some of these districts’ initial experiences, which is intended to serve as a resource for school leaders pursuing a path to personalizing student learning.
Personalized Learning in Progress: Case Studies of Four Race to the Top-District Grantees’ Early Implementation shares the experiences of four diverse school districts as they adopt personalized learning approaches that will prepare their students to succeed in the 21st century global economy. The four districts — Iredell-Statesville Schools (N.C.), Miami-Dade County Public Schools (Fla.), New Haven Unified School District (Calif.), and Metropolitan School District of Warren Township (Ind.) — are highlighted in part because of their diversity, including the range in geographies, size of student populations, differing academic content areas, and their varied approaches to personalized learning.
As Education Secretary Duncan’s bus tour departed Huntsville, Ala., on September 9th, I remained to explore the STEM and technology education programs in the area. Huntsville, home to NASA’s Space and Rocket Center, has the advantage of being a small city with huge resources to support education. I wanted to see what they were doing that might be exported to a wide range of schools across the U.S.
After Secretary Duncan’s visit to the Space and Rocket Center and its Space Camp, I was greeted by the president of Alabama A&M University (AAMU), Dr. Andrew Hugine, Jr., along with staff and students. Once on their beautiful campus, Dr. Chance Glenn, dean of the College of Engineering, Technology, and Physical Sciences, discussed the various programs AAMU has developed to help students pursue and excel in STEM fields.
Peg + Cat, the animated PBS KIDS math series launched last fall, won three Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards last month, including Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Series. Funded in part by ED’s Ready To Learn (RTL) program, the series follows the spirited Peg and her loyal sidekick Cat, as they embark on hilarious musical adventures, learning math concepts along the way. The series provides young viewers with a new way to experience math and highlights its importance in a variety of everyday situations. Music is used as a teaching tool throughout the series and each episode features an original song.
Series co-creator and executive producer Jennifer Oxley also received the Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Production Design. Oxley made her first film at the age of 7 and has devoted much of her professional career to educational television and film, including direction of 15 short films for Sesame Street, as well as the award-winning adaptation of Spike Lee and Tanya Lewis Lee’s children’s book, Please, Baby, Please. Eleven-year-old Hayley Faith Negrin, the voice of Peg and the youngest nominee at this year’s Daytime Emmy Awards, received the award for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Program.
Every spring, the National Writing Project (NWP), an OII grantee, brings together a core group of teacher-leaders from across the country to study and share effective practices that enhance student writing and learning. This year’s Spring Meeting was held on March 28 in Washington, D.C. Matt Williams, educational technologist at KQED, the San Francisco Bay Area’s award-winning PBS affiliate, led off the day with an engaging discussion about the powerful role of digital tools in promoting and improving civic engagement among the country’s youth. Matt was joined by NWP teacher-leaders Janelle Bence, Chris Sloan, and Meenoo Rami, who are implementing the Do Now project in their classrooms as part of a collaborative effort between KQED and the NWP’s Educator Innovator network. There are currently 150 schools across the nation actively participating in this endeavor.
From the Great Lakes to the nation’s capital, Department staff and guests were proud to welcome the talented student artists, their fellow students, and their teachers and parents to the Concept Schools Student Art Exhibit opening in Barnard auditorium on March 31. Some 130 charter school students, representing 18 Concept Schools from six states (Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin), were in attendance to both celebrate their own artwork on display at the Department and support their fellow students’ work.
To kick off the program, Acting Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Nadya Chinoy Dabby welcomed guests to the Department and thanked Concept Schools’ families for making the long journey to share their children’s work. According to Dabby, “Arts education … at Concept Schools … is an essential part of a well-rounded educational experience.” She said that her high school education at an arts magnet school “helped nurture a lifelong appreciation for the arts.” Speaking on behalf of the Department, Dabby said, “We believe … that all children should have access to great arts instruction … no matter where you grow up or what school you go to.”
Next, Concept Schools President Sedat Duman expressed his appreciation for the Department, students, staff, teachers, and parents for making the exhibit and opening a success. He introduced a video describing the nationally recognized work that Concept Schools does to prepare students for higher education. According to the video, about 90 percent of Concept students go on to college.
“The lack of innovation in education is not due to a lack of creativity, but the misalignment of student and educator need to the market supply of innovations.” That’s the guiding premise of Innovate NYC Schools, a 2011 i3 Development grantee that is using technology to increase the degree of alignment and making students and teachers integral to the change process. The project is furthering the development and evaluation of the “Education Innovation Ecosystem,” a network of NYC schools, partner districts, solution developers, and investors that is helping to meet the STEM-related learning challenges of middle and high school students.
Two dynamics in school system bureaucracies combine to stymie innovation: On the one hand, changes in policy only get you so far; they “don’t lead to durable improvements in practice,” contends Steven Hodas, Innovate NYC Schools’ executive director. Moreover, this fact, he says, often causes the most innovative companies on the outside of the school bureaucracy to take a pass on responding to school systems’ RFPs to develop new products or services.
On Jan. 13, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy posted a Request for Information (RFI) on advancing learning technology through “pull” mechanisms.
Traditionally, the federal government has favored “push” mechanisms, such as grants, contracts, or tax incentives, which pay for inputs; a problem must be solved and an organization is paid to try a particular approach, regardless of whether that approach is successful in solving the problem. “Pull” mechanisms, however, pay for outcomes, without specifying a course of action. Established pull mechanisms have been used in government and in other sectors; these include prizes; pay-for-success strategies, such as social impact bonds; and advance market commitments.
OII’s mission is to “accelerate the pace at which the U.S. identifies, develops, and scales solutions to education’s most important and persistent challenges.” An integral part of this work is serving as thought partners and collaborators in considering new and innovative structural solutions. A number of pull strategies are promising and could have strong applicability to learning technologies and our students’ future.
For more information, check out the White House’s blog post on the RFI.