Cool Tool | Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy

CREDIT Official SAT Practice Khan Academy.pngWith the Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy, students can practice for their SAT test in reading and math. And as of just recently, thanks to a partnership between the College Board and Turnitin, students can also practice for the optional essay portion of the SAT using Turnitin Revision Assistant, and get authentic sample scores generated by Turnitin Scoring Engine. The Official SAT Practice will map out a learning plan for the student based on their PSAT or SAT scores, or they can take a diagnostic test. The writing practice, however, doesn’t require the diagnostic test. Students can choose writing practice and go directly into Revision Assistant which gives immediate, actionable feedback. Using Natural Language Processing, Revision Assistant recommends how the student can improve their essay by showing them feedback on the screen highlighted to the text it references. Additionally, when writing on the scored portion of SAT practice prompts, two of the essays students can submit are scored by Turnitin Scoring Engine. The numbers they get back, company officials say, is a fair estimate of how a student would perform on the essay portion of the SAT because the scores are based on official SAT scoring rubrics from the College Board.

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Choosing Bootcamp

Spoiler alert: job placement and starting salaries don’t make the cut.

GUEST COLUMN | by Erica Prenga

CREDIT coursereport.pngI am a coding bootcamp graduate gainfully employed in Silicon Valley. About two months after completing the immersive program where I learned programming, I was invited to be in a beta cohort for a separate program created to ’jumpstart’ the job hunt for bootcamp grads. I was already in the middle of the interview process with several companies, including the one where I now work, when I accepted the opportunity to attend the program for free. About a week into that program, I received and accepted a job offer.

If a bootcamp doesn’t offer you a culture where you’ll thrive before, during, and after, it isn’t worth the time, money, and effort to attend.

Though it was clear the jumpstart program had nothing to do with landing my job, to this day, they still take credit for it on their website – touting my company’s logo and calculating my starting salary into the numbers they use to market the success of their program.

All of this is to say that bootcamps and related programs that claim high job placement numbers – or high starting salaries of graduates – may not be telling you the whole story.

In my research, I saw a lot of 5 and 6-figure starting salaries, as well as hiring rates in the high 90s. But if you dig deeper, it is difficult to tell how those numbers are derived.

Do those numbers include people who left the program prematurely? How long did it take those graduates to land a job? How do they account for graduates who go back to school instead of seeking a job? And what about the people who get jobs that aren’t in the field or that are with the bootcamp itself? Are internships receiving the same weight as a full-time job?

So, what do you make of the numbers and how can you decide which bootcamp is right for you? Here are some questions that go beyond the numbers to help guide your decision-making process:

What is your goal?  

Some bootcamps only focus on the technical skills, while others offer a combination of soft skills like portfolio development, teamwork, and interviewing prep, in addition to the technical skills. It’s important to figure out which program offers the skills that best suit your goals. I wanted to achieve personal growth alongside a career change, so I chose a program that offered personal skill development in harmony with full stack training.

Do they require prior professional experience or coding knowledge?

I didn’t have a background in tech or coding, so I eliminated the programs that required previous programming experience from my list. With the time and money it would take to acquire the skills necessary to be accepted (whether through self-teaching or a supplemental prep program), I could have already graduated from another program.

How much can you spend and how much time do you have?

The range in price and time commitment is expansive. Some of the heftier price tags also tend to be those that require prior coding experience (they also tend to be the ones which claim high job placement stats, so it seems very possible that they’re doing their best to cherry pick a certain type of student). Also, not everyone has the luxury of attending a full-time program, so finding a program that supports the commitment you’re capable of is important – just be sure you are not sacrificing quality for convenience.

Where is the program based?

When I chose to attend a bootcamp, I was specifically looking for a big change in my life, so a move to a new city was in order. That said, a move is not what everyone is looking for, so finding a program in or near your area can serve as a good filter of your options.

Does the bootcamp offer support before, during, and after the program?

I knew I would need all the help I could get in the post-program job hunt and I wanted a community I could continue a relationship with long after I graduated.

