Tag Archives: edtech

Back to School: What’s Your “Magic Wand” Education Solution? (Part Three)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay for Pexels

Join Ahead of the Heard for a lively back-to-school series expanding on Andy Rotherham’s original Eduwonk post, What’s Your Magic Wand?, featuring reflections on wish-list education solutions heading into the fall from teachers, school leaders, academics, media types, parents, private sector funders, advocates, Bellwarians…you name it.

At Bellwether, we’re focused on the 2021-22 school year ahead but also on what we’ve collectively endured since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a gross understatement to say that it has been a lot, that mistakes have been made, that many rose to the occasion achieving amazing things for students (while others did not), and that countless lessons were (re)learned. It has been a season where optimism was sometimes elusive and where challenges often seemed insurmountable.

So we thought we’d do something a little different…and try to have some fun.

We turned to contacts across the country in the education sector and asked them this simple, hopeful question. Answers vary as widely as each participant’s background and will be featured over a two-week span.

Teachers, students, and families will enter into a 2021-22 school year unlike any other. If you could wave a magic wand, what’s the one education issue you’d address or solve right now, and why?

Diane D’Costa
Current Washington, D.C. Teacher

“If I had a magic wand, the one education issue I’d solve right now is reinstating the moratorium on evictions* and providing families impacted with financial hardship during the pandemic adequate resources to catch up on rent payments. After a year of instability and uncertainty, students returning to school are facing the reality of being kicked out of their homes because of the financial hardships caused by the pandemic. Restrictions being lifted and expectations that we are ‘back to normal’ at the same time as the start of the school year are a perfect storm to create another year of instability and distress for students that will inevitably impact if and how they are able to show up in the classroom. We will not be able to adequately heal from this last year and move on to the next one successfully unless we truly allow folks to recover before we simply pull the rug out from under them again.”

(*Editor’s note: Submission received prior to the Biden administration’s Aug. 3, 2021 eviction moratorium reinstatement, in effect through Oct. 3, 2021.)

Bart Epstein
CEO, EdTech Evidence Exchange; Research Associate Professor, University of Virginia School of Education & Human Development

“We need two things urgently:

First, we need an immediate and dramatic expansion of federal funding dedicated to studying thousands of edtech products. Why? Because our schools collectively spend tens of billions of dollars each year on edtech products with no clue about which products work, or how to effectively implement them. The needed research simply does not exist. As a result, a majority of edtech is barely used, used improperly, or not used at all. If the feds spend more than $40 billion annually on medical research and development, the budget for the entire federal Institute of Education Sciences should be much more than $00.6 billion per year

Second, we need a national online tutoring and homework help service to provide 24/7 on-demand academic support to every student in the country who needs help. It is shameful that such a program does not exist right now. The U.S. Military has provided a program of this type to children of servicemembers for more than a decade, and it has been a huge hit. Encouraging 13,000+ school districts to develop their own local tutoring programs is a mistake of epic proportions.”

Anne Mahle
Senior Vice President of Public Partnerships, Teach For America; Parent

“I’d wave my magic wand so that every school in the United States, no matter where it is located, is led by a well-supported transformational leader: one that is highly effective, culturally competent, and infused with creativity and courage. Effective school leaders are transformational — for students, for teachers, and for the broader school community of families and community members. We need school leaders who are compassionate and skilled in coaching and developing their teams to excel in drawing out the best in their students — inspiring curiosity, conviction, and engagement — while ensuring that students learn and grow academically and socio-emotionally. My magic wand would also ensure that these school leaders are compassionate and courageous enough to coach out teachers who do not create classrooms full of belonging, academic rigor, and joy. We have an opportunity to transform our schools into places of intellectual rigor and deep belonging for all students, enabling them to learn, lead, and thrive as we move into a future filled with both uncertainty and tremendous possibility.

And as a bonus, here’s my daughter Esther’s response (age 10) with no prompting from me: ‘I would have teachers respect all of their students, care for all of their students, and actually teach them all of the things well.’”

Laura McKenna
Education Writer, The Atlantic, Edutopia, The 74, and HuffPost

“I would love to fix many, many things with a magic wand, but if I had to pick one thing for kids and schools, it would be to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as originally promised by Congress, so that children with disabilities can get an education that they deserve.”

Dan Weisberg
CEO, TNTP

“My magic wand would fix the fact that too many kids — particularly students of color — never even get the chance to do work that’s on their grade level. This is partly about instructional materials and teaching techniques, but our research has shown it’s just as much about belief in students’ potential. Teachers are usually trained to ‘protect’ students from grade-level work if they’re struggling academically — which only causes them to fall even farther behind. Underestimating what students are capable of is usually a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But when given the chance and the right support, most students can succeed on grade-level work regardless of concepts they might have missed in previous grades. We could provide dramatically better and more equitable opportunities to millions of kids if we just started assuming every one of them can do grade-level work. Heading into a year when schools will need to accelerate more students than ever back to grade level after the disruption of the past 18 months, it’s never been more important to make this shift.”

Becca Bracy Knight
Former Executive Director, The Broad Center

“If I had a magic wand, I’d make all non-public school options disappear, requiring all families to enroll their children in the public school system. With a second wave of the wand, I’d make the student assignment to schools random so that families don’t have different options based on where they live. (I’d also provide teleportation services so that every student, caregiver, staff member, etc., could still easily get to and from their schools, regardless of distance.) A magical world in which everyone is personally invested in ensuring that all public schools provide an excellent education to all children — where no one can simply opt out based on their individual resources and options — might provide the funding and political will we need to actually deliver on the promise of public education.”

