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Tech Update: BYOD


Tech Update: BYOD

The latest developments in hot areas of school technology. 
By Calvin Hennick

At a recent workshop on digital education, the presenter threw attendees a curveball and asked everyone to complete a brief survey using Google Docs.

“In this room of 50 tech-savvy adults, you’ve got tablets, Android devices, phones, and a handful of people with nothing,” says attendee Ann Lee Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association. “A lot of people couldn’t get [the program] to open.”

The point? This is what bring-your-own-device initiatives look like in schools without adequate support systems. If implementing BYOD means stopping a lesson to make sure that students’ operating systems are up to date, that they have the correct app installed, and that they’re all able to connect to the school’s network, it’s no wonder some teachers drag their feet when it comes to BYOD.

These difficulties make Flynn skeptical about BYOD as a long-term solution. With device costs coming down, more schools will be able to afford to provide all students with district-owned devices through one-to-one initiatives—a move Flynn says is vital for ensuring ­educational equity. “The current belief is, all kids have devices,” she says. “Well, no, they don’t. And trying to type a term paper on a smartphone is very different from typing on a laptop. It’s not a level playing field.”

Even if BYOD proves to be just a step on the road to one-to-one, it’s a current reality for many districts, some of which have found ways to both narrow the digital divide and make it easier for teachers to incorporate student devices in their lessons.

In Katy, Texas, the district buys its own devices to supplement its BYOD program, so teachers don’t find themselves in a bind when students don’t own devices, leave them at home, or forget to charge the batteries. The district provides enough devices for 30 percent of its students, and also allows kids to check out tablets and use mobile Wi-Fi hot spots. The wide availability of devices has increased teachers’ willingness to implement BYOD, says Darlene Rankin, director of instructional technology for Katy Independent School District.

The district also encourages BYOD implementation through continued PD opportunities for teachers, and recently adopted a single sign-on system where kids can access learning apps through the school’s network.

Previously, students had to download apps onto their own devices, which proved problematic. Some students’ devices were running on older operating systems that didn’t support newer apps. Some parents had locked the devices, making it impossible for students to install the apps. And, Rankin says, even when kids did have the apps, they sometimes forgot their passwords and couldn’t log in.

With the new system, students don’t have to worry about installing the apps, since they can access them through the Internet. Rankin expects the single sign-on system to drive BYOD adoption among teachers. “I think it will definitely go up,” she says.

Illustration: Viktor Koen

List It for a Library Sweepstakes

TL ListIt Logo for digitorial
Help your school work smarter with TeacherLists and your school could win one of 10 Scholastic Library Reading Rooms ($499 value) featuring a 100 book collection, book bins and more.  The first 100 schools to enter will also receive a $200 school office supply pack!  To qualify schools must upload their 2015-2016 back-to-school supply lists to TeacherLists.com by June 30th, 2015.  Learn More.

Creating, collecting, and posting back-to-school supply lists is one of those tasks that seems like it should be easier than it is. The annual chore requires cooperation from several people, from teachers to office staff to the school webmaster. It’s not a first-line priority for anyone, but it has to be done in a timely manner.

Likewise, the way supply lists typically are shared doesn’t work that well for parents, either. A file posted on the school website isn’t easily viewable on a mobile phone.  And printed lists sent home to parents can get misplaced or end up crumpled or coffee-stained.

It’s not surprising, then, that the popularity of TeacherLists has exploded over the last two years. TeacherLists, a free online solution, allows schools to post lists easily and parents to view them on any device. It has quickly become the solution of choice for thousands of schools.

Once lists are posted on TeacherLists, they immediately become available online as well as at popular retail outlets. In addition, the site provides simple code that a school’s webmaster can plug in to make the lists display—in a mobile-friendly frame—on the school’s own web pages.

The biggest payoff may come with year-to-year management of the lists. The site notifies schools that it’s time to update their lists. With a few clicks, the lists can be changed as needed for the following year.   Updated lists are immediately available through the website link, TeacherLists.com and at select retailers -- no need to do it again each year.

TeacherLists is the smarter way to manage, share and find school supply lists. Get your school started today at www.teacherlists.com/schools


What You Need to Know When Shopping for an ID Card System


What You Need to Know When Shopping for an ID Card System

Determining your schools’ needs will help you zero in on the right choice for your district. By Maged Atiya

Being in school every day is vital for a student’s success, and with state funding associated with attendance, it is also important financially for school districts to minimize absenteeism. Improvements in ID Card System technology are helping to streamline the attendance process in timely, cost-effective ways.

Many districts have discovered that implementing such a system is well worth the commitment and investment, and others are finding that it’s time to upgrade their current systems.