If you are currently considering attending a coding bootcamp, my advice to you is this:

  • Don’t settle on anything until it feels absolutely right
  • Don’t solely rely on the employment numbers the program boasts
  • Trust people who will tell you about their personal experiences
  • Don’t base your decision on cost or average salary alone

The very best bootcamps will be frank about realistic expectations and give you the tools you need to thrive with the firehose of information that is this industry long after you graduate. Ultimately, how hard you work and whom you meet will get you where you want to go. If a bootcamp doesn’t offer you a culture where you’ll thrive before, during, and after, it isn’t worth the time, money, and effort to attend.

If you know you’re interested, here is a great place to start your search.

Erica Prenga currently works at Adobe as an Experience Developer and is a graduate of Dev Bootcamp.

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The State of Personalized Learning

Examining products, practices, and an easy-to-use taxonomy.

THOUGHT LEADERSHIP | by Philip Hickman, Ken Eastwood, and Eliot Levinson

CREDIT BLEgroup image.pngPersonalized learning is the edtech phrase of the year and a key concept for how digitally delivered teaching and learning will make the most significant impact on teaching and learning, but what is it? The variety of products and practices that claim to personalize learning differ vastly, making the term hard to understand.

Schools want to provide personalized learning, a plethora of vendors are selling it, and it is required for ESSA beginning in 2018. A few BLEgroup superintendents, staff, and vendors held a discussion to see if we could define a way to understand the reality of the concept. We also conversed with vendors who believe they are providing personalized learning products and services to K-12 schools and with school districts who believe that they are far down the path of providing personalized teaching and learning.

There are currently at least three generations of personalized learning on the market.

All personalized learning is not the same: Before data collection and discussion, all stakeholders held a common definition of personalized learning as “customized curriculum targeted to each student’s level of subject knowledge and his/her learning style.” After our discussion and observation of several districts’ practices and conversations with vendors of personalized learning platforms, we came to the conclusion that there needed to be an easy-to-use taxonomy for the types of PL products and practices so that school systems can clearly understand product and practice variation.

The current use of the term “personalized learning” varies from:

  • small group instruction based on performance levels to
  • longitudinal history of all assessments students ever took to provide them with knowledge of what to assign to
  • artificial intelligence based products that assess the cognitive level and learning style of a student and provide a variety of resources based on the student’s learning style, current performance, and understanding of a subject.

We concluded that rapid new developments in the areas of adaptive assessment, data analytics, customized content, and adaptive instruction in recent years are the reason why “personalized learning” is not a well understood concept. There are currently at least three generations of personalized learning on the market.

The purpose of our piece is to provide a structure for defining the levels of personalized instruction, comments on the advantages and disadvantages of each, and recommendations to vendors and schools about where the market may be heading. 

Generation I: Many school districts provide teachers with longitudinal data on individual students, including classroom tests, standards-based tests, and formative assessments. The reason is that the assessments will be able to identify exactly which standards and cognitive level a student is achieving and find appropriate resources for that student. This approach also provides performance data on the classes, which provide data on teachers and can focus the schools on particular problems. The longitudinal data approach has been around longer than any other personalization approach.

  • The advantage of the longitudinal data is that it provides teachers with performance levels of students on each standard over time.
  • The disadvantage is that it is difficult for teachers to locate appropriate materials for every student, and the longitudinal data shows performance but does not diagnose missing skills that a student did not learn in earlier years and may be preventing her from mastering a standard now. In reality many teachers don’t have the bandwidth to individualize for a class of 30. The best they can master is small group instruction.

Generation II: Adaptive assessment is done a few times throughout the year, which identifies the exact level at which a student is performing. For example, a first grader could be reading at the 8th grade level, and a 4th grade math student could be functioning at the 2nd grade level.

The adaptive assessment identifies the skills needed to achieve different standards that a student may not have achieved because of missing skills they did not learn earlier. Some teachers and products can re-teach missing skills, while others do not.

The major providers of adaptive assessment are NWEA, Curriculum Associates, and Scantron. Adaptive assessments all identify missing skills. The tests are lengthy to deliver, and some have a 3-phase process, including the original assessment, a diagnostic structure to identify missing skills, and a re-teaching component that is used to deal with missing skills.