Stay tuned for more in our “Magic Wand” series and join the conversation on Twitter @bellwethered.

(Editorial note: Some organizations listed in this series may include past or present clients or funders of Bellwether.)

Are Bad Online Charter Schools the Canary in the Coal Mine?

Online charter schools are getting a lot of bad press recently. While their critics cheer the bad news, we might consider whether this actually signals broader problems within public education. The persistent failures of these schools aren’t just failures in accountability — they could point to larger ills in the education ecosystem.

Here are just three state-level online charter school stories from the past few weeks:

  • Canari_jaune_lipochrome_intensifK12 Inc.*, which manages a network of online schools enrolling 13,000 students in California, will pay $8.5 million to the state and forgo $160 million to settle claims it misrepresented student achievement, financial records, and more. Organizational finances and governance are also under scrutiny.
  • In Aurora, Colorado, the local school board attempted to end the district’s relationship with HOPE Online Learning Centers due to persistently low achievement, but the district was overruled by the state because “we have to give these parents options,” and “now’s not the right time” for accountability.
  • Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), which enrolls 15,000 Ohio students and ranks among the worst performing schools in the state, lost a recent attempt in court to stop a state audit of their actual online attendance last year. The audit will check if student learning hours match up to what ECOT billed the state.

Add these stories to the results of a recent CREDO study, which found overwhelmingly negative learning effects in online charters the opposite of positive learning trends in charters overall. Even charter advocates know something has gone very wrong in the world of online charters: a “National Call to Action” from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and 50CAN called out “well-documented, disturbingly low performance by too many full-time virtual public charter schools.”

Almost everyone agrees that authorizers and regulators should do a better job holding virtual schools accountable for results and protecting taxpayer funds from fraud and mismanagement. But when schools of choice with bad learning outcomes continue to grow, they are a canary in the coal mine, alerting us that things have gone awry in the school system as a whole: Continue reading

Education Technology Could Change the Game for Incarcerated Youth, But Students in Custody Don’t Have Access

This week, the education technology community is gathering in San Diego, CA for the 2016 ASU GSV Summit, a conference that the New York Times calls a “must-attend event.” There’s one group of students who will get very little airtime during these three days — and who generally get little airtime at all: young people attending school in locked correctional facilities.

EdTechEducators, innovators, and investors tout the power of technology to personalize learning, provide access to real-world experience, engage students, and accelerate skill development — four things that incarcerated students need most and get least. Most schools in secure facilities have no internet access of any kind, and some of them do not allow students to use computers at all.* For anyone who’s seen the power of good technology used well, the contrast in these settings is heartbreaking.

There are good reasons to be cautious about deploying technology resources in secure facilities. The concerns holding up technology integration are real and serious, but they’re not trump cards.

Continue reading

What Does the NCLB Rewrite Mean for Personalized Learning?

On Monday federal lawmakers released the final text of the bill to replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which expired in 2007. While this week’s buzz on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has revolved around state accountability (or lack thereof), it’s also worth looking at how the billNCLB—over 1,000 pages long—affects other aspects of schooling. Education technology, in particular, has undergone dramatic changes since the last reauthorization, but federal and state education policies haven’t kept up and have even created barriers to tech-based innovations.

Will the long-awaited rewrite of NCLB create an opportunity for personalized learning? Yes, but only for states willing to take charge. Here are four takeaways:

  1. A proposed edtech program that was hailed by personalized learning champions didn’t make the cut.

Previously, the Senate version of the bill established the I-TECH program (in the House bill, it was called the Schools of the Future Act) to create dedicated federal funding for edtech, with an emphasis on professional development for educators. In October nearly 20 senators and representatives voiced strong support for keeping this standalone edtech program in the final bill.

Personalized learning advocates will be disappointed that I-TECH didn’t make it into the final bill. Continue reading

Hard Fun: Q&A with Greg Toppo on Educational Gaming

What do World of Warcraft and Henry David Thoreau have in common? In his new book The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter, Greg Toppo, a K-12 education journalist for USA TODAY, explores the educational gaming movement. Toppo highlights different types of gaming used in the classroom, including a video game simulation of Thoreau’s Walden and a World of Warcraft humanities curriculum.

Game Believes in YouWhile skeptics might think this is just another book about the “next big thing” in education, Toppo makes an effective argument for why games are a powerful tool that help students learn while keeping them engaged. He explains the cognitive science behind gaming and dives into less commonly explored ideas, like how gaming might benefit students with ADHD.

I recently chatted with Toppo to learn about his book and hear his take on the potential of gaming.

Let’s start with the basics: How do you define educational gaming? And what distinguishes an educational game from instructional software?

I would define educational gaming as using game principles to teach pre-determined content. Students have direct access to the material and can learn the material at their own pace. A good game can teach content really well so that it’s “sticky.” Something else that’s key is that games give you the ability to fail and try again right away without any judgment or audit of your worth as a person.

I would maintain that a good game doesn’t rely on bells and whistles. It relies on getting you into the material, keeping you in the material, and giving you satisfaction when you get through it. Whether it’s a game or not, it doesn’t matter. If it’s instructional software—and not a game—and it’s keeping the user on the edge of their ability, then great. I just haven’t seen a lot of examples of that working well.

What role can gaming play within classrooms? Can teachers use games to supplement, or even improve upon, their existing curriculum?

A principal once said to me that games are really good at helping people figure out what machines can do and what people can do. Smart teachers are not afraid of that distinction. They’re not afraid to ask the question, “Is there something a computer tool can do better than I can?”

I want to be crystal clear that we’re not talking about replacing teachers with machines. This is about helping teachers refine what they’re good at and giving them more of an opportunity to do that. Continue reading