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Creating a Visitor Management System

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Creating a Visitor Management System

5 steps to fortify your schools’ safety. By Jim Vesterman

In America today, more than 80 percent of schools use pencil and paper to track visitors entering school buildings. In practice, this is the equivalent of leaving the back door open to the public.

Pencil-and-paper tracking has several inherent flaws. At the most basic level, nothing compels an individual to write down his or her real name.  Even if the person does write the correct name (and you can read it), that doesn’t tell you anything else about that individual and his or her suitability for entering the building. Pencil-and-paper sign-in sheets are also nearly useless in emergency evacuations and they don’t allow for reporting at the district level. 

Schools and districts are realizing that in today’s environment, enhanced security measures are a necessity. In response to the need to track and screen visitors, a growing number of schools are using visitor management systems. These systems provide an easy way to track visitors and identify potential threats, contributing to a safe learning environment for students, faculty, and staff. Some systems even have the ability to instantly screen entrants against a national database of sex offenders, as well as against a custom alert database for child custody issues.

Consider the following tips when selecting and implementing a visitor management system.

Create a Single Public Entrance

Establishing a single point of entry ensures that all visitors check in before going any further into the school building. Maintain a uniform check-in process in all district buildings and ensure that staff, as well as the school community, are aware of proper procedures.

Have Visitors Produce a Valid Photo ID

Your visitor management system should require visitors to present a valid photo ID. This ID will allow the school to confirm identity. For privacy purposes, schools should use systems whose scanners collect only the data necessary for screening and do not keep a photocopy of the ID. This scanning is quicker than manually entering the information and reduces the risk that information will be entered incorrectly. If the system is web-based, it will allow users and emergency personnel the ability to see who is in the building even in the event of an evacuation or other emergency that cuts off physical access.

Print Badges

Districts that utilize pencil-and-paper sign-in sheets usually present visitors with badges to show they have been granted access to the school. However, those badges are often lost or simply not returned, and they generally don’t contain proper visitor information. Printed badges should include the individual’s photo (so that the badge can’t be used by another person), and the name, date, and destination/purpose for the visit, all of which help school officials confirm identities and spot potential threats if visitors are not in their designated area.

Instant and Automatic Screening

An important requirement when selecting a visitor management system is that it be able to check instantly and automatically against the sex offender databases for all 50 states. If the check is not instant and automatic, it more likely than not will be skipped. Beyond that, look for systems that let users develop custom alert lists. This is especially beneficial when there are custody issues involving a student. Custody issues can have huge financial implications for schools. For example, a California district was held responsible for releasing a student to a non-custodial adult who subsequently kidnapped the student. The district was required to pay $2.8 million in damages.

Communicate With the School Community

Changes in procedure or policy are often met with resistance. Take time to introduce your staff to the system and be sure that they understand the proper procedure for admitting visitors. Involve parents in the process from the beginning by sending out parent communications, and listen to any concerns that parents may have. Send a letter letting the school community know that a new process is being implemented, when they can expect it to begin, and what they will now need to do when visiting the school. Posting signage around school entrances is another good way to inform visitors of proper procedures. This creates an atmosphere that deters potential threats from even attempting to enter school buildings.

Jim Vesterman is the CEO of Raptor Technologies, which provides visitor management technologies to over 12,000 K-12 schools. You can learn more about the benefits of visitor management systems in this free whitepaper.

Image: JLP/Jose Luis Pelaez/Corbis/Media Bakery

Remembering the Holocaust

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Remembering the Holocaust

Teachers visit Auschwitz, bring back messages from survivors.
By Soljane Martinez-Quiles

On January 27, exactly 70 years to the day of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, I sat outside the Death Gate of Auschwitz-Birkenau, along with 23 fellow educators from across the globe, 300 Holocaust survivors, and thousands of guests and world leaders. We were commemorating the resilience and strength of the men and women who beat the odds and purpose of the camp by living—and who want to ensure that the world never sees another Holocaust.

Roman Kent, now 86, was just 10 years old in 1939 when the Nazis invaded his birth country of Poland. Kent was sent to Auschwitz and survived. His remarks at the commemoration resonated with the teachers in attendance.

“We the survivors share a common bond with the current generation ... and hopefully with our future generation. We do not want our past to be our children’s future. I hope and believe that this generation will build in mankind’s great traditions, tempered by understanding that these traditions must embrace pluralism and tolerance, decency and human rights for all people.”

The 24 teachers present at the commemoration were there as part of Auschwitz: The Past Is Present, a program funded by the USC Shoah Foundation and Discovery Education. We were chosen for our teachings on the Holocaust but also for our commitment to bring what we learned from this experience back to our students, our schools, and our communities.

When we arrived, I almost expected the tower and gate to be in black and white. However, the commemoration celebrated the light, the survival, and the rebuilding of lives that came from it, despite its original intention.

Most of the living survivors are now quite frail, in their late 80s and early 90s. Ten years ago, there were about 1,500 survivors present for the commemoration. This year, just 300 attended. Each year, the number of Holocaust survivors diminishes.

One of these survivors, who managed to make the trip from Newark, New Jersey, along with his wife and granddaughter, was Manny Buchman. When I asked him what message he would like teachers to bring back to their students, he said, “Love everyone.”

Buchman and his wife, Irene, were born in Hungary, kindergarten classmates and childhood friends. They were in their teens when war broke out and lost touch with each other. Buchman ended up in Mauthausen labor camp and Irene was a prisoner at Auschwitz.

The day before the commemoration, they returned to Auschwitz. Irene could not bear to walk into the barracks where the Nazis had once enslaved her. Manny went in for her. He bit his trembling lip remembering the experience and said revisiting that place was “not good.”

