Many K-12 schools struggle to implement new educational standards with old technology, outdated skills.
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The Common Core State Standards program represents a huge shift in what teachers teach and students learn in the K-12 grades. The standards, which are focused on college and career readiness, rely heavily on effective use of technology for instruction, collaborative learning, assessment and data analysis.
However, as schools and districts across the United States begin to implement the standards -- 45 states plus the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted them -- many are finding that there is a significant gap between the technology they need and the tech they actually have.
Several Common Core standards specifically require the use of technology. For example, a Grade 5 writing standard mandates that, "with some guidance and support from adults, [students will] use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of two pages in a single sitting."
Even if not explicitly stated, the level of collaboration, research and critical thinking inherent in the standards will require that educators and students have access to -- and knowledge about -- fairly advanced hardware, software and services. Further, the standardized assessments measuring students' understanding will be computer-based.
Unfortunately, what many schools are finding is that they don't have the technology they need, don't know what technology they need, or have the technology but not the knowledge and training to use it effectively.
When Robert Kravitz took on the role of superintendent of schools in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., he found the district had done everything right to develop the curriculum to meet the Common Core Standards, but it didn't have the technology infrastructure to support the implementation of the curriculum.
Kravitz said technology was lacking "everywhere, from devices to servers and switches to storage to the network to broadband and bandwidth."
There was some modern technology in the schools, Kravitz said. For example, all classrooms were equipped with interactive whiteboards. The problem, though, was that teachers had not been trained on the technology so the boards remained underused or unused altogether.
The first thing Kravitz did to overcome what he identified as a huge and pressing need was to bring in an in-house IT director and on-premises IT support staff, and phase out the outsourced IT services the district had been using. Kravitz and the IT director worked together to develop a plan, whose foundation was the replacement of bundled T1 lines with fiber. Next came new servers and switches, then a redesign of the wireless infrastructure.
Kravitz said the money came from redirecting funds and getting rid of programs that "schools tend to pay for over and over but that never get used." The district also relied on private donations.
The superintendent said that he and his team knew it would be critical to build the "highway" -- the network infrastructure -- before buying the "cars", or the end user devices.
Hilary Goldmann, senior director of government relations at the non-profit International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), said many schools lack the highway necessary to support the kind of technology that the Common Core standards -- and modern, research-based teaching and learning models in general -- demand.
"Broadband is key to creating rich learning environments and assessments, and to support data-driven decision-making," said Goldmann in an interview with InformationWeek Education. She added that the federal funding for broadband and other technologies needed for the kind of personalized education Common Core requires is far outstripping demand, a huge issue.
The "cars" running on Englewood Cliffs' info highway are new MacBook Air laptops.
The MacBook Air systems are leased, with an update every four years as part of the contract. The district purposely went with laptops instead of tablets to accommodate the redesigned curriculum, but also to prepare for the administration of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment. PARCC is one of two consortiums developing standardized assessments for the Common Core standards. The other is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The assessments will be computer-based, replacing the "fill-in-the-bubble" paper-and-pencil standardized tests given in most states.