There are a number of important factors to consider when you’re shopping around for an ID Card vendor/partner; here are some key elements to think about.

Dumb Cards or Smart Cards?

What do you want your card to do, how much functionality do you need, how secure must it be, and how fast does the card need to be read?

Dumb cards: These are cards with a magnetic stripe or bar code on them that usually do only simple things: they can open a door or pull up a food service or library account. Staff members typically swipe these cards to enter a building, which is easy enough to do. However, the wear and tear of swiping reduces the card’s lifespan.

Smart cards: These cards provide a host of options. They are contactless and use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology; students tap their cards onto a reader and they are logged in, quickly and easily. Readers can be installed on buses, in the classroom, in the cafeteria, in the gym, or in the auditorium, which makes tracking students extremely efficient. In fact, some configurations can process a thousand students in just minutes.

Smart cards are coded with a unique ID number that is assigned to one individual; it’s the back-end computer that maintains all the information on that person. This means that additional functionality can be added quickly, all at once, at any time, on the base computer. School districts can start with a straightforward ID system, and add features at a later date when budgets or needs change.

Some smart card companies can interact with legacy card programs—those ID card systems that are already in a school district. So the upgrade to smart technologies doesn’t always mean the existing service cannot be used.

To Cloud or Not To Cloud?

We hear all about “the cloud”—and we know it’s important—but do you need a cloud-based ID card system?

In a non-cloud-based system, your data resides in a server somewhere in your school district. It is maintained by your IT department, and if you needed to expand your memory or upgrade your processing speed, then the district would buy a new, bigger computer/server.

If you want to upgrade functionality or software, your IT person has to go from school to school and manage each computer. And if there was a flood, fire, system crash, or security breach, all of your data could be lost and you’d have to start from scratch. Maintaining a traditional land-based system like this can be very costly—in time as well as in money spent.

Cloud computing means that your data resides virtually, in off-site servers, with backup systems in place, so if something happens, your data is safe and always available. Improvements are also simple to make: because the program resides in one place, it has to be upgraded in only one place, and added functionality can be transferred to every school instantly. This service-based process is more streamlined and cost effective.

Cloud services offer significant advantages, but make sure that your vendor/partner uses the highest level of data security available. There are international security standards (PCI, FISMA, SSAE16, to be specific), which are used by banks, credit card companies, hospitals and others, so look for them in your cloud-based ID card system.

Emergency! Emergency!

Sadly, it seems as though we hear about school lockdowns on a weekly basis. ID card systems can certainly help keep your buildings more secure, but there’s more to it than just knowing who came in the front door.

When there’s an emergency, look for an ID card system that can ensure that:

  • All doors in a building or across the district can be locked down with a single command, which can be issued from any wireless device or any computer. This immediacy improves time to action and can save lives.
  • An accurate location report is available on a tablet or computer that shows which staff members and students used their card for attendance and therefore can be identified in the building, in a specific room, which can help first responders react fast.

To automate the process even more effectively, some districts provide their local police and fire departments with precinct- or school-specific ID cards that allow them immediate access into school buildings.

Active or Passive RFID?

School districts have to strike a delicate balance between protecting students when they are on campus, and protecting a student’s right to privacy. You can defend yourself from litigation by making sure your RFID-based ID card system is passive, not active. You can also save yourself some money, too.

Usually battery-powered, active RFID tags have a transmitter and their own power source that is used to run the card’s microchip circuitry and to broadcast a signal to a reader (the way a cell phone transmits signals to a base station). This allows a student’s or teacher’s card to be read at any time—the card can be hanging around a person’s neck, held onto his or her belt loop, or in their backpack, and the reader can pick up its signal, as long as it is within a certain range.

Because the card transmits data, badge holders can be tracked and found anywhere, at any time. And while this may be an enticing scenario, schools have to consider student privacy rights as well. Also Active RFID cards require a battery and are heavier, more expensive, and need significantly more maintenance.

Passive tags have no battery. Instead, they draw power from the reader, and require a student to take an action, like tapping it on a screen, for the card to be read. This process makes it easy to track where students are, and you can get an accurate count of how many students (or teachers, or staff) have checked in at any particular time. However, because it is a passive process, these ID cards do not infringe on privacy. Also, passive cards are less expensive and last longer, hence they have lower overall cost.

Imagine That

Technological advances with ID card systems can make a host of administrative processes easier and more efficient. Here are just a few examples of what’s already happening in school districts across the country.

Attendance: An automated ID card system that generates a list of late/absent children; the parents of those children are then called by an automated system that reports them as absent, making the process more streamlined so office staff can focus on other tasks.