Although it’s been several weeks since our return from Poland, I’m still processing the experience—the people I met, the places I visited, and the history I learned firsthand. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with emotion when remembering parts of our trip, like our walk through Auschwitz—the rooms filled with the suitcases and shoes of those who did not make it out of the gates or spending a solitary moment at the bunker that still holds the remains of the brave resistance fighters of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

The teachers who participated in Auschwitz: The Past Is Present took part in workshops and museum and memorial site visits to promote a deeper understanding of 20th century history and its continuing relevance. The program helped hone our digital literacy and critical thinking skills using real-world applications and audiovisual testimony, which we will use in our own classrooms to inspire action against racism, intolerance, and prejudice and the suffering they cause.

Soljane Martinez-Quiles teaches social studies at Highlander Charter Middle/High School in Warren, Rhode Island. She has captured how this journey impacted her through her blog, SolinPoland.blogspot.com.

Image: ANDRZEJ GRYGIEL/PAP Photos/Photoshot/Newscom
Unidentified former prisoners at the former Nazi-German concentration camp Auschwitz I, before laying flowers at the so-called Death Wall as part of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi-German concentration and extermination camp KL Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Oswiecim, Poland, 27 January 2015.

Spring's Best Books, Blogs, and Ideas for Educators

Spring's Best Books, Blogs, and Ideas for Educators

Our latest recommended reads and education blogs. By Chris Borris

3 Worthy Reads

Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools
by Ron Ritchhart.
Harness the forces of routines, expectations, language, and more to bring out the best in students and schools.

Thank You for Your Leadership: The Power of Distributed Leadership in a Digital Conversion Model by Mark A. Edwards. The much-lauded head of Mooresville GSD (NC) shares ideas on digital conversion initiatives in K–12 districts.

Go Blended! A Handbook for Building Technology in Schools by Liz Arney. A director of innovative learning at Aspire charters gives tips for implementing a blended learning program.

Edu Blogs

Digital disruption and a push for real-world learning on your to-do list? These blogs talk about how best to do those things. Plus, some great science curriculum boosters.

This and That. With insight and humor, Arizona tech director Jon Castelhano delves into subjects like digital disruption and textbooks, and robots versus humans.

ScienceFix. Boost your middle school science curriculum with this site featuring lessons and video demos by a self-described “science and technology nerd.”

Principally Speaking. A Missouri director of technology and innovation wants to talk about the crippling semantics of PD, transferring skills, and more.

Blogger/Author-to-Be Question: What would your topic be?

"I would love to write a blog focused on teacher training and development. Teacher behaviors and classroom instruction are significant—and some of the strongest—­factors in students’ academic success. Today’s system sometimes mistakes certification for qualification, but completing a certification isn’t enough—teachers should receive training support from their school systems on an ongoing basis. Investing in our teachers goes beyond the classroom, too. Today’s teachers are tomorrow’s school leaders. Building a pipeline to identify those potential leaders and giving them the training and support to succeed as leaders is critical."
—Renee A. Foose, superintendent, Howard County (MD) Public School System

"If I were going to start a blog, it would be about the art of change management. I often find myself working in this in-between place that requires both speed and accuracy and collaboration and patience. In my position, the challenge of the work is the balance between the new rate of innovation and the rate at which people can accept and adapt to change. If an organization spends all its energy on the laggards, we will never realize the growth and power that comes from the majority. It’s the early majority that will help force the change and move the organization over the hump."
—Ryan Imbriale, executive director, Department of Digital Learning, Baltimore County (MD) Public Schools

Interview with Carmen Fariña

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Interview with Carmen Fariña

The NYC schools chancellor on testing, recentralizing control, and tech initiatives. By Alexander Russo

It’s been a little more than a year since Chancellor Carmen Fariña took over as head of the New York City Public Schools. Appointed by incoming mayor Bill de Blasio, the longtime educator came out of retirement to accept the job and has thus far avoided stepping into one of the many political and logistical sinkholes that make district leadership so challenging.

Looking back on a frenetic first year, Fariña talks about recentralizing control under regional superintendents, addressing parents’ concerns about overtesting, encouraging more sharing of ideas among teachers and schools, and avoiding ed-tech mishaps like Los Angeles Unified School District’s iPad debacle.

Q | What’s your favorite part of the job, besides visiting schools?
A | This is my 49th year as an educator in this system, and I love being able to take everything I’ve learned—from my own experiences as well as my interactions with other educators, parents, and students—and turn it into priorities and policies that serve our students. Another favorite part of my job is meeting with stakeholders. I deeply value my parent meetings, teacher meetings, principal meetings, and superintendent meetings.

Q | What changes have you implemented since you took over a year ago—and what else are you planning?
A | There’s a renewed emphasis on collaboration over competition; a real mutual respect and positive working relationship with the principals and teachers who are educating our students; and a focus on understanding and meeting the whole needs of students and families, both in and out of the classroom.

| What specific district successes and accomplishments have occurred in recent months?
A | We have more than 53,000 students in full-day, high-quality PreK—more than double last year. We launched the largest expansion of after-school programs for sixth to eighth graders in New York City’s history. We also established a separate Department of English Language Learners and Student Support, and I recently announced that 40 new dual-language programs will open across the city in September 2015. Our new Learning Partners Program and Showcase Schools initiatives are bringing together teachers and schools from across the city to work with, and learn from, one another—these are programs that really underscore the importance of collaboration and innovation in our system.

Q | How have you addressed parent and teacher concerns about overtesting and too much class time spent on test preparation during the year?
| We have stressed that good, rigorous teaching is the best test preparation for our students. We have encouraged additional vocabulary work in every academic area to prepare for tests, and we changed the promotional criteria from being solely based on a test score to a more balanced approach. Life is full of challenges, and I think this commonsense approach works best.