  • The advantage of adaptive assessments is that they identify missing skills that prevent students from mastering a standard being taught 3 years later. Some of the products have the ability to re-teach the missing skills
  • The disadvantage is that, in most cases, teachers teach the first part of the test only to find out what a student has mastered but don’t take the second step to diagnose and re-teach the missing skills necessary for moving forward, as that phase is extremely time consuming. Not doing so prevents rapid learning and mastery of standards by the student. When teachers diagnose the missing skills and re-teach them, the students do rapidly master standards.

Below are examples of two school districts that are highly successful in fully utilizing adaptive assessments. In each case they provide extra time for the diagnosis and planning for each student and hold teachers accountable for utilizing the data. One district has very little technology, and the other has a vast amount of technology, but they are both successful.

Two Eagle River School – Montana
There are interesting exceptions to the poor use of adaptive assessments that show no results. The more effective schools focus on professional development and time to analyze the missing skills.

At Two Eagle School, a native American alternative school in Montana which receives throw outs from public high schools, the superintendent provides teachers with 13 hours a month to analyze the adaptive assessment to the skill level and presents plans to the rest of the faculty. Teachers use their diagnoses to plan students’ work for the next three weeks and present and discuss them with the whole faculty.

The Two Eagle alternative school is the only school in Montana consistently graduating Native American Students from high school. They have moved from being one of the worst performing high schools in the state to one of a highly proficient level. NWEA adaptive assessment is the only technology resource used to personalize learning.

Enlarged City School District of Middletown – New York
Middletown, like Two Eagle, is an 80 percent minority district containing Hispanic students. Middletown has a large technology budget because they won a $20 million Race to the Top grant.

Middletown has made tremendous gains in performance and graduation rates due to the peer professional developers in each school that provide ongoing PD to teachers. When individual skill performance problems are identified, the district immediately provides the necessary teaching resources to the teacher.

Generation III: Adaptive instruction is the new generation of personalized learning and initially appears to be the major breakthrough for real personalized learning due to the use of artificial intelligence on cognitive and learning style issues to truly individualize instruction. Also it changes the value chain by potentially being able to leapfrog assessments and Learning Management Systems. The preliminary results on these products are promising. The main product brands in this space are Curriculum Associate, Dreambox Learning, Apex Learning, Fishtree, and MyOn reader, a specialized product that is a virtual library that can be included in the group.

The adaptive instruction products are often composed of artificial intelligence. Metrics assess performance levels and learning style preferences of students and also provide ongoing performance analytics.

Adaptive instruction products provide a customized learning experience based on the ongoing data that the system is collecting about students. The advantage of this system is that there are myriad resources that the system provides for the student. Some of these systems use open resources that reduce instructional resource costs for a district.

Adaptive instruction products have recently entered the market so we can’t yet make statements about their impact. The evidence, though positive, is insufficient to prove that these products produce the best results of the three generations of personalized learning products. However, we think adaptive instruction is the most promising form of personalized instruction products.

There are several economic benefits for using adaptive instruction products:

  • Most of the products use open source curriculum, which cuts instructional material costs.
  • They eliminate the need for formative or adaptive assessment systems as testing is integrated into the products, thereby allowing districts to cut significant costs.

We want to be explicit that these systems increase teacher productivity and allow time to track results and work individually with students. The qualitative data on the third generation demonstrates that students learn quickly and have high levels of engagement in learning.

Wrap-up: There are three generations of personalized learning products, which is confusing to the market. The three generations of are:

  • Longitudinal data
  • Adaptive assessment
  • Adaptive instruction

All three generations are “personalized learning,” but each generation appears to provide an increasing amount of personalization. Although early in the game, adaptive instruction appears to provide the most personalized learning and provides additional benefits, such as lowering instructional material, LMS, and assessment costs, while providing pedagogical advantages of providing teachers more time to work with individuals and meaningful data to understand the student’s progress. However, it is early in the third generation, and we don’t yet have all the answers.