Classroom: Students tap their cards upon entering a classroom, so teachers don’t have to take attendance and substitutes always have an accurate count. Children tap out if they leave the class early and tap into the main office/nurse/guidance office, etc., which makes student movement easy to track.

Visitor Management: When a visitor arrives, there are visitor management modules that determine if he or she has been to the school before. If the person is recognized, a paper badge can be printed; if he or she isn’t in the database, the system determines if there are any district-defined exclusionary alerts regarding the person, while simultaneously checking for a match against the sexual offender database. An automatic alert is sent to the district, making the school even more secure.

Location and Time Clock Management: Staff members use their ID cards to open locked doors to enter school buildings or portable classrooms. Students with disabilities or injuries use their cards to access building elevators. Facility staff members use time clock kiosks to sign in and out of work, which keeps track of their time spent, their current location, and any overtime hours they work.

Students: ID cards are used at cafeteria registers and at libraries to check out books. The database carries personal schedule information, and cards are checked by hall monitors using mobile devices to verify that students are going to the correct class for the proper period.

Accountability and Control: ID cards are tapped for events that take place in buildings after school and/or at night. Students tap in to attend a sporting event, dance, concert, or any other school-sponsored program, which adds accountability and control to event administrators and lets them know who is in the venue for that event.


It’s important to plan ahead. With the pace of technology advances, make sure you find a partner that understands the needs you have today, what you might want in the future, and how you can plan to get there. And now that you’re armed with these important ideas, you can find an ID card system that works best for your schools.

Maged Atiya, Ph.D., is ScholarChip’s founder and principal partner, responsible for managing system and application developments with an eye towards emerging technologies. He founded the company to provide school districts with fast and powerful computing in order to centralize security and operations into a single low maintenance system.

Tech Tools for Spring 2015

Tech Tools for Spring 2015

The latest and greatest education-friendly tech tools. By Brian Nadel

Ergotron LearnFit.
Ergotron’s $475 LearnFit Adjustable Standing Desk accommodates everyone from a skinny fourth grader to a hulking high-school senior; just press the small lever under the 23-by-24-inch desktop to adjust its height from 31.8 to 51.4 inches. It has a rugged phenolic laminate surface and comes with a five-year warranty.

Lego MoreToMath.
It may look like a toy, but Lego’s $130 MoreToMath Curriculum Pack 1–2 and MathBuilder software is a first- and second-grade math curriculum that can help teach numbers and problem solving. The 521 Lego bricks and software come with a book of 48 activities and a sample Q&A section for interacting with students.

Toshiba Satellite Radius 11.
If a notebook is too much and a tablet isn’t enough, Toshiba’s Satellite Radius 11 convertible might be just right. With an 11.6-inch HD touch screen, it can be a slate, a presentation machine, or a keyboard-centric notebook. The three-pound system can be outfitted with a Pentium or Celeron processor and starts at $330, perfect for a stressed school budget.

Linksys E8350.
If your school’s wireless LAN is bogging down, the $199 Linksys E8350 can help with dual-band operations that deliver up to 2.4Gbps of bandwidth for viewing videos or distributing homework assignments. Capable of connecting over 2.4GHz and 5GHz data channels, the 802.11ac router can be used as a wireless bridge or as an access point. store.

einstein Tablet+.
Far from a cookie-cutter Android tablet, the einstein Tablet+ is chock-full of eight STEM sensors (light, temperature, humidity, etc.) and can connect with up to 65 other Fourier products. The $250 slate has a seven-inch screen and includes software to consolidate sensor readings and analyze them for classwork or lab reports.

HP Stream 200-010 Mini.
There’s a place for desktops in the classroom, and HP’s tiny Stream 200-010 Mini can be stashed under a desk, in a drawer, or on the back of a monitor. It costs less than $200, has a 1.4GHz Celeron, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of solid-state storage capacity, plus 200GB of online storage with Microsoft OneDrive for two years.

LocknCharge EVO 40.
If your tablet carts aren’t basket cases, maybe they should be. LocknCharge’s $2,000 EVO 40 can hold 40 slates in four slide-out 10-unit baskets. The cart securely stores iPads and other tablets while keeping them charged and ready for class. Comes with a lifetime warranty.

Toshiba Encore 2 Write.
Tired of big price tags for small tablets? With a touch screen, Intel Atom processor, and 64GB of storage space for $400, Toshiba’s Encore 2 Write 10.1-inch slate just might be the value choice. The Windows 8.1 system comes with a Wacom stylus that can sense 2,048 levels of pressure, along with a slew of pen apps.