Q | What’s the new division of responsibilities among school principals and district superintendents that you are moving toward, in terms of budgets, programs, and hiring?
A | I recently announced a new structure streamlining support and supervision, which will heighten accountability, especially for our most struggling schools. Beginning in the fall of 2015, superintendents will support and supervise schools, period. However, principals will retain control over their budgets, curriculum, and hires. These are the crucial levers of management.

Q | How has New York City thus far avoided the ed-tech deployment mishaps that have plagued other big-city school systems like LAUSD?
A | Our approach to technology is the same as it is for everything else: Does this benefit the students? Does it improve learning? That’s how we make our decisions, and I think it’s going to help us continue to use technology in positive, educationally beneficial ways.

Q | Can you change the pattern of some schools having all-star faculties of experienced, highly credentialed (and more expensive) teachers, and other schools having lots of rookies and subs?
A | We now have 80 additional minutes of professional development each week for every teacher in the city, plus numerous trainings and sessions that hardworking teachers are signing up for because they want to improve their craft. I also believe that the spirit of collaboration over competition can take us a long way, as teachers have so much to learn from one another, whether it’s speaking with colleagues at their own school or visiting other schools with strong practices through our Learning Partners and Showcase Schools programs. I am also amazed by the work teachers are doing—whether serving students with high needs or lower needs—at schools where there is a high level of trust.

| How much further can New York City schools go toward reducing out-of-school suspensions and other disciplinary measures without eroding school safety?
| We have a ways to go to preserve school safety while being fairer about school discipline. We can reduce ineffective suspensions and keep schools safe. But this is something we want to do right—that’s why we’re developing discipline policy reforms that work better for our students and families. We are also investing in many restorative approaches that teachers can use to increase positive classroom management and de-escalate [tense] situations.

Q | What myths or misunderstandings do parents and the public have about New York City public schools?
A | My goal is to make sure that all families in our system feel welcome and invited into their school buildings. And for parents who may not speak English as their first language, I want to make sure that they are directly encouraged to become involved in their child’s education and make a difference in their school district.    

6 Fast Facts About Chancellor Fariña

• Generally perceived as a friend to teachers, Fariña replaced 80 percent of the teachers at P.S. 6 in Manhattan when she was principal there.

• Fariña retired from the DOE in 2006: initially she said she wasn’t interested in being chancellor.

• She's from Spain—not Puerto Rico or Mexico, as many assume.

• Fariña met Mayor de Blasio when he was serving on a community school board and she was a principal.

• While many big-city systems are now run by non-educators (like her predecessor, Joel Klein), Fariña is a career teacher and administrator.

• The new standards and tests have been controversial in New York, but Fariña is a Common Core supporter.

Source: Adapted from "9 Things You Should Know About Carmen Fariña" (Huffington Post)

Image: Bryan Thomas/The New York Times/Redux

Working Together: A Recipe for PARCC Success

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Working Together: A Recipe for PARCC Success

Illinois school district approaches new testing system with an “all skills on deck” approach. By R.J. Gravel

This spring, districts throughout the nation will embark on the first major wave of revised high-stakes assessments. Our industry is seeing a drastic shift from traditional testing to significantly enhanced, interactive assessments that leverage technology.

As schools prepare to implement these new digital assessments and testing platforms, there are many questions about the roles and responsibilities of staff members. With traditional testing, a small group of building leaders and assessment coordinators oversaw the exams; however, today’s testing system requires a much larger group of individuals to collaborate to ensure a successful experience.

Educating Your School Community

To successfully implement a system, it is important to understand the structure of the assessment. However, many of the rules and conditions that govern a student’s testing experience are still being defined. This is further complicated by the reality that many state education boards have joined to create two sets of rules: nationwide norms and state-specific addendums.

To ensure each school understands testing protocol, assessment consortiums, software developers, and state education boards have established a series of communication channels via e-mail and website postings. As new information is released, notices are transmitted to district superintendents and should be reviewed by all individuals responsible for coordinating the assessment process, including building technology coordinators and student information system managers. It is also important to provide a summary of relevant information to educators who will be serving as test administrators. At Johnsburg School District 12 in Illinois, we are implementing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests. We provide assessment updates at school board presentations and in bi-weekly newsletters to teachers. 

It is important to remember that while publishers and state agencies provide information on the assessments, the best communication comes straight from local school leaders. Use these assessments as an opportunity to develop a communication plan that balances electronic messages with face-to-face dialogue and training sessions. At Johnsburg, we developed a PARCC planning and preparation series that includes a test administrator training session.

Preparing for Students of All Abilities

Identifying and providing accommodations to ensure each student has an equal opportunity on state assessments is not a new concept. As the roster of accommodations is substantially updated, it is important that all faculty members—not just those working in support settings—understand available accommodations. Members of the special education and student services team need to work closely with building and teacher leaders to guarantee that individual student plans are updated to reflect the support available to students.

Continuous Communication

As we transition to a computer-based testing environment, a substantial amount of the responsibility resides in the domain of technology support personnel. The role of technology professionals is crucial to ensuring a successful testing experience, including safeguarding the local area network, designating testing rooms, and providing a sufficient number of devices (and back-up devices) for each student.

It is crucial that school technology teams be included in all of the communication related to test procedures, local testing schedules, and student groupings. For instance, if a student with a visual impairment requires screen magnification software, the testing room must be supplied with this tool. For this, technology support personnel should review the roster of students to ensure they have provided all necessary accommodations. Additionally, advanced technology support staff should be available to assist with issues that arise during the test administration. In our district, we will have up to three schools and 18 classrooms testing at a single time. Continuous communication between technology support personnel and building leaders will ensure that everything is ready to go on testing day.

Moving Forward

As districts move forward with implementing the Common Core State Standards, we know that challenges are inevitable. However, creating a culture of collaboration among school leaders, technology professionals, and student information system software providers, such as Skyward, will put us in the best position to support our students as we embark on this new challenge. The face of state assessment is changing, and we have the opportunity to affect its outcome. Let’s work together, share our experiences, and be part of the future.