Philip W.V. Hickman is Superintendent, Columbus (MS) Municipal School District; Kenneth Eastwood is Superintendent, Enlarged City School District of Middletown (NY); and Eliot Levinson is President, The BLEgroup a PCG company. The BLEgroup, an organization of leading edtech decision makers, works with both schools and the industry. Write to:

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Revisiting an Active Community

Professional development through the lens of language and technology.

GUEST COLUMN | by Megan Roberts

CREDIT MfA.jpgWhat do we mean by the term “Professional Development”: Is it best to use it as a verb? How about as a noun? Or a proper noun? To some, it may seem trivial to spend time pondering the usage of a term that is widely understood in education circles. But it’s not. Language is crucial – and how we talk about the teaching profession and in this case, how teachers learn in the 21st century, is critical to ensuring that teachers and the career of teaching receives the respect it deserves.

They learn together and construct environments that mirror the learning technologies and opportunities their students have in their own schools.

When we don’t talk about teacher professional development as a continuous and active process, we are disrespecting the profession and its core principles. And perhaps now, more than ever, we need to be intentional with our language as we ask teachers to keep pace with the ever-changing technology landscape in the classroom. This not only means that professional development opportunities need to mimic technology focused classrooms, but it also highlights the importance of recognizing that teachers at various stages of their careers all benefit from being part of active professional development communities. Learning is an active process and we need to be intentional in the way we talk about it. Technology, as a tool for both teaching and learning, doesn’t take away the need to learn; quite the contrary, it can help inspire teacher creativity, increase efficiencies, and ignite innovative projects and pedagogy beyond what used to be possible.

Let’s examine what we know for sure.

We know that all good teachers, like all good professionals, have a desire to grow professionally. We know that dedicated teachers, whether they are new to the profession or highly accomplished, plan with purpose and continue to learn over time.

But the demands and opportunities that come with new innovations in technology, require new learning in online or blended formats, or by google tools, online grading systems, coding and computing skills and various communication systems. Yes – integrating technology into the classroom has in fact changed the classroom, thus, teachers are constantly looking for new and active opportunities to lead and learn. We also know that, over time, good teachers become expert teachers. They master the art of teaching and have the experience and success to show for it. At Math for America (MƒA) – a New York City nonprofit that aims to keep excellent K-12 public school math and science teachers in the classroom – countless professional development opportunities are rooted in embracing the craft of teaching with a focus on emerging technologies. The teachers at MƒA work as an active community; they facilitate and lead workshops where they can discuss how to make classrooms smarter via exploring Arduinos one night or incorporating computer science learning with Bootstrap the next. They learn together and construct environments that mirror the learning technologies and opportunities their students have in their own schools.

But great teachers don’t see themselves as finished with professional development at any magical juncture in their career – it isn’t something that’s done to them. They still want to learn, especially in the technological arena; they still need to. Of course, experienced teachers, sometimes referred to as “master teachers,” have professional development needs that often vary from those who are in their first few years of teaching. But, every teacher benefits from continuous and purposeful learning experiences that provide opportunities to continue to grow, reflect, and stay at the cutting edge of the teaching profession.

And here’s the thing: teachers don’t go from good to great simply because they attend a series of courses on wireless communication or data-logging. Great teachers don’t master their craft by attending an in-service day about mathematical computing across the curriculum. Teaching is complex, and neither practice, nor great tech tools, transforms practice in a day or a week or by a single type of learning experience. Professional development is an ongoing and active process and like student classrooms, learning happens within a community, with intention, and over time.

Professional development isn’t passive, so rarely should it be used as a noun. Professional development is active, and as such, it’s a verb. It’s an intentional and on-going acquisition of skills, knowledge, and a place of professional reflection. When professional development is tailored to meet the needs of the learner and includes teachers who feel connected to its purpose, then the term and definition resonates with all of us.

Megan Roberts is the Executive Director of Math for America (MƒA), a nonprofit organization that offers fellowships to outstanding public school mathematics and science teachers, connecting them with one another to inspire them to stay in the classroom and amplify their impact. Prior to MƒA, Megan worked for the NYC Department of Education as Executive Director for the Office of Innovation. She is a former science teacher, staff developer, school administrator and researcher. Follow @MathforAmerica and @MeganR147. 