NewTek TriCaster Mini.
Create a private TV network at your school with NewTek’s $6,000 TriCaster Mini. A complete AV setup, the TriCaster includes an integrated display and enough storage space for 45 hours of video. (Note: You will need to supply your own camera, like a GoPro cam.) You can do anything from recording a talking head in front of a green-screen artificial landscape to animation and complex

littleBits Premium Kit.
Retire that soldering iron—littleBits ­teaches electronics with magnetic modules. The $149 Premium Kit includes 14 electronic modules and instructions for 10 projects, but the real learning happens when you set the directions aside.


Senators for a Day

Senators for a Day

Students can craft and debate legislation at the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute. By Wayne D’Orio

When the bus finally pulled up to its field trip location, history teacher Steven Moynihan rushed off.  Heavy Massachusetts traffic had delivered his students to their destination about an hour late but that wasn’t the reason for Moynihan’s haste.

“I wanted to see my students’ reactions when they entered,” he says. He wasn’t disappointed. When his Barnstable High School students came through the doors of the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston, they were wide-eyed.

That’s because the centerpiece of the 68,000-square-feet building is a nearly exact replica of the Senate Chamber. Moynihan’s students were there to play senator for a day, designing and debating an immigration reform bill that they would vote on. But their first order of business was to take in the heady feeling of being on the Senate floor. The students, some dressed in business attire, others a little more informal, including one in a fedora, couldn’t help but look up at the gallery or check out how it felt to sit at one of the 100 desks. Quickly, actors leading the day’s events swore in the students and they got to work.

The institute opened on March 31 as the realization of Edward Kennedy’s desire to make the Senate and its work meaningful to future generations of students. Being senator for a day helps students “understand the tenets of democracy,” says Nell Breyer, the center’s director of programming and education. Like a compressed version of the Model Congress program, the institute allows students to craft a bill, debate appointments, consider amendments, and ultimately vote on their work, all in a two-hour block.

The heart of the activity is a carefully created simulation that plunges students right into matters as current as immigration or as historical as the Compromise of 1850. While Kennedy was a longtime Democratic leader, the institute takes pains to remain bipartisan. The offices of senators John McCain and Harry Reid vetted the immigration Senate Immersion Module (SIM), and the institute’s content advisory committee includes both Richard Baker, the Senate historian for more than 30 years, and Alan Frumin, the Senate’s chief parliamentarian for more than 10 years. New SIMs are being readied, Breyer says, and soon students will be able to debate the Civil Rights Act and the Patriot Act. All the SIMs are created to sync with Common Core standards, she adds.

“There’s a humility in students and an earnestness to solve problems,” Breyer says. “I’m amazed at how serious they take this.”

The institute uses technology to engage and inspire students, handing each of them a tablet when they enter. The tablet is preloaded with all the specifics they’ll need to play their role for the day. The students are randomly assigned to a party and a state, are told what key points their constituents are worried about, and are given their personal strengths.

Moynihan says one of his students stated that she definitely didn’t want to be a Republican during the exercise. But when she found out she was, she gamely went along. At the end of the day, she was happy for the opportunity to see the other side of the issue.

“It’s a safe environment for talking about contentious matters,” Breyer says.

Moynihan, who sits on an advisory committee for the institute, says some of his students didn’t like the somewhat simplistic talking points presented on their tablets, saying it limited what they could consider. However, with a lot of ground to cover in a short time, he says the restraints are necessary. “It allowed them to focus on the skills of negotiation,” he says. The institute does offer both pre- and post-visit activities to help deepen the learning.

The SIMs eventually will be available to schools without having to make the visit to Boston, Breyer says. But on this day, the sense of place was a big part of the experience. “As high school students, it was cool for them to be treated like senators. That elevated their participation,” says Moynihan. He added that he will definitely bring future classes back, and said he is looking forward to hearing students debate the Patriot Act.

After being sworn in, Moynihan’s students broke into small groups to discuss appointees and various parts of the legislation, and to bargain with one another for support. The students considered using biometrics to track immigrants’ whereabouts but eventually rejected the measure as unconstitutional. Staff members fondly mentioned that a student on a previous visit staged a filibuster during his class’s SIM.

When students are ready to vote, they return to the Senate floor and one by one state their preference. Moynihan says some of his students complained that their peers didn’t stick to the role they were assigned to when it came time to cast their vote. The group’s law, to allow immigrants a path to permanent residence status, passed 26-8.

The institute, which is booked for the rest of this school year, is free to students from Massachusetts. Out-of-state students pay $8 each, although group rates are available. The institute can host up to 100 students at one time. Some eighth graders have visited, but most participants are from high schools and colleges. The institute is located on Columbia Point, next to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and just steps away from the University of Massachusetts.