R. J. Gravel, @rjgravel, is the director of instructional technology for Johnsburg School District 12 in Illinois. He is a nominee for the 2015 Illinois Computing Educators’ Educator of the Year award.

Image: Jose Pelaez/Corbis/Media Bakery

Here Come the Chromebooks

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Tablets used to reign as schools’ top hardware choice. But Google’s low-cost laptops are cutting into Apple’s share of the education market.
By Michelle R. Davis

The iPad implosion in the Los Angeles Unified School District may have been the first sign of real rouble. But there had long been grumblings about the Apple table not playing nicely with other software and costing nearly twice as much as some alternatives.

Enter the keyboard-based Chromebook as challenger in the race for dominant digital device in K-12 schools. With its simplified technology management and a suite of Google tools and apps designed for students and teachers, the Chromebook is starting to draw market share away from the iPad.

Chromebooks can sell for as little as $150, while iPads can be several hundred dollars more. The Chromebook also has a keyboard, crucial for meeting Common Core testing requirements,and provides automatic operating system updates.

All of these factors combine to make Chromebooks attractive to schools and districts, says Douglas Levin, former executive director for the State Educational Technology Directors Association. “Apple was a little bit challenged in providing those types of tools because the iPad was built first for personal use and not for enterprise use—either business or school,” he says. “Apple has since developed powerful tools, but Chromebooks were built for that type of use from the ground up.”

Despite its benefits, the Chromebook does face obstacles, including the perception that the iPad and other touch-screen tablets do a better job of encouraging students' creativity and curiosity. Additional issues are student data privacy concerns with Google software and districts’ disappointing experiences with a previous round of low-cost laptops known as netbooks.

Catching Up to the iPad

As of 2013, Chromebooks had 20 percent of education’s mobile computing device market, compared to iPad's 40 percent. But Chromebook sales have increased sharply since then, creating competition for iPads, which previously competed mainly with traditional laptops that cost more or lacked necessary computing power.

Apple claimed 85 percent of the U.S. education market for tablets last summer, but during the third quarter of 2014, about 715,500 Chromebooks were shipped to K12 schools, compared with 702,000 iPads, says Rajani Singh, a senior research analyst for the International Data Corporation, a market analysis company. “Chromebooks as a product category have become the hottest-selling device [for schools],” a first for the Google-centered technologies, she says.

It’s hard to compare school sales of the devices, since iPads are made only by Apple, while Chromebooks are produced and sold by a variety of companies, including Samsung, HP, Dell, and Acer. And iPads are much more popular than Chromebooks outside of education settings. Only about 20 percent of iPads are sold to schools, while 75 percent of Chromebooks sold wind up in classrooms, Singh said.

A “One-Stop Shop”

In the spacious cyber café at Kennedy Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina, students might sit on wooden benches hunched over their Chromebooks or balance on inflatable blue exercise balls as they tap away on keyboards. The low-income school launched a one-to-one Chromebook initiative this year.

Those same students might also experiment with iPads mounted on tables in the cyber café, or use a PC or a different tablet in class.

Like many schools, Kennedy, which is part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, has a variety of devices for students to use, but the Chromebook is dominant: The school has 720 Chromebooks, about 50 iPads, and a scattering of personal computers and Samsung tablets.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg is in the process of implementing a district-wide middle school one-to-one Chromebook initiative with nearly 33,000 devices. Price—each Chromebook cost about $220—was important, says Valerie Truesdale, the district’s chief of technology, personalization, and engagement. “It was a huge factor,” she says, noting that iPads cost $369 per device.

For Kennedy principal Kevin Sudimack, there are other benefits to Chromebooks, which run on Google’s Chrome operating system and host apps and data storage in the cloud. The whole system, which updates automatically, creates a “kind of one-stop shop,” he says. Students get access to Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and a host of other free tools and apps. Last year, Google began offering unlimited storage for students and educators, and in 2013, the company introduced Google Play for Education to give students better access to Chrome and Android educational games and apps. The cloud-based platform allows students to access their work from home, even though they are not yet permitted to take their devices out of school, Sudimack says.

Kyle Pace, an instructional technology specialist at Lee's Summit R-7 School District in Missouri, says his district, which has purchased 7,000 Chromebooks, likes the machine for many of the same reasons. “The biggest thing is the seamless integration with all of the Google applications. The management of them is just so easy.”

Integration Versus Creativity

From an IT perspective, Chromebooks are easy to manage, says Bob Jensen, the director of assessment, technology, and information services at Sioux Falls School District. The South Dakota district runs a one-to-one Chromebook initiative in grades 3-12, with about 24,000 devices. For younger students, the district offers iPads—about 3,000 of them, says Jensen.

From his office, Jensen can do things like push out specific apps soley to seventh graders (although that feature costs extra, a one-time license of $30 per device). For similar iPad management, Jensen had to purchase outside software, and it doesn’t always work seamlessly, he notes. Jensen also likes the automatic operating system updates from Google; during district and state testing time, he has the ability to freeze the updates.

But Jensen and others say there are things that iPads just do better. Until recently, for example, Chromebooks had no touch screen, a feature that's particularly important at lower grade levels, where most students aren’t adept with a keyboard.

Other educators point to increased creativity with iPads, particularly with video. Eric J. Chagala, principal at Vista Innovation and Design Academy, a grade 6-8 magnet school in California’s Vista Unified School District, says that unlike Chromebook cameras, the iPad camera can face toward or away from the user to shoot video, and the tablets are more portable. And editing apps like iMovie allow students to be more imaginative. For now, most of the Google apps “are not as creative and there are not as many options,” he says.