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The Right Kind of Growth in Greenville County

With dynamic digital content and personalized learning, a district embraces transition.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Greenville County Schools Jeff McCoy.pngJeff McCoy has reason to smile. Anyone with a big purpose, an inclusive vision, and who is making great headway with plenty of help from others would be smiling, too. He started his career in Greenville County schools at Greer Middle School in 2000. He also served in the role of International Baccalaureate Coordinator at Greer Middle School until moving to the Central Office as an Instructional Technology Specialist. He has served various roles in the district including Distance Learning Coordinator, Director of Instructional Technology, and Director of Academic Innovation and Technology. Now Interim Associate Superintendent for Academics, he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and his Master’s Degree in Education Technology with a focus on leadership.

Providing students with a high-quality education should be a moral imperative for every citizen in our country. 

Greenville County Schools is the largest school district in South Carolina, serving 76,000 students over 800 square miles. Greenville County Schools is recognized as a school district of excellence and was awarded district-wide National Accreditation from the AdvancED Accreditation Commission. Multiple magnet and special focus schools provide students with various opportunities for students to pursue their interests and passions. Fifteen percent of the population in Greenville County Schools takes advantage of school choice. “Greenville is fortunate to have an active community and boasts partnerships with businesses who are heavily invested in our successful school system,” adds Jeff. Here, he answers questions about education, technology, and the state of education today.

Your district is transitioning from using hardcopy textbooks as a core instructional resource to using dynamic digital content as the core instructional resource. Could you describe this transition in your school system? 

Jeff: Greenville began transitioning to more dynamic digital content several years ago. For the past 10 years, the Board of Trustees and District Administration have supported and funded technology in our schools. As teachers became more comfortable with technology, they began looking for digital resources beyond the traditional textbook to meet the needs of their students. As a result, Greenville formed a partnership with Discovery Education over 10 years ago that has evolved into a strong relationship resulting in not only dynamic digital content that engages students, but also high quality professional development to train teacher leaders how best meet the needs and interests of their students in an increasingly digital age. These lead technology teachers in turn offer professional development to their peers and open their classrooms up as learning labs to provide Professional Development. We know that the most effective professional development is provided by teachers, to teachers. Change is always hard, but true to form, Greenville County teachers embraced the transition and have continued to move digital learning to new levels. Greenville recently authorized a personalized learning initiative, which will put a Chromebook in the hands of every student in grades 3-12. Ten schools received Chromebooks this year and another 25 will receive them next year. Full implementation for all students in grades 3-12 will be realized in 2019-2020. 

How has teaching and learning changed?

Jeff: Dramatic shifts in the teaching and learning process must occur if true digital learning is to be realized. The ‘personalized learning schools’ receive professional development in order to help teachers learn new ways of teaching in the digital age. There is a variety of professional development offered based on the needs and levels of the teachers. The goal is to continue to push teachers to the higher levels of technology integration and Greenville uses SAMR model to help teachers evaluate technology integration. While SAMR is focused on technology integration, as teachers move up the SAMR scale, the rigor of their lessons and content also increases to meet those higher levels of technology integration. We have seen a shift to Flipped Classroom models, project based learning and more hands-on, inquiry based learning as a result of the focus on personalized learning using engaging digital content. Greenville’s personalized learning vision is for instruction to be (1) paced to student learning needs, (2) tailored to the learning preferences of students (3) tailored to specific interests of different learners, and (4) co-designed by students to set learning goals, planning learning paths, tracking progress and demonstrating learning. While this vision for personalized learning is not yet realized fully in every classroom, as personalized learning spreads and teachers become more comfortable teaching in a digital world, we expect this vision to become more of a reality. 

CREDIT RTM Business Group, LLC.pngPersonalized Vision. Greenville’s personalized learning vision is for instruction to be:

(1) paced to student learning needs,

(2) tailored to the learning preferences of students

(3) tailored to specific interests of different learners, and

(4) co-designed by students to set learning goals, planning learning paths, tracking progress and demonstrating learning.