Edward M. Kennedy spent nearly 47 years in the Senate, and one part of the institute is a reproduction of his Washington, D.C., office, right down to the tennis balls he had on hand for his Portuguese water dogs. Around the replica Senate are interactive exhibits that show the history of the legislative body.

A star-studded cast of politicians that included President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and numerous senators were there for the opening. The re-creation of the chamber is so realistic, says communications coordinator Natalie Boyle, that many senators went straight to their chairs at the beginning of the ceremony.

Image: Courtesy of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute


Everyone Graduates

Everyone Graduates

By moving to a performance-based model and giving students a choice in how they learn, this rural Kentucky district has eliminated dropouts for the last six years. By Charles Higdon

Taylor County is a rural community in central Kentucky. We have three schools serving approximately 2,900 students—60 percent of whom receive free or reduced-price lunches.

We don’t fit the typical profile of a poor, rural school district, though: We haven’t had a single student drop out of school in more than six years, and in the last two years we’ve seen a 100-percent graduation rate.

We’ve achieved this success by embracing an innovative, student-centered approach to teaching and learning.

In Taylor County, we have moved to an entirely performance-based model in which students are placed in classes based not on their age, but their ability. What’s more, we no longer require seat time for students to advance.

While other schools in the state require 176 school days to get through the curriculum, we operate differently. Our students work through the curriculum at their own pace, and when they are ready to move on, they can—provided they can demonstrate proficiency on an exit exam.

To operate in this way, we have received special approval from the state. We’re one of the first five districts in Kentucky to be designated as a District of Innovation.

Three years ago, the Kentucky Department of Education invited districts to apply for this status, which gives those chosen more flexibility to be creative in their approach to educating students. There are now roughly a dozen Districts of Innovation across the state.

When we applied for this status, we had to submit a plan describing what we intended to do that would be innovative. Our performance-based model allowed us to apply, and in return, we were granted a waiver from the state’s seat-time requirements.

We also give students a choice in how they learn, because one size definitely does not fit all. We have implemented a “wagon wheel” approach, which places the students at the center, surrounded by six spokes, each of which represents a different way of learning.

Both our students and teachers choose which approach to instruction is right for them, and then we match students to the teachers and modes of instruction they desire.

Included in this model is a traditional approach, in which students come to class for 176 days and receive direct instruction from a teacher. Some students and teachers still prefer this method.

But we also offer five other, more innovative approaches, for those who want to learn in a different way.

Online learning: Students can work at their own pace using Odysseyware’s online courseware. We have created a virtual academy in which students log in to their online classes from a computer lab, and a fully certified teacher serves as an on-site guide. Since we’ve opened our virtual academy, many of our at-risk students are now actually moving through the curriculum at an accelerated pace and graduating early.

Project-based learning: Students can learn the curriculum in the context of authentic, real-world projects. For instance, a local business donated LEGO engineering kits to one of our elementary classes, and students worked together in groups to design factories.

Self-paced learning: In this “flipped” approach to instruction, teachers record their lessons and students can watch these videos as often as they need in order to learn the material. Teachers serve as facilitators during class time to help students master the content.

Peer-led instruction: In these classrooms, students learn from each other, with the teacher acting as a facilitator. For some students, it helps to hear an explanation of the content from one of their peers as opposed to a teacher.

Cardinal Academy: In this new high school program, students develop their own learning plan. They have an advisor, who oversees them to ensure they’re completing the objectives they need to and are pacing themselves correctly, but students can choose for themselves what subjects they will work on, and when. They can also learn off campus through internships.

Letting students learn at their own pace, and giving them a choice in how they will learn, empowers students to take control of their education—and we have seen this approach pay off.

As educators, we’re not here just to ensure that students score well on state exams; we’re here to educate students fully, and prepare them to succeed in college or a career. And we are doing that here in Taylor County.

Charles Higdon is assistant superintendent for Kentucky’s Taylor County Schools. He can be reached at charles.higdon@taylor.kyschools.us

Image: Media Bakery

Tech Update: Common Core


TECH Update: Common Core

The latest developments in hot areas of school technology. By Calvin Hennick

When Susan Gendron was commissioner of education for Maine, the state’s SAT scores dropped from within the top 10 in the country to dead last overnight. But there wasn’t any backlash. People were expecting it.

That’s because, for the first time, Maine was requiring all of its students (not just those going to college) to take the test, and Gendron had spent months telling the state’s education reporters and politicians to expect the 50th-place finish.

“It was the best thing we did,” Gendron, now president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, says of the public relations move.

Gendron recommends that school districts take a similar approach to the first round of Common Core–aligned test results. It’s widely assumed that, because of the enhanced rigor of the new standards, scores will drop dramatically in most locales. Given the antipathy with which the standards have already been greeted in some circles, plunging scores could cause an uproar in districts that lack a strong communication plan.

Gendron says administrators should talk to local press about the new tests, put sample questions in school newsletters, and enlist area employers to provide testimonials about how the skills assessed by the exams are valuable in the workplace. School leaders should also take to social media channels and board and PTA meetings to warn about the score drop, she says.

But schools shouldn’t just tell people that scores will be low. Leaders should also explain what they’re going to do about it. Results from the new tests are expected to come in much earlier than data from previous state assessments, and Gendron says schools should use the numbers to form a plan that addresses the areas of highest need.

“In the past, schools got scores so late that it was difficult to do anything with them,” Gendron says, noting that results used to come in as late as the fall. Schools are now ­expected to get them in the spring—early enough to help inform instruction for the end of the school year, or the following fall. “The intent is to give actionable data to the schools. They can reprioritize what they offer for student intervention, they can act upon the data in summer school, they can offer PD for teachers,” Gendron explains.

If parents, teachers, or community members are concerned about low scores, administrators would do well to tell the story of Kentucky. The Bluegrass State was the first to administer Common Core–aligned assessments, and schools saw the predicted drop in scores during the first year of implementation. But the numbers have risen, and state officials say that more students are graduating ready for college and careers than in previous years.

Students shouldn’t be left out of this conversation, Gendron advises. Kids can see that they’re being asked to do different things on the new assessments, and they may not be surprised that their scores take a dip.

“We have to say to kids, ‘We can’t compare to where you were before. This is a starting point,’ ” Gendron says. “We want kids to own their learning so they can start to measure their own progress.”

Illustration: Viktor Koen

Creating a Digital HR Department

Creating a Digital HR Department

Streamlining your application process with technology can save money and improve teacher hiring. By Ron Huberman

In recent years, we’ve seen a significant shift toward making classrooms digital to offer alternative learning methods and more effective instruction. Since students are the top priority, it makes sense that we invest in technology in the classroom to improve teaching and learning. But this transformation leads to the question: Where else might this trend foster improvement? Could districts save money and streamline their hiring processes by creating digital HR departments?

Using technology to hire teachers and process paperwork can decrease the time it takes to secure a new teacher in the classroom. Typical paperwork consists of W2 forms, affidavits, resumes, licensure, etc. Many schools still use paper documents and file cabinets, which increases the time it takes to collect and keep information organized. Further, whenever an HR director or principal needs information on a candidate, someone has to manually sort through a file cabinet to find that candidate’s file. These tedious, logistical tasks can be automated and streamlined through digital systems, which gives HR personnel more time to spend on important, strategic activities like attracting top talent and making careful, more informed hiring decisions.

In addition, paper documents and filing systems lead to financial and institutional costs that can result from losing the best candidates and increasing the time it takes to replace a teacher. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, “districts experience teacher turnover costs at two levels: 1) the central office expends resources when recruiting, hiring, processing, and training teachers; and 2) schools incur costs when employees interview, hire, process, orient, and develop new teachers.” The cost of losing a teacher ranges from $3,600 to $8,600, not including district-level costs and the even more important loss of student learning time. Furthermore, the National Bureau of Economic Research reports that when teachers are absent for 10 days, there is a significant decrease in student outcomes. When teachers are absent more than 10 days, the decrease in student achievement is even more significant; it may be akin to the difference between having a brand new teacher and one with two or three years more experience, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Another study, Missed Opportunities, found that when the hiring processes push districts’ timelines back, between 31 and nearly 60 percent of applicants withdraw from the process, often to accept jobs with districts that made offers earlier. The majority cited the late hiring timeline as a major reason they took other jobs. When schools efficiently move qualified candidates through the hiring process, the candidate is more likely to accept the position and the school will have a new teacher in the classroom faster. When quality candidates become disengaged due to delays, hiring managers have to consider less qualified candidates.

 These financial and institutional costs demonstrate just how crucial it is to secure quality teachers as efficiently as possible. Creating a digital HR department is one solution. So how can you digitalize teacher hiring?

1. Use a robust applicant tracking system to collect the necessary information from the start.

Applicant tracking systems streamline the hiring process by collecting and organizing candidate files from the moment they apply. These systems can also store and share digital copies of important paperwork that candidates can fill out as part of their application. 

“We’re working to build a custom functionality that will allow us to streamline the [hiring] process even further,” says Dan Pavletich, HR director at Elmbrook. “We’ll be able to digitalize all of our paperwork and keep it in the system so that when we hire a new teacher, he or she can log into the system to fill out the necessary forms and we can go in and easily see what paperwork has been completed. Then it’s on file forever; we don’t have to have hundreds of pieces of loose paper filed in a cabinet.”

2. Use a cloud service to store and send documents electronically.

Google Drive and Office 365 both let you share and download documents which makes it easy to send a document to a candidate, have him or her fill it out electronically, and send it back. You can then download the document and save it in the cloud service. Google Drive also lets you have a desktop version of the cloud so that you can access the files without using an Internet browser.

3. Create a website specifically for teacher candidates.

Clark County School District in Nevada created a website exclusively for new teacher hires. The website offers information and forms, new teacher resources, and welcome information.

It’s important to remember that student performance can be supported outside the classroom. Schools should begin to think about how to use technology to streamline processes in other departments. Changing your HR office is a small initiative you can take that has a lasting, positive impact on hiring time and cost, and will ultimately help place an effective teacher in the classroom faster to improve student learning experiences.

Ron Huberman is a former superintendent and the co-founder of TeacherMatch, an advanced K–12 talent management system that uses predictive analytics and data to help school districts identify, hire, and develop effective teachers.

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Instructional Rigor

Instructional Rigor

It’s a hard goal, but achievable if principals make sure their teachers follow these three critical guidelines. By Barbara R. Blackburn

Over the past few years, the concept of rigor has taken hold in education. Although it is typically used when referring to the Common Core or other state standards, it is also addressed in discussions about improving student performance.

One of the challenges is that rigor is a loaded word. Many teachers quote the dictionary definition (“extremely thorough”) as a reason not to implement rigorous instruction. But instructional rigor is not harsh or rigid. It is not assigning more homework or work that is not achievable.

Rather, instructional rigor focuses on student learning. In my book, Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word, I define rigor as “creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels” (2012).

There are three main components of instructional rigor. First, in a rigorous classroom, there are high expectations for students. We must expect all students to learn, not just the high-achievers. All students are capable of rigorous work including those at risk and with special needs. For example, Level Three (Strategic Learning) of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge requires that students be encouraged to explain, generalize, or connect ideas. All students can be taught to do this, beginning at the earliest grade levels. Some may struggle more than others, but all can learn how to explain their ideas and justify opinions.

When I work with principals, I ask them one simple question: “When you are observing teachers, do you look to see if the teacher is asking higher-order questions?” Unanimously, they respond positively. However, if a teacher asks a higher-order question but accepts a low-level response from a student, that is not rigorous. Teachers should probe and encourage students to expand on their answers, rather than answering for them or moving on to the next student.

Next, students are supported so they can achieve higher standards. They are not expected to learn without appropriate scaffolding. I regularly hear educators say, “But students should be able to do the harder work.” Rigorous work is challenging, and we should not expect students to simply jump to that higher level. Do you remember the first year you were a principal? Did you need help? If we need assistance with challenging experiences, why wouldn’t students?

Support and scaffolding can take several forms. Teachers might model expectations through thinking aloud or showing samples of student work. Chunking is an important part of all lessons. Providing graphic organizers so students can visualize what they are learning makes a difference. And, at times, students may need separate direct instruction in small groups. Both generalized and individualized support are important.

Finally, each student demonstrates learning at high levels. There are two aspects of this. First, each student demonstrates learning. Often, teachers lead a class discussion and periodically call on a student. When this happens, only a very few students get to demonstrate their understanding. In a rigorous classroom, the teacher shifts to providing opportunities for all students to show they have learned the information or concepts. Teachers can use thumbs-up/thumbs-down, exit slips, small dry-erase boards, clickers, iPads, or simple pair-shares to allow students to demonstrate their learning. Rigor demands that we know whether a student is making progress, and these formative assessments provide that opportunity.

Students also demonstrate learning at a high level. Too often, we are asking students low-level questions, or we give them work that requires basic recall skills. How often have you picked up a handout or worksheet from a teacher that was at the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy? Have you ever looked at a teacher’s rubric and noticed that it evaluates for completion of work rather than quality of work? It’s important that we push students to higher levels of learning, and that requires application, transfer of learning, and deeper thinking.

Ultimately, rigor is about students learning at higher and higher levels. Rigor is never-ending since there is always room for growth. Isn’t that exactly what we want for all of our students?

Dr. Barbara Blackburn is the author of 15 books, including Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders. She regularly provides professional development to leaders and teachers on motivation, rigor, and leadership. 

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Beating the Common Core


Beating the Common Core

Specific advice for mastering the four toughest standards in reading and math. By Dr. Mark Ellis, Dr. Maureen McLaughlin, and Dr. Brenda Overturf

The Common Core State Standards are designed to help students build a solid foundation of knowledge and skills in preparation for both college and career. To help students meet the expectations of these more rigorous standards, it is important for educators to focus on the standards that students struggle with most.

Based on i-Ready diagnostic data from more than 750,000 students, Curriculum Associates has identified four standards as the most difficult in reading and math. These findings are shared below to help educators better plan and maximize their instructional time, accelerate student progress, and create learning environments in which all students can succeed.


In reading, the findings show students need extra support with informational as opposed to literary texts, as well as with complex texts. The most challenging standards are those that require synthesis skills, including those related to:

  1. Determining central ideas or themes and summarizing details
  2. Analyzing text structure
  3. Integrating and evaluating content in diverse media and formats
  4. Analyzing similar topics and themes across texts

The data show one of the most challenging standards is CCSS Reading Anchor Standard 7, which relates to #3 above. This standard focuses on students’ ability to draw on information from multiple sources and to integrate information from diverse media (audio, video, multimedia presentations, photos, illustrations, graphic novels, and more) and in varied formats (textbooks, charts, graphs, magazine articles, newspapers) when researching and problem solving. Diverse media help teach this standard and are highly engaging for 21st-century learners.

Another challenging standard is Reading Standard 9, which relates to #4 above. In this standard, students analyze texts to find similar themes and topics and identify where texts may agree or disagree based on fact or opinion.

Tips for Teachers

How can teachers incorporate multimodal text as part of student instruction? Look for content that exists in multiple formats. For example, engage students by listening to a speech like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” in addition to reading it. Other examples of texts represented in diverse media include The Very Hungry Caterpillar (DVD) for younger grades and Hamlet (audiobook) for older students.

To help teach Standard 9, use graphic organizers, interactive comparison/contrast digital tools, and rich content. Programs such as i-Ready and content tools such as those found at Big History Project, Discovery Education, PBS LearningMedia, and NASA are examples of some of the valuable resources out there.

To help students meet Reading Standard 9, administrators should also encourage teachers to engage students in classroom activities that require them to identify similarities and differences in texts. Administrators should provide teachers with access to various texts on the same topic—including books, magazines, and technology sources—as well as adequate time to plan together to achieve the goal of this standard.


In math, standards that require deeper conceptual understanding prove the most challenging. They include standards related to:

  1. Geometric measurement
  2. Modeling problem situations
  3. Fractions
  4. Statistics

The new standards emphasize the concepts behind calculations and reasoning about complex problems, so it’s no longer enough for students to know basic algorithms and facts. Instead, they need to reason and analyze in order to make data-based decisions and develop creative approaches to non-routine problems. Research confirms that students are more likely to use their skills accurately and flexibly when they understand the concepts behind the computations.

Tips for Teachers

Below are some tips for teachers to address the need for addressing deeper conceptual understanding.

  • Connect new material to students’ prior knowledge or experiences. This ultimately helps build students’ ability to recall and retain knowledge over time.

  • Engage students in hands-on activities. With regard to geometric measurement, for example, ask younger students to measure various parts of their body with yarn and find the lengths in centimeters. Then ask groups to compare the measurements of two students and make posters for the class math wall.

  • Continually reinforce measurement concepts and skills in an informal yet productive way. Try occasional estimation tasks that get students thinking and talking.

  • Assess and revisit older students’ understanding of the six key measurement concepts. These two articles, “Measurement of Length: How Can We Teach It Better?” by Constance Kamii and “Assessing Children’s Understanding of Length Measurement” by Heidi Bush, offer assessment items that target these concepts.

  • Build student understanding of fraction operations by using the concept of unit fractions together with area and number line models as shown in this set of videos from Illustrative Mathematics.

  • Encourage students to share (and stretch) their mathematical thinking! One strategy to get students started with this is Math Talks, sometimes called Number Talks, which promote mental reasoning and encourage greater flexibility in mathematics.

Teachers and administrators must also recognize that students are not the only ones learning and that students’ input can help teachers deepen their own understanding of mathematics. Administrators must additionally facilitate professional development driven by teacher input, organize schedules that promote collaboration, and model intellectual curiosity by increasing their own understanding of mathematics.

To learn more about the Common Core State Standards that students find the most challenging, visit www.ReadyCommonCore.com/MostChallengingStandards.

Dr. Mark Ellis is a National Board certified teacher and professor of education at California State University at Fullerton. Dr. Maureen McLaughlin is a professor in the Reading Department at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Brenda Overturf is the chair of the IRA Common Core Standards Committee. All three are also Ready authors. 

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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.