Interview | Alvin Crawford: Delivering the Knowledge

Knowledge Delivery Systems is a leading provider of strategic professional development courses for teachers, schools and districts nationwide. They develop high-quality online courses through their state-of-the-art eClassroom platform, and deliver them in an engaging and focused manner – aimed on improving teaching practice and raising student achievement. Educators and administrators can earn license renewal hours, graduate credits, and even master’s degrees towards salary and career advancement. Alvin Crawford is the CEO of the New York City-based course provider founded in 2004. Here Alvin talks about his past experience, his current passions, his outlook on the edtech future—and why teacher effectiveness is so vital.

Victor: How and why did you become involved in KDS?

Alvin: For ten years I worked at Schoolnet, a data management company, leading the sales, marketing and corporate development areas. Research showed there is a huge human capital problem in school districts throughout the United States. Educators aren’t prepared to teach, and the education system is spending an enormous amount of money on professional development and not actually transforming teacher practice. When approached to join KDS, I saw it as a great opportunity to utilize my previous experience as well as my passion for education to support teachers in improving their practice and helping students succeed.

Victor: In what ways is the company unique or different from competitors?

Alvin: KDS separates itself from other online professional development organizations through three core elements:

  • Graduate Level Courses: Research says that teachers need 49 hours or more of focused professional development to change practice. KDS courses are typically 45 – 50 hours concentrated around particular content or pedagogy. Other online professional development companies offer six-hour courses, which are similar to attending one day of face-to-face training.
  • System-Wide Strategic PD: Based on district needs, we offer and recommend core courses that all teachers should take as part of a comprehensive strategic approach to professional development. This approach helps to scale effective practice, provides teachers with a common language and allows the district to systematically address weaknesses.
  • Leading Experts in a Blended Model: KDS leverages its expert curriculum designers, production team, IT specialists and partners to transform existing face-to-face workshops, training manuals and more, into online or blended learning model courses to meet the needs of faculty and staff. For example, course participants spend time viewing videos and engaging in formative assessment tasks and other times engaged in discussion meant to reinforce course content.

Victor: How does KDS work with the other companies with which it partners to deliver professional development programs?

Alvin: We work with several different partners in different ways:

  • True North Logic – We provide content that districts or individuals can purchase to support professional growth.
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – We provide both a platform and content that they can use in support of their face-to-face professional development.
  • Solution Tree – We provide the software platform, course development and delivery for their authors, allowing them to build out a library of courses to support face-to-face instruction.

Victor: How has schools’ approach to professional development changed over time?

Alvin: Sadly, the change is very slow. It’s easy for many people to do what they’ve always done, even if it’s conclusive that it’s not changing student achievement.  I think a number of people have migrated to “check the box” PD. They deliver it online, but with the same level of depth and alignment, which may or may not improve practice. Sadly, if you read a 1995 CPRE article on PD, you’d think that it was written today, as the issues are almost identical.

Victor: Why would a school or district turn to KDS for assistance?

Alvin: To help them focus on their professional development and have an impact on the practice of teaching and leadership.

Victor: What type of district is your professional development offerings particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Alvin: Our offerings are for those districts, schools and educators who want to re-think their approach to professional development in order to change and improve outcomes for their students. It takes a strong commitment to make change in order to offer, and register for, courses that are not just for compliance or salary points. Most districts know their current PD expenditures don’t impact student achievement, but it’s the way they have always done it. Those aren’t our customers. Our customers are those who are serious about supporting their teachers with effective strategic PD and want to deliver online like they deliver their face-to-face – an effort they believe will change teacher practice.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Alvin: I’m bullish on the outlook for education. We know where the challenges lie, and there’s research to suggest what works. I’m disappointed by the slow degree to which change occurs, and I believe there’s a knowledge gap, sometimes, between those that conduct the research and the practitioners responsible for planning the work in districts. And, the current political climate and funding sources have played more of a blame game on different constituents, when the core challenge should be on how to drastically improve teacher effectiveness. The courage to stop doing things that don’t work so that we can provide teachers with the things they need is necessary. We can’t keep piling things on teacher’s plates without eliminating much of what we’ve done in the past under the guise of professional development. The tide is shifting, though. I believe that after the cries for evaluation die down, there will be a new focus on improving practice, which will force re-evaluation of what hasn’t worked and a focus on new methods that show promise. If we can dramatically improve teacher effectiveness, we’ll dramatically improve education in this country for all students.

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Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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