SOURCE: Jeff McCoy, Greenville County Schools

What was the catalyst for this transition to digital textbooks?

Jeff: Over the last several years, Gallup has released the student engagement poll. This poll conducted across the county reveals a disturbing trend. In the most recent poll, the percent of students engaged drops significantly from 5th grade (75 percent engaged) to 12th grade (34 percent engaged). This trend was one we saw in Greenville County 8-10 years ago as we struggled to keep pace with students who were immersed in a digital age. That began the transformation in our schools and classrooms. Engagement is still something we are focused on today. We want our students to be passionate about learning and we recognize that we have to engage them in the ways they learn best. The professional development that teachers get prior to implementing personalized learning through the district and Discovery Education is heavily focused on using best practice strategies that engage students through digital tools and content. We know academically that students who are more engaged in learning perform at higher levels than those disengaged. Dynamic Digital textbooks serve as a learning tool for students at a level that traditional textbooks cannot. The digital textbooks that Greenville County seeks to put in our classrooms are not only engaging for students, but also dynamic in the sense that they provide feedback as students learn. In the world of “digital textbooks” we quickly realized that we needed more than just a PDF of the traditional textbook. We wanted digital textbooks that would interact with the students and help them learn content at level a traditional textbook could not do. The Discovery Education Techbook series provide the type of resource that takes learning from a static experience to a more dynamic experience because of the way they are able to interact with it.

I understand the Greenville County Schools is part of a wave of South Carolina Schools making this digital transition. Can you describe this trend in South Carolina? 

Jeff: South Carolina as a whole is committed to the digital transition and several requirements are in place to ensure that happens by 2020. However, as this trend continues in South Carolina and across the country, it is important for school districts to develop their vision for their digital transitions. “Digital Textbook” is a buzzword currently that means everything from a PDF of the traditional textbook to an interactive textbook that is fully immersive and engaging. It is important for districts to understand exactly what they want and what will benefit their students the most. South Carolina is making great strides towards their digital transition and should be commended as one of the leaders in the country for this effort. It is up to the districts to refine that state vision to ensure that the needs of their students are being met and the best possible resources are being chosen to carry out the vision for their digital transformation. When a state decides to move this direction, great investments must be made in ensure that ALL districts and students have the bandwidth to access these digital tools. South Carolina has invested in upgrading bandwidth and closing the Digital Divide over the last several years. While we have a ways to go, we are heading in the right direction. 

What, in your opinion is driving the transition to dynamic digital learning environments in South Carolina?

Jeff: I believe a large part of it has to do with equity. Greenville has been a leader in technology and digital learning for many years alongside many other districts in our state and nation. However, other districts that may not have the resources were left behind in that digital transformation. I believe South Carolina believes that digital learning is beneficial for all students and a high quality education using the latest best practices should be afforded to every child regardless of zip code or circumstance of life. I commend the state for their focus on providing dollars and resources to help close the digital divide for districts and students. We must not rest on those achievements, but continue to push forward until that Digital Divide ceases to exist. For Greenville, set in the heart of big business and industry, the transition is also being driven by companies and parents. Most people today recognize that regardless of the career students choose for their life, technology is going to be a huge part of their job. While we certainly teach students the basics, we now have to teach them how to interact with technology in a productive manner to accomplish tasks and be successful. These soft skills are necessary for success and something our business community needs in the workers they hire. South Carolina has led this focus on soft skills through TransformSC ( TransformSC released the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate, which defines what students today need to have in order to be successful. TransformSC is a network of 55 schools and 23 districts focused on transforming public education. Immersing students into a dynamic digital learning environment is one of the ways we can engage students and prepare them for the world they will not only live in, but also work in every day. I believe the incredible network of district leaders across the state is driving the digital transformation we are now experiencing.

How can state and local policymakers better support school districts like yours as you make the digital transition?

Jeff: State and local policymakers have a vested interest in making sure students receive the best possible education. In the world we live in today, we battle engaging students because of the digital world they live in. We as educators and state and local policymakers must realize that we are no longer educating students in the factory model where every child receives the same education. Digital learning has the ability to personalize learning for students in a way that has never been possible before. This incredible opportunity allows students to pursue their passions and interests so they are ready to enter into a career and/or college when they graduate from school. If our job as educators is to prepare students for future careers, we must do so in the environment they are going to be immersed in every day. Providing students with real world experiences, dynamic digital content and a wealth of digital resources will prepare them for success in their future. Digital resources and digital textbooks are not cheap. When making the decision to transition to a digital learning environment, money must be budgeted. State and local policymakers can help by providing resources to school districts. Sadly, too often public education is not funded at the levels needed which ultimately short changes our students.

Do you have any advice for school leaders seeking to make this transition in their own districts?

Jeff: Network and research! Reach out to those who have already done it and learn from their mistakes and successes. When Greenville began their transition ten years ago, few districts were making the transition and it was hard to find those districts to network with around digital transformation. Today, networks are set up all over the country and there are organizations that specifically exist to help districts network and learn from each other. I belong to the RTM Business Group, which puts on the K12 Congress for Chief Academic Officers and Chief Information Officers two times a year. I network with the brightest minds across the country and learn from them every time we are together. This network has been invaluable for me as a leader in my district. Bringing together the Academic and Technology departments together is critical for success. Both must understand the vision and work together to ensure that the vision is being carried out. There has to be a deep level of collaboration across all district departments for a meaningful and successful transition to occur. This transition must also start from the top. The district leadership team must be the drivers of the digital transformation. Our Superintendent not only supports personalized learning and the digital transformation, but is actively involved in ensuring its success. All members of our executive team understand what we are doing and why we are doing it. Having this common vision is critical. Our Board of Trustees is also fully supportive of our transformation, which is another critical factor for success. We rely on them to allocate resources to ensure we can implement at the level needed and they support us on multiple fronts to ensure success.

What in your opinion from what you have observed, is the overall state of education in America? 

Jeff: I am fortunate to work with some of the most talented teachers and administrators in the country. Because of my work with the K12 Congress, I’m amazed every time I meet with my colleagues around the country. I’m encouraged by the incredible work they are doing to educate and prepare students for future college and careers. Many times, they are doing this in spite of political undermining of public education. Public education is many times caught up in politics when in actuality, regardless of politics, our country should recognize that education is the key to our future success. I’m encouraged in my work around the country because I don’t see the sad state of education that opponents of public education like to paint. While those cases certainly exist, I see teachers working hard every day to educate students so they have the best possible chance at life. I see district and school leadership implementing innovative strategies and learning models that pull those students about to drop out back into the classroom. I see business and community leaders invested in their schools, supporting their schools, and playing an active role in the education of students. Regardless of whether they have children or not, they recognize that educating children is what preserves our future. Do we have a lot of work to do in education? Absolutely. We have to fight until every child has a high quality education regardless of where they live. Your zip code should never determine your success. Providing students with a high-quality education should be a moral imperative for every citizen in our country. High-quality education comes with a price and our politicians make education funding a priority if we are going to remain on top as a global leader.

What opportunity does technology represent in not merely digitizing, but transforming the learning experience?

Jeff: Some of my colleagues will disagree with this statement, but technology has made wide-scale personalized learning possible. While personalized learning is possible without technology, it’s not possible (in my opinion) with the number of students assigned to teachers without the use of technology. There are various types of digital learning around the country. Everything from blended learning, flipped classrooms, and personalized learning exists in various forms. Regardless of the type of digital learning a district is implementing, the critical component is having a vision for how the technology is being used. Unfortunately, in the early days of “one-to-one” initiatives, devices were handed out with little training and no real vision for what to do with the devices. Technology integration models and frameworks like SAMR help educators understand and evolve with technology integration. While it’s acceptable in the first few months or year for teachers to stay on the substitution level while they learn, leaders must provide support to help move them to the higher levels of transformational integration. Ideally, you want the technology to be a transformational tool, but without proper training and support, it will simply be an expensive substitution to traditional methods. Technology has the ability to help transform learning, but it is important to realize it is simply a tool. The real power in transformational learning occurs with the teacher and their ability to engage students and provide them with high quality, rigorous instruction.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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