Security and Privacy Concerns

Google has had to face hard questions about the privacy and security of student data collected through its Apps for Education. Just this month, Google belatedly signed on to President Barack Obama’s “Student Privacy Pledge” to safeguard student information, after initially declining to officially support it. Apple and Microsoft signed up immediately.

Privacy and student data issues continue to be a concern for educators. Last year, Google’s admission that it data-mined student e-mails in a way that could be used for targeted advertising gave some educators pause. The company has since discontinued that practice and created an Education Trust website detailing company policies on education data protection, data ownership, and advertising.

The Chromebook’s reliance on the cloud is also a concern, Jensen says. Educators in the Sioux Falls district are barred from saving sensitive student information in the cloud. “If you’re using Google Docs and trying to store student names and I.D. numbers, that’s a no-no,” he says.

Even as Chromebooks increase their school market share, then, more traditional laptops, tablets, or even PCs will continue to capture a good portion of the market, says Sudimack, the Kennedy Middle School principal. Despite the one-to-one Chromebook initiative at his school, he’s made it a priority for students to access a wide range of devices and technologies.

“We’ve got to expose children to multiple platforms, so they’ll know how to use the iPad or iOS,” he explains. “We’re being intentional about using different platforms so we’re not so Google-heavy.”

Playing Nice

Where is the iPad situated among tablets in the education market? Five years after they were introduced, iPads are no longer as distinctive as they once were when it comes to what they can do or how well they can do it—especially when compared with hybrid laptop/tablets like Microsoft’s Surface Pro, e-readers like Amazon’s Fire HD Kids Edition, or even smartphones like the iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S5.

And then there are the touch-screen Chromebooks that are in the works. In January, HP unveiled a touch-screen Chromebook that retails for under $450, and Acer has said it has one coming out, too.

In the meantime, the iPad and Chromebook are starting to interact a bit more effortlessly, says Patrick Larkin, assistant superintendent of Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts, which has a one-to-one iPad initiative. Burlington is a Google Apps for Education district, using Google apps offered through the iPad. “The Google environment plays a lot nicer with the iPad environment now,” he says.

Image: Tom Wang/Shutterstock

CoSN’s 2015 Team Winner: Henrico County Public Schools

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CoSN’s 2015 Team Winner: Henrico County Public Schools

Fourteen years after first handing out laptops to students, this district continues to lead. By Caralee Adams

The fifth graders in Ellen Beane’s class at Sandston Elementary School in Virginia are scattered throughout the room, on the floor and at desks, working with an iPad in pairs to do a math activity about elapsed time.

“Focus, focus,” says Louis to his partner, D’Anthony, as both boys giggle. While one uses an app with the word problem, the other toggles between an app with an interactive clock and an app with a whiteboard to do his work. D’Anthony solves the problem and Louis enters the answer. On the iPad screen good work and a check mark reward the duo.

This scene is typical of how kids learn in Beane’s classroom. She spends less than an hour a day in whole-group instruction, preferring instead to customize activities for students to do in small, fluid groups. This past fall, Beane’s students used their devices to create digital portfolios for student-led conferences with parents.

“It’s like a magician’s briefcase that keeps opening up new opportunities. It’s their dictionary, atlas, encyclopedia,” Beane says of the tablets issued to the students as a pilot last year. “It opens up opportunities for these children that would otherwise be impossible.”

Sandston Elementary is part of Henrico County Public Schools, winner of the 2015 Team Award to be presented in March by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

Henrico was the one of the first districts in the country to launch a major one-to-one initiative in 2001. Each student in grades 6–12 receives a laptop; last year, the district began to experiment with giving PCs to some students in third to fifth grades at Sandston. The 50,000-student district curves around the city of Richmond. It has a diverse population—40 percent of which is low-income—and technology is viewed as a tool to help level the playing field.

Now, the district is being recognized for continuing to innovate and build out a system that put students at the center of learning to prepare them for the increasingly digitally connected world.

“Henrico has been intently focused on identifying rubrics for defining 21st-century skills, implementing it countywide, and developing an accountability process to change instruction in the classroom,” says Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive officer.

It was 14 years ago that then-superintendent Mark Edwards led the district in its big splash with devices for secondary students. The well-respected technology leader has since moved to Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina, where he has garnered numerous awards, including the CoSN Team Award in 2013.

The remaining technology team in Henrico continues to push forward, they say, because students, teachers, and parents have come to expect it.

There is no turning back, says Debra Adams Roethke, assistant director of Instructional technology, who has been with the district for 27 years and was part of the original 1:1 rollout. While some in the district didn’t know what a laptop was 14 years ago, cell phones and computers are now ubiquitous at Henrico.

“Everything keeps progressing at such a rapid pace,” says Roethke. “It’s the world of kids, so we have to go where they are.”

Using technology in the district is connecting teachers and students, and making the world one big classroom, says Kourtney Bostain, educational specialist for instructional technology in the district’s high schools.

“[W]e are doing a disservice to [students] if we are not leveraging modern tools in the classroom and really equipping [them] with the skills they are going to need to be successful outside of school,” Bostain says. The district is committed to integrating technology in the schools for the long term and that has helped keep the momentum going and empowered a diverse group to own the teaching process.

Developing a Common Language

Henrico’s laser focus on developing 21st-century skills provided a framework for teaching and technology. To prepare students in four areas—research and information fluency, critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, and creativity and innovation—the district adopted a common instructional vision called TIPC, or Teaching Innovation/Integration Progression Chart.

A year in the making, TIPC has categories that include an overview of skills covered and expectations of students and teachers in each area. The rubric ranges from “entry” (student-driven instruction) to “ideal” (student-centered, teacher-facilitated) with the aim of becoming a 21st-century classroom with engaged, student-led learning.

“It’s been the introduction of the common language around TIPC that’s really allowed us to sustain over time,” says Katie Owens, educational specialist for instructional technology at the middle school level in Henrico. Through new initiatives and changes in superintendents, TIPC has been the fallback and document that guides all district activities, she says.

Building Community and Highlighting Success

Along with the instructional rubric, the county launched an online repository to swap best practices. Henrico 21 has 1,200 teacher-created projects and lessons that span all content areas and grades. Through this portal, the district is both honoring teachers’ work and providing a useful exchange platform for ideas, says Roethke.

The instructional technology team launched Student 21 in 2010 so students could post and share their work with one another, their parents, and the community. Going beyond the 1,000 items on the website, the country developed a competition to recognize the most innovative work. Each spring, winners are honored at a ceremony and the best student work displayed. The event has featured 3D printing and robotics demonstrations, gaming displays, and even a photo booth.

“That was an attempt to build community and raises awareness,” says Bostain. “It celebrates and helps everyone involved to see why we are doing this. The kids really shine at that event. It’s another outlet. We have sports and awards…this is another opportunity reach students.”

Keeping Everyone Up to Speed

Over time, the technology team says there have been lessons learned with professional development. Among them: “Lead with the skill, not the tool,” says Bostain. Although the equipment can be exciting, the real impact cannot be realized unless the focus is on quality instruction and training that accompanies the device.

Considerable staff turnover in the past two years has provided “fresh blood” and reenergized the technology team with new ideas, says Jon Wirsing, who works with the elementary schools as an educational specialist for instructional technology. “It’s not all been a bed of roses. We’ve had failures,” he says, noting that the team has collectively reviewed missteps but adapted and recovered.

Initially, it was all about the technology and computers, Roethke says. The team revamped its approach to training to revolve around creating a 21st-century classroom. At one point, they tried to take technology out of the framework for teaching, but that was a mistake, Roethke admits. Finally, a balanced approach of student-centered learning, technology, and content knowledge skills emerged and became the foundation for their model.

While there are still some large whole-group training sessions, smaller group PD and individual coaching have become more common. Job-embedded and consistent PD customized to the teachers’ needs has worked best, says Bostain.

Henrico technology experts help teachers work through new processes in small, scaffolded steps, notes Owens. The key: “Being patient,” she says. “Understanding what they want to accomplish…and build on success after each accomplishment.”

Leveraging Technology to Build Achievement

Henrico is continually working to improve instruction and innovative classroom practices, yet it has been difficult to show connections between the district’s progress with technology and student achievement.

While there was variation by school, overall, students’ scores dropped on the recent round of testing on the Virginia Standards of Learning. Henrico was not alone, however, as the commonwealth has changed its standards and made the test more rigorous, district officials note.

CoSN’s Krueger raises the question of whether the tests are measuring the 21st-century skills, such as creativity and collaboration, which Henrico is emphasizing. “Those are unlikely to be reflected in traditional, high-stakes tests,” he says.

Even if the scores don’t demonstrate it, Roethke says, students are learning more and the excitement in the classroom is apparent. Teachers have green signs on their doors when visitors are welcome for peer observation, and the culture of sharing best practices is spreading.

Using the testing data on specific areas where students are falling short, the district is trying to zero in on PD for teachers to address those deficits.

Student-centered learning is taking hold and each day kids are aware of their individual goals. In the elementary school, there are statements that start with “I can…” posted in the classrooms as a daily reminder of the academic expectations.

In a seventh-grade Spanish class at Short Pump Middle School in Glen Allen, teacher Patrick Wininger moves through the classroom checking in on students as they work through a lesson on their laptops at their own pace. Contemporary Latin music provides soft background noise.

Wininger says the technology allows the students to be more creative, for instance, allowing them to create a digital storybook using a website about the things they do and don’t like to do.

“We can get a lot more specific. It is a lot more real-world solutions than just a simple test,” Wininger says. “I want them to be able to use what they are learning, not just learn stuff. The computers enable us to do that and everyone is equal in that regard—everybody has the same resources and opportunity.”

2015 CoSN Team Award
Merit Award: District of Columbia Public Schools, Washington D.C.: Given in recognition of DCPS’ successes as a large, urban district that is working to overcome significant socioeconomic barriers.

Merit Award: Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, Texas: Honored for demonstrating an exceptional commitment to district infrastructure.

CoSN’s 2015 Withrow Award: Vince Scheivert

The chief information officer in Albemarle County PS aims to bring connectivity to each student’s home. 

As a teacher turned technology guru, Vince Scheivert is combining his expertise in the classroom with his passion for technology as chief information officer in the 14,000-student district in central Virginia.

His goal is to empower all students to have access to the latest tools they need to be successful—both at home and at school. To that end, Scheivert has advocated for a broadband, wireless network that will make high-speed Internet access available for free to students at home in his 768-square-mile county. The equipment has been field-tested and the rollout began this year.

“We always talk about providing a 21st-century learning environment. Well, it’s 15 years into the 21st century, I think our aspirations should be a little bit further. That’s what drives me,” says Scheivert, who has been with the district for 12 years and CIO for four. “If we know there is a better way, we should be pushing for it.”

In addition to universal online access, Scheivert is also overseeing a new 1:1 initiative where all students in grades 6–12 will receive a learning device to use at school and at home next year.

“You have to be willing to do something different,” says Scheivert. “You have to know you are making the right decision, and when you are making a decision that’s in the best interest of kids, you are doing it.”

Through his efforts, Scheivert is trying to eliminate the digital divide and live up to the plaque on his superintendent’s desk that reads all means all.

Image: Chris Adams 

Reversing the Teacher Dropout Problem

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Reversing the Teacher Dropout Problem

Retain more of your staff by understanding their needs and helping them succeed. By Jon Andes

Each year, about a half million teachers are hired. School systems spend significant amounts of resources, in both time and money, to recruit, hire, and induct new teachers. Despite this expenditure, up to half of all new teachers will become “dropouts” within their first five years. For school systems nationwide, the costs of new teacher dropouts are substantial-- estimated at $2.2 billion per year. For students, this teacher turnover impacts the quality of instruction they receive. Since a major proportion of new teachers are assigned to high-poverty schools, the negative impact on poor children is continuous.

Solving the teacher dropout phenomenon is a precursor to ensuring the success of all students. To address the challenges presented by teacher dropout, we, as instructional leaders, need to understand the unique qualities and needs of new, millennial-generation teachers; discover the general reasons given by new teachers for leaving the profession; and explore the strategies that instructional leaders can take to prevent this from happening.

Who Are These Teachers?

In general, members of the millennial generation have three common characteristics that will impact their career as teachers. First, they are digital natives, who constantly use technology to communicate and to access information. This generation sees access to high-speed Internet and devices as a given. Second, they are team oriented and seek to solve problems by working collaboratively. Since birth, members of this generation have been encouraged to be part of a team—in play groups, sports teams, summer camps, and arts programs. Finally, they seek tangible achievements and feedback, having been the recipients of trophies, medals, and even participation ribbons.   

Why Do They Leave?

When researchers survey new teachers who have left the profession, three major reasons are commonly given for dropping out. First, they cite a lack of resources, including technology and classroom materials, and the time to plan and complete the many tasks associated with teaching. Second, these teachers identify a feeling of isolation as a reason for leaving, specifically, a lack of time and the freedom to work together as professionals to address and solve instructional challenges. Finally, they identify a lack of support by school-building leadership as a reason for leaving.

What Can You Do to Help?

The obvious solution to addressing the dilemma of new teacher dropouts is to make sure that the right person is hired. Assuring the right person is hired may reduce attrition, but it may not be enough to retain the best and the brightest millennials. By understanding the unique characteristics of this generation and the reasons cited for leaving the teaching profession, instructional leaders can identify and implement strategies to retain these new teachers.

First, providing needed resources is critical. The millennial generation of new teachers expects that the tools of teaching—including technology—will be available in the classroom to optimize their instructional practice. In terms of time constraints, school leaders can ease these by eliminating or reducing administrative duties such as bus or playground duty, providing new teachers with common planning time, and reducing class size. Additionally, school leaders can make a conscious effort to carefully choose which students to assign to new teachers, for the purpose of setting up the novice for a successful first-year experience.

Second, to combat a feeling of isolation, the instructional leader can assign the right mentor and place the new teacher on a collaborative team. Veteran teachers are often selected as mentors for new teachers but this may not always be the best choice. In addition to assigning the right mentor, the instructional leader needs to provide time during the school day for the new teacher and a mentor to plan and work together.

Third, to demonstrate support for new teachers, the building principal must make an effort to connect with them. This might include actions such as scheduling a regular bimonthly time to meet with new teachers and mentors to discuss needs, informally meet with new teachers for an after-school snack and chat, make informal visits to the classroom to acknowledge instructional success, and use e-mails to reach out to new teachers with positive messages. Most important, new teachers need to believe that an instructional leader is listening to them and is committed to enabling their success. 

As instructional leaders, we must remember that the success of a student directly depends on the person who is teaching him or her. As a nation, we cannot afford the cost of constantly recruiting, hiring, and training new teachers. The cost is too high in terms of both money spent and loss of student learning time. The purpose of the hiring process is to replace ourselves with a generation of educators who are prepared and capable to meet the challenges that the post-millennial generation will bring to the classroom. 

Jon Andes is a professor of practice at Salisbury State University in Maryland. He was superintendent of the Worcester County Public Schools in Maryland from 1996 through 2012. He will present a session at this year’s ASCD conference in Houston. See below for details on his session and the conference.

About his session: Recruiting, Hiring, Leading, and Inspiring the Millennial Generation of Teachers: In this interactive session, Andes will help participants explore the use of technology to recruit, hire, retain, inspire, and lead the millennial generation of teachers.

About the 2015 ASCD Annual Conference: The 70th ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show will take place in Houston, March 21–23. The conference will feature more than 350 sessions. Topics include leading and inspiring school communities; developing your teachers, leaders, and yourself; and much more. Visit annualconference.ascd.org to learn more about how this conference can benefit you as well as the teachers and leaders on your staff.

Image: Media Bakery

The Importance of Failure

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The Importance of Failure 

Don’t shield students from mistakes—use these three strategies to help them learn from errors.  By Robyn R. Jackson

As educators, we often treat failure as a dirty word. We avoid it—and we teach our students to avoid it at all costs. Unfortunately, so much of school is about being right. Our students can become so caught up in getting the right answer that they overlook the learning process itself. As a result, they learn how to be right, but they never learn how to be wrong. What’s more, they come to see failure as personal, pervasive, and permanent. They stop trying.

We know that failure is a natural and important part of learning, but if we are not careful, our students will leave the classroom unable to recover from failure because we never teach them how. If we believe that failure is an inevitable part of learning, then it is important to show students how to learn from failure. Otherwise, they spend their academic careers and, indeed, their lives trying to avoid failing rather than capitalizing on the unique learning opportunities failure can offer.

  • Recast mistakes: We’ve taught students to see their mistakes as failures and to see failures as fatal. If we are going to teach students to learn from failure, we first have to help them see failure differently. One way to do that is by recasting students’ mistakes as learning opportunities. For instance, you can recast the “wrong” answer as the “right” answer to a different question. Then, ask students to generate questions for which their wrong answer actually fits. Or, you can recast the wrong answer as a non-example of the right answer and ask students how they can transform the non-example into an example.

  • Reward “good mistakes”: In sales training, salespeople are told that they have to get anywhere from 10 to 99 “no’s” before they get one “yes.” So each “no” brings them closer to a “yes.” In school, the same can be true. Sometimes it takes getting it wrong a few times so that you can better understand the concept and get closer to the right answer. Don’t rob students of this important learning process by swooping in with the right answer. Instead, teach them how to make “good mistakes” that get them closer to the right answer each time.

  • Model the process: Share stories of your own failures in school—and how you overcame them. When students see you being vulnerable, and when they hear about the value you gained from persisting in the face of failure, they will be more willing to take risks of their own.

Your reaction to a mistake will in large part determine how students see their own mistakes. If you treat a mistake as fatal, students will follow suit. But if you can persuade students to see their mistakes as learning opportunities, you can help them make corrections to their process and get better at learning.

Robyn R. Jackson, @robyn_mindsteps, is the founder of Mindsteps, a company specializing in professional development. She is the author of nine books, including Never Work Harder Than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching. She will present two sessions at this year’s ASCD conference in Houston March 21-23 (annualconference.ascd.org). See below for details on her session and the conference.

About her sessions:

Failing Up: Showing Students How to Learn from Failure: Jackson will show attendees how to turn any student failure into a valuable learning experience, including specific ways to help students develop resilience, take risks in the classroom, and build motivation and grit.

How to Move to Real Engagement With Our Students: In this interactive session, Jackson and co-presenter Allison Zmuda will provide advice on getting students to engage in lessons and take ownership of their own learning within the new teacher evaluation frameworks.

About the 2015 ASCD Annual Conference: The 70th ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show will take place in Houston, Texas, from March 21 – 23, 2015. The conference will feature more than 350 sessions to choose from and attendees from all roles in education will learn proven strategies and best practices for classroom management, student engagement, leading and inspiring school communities, and much more. Visit annualconference.ascd.org to learn more about how this conference can benefit you, as well as the teachers and leaders on your staff.

Interview with Anya Kamenetz

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Interview with Anya Kamenetz

NPR education reporter Anya Kamenetz’s The Test looks at the history and future of standardized testing. By Chris Borris 

The slow-burning debate over standardized testing came to a full boil in the past two years with the advent of the Common Core standards. Kamenetz’s timely The Test looks at the origins and effects of testing on students and schools and asks how we can reconcile wanting students to hit the mark while maintaining their joy for learning.  

Q | How does the testing industry affect both what turns up on tests and our ability to move to alternative assessment models?
A | The testing industry is relatively concentrated and static, with the “big four” companies, plus a handful of nonprofits, controlling the vast majority of the test and scoring market. Their mandate, like that of any publicly traded company, is to maximize profit. Accordingly, writing individual test items, as well as scoring essays, is relatively low-wage contract work: $10–$15 an hour. And, as companies dependent on government subsidy, there is a bit of a “military-industrial complex” going on that runs somewhat counter to principles of market competition and innovation.

Q | A number of teachers do feel the Common Core creates a culture of rigor that calls for them to be more creative and go deeper. Even if they’re not perfect, aren’t the standards a step in the right direction?
A | The value of the standards themselves is, or should be, for individual teachers and school leaders to determine. What I hear the critics objecting to primarily is, first, the speed at which these standards are being adopted, and second, the nature of the accountability regime tied to the standards.

Q | Teacher evaluations are tricky, particularly in struggling schools. Yet professionals in every other industry must prove they’re making progress—shouldn’t it be the same for most teachers, especially when the stakes are so high?
A | It depends what you mean by “prove they’re making progress,” and to whom exactly. For example, as a journalist I have professional ethical standards of conduct to maintain. I serve the public, even though there are mandates of the marketplace to consider. I wouldn’t much cotton to the government, advertisers, or anyone else handing down a set of external metrics that I have to hit to “prove I’m making progress.” It’s hard to conceive of a truly professional, high-performing teaching force that isn’t heavily engaged in creating and maintaining its own standards of excellence.

Q | You cite a teacher friend who believes in testing because it has provided incentives and consequences for her students. Don’t we risk students not being prepared for the rigors of college and career if we opt out?
A |“Opting out” is civil disobedience by families, mostly middle class, protesting individual tests. To the second point, I’m not sure I agree with the premise of your question. After a dozen-plus years of increasing test-based accountability, the evidence is mixed at best that the achievement gap has budged.

Q | Parents and educators successfully organized in Texas in 2011 to fight a law that greatly increased the number of tests. This seems different from calling for an end to all high-stakes testing. Also, how much of the anti-testing sentiment is driven by unions?
A |For my friend and other school leaders on the ground, even when they do see a purpose to tests, they overwhelmingly feel the pendulum has swung too far—and the challenge is to cut back on unnecessary and onerous tests. I can tell you from my reporting that there are major leaders of the opt-out movement who are nothing more than concerned families with no history of political organizing. Not to mention the anti–Common Core organizing in states like Indiana is more Tea Party than NEA or AFT.

Q | Discuss resource accountability and its effect on the education landscape.
A | Federal law has conceived of accountability as a one-way street: Punish schools and teachers for not producing better outcomes. Advocates of resource accountability say, since we know so much about the impact of poverty and lack of resources on student performance, how about measuring and regulating inputs for a change?

Review: The Test

Beginning in the 1980s, partly in response to A Nation at Risk, more schools gave more tests. This was greeted with applause by those who worried our students were falling behind. Others recoiled at the new focus, which amped up even more after NCLB went into effect in 2002—and these forces are fighting hard against the testing culture today. Throughout the first half of The Test, Kamenetz appears to side firmly with the latter camp, and the book sometimes reads less than objectively; she later makes some good points, especially in suggesting innovative ways to approach learning and assessment. And she wisely concludes there are elements of the testing regime worth salvaging, if consequences “emphasized giving schools, teachers, and kids the support they need to succeed, not just punishing them for failing.”

 Photo: Will O’Hare Photography